Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review: Dr Bonkers Sound Lab Impulses (with video sample)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're reviewing some impulse response pack from Dr Bonkers Sound Lab!

Dr Bonkers Sound Lab produces Impulse Responses for guitar and bass, both in Wav format and in Fractal Axe Fx Format, in a variety of sample rates, up to 96khz and 32bit.

Each cabinet impulse comes in 7 versions, tracked with different microphone settings, and in 4 different folders: the HyperReal version (which is the main version these impulse should be used and consists in a mix of several microphones), the Choice Mixes version, which is an alternative version of the HyperReal ones, and the version with the single microphones, both unprocessed and created with the addition of a power amp for extra harmonic richness, both in 200ms and 500ms version.

Today I spent some time playing around with the HyperReal versions, and since I imagine these "almost mix ready" versions will be the ones that will be used by most of the users, I have made a video comparison of my favourite impulses of the 5 cabinets Dr Bonkers suggested me would be more suited for metal.

For the video I have just plugged my Ltd Mh-417 with Emg 707 pickups to my Focusrite Saffire audio interface, and from there I have used exclusively Free Ignite Amps vst plugins:  Ignite TSB-1 - Ignite The Anvil - Ignite NadIR.

Here's a short description of the 5 IRs I have chosen for the video: 

- Mesa Boogie Recto Cab 4x12: this is a classic cab for metal, and it is probably the one that will need less fiddling during mixing. The tone is balanced, with a tight low end and a very usable, aggressive midrange.

- Marshall 1960 Jcm 800 Lead 4x12: totally different flavour compared to the Mesa Boogie one, this cabinet sounds more scooped and with a more sparkling high end, I bet it would give its best in standard tuning, maybe in a hard rock song or old school thrash metal.

- Marshall 8x10 Bass Cabinet: This is a bass cabinet that is usable also for guitar, but of all the impulses I have tried in this package is the most "boxy sounding". I would see it more suited for a mid rangey bass than a guitar tone, but surely it lends itself to many creative uses.

- 1960 Sunn 2x15 Guitar and Bass Cab: This tone is extremely bassy as the wide speaker suggests, and works in my opinion particularly fine with genres like doom or stoner. The mid range is slightly scooped but the highs remain intellegible and defined.

- Oahu 1x6 Guitar Cab: from this small speaker I would have expected a radio-like sound, yet it produces a very nasty, aggressive high mid range that puts in the spotlight all the gain of the amp. Obviously it lacks in the low end area, therefore a combination with another impulse would be suggested.

Before recording I have played with both the suggested microphone combinations and with the single microphones, trying to blend them in the impulse loader, and I must say the possibilities are really infinite, also because for each microphone there are several positions, and I am also quite sure that spending more time in mixing and matching the single microphones in various positions makes possible to come up with even better results than those in the HyperReal mixes, so I incourage all of you guys to check out these impulse packs and spend some time with the various combinations, because the possibilities are really infinite.

Thumbs up! 

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Everything you need to know about drum triggers PART 2/2


Now that we know the basic concepts behind a drum trigger let's try to understand its practical applications:

- Live environment: a drumset can be triggered entirely (except for the cymbals) or partially (for example just the kick or the kick and the snare) to make the sound cut through the mix better, and send the samples from the drum module to the mixer.
This way the sound engineer can use the samples and the microphoned drum parts the same way as they were all microphoned, with all the perks of the samples: more clarity, less dynamic range (usually drum modules features also effects like compressor, reverb...), and so on.
As in all environments, it is very important that the hits acquired from the trigger are received correctly from the drum module by setting the sensitivity, and if necessary, adjusting the pressure of the trigger on the drum skin.

