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Recording Strategy for Gritty Sound Effects Pedals, Units & Accessories
Old 15th March 2014
  #1
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Recording Strategy for Gritty Sound

Sorry - I dislike the word "gritty", but many of my favorite albums can easily be described this way. I'd like to be able to introduce some of that sound into my own beginner recordings, but am not sure where to start, since most of my favorites were recorded decades ago with different technology. I'm not skilled or wealthy enough right now to record to analogue, so I am using a basic 24/96. I do have mostly hardware effects (reverb, SansAmp Para, and an increasing addiction to both digital and analog delays), an SM57, and a basic practice amp. I use guitars, bass, analog synth (MS-20), and analog drum machines.

As a reference for the kind of sound I like, think of the Velvet Underground, or the absolute best example I can think of is the Cure's "Pornography" album (listen to the album version of "One Hundred Years", for a great example).

Can one achieve this kind of sound without tape, and without resorting to faux-analogizing plugin effects? I have a visceral dislike of really fakey effects (I have a photography background, and recoil at the thought of film grain plugins and things like that), and like to treat the computer as a basic tape recorder, adding only what is needed to adjust the levels, EQ, peaks, etc.

I also have an old but working Fostex 4-track cassette recorder which I'm willing to break out, if it will help. Haven't used it much yet.
Old 15th March 2014
  #2
The Cure "All Mixed Up" was my favorite recordings...
You want to get an analog sound without using analog gear but you don't want to use plugins. Sounds like you have a conundrum.
You could always print to your Fostex 4-track, but it's not going to sound the same a a properly aligned 2" machine.. Some of the Acustica Nebula tape sim libraries are decent... and ToneBoosters Reel Bus isn't bad. A single outboard hardware compressor can go a long ways towards analoging a mix..
Old 15th March 2014
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scooter Trash View Post
A single outboard hardware compressor can go a long ways towards analoging a mix..
Thanks. That's kind of along the lines of what I'm thinking, but could use some specific guidance. I don't mind picking up some analog hardware (within budgetary reason), but I don't really know which pieces would contribute to that sound. I used that particularly Cure album and song as an example because it really has a distinctive tone to it that I think would be instructive to reverse engineer. The rest of their work is very different (the Mixed Up album is quite opposite to this sound, actually).

I didn't expect much from the Fostex. I know that the "tape" sound is not cassette tape, but I may play with it anyway to see what happens.

Ideally, I'd like to get as much of my analog "grit" down in tracking as possible, so any little boxes I can put in front of my 2i2 are on the table. The SansAmp is pretty cool, and gives some warm-ish sound on all instruments (does wonders with a drum machine, along with some reverb), but I'm open to more options.
Old 15th March 2014
  #4
It's hard to pick just one, because the ones that I've used are often good at doing some things, but not others. Tube-Tech CL 1B would be a good versatile compressor with a very analog sound, but they're a bit pricey. Varimu; also versitile and nice analog sound but also pricey. Another issue that you're going to run into is needing two, or a stereo unit for stereo buses. Hopefully someone here will have some better recommendations for you soon.
Old 15th March 2014
  #5
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Wow! Not really in my price universe, but they look cool . I'm not that familiar with hardware compressors, but are the sub-$500 ones like dbx just not good enough for making good recordings (even gritty ones)?
Old 15th March 2014
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by SampleHold View Post
Wow! Not really in my price universe, but they look cool . I'm not that familiar with hardware compressors, but are the sub-$500 ones like dbx just not good enough for making good recordings (even gritty ones)?
DBX compressors are great. I used to have several of them in my sound reinforcement outboard racks... but they don't really add a lot of analog color like tubes do.
Old 15th March 2014
  #7
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I see. So what about these cheap ART tube pres and comps? Worth looking into for what I'm after?
Old 15th March 2014
  #8
Quote:
Originally Posted by SampleHold View Post
I see. So what about these cheap ART tube pres and comps? Worth looking into for what I'm after?
I'm sure someone here will have some suggestions. I'm just not very familiar with any of the lower price analog compressors that would be bot versitile and have the analog sound that you're looking for. For the Cure-type stuff you'll be wanting some reverbs too. I would recommend trying the Acustica Nebula Reverb plugin for tape saturation, and distortions. It's kind of a pain to register and set up, but it has some realistic simulations. Look at the AlexB Libraries for Nebula Console libraries and pre's. For reverbs, consider IK media or Lexicon bundles. For compression, I think hardware is going to give the best results.. Once again; I'm sure others here will have some recommendations.
Old 15th March 2014
  #9
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Thanks. I like to add reverb while tracking (via a Tech 21 RVB pedal, for now), as it changes the way I play a bit. I tend to look at effects as part of the instrument rather than an afterthought. I've accidentally made some great noises that became seeds of new songs just using delays and reverbs.

