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Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

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Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby tapehead » Wed May 30, 2018 1:32 am

I do mean old. most of them recorded and mixed 1985-89. Mainly Cro2 but some fe, so are second generation at best, a few third gen. No surviving masters to remix.
Initially recorded onto a very basic Fostex x-15 and then a portastudio.

I transferred them to pc three years ago.

The acoustic guitar is mainly open tunings: E, G, Gm, C, D.
Michael Chapman would be the nearest known reference point.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNeKyirvNlI

What I'm finding is that the bass string picking which once sounded driving now sounds too muddy or boomy when the volume is cranked up a little and and although eq'ing or cutting lower frequencies reduces that, I then lose the drive.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby resistorman » Wed May 30, 2018 4:50 am

Hi there, welcome to the forum! Low frequencies are the hardest to to deal with... what equipment you're using and what environment it's in makes it very difficult to quantify. But if you have a decent EQ with an accurate display, you'll find that often there is a dominating frequency or two you can zero in on and tame that will still allow the drive to pump but decrease the mud. A general low cut won't get you there.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby Wonks » Wed May 30, 2018 10:44 am

It's also going to sound muddy because a lot of the balancing top-end will have been lost, so that is going to need some boosting. You may find that a multi-band compressor can be used to limit the boominess without taking away the bottom end.

Adding high-end EQ boost will also increase any tape noise, so then you may need to use a noise-reduction plug-in.

There are restoration suites of software available e.g. iZotope RX6, that have a lot of tools for this sort of audio repair work, so if you think the tapes are worth it, think about investing in something like that, or find someone with it who can do the restoration for you. A lot of the best results are gained by experience and gentle use of the various tools.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby Tim Gillett » Wed May 30, 2018 1:21 pm

Second or third generation cassettes can be pushing it even when everything was done optimally. I know you said all earlier tape generations were lost but if there's any chance you could still find them that's probably your best hope of the clearest, least distorted sound.

Either way, making the best possible transfer from the cassette dub you have to digits is the expert way to go. I mean things like using a good quality, well maintained cassette deck, and paying close attention to tune head azimuth to the actual programme material on the tape. It's common to assume that the analog playback is secondary as once it's been "dumped" into the DAW, everything can be "cleaned up" with plugins and restoration software. Not so. There's good reason on top professional reissues of older recordings, often one guy does the tape to digital transfers and that may be all he does, because he does it really well, being an expert in old tapes and tape machines.

The Fostex X-15 had from memory Dolby B. If the originals were encoded with Dolby and the highs survived the dubbing process, it's sometimes possible to properly decode the Dolby encoding, which not only reduces background noise but makes the recordings more natural and punchy, at least in the highs. Even the humble Dolby B was complex though and as far as I know there's no software decoder so the usual tack is to use a hardware decoder, but again, it often needs some expert tweaks to get the decoder to track optimally. Sometimes it's judged not worth decoding if on balance it only makes things worse, but often you can only know that after having at least tried your best to decode.

Very hard to give more specific comments though without an audio sample. Any chance of one?
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby James Perrett » Wed May 30, 2018 1:33 pm

Tim Gillett wrote:Either way, making the best possible transfer from the cassette dub you have to digits is the expert way to go. I mean things like using a good quality, well maintained cassette deck, and paying close attention to tune head azimuth to the actual programme material on the tape. It's common to assume that the analog playback is secondary as once it's been "dumped" into the DAW, everything can be "cleaned up" with plugins and restoration software. Not so. There's good reason on top professional reissues of older recordings, often one guy does the tape to digital transfers and that may be all he does, because he does it really well, being an expert in old tapes and tape machines.

I would absolutely echo this - the slow speed of cassette tape means that the mechanical alignment of a cassette deck is far more critical than for a higher speed machine. I find I need to adjust the head alignment for just about every tape I transfer.

Tim Gillett wrote:The Fostex X-15 had from memory Dolby B. If the originals were encoded with Dolby and the highs survived the dubbing process, it's sometimes possible to properly decode the Dolby encoding, which not only reduces background noise but makes the recordings more natural and punchy, at least in the highs. Even the humble Dolby B was complex though and as far as I know there's no software decoder so the usual tack is to use a hardware decoder, but again, it often needs some expert tweaks to get the decoder to track optimally.

I've been using U-he's Satin plug-in to do software Dolby decoding recently. It certainly removes some of those characteristic wispy highs and tightens things up a bit. I tend to adjust the input level by ear as Dolby tones on cassettes are virtually unknown. I will also nearly always follow any noise reduction with a little aural exciter to add a little more definition to the high end. I notice that RX already incorporates this in its noise reduction plug-in.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby James Perrett » Wed May 30, 2018 1:36 pm

I've used a multiband compressor to reduce boom - only treating frequencies below about 200Hz and not using any make-up gain.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby tapehead » Thu May 31, 2018 3:18 am

I never liked what dolby b or c did to the highs using the Fostex or the Tascam so didn't use it, tape hiss I don't mind. I find if I use a little noise reduction on it for a few seconds at a quiet intro or at the outro the rest inbetween isn't that apparent.

I used a Technics deck for the transfers, at the high end for a home deck the playback was certainly far better than the Tascam's. I did experiment with how the heads were aligned but obviously nowehere near professional level.

I don't want to do that again there's over a hundred tracks.

Thanks for all the input you got me thinking, I'll have to provide more detail.
I've used a tweaked 'mastering' preset in Audition CS6 to get the highs stronger.

