Jargon Busting – Latency

Latency – is something you’ll hear a lot about.

It is basically the delay in analogue sound being converted to digital.

It works like this – analogue signal(mic/guitar) input – converts to digital in recording – output then converts back to digital – this can cause a delay.

This delay can be seen in monitored recording.

For example if you record a track without monitoring chances are you will not suffer any latency.

The problem usually comes when monitoring the recording.

The times I’ve seen it occur most is when using VST fx.

If you use monitoring to record when you play you will feel the delay, and playing to anything recorded or sequenced will be impossible to play along to.

ASIO is one of the methods to fixing this – although sometimes a lot of tinkering will be involved to get the correct results.

Latency can be caused by a combination of sound card and drivers – updated drivers is usually your best course of action.

Windows own drivers MME are considered to be the worst offenders when it comes to latency.

Most decent sound card come with ASIO drivers – these can in most cases solve latency problems.

Sometimes is best to search latency problems on the net and stating which software you are using – problems can be quite straight forward to fix.

Wireless internet can cause problems – clicks and drag – so disable it while recording.

Also any software running that doesn’t need to be.

Defragging is also an option – as is optimising your PC.

Getting Started

So ok, you’ve got your PC setup and you’ve chosen your Audio/Midi package.

Where do you go from here?

Well, first it’s an idea to setup your pc the best you can.

Optimising your pc is the first step I would recommend – follow the link to an article here.

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Next you need to get to grips with your software – best to start with a simple idea.

Whenever I’ve started with a new software I’ve found the best way is to tinker – and it’s advisable to save backups of any song you tinker with – a good plan is to noodle an idea – that way your not trying to record your greatest material with the risk of it going pear shaped.

A few days/weeks commited to learning your software is invaluable – but one step at a time, it’s pointless learning the ins and outs of mastering or mixing when you’ve just got to grips with recording.

Forget about the internet for hosting you music as well.

Until you’ve got something that you’re happy with then keep it to yourself – there is an argument that some sites offer invaluable feedback – that may be the case, sometimes, but usually it’s feedback that will cloud your judgement and confuse you.

It is an idea to get involved in forums, but choose wisely, choose one that’s appropriate to what you want to do.

The studio-central forums are probably a good start – here

Now here’s the skinny, flame wars and goading – as someone who will admit to being involved in flame wars – it’s easy to do – counter productive though.

Name calling is kid’s stuff really – if you’re polite with out being limp and helpful without being borish then they can be of a huge help.

Being needy and constantly demanding help with everything, without thanking those who help you will result in forum members getting the hump with you.

Remember nobody has to help you.

Forums can lead to collaborations, feedback and information – use them wisely.

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Join the forums of the software you use – it’s suprising how many people encounter the same problem.

Rather than post a new query, search, it’s quicker and doesn’t bog the site down – if you are unable to find the answer you need then post.

A few tips – be obvious and detailed.

  • The post title should outline the problem.
  • List your pc setup, sound card, software etc.
  • Insert screenprints of your problem if possible.
  • State what it is you want to do/tried to do.
  • Be polite
  • DO NOT USE CAPITAL LETTERS – it’s annoying.
  • Thankanyone who helps
  • Don’t get into encounters with anyone being rude/abusive/unhelpful – it’s a waste of time – ignore them – the more you ignore them the more it’ll rankle them.

Recording and Midi

So you’ve decided on your setup, now you need the software to record –

So far I’ve seen two packages available, both are free to use.

Reaper – A multi track audio package – rewired, vst support – midi support.

Reaper (www.cockos.com) – is an outstanding peice of kit – a 64 bit audio engine, with built in effects, multiband eq, compressor, reverb and real time pitch correction.

It has unlimited track capabilities, small download and easy installation.

I’ve used reaper – the only fault I’ve found is a minor gripe – the use of a staff view.

It’s a minor gripe really as there is a piano roll – although pretty basic.

The software is not entirely free – it is shareware – an uncrippled evaluation is there for you to try.

Try it out, if it’s all that you need then pay for it – there are two licenses.

“The normal price for REAPER is $225.00 USD, however for users who wish to use REAPER only for non-commercial use we offer reduced price licensing for $50.00 USD. Upgrades from non-commercial licenses to full (commercial) licenses are available.” – reaper.

