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Loud and dynamic
Old 16th June 2006
  #1
Lives for gear
 

Loud and dynamic

I've been analyzing some of my reference CDs with a few stereo analyzer plug-ins and noticed that some of these CDs are both loud and still extremely dynamic, especially in the center. I was wondering about these CDs that are very dynamic yet still very loud, wide and clear, is this all due to miking closely with great mics and/or is it about setting up the limiters such that the sides are much more compressed than the center and with a faster release? When you limit the center much you lose most of the dynamics of the mix since most dB are distributed to the center area so I guess it's a good choice to avoid limiting the center too much (but since most of the signal is in the center it will also rob the mix of high RMS by not compressing very much...hmm...). I also think using a fast compressor release time on elements in the center might be a good idea, while the release can be a little longer on the sides. In order to keep the mix clear I guess it helps if you try to avoid having many instruments playing simoultaneously on beats and that different instruments can be dominant on different EQ ranges. But other than this, what makes it possible to have such a high dynamic range on loud mixes? Is some of this done by psychoacoustic effects in some processor like the K-System or is it due to a low noise floor all the way and mostly done by successful tracking in combination with extreme limiting on the sides where a lot of it is compressed during tracking? I have noticed that I personally prefer these little louder CDs than the ones released in the beginning of the 90's. The interesting thing is that the songs seem to be almost as dynamic. (I'm not talking about the ultra loud mixes) My best guess is that this is mostly due to high quality tracking and then it is processed by a good mastering processor... (besides the mix being well distributed in the stereo field) What I like about these mixes is the way the mix sounds very clear and wide, yet it is still very soft and pleasant.

Any thoughts?
Old 16th June 2006
  #2
Mastering
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by RainbowStorm
I've been analyzing some of my reference CDs with a few stereo analyzer plug-ins and noticed that some of these CDs are both loud and still extremely dynamic, especially in the center.
Oh, really? Are you listening with your eyes? Clearly the stereo image, depth, transient response, distortion, and impact are reduced each decibel of RMS increase that you give to a recording, all other things being equal. Yes, the talents of a superior mastering engineer can maximize the sound quality a bit more than the average, but even he is limited by the laws of physics. The higher the RMS, the worse the sound quality, above a certain point. There's no visual display that I've met up with that can tell you these fine points. You might barely see some reduction in apparent width on one of those visual analysers, but what they don't show is the lack of depth. But when you listen on a good reproduction system, you notice that what should be a holographic presentation with foreground, middleground and background has been denigrated to a poorly-defined flat line.

BK
Old 16th June 2006
  #3
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz
Oh, really? Are you listening with your eyes? Clearly the stereo image, depth, transient response, distortion, and impact are reduced each decibel of RMS increase that you give to a recording, all other things being equal. Yes, the talents of a superior mastering engineer can maximize the sound quality a bit more than the average, but even he is limited by the laws of physics. The higher the RMS, the worse the sound quality, above a certain point. There's no visual display that I've met up with that can tell you these fine points. You might barely see some reduction in apparent width on one of those visual analysers, but what they don't show is the lack of depth. But when you listen on a good reproduction system, you notice that what should be a holographic presentation with foreground, middleground and background has been denigrated to a poorly-defined flat line.

BK
Hmm... Thanks for your response! I'm not sure I used the right term when I was using RMS level, actually I never checked the RMS level, I used that term since it was about loudness and used my ears for the rest part, but maybe I'm dealing with some kind of psychoacoustic effect here in the way the frequencies are distributed so it seems louder than it is. It might also be just that the overall signal-noise is simply much better. Or it is about more optimal compression overall... I'm fully aware of what happens with softness/image/depth when the RMS is increased, but the CDs I'm talking about now are not THAT loud, not at all like a pop record of today. They are soft, clear and loud enough. Check out for instance "Sad Eyes" with Trisha Yearwood on her "Real Live Woman" album. This song is not very loud but you never think that it is not loud enough. Also check out "All Over Again" with Ronan Keating on his latest album "Bring You Home". That song is a little louder though, but shows a similar pump and stereo width.

I think the Stereo Analyzers that I'm using are very good for measuring dynamics, not that precise but gives a good relative picture of the dynamics. For instance I had earlier compressed the bass too much (simply by using a compressed bass sample preset) which I noticed when I compared my stereo image with the reference CD's stereo image ("Sad Eyes"). I also noticed that the kick drum was slightly too loud, by lowering the volume a bit I got a nice softness. So very helpful. It cleaned up the center really nicely!

