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Nonlinear
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6th December 2012
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Techniques for a solid low end?

One of the characteristics I like about a well mastered recording is the solid bottom end. No boomy bass notes; punchy kick drums, etc.

How, exactly, is this achieved and how was it done in the days before multiband compressors and dynamic EQ? Using static EQ to tame a boomy bass note, for example, makes that band weak the rest of the time.

How do you guys approach this?
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Are you assuming those elements were not present in the original mix itself?
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Originally Posted by RRCHON View Post
Are you assuming those elements were not present in the original mix itself?
Yes, I guess I am to some extent. I'm just wondering how you go about "solidifying" the low end without also crushing the top - especially in the days before multiband compressors.

Is it all about EQ?
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Not everyone uses dynamic eq and multiband now. Just good old eq and compression can do what you ask
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I'll repeat what Bob Katz said. Mastering can improve a mix by a letter grade. So, if a song has an A+ low end, it's because the mix had at least a B+ low end.
If there's a little unevenness in the bass, you can use some very narrow and light-handed EQ to notch out the problem frequencies while not messing too much with other things. My most recent master used a narrow 3dB notch at 50Hz to pull down some excessive bass drum boominess.

Even now, it's VERY rare for pro mixes/masters to use multiband compression.
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Originally Posted by PatrikT View Post
It is certainly NOT about notching the hell out of every little trace of human life and valid analog signal.
LOL I actually did that one time using multiple parametrics to create a nice, smooth spectrum.

Sounded horrible.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RRCHON View Post
Are you assuming those elements were not present in the original mix itself?
Yeah, this is almost entirely a mix issue IME.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nonlinear View Post

How, exactly, is this achieved and how was it done in the days before multiband compressors and dynamic EQ? Using static EQ to tame a boomy bass note, for example, makes that band weak the rest of the time.

How do you guys approach this?
It is (or can be) achieved by firstly, having a monitoring system where you can hear the low frequencies adequately and accurately.

Then listen for low frequencies that don't "need to be there" ie frequencies which are not the fundamentals or important harmonics of instruments.

You can cut with a decent equaliser, linear/minimum phase, analog/digital to preference/taste. For this purpose you will probably not need a dynamic EQ because you will likely want these muddying frequencies gone for good.

Often after fixing the bottom end you may then need to shelve up the overall low end so it is balanced with the rest of the track.
Some high-pass filtering is usually part of the process too. All this (if the track allows and everything is done properly at this stage) will help the bottom end to be clearer and give the kick drum more punch.

Multiband compression is almost doing the opposite and will possibly muddy a bottom end which has irrelevant frequencies taking up room.

In the days before Multiband compression and dynamic EQ, I guess most recordings were done by capable recording engineers and mastering didn't require so much repair work.

Everyone has different ways to achieve their desired results but I expect most pro mastering engineers can get by pretty well without Multiband compression or dynamic EQ for most jobs.... Generalisation is dangerous in anything related to sound though right?!

Best,

Owen Gillett
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Going to tape! It evens out all bass notes, makes all the bass frequencies more consistent, stable. That's why it sounds solid.

More and more with ITB mixes going to tape may help a lot on polishing the record. It still is not the same as mixing or recording to tape, but it helps a lot.
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Mono out the sub lows this will tighten up your bass immensely. The like others have suggested run it through some sort of tube or tape processing. That should do what your are aiming for. I may want to mono everything under 100 hz for example.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lu432 View Post
Mono out the sub lows this will tighten up your bass immensely. The like others have suggested run it through some sort of tube or tape processing. That should do what your are aiming for. I may want to mono everything under 100 hz for example.
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i don't always agree, and never, ever do this by default. despite popular opinion, there can often be a lot of great, visceral, stereophonic/placement/localisation energy in the bass frequencies that can be lost if you just "mono the bass".

slightly different topic (dealing with mono vs. stereo subs), but bob olhsson has something similar to say about it here:

Mastering with 2 subs or 1?
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Mainly eq. High-res eq work is amazingly powerful. But also: center clipping, missing fundamentals, psycho-acoustic dynamics regeneration, etc. Rarely very careful phase rotation, bass compression, etc. 2 times i've tried synthesized sub and been happy enough with the results to at least present the idea/demo to a client, because it so much better fits the other tracks of the release.
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UncaJesse!! Long time no see.....
Hope you are well.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Babaluma View Post
i don't always agree, and never, ever do this by default. despite popular opinion, there can often be a lot of great, visceral, stereophonic/placement/localisation energy in the bass frequencies that can be lost if you just "mono the bass".

slightly different topic (dealing with mono vs. stereo subs), but bob olhsson has something similar to say about it here:

Mastering with 2 subs or 1?
+1

Mono-ing the low frequencies can take the life right out of a track if it is not needed. At times, I have in fact BOOSTED the lows in the sides to create a better stereo image and a fatter, thicker sound.


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Quote:
Originally Posted by NotchontheRocks View Post
+1

Mono-ing the low frequencies can take the life right out of a track if it is not needed. At times, I have in fact BOOSTED the lows in the sides to create a better stereo image and a fatter, thicker sound.
+1
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It's been said a couple of time here already but a really well executed low end was most likely already achieved in the mix. Especially in any kind of dance music it's definitely already done in the mix.. it's like the most important part sonically in this genre.

One who can't get the mix lows to work is usually not what I'd call a professional. Unfortunately these people are quite rare and most mastering jobs I get need quite a bit of salvaging work in the low end.

Most likely the biggest cause of this is people who work in acoustically sub-par rooms or mix using headphones. Mixing on headphones is extremely difficult (but not impossible, it just takes A LOT of attention to details and knowing exactly how your headphones translate).

A good fast compressor can help quite a bit in keeping the low end stable.. kind of "anchoring" the rest of the tune to the low end.

Most important tool of course is EQ. Like it was said above, keep an eye out for unruly resonances, especially those that don't belong in the actual song (inharmonic.. or slightly off tune resonances. Usually found on any acoustic instruments).

Cheers!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Owen Gillett View Post
....Then listen for low frequencies that don't "need to be there" ie frequencies which are not the fundamentals or important harmonics of instruments.
.....
Often after fixing the bottom end you may then need to shelve up the overall low end so it is balanced with the rest of the track.
....

Best,

Owen Gillett
This is interesting, thanks !
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bmanic View Post
A good fast compressor can help quite a bit in keeping the low end stable.. kind of "anchoring" the rest of the tune to the low end.
True. Please be careful of what that does to the transients. A fast compressor is working to do this partly by creating dissociative distortions. Not nearly as much as a limiter, but where does one define the line? (don't answer that, lol)

Speak of the devil; a limiter can also "homogenize" the bass a lot, if it's passing the threshold relatively consistently. That's the main thing I hate about limiters (and the reason i looove the distortion-masked clipper i use), but that effect is happening on most "loud" bass-heavy music these days. It's pretty easy to do. :/

Where as a *good* EQ job being careful controlled consideration, without non-linear side effects. But many people don't have high-res EQs in their workflow, with the ability to EQ each note and even in-between the notes.

I like Owen Gillett's advice the best so far.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by NotchontheRocks View Post
+1

Mono-ing the low frequencies can take the life right out of a track if it is not needed. At times, I have in fact BOOSTED the lows in the sides to create a better stereo image and a fatter, thicker sound.


Sent from my DROID BIONIC
Very true. Bottom end is a stylistic thing; a narrower, more mono-happy low end might suit a pop dance track, but such treatment on a doomy stoner rock record would get you fired (or worse!).