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The second piece of software I’ve found came recommended in Computer Music Magazine.

The software is called MU.LAB (www.MUTOOLS.com) – it similar capabilities as reaper but the free version is limited to only 8 tracks.

That said 8 tracks for anyone just starting is more than enough.

If that is not enough MU.LAB unlimited is available at only 39 euros.

Now that is excellent value.

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Both of the packages above are updated frequently and offer support and a forum, sometimes invaluable if you are having problems.

Introduction – Requirements

The basics first.

For a computer based recording system.

A PC – today most PC’s have enough power to run a basic setup.

Onboard sound cards – although not the best setup – are adequate to get started.

Laptops also have this bare minimum requirement.

A useful download to start with is ASIO4ALL – a universal driver for asio and wdm – http://www.asio4all.com/

This will enable a lot of software that requires ASIO drivers, which can be a massive stumbling block.

If you have a small amount of money it is probably best spent on a sound card – if you are serious about going forward.

There are a lot out there which will not break the bank.

If you are just about guitar, M-Audio Jamlab is worth a punt from around £40. A USB device with headphone socket and guitar jack input – easy to setup and ideal for laptops and pc’s. It will alos power and onboard fx and vst instruments very well.

If you looking at something more advanced and wish to record using microphones then the price will go up.

The M-Audio Fast Track is priced from £50 – Fast Track USB has an input for instruments like guitar, bass and keyboards, plus a microphone input for recording vocals or other acoustic sounds. The included GT Player Express software gives you killer effects and virtual stomp boxes so you don’t need any other gear to sound great. GT Player Express also plays standard audio files like AAC, MP3 and WAV that let you learn and jam along with your favorite music at variable speeds. Fast Track USB is the easy and professional way to add guitar, vocals, and more to your computer music experience. – ideal for pc and laptop.

If you are considering a mixing desk and have a pc then try looking at Behringers line of mixers with usb interface –
Behringer XENYX 1204 Premium Mixer
12-Input 2/2-Bus Mixer with XENYX Mic Preamps, British EQs and USB/Audio Interface. at £105.99.

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Firewire or USB? Couln’t answer that to be honest – I’ve used usb interfaces on my laptop – mainly the Jamlab and Behringer and both worked – which in my world is all that’s required – that is not to say they’re perfect. It’s hard to say for definate as everybody’s pc or laptop setup will throw up a problem.

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When spending any amount of money it is worth trawling the net for any info you can on what you intend to buy. Forums can in some cases be helpful – it’s just how you read them – the first answer to a question will not always be helpful – and some just abusive. Take your time and ask around.
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So for anyone looking at this I will describe my soundcard setups.

I have a M-Audio Jamlab for my laptop – it works like a charm – I use my laptop mainly for sketch recording and backing tracks. I used Guitar Rig and lot’s of freeware plugins and all have been handled very well.

I’ve also used it with Sonar and Reaper and seen no problems – I’ve used a lot of frreware plugins and VST Instruments without incident. As for the audio – well a pair of earphones and/or pc speakers are necessary as the sound is outputted from the Jamlab itself – so if you haven’t already got speakers/headphones then you’ll have to invest in those as well.

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My PC setup is a little more complicated and over the years has gotten more intricate.

I started small – Onboard sound and a Yamaha 4-track for input. Yup cheap and dirty – lot’s of hiss. It did the job.

Upgraded sound card to a Audigy – ASIO drivers made the difference in audio quality slightly – to tell the truth – I upgraded for the ASIO drivers – this was about 5 years ago and a lot of audio needed those. What I needed to upgrade was the input stage.

Upgraded from a 4-track to a 2 channel behringer mixer – this had phantom power allowing me to use a condenser mic I bought on ebay for £40. – probably the real start of my studio.

Phantom power is a must for Condenser Mics.

Next upgraded sound card to a M-Audio 2496 – still priced aroun £50-60 and worth every penny – I wouldn’t change now – it’s just what I need – easy to setup and no fuss – it’s PCI so a laptop is out of the question.

I Then upgraded the mixing desk to something a bit bigger – 16 channel. This was for a few reasons mainly my other equipment and probably not necessary for a beginner.
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A Laptop/PC with soundcard is probably as much as you need to start with, as you can see I started billy basic and moved on as I got the money to do so.

