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Flagfoot 5th September 2012 09:20 AM

JCF Audio AD8: to PEP or not to PEP
 
This is a first-pass review of PEP technology based on program material. The goal was to familiarize ourselves with what PEP does to sound. The studio rebuild isn't complete at the time of this writing so this test was with already digitized program material. Once we have completed the studio rebuild and done some recording with the AD8 and mixing raw material with PEP we will be able to accurately review the JCF AD8 as a whole. The goal of this review is to help people who are curious about JCF converters and PEP to understand what other users are experiencing.

You may work on one type of music more than another, so we tried to include our version of a broad swath of source material in the A/B challenge. Our process was to load up the DAW with songs and go through them one by one with one person switching PEP in and out of the DA circuit while the other tried to understand and eventually identify the differences between the two. The circuit involved two DA passes through a lynx aurora so it was within that framework but as I said this was a first look at what we can expect to gain from adding the PEP tool to our studio, not a scientific study. On some of the songs the PEP difference was so subtle neither of us could consistently identify it. On other songs, however, the difference was almost jarring. Skim through the following notes to get a feel for what PEP sounds like to us on program material. Enjoy!

Dire Straits “The Man’s Too Strong” (Brothers In Arms)
hard to tell while listening to the steel guitar transients, but lead vocals come out of the speaker plane with PEP and the width goes widescreen in a subtle way that is easier to notice when you switch PEP off and the music goes back into its stereo box. In my opinion the bottom is “right” with PEP and when we switched it off my brain went back into “listening to a nice recording on a nice system” mode--less emotional involvement.

Steve Winwood “Higher Love” (Back In The High Life)
we must note that sometimes we got the feeling that PEP was doing a “smoothing thing” to too harsh mixes. In this case though the song sort of stepped out of its box with PEP engaged, especially at the top end. When my studio partner and I get confused as to what we’re hearing, sometimes we ask each other, “which would you feel better about playing for your friends in the car?” PEP wins on this track. Wouldn’t play either version for friends; they might start to think I keep frozen heads next to the sorbet (yeah yeah Phil Collins whatever)

Shyne “Bonnie And Shyne” (Shyne)
easier one to pick out. without PEP the image of the mix is sort of diamond shaped with the side points at each speaker. With PEP the image is sort of a bowtie shape and it extends a little farther beyond, behind, and in front of the speakers. Bass is more put-together too, in the opposite sense of that DAW playback moment when you realize that no matter how you work the bassline, it still sounds tiny.

Sigur Ros “Vaka” ( () )
easy. turning PEP on and off is the difference between listening to the CD and stepping into the 2bus while the band was recording. Or maybe the room (a disused indoor swimming pool I think?) PEP did its normal thing with the larger soundstage but the 3D thing it’s been doing to vocals just slammed the piano to life 14 feet in front of me. Incidentally this is one of the bunch that was mind-blowing in the mix position but only slightly (but still nicer!) noticeable from elsewhere in the room.

Si*Se “Slip Away” (Si*Se)
harder to tell until the drums come in, then it’s the same “oh, she sounds more lifelike than when the sound was coming out of the computer” effect that PEP has had so far. wider soundstage. Checked in mono for awhile to see if it was just phase stuff going on, then there is this already mono piano + mono reverb at the fade out of the song, and it still placed itself better in space (depth, I guess) with PEP than without. mystery. I’d pick the PEP version to play for friends if for no other reason than the bass has an extra bottom octave (or something...) no it’s more like when you turn PEP off, the song goes back into itunes. It’s a crystal clear view of the band through a window. If that helps.

Prince “Musicology” (Musicology)
tricky because this is one of those sonically super fine songs. But for the sake of comparison, non-PEP performs exactly as you know your system will. PEP does a little smoothing thing that I don’t think the track needs. The bass steps forward out of the speakers and the drums and stereo stuff get wider as usual. Whatever. I’d play the original. It’s pretty freaking spot-on with some ballsy bass.

