PUTTING TOGETHER A PEDAL BOARD

PUTTING TOGETHER A PEDAL BOARD

You know that feeling you get when things have gotten way out of order and something must be done about it? Well, I recently got reacquainted with this feeling when I looked at the mess my guitar pedal set up had become. I decided SOMETHING must be done to clean it up and make it easier to gig with! It was time for me to buy my first pedal board.

Pedal boards basically hold all of your pedals, run your cables and power under it to keep them out of the way and allow you to pick up all of your guitar gear easily to take it to a gig or a session with minimal set up and tear down time.

Since there are far too many pedal boards and set-ups for me to cover, so I will stick with the basics. For more in depth details see the links I post at the end of this post.

CHOOSING A PEDAL BOARD

My gear consisted of a Line 6 M13, Fulltone OCD, Maxon OD808, Line 6 expression pedal, Banshee Talkbox, and Egnater Rebel 30 combo amp with an extension cab and a channel switcher. Finding pedal boards that fit this gear and were well reviewed took a few hours.

The most helpful website was  Pedalboardplanner.com. Here you can choose any pedal train pedal board and add your pedals to see how things fit! They are missing lots of effects pedals, but it’s easy to find pedals the same size to map it all out.

Simple google searches provided over 20 pictures of other people’s pedal boards with a Line 6 M13 on them. The GearPage.net was also FULL of great information on pedal board sizes.

Keep in mind that not ALL of your effects need to be on your pedal board. Many people keep the volume, wah, or expression pedals off of the board to save space and allow more movement on stage.

After doing this research I decided to find either PedalTrain 2 HC (hard case) or PedalTrain PRO pedal board on Craigslist. After only one week of searching I found a PedalTrain HC 2 for half price with Velcro included!

CABLING

Most people have heard the adage “Measure twice, cut once”. This mentality will save you money and time with your pedal board.

I had to go to Guitar Center three times to exchange cables because I thought I could guess the right length needed…

I recommend you first put your pedals on to the pedal board and arrange them so they look and feel the best to you. Be sure to leave enough space to allow you to press the pedals accurately as well as for tight 90 degree cables to fit around the inputs and outputs of the pedals (about 1” minimum).

Once it looks and feels best it’s time to get out the measuring tape. Write down all the connections you need to make on your pedal board and how long the cable needs to be. If you don’t write it down you will make unnecessary mistakes! Trust me on this!!

Alternatively, you can buy a Planet Waves or Lava Cable Pedal Board Patch cable kit. These seem pretty cool. They are solderless so you can simply screw on the adapters to each end of a cable after you cut it with a provided tool. These allow a perfect cable length and fit at a bit of an extra cost. I would guess these would be worth it if you have LOTS of pedals to run cabling to.

I had to buy 1 15’ guitar cable (Guitar to input),1 X 3’ cable (M13 to OCD), 1 X 1’ cable (OCD to Maxon), 1 15’ cable (Maxon to Rebel 30 input), 1 X 15’ 2 channel cable (for my effects loop send and return). A bit of extra length is needed on most cables since they are run underneath the pedal board to conserve space and make it look clean.

I ended up choosing 15’ cables to run from my pedals to my amp. This seemed like a good balance between signal loss and being tied too close to my amp on stage. The color coded 2 channel cable made it easier to plug in my send and returns since they both go to the same place.

I’m not even going to bother talking about cable quality in this post because it’s a huge topic that will need it’s own post. Stay tuned for a new post soon about cables and how they affect your signal path!

EFFECTS LOOP AND LAYOUT

If you don’t know what an effect loop is on an amp then I recommend you read this online article.

I decided to use the four cable method with my M13. This is a fancy way of saying I’m using the effects loop on my guitar amp. For more details on this see this online article.

I have two signal paths: The first is to the amp input and the second is for the amps effects loop.  The first signal path is Guitar to M13 -> output to Distortion pedals -> output to amp input. The second path is from M13 output -> Amp Effects return and Amp Effects Send -> M13 Effects return.