- Studio environment: this is the environment in which drum triggers shines the most.
A recording engineer can record a whole drumset both with microphones and triggers, and decide during the mixing phase what part to use natural, what part to use triggered and what part in which to use a blend between microphone and sample (except for cymbals, which is better to keep acoustic because they are the drum part that result more "fake" when sampled).
Here the setup is crucial: the trigger must be placed correctly, not too tight because it would interpret hard hits like double hits, not to loose from the skin because it wouldn't notice the lightest touches, and the sensitivity must be carefully tuned in the drum module.
Once everything is set, the drumset will be recorded both acoustically and in a Midi track in the computer, and the mix engineer will be able to easily edit the Midi by removing doubles, reducing or evening out the dynamic range, quantizing, snapping to grid, "reintroducing humanity", or even rewriting certain parts.
This is very useful if the drummer is not very good and if the microphoned part is so bad that can't be fixed, but also just to add a sample on top of the microphoned drum part, if needed.
Finally, if we don't have triggers, we can always put a sample on top of a microphoned drum part by using a drum replacer.

- Home practice environment: there are electonic drum kits, usually pretty small and foldable like the one depicted in this article, that features skins made to reduce the sound to the minimum to not bother anyone in the house, and these drum parts (included the rubber "cymbals") have a trigger inside of them, so that the drummer can connect them to a drum module and play with the headphones (sometimes also playing along with a song). This is a very useful home solution for those who doesn't have a rehearsals room, the drum parts offers a feeling similar to a real drum skin in terms of "bounce" of the drum sticks and it can be used also for recording drum parts.


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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Everything you need to know about drum triggers PART 1/2

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a topic very sensitive among drummers: drum triggers!

Why did I say this topic is sensitive among drummers? Because a drum trigger is a tool that takes a drum hit and turns it into a Midi impulse and sends it to a drum module (or to a computer with a drum VstI), so that we can replace the original drum sound with a pre recorded drum sample or with any other sound we want, and being Midi we can also quantize and manipulate the impulse in everywhich way possible.

Drum triggers started to be popular thanks to heavy metal music in the early '90s (especially with bands like Pantera), a moment in time in which music productions demanded more and more clarity, especially to make the super fast kick drum parts pop out of a dense mix with a lot of snap.
For these parts a normal microphone didn't seem to be enough, so the producers started to trigger the kick and replace the original sound with a very clicky one, capable of cut through everything and be very audible.
With time the bands started to use triggers for all drum parts for reasons that went also beyond the sound: to make drum editing way easier, and to even out the dynamics; today, especially in pop, rock and heavy metal is quite hard to hear a totally acoustic drum sound, as most of the songs features samples or a blend between samples and the acoustic sound (to make the sound a bit more natural).

This led to the paradox that often we can hear in an album an extremely complex drum part played perfectly, and then when we go to see the band live we realize the drummer would never be able to play it the same way it appears on the record.
This lack of "humanity" in modern day drums is perceived similarly to the "loudness war": since everyone is editing and quantizing the hell out of their drum tracks, the listener's ear is by now used to that super perfect performance, and the bands that does not edit and quantize to perfection will sound like the drummer performance is sloppy, and nobody wants to sound sloppy.
This led to an odd detachment between the record performance and the live one for most of the bands, as anyone can notice going to a live gig.

Going back to the main topic, a drum trigger comes usually in the form of a clip that gets attached to each drum part except the cymbals (but if we want we can trigger also just the kick, or only snare and kick and so on), then the trigger is connected to a drum module with normal jacks, and the drum module will interpret the signals received from the trigger and apply a pre recorded sample to the hits.
The "replaced" drum sound will then be sent via the output jack to the mixer and it can be used both live or in a recording session.


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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review: DDrum Redshot Trigger Kit

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review the low cost tier of the DDrum trigger kits: the Redshot Serie!

DDrum is a well known swedish-american producer that creates drums and percussion instruments, both acoustic and electronic, plus triggers and other drum accessories, and it is used by many professional bands such as Korn, Pantera, Megadeth, Rihanna, Evanescence, Suffocation, Machine Head, Snoop Dog, Queensryche and so on.

This trigger kit places itself in the least expensive tier of the DDrum production line due to the fact that it is a very light piece of aluminum, which does not guarantee a super long product life, but on the other hand, if treated carefully (as everything should actually be) it can provide the same response of its more expensive versions at a fraction of the price.

