You are here

A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

All about the tools and techniques involved in capturing sound, in the studio or on location.

A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby songwriter » Sat Sep 14, 2019 11:18 pm

Hi all,

I run a small professional recording studio and the audio interface is an RME Fireface UFX attached to an RME Octamic XTC to allow for all of the studio inputs.

I use high quality mics and cables and preamps etc with PMC TwoTwo 6 monitors and have an acoustically designed mixing room so you'd think that I would be completely happy with the set up, but I'm not because there is something about my mixes that doesn't sound as 'deep/open/expensive/clear' (can't think of the right adjective!) as many professional mixes out there, so I've often wondered about getting a separate A-D converter and whether that would make a big difference to overall sound quality, or whether it's just my skill level? :lol:

I am not an expert at A-D. I know why it's important and enough about jitter etc. so with this question I'm really asking:

1. Would a separate A-D converter unit transform my studio recording sound and make it sound more 'expensive' (insert adjective)?
2. Should I actually be dumping the RMEs and getting a completely different interface instead?
3. If the separate AD converter will transform my sound, what converter is recommended? I'd be prepared to pay upto £5k if it will make a huge difference to the sound.
4. How would I incorporate it into the setup with the RME, especially as it's already connected to the Octamic?
5. Do I need just a 2 channel, or do I need an 8 channel unit? I do recording and mixing in the studio and have masters done by a mastering engineer separately.
6. Don't let this sway the answer towards the Dangerous Convert system but I've been reading about the USB back to computer function and don't understand why it's necessary - I thought if you had an AD unit everything would go through that and back into the Fireface to then record and export from the DAW in the upgraded sound quality, wouldn't it? Or am I wrong?

I know that is a lot of questions and I appreciate any and all responses.

Matthew
songwriter
Poster
Posts: 29
Joined: Sun Nov 13, 2005 1:00 am

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby zenguitar » Sun Sep 15, 2019 12:21 am

There are many more knowledgeable people than me here on the forums, and I’m sure they will be along with more detailed replies. But my thoughts are that you have more than good enough equipment to achieve the results you are looking for.

The things that you need to look at are your room and your skills. It’s certainly worth checking the performance of your room to ensure it’s delivering the best possible monitoring environment. And if it is, the next thing is to focus on your mixing and listening skills.

You don’t say where you are located, but there are several reputable members here that offer one to one tuition. You might find it very cost effective to book a day or two of their time to assess your room and help you finesse your monitoring and mixing skills.

Andy :beamup:
User avatar
zenguitar
Moderator
Posts: 9254
Joined: Thu Dec 05, 2002 1:00 am
Location: Devon
When you see a fork in the road, take it.
Yogi Berra

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby James Perrett » Sun Sep 15, 2019 12:43 am

A different A-D convertor isn't going to make a massive difference to your sound unless you go for something that is deliberately coloured. The RME convertors are already very good but they're designed to give an accurate representation of the input signal whereas you may be looking for something different.

However, A to D's are well down the list of importance when it comes to creating a good recording. By far the most important aspect is the performance - is the performer comfortable and in the right frame of mind to give a great performance? Are they hearing what they need to hear? Are they well rehearsed?

Then comes the recording room - is it properly treated and appropriate for the type of recording that you are doing?

Next comes the microphone - does it suit the source or does it emphasise aspects of the source that you really want to cover up?

Only once these aspects are right do we need to start thinking about the rest of the gear and most gear is designed well enough these days to not get in the way. I'd echo Andy's advice to think about having someone come along and give you some one to one tuition. Another alternative would be to put up some of your work online somewhere and post a link here so that we could take a listen and possibly make suggestions.
User avatar
James Perrett
Moderator
Posts: 8527
Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2001 12:00 am
Location: The wilds of Hampshire
JRP Music - Audio Mastering and Restoration. JRP Music Facebook Page

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Sep 15, 2019 12:58 am

songwriter wrote:.... there is something about my mixes that doesn't sound as 'deep/open/expensive/clear' (can't think of the right adjective!) as many professional mixes out there, so I've often wondered about getting a separate A-D converter and whether that would make a big difference to overall sound quality, or whether it's just my skill level? :lol:

I've heard enough really brilliant tracks recorded on countless RME interfaces to be pretty confident that the interface's A-Ds probably aren't your problem.