This allowed me to put my effects in the proper order. WHAT IS the proper order to put your effects??? Well, that is up for debate. I recommend starting with this online article to get the basics down. How you arrange your pedals can define your sound. Whether this sound is total shit or sonic excellence is all up to you. I recommend you start from the basics of the online article above and then tweak away 🙂

POWER

Voodoo Labs ISO-5 with toroidal transformers and isolated outputs. All technical jargon to say it’s about as quiet as power supplies gets 😉

 

*** UPDATE ***

SINCE this post I have discovered that the 1 spot adapter adds a decent amount of noise to the signal path. It isn’t horrendous and wouldn’t matter as much for genres like metal, but it was very audible even with my iPhone microphone. I’ve made a new video of this and put it on youtube. I have since started looking for a Voodoo Labs PP2 on craigslist and taken the 1 spot back. I’m changing this section to reflect what I now know.

VIDEO OF NOISE ADDED BY THE 1 SPOT 

*** END OF UPDATE ***

There are many options to power pedal boards. Pedals can have a HUGE variety of power requirements. Most are 9v pedals, but my OCD accepts 9V-18V, my Line 6 M13 requires AC 1400mA of power, and many others have their own power supplies that are required at this time in order to run properly! Also, many power supplies give off heavy noise that gets into your signal path. The M13 is EXTREMELY noisy and must be kept around 1 foot away from your signal path.

Sound complex? It sure can be. What you choose as a power supply must be based on your own personal rig and power requirements.

I looked into the One Spot, Voodoo Labs and T-Rex engineering and, after LOTS of research, ended up choosing the Voodoo Labs ISO-5 for clean quiet power and it’s size.

If you have LOTS of pedals that use 9v or 18v it would probably be a better investment to go with the more expensive options. The ISO 5 had enough outputs for me including two extra outputs if I add more pedals.

Whichever power supply you pick should have isolated outputs and a toroidal transformer to minimize noise. I chose the Voodoo Labs ISO-5 since it has an 18V output, plenty of 9V outputs for my needs AND it fits underneath the old PedalTrain 2 I bought.

The outputs of the ISO5 are blocked if the supply is mounted this way. It ended up having to be mounted upside down.

If possible you should buy a power supply that fits underneath your pedal board so it’s out of the way and the pedal board sits normally on the ground. After lots of research I ended up going to guitar center and trying out the PP2 and ISO 5 from Voodoo Labs. It turns out that ONLY the ISO5 would fit properly with my PedalTrain 2 unless I drilled more holes.

Voodoo Labs ISO 5 mounted upside down and fitting PERFECTLY underneath my old Pedal Train 2. I used velcro to hold down the cables and power supply.

I even had to mount it upside down because otherwise the outputs and power input wouldn’t be accessible. See the photos to figure out exactly why. The picture shows that the only way it would fit is in this one particular place. For now I just used velcro, but I have plans on getting long zipties so it’s even more secure.

So what power supply should you use??? Google is your friend! Figure out what power your pedals need and whether or not a unit like the Voodoo labs can handle them all. Keep in mind that professional power adapters like the Voodoo Labs PP2 are well worth the money if you care about noise in your chain! If you take your playing seriously then you should pick something with isolated outputs and a transformer!

Going cheap on a power supply may seem like a good idea, but i just learned first hand how much noise it adds and ended up paying extra for a nicer power supply. It was WELL worth the extra $70 and even makes my OCD pedal sound better at 18V!

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Note how all power cables are separate from the signal path. Also note how tight everything fits.

Now it’s time to get out the Velcro, cables, pedals , power and put it all together! Exciting huh?

First I made sure the Velcro on the pedal board was secure. Then I put Velcro on the bottom of each pedal. Be aware that some gear requires you to take off the rubber feet so the Velcro will stick. I recommend taking off the rubber and leaving in the screws so the pedal doesn’t fall apart. Also, don’t put Velcro over the screws in case you have to take it all apart. Keep the rubber feet in a bad in case you remove the pedal from your board.

Then I put the pedals on the board in the order I had previously decided on. I put the cables through one hole on the back of the pedal board and the power through the other. This allowed me to isolate all power from the signal path. I also used Velcro to keep cables out of the way and make everything nice and tidy.

BEHOLD

After days of research and lots of planning I finally have my own pedal board! I can’t tell you how great it feels to simplify your gear and have it ready to go at a moments notice.  It only cost me about $170 to put it all together using Craigslist and a few Guitar Center purchases.

