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Transient Response - One of my favorite subjects..... Virtual Instrument Plugins
Old 18th August 2007
  #1
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Bruce Swedien's Avatar
 

Transient Response - One of my favorite subjects.....

Transient Response
_________________________________________________________________

I am frequently asked to define transient response, as it applies to music recording. Here are some of my thoughts on this very important subject.

First let’s try to define the basic issue.

A- Transient response in electronic recording equipment, is the ability of a device or electronic component, to handle and faithfully reproduce sudden waveforms called transients. A transient is a short duration, high level sonic energy peak, such as a hand-clap or snare drum hit. Any sound source in the percussion family requires excellent transient response in the recording equipment to sound real.

B- To me, a sound transient is the steep wave-front of the sound. In other words, the transient of the sound is the first impact of the sound before the sound falls and begins to decay, or die.

Good transient response is especially important when recording acoustic instruments. This is one case where it’s extremely important for one to have equipment that is able to capture as much of the initial transient as possible, and all it’s accompanying delicate details.

In the music that I am normally involved in, I have always felt that good transient content is one of the very most important components of the recorded image. I would even go so far as to say that transient response has at it’s core a direct relationship to the emotional impact of a recording. Particularily in the main genre’s of music that I record.... namely R & B and ‘Pop’ recordings.

The faithful recording and reproduction of sound source transients makes the strong rhythmic elements in R & B and ‘Pop’ recordings much more dramatic.

These are the elements that are so important, such as the ‘Kick’ or bass drum, the ‘Snare’ drum, hand-claps, percussion...etc.

I think that well recorded transients give R & B and ‘Pop’ recordings a feeling of tremendous energy.

To me, the excessive use of compression and limiting diminish the drama of sound source transients in recorded music. Along that same line of thinking, I should also point out that I have never been(and probably never will be) a big fan of dynamics compression anywhere during the recording process.

To me, when R & B and ‘Pop’ recordings are over-compressed and over-limited, they lack the extemely fundamental qualities of both primitive energy and smooth high-frequencies.

The reason that over-compressed and over-limited recordings lose high end energy, is that much of the sound energy in a recording is concentrated in the lower frequencies. These low-end signals will negatively influence a wide-band compressor’s operation, causing higher frequencies to be attenuated during peaks in level, making the music sound dull and lifeless.

Personally, I love transients and what they do to dramatize music. Let them live! If a recording is over-compressed, it will always be over-compressed. In other words, it will sound dull and lifeless forever!

You can tell I am NOT a big fan of compression or limiting in music recording....

Bruce Swedien
Old 18th August 2007
  #2
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The Listener's Avatar
Big greetings to you, Mr.Swedien,

I am almost terrifyed to reply to your post.

I agree with you about transients 100%, nothing delivers more emotions than well reproduced transients that "sing" and "ring", instead of just boom and trash...(trying to simulate overcompression).

Ok. To the question. Or two. You said you're no fan of compression during recording, but you mentioned Universal audio 1176 as a part of Jennifer Lopez vocal recording chain... So how do you apply it? In what ratio and specifically - why? As dynamics controlling or tone shaping tool?

Maybe a philosophical question - what do you expect from compressor when you apply it?

And another - you talk specifically about recording, right? I guess you use moderate and tasteful compression during mixing? Because your mixes sound quite loud enough - and I guess some sort of dynamic shaping had to be done?

If you are willing to share some insights of your creative use of compressors combined with EQing - what do you listen to while compressing, how do you preserve transients while "fattening" the sound with compression, etc.?

Thank you for any words of audio wisdom.

Best!
Old 18th August 2007
  #3
Gear Nut
 

Every now and then I find transcients too s***** and agressive for a style of music and find this destracts from the emotion & enjoyment of the music. Caused for instance by unnatural close miking.

Sometimes I use an expander in an effort to get more of it.

All depends I guess. Everyone with ears would agree compression is doing more harm then good these days.
Old 18th August 2007
  #4
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JohnRoberts's Avatar
 

Just to expand upon your comments, the modern practice of close mic'ing individual instruments, instead of ensemble mic'ing a group of musos with a spaced single, or stereo pair, leads to more severe transients which would otherwise dissipate (smear?) somewhat over distance. The immediacy of this effect can be very pleasing when well done.

Not to quibble but wide range compression, also raises up HF content during quieter passages that would normally be lost. Peak limiting which looks at envelope will likely reduce bass more than HF, so dynamic processing can have differing results depending upon the approach.