The software that I’m going to list in the following articles will all be free/donationware.

All I ask is that you keep your setup to your requirements and get into using the software with the bare minimum to start with and add only what you need as you go on.

If you use the free/donation software and like it – then find a way of supporting that software.

Don’t take it for granted.

Mastering Plugins

X-CITA
Analog style exciter for mastering purposes,
inspired on the BBE Maximizer models.

Its warm sound and simplicity of using makes this exciter very suitable

to add some subtle brightness in the high frequencies, and also make the lows more dense.

Apart from the mastering stage, you’ll find that it can also make a good work on individual tracks. – link

Storm Recording Studio

A set of simple mastering plugins available to download here

Includes an Aural Exciter and Stereo Enhancer.

Barricade

VST brick wall limiter
JB Barricade is a simple yet effective brick wall limiter.

The gain ride curve is very smooth and its time derivative is continuous,

to ensure minimum distortion and aliasing artefacts.

The gain knob adjusts the signal level before entering the limiter.
For analog-style tube warmth a tube-emulation circuit is provided as well. link

Also available in PRO version.

Also available for download are Vintage Tape Modeller, Psychoacoustic Compressor plus more

Kjaerhus Audio-

The Classic Master Limiter VST plugin is specially designed to boost the overall level of your final mixes,

but is also highly useable on very dynamic instruments.

With just one control on the front panel operation is as simple as it gets;

just turn the Threshold down and hear how your mixes gets louder and louder.

Very high compression ratios can be obtained without changing the balance of the mix. – link

Classic EQ is a 7 Band Stereo Equaliser with a warm analog sound,

well suited to make non-surgical tonal corrections on all instruments, vocals and final mixes.

The passive and additive structure, together with unique “Warm” and “Saturation” algorithms,

produces warm and pleasant sound, just like some of the most expensive vintage gear.

The left and right channels can be adjusted individually or linked together. -link

MDA-VST

VST Pack, contains the following –

BeatBox – Drum replacer
Combo – Amp & speaker simulator
De-ess – High frequency dynamics processor
Degrade - Sample quality reduction
Delay – Simple stereo delay with feedback tone control
Detune – Simple up/down pitch shifting thickener
Dither – Range of dither types including noise shaping
DubDelay – Delay with feedback saturation and time/pitch modulation
Dynamics – Compressor / Limiter / Gate
Envelope – Envelope follower / VCA
Image – Stereo image adjustment and M-S matrix
Leslie – Rotary speaker simulator
Limiter – Opto-electronic style limiter
Loudness – Equal loudness contours for bass EQ and mix correction
Multiband – Multi-band compressor with M-S processing modes
Overdrive – Soft distortion
Re-Psycho! – Drum loop pitch changer
RezFilter – Resonant filter with LFO and envelope follower
Round Panner – 3D panner
Shepard – Continuously rising/falling tone generator
Splitter – Frequency / level crossover for setting up dynamic processing
Stereo Simulator – Haas delay and comb filtering
Sub-Bass Synthesizer - Several low frequency enhancement methods
Talkbox – High resolution vocoder
TestTone – Signal generator with pink and white noise, impulses and sweeps
Thru-Zero Flanger - Classic tape-flanging simulation
Tracker – Pitch tracking oscillator, or pitch tracking EQ
Vocoder – Switchable 8 or 16 band vocoder
VocInput – Pitch tracking oscillator for generating vocoder carrier input - link

VST Compressors – Free to Whoah There

Free:

Kjaerhaus Audio: Classic Compressor, link
Classic Compressor is a classic analog style VST Compressor Plugin with a lot of warmth and punch. Special designed to use on individual Instruments and Vocal, but also useable on your final mixes.

Smooth Compression
Ajustable ratio up to limiting
Ajustable attack and release times
Ajustable knee (hard to soft)
Gain reduction LED
Presets
Ultra low CPU usage
Supports all sampling rates
Full VST automation

1. Split your vocal track into two sub-groups or tracks, depending on your software. Insert a Classic Compressor on both, loading one with the factory preset “Vocal” and the other with “Vocal Definition”. Boost 100Hz and 10kHz about 10dB shelving on the second group or track. Now mix the two together for a very fat and energetic vocal track.