Here are some pictures of the finished product.

Days of planning and work finally paid off!
Pedal Board, Amp, and Guitar

 

CONCLUSIONS

I hope this post helps you make some decisions on building your own pedal boards. It may seem daunting at first, but if you take each step one at a time you’ll have your shiny new pedal board to show off at your next gig sooner than you think 🙂

One last word of advice: It’s EASY to go down the rabbit hole on every one of these topics. You could spend your entire life doing nothing but learning about gear instead of playing your damn instrument. At some point you need to make some decisions and just play some music.

SPECIAL THANKS

I’d like to thank my friend Adam Schalke for his tips on pedal boards. He’s in a band called The Dirty Diamond and he offered me some solid tips. Please check them out when you get a chance 🙂

LINKS

Pedalboardplanner.com.

MackAmps.com Effects Loop

GearPage.net

The Tone Chef M13 4 cable method article.

Guitar signal path order

 

Thanks for visiting the Aaron Brown Sound blog! Come back soon for more posts about video game audio, audio engineering, sound design, composing and all other things relating to being an audio professional 🙂

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Studio Monitor A/B test


I recently had to opportunity to work with the very talented sound designers at Naughty Dog on Uncharted 3! During this project I was using Dynaudio Air Series speakers exclusively. These speakers sounded amazing. They were accurate, natural, and non-fatiguing (which is critical when you work long hours!). I LOVED these speakers.

This made me realize that I hadn’t heard quite a few brands of speakers out there. I began to wonder what I could be missing. Don’t get me wrong, in the past I’ve used monitors that range from Behringer Truths and Alesis MKIIs to Yamaha NS10s and Genelecs. However, many brands like Adam, Dynaudio and JBL have come out with some amazing speakers lately.

I talked with my good friend, a fellow audio professional named Preston Smits, and we decided to set up a listening session. I called around and eventually found a Guitar Center in Arvada that had many of the speakers I am looking to buy. Warren in pro audio took great care of us.

We decided to compare speakers ranging from $1000 to about $2500 that were available. We also threw in the Behringer Truth as a low range comparison speaker. The results were ear opening to say the least!

Here are the details of the shootout:

SPEAKERS:

  1. Behringer Truth (ribbon tweater version)
    1. $500/pair
  2. Dynaudio BM5a
    1. $1000/pair
  3. Adam A7x
    1. $1400/pair
  4. JBL LSR4328P
    1. $1550/pair
  5. Genelec 8040a
    1. $2400/pair

Note: We wanted to listen to the new Focal Solo 6 speakers, but no one keeps them in stock 🙁

I compiled a CD made of .flac files from a variety of sources and genres. This included songs from John Williams, ACDC, The Wallflowers, Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty, Daft Punk and Skrillex. These songs all demonstrated different qualities of the speakers which was essential to REALLY understand how each speaker sounds.

While listening to the CD we flipped between each speaker taking notes on things like the speakers’ depth, frequency response, detail, transient response, and if we thought the speakers would be fatiguing. We didn’t compare notes or tell each other what we were thinking while listening so we wouldn’t influence each others decisions.

After listening to 6 songs over and over we compared our notes. After 2 hours of listening to these speakers our notes were about 95% the same. We both heard the same qualities of the speakers.

RESULTS: (WHAT YOU REALLY CAME HERE TO READ)

Enough with the details. You are probably wondering which speakers won the shootout…. Unfortunately, professional audio gear eventually comes down to a matter of personal taste rather than having one clear victor. That being said we ended up picking two of the speakers as our definite favorites. Read on to find out which speakers we loved the most!

ADAM A7X:

Smooth, detailed, clean, 3d sound with a high end clarity better than any other speaker I’ve ever head. When ADAM extended their response up to 50kHz. it was NOT a gimmick. I’m absolutely sold on these speakers. They may need a sub if you do heavy music genres that extends below 50 Hz.

JBL LSR4328:

Punchy, accurate, wide imaging, high transient response with excellent low end response. These had the best low end response. These speakers were the most accurate on the transients of the hi-hat/shaker/sibilance region of the frequency spectrum.