Would it help to add an inexpensive tube preamp instead of using the built-in Focusrite preamps?
Old 15th March 2014
  #10
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skillz335's Avatar
With regard to the art pro or low end gear in general you can get great sound out of most pieces. So long as you know there limitations. For example the art pro, I dont find it to be colorful But there are mods to change that. I also find I have to daisy chain inputs to get some better control on pumping, So I use mine more for two channels in line now. I have used it on buss work and it doesnt sound bad. Though I cant drive it as hard as say I would like to, and output can get noisy but I haven't addressed the stock tubes yet.. But knowing these things I can work around them. I think the same can be said for most pieces of gear. Its not the price that can get you the sound, but spending more you will have to work around less as well as have other added perks or advantages the gear offers. I hope that helps.
Old 15th March 2014
  #11
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Thanks. Would it be better to look into "dirty" or easily overdriven preamps (like the cheaper tube models or a PRE73, etc) to add character during tracking, or should I go right to compression? I know compression can be dangerous if overdone.
Old 15th March 2014
  #12
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skillz335's Avatar
Its hit or miss, yes there are pre amps specifically designed to add color. Even though some will like the pre 73, others wont allow you to reach a high level of saturation in one pass like the lowest end tube pres. With that said, Youll get a majority of your character sound from you mic and pre combined.

Depending on the type of compressor, the compressor will just help you bring that out your vocal chain, or maybe add a bit of its own color, but nowhere near what the pre and mic instilled. My opinion would be like your doing, not to look at the lowest end of things and save up for something in the price range of the pre 73 or the Twin-Finity. I hope that helps.
Old 15th March 2014
  #13
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Thanks again. Doing more research. I saw something interesting in the SOS review of the GAP Comp 54 compressor: "So how did the Comp 54 perform in this 'analogue warmth' role? Actually, it did very well indeed. With the compression bypassed, I balanced the level of the signal sent to the Comp 54 with the output level to achieve saturation of the stock transformers without any overall gain in level."

Does this mean that I could use the compressor to amplify sources that do not need a mic preamp? I was planning something like that anyway for direct recording through the Pre73. Would the Comp be a better first purchase for simply adding some roughness (whether engaging the actual compression or not)?
Old 16th March 2014
  #14
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skillz335's Avatar
Ive read of engineers being able to get enough gain out of a handful of compressors to bring up mic level signal. Ive never had a comp clean enough with enough gain to try this. Im not sure if the Gap comp has enough clean gain to do this. My understanding has always been you have to feed a compressor low enough signal to take advantage of saturation in that regard. Also while operating at line level, saturation is less likely to be achieved, which makes line level ideal for passing cleaner more transparent signal. To take full advantage of any coloration as your quote states, you would need an in line attenuation device. After you drop level around 30 db driving the input transformers you would using output to level match that of the original signal. Also some compressor types like optical or fet offered a more colorful option at line level. Take this with a grain of salt as Im still learning, you may get a more detailed answer elsewhere. I hope any of that helped.
Old 16th March 2014
  #15
Quote:
Originally Posted by SampleHold View Post
Does this mean that I could use the compressor to amplify sources that do not need a mic preamp?
No.

You need to send it somewhere around +4dBu. What you'll most likely want to do is use the inserts of a mixer or your audio interface to send and receive to and from the compressor.
The compressor can amplify or reduce the signal, but you have to send it +4 line level. You can't plug an instrument-level source directly into it and have it function properly.
Old 16th March 2014
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skillz335 View Post
Ive read of engineers being able to get enough gain out of a handful of compressors to bring up mic level signal. Ive never had a comp clean enough with enough gain to try this. Im not sure if the Gap comp has enough clean gain to do this. My understanding has always been you have to feed a compressor low enough signal to take advantage of saturation in that regard. Also while operating at line level, saturation is less likely to be achieved, which makes line level ideal for passing cleaner more transparent signal. To take full advantage of any coloration as your quote states, you would need an in line attenuation device. After you drop level around 30 db driving the input transformers you would using output to level match that of the original signal. Also some compressor types like optical or fet offered a more colorful option at line level. Take this with a grain of salt as Im still learning, you may get a more detailed answer elsewhere. I hope any of that helped.
Thanks. I can use my SansAmp Para to drop from line level to instrument (I'm constantly finding new uses for this little box!), but I don't know if that is far enough. We'll see. For the price, trying out all of the Gap products seems like a no brainer as a starting point.
Old 16th March 2014
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scooter Trash View Post
No.