Pendulum “Hold Your Colour” (Hold Your Colour)
hard to tell until the stereo effects and backing vocals get mixed in. then PEP does the subtle widescreen thing with better intrument embodiment (this happened pretty dramatically in a few other mixes like the Bjork track, where the instruments and countermelodies became discernable/hummable and took on their own bodies without getting louder.) The instrument embodiment thing is pretty cool on this and some other tracks because you can experience it from anywhere in the room; like you can hear great bass lines and violin sections harmonizing with the vocal that you never before noticed.

Bjork “Unison” (Vespertine)
one of the top of the heap “we’re never listening to this song without PEP again” tracks. Why? Okay, if you know this track, you know how lt sounds through your system. Then go to the super dense arrangements near the end where the orchestra counterpoints Bjork and the choir is doing their thing, and oh man, that orchestra line is beautiful I never noticed it before, and the bass is swimming below you like a bath, then you turn PEP off and it’s freaking tough to see the orchestra line embodied; it’s just part of the beautiful sounding mix stretching back from the speaker plane. Then turn it back on and the counter melody comes back, and you step forward into the hall and the walls go back maybe 30 feet in each direction, and it isn’t the orchestra+choir on the mics in the control room anymore, it’s here, and that’s a solid emotional experience. We came back to this track again later and identified all the same things. Thanks, PAP! I mean, PEP

BT “1.618” (This Binary Universe)

my partner brought up that sometimes PEP seems to have a smoothing effect, so why don’t we hand it some classical-style material. Okay 1.618 doesn’t have too much orchestration going on but it is one of those arrangements that glares at you and snarls, “don’t f*%^ with my sonics or dimensions or do any of your ‘mojo shenanigans’ to me or I’ll lower you by rope into hell and make you pee on the flower.” anyone? Okay so the main question on this one is “is PEP an effect or a way of hearing things?” Conclusion: non-PEP sounds like it is. great. PEP sounds like the song in a movie theater. More impact. Less of a squeaky clean mix across the speaker plane. a softening that wasn’t good. wider but with less height, if that makes any sense. Again, the non-pep diamond vs the pep bowtie. I have no idea which I’d play for a friend; probably the original unless they had a sweet cinema setup in which case I’d run the 5.1 DTS mix through PEP and hit everybody in the chest.

De La Guarde “Jinetes” (De La Guarda)
now that I’m alone in the studio and it’s really late, I’m realizing that this song gives me the creeps. I went to De La Guarda and this act is little freaky when the walls all around you start doing this huge MEOOOOOW thing, and the two guys are standing on this tiny platform way in the air, one upside-down, and they are screaming into telephone receivers at each other...repetitive like a machine... anyway. PEP wins again with an extra octave on the bottom, a choir section with real bodies, and wider soundstage.

Alison Krauss and Union Station “Daylight” (Alison Krauss and Union Station)
It’s hard to fault this record sonically, but I’ve got to say, I like hearing it through PEP for three reasons: 1. wider soundstage 2. instrument embodiment 3. I feel like I am listening to humans sing and play in real space and not a recorded version of that that is stored on my computer. That’s it. Oh yeah and the bass sounds like the digital goblins have been siphoning away the lowest octaves hoping you wouldn’t notice, and PEP kicked their asses.

Nine Inch Nails “March Of The Pigs” and “Slipping Away”

If I had a choice of meeting the drummer from the non-pep version of march of the pigs in a dark alley at night, I’d think twice. If I had to meet the drummer from the pep version in a dark alley I think I would just go ahead and hit myself in the face with a skillet. why? Because the drummer I heard with PEP is 3D and angry. Switch off pep and hear the loud CD drummer in the mix. Switch it back on and run away. “Slipping Away” similar situation with the synths. I play the song without pep and go, “hey, those synths aren’t f^&*ing around.” Then I switch on pep and go, “hey, those synths aren’t f^&*ing around.” then I switch pep back off and go, “hey, the synths do indeed seem to be f^&*ing around.” Josh Florian FTW.

Bill Monroe “Oh My Sweet Bule-Eyed Darling” (Fine Bluegrass)
It may say something that we switched this track on and immediately I thought, “this sounds really good and real. This doesn’t sound like my normal setup where I peer into the mix; the mix is coming to me, and it has balls like real life human music has. Then I saw PEP was already switched on. So I switched back and forth- yes, the mix went back in the box. Game over.