2. Use our Classic Limiter right after the Classic Compressor to catch the peaks during mix down.

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Endorphin – dual-band stereo compressor – link

Two independent frequency bands (low and high frequency processing)

Switchable stereo or M/S mode operation.

Two basic compressor designs:

1. modern vca mode with soft-knee characteristics and manual time constants. This mode provides an instant response behaviour and deep compression, using a feed-forward circuit.

2. Vintage-style opto (photo resistor) mode, modelled after ancient opto-electrical compressors. The time constants stay manually set, but they are also affected by the signal’s energy. This mode has the typical opto-style ‘overshoot’ on quick transients, this is one of the most gentle compressors you may find. Classical feed-back detector circuit.

Adjustable high-level output stage with analog-style saturation.

While you at digitalfishphones.com check out their fish fillets package

This great package contains – (Blockfish)  Compressor, (Spitfish) De Esser and (Floorfish) a Gate/Expander Device.

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Budget:

Voxengo’s range of VST fx are really worth a look at an affordable price,

Prices range from $49.95 for The Crunchessor

– $69.95 for Elephant

– $89.95 for Marquis

Voxengo – Mix Compressors

Voxengo Compressors

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PSPaudioware:

is a collection of five high-resolution, high quality audio processors designed to improve the quality of your digital audio tracks and mixes (VST and RTAS for Windows; AudioUnit, VST and RTAS for MacOSX UniversalBinary). These processors were not modeled on specific hardware analog processors, but rather on the sound and features of many analog circuits, with the goal of designing processors that can assist you in taming the sterility and harshness that often plagues digitally recorded audio. Don’t let the name of this bundle fool you – while we worked hard to develop a plug-in pack that would help your mixes shine, these plug-ins are high enough quality to be at home in mastering or live tracking situations as well. All plug-ins utilize 64-bit double precision floating point algorithms throughout their entire signal path and support sample rates of up to 192kHz. The kit consists of: PSP MixBass2, PSP MixTreble2. PSP MixSaturator2, PSP MixPressor2 and PSP MixGate2

Check Out Mixpack2 – Priced at $199 it’s well worth a looksy

Mixing – Using Compression – The Seedier Way

If like me you have trouble with your mixing and mastering stage then the following article sent to me by the scottish reprobate Seedy Dave should help,