As James has said, some A-Ds will introduce more obvious character which may appeal -- Burl, for instance -- but your description of wanting more 'deep, open and clear' suggests to me the real problem is either in the instrument voicing, the arrangement or, most likely, the mix... Or even a combination of all of them.

But just to check, are you hearing the deep/open/clear mixes you seek from commercial tracks on your TwoTwo monitor speaker's?
H
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 24840
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby songwriter » Sun Sep 15, 2019 10:25 am

Thanks for your replies everyone. I'm pretty sure the room is not the problem as it was professionally designed and built from the ground up.

That's an interesting point you make Hugh about whether I can hear the open mixes on my speakers, because I can. I have always thought that one of the reasons mine don't sound the same is because they for example might be recording through an SSL desk with top of the range A-D conversion etc. and I'm looking for a way to increase the audio quality of my own recordings somehow!
songwriter
Poster
Posts: 29
Joined: Sun Nov 13, 2005 1:00 am

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby Wonks » Sun Sep 15, 2019 10:38 am

I'd still suggest having the room checked out, as not all studio designers are quite as good as they think they are.

If it's fine, then move onto something else to improve. If not, then you know where to start.
User avatar
Wonks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9787
Joined: Thu May 29, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Reading, UK
Correcting mistakes on the internet since 1853

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Sep 15, 2019 11:14 am

And posting links to one of your recordings and the reference track you want to emulate would allow some of our more experienced contributors to give some specific advice.
User avatar
Sam Spoons
Jedi Poster
Posts: 10359
Joined: Thu Jan 23, 2003 1:00 am
Location: Manchester UK
Finally taking this recording lark seriously (and recording my Gypsy Jazz CD)........

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby The Elf » Sun Sep 15, 2019 11:20 am

If you saw the gear with which many of the incredible recordings of the past were made you would be much less inclined to concern yourself about the difference between modern A/D converters!

When I'm called in to advise on these kinds of problems the first thing we look at is recording headroom - 8/10 times this is the start of the problem. What peak dBFS reference are you aiming for when recording?
User avatar
The Elf
Jedi Poster
Posts: 12917
Joined: Tue Aug 14, 2001 12:00 am
Location: Sheffield, UK
An Eagle for an Emperor, A Kestrel for a Knave.

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby Ariosto » Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:06 pm

Also, what type of music are you recording and mixing? Classical (I doubt) - folk - jazz - electronic etc., etc.

Each of these types need an expert in that sort of music, and maybe you need to outsource the mixing to someone who is an expert in that field.
Ariosto
Frequent Poster
Posts: 820
Joined: Sun May 04, 2008 12:00 am
Location: LONDON, UK

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby songwriter » Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:23 pm

The Elf wrote:If you saw the gear with which many of the incredible recordings of the past were made you would be much less inclined to concern yourself about the difference between modern A/D converters!

When I'm called in to advise on these kinds of problems the first thing we look at is recording headroom - 8/10 times this is the start of the problem. What peak dBFS reference are you aiming for when recording?


Actually this is something I really don't understand how to get right. I often find that a singer will clip the signal using a preamp without compression on the way in but if I turn it down so it doesn't clip the soft parts are stupidly low. That said I mostly record from in the box vst instruments, so it's only vocals and maybe guitar that get recorded externally as it were
songwriter
Poster
Posts: 29
Joined: Sun Nov 13, 2005 1:00 am

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby songwriter » Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:23 pm

Ariosto wrote:Also, what type of music are you recording and mixing? Classical (I doubt) - folk - jazz - electronic etc., etc.

Each of these types need an expert in that sort of music, and maybe you need to outsource the mixing to someone who is an expert in that field.