I certainly defer to your superior experience in working with dynamics, but there are multiple types with different mechanisms. While the the all to common squashed dynamics may lack energy, they contain high average power which is probably the intent.. not good or bad, just is.

If it don't go chrome it, if it doesn't rock, compress it.

JR
Old 19th August 2007
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
The reason that over-compressed and over-limited recordings lose high end energy, is that much of the sound energy in a recording is concentrated in the lower frequencies. These low-end signals will negatively influence a wide-band compressor’s operation, causing higher frequencies to be attenuated during peaks in level, making the music sound dull and lifeless.
That's the biggest problem with the end results, but I see that as a problem with our equipment. Whenever we listen to live music, we listen at a bit of a distance, losing the shear volume associated by the transients, compression by distance if you will.

The important part to me is the tonal quality of transients. Strings sound differently when sounded harder. Drums sound different when really whacked. When we compress and lose all those cues in the high-end it sounds wrong. I'm just learning to back off (like mostly zero) on all the compressors until it hits the main buss (and then just to limit some of the outrageous things back into balance, like a vocal blast or stray snare that won't get out of the way). I think at least there's a good signal with people looking for things described as subtle glue and gel.

The problem I have is what the mastering houses are doing. I listen to rock and metal. On speakers, yeah, it's lifeless, but sometimes it's mechanical sounding in a good way, an artificial sense of power. And actually on things like car stereos, the natural dynamics would make it impossible to coherently hear low passages without killing your ears on the next passage. They don't replicate sound well enough (all those high end cues) to discern low level whispers and things, especially with an engine providing background accompaniment.

The problem is when I listen to these cd's through headphones at work, and they are clipping all over the place. If I listen to them on monitors, they are clipping all over the place. What the hell? Is nobody listening to these things before they hit bandwidth limited medium or car stereos anymore? This isn't just a few bad spots, but like 20 times in a song, sometimes 2-3 second passages.
Old 19th August 2007
  #6
Transients = reality = the ultimate audio gimmick.

Perhaps it's not too popular because it's hard to get and retain. It's much easier to strap a compressor across and let it ride. I call that the easy way out. Seems the fashion of the day supports this. It's much easier to let the compressor mix your music.

Compressors are the crutch of music. How many can get a great blend/mix without one anymore?

Bruce can.

Jim Williams
Audio Upgrades
Old 19th August 2007
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
Compressors are the crutch of music. How many can get a great blend/mix without one anymore?

Bruce can.

Jim Williams
Audio Upgrades
Just to be clear, I wasn't by any means implying anything different since my post immediately preceded yours. I couldn't mix the sweat off Bruce's balls.

I just think that often the timbre associated with transients in performances are more important than the level changes and "dynamics". That's why I mentioned the distance at which we would normally listen to anything with big transients. Even a big voice can physically hurt at a foot away, or at least that's what my wife says in the car. I'm pretty sure she means the volume changes and not the pitch. Well, maybe I'm just sure i'd like that to be the case.

But we don't mic at listening distance often. We'd have a phasey mess with even less transients and nuance.
Old 19th August 2007
  #8
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Sinewave's Avatar
 

Quote:
I just think that often the timbre associated with transients in performances are more important than the level changes and "dynamics".

Then the Engineer has to decide where it is best to place the Mics to get the best compromise of tone and transients. Interesting post by the way.
Old 20th August 2007
  #9
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u b k's Avatar
 

i'm all about serious compression, and i'm all about preserving the transients. for me compression is not about squashing the transient to death, it's about *shaping* it to maximize it's impact in context, across a wide range of playback volumes.

on drums, it's often about letting some of the pop thru, but only so much and only for so long, then sucking up some of the decay to increase the mass and the punch. on vocals, it's often about letting enough of the initial vocalization thru to retain intelligibility, and squashing the rest as needed in order to create the right amount of immediacy, urgency, edge, or whatever. sometimes it *is* about completely killing the transient, either because i'm going to blend it back in parallel, or because that's just the sound that the song needs.

there's a fine line between good compression and bad compression, sometimes an incredibly fine line, and in my opinion it takes every bit as much skill to work that razor's edge than it does to create a great mix with little to no compression, so i fully reject any attempts to blithely equate compression with a crutch and un-compression with talent.

as with many good women, many forms of music demand a firm spanking in order to unleash their passion and i, for one, am not the type to say 'no'.


gregoire
del
ubk
.
Old 20th August 2007
  #10
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lowfreq33's Avatar
 

Good point. I use compression to SHAPE the transients, not to eliminate them.
Old 20th August 2007
  #11
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The Listener's Avatar
And all that you said is why I asked the Man himself how he uses compressors (which he obviously does - just calls 1176 leveling amplifier which sounds nicer than the "C" word )

Best to you all and thanx for some nice tips.