Mark Knopfler “Sailing To Philadelphia” (Sailing To Philadelphia)
This is a wonderful song flawlessly executed. Don’t get me wrong, monitoring the song through a wax-cylinder phonograph would be an emotional experience. But I’ve got to say, switching back and forth with and without PEP, I would get to the non-pep conversion beautifully spread out through the speaker plane and behind, then would turn on PEP, and think, “is this what the guys in the studio wished everyone else in the world could hear when they recorded this track?” gushing, yes, but considering that this digital audio is coming out of a Lynx Aurora, back into the AD8, and back out of the Aurora again, I have to say that Josh and the JCF folks mean what they say in terms of PEP, its purpose, and its implementation. Fire away; I have no idea what is going on with the bits, but I’m hearing this song in a wonderful new way and it is a totally positive emotional experience.

The National “Baby, We’ll Be Fine” (Alligator)
I’m thinking, let’s handicap this PEP soundstage thingy, so I love this one National song that hits how it hits partly because it’s almost mono, and it’s already smooth, warm, and fat on the bottom. It’s really hard to tell the difference with this one.

Howard Shore “Forth, Eorlingas”, “May It Be” with Enya, and “Minas Morgul” (The Lord Of The Rings)

tough to tell which sounds better. At this point I said to my partner that the PEP switch was sort of like an “ears” switch that plays the song for your ears instead of for an earthworks mic. With this classical stuff, the question keeps coming up- which sounds more natural or real? No idea. But the PEP process is having the effect of of walking you 10 feet forward in the orchestra hall, and previously unheard string parts are coming to like effortlessly, sort of like the Bjork song and also sort of like when you upgrade converters. The opinion on these tracks keeps changing so it’s not worth writing about. one solid conclusion is that PEP works great with Enya’s vocals, lt takes her out of the speaker plane a foot or so and gives her a body, and lets you sort of subtly smell the incense, exotic oils, and tiny bruschettas she may or may not like to bring with her to recording sessions.

Beck “Rental Car” (Guero)
You may be expecting me to say, “PEP makes me want to climb into the rental car with Beck and rip my shirt off,” but honestly my ears are pretty tired. The PEP version is kind of like the 5% more “alive,” widescreen, mid-bass confident version of the fairly boxed-in but clean non-pep version. My beef with the non-pep version is that it sounds like a nice mix, but because of what we might assume is a failure of my converters, or the bits themselves, or whatever-- I have no idea what I was just writing. forget it. Okay there isn’t a justifiable reason for a perfectly groovy song and mix to sit there stoically in front of me with two speakers on each side when the song can go out to the speakers and get bigger- delerium is setting in. Is this making sense? PEP wins again. Go Beck. makes me want to go rent a sleazy car.

I like PEP. there’s no reason to spend big money on a stupid car when there’s cool stuff like PEP and JCF around to actually make you and your client’s lives better three minutes at a time, like a cheap Thanks PEP for creepily mysterious workings and a great night of re-discovering music sitting on my computer that actually secretly sounded more like the masters (I imagine...presume...whatever) than anyone knew. Maybe this was a night of wanton abuse of a tool meant for tracking conversion that puts you “there.” There was still Kenna, Way Out West, The Smiths, Midnight Oil, bis, Thunderheist, Jaguares, Joe Walsh, Outkast, Sonata Arctica, Cara Dillon, Depeche Mode, John B., and some others on the list but it’s game over for me tonight and showing off music taste here on GS is like a size 8 shoe white guy whipping out his cock in the middle of a bunch of black guys and saying whatever a person impressed by their own penis says. Oh yeah that’s a racist myth :tut:. Um it’s like a kid who carves a bamboo flute with a sharp piece of gravel going up to a bunch of James Galway types and saying, “check this out!” Oh wait is James Galway dead? not sure... okay a safer analogy is like an old man with alzheimers crashing a masonic rite and then soiling himself while trying to do that thing where you whistle and hum two different notes at the same time, and happens to overhear the words, “tubal cain,” which he forgets, and on his way home he crashes his car into a tree that he actually planted as a kid but can’t remember darn this is really not politically correct or even decent.

I hope the folks who are curious about the JCF AD8 with PEP find something useful here. Goodnight.