You need to send it somewhere around +4dBu. What you'll most likely want to do is use the inserts of a mixer or your audio interface to send and receive to and from the compressor.
The compressor can amplify or reduce the signal, but you have to send it +4 line level. You can't plug an instrument-level source directly into it and have it function properly.
See above reply, but reversed . I have line, instrument, and mic level sources, as well as running in and out of my Scarlett. I can convert either way between line and instrument via the SansAmp, and the mic can be handled when I pick up a Pre73.
Old 16th March 2014
  #18
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skillz335's Avatar
No problem, Samplehold Im glad if I was able to help. That para looks awesome by the way, eq and drive options with parallel output...Im going to have to pick one of those bad boys up eventually. thanks for the info

Quote:
Originally Posted by SampleHold View Post
Thanks. I can use my SansAmp Para to drop from line level to instrument (I'm constantly finding new uses for this little box!), but I don't know if that is far enough. We'll see. For the price, trying out all of the Gap products seems like a no brainer as a starting point.
well then with the di box you should be golden If you remember, let me know how things turn out. I agree on the GAP products. Ive been looking to do a little upgrading in july or so, the pre was on my list of most likelys, Im still on the fence with the comp.
Old 20th March 2014
  #19
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Originally Posted by skillz335 View Post
No problem, Samplehold Im glad if I was able to help. That para looks awesome by the way, eq and drive options with parallel output...Im going to have to pick one of those bad boys up eventually. thanks for the info



well then with the di box you should be golden If you remember, let me know how things turn out. I agree on the GAP products. Ive been looking to do a little upgrading in july or so, the pre was on my list of most likelys, Im still on the fence with the comp.
I picked up the Pre73 today, thinking that I should hold off on compression until I know I need it. The Pre sounds really cool so far, most notably on direct bass (fairly clean with a little extra drive) and as extra dirt for my MS20 synth using the mic input rather than the line. I even managed to get some usable guitar distortion from just by plugging direct. Very fizzy and weird. I was worried about bringing the signal down when saturating the output transformer, but my 2i2 handles it fine without any clipping.
Old 20th March 2014
  #20
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Alesis Midiverb I or II will do you right.
Old 20th March 2014
  #21
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Originally Posted by Bobro View Post
Alesis Midiverb I or II will do you right.
Ahhh... I used to have the II years ago. Wishing I hadn't sold it. Luckily they're still relatively cheap despite the cat being out of the bag on Kevin Shields using one .

I picked up a used Tech 21 RVB (looks cool next to my Para Driver), and it actually sounds quite nice. But another Midiverb would be great. Thanks!
Old 22nd March 2014
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SampleHold View Post
I was worried about bringing the signal down when saturating the output transformer, but my 2i2 handles it fine without any clipping.
I take this part back. I managed to clip it . I get very different results on bass DI vs guitar DI, and I get very different tonal characteristics: bass very dark with little high end, and guitar hyper-sparkly. Not necessarily bad, but I think that companion EQ unit is in my near future.

Also should note: the SansAmp Para works great as a stomp box (instrument level) in front of the Pre73, but makes ugly crumbly noises when used as attenuation after. I may have overestimated the Para's ability to pad line levels.
Old 5th April 2014
  #23
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Looking at mics now. I currently have an SM57, and am wondering what the best next purchase would be to get a more old/lo-fi sound without being special effecty. A good example is this Doors performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuZUrjWz-PE. Thoughts?
Old 6th April 2014
  #24
LOL, Morrison was a trip.. That's an EV 676. You might try an RE-16. Tube distortion on that track.
Old 6th April 2014
  #25
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Definitely one of my favorite and probably the most underrated Doors songs.

So not only do those old EV mics look ridiculously cool, but they also sound cool? Sold.

I am about to buy a Comp 54. Is there anything else in that price range that uses tubes and sounds great? My research says that costs much more.
Old 7th April 2014
  #26
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johnwayne's Avatar
 

I have not used it but you may want to try the Art Pro Vla compressor.
Old 7th April 2014
  #27
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Classic Cure recordings have ****-all to do with classic "analog warmth". The tinny harshness of them was a shocker when they came out, I remember it like yesterday (better than yesterday, to tell the truth).

Don't confuse "what I like" with "warm" or "analog", these are all different things. Pornography sounds excellent, but it's all about the timbres of the instruments and probably an assload of early digital effects in the picture. If you want gritty, focus on gritty and forget about all this analog/digital conception.

That is what they call a "humble opinion", yet another utterly bogus conception.
Old 8th April 2014
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bobro View Post
Classic Cure recordings have ****-all to do with classic "analog warmth". The tinny harshness of them was a shocker when they came out, I remember it like yesterday (better than yesterday, to tell the truth).

Don't confuse "what I like" with "warm" or "analog", these are all different things. Pornography sounds excellent, but it's all about the timbres of the instruments and probably an assload of early digital effects in the picture. If you want gritty, focus on gritty and forget about all this analog/digital conception.

That is what they call a "humble opinion", yet another utterly bogus conception.
Thanks. That's a good point. Sound is hard for me to describe in words. That album has this very grainy, warbly, and kind of congested feel, but I can't describe it well beyond that. I'm guessing that is a mix of compression and digital reverb, but I don't know enough yet to say so definitively.
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