I would now really like to hear the master himself if he will notice the question and find time and the slightest will to elaborate on that subject...
Old 20th August 2007
  #12
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GYang's Avatar
I can't add to much, although I simply don't see how to make modern music production without quite a lot of compression.
Any word on gear application from Mr. Swedien is highly appreciated.
Old 20th August 2007
  #13
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heathen's Avatar
 

I'll rarely use attack times of less than 30 ms, virtually never under 10 ms. I can't stand when attack times are set too fast and destroy the transients. Also residual compression from a too slow release time on drums is not my fav sound either.
Old 20th August 2007
  #14
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I think it's all about the source and the intention of the production. Applying a compressor might be the only way to straighten out an inconsistent bass player and I dare to claim that Mr. Swedien doesn't encounter these too often in his work.

In that case, the compressor/limiter is a crutch but maybe the only option short of firing the player or cancelling the project.

But Paul McCartney is a great bass player and the use of compression on say 'Paperback Writer' was a creative decision to get the bass upfront and change the shape of its sound.

Much in the same way that the Yardbirds 'For your love' turned the sustainless Cembalo into a reverberating instrument that doesn't happen like that 'in nature'.

Personally, I'm also much more into the tonal qualities of different compressors and I also see value in painting a sonical picture where some elements are very compressed and others are left unaffected and transient-intense in the same way that dry/wet elements can add color and excitement to a mix.

The only problem I see is the total squashing so common today in mixing and mastering. It unltimately leads to drug-addiction syndroms where the (maybe) pleasant effects of first-time or occasional use give way to simple craving, thus eleminating any sense of adventure and surprise.
Old 20th August 2007
  #15
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Trust Mr Swedien to stir up a can of worms!

Everything is limited, compressed and pushed all the way to 0dBFS.

Result? Poor transient response.

But there is worse to come - all the home studio speakers being pushed today in the various magazines and catalogues have extended bass response coming from tuned reflex ports. Very many so-called professional monitors do the same.

The result of these 'cheat' designs is poor response time (poor ability to follow the incoming signal accurately). This of course leads to poor transient response.

But how is the home recordist, using budget near fields that give him an artificially boosted bass to hear and judge the transient response, if the response time of the speakers in front of him is over 100ms?

The imaging is poor and the sound gives the impression of having been 'smeared.'

The best response time of any speaker built in the past few years is the good old NS10. It is of course very edgy at around 1.2kHz, but at least in that mid-field it is accurate.

Another great speaker is the M&K MPS2510. Both the M&K and the NS10 are fully enclosed systems. Both have a response time of about 30ms (the time it takes for the driver to stop moving after the in-coming signal has stopped.

Unfortunately, only Ken Kreisel (M&K) seems to have understood what it was about the NS10 that we liked and did something to develop that attribute.
Old 20th August 2007
  #16
An engineering culture seems to have emerged that regards that every sound source will benefit from some compression or another. Its a modern culture and like many thing, the old way was probably the better way.

For example about 6 years ago in on-line recording forums you could easily get the impression that people recording rock music, were wanting to use a Distressor on every single mic on the drum kit....

I think as a result some music genres,

Heavy Metal (and all its offsprings, New Metal, Speed Metal Deat Metal)
Punk (and all its offshoots, emo, screamo, punk-pop)

have become compression DEPENDANT, meaning the audience for these styles are used to squashed, limited dynamic range product. So much so, that anything outside that uber squashed criteria, sound 'wrong' to the fans, musicians, engineer, producers and even A&R departments of these genres..

IMHO this is lamentable, and the term for churning out copy cat product 'cookie cutting' has become well known with bands walking into studios as clients demanding that their finished product, sounds 'just like the other bands'.

This of course is unimaginative, and restrictive and is a far cry from the exciting transitional days of recording in the 60 & 70's when the industry moved from faithful (Jazz & Classical) reproduction over to 'what ever sounds cool' (pop, rock & R&B) and 'new and exciting' (rather than more of the same) was the order of the day.

Of course Bruce was there for that transition period and thats what makes his perspective (and his book, buy it!) so interesting.



Its Ironic that ditching all the compression, might make a recording sound new and different, when in fact it was how it was done in the old days.

