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Reaching the limits?

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Reaching the limits?

Postby RichardT » Sun Apr 18, 2021 9:00 pm

I’ve recently upgraded the acoustic treatment in my studio. When I listen to top-quality commercial releases, such as Yellowjackets latest album, I get a wonderful sense of realism, the recording space and HF fluidity. So that’s very good! I’ve not heard anything like it before on monitors. It’s not exactly like the real thing, but it’s a big step towards it.

When I listen to my last album, I don’t get those things. It sounds a bit like a digital recording from the early 80s - a bit congested and flat with HF that definitely cannot be described as fluid, and without a clear sense of space.

So what is going on?

I use sampled instruments and I’m wondering if I am simply running up against the limits of what they, and artificial reverb, can do. Or I am doing something wrong? I’m not sure.

I’ve done some experiments with Superior Drummer 3, my thinking being that drum sounds provide a good test. The ‘clean’ kits are the closest thing to pristine recordings it has - recorded in a very large and quite dry space through very expensive mikes and pre-amps. No matter what reverb I apply, using Fabfilter Pro-R, Reverence (Cubase’s IR reverb)
or Seventh Heaven, I just can’t replicate the sense of drums being in a space that live recordings have.

The same with piano sounds. The piano sounds themselves are good, but again I can’t capture the sense of presence in the room.

Is that just the way it is, or am I missing a trick here? I’m happy to try a new reverb if anyone things that will make a difference. But I’m not sure it will
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby CS70 » Sun Apr 18, 2021 9:10 pm

It's very hard to say without knowing exactly what you are doing in the DAW and comparing what you deem a track that has what you want with one of yours that doesn't. Ideally, one should sit at your side and man the DAW with you and see what's what.

The "sense of space" is built in many ways and may mean very different things to different people. Spill plays a part - and it's more than reverb, it's the same sound arriving at different, carefully positioned mics at a slightly different time and at different angles - with the side sound of the involved mics having a part in the result. Delays are as useful as reverbs. Further glueing can be provided by equipment's crosstalk, with enough track count.

Keep in mind reverbs actually "smear" positioning, so a stronger sense of space may mean a dryer recording - and using short delays to get some ambience. Stuff like that.
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby blinddrew » Sun Apr 18, 2021 9:58 pm

Ok, first off, I have no idea how to solve your problem Richard, so feel free to stop reading here...

But...

I've recently been feeling that I've been hitting my limits in a way as well. I'm not unhappy with where I've got to, but like you I can hear a shortfall between what I produce and the reference tracks I'm listening to. What I'm not able to do yet is analyse what that difference is and therefore what to do about it.
For a while I was wondering if I was experiencing the cumulative effect of less than perfect playing, less than perfect room, less than perfect recording, etc etc etc. But I'm not really buying that any more. I think the limitation remains in my ears and brain.
My plan is, further down the line when restrictions and finances allow, to buy a bit more time from someone on this forum to help me with that analysis and the next steps.
It might be worth looking at getting some 1:1 support for you as well?
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby RichardT » Sun Apr 18, 2021 10:02 pm

CS70 wrote:It's very hard to say without knowing exactly what you are doing in the DAW and comparing what you deem a track that has what you want with one of yours that doesn't. Ideally, one should sit at your side and man the DAW with you and see what's what.

The "sense of space" is built in many ways and may mean very different things to different people. Spill plays a part - and it's more than reverb, it's the same sound arriving at different, carefully positioned mics at a slightly different time and at different angles - with the side sound of the involved mics having a part in the result. Delays are as useful as reverbs. Further glueing can be provided by equipment's crosstalk, with enough track count.

Keep in mind reverbs actually "smear" positioning, so a stronger sense of space may mean a dryer recording - and using short delays to get some ambience. Stuff like that.

Thanks CS70 - looking into delays sounds like a great idea.
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby RichardT » Sun Apr 18, 2021 10:03 pm

blinddrew wrote:Ok, first off, I have no idea how to solve your problem Richard, so feel free to stop reading here...

But...

I've recently been feeling that I've been hitting my limits in a way as well. I'm not unhappy with where I've got to, but like you I can hear a shortfall between what I produce and the reference tracks I'm listening to. What I'm not able to do yet is analyse what that difference is and therefore what to do about it.
For a while I was wondering if I was experiencing the cumulative effect of less than perfect playing, less than perfect room, less than perfect recording, etc etc etc. But I'm not really buying that any more. I think the limitation remains in my ears and brain.
My plan is, further down the line when restrictions and finances allow, to buy a bit more time from someone on this forum to help me with that analysis and the next steps.
It might be worth looking at getting some 1:1 support for you as well?

Yes, Drew, I think that could be a very good idea!
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby blinddrew » Sun Apr 18, 2021 10:09 pm

Oh yes, and this might be worth a listen: https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... ts-podcast
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby James Perrett » Sun Apr 18, 2021 10:43 pm

I just had a listen to that Yellowjackets album that you mention (assuming that it is the one with the WDR big band). Much of the reverb around the drums sounds like room ambience and possibly spill from other mics. This recording is also all about a bunch of great musicians playing together but with everything close miked and fairly dry unless it is the featured instrument. The arranger also obviously knew what they were doing - everything seems to have a place and the crescendos and drops are skilfully handled.

I've got some multitracks from probably a similar TV big band and that sound is there when you just push the faders up. The engineers have probably been recording them for years and know exactly which mics to use and where to put them. The tapes I have were recorded using 46 tracks (two 24 track machines running in sync but two tracks are needed for the sync code) so that each instrument could have its own track.