It's mainly pop music, sometimes mix country music that's been recorded elsewhere
songwriter
Poster
Posts: 29
Joined: Sun Nov 13, 2005 1:00 am

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby Mike Stranks » Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:39 pm

songwriter wrote:I often find that a singer will clip the signal using a preamp without compression on the way in but if I turn it down so it doesn't clip the soft parts are stupidly low.

And therein is the issue...

These days as long as you're recording at 44.1; 24-bit or greater there's no such thing as 'stupidly low'. Of course, that's assuming everything else in the signal chain is good - which in your case it is.

Us old analogue sweats were used to having the meter bounce around the 0 mark and no worries if it went to +3. These days with decent digital, your peaks should be at about -12dBFS/-18dBFS on the way in. That way you have plenty of headroom for the mix process without having to resort to comps and limiters to solve problems. You only need them for the FX they offer...

Many of us wouldn't go anywhere near a compressor on the way in. If you need to (rather than choose to) then the level is simply too hot.
Mike Stranks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 6925
Joined: Fri Jan 03, 2003 1:00 am

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby Wonks » Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:42 pm

Then you need to work to a lower general level - VSTs and mic levels. All you then need to do is turn the monitor level up to compensate. Try and work to a general -18dBFS level. Whilst the DAW can easily cope with 0dBFS and above levels and keep things clean, most modelled plug-ins will work like their analogue equivalents and start distorting when the signal through them is too hot, which may be -10dBFS or less. Sometimes this is good, but generally you end up with very coloured sounds.

So only drive your plugins hard when you want a coloured sound - and reduce the output level afterwards back to where it was to keep things matched. If you keep all the tracks at the same reduced level, you don't have any balancing issues and you'll be surprised at how much of a cleaner overall sound you get.

If you don't do it already, it's also well worth making sure that there is at least a high-pass filter on each track (and located after any VST instrument plug-in). You'll be amazed how much low frequency sound there can be, and whilst it may not be that loud, it all adds up and its all something your speakers have to try and reproduce and it can affect the audible frequencies. So for each track, adjust the cut-off frequency and/or slope of a HPF so that its as high as possible without affecting the main sound on the track.

There are some benefits of also using a LPF on each track as well to cut off unwanted HF sounds. I'd do this on a case-by-case basis. You can try it and then always turn it off if there doesn't seem to be any benefit on that track.
User avatar
Wonks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9787
Joined: Thu May 29, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Reading, UK
Correcting mistakes on the internet since 1853

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby James Perrett » Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:46 pm

songwriter wrote:but if I turn it down so it doesn't clip the soft parts are stupidly low.

What you call stupidly low is the level that you should be recording things. Proper levels are important and, while recording, you should find yourself working at far lower levels than you hear on commercial recordings. If you aim for average levels of around -20dBFS on each track you'll probably find that your recordings start to open up.
User avatar
James Perrett
Moderator
Posts: 8527
Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2001 12:00 am
Location: The wilds of Hampshire
JRP Music - Audio Mastering and Restoration. JRP Music Facebook Page

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby Tim Gillett » Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:53 pm

songwriter wrote:
The Elf wrote:If you saw the gear with which many of the incredible recordings of the past were made you would be much less inclined to concern yourself about the difference between modern A/D converters!

When I'm called in to advise on these kinds of problems the first thing we look at is recording headroom - 8/10 times this is the start of the problem. What peak dBFS reference are you aiming for when recording?


Actually this is something I really don't understand how to get right. I often find that a singer will clip the signal using a preamp without compression on the way in but if I turn it down so it doesn't clip the soft parts are stupidly low...

What do you mean by the soft parts being stupidly low? Are they buried in system noise? Could we hear an example of one of your unprocessed vocal captures to illustrate the problem?