OK so forgive the obvious but a quick once over basic compression first, lets say you’ve got a track recorded on acoustic geetar and it peaks at 0dB, but there are sections where the volume is only about -12dB……….when ya listen to it it sounds fine but the quiet sections are getting lost……
If you set the threshold of a compressor to say -4dB and the compression ratio to 4:1
what’ll happen is that when the track is above this level (-4dB) it will be affected by the compressor,
and the effect on the track will be this, for every 4dB the track is above the threshold  of  (-4dB) the compressor will reduce its volume to a quarter of what it was (4:1 = 1/4),
so  instead of having your geetar peaking at 0dB it’ll now be peaking at -3dB
(Try to think of the compression ratio 4:1 as 4dBs over the threshold will become 1dB over the threshold after compression………………..ditto 2:1 and 10:1 etc)
So now yer loud bits are quieter, and the quiet bits have not changed……….
so then you add your compressor make up gain which in effect brings the whole track back up to the 0dB mark again,
so the loud bits are back where they were and the quiet bits have been lifted by 4dB from -12dB to -8dB………..so basically what you’ve done is increase the average volume, so the track sounds louder and punchier at the same volume as before…..and there is less variance in the volume of the playing……..take the process to extremes and you’ve got the sound of the adverts.
The only other bits to get yer hied round are the attack and release times, so attack time first……..
Basically all you are doing with the attack time is deciding how long after the threshold is exceeded before the compressor kicks in…………..you’d think right away, but it ain’t that straight forward…………if yer acoustic track is a strummy thing, then the track will be getting driven along by yer playing,
so if you have a very quick attack time what’ll happen is that since the initial part of the strum is the loudest part (and therefore over yer threshold) the compressor will quieten that part and kill the groove by dimminishing the rhythmic impact of yer geetar………….so the trick is to set the attack time long enough to let the initial part of the strum through and then compressor can control the rest of the sound……..it’s the same for all instruments, you let the nose of the note through the compressor before you start squeezin’……..f** around with a snappy snare sample and it’ll make more sense.
Fortunately most Mix Bus compressors have automatic attack and release knobs that do it all for ya and they work fine.
The release time does what it says…….it sets how long after the sound drops below the threshold before it switches the compressor off………do it too quick and you can hear it cutting out, set it too long and the depending on the tempo of the track the next strum could take it back up over the threshold again. Basically you’re looking for a release time that is unobtrusive to the music and releases the compressor quickly enough for the next sound (strum) that comes along and exceeds the threshold.
Makin’sense?
So the Mix Bus thingy.
Why & How, from the SOS guide to Mix Bus Compression – taken from (Sound on Sound)
The whole idea behind this technique is that you are mixing through the compressor from the beginning of the mix process, you are carving your mix, dynamically speaking, through the compressor, and monitoring the compressor’s output.
The point is that the same set of fader settings will actually produce a different mix balance depending on whether you apply compression, and how much. Applying compression after the mix is complete will change the balance you have carefully set up, so unless you mixed into a compressor from the start, compressing the mix once the track is finnished is gonna upset all yer hard work.
When you mix without compression, the relative level of each element within the mix is entirely determined by the position of the faders. When you add a compressor over the mix bus, you’re adding another layer of dynamic management, one over which you have less control. It can feel as though your fader moves are ‘fighting’ the actions of the compressor.
Typically, the compressor will tend to react to the instruments that are already the loudest parts of your mix, such as lead vocals and drums, because these are the first and loudest signals to cross the compressor’s threshold.
Different compressor settings may tend to bring out different elements in the mix but, in general, you will find that the harder you hit the compressor, the less difference your fader movements seem to make to the predominant parts of the mix. Consider a lead vocal that was compressed during tracking and is also being compressed in real time during mixdown. If you are mixing this lead vocal, among other sounds,
through a bus compressor, the lead vocal itself will become even more compressed if it is the loudest part of the mix. So in absolute terms, mix compression will tend to make the lead vocal quieter, and you may need to compensate a bit more with positive fader values to achieve the loudness that you want from the lead vocal — but also consider that the louder you push the faders, the more you will compress the output! And,
of course, the gain reduction that is triggered by the lead vocal crossing the mix compressor’s threshold is applied to all elements of the mix at once, so the lead vocal’s apparent level relative to the other instruments may actually be increased by mix compression.
Typically, a stereo compressor setup with a low ratio such as 1.5:1 or 2:1, and a medium attack and medium release, is a great starting point for mix-bus compression. Begin by setting the threshold to give a minimal amount of gain reduction, perhaps -1 to -3 dB (Dats below yer loudest part of yer mix).
When you’re experimenting with bus compression for your mixes, set the make-up gain so that the level of the processed signal matches the level of the unprocessed signal as closely as possible. This way, when you are in the middle of a mix you can bypass the compressor and hear what the compression is doing to your mix.
Although having the right compressor settings for mix-bus compression is important, you don’t want to be adjusting the settings in the later parts of the mix. The best thing to do is to get a feel for what the mix is going to be about early on, set the bus compressor then, and leave it be. Any changes that you make to the compressor settings later will change the internal mix balances. - (taken from Sound on Sound)
Any decent sterio compressor can be used for the job…….set the attack, release and make up to automatic and drop the threshold down to 3dBs below yer loudest bit.
Most upmarket ***** use outboard gear but f** it enough is enough…………if ya gots any questions please read it again.
- Seedz.
Note to reader, please never feed the Seedy one after midnight, don;t ask why, just don’t.

Create Digital Music

Just found this site while browsing for free plugins.

It’s not a plugins site but more a guide to computer aided music.

http://createdigitalmusic.com/

A great site, well maintained and well organised.

Check it out, found this article from30Nov06 about free software,
The Best, 100% Free

Computer Music Magazine

http://www.computermusic.co.uk/

New to computer aided recording this excellent magazine is crammed full features.

Reviews of software, samlples and equipment.

Thoughtful and intersting interviews.

Excellent tutorials – focussing on production, music creation, and software use.

The magazine also comes with a DVD crammed with nearly 9gb of stuff.

The DVD inculdes samples, pluigins and demo software.

A bonus of this is CMs own software collection – all the tools you need to create.

At £5.99 and available in USA/Canada it’s worth every penny.