All digital audio workstations offer a 'virtual mixer' for balancing, EQ'ing and processing the elements of your mix, but Samplitude augments it with a powerful alternative.
We've had numerous requests to add Samplitude to the list of programs that receive regular coverage in Sound On Sound, and this is the first in an occasional series of articles outlining tips and techniques for working with Magix's DAW package. For those who aren't already aware of it, Samplitude is a Windows-only recording, mixing, editing and mastering program that is rapidly becoming a favourite amongst both professional and serious project studios (for more details see my review of the latest version, v9, in January's SOS: www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan07/articles/samplitude9.htm).
We'll kick things off this month by looking at one of Samplitude 's most important, and unique, features: its ability to do object-based processing of considerable complexity. The examples I will outline are intended to highlight the possibilities, and represent just the tip of the creative iceberg.
Just imagine how useful it would be if, rather than having to reply on just one mixer which controlled the EQ, compression and other processing on a track, you could insert a 'mini-mixer' which controlled these functions at any point in your VIP (this is the Samplitude name for a playlist). This mini-mixer could control additional processing either for all the channels at this point or for just one channel, and of this channel perhaps just a very small snippet. Rather than setting up complicated automation processes, suppose you could just say: I want to put this processor in here for just two seconds (maybe just to see what it sounds like!) and then take it out again completely after that time — and suppose you could do it with just a couple of mouse clicks. Doesn't this seem like a very nice way of increasing creativity as well as productivity? Well, this, in essence, is what the Samplitude Object Editor gives you: immediate control over the processing of any size and any number of Objects.
A Samplitude Object is a created by two cuts in a VIP. So if we have, say, a song with a chorus that starts at 1'30" and returns to the verse at 2'15", we can make a cut at both of these time-points (with Samplitude this is achieved with the keystroke 'T') and so define that chorus as a separate Object 45 seconds long. Objects can be any length whatsoever, from a complete playlist containing all the songs for a CD, to a sub-second sliver whose only limitations are the lengths of the crossfades on either side. In general, however, Objects for processing are usually elements that have some identity of their own that makes it sensible to delineate them from what surrounds them. That can mean individual songs when mastering, sections of songs when mixing, sections of single tracks when — for example — constructing vocal harmonies, individual notes for pitch correction and other fixes, and even smaller portions for tasks such as de-essing. Hopefully, all will become crystal clear in the examples that follow.
Once an Object has been defined, it can be selected for editing/processing by clicking in its lower half. It will then change colour to indicate its selected status, and its own Object Editor window can be opened either from the Object menu, by pressing Ctrl+O, or more simply by double-clicking the the Object itself. As you can see from the screenshot on the left, the Editor Window in its maximum mode comprises a full range of tweakables, divided into three main sections. At the top is Object Effects, which is a bit like a channel strip in the mixer, with overall pre-effects gain, Aux sends, access to all program and external plug-ins, Samplitude parametric EQ, pan controls, and output volume. Next is the Position/Fades window, which, in Samplitude (but not in the higher-end Sequoia) is also where crossfades between Objects can be adjusted. Finally there is the Pitch-shifting/Time-stretching window. A nice feature is that the Object Editor can remain open at all times and updates automatically to reflect the condition of the Object selected. This enables a very swift workflow.
In this article, I'll give four examples of the uses I have made of the Object Editor over the past few weeks of working: some simple mix moves, the reduction/removal of a noise, some vocal reconstruction, and finally some CD mastering.
Samplitude 's main mixer has plenty of scope for automation, and automation curves can be drawn directly into the playlist, but using Object editing is a very fast way to try out, say, a different level of processing on a certain section of a song. It might work to use an extra level of processing on a particular instrument, for example, to help it blend in with background changes at that point. To do this is very simple: with an Object defined as just the instrument to be processed, open the Object Editor, open the plug-in, and choose the settings. Because Object-based processing works entirely independently of the main mixer settings, these do not have to be referred to during this additional stage. Simply keep the Object Editor open and tweak the parameters until it sounds good.
The example shown here comes from a jazz track that's part of a long 'narrative' CD (a jazz-for-children story) which goes into a 'blues' section for a while, with the saxophone playing the main theme and solo. At all other times, when the sax is just part of the backing under the main narrative, it shares an auxiliary reverb with the rest of the horn section, but for this part it needed an extra level of processing. During the recording, the sax player instinctively moved closer to the mic for his solo, so although I didn't need to add gain to this section, I found I did need to give it a little more width and air. Clicking on the Object marked out as the sax solo, I selected it (highlighted in orange). Double-clicking on this opened the Object Editor window. Within this editing window I chose Samplitude 's excellent Room Simulator and then opened the dialogue box for that too, which then allowed a real-time tweaking of the effect (see screens on previous page). This procedure might sound a little complicated, but in fact it took less time to set it up than it did to type the description, and it was much faster — for this particular move — than setting up mixer-based automated processing.