Tim
Tim Gillett
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1871
Joined: Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:00 am
Location: Perth, Western Australia

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby Wonks » Sun Sep 15, 2019 2:03 pm

I think just very low with respect to any synths or drum samples etc. if they are peaking close to 0dBFS on their own tracks.
User avatar
Wonks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9787
Joined: Thu May 29, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Reading, UK
Correcting mistakes on the internet since 1853

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby Tim Gillett » Sun Sep 15, 2019 2:48 pm

Wonks wrote:I think just very low with respect to any synths or drum samples etc. if they are peaking close to 0dBFS on their own tracks.

Perhaps that's all the OP means but if so, we know that that's irrelevant so long as the vocal has been captured well.
Tim Gillett
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1871
Joined: Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:00 am
Location: Perth, Western Australia

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Sep 15, 2019 3:20 pm

songwriter wrote:I often find that a singer will clip the signal using a preamp without compression on the way in but if I turn it down so it doesn't clip the soft parts are stupidly low.

I'm very pleased to see the entire choir here is singing from the same hymn sheet! :-D

The point the Elf is making -- and it is a very valid one -- is that a lot of people record with far too little headroom. This is often because they get nervous if the meters barely reach half way up, or because the waveform displays look too small, or they worry about turning the monitoring up, or they just have the mindset that commercial CDs light all the LEDs in the meter so their raw tracks should too...

But by trying to record so hot you usually end up pushing the preamps too hard to deliver sustained high output levels that they were never intended to handle, and likewise, the monitoring chain is carrying far bigger signals than it was designed to do. And they often sound very hard and brash as a result -- especially budget devices.

In the analogue world all professional systems routinely worked with 18-20dB of headroom. 0VU on the analogue meters is supposed to be 20dB below digital clipping 0dBFS, so even when you think you're 'recording hot' you've still got 12dB or more of headroom looking after your transients.

If you configure your digital system to work the same way you'll end up with a much happier analogue electronics in the preamps, outboard and monitoring chain, and a much nicer sounding signal as a result. And you then just need to set up your DAW to show sensible size waveform displays with that kind of signal level when tracking and mixing.

You can, of course, always remove any no-longer-needed headroom when you master your track for CD or download or whatever... although for streaming you'll need to mix and master with loudness normalisation in mind, which retains a reasonable headroom margin anyway and is much more analogue-like in that respect.

There's nothing wrong with tracking through a compressor if you're confident that you have set it up appropriately for the sound you want in the final mix, and it can save time and help the vocalist's confidence to work that way... but do it because of the sound character it provides, not because you're worried about hitting 0dBFS. If your primary concern is hitting the ends-stops you're recording way too hot! Back off the gain and give yourself some headroom!

A lot of people find it helps to ditch the DAW's own sample-peak meters, and instead use a separate metering plugin on the output mix bus to set levels when tracking and mixing. A K-Meter set to the K20 mode is best -- it provides a much more analogue-like metering environment and the colour-coding encourages far more sensible headroom margins and peak-level control. I quite like this one: Image

https://www.meterplugs.com/kmeter

H
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 24840
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby The Elf » Sun Sep 15, 2019 4:35 pm

I think I hit the target! :mrgreen:

If you are using a compressor to prevent clipping then you are recording too hot - fix that and you will find that every link in your audio chain will begin to thank you. Remove that compressor and turn down the input.

I've seen this scenario many, many times...
User avatar
The Elf
Jedi Poster
Posts: 12917
Joined: Tue Aug 14, 2001 12:00 am
Location: Sheffield, UK
An Eagle for an Emperor, A Kestrel for a Knave.

Re: A-D Advice For Studio Upgrade Please

Postby songwriter » Sun Sep 15, 2019 5:42 pm

Thanks for all this advice! A lot to ponder over and consider here. I will post some examples of what I mean in relation to levels etc a little bit later on. Though if my levels are right it isn't causing any clipping and so doesn't fix the problem of my perception of my mixes. I do already do the filter on all tracks to remove unnecessary bass.

I record in 48k 24bit for the extra headroom always.

Very interesting replies thanks all
songwriter
Poster
Posts: 29
Joined: Sun Nov 13, 2005 1:00 am

Next

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users