The lows sound Ok on some systems but not others:
-On-ear headphones or in-ear-buds - fine.
-Surround ear headphones - one set bit bass heavy, the other - boxy
-A multi speaker disco system in a greek restaurant - fine :-) (the owner was out delivering a dish)
-Reasonable system in a fairly dead living room o'k

-On my car stereo either from cd or usb stick - boomy! whereas commercial recordings are fine
-In a small room I like to sit in through amp and speaker cabinets approx 15 inches high - boomy!

It is a difficult room to deaden and I want it as a room not a studio. But again commercial recordings are O'k in it.

One step at a time, I appreciate all your suggestions but I'll start with this.

I've used a multiband compressor to reduce boom - only treating frequencies below about 200Hz and not using any make-up gain.

Any simple tips for going about this? And a decent compressor free or demo?
Is audition's any good even just to get started? I have no hardware.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby James Perrett » Thu May 31, 2018 3:24 pm

tapehead wrote:
I've used a multiband compressor to reduce boom - only treating frequencies below about 200Hz and not using any make-up gain.

Any simple tips for going about this? And a decent compressor free or demo?
Is audition's any good even just to get started? I have no hardware.

I use Reaper's ReaXComp which is also available as a separate VST for use with other software. My copy of Audition (Version 3) comes with an Izotope multiband compressor which looks like it should do the job - it even has a preset called Tighter Bass although you'll need to tweak the threshold and adjust the gain of the active band to match your recording.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby tapehead » Thu May 31, 2018 11:16 pm

Thanks, I'll give it a go over the weekend.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby Tim Gillett » Fri Jun 01, 2018 1:45 am

Hard to be sure without an audio sample but it's possible the muddy and boomy bass is more an absence of treble. Reducing the bass will take out the apparent boom but wont really restore the lost treble.
Even a tiny piece of dirt on the read head, or a minute spacing between the head gap and the tape (we call it spacing loss) can be enough to wash out a lot of the brightness and presence of the recording. Superficially it can sound like an overly bassy, boomy recording.
A simple test for azimuth tracking on a cassette tape is to sum left and right channels to mono. You can try this on your digital copy. If the sound stays basically the same when monoed, probably azimuth tracking was OK. But if voice and instrument get muddier and more distant in mono, probably some of the treble information on the tape wasnt captured.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby ef37a » Fri Jun 01, 2018 7:39 am

Might be an idea to grab the Samplitude/Soundforge package if it is still available?

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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby ken long » Fri Jun 01, 2018 9:15 am

Tim Gillett wrote: But if voice and instrument get muddier and more distant in mono, probably some of the treble information on the tape wasnt captured.

That's assuming there weren't any phase issues in the original recording, of course.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby Tim Gillett » Fri Jun 01, 2018 11:50 am

ken long wrote:
Tim Gillett wrote: But if voice and instrument get muddier and more distant in mono, probably some of the treble information on the tape wasnt captured.

That's assuming there weren't any phase issues in the original recording, of course.

True. Without more information, it's at best an educated guess.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby tapehead » Tue Jun 05, 2018 3:57 pm

I've been playing around with the multiband compressor settings which I've not used before, it is very useful.

The low end of my vocals tail off at around 200hz. The compressor can tame what there is below that but what I'm thinking I'd then need to do is somehow route just the low end through something else to add a bit sharpness because what I'm hearing is akin to the bass strings of an acoustic plucked without a thumbpick.

Playback in mono definitely shows discrepancies in a couple of the third generation Fe tracks they lose a little volume but don't go distant or muddy, mainly what sounds like a wacky out phase, phasey effect on the highs. Could this be the reverb in the mix.

I can't afford the samplitude/soundforge deal (it expires june10th) but how can it help. I can get access to
Izotope Rx3 if that is of any use?
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby ken long » Tue Jun 05, 2018 4:25 pm

tapehead wrote:Playback in mono definitely shows discrepancies in a couple of the third generation Fe tracks they lose a little volume but don't go distant or muddy, mainly what sounds like a wacky out phase, phasey effect on the highs. Could this be the reverb in the mix.

Could be. Or could be the head alignment was off slightly. Have you got access to the cassettes still? Perhaps re-transfer them using an adjustable deck? Some allow access to the head screw. Happy to have a listen to what you have so far if you DM.

I could be wrong but software won't really help for this. Or even if it does, you will always get a much better result going back to the original (condition being equal, that is).

HTH
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby James Perrett » Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:54 pm

That certainly sounds like a head alignment issue to me. Listening in mono while adjusting the head is the best way to judge head alignment. On most cassette players that I've used you have to remove the door or the door trim in order to access the alignment screw.

You can use software to adjust the timing between channels in order to improve mono compatibility but this won't help with the real problem. As Ken says, a second transfer with the head properly adjusted is what is really needed.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby James Perrett » Tue Jun 05, 2018 7:56 pm

tapehead wrote:The low end of my vocals tail off at around 200hz. The compressor can tame what there is below that but what I'm thinking I'd then need to do is somehow route just the low end through something else to add a bit sharpness because what I'm hearing is akin to the bass strings of an acoustic plucked without a thumbpick.

Have you tried slowing down the attack time? This would prevent the compressor from reducing the inital attack while hopefully still reducing the boominess.
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Re: Cleaning up muddy bottom of taped & old acoustic guitar based mixes

Postby tapehead » Wed Jun 06, 2018 1:08 am

Thanks for the info and tips.

I moved recently and the cassette deck is still in storage 100 miles away , so next visit I'll pick it up and do the mono test etc on the originals.

I'll try adjusting the attack time on the compressor, I never used even a regular compressor before.

I have to say it is a bit of a sonic shock alternating between just tinkering with the low end for a while and then suddenly switching back to the entire mix. I had bells palsy which also affected my right ear for a couple of years and atho' mostly Ok now it takes longer for me to adjust to and evaluate changes.
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