This example shows very clearly the main advantage of using Object-based processing: it does not actually enable you to do very much that you couldn't do some other way, but because of its utter ease and simplicity of use, it gets the job done much more efficiently.
Transient Noise Reduction
Specialised noise-reduction software is necessary to reduce broad-band hiss or hum, and even more specialised processors — such as CEDAR Retouch, Algorithmix Renovator, or the Spectral Cleaning plug-in that is included in Samplitude 9 — are needed for eliminating noises that occur within the music itself. However, quite a lot of more simple cleaning tasks can very quickly be accomplished with the Object Editor. In the example here (see screenshots above) we have the beginning of a piano track which has a mild pedal thump just before the pianist starts playing. As this thump occurs in a region of the track that I wanted included in the fade-in, I needed to reduce, or even eliminate, the noise. So I first defined an Object as before, with two cuts on either side of the thump, opened the Object Editor and quickly found that a combination of a 12dB cut and a high-pass filter at 100Hz eliminated the offending thump without affecting the atmosphere that was needed in the fade-up to the beginning of the music. This took — literally — just two keystrokes and six mouse clicks. Of course, this is not the only way of approaching the problem. I could have cut the noise out completely and edited in a section of the pre-note atmosphere copied from elsewhere, but why spend five or six minutes doing something that takes less than one with Object Editing?
Constructing Vocal Harmonies
In this example I was working on a simple folk demo consisting of female vocal, guitar and acoustic bass. During mixing, it was felt that the 'purist' attitude adopted for the recording (the whole thing was captured live) could be abandoned for one song. It was felt that some variation was needed, and that added interest could be created, without any further recording, by doubling and harmonising certain parts of the vocal line, and then mixing them back in at a fairly low level. The section of the vocal track to which this technique was to be applied is shown in the screenshots overleaf. Again, I first created an Object by cutting, and then, by Ctrl-dragging with the mouse to a free track above, I created a clone of it. Incidentally, holding down the Shift key at the same time as I dragged to the new track would have guaranteed that the clone was time-aligned with the original, but as I was trying to create the illusion of a second singer, by dragging free-hand and setting the alignment by eye I deliberately introduced a microsecond's delay between the two, which gave a very natural-sounding result. I then solo'd the two tracks, and opened the Object Editor for the clone. Again, with the Object Editor window staying open as I played and replayed the section (clicking on the loop option automatically selects the start and end of the object as the loop length), it was easy to tweak the Pitch-shift parameter until I achieved the desired result. The screenshot only shows the beginning of the process, as I ended up making finer edits within the cloned phrase (which consisted of four words) and pitch-shifting each word differently to create a nicely mobile harmony line above the original. This is generally a good idea with constructed harmonies, as a static interval soon begins to sound very tired.
Mastering: Per-song Compression & EQ
CD mastering is where the object-based approach, which allows you quickly to construct an independent mini-mixer for each song, really comes into its own. The simplicity of constructing a sequence of songs, each with its own mastering processing, without having to set up complicated processing chains that are mix-automated differently for each stereo track, is a real boon.
I was recently working with a song that the mastering engineer had decided needed some sweetening EQ and multi-band compression (incidentally, the Samplitude multi-band is one of the best available: it is not available as a third-party plug-in, and some people have thought it worth buying Samplitude for this feature alone!). It is generally the case that the final limiting will be done for all tracks in the main mixer, or on a buss insert in the main mixer, but song-specific changes can obviously be done much more easily in the Object Editor — and there's a special 'mini' window which can be chosen for when access to processing windows is needed. Because the Object Editor updates immediately to show the status of whichever Object is selected, moving from one song to the next can be achieved simply by selecting the next Object in the play-list: the editing windows stay open, and all processor parameters can be tweaked and auditioned in real time. This is very useful when you want to do a quick final level and spectral balance check before burning the master.
It's clear that the Object editing and processing that Samplitude allows is extremely useful. Not only does it speed the workflow, its ease of use can lead to more experimentation and increased creativity. So is there any down side? Only for the pathological tweaker who just has to try one ... more ... thing. For the more normal among us, who generally know when enough is enough or whose deadlines keep tweakery within sensible limits, Samplitude 's Object-based processing and editing is an up with no down.