The set is composed by one kick drum trigger and four snare/tom ones, and they can be easily attached to the drum part via an included screw. The installation is very simple: you fix the triggers in the desired drum parts (you don't need necessarily to trigger the whole drumkit) and connect them with a regual jack to a drum module, which can be made by DDrum or any producer, and from there we need to choose the desired sound and the sensitivity.
Once we are satisfied with the tracking of the hits (meaning that every drum hit is tracked with no double hits), we are ready to connect the drum module to the input of the mixer and play live or record.

I have personally used these trigger kit on several records and I must say they do their job, although sometimes I had to add some layer of paper between the trigger cushion and the drum skin to even out a bit more the sensibility, and once everything is perfectly calibrated these tools work very well.
Obviously in the long run I can imagine that a touring band that heavily relies on triggers might want to pass to some more solid unit, but for a home recording studio this kit could be an amazing bang for the buck.

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- 1 Bass drum kick trigger with spacer

- 4 snare/tom Triggers (single zone)

- Red shot Triggers are compatible with 1/4 to 1/4 instrument cables

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Saturday, June 2, 2018

6 Strategic decisions to make before starting a mix Part 2/2


4) Dynamic mix: these are the types of mix that contain extremely dynamic parts, which means strong differences between the loudest and the quietest parts.
This type of mixes are often used in jazz records in which the band wants to recreate a vintage vibe, since in the 30s the bands were recorded live, with only few ambient microphones and compressors were practically non existent in the way we know them now.
Bands like the aforementioned ones likes to play with dynamics, which means alternating extremely quiet and gentle parts to others much louder, and today we can recreate this lively and breathing sound, instead of overcompressing the mix, by using automations.
We can automate the volume of the single parts in order to make them stick out more when needed and to tame them when they are excessively loud, rebalancing constantly the mix (some light compression though will still be needed, expecially on snare, cymbals and horns): it is more complex and more tiring than putting a strong compression on each instrument group, but this way we will preserve the natural sound of each instrument and we'll arrive to the mastering phase with much more clarity and headroom; during mastering the engineer will have to preserve our style, by using a very gentle mastering, otherwise all our careful work will be wasted.

5) Non dynamic mix: this type of mix is exactly the opposite of the previous one, and it is the one made to be heard as clear and stable as possible even in a car radio that doesn't receive a good quality signal. It is used in the most mainstream and ear catching rock and pop music (but also in metal, which is usually a genre very low in dynamics), and often it is involved in aggressive masterings that fight in the loudness war, since the mix already offers low headroom and it's made to be pushed.
In this type of mix every sound must be super stable (a good example would be any latest Nickelback song), which means that every snare or kick hit, every vocal part, every bass note must have the same volume, and in order to do this we must rely heavily on compressors (and sometimes also limiters at the end of the chain of every group, just to be sure).
This type of mix is extremely popular because it is relatively easy to achieve, there is a reduced need for automations compared to the dynamic one, and usually everything is loud and clear, but it works better with a songwriting that doesn't rely much on dynamics, otherwise the result can sound flat.

6) Acoustic / orchestral mix: in this last category I am grouping several song types very different between them, but that all have in common the use of acoustic instruments.
According to the number of instruments (for example just a voice and an acoustic guitar, or on the other hand a big strings ensemble), we need to think strategically on what to put in the spotlight and what in the background, and usually it will be the lead parts in the forefront, and the secundary parts, for example groups of violins performing the same notes, in the background. These decisions, unless we are close miking every single thing, must be taken during the recording phase, so if we have many violin players we can group them by tracking with one single microphone per group of them or just recording the left and right side of the stage, according to our gear.
The main difference between recording acoustic bands or orchestras and the other types of band therefore is that most of the strategic choices here happen actually in the recording phase, since then in the mixing phase we should try to preserve sound as natural as possible; this mean that we will have to get the tracking right, even if it means experimenting, doing and redoing the same part until we find the perfect mic placement.
Once the recording is done, in the ideal world we would have mainly to set the levels, high pass and low pass where needed, compress and add some effect, but we will have less room for completely change a sound, unlike what happens for electric guitars, drums or other instruments.


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