Saturday, November 24, 2018

Review: Audio Assault Grindmachine II + Discharge Pack (with video sample)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are reviewing a new guitar amp simulator, the top of the line of the Audio Assault producer: Grindmachine II!

Grindmachine II is the successor of Grindmachine, which was a very popular guitar amp simulator, highly praised in the internet mixing community, and it offers something different from all the other virtual amps, which try to use scheumorphism to replicate the look of amplifier and pedals: the interface of Grindmachine 2 is similar to the one of a POD, in which you choose amp and cabinet, and the controls stays the same.
This is very effective once you get acquainted with the interface, because you only need to learn the interface once, and all the models will be controllable in the same way, making the tweaking faster and easier.

The controls are very simple: there is an eq section with presence and master control, an intelligent noise gate, the amp and the cabinet section can be individually activated and deactivated (there is also an IR loader), and there are 2 more controls: Tight and Impact.
Tight is a switchable booster that adds gain and overall tightness to the sound, while Impact recreates the movement of the speaker, adding thump and low end, and it can be compared to the "resonance" control of the Peavey 5150.

The plugin comes with a wide range of amp simulations which are not directly a recreation of original amps but more a blend of some (for example PVGL, which is halfway between the lead channel of a 5150 and an Engl), and it has both clean and distorted tones, plus it has a serie of loaded Impulse Responses of different kinds, from 1x12 to 4x12 (and you can also load yours).
There are also original tones, which have been designed exclusively for Grindmachine II.

There are also currently 2 expansions: Discharge and Hidden Gems amp pack, which can be downloaded separately, and which expands furthermore the possibilities of this plugin: I had the chance to try the Discharge pack, which is focused on hi gain tones, and I must say that the tones are really brutal. In the video I have used the Ultra Jcm model, which recreates a modded Marshall Jcm with added gain to make it even more aggressive.
The sound that you can hear on the video is Grindmachine II with no booster (but I have used the Tight switch), and as you can hear the tone is really metal, with no other plugins needed.

The plugin sounds very well and it is very versatile, but here is some suggestion for a Grindmachine III: I would add a simple tuner, unite into it the Dirt Machine plugin to provide more boositng options, and I would add a simple effect section, so that we could add some delay or reverb to a solo without the need of adding an external plugin.

The only thing left to say is to go to the Audio Assault page and check it out, these plugins are a great bang for the buck and you will surely find a tone you like.

Thumbs up!

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Saturday, November 17, 2018

How to clean up a distorted guitar and bass sound using eq

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
The article of today is a focus on guitar and bass hi gain sound, so it should be used as addition to our article How to mix a rock/metal guitar and How to mix a rock/metal bass.

This article will only talk about the distorted, hi-gain guitar and the hi-gain part of a bass track (if you are using a dual or more tracks technique), and starts from the assumption that a distorted track has by nature a good part of noise and resonances, and we need, from that noise, to minimize the bad part and emphasize the useful one.

How do we tell the good part from the bad part?
By nature a distorted track adds a big amount of gain and saturation in all frequencies, therefore along with an important increase of level for what is the original sound of our instrument we end up with a lot of "dirt", which eventually might end up by covering the other instruments, or producing unwanted peaks that prevents us from rising the overall volume.

By finding and notching out those peaks and resonances we will free a considerable amount of headroom (very hard to point out at first listen, unless you have a trained ear) that will let us raise the volume of the track, making it more present and at the same time it will sit better in the mix. Sometimes, in facts, we might feel our guitars weak, low in volume, not very present, but if we rise the volume we will have it reaching the maximum level and clipping while it still sounds weak and low; that's because some frequency that we might even not notice at first is so high in volume that hits the ceiling before all the rest, thus keeping all the rest of the curve low.

How do we find these resonances to notch out?
The nature and the modern technology comes in our aid, with our ear (here's an ear training tutorial) and with frequency analyzers (here's a dedicated article).
Obviously frequency analyzers are importants because we can see right away if there are resonances and take them down some db until they are aligned with the rest of the curve, but the thing that makes the difference between a regular mix engineer and a good one is by using the ear to clean up the track.

It's very simple to do once you know how to do it: you create with an eq a narrow notch and boost it considerably, around 6/10db, then you start sweeping left and right through your distorted guitar and bass sound.
You will hear every kind of weirdness but what we are looking here are the frequency areas that does not resonate with the note that the instrument is playing in that moment (for example in a guitar riff with a sequence of notes), leave the parts in which you can hear strongly the note played and focus on the parts in which there is a noise, a weird sound, that remains the same regardless from the note played.
Those are the frequencies we are looking for, and once we isolate them, we must take them down 2 to 4db, until they are not so prominent anymore.