This simply isn't the sort of music that can be recorded in the average home studio.
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby RichardT » Mon Apr 19, 2021 8:32 am

James Perrett wrote:I just had a listen to that Yellowjackets album that you mention (assuming that it is the one with the WDR big band). Much of the reverb around the drums sounds like room ambience and possibly spill from other mics. This recording is also all about a bunch of great musicians playing together but with everything close miked and fairly dry unless it is the featured instrument. The arranger also obviously knew what they were doing - everything seems to have a place and the crescendos and drops are skilfully handled.

I've got some multitracks from probably a similar TV big band and that sound is there when you just push the faders up. The engineers have probably been recording them for years and know exactly which mics to use and where to put them. The tapes I have were recorded using 46 tracks (two 24 track machines running in sync but two tracks are needed for the sync code) so that each instrument could have its own track.

This simply isn't the sort of music that can be recorded in the average home studio.

Thanks James, I agree completely! Yes, that’s the album I was referring to. It could only be produced in a professional environment.

Just out of interest I found a video that shows the band being interviewed in the studio.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3XTRnnIFMSc

I agree with you about the room ambience. Its a lovely clear effect totally integrated with the instrument. It’s exactly that kind of sound I would love to replicate using, say, a sampled piano and reverb / delay, but that I’m failing to achieve. I guess the question is : how close to that is it possible to get artificially?
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby CS70 » Mon Apr 19, 2021 8:51 am

RichardT wrote:I agree with you about the room ambience. Its a lovely clear effect totally integrated with the instrument. It’s exactly that kind of sound I would love to replicate using, say, a sampled piano and reverb / delay, but that I’m failing to achieve. I guess the question is : how close to that is it possible to get artificially?

My impression is that most rock and pop music simply does not concern itself too much with these things, so you need to think a bit out of the common path. I think that there are things that you can do, or at least try and see how close they get you.

Assuming good music, good arrangement and great performances: the essential points that are hard to reproduce with overdubs are cross-spill between mics and slightly different reverberation (from mid-high frequencies up) because the instruments (and the mics) are positioned differently with respect to the walls. So for example sending to single a "glue" reverb won't likely give you the effect, because while you will have a little control on the depth via the send level, you will have none on the side position - panning the send doesnt help much because while it will change the relative level of the stereo channels, the reverb itself will not move. Something like the Inspirata Reverb could be handy... but without that, an option is to use individual slightly different reverbs or delays whose return is panned - to emulate the fact that a particular mic say on the left side will see reflections from the left wall a little earlier than the from the left and so on.

The other bit is spill. The idea is the same: a microphone on an instrument on the left will see a little of the sound seen by another microphone on the right.. lower in level, and affected (in terms of equalization and phase) by the side-pickup properties of the mic on the right. The same of course applies to the reverberation.

So if you take the mic on the right - feed it to a bus equipped with say a phase rotator, apply some EQ and pan it in the same position as the left mic and blend a little bit of it with the left mic, you might achieve something similar. There's lots of try and error and it's mind-boggingly complex for more than a few mics, but there's the idea for a new plugin :lol:

You won't have a single "room reverb" but rather a "room mic" which is fed panned-phased-eqed feeds of the individual mics, applies a convolution reverb (since the room mic is in one position in the room, a regular convolution will do), possibly a preamp/mic emulation and then is fed in again in very little quantities.

Stuff like that. Sky's the limit. It's far easier to rent a studio and get musicians play in there though! :D
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby N i g e l » Mon Apr 19, 2021 11:10 am

IIRC Mike Senior recently did a good podcast on adding spill creatively.
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby blinddrew » Mon Apr 19, 2021 11:16 am

N i g e l wrote:IIRC Mike Senior recently did a good podcast on adding spill creatively.
https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... nd-podcast
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby N i g e l » Mon Apr 19, 2021 11:39 am

Cheers ! you beat me to it with the link.
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby RichardT » Mon Apr 19, 2021 7:55 pm

Thanks for all the links and suggestions!

I decided to have a look at some different piano VSTs - ones advertised as being recorded in a real acoustic.

I tried Garritan CFX lite - lovely sound and acoustic, but ridiculously noisy - there's a burst of white / pink noise every time I play a note. I am asking for my money back if they can’t fix it! It’s completely unusable.

I also tried the Native instruments ‘Noire’ piano, which I have as part of the Komplete library but haven’t downloaded before. Lovely sound - almost as good as the Garritan. It has a nice studio acoustic too. This could end up being my go-to piano.
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby ManFromGlass » Tue Apr 20, 2021 1:50 am

2 random and possibly not useful thoughts -
Your room has improved enough that you can hear the limitation of samples.
And
Maybe it would be worthwhile to hire a pro to do their version of a mix on one of your pieces you’ve already mixed. Then you could pick their brains, assuming it turns out better. A variation on Drew’s idea.
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Re: Reaching the limits?

Postby RichardT » Tue Apr 20, 2021 9:05 am

ManFromGlass wrote:2 random and possibly not useful thoughts -
Your room has improved enough that you can hear the limitation of samples.
And
Maybe it would be worthwhile to hire a pro to do their version of a mix on one of your pieces you’ve already mixed. Then you could pick their brains, assuming it turns out better. A variation on Drew’s idea.

Thanks ManFromGlass

I think you could be on the right track about samples - that’s my main worry. Or it’s the limitations of reverbs....

Yes, getting a professional to mix a track would be a very good way forward.
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