I agree that foreground, middleground and background is depth as well. I'm not sure if this is possible to achieve without panning, EQ, reverbs and delays on individual tracks in a mix, but I'm more preferring to relative loudness/width/softness right now, not so much 3D, even though that's a key thing as well. Maybe I would simply get a better loudness/width/softness/pump ratio if I would try to improve the 3D depth of the mix...

Any thoughts or suggestions?
Old 18th June 2006
  #4
Lives for gear
 
robot gigante's Avatar
I would say first and foremost, the arrangements, mixes and quality of the original tracks are key to a mix sounding dynamic and loud at the same time.

It might be hard to pinpoint exactly what you are hearing, but I would guess that it's simply a combination of EQ and probably wideband compression that was used to master most of the albums that sound like that, just normal mastering stuff and good ears and monitoring, no real trickery.

For the gear that was used to master them, you could probably find out what the engineers that mastered the albums use with a web search.
Old 18th June 2006
  #5
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by robot gigante
I would say first and foremost, the arrangements, mixes and quality of the original tracks are key to a mix sounding dynamic and loud at the same time.

It might be hard to pinpoint exactly what you are hearing, but I would guess that it's simply a combination of EQ and probably wideband compression that was used to master most of the albums that sound like that, just normal mastering stuff and good ears and monitoring, no real trickery.

For the gear that was used to master them, you could probably find out what the engineers that mastered the albums use with a web search.
Yep. The reason for this seems to be mostly due to high tracking quality (high quality instruments+good miking). Since I'm comparing acoustic hardware synth samples with the real thing I'm comparing stuff with a totally different signal quality. I think simply placing the right mics at the right distance/angle and using high quality real instruments would give me the signal focus I'm looking for. Right now it is a matter of compromise, either I use pseudo stereo samples that usually have a high stereo spread or I throw away the pseudo stereo channel and end up with half of the original instrument's natural sound. The result is probably lost frequencies and a worse overall signal. Better samples is the solution to this problem.
Old 18th June 2006
  #6
Mastering
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by RainbowStorm

Check out for instance "Sad Eyes" with Trisha Yearwood on her "Real Live Woman" album. This song is not very loud but you never think that it is not loud enough. Also check out "All Over Again" with Ronan Keating on his latest album "Bring You Home". That song is a little louder though, but shows a similar pump and stereo width.
I'll have to check those out. In general I've been pretty depressed by the masters in contemporary country coming out of Nashville. A client brought over a Brooks and Dunn CD for a reference and I nearly puked. Perhaps the Trisha Yearwood is an exception, do you nominate it for my honor roll?

Quote:

I agree that foreground, middleground and background is depth as well. I'm not sure if this is possible to achieve without panning, EQ, reverbs and delays on individual tracks in a mix, but I'm more preferring to relative loudness/width/softness right now, not so much 3D, even though that's a key thing as well. Maybe I would simply get a better loudness/width/softness/pump ratio if I would try to improve the 3D depth of the mix...
It doesn't hurt to improve the 3D depth of a mix (as long as all the proportions and balances of the instruments stay good). And since good transients help to define the depth, I'd say that loudness (reasonable) and dynamics go along with a good mix. The key to "admiring good mastering" would be to hear the original mix and see how much the mastering engineer "fixed what was broke", and did not try to fix "what wasn't broke". Mastering is the art of compromise and I get to hear a lot of excellent mixes before they were mastered, in these days of hot levels, rarely do I get the opportunity to say that I have not compromised the master too much. So if you love the Trisha Yearwood, and if I listen to it and I judge, "it's ok, but not terrific," don't feel offended, I have to speak from the perspective of an engineer who gets to hear a lot of terrific raw mixes before they are mastered.

Not to brag, but to give you some perspective, Michael Fremer recently reviewed Marley's Ghost "Spooked" album, which I mastered and gave it an "11" for sound. I think it's the first time he ever gave a CD an 11 (out of 10). It is one of the rare country-rock albums combining superb performance (this band has been together for 25 years and has some of the most precise harmony vocals on the planet), producing (Van Dyke Parks at his best and most eclectic), tracking (Daniel Protheroe at Sage Arts in their large parquet-floored recording room, and mixing (D.P. again with the Forsell-constructed custom consoles, mikes, outboard and tape machines at Sage Arts).

This is one of the rare albums where everyone wanted as "hot" an album as I could make without compromising and of course improving on any issues if I could. It was mixed to 1/2" 30 IPS analog, hmmmm, wonder if that's one of the reasons it sounds so good.