You cant legislate to innovate,

Lets not get too compressed about this OK?

heh
Attached Thumbnails
Transient Response  -  One of my favorite subjects.....-car_squashed.jpg  
Old 20th August 2007
  #17
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The Listener's Avatar
Thank you, Jules. Nice opinion.
Also - maybe some of the tasteful overcompression in NU-metal and similar music is sort of stylistic decision, but I am a fan of acoustic (in need of faithful capture / reproduction) music.

A book by Mr.Swedien? Biography or art &craft? Where is it advertised, where can it be bought?

My reason of inquery about Mr.Swedien's use of compression is just that - he aleggedly hates compressing (or its overuse) - but he does use it - LA-2A in mix I read somewhere, 1176 mentioned as a part of recording chain for Ms.Lopez...
So, I was wondering how does he use them - maybe some sweet advice about what to listen to while compressing, what does he want to achieve when he submits to use one; what amounts and ratios of compression on what material seems appropriate for someone who hates compressing...
And his recordings sound "loud-enough" for me...

I don't want hyper compression, I seek advice how to avoid it and how to improve my already conservative use of compression...

Best to all
Old 20th August 2007
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jules View Post
Its Ironic that ditching all the compression, might make a recording sound new and different, when in fact it was how it was done in the old days
OK there it is again...

What's the deal with the old recordings that make using compression on them unnecessary?

Do we just mic things too close nowadays?

Is it because some of the old gear didn't hear the transients or glossed over them?

Or is it because of the limitations of recording/mixing into digital now, where you have to fit everything in that fast, tiny digital box where 0dB is always the top, so shaving is required to hear anything?

And Bruce, with all due respect, I can't figure out if you're advocating that we use some, or none.
Old 20th August 2007
  #19
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MIKEHARRIS's Avatar
Disappearing transient response is not limited to recording...i find that in high level playback systems...amplifiers with variable rails voltages seem to lack the ability to accurately portray the leading edge of a signal...kick and bass most obvious.

I see these large amps in clubs blowing 18"s & 15"'s as the DJ tries to get that "feel" on the dance floor.

A few years ago we compared a class AB amp to a popular VariableRailsVoltage amp of twice the rated power. The class AB was louder & had more tone....but it seems none of this mattered...the class AB manufacturer has gone outta buisness...their amps were too heavy

Last edited by MIKEHARRIS; 20th August 2007 at 03:02 PM.. Reason: class
Old 20th August 2007
  #20
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What about the vocal room"booth". Do you also think why older records sound the way they do is because of the room? Older records were recorded in all high end studios back than, before digital, before home studio. Do you think it's because most people nowadays don't record in a well treated room??
Old 20th August 2007
  #21
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lakeshorephatty's Avatar
 

its in the playing i think...

how's this? zero compression and no maximizing yet.

I always loathe taking these things through to the end of the process.

A balanced mix without compression involves GREAT playing.

I'm not saying this is balanced.. it needs a bit of automation.. but none is there yet and its not bad!

Just the basic rhythm section.. i think i get it now! worry about recording less, and practice more! play music!

I think thats what they did in the old days.. really nailed their playing.. thats the secret.

Russell

p.s. apologies for the MP3 compression.... thats the necessary evil of posting here..
Attached Files

hardened by love cropped.mp3 (4.17 MB, 4830 views)

Old 20th August 2007
  #22
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wirerecording's Avatar
But we don't mic at listening distance often. We'd have a phasey mess with even less transients and nuance.


Ummm I'm gonna have to disagree. distant micing can give far more nuance and natural sounding transients that close micing. careful choice of rooms and mic distance can create depth at subtlety that can not be achieved with close mics. transient shape and air as compressor have been mentioned earlier in this thread. To me close micing creates unnatural peaks and ends up sounding "s*****". blending in ambient mics or using ambient mics only, provides detail and depth. that being said, I am not giving up close mics either as they do have their own essential presence and impact.

As for phase mess, use more omni and fig 8 patterns and listen and move mics often. Faster tempos don't like as much distance either

stuart
Old 20th August 2007
  #23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Killahurts View Post
OK there it is again...

What's the deal with the old recordings that make using compression on them unnecessary?

Do we just mic things too close nowadays?

Is it because some of the old gear didn't hear the transients or glossed over them?

Or is it because of the limitations of recording/mixing into digital now, where you have to fit everything in that fast, tiny digital box where 0dB is always the top, so shaving is required to hear anything?