Although, come to think of it, that's probably precisely NOT the sound the OP was praising in that initial post, so maybe this comment isn't even relevant.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'd be bummed if a mastering guy just mono'd the low end of one of my mixes like that. I'm sure there are times where it helps a great deal (actually...I'm not "sure" of that...but I respect the talent and knowledge here so I'll give some of you guys the benefit of the doubt), but it seems a bit extreme a response to the OP's question, at least when provided without caveat.
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The classic fix it in the mix, passed down to fix it in mastering really needs to be addressed as early as possible. I am guilty of all the above but now I am trying to lock it down as early as I can.

The last few projects have had the same types problems. A number of the players and/or instruments didn't produce even level notes depending on key and where they are playing on the neck. Simple use of compression and eq didn't help this. So I started to go note by note and automate the levels to be with in a few dbs while watching a pair of VU's. The VU's take my room out of the equation. Often times it was more then a 10db swing from note to note. After taking the time to adjust the volumes and level it out I had a solid low end I could start working with. Then I could use compression for color or groove, not enormous amounts of leveling. Obviously, any large amounts of eq should be done before the volume automation.

Guys who do a lot of synth bass and such wont have as much of an issue.

The other mixing technique I have been doing and found to work is to really spend a good amount of time on working just the center. Once I have everything roughed in I mute the side elements and really focus on what is happening in the center. How the bass, kick and vocal all interact with each other. Also what ever the main instrument is that is in the center like Acoustic guitar or electric. I have found that the extra time spent doing this is saved overall because the rest of the mix works it's self out easily and I believe the overall mix translates better. My normal mastering engineer also commented on the difference in overall mix quality once I started to apply these techniques. He has always been very helpful with feedback!

Now, I have recently had Hank Williams master a few projects. And I have notice he has a way of making the bass more solid and also deeper then the mix. I think he must be doing something more then EQ. I have wondered if it is a subharmonic box of some sort? Do mastering guys use those often? He also does a fantastic job of some how making the vocal sound a little cooler then it was before.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Owen Gillett View Post
It is (or can be) achieved by firstly, having a monitoring system where you can hear the low frequencies adequately and accurately.
100% on this. A lot of music is tracked and mixed on small speakers now and the first time they ever hear the bottom accurately is in mastering. Tracking on a full range system can prevent so many problems down the line. If the spectral balance is good on the individual tracks, one can mix on just about anything and get a good balance. Just don't try to make the mix sound huge on small speakers. That's usually a recipe for too much bottom.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jesse Graffam View Post
Where as a *good* EQ job being careful controlled consideration, without non-linear side effects. But many people don't have high-res EQs in their workflow, with the ability to EQ each note and even in-between the notes.
By high-res do you mean a super-transparent linear-phase parametric so you can notch out individual notes? Is this a domain where plug-ins aren't up to the task?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StringBean View Post
By high-res do you mean a super-transparent linear-phase parametric so you can notch out individual notes?
I don't know about "super" transparent, because the tradeoff is pre-ringing, but yes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by StringBean View Post
Is this a domain where plug-ins aren't up to the task?
There are plugins with filters that are tight enough, but I use standalone software that makes it much faster to locate specific things, and it does give good visual feedback. Not always accurate feedback to how it sounds, but good enough to be useful for my brain & ears which are obviously the final say.
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monitoring is #1, do not pass go without it.


notch and maybe boost is #2

limiting is #3

mid-side gain and or eq is 1.5, or 2.5.

compression is usually optional, unnecessary

multiband is #never
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nonlinear View Post
One of the characteristics I like about a well mastered recording is the solid bottom end. No boomy bass notes; punchy kick drums, etc.

How, exactly, is this achieved and how was it done in the days before multiband compressors and dynamic EQ? Using static EQ to tame a boomy bass note, for example, makes that band weak the rest of the time.

How do you guys approach this?


For boomy single bass notes look @ this one:

Mastering Audio by Bob Katz - YouTube
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I get a solid low end by going to the gym at least three times a week.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lucey View Post
monitoring is #1, do not pass go without it.

compression is usually optional, unnecessary

multiband is #never
You mean you can't do it in your cans? Whats wrong with you??

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