Given that perspective, I have a hard time swallowing much of what comes out of Nashville these days.
Old 18th June 2006
  #7
Lives for gear
 
robot gigante's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by RainbowStorm
Yep. The reason for this seems to be mostly due to high tracking quality (high quality instruments+good miking). Since I'm comparing acoustic hardware synth samples with the real thing I'm comparing stuff with a totally different signal quality. I think simply placing the right mics at the right distance/angle and using high quality real instruments would give me the signal focus I'm looking for. Right now it is a matter of compromise, either I use pseudo stereo samples that usually have a high stereo spread or I throw away the pseudo stereo channel and end up with half of the original instrument's natural sound. The result is probably lost frequencies and a worse overall signal. Better samples is the solution to this problem.
Well, don't discount the mix and the arrangement factors either, everything works together.
Old 19th June 2006
  #8
Lives for gear
 

Thanks for your replies!

Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz
I'll have to check those out. In general I've been pretty depressed by the masters in contemporary country coming out of Nashville. A client brought over a Brooks and Dunn CD for a reference and I nearly puked. Perhaps the Trisha Yearwood is an exception, do you nominate it for my honor roll?
Cool! I nominate it for your honor roll! I think you will like it. The song "Sad Eyes" has been my main reference CD song now for some time. It has great instrument separation, the vocals have a beautiful resonance exactly in the right spot in the stereo field, the low end is soft and pleasant and the highs are very crisp. It is not too loud but not too quiet either. The mix is kind of airy because of the gentle and well defined rhythm parts. I like the way all this makes the mix rather light in weight. The only thing I miss about it is that the production is a bit too "commercial" for my taste, I like more harmonies and mixes built around a beautiful bass line. But in terms of the sound quality, this is what I'm trying to achieve. You can rate it in your way, feel free to just comment whatever about it... Since you have heard so much great stuff you might have a totally different view and that would be very informative...

I have to check out that Marley's Ghost "Spooked" album! It seems to be something special...!

The 1/2" 30 IPS analog is I think one of the keys here, especially for the high end which is usually what makes a mix sound extremely good. A mix is hard to make awesome if the original high end is sharp and from my experiences the 1/2" 30 IPS seems to smooth out/thinnify the high end really nicely which creates a very pleasant sound experience. Of course it smoothes out the low end a bit as well. That Trisha Yearwood album I was talking about has probably also been mixed onto tape...

BTW, I think I have found one thing that might be part of the problem. I have had much too much frequencies around 250Hz and the multiples of it, for instance 500Hz. For some reason those Mackie HR824s can't reveil the low-mid flat enough, maybe I need a 3-way system as my main mixing monitors. It might also be that it's because I have them badly positioned in the control room and that the acoustic environment is not good enough for them. I've tried to set them up in many different ways but my other 3 systems constantly give me a much more "suitable" response in the same room. So honestly I don't have any use for them at the moment, they simply just destroy my mixes and they are the most expensive I have...! *hmmm* Anyway, by removing some of those frequencies I got a cleaner center and more high mids and highs which seems to affect the loudness perception in a positive way. Now I only need slightly more RMS, because it is currently at the loudness of '92s cd which is slightly too quiet for my taste and quiter than the reference CD song. Honestly I'm not sure I have the gear for that, but I'll try to add it with the L3 multiband limiter. First I will walk through the reverb processing in my mix, I think I will have to switch to a mono reverb to improve the instrument separation a bit on the side elements so that I can keep the instrument separation better when I limit and also probably lower a bit of the total amount of reverb in the mix.

Bob, what do you think about the quality of the Waves Q10 EQ effect? I'm using it all the time, it's the only EQ effect I'm using. But yesterday I thought of the fact that my mixes depend really much on EQing and if the EQ effect I'm using is not very good it's a matter of a lot of signal compromise...!
Old 8th February 2007
  #9
Gear Head
 

I came across this online, figured i'd share it.

http://brianstagg.co.uk/p_t_a_clipressed/
Old 8th February 2007
  #10
Quote:
Originally Posted by Seventhsense View Post
I came across this online, figured i'd share it.

http://brianstagg.co.uk/p_t_a_clipressed/
When the 'Playing the Angel' album first was announced I was hoping for an album which I could use as reference. I'm mastering mostly electronic music and was hoping to hear a quality piece of work here.
Well, the tracks are very good but the album don't get played much at home/work. It simply is a bit too painfull to hear good music get ruined like that
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