Genelec 8040a:

Crisp (in a bad way when compared), forward, scooped sound (lacking mid range detail), big low end detail. Sounded very inaccurate when compared to the JBL or ADAM speakers.

Dynaudio BM5a:

Boxy low end, collapsed image, and dull when compared to the other speakers. These were a disappointment to me. Their low end sounded boxy with poor transient response. It almost sounded like their speakers weren’t getting enough power to be driven clean in the low frequencies. These did have better detail than the Behringer speakers, but they weren’t the big step up to pro speakers I had hoped them to be.

Behringer Truth (Ribbon):

Collapsed image, least detail of the bunch, ok transient response. Cheapest sound of the bunch as well it should be at only $500 for the pair 😉

Winners – FIRST PLACE TIE:

ADAM A7X and JBL LSR4328P

You really couldn’t go wrong with either of these speakers. The ADAM A7X had a smoother sound whereas the JBL LSR4328P had a more transient sound. The ADAMs did extend higher and give more detail on the highest frequencies (which is VERY pleasing to the ear I might add) while the JBLs give you more detail in transient things like high hats, snare transients and the like. The ADAMs could turn out to be less fatiguing. The JBLs have a wider dispersion of sound. The JBLs also offer calibration utilities to deal with different rooms. The ADAMs have no such option.

It all comes down to preference when you hit this level, but I can’t imagine anyone disliking either of these excellent sounding speakers. Personally, I liked the ADAM A7X the most. It would depend on your own tastes and applications.

In my opinion, both of these put every Genelec I’ve heard to shame in terms of detail, accuracy, imaging, and more.

2nd place: Genelec 8040a

The Genelec’s sounded a bit harsh, crisp, and scooped in the mids in comparison. They did offer a nice low end response and good transient detail. I wasn’t shocked at this. I’ve used many varieties of Genelec speakers in the past and never loved them.

This test was PROOF that there are better speakers out there for less money. Don’t believe me???? Go do your own test and tell me what YOU hear 🙂 Both the ADAM and JBL speakers offered a more detailed sound that filled the frequency spectrum. YMMV of course!

3rd place: Dynaudio BM5a

This was a disappointment to me. I have read many things online saying these speakers compare to ADAM speakers. I’m hear to tell you that the ADAM A7X is FAR superior to the Dynaudio BM5a. The Dynaudio sounds boxy in comparison and the transients in the low end just don’t come through clean at all. I’d avoid these speakers at this price. To be fair, I did really enjoy my Dynaudio Air Series speakers in the past so perhaps this is just their attempt at a low end speaker.

4th place: Behringer Truth (Ribbon)

Yeah, no big surprise here. This low end speaker was more of a control and certainly proved the difference between a $500 pair of speakers and a $1400 pair of speakers. These are a decent option for beginners with small budgets, but do yourself a favor and get a great pair of speakers if you can find any way at all to afford it.

CONCLUSION:

Some people say that as long as you “know” your speakers you can mix with them. I believe there are limits with this type of thinking. Low end speakers lack TONS of detail when compared with high end speakers. Bottom line: If you can’t hear what’s missing or going wrong then you can’t fix it. The detail provided by a good pair of speakers affects EVERY PART OF YOUR SOUND! Without them you can’t trust yourself when mixing, tracking, or editing!

Speaker technologies have come a long way. There is a large market of studio monitors out there and never enough time to compare them. However, now that I have taken the time to A/B these speakers I have truly found what I’ve been missing in my home studio. I bought a pair of Adam A7X speakers and I’m 100% satisfied!

Replacing and Biasing Tubes – Used Egnater Rebel 30 tube combo amp

Tube amp combos have many pros and cons.  It is a pain when you have to troubleshoot bad tubes, rattling in the amp, or other issues. However, when a tube amp is of high quality it can simply sound amazing and blow every hardware and software tube emulator out of the water. I, and most pro guitarist, think the quality of the sound is worth the minor troubles and costs tube amps can bring.

I recently purchased my very own used Egnater Rebel 30 Tube Combo amp to get that elusive tube amp sound. I’m in love! First, let me say that the tone it gets is of boutique quality.  It’s tones are easy to dial in.  Both the clean channel and drive channel are everything I’ve ever wanted out of an amp.  The effects loop is very useful with my M13 and the amp takes distortion pedals VERY well. I wish I had this thing when working with bands in the past.