And Bruce, with all due respect, I can't figure out if you're advocating that we use some, or none.
It's audio fashion, that's all. In them olde days we had about a 25 db dynamic range to work with, the loudest sound cut vs the increasing noise floor of vinyl. So we would fit the audio into the dynamic range that the technology permitted.

Then the CD comes along, promising the unheard of dynamic range of 90 db. Early releases took advantage of that increased dynamic range. This is no longer the case. Now, CD's have far less dynamics than the vinyl records of the early 80's.

So, we get increased dynamic range and we ignore it. Actually, we shun it. If some of these new releases were to try and get cut into laquer, it wouldn't work. There is too much signal to cut the grooves as they all would be wiggling so much the needle would have a hard time staying in the groove. They would be cut so far apart to accomidate the levels that you would only get a couple of songs on one side.

The promise of the CD technology to achieve nearly perfect dynamic range has been mutated into this bone crushing limited distortion from digital hell.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

Jim Williams
Audio Upgrades
Old 20th August 2007
  #24
Viking
 
Bruce Swedien's Avatar
 

You're a gasser!!!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
Transients = reality = the ultimate audio gimmick.

Perhaps it's not too popular because it's hard to get and retain. It's much easier to strap a compressor across and let it ride. I call that the easy way out. Seems the fashion of the day supports this. It's much easier to let the compressor mix your music.

Compressors are the crutch of music. How many can get a great blend/mix without one anymore?

Bruce can.

Jim Williams
Audio Upgrades
Jim Williams........

Thanks Jim. You're a gasser!!!!

Bruce
Old 20th August 2007
  #25
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soundbarnfool's Avatar
 

Good players with good instruments and a little bit of voice control helps. And I have heard (with my own ears in addition to reading) that certain ribbon mics like a 77DX capture transients in a unique way that makes them tickle the ear more, thereby reducing any perceived need for squeezing. Paging Louis Armstrong. Comments?
Old 20th August 2007
  #26
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beyarecords's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by HIGHENDONLY View Post
What about the vocal room"booth". Do you also think why older records sound the way they do is because of the room? Older records were recorded in all high end studios back than, before digital, before home studio. Do you think it's because most people nowadays don't record in a well treated room??
You may find the following article, regarding 'reflectophobia' and Bruce has spoken elsewhere on this forum regarding this topic if memory serves me correctly, of interest: Acoustic Sciences Corp. Quick Sound Field
Old 20th August 2007
  #27
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What are you listening on these days Bruce? Westlakes?

The question of monitoring is far more critical than people might think. It would be interesting to hear your take on the subject.

Andy
Old 21st August 2007
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wirerecording View Post
But we don't mic at listening distance often. We'd have a phasey mess with even less transients and nuance.


Ummm I'm gonna have to disagree. distant micing can give far more nuance and natural sounding transients that close micing. careful choice of rooms and mic distance can create depth at subtlety that can not be achieved with close mics. transient shape and air as compressor have been mentioned earlier in this thread. To me close micing creates unnatural peaks and ends up sounding "s*****". blending in ambient mics or using ambient mics only, provides detail and depth. that being said, I am not giving up close mics either as they do have their own essential presence and impact.

As for phase mess, use more omni and fig 8 patterns and listen and move mics often. Faster tempos don't like as much distance either

stuart
You got me, I should have been more specific. If you mic a guitar amp with multiple speakers, you have 3 choices:
Close: Artificially s*****, but kind of real in terms of tone.
1-15 feet: phasey mess thanks to four or more speakers, but it might still sound something like an amp.
Way, way back: you can't really hear it right, and you definitely loose the subtllety of the other two and have no sense of really being near the amp.

I was thinking of my special case which is amps. You can get better results than a guitar amp from a bass amp, but as you move out in distance, the cost of your room treatment to maintain anything coherent gets higher much faster than the best compressor in the world.

With natural instrument though I agree, distance is not only plausible, but usually a good thing.
Old 22nd August 2007
  #29
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barefoot's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Byre View Post
... The best response time of any speaker built in the past few years is the good old NS10. ...
Emmm.... OK.
Old 22nd August 2007
  #30
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Rick Sutton's Avatar
 

Some of my favorite sounding records are from the Beatles, Rubber Soul, SGT.Peppers, and as I understand it they had the snot compressed out of them. So I don't think that it follows that compressors are inherently evil...........just dangerous in the wrong hands.

There's got to be a bumper sticker in here somewhere......."When compressors are outlawed only outlaws will have compressors"
or....."Use a compressor go to jail"
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