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Sonar Tips & Techniques By Craig Anderton
Published July 2013

Don't save Sonar X2's TH2 Producer amp-sim just for guitars: drums, synths and vocals can all benefit too.

Sonar X2 has a new amp-sim/effects plug-in, called TH2 Producer, which is a version of Overloud's TH2. It offers amp modelling with multiple amps and cabinets, as well as several effects. So, in the true spirit of Sonar technique columns, let's investigate how to use it for anything other than guitar.

Background Basics

Once we get going, you'll be spending a lot of time looking at the pseudo-wood floor background of TH2, and if you get tired of it, there's an easy way to customise it. Right-click on an empty space in either the main section or the smaller map, choose Add New from File, navigate to any PNG or JPG file, select it, then choose Open. Note that if the picture is smaller than the 'floor', TH2 Producer will tile it to fill in the entire space, so if you want a solid colour background, open Windows Paint and make a solid colour of virtually any size. Save it, and when you select the file, that will become the new background. (Note that the Map View automatically adds an attractive gradient to any solid colour.)

The Path To Power

The TH2 Producer signal path will be familiar to Line 6 POD Farm 2 fans, as it follows a serial-parallel-serial protocol. The parallel section starts with a crossover, so the parallel split can optionally send highs to one path and lows to the other. There's also a Band-pass filter mode, where one path has a band-pass boost, while the other has a complementary notch. If neither is enabled, both paths are parallel connected with no filtering. A separate 'spread' control determines the notch bandwidth, while a 'swap' button reverses the outputs (for example, if one output was highs and the other lows, 'swap' reverses that).

The mixer sums the parallel paths back together again, with Phase Inverse, Delay, Width, Pan and Level controls, as well as a Balance slider. The TH2 Producer manual can fill you in on the details.

Lo-Fi Drums

Drums lend themselves well to a little crunch, but there are limitations. If you apply something like a bit-crusher, the sound will become indistinct, which may be what you want, but I prefer to have a monster low end and a more defined high end. This usually involves copying tracks, inserting a Sonitus Multiband Compressor into each track, setting it up to be a crossover, then adding some kind of distortion in the low-frequency track. However, TH2 can do all of this in one track, and more flexibly too. 1. TH2 can produce monster drum sounds, yet retain definition, thanks to the crossover module.1. TH2 can produce monster drum sounds, yet retain definition, thanks to the crossover module.

Start the signal chain with the TH2 Splitter in Normal mode, with Balance set to halfway and a crossover frequency of around 230Hz. Send the low-frequency output to the Randall amp. Other amps will work too, as will the TubeNine overdrive, but I prefer the Randall's tonal characteristics. Select Overdrive mode for the Randall, and turn Gain up about halfway and Level to around four o'clock.

The high-frequency split provides the 'clean' sound. Picture 1 shows digital delay followed by spring reverb (which I decided to add just for the example). Next, the TH2 Mixer Pro combines the parallel paths back into serial. Make sure the mixer is set to stereo, then use the Balance slider to adjust the ratio of big low end to clean, defined high-end.

Ethereal Pads

This effect is best with vocal choirs and string pads, but can also work really well with individual solo vocals. The basic technique uses the Splitter in Normal mode to send only high frequencies to one path, while the other path carries the dry sound. Insert a modulation effect such as chorus or phaser, or a delay, into the high-frequency path. If you restrict the high-frequency range sufficiently (for example, above 5kHz or so), you can add a significant amount of the effect without it sounding excessive.

Wah's Up?

A problem with using any kind of filtering or distortion on bass is that it thins out the sound. With this technique, we'll use the crossover to separate the low end and keep it clean, while adding wah to the mid-range frequencies.

Again, we'll use the Normal Splitter mode, with 490Hz as the split frequency. The Crying wah pedal handles the higher frequencies. The rest of the controls are straightforward, although I prefer setting the output mixer balance to favour the lower frequencies, with the wah effect providing more of an overlay. 2. Bass wah keeps the low end clean, but processes the highs.2. Bass wah keeps the low end clean, but processes the highs.

This technique is also wonderful for adding growl to the bass. Replace the wah with the Amp + Cab processor, and you can add some grit without affecting the low end. Of course, there are many amp options, but what works for me with bass is a morph of the Dark Face and Rock '64, with the VariFire option turned up to 7. 3. Adding some crunch to a bass's high frequencies, while leaving the lower frequencies undisturbed, gives an aggressive but full bass sound.3. Adding some crunch to a bass's high frequencies, while leaving the lower frequencies undisturbed, gives an aggressive but full bass sound.

When processing bass, also try flipping a mixer channel's phase switch. This cancels out some of the mid-range and produces a rounder sound.

Stereo Electric Piano

Here's a way to convert a mono, vintage electric piano sound into stereo. Use the Splitter in Bandpass mode, with the X-Over Freq set to around 800Hz, and Freq Spread to 2.0. At the mixer, pan one channel all the way to the left and one channel all the way to the right. 4. This setup effectively makes a stereo electric piano from a mono sound.4. This setup effectively makes a stereo electric piano from a mono sound.

As with any mono-to-stereo type of conversion, always check what happens to the sound when it's summed to mono, and tweak if necessary, to make sure the sound doesn't get thinner.

Overall, TH2 Producer is a useful addition to Sonar, but it's even more useful when you realise it has potential far beyond guitar processing.  

What About Touch?

One of the Sonar X2a update's distinguishing characteristics — aside from being supported only on Windows 7 and 8 (even if you installed X2 under a different operating system, like 64-bit Vista) — is that it supports multi-point touchscreens under Windows 8.

I'm not going to get embroiled in the Windows 8 controversy, because I think it's a sketchy implementation of a clever concept, and I assume that Windows 8 SP1 (or whatever it will be called) will tie up some of the loose ends. In any event, I was able to borrow a Planar 27-inch touch screen (with 20 points of multitouch) to try out with Sonar X2a, and there are some distinct advantages, although it's more of a supplement to traditional interfacing than a replacement.

First, let's get the limitations out of the way: there's no touch-based right-click with Sonar, so to bring up a context menu you'll still have to use the mouse or keyboard. Second, placement is critical. What worked best for me was placing the touchscreen as I would a usual mixer control surface: on the tabletop, and angled up somewhat. The mouse went to the side and a QWERTY keyboard (which I prefer over touchscreen hunt-and-peck) in my lap.

My favorite touch application is zooming, because you can pinch and stretch to zoom in and out. This is an easy, quick, intuitive process. I also liked using touch with the step sequencer and it's excellent for Matrix View. Moving things around on screen, like windows, works well with touch, although trying to access something graphically detailed like a splitter bar to resize a pane can be, um, 'touch and go'. For mixing, frankly I prefer hardware faders. I don't think it's just a question of force of habit or being old school; it's easier to know where you are, and the overall feel is more positive as well.

Where touch really comes into its own is in its ability to allow two-handed interfacing with Sonar. I'm a left-handed mouser, so I could be doing on-screen manipulations with my right hand while making finer adjustments with the left. But I also really appreciated having a 27-inch screen to serve as a dedicated control surface; it's harder to imagine touch on a DAW with a laptop.

However, it's also important to remember that few programs were designed from the ground up for use with touch screens. It's a new interfacing method with a great deal of promise, and even today it does make a useful, speedy supplement to using a mouse and keyboard.

Published July 2013

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