Think about those frequencies as junk to remove: what we are aiming here is to notch out 2 or 3 of these areas, quite surgically, in order to make room to the part of the sound that will be actually audible in the mix: the ones that comes with the note; the others are useless and eat up only headroom.
I'm not writing specific frequencies here because they vary according to an infinity of factors: guitar, pickups, string gauge, amplifier, and most importantly, the tuning.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Review: Audio Assault Emperor (with video sample)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing a brand new guitar amp simulator: Emperor, by Audio Assault!

Audio Assault is a Mexico based software house focused on music production, and they offer a wide array of plugins, ranging from equalizers and drum samples to virtual amplifiers.

Today we are going to check out the latest virtual amp of the company: Emperor.
Emperor is a suite focused on metal and rock tones, which includes a dual channel hi-gain head, a pedalboard with 5 slots (in which you can choose between 10 stompboxes, ranging from boosters to modulation effects, from a compressor to an auto-wah - the only pity is there's no tuner!) and a cab section with 4 cabs and 4 microphones (which can be moved freely on the grill, you can select also the distance).
Plus, there's also an IR loader included with 14 custom IRs.

As I have already said for other recent guitar amp simulators, technology today has gotten to a point in which it is possible to achieve a very credible guitar sound with plugins, also with the not expensive ones (and this Emperor has an extremely good quality to price ratio), after years in which we had to buy very expensive gear and suites in which it was very hard to achieve a decent tone, before dropping everything and switching back to a real amp.

I have followed guitar amp modeling since the beginning, since the '90s, and I must say only in the latest years technology has really gotten this close to reality to really let anyone plug a guitar into the audio interface and dial in a good tone.

Even more recently, I have noticed a beautiful trend in which guitar amp simulators have become really user friendly: now it's as easy to craft a good tone as using a real amp, which was unthinkable up to few years ago; back then the producers were focused in offering as many options as possible (as many amps, as many variables, as many tube types and bias settings possible), with the result of being dispersive, and this is the real revolution: today producers are focusing in offering an easy interface which sounds good since the beginning.

I had to tweak the amp literally for 5 minutes before coming up with the tone that can be heard in the video: I just added a Tube Screamer in front, played a bit with the eq, and chose the right microphone.

All I can say is that Emperor is a simple, very quick and effective guitar suite which will offer you a wide range of crunch tones, from a mild overdrive to the most extreme and modern Djent (no clean tones basically), and most important, all the tones are very realistic and usable, making it a smart and complete choice.

Thumbs up!

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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Expander / upward compression (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are bringing a new topic on our infinite list of article about compression: upward compression!

What is upward compression?
It's a type of compression that works exactly in the opposite way than the regular one: you set a ceiling, and decide a whole wave signal or part of it (with a multiband compressor / expander) in which the volume will be increased until it reaches the ceiling.
To make it easier: we choose a part of the sound, or the entire sound, and make it louder until it reach a certain level.
The signal is increased within a ceiling or within a range (some expander has the control named "range" in which the upper limit is the ceiling), and it just increases the volume below the threshold (rather than lower it as a regulal compressor would), putting it into "the range".

If we are expanding the entire sound until it reaches the ceiling, the result will be the same of a regular compressor: the loudest parts of the sound will be attenuated, the quietest will be raised in volume, that's why this procedure is more suited when it affects only a certain frequency range.

Why do we do this way instead of just raising the volume?
To have more control over our transient;
in facts, if we have a sound that is too much oriented on the high end and we want to bring out the body whilst at the same time mantain controlled the dynamic range, we can expand the low end of that sound (like in the picture, in which only the low mids, the part coloured in blue, is expanded, while the part in purple is normally compressed).

Why don't we just use an equalizer to boost the part we would like to expand?
Same answer: because we want to control the transient and avoid it to have too much dynamic range, with volume spikes that can end up out of control.

The uses of an expander are several: to reshape the sound of a microphoned guitar or bass that sounds too thick or too thin, to give life to certain frequency areas of the room microphone of a drumkit, or to apply corrections in a band recorded with few or one single microphone.

This leads us to the same dilemma we arrived when talking in general about multiband compression:
is it a compressor? Is it an equalizer? Many producers consider it the magic wand to solve every mix and mastering problem, while others prefer using the basic tools (broadband compression, equalizer, volume) following the rule that it's better to use few simple tools and master them rather than experiment too much with more complex tools with the risk of ruining a mix.

What is your opinion? Do you use multiband compressor and expanders?
Let us know!

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