I bought it used at only $600,but  it had a few small issues.  This post is for anyone buying a used tube amp.  It can be hard to find good information on these things.

First, I noticed that handle on the Egnater combo was rattling and not very secure.  I saw the same problem on a different Egnater amp so it may be an issue with some of these amps.  This was an easy fix. I just cut out a small piece of foam, removed the piece that was rattling by popping it off, put the foam in there, and replaced the handle piece.  Now it is snug and doesn’t move at all.

After fixing that rattle I noticed that there was another noise coming from the amp.  Whenever I played a low A,Bb, or B there was a light glassy-like rattling. After lots of research I found out that this sound is from a tube.  It’s easy to figure out which tube is rattling because the rattling stops when touched.

BE CAREFUL OF TOUCHING THE TUBES WHEN ON!!! They get VERY hot!

Always use gloves when handling tubes to prevent oils from getting on the tubes.

I have since learned that combo amps often cause tubes to rattle after time because the sound waves cause the tubes to rattle a lot.  To prevent this you can use an extension cab so the amp doesn’t rattle the tubes at loud volumes. The only fix, if you want to use it as a combo and be rid of the tube noise, is to buy new tubes.

I initially bought some tube dampeners in hopes it would hold the tube and dampen the tube rattling.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any effect on this type of tube rattle.  I did end up using them later….  Read on to see how.

Everyone under the sun seems to like different tubes for different reasons.  After LOTS of research I found that JJ tubes are reliable and not very prone to rattling. Using matched tubes is said to be of high importance, but no one could point me to solid proof of this.  I bought matched tubes anyway since it isn’t that much more expensive.

Installing new tubes is very easy.  Put on gloves, remove the tube retainers, hold them at the base, lie it up with the open connections and gently push them in.

After putting in the new tubes you have to Bias them.  This involves removing the back panel, adjusting a potentiometer (one for EL84 and one for 6V6) to 40 mv.  This requires you to have a multimeter.  I bought the RadioShack pocket multimeter which is cheap, small, and fine for these purposes.  Follow this link to get better details on how to bias your tubes.

http://www.rig-talk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=56736

Eventually I had the new JJ tubes installed, biased, and ready to go.  I re-attached the tube retainers and added the tube dampeners to them.  This prevented sympathetic ringing from the tube retainers at low recording volumes.  If you want some tube dampeners leave a post and I’ll respond with a link to buy them CHEAP from a dealer.

FINAL SET UP:  JJ 6V6, JJ EL84 tubes and tube dampeners around the tube retainers.

After a big of work and research I got this amp sounding and working better than new!  Instead of paying $900 plus tax I paid $650 and learned how to take care of my tube amp in the future.  Tube amps like this still sound amazing and are well worth the work.  If you are looking for an amp you owe it to yourself to hear the Egnater Rebel 30.  You simply CAN’T beat it for the price.  It has a boutique sound to my ears. It actually sounded better than the amps I heard around $1500.

I’ve learned a lot recently about tube rattling. Tube rattle often sounds like small BBs rattling in a glass tube. It turns out that a bit of tube noise is expected in combo amps due to the sheer dB level in such a small space. If you plan on recording your amps it is recommended by many professionals to get a separate cabinet from your amp head. This means either buying an Amp head and Cabinet separately OR buying a combo that allows you to hook up to another cabinet. This way the speaker that’s moving isn’t rattling the tubes.

Keep in mind that tube dampeners don’t accomplish much if anything if the rattling is within the tube. I learned that for my issue it didn’t make a difference.

I ended up buying a second Egnater Rebel 1X12 cabinet for versatility. Now I can play through just the combo at rehearsals (16ohm), play through just the extension (16ohm) OR play through both for a lot more volume at bigger places (8ohm).

An extremely versatile setup. I can use the extension cab for recording, the combo alone for a rehearsal amp, or both for playing LOUD!

When using more than one cabinet make sure you set the ohms to the right setting. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! It’s easiest if your cabinets have matching ohms. In this case you just set the ohms to half of each cabinets ohm setting. Since both are 16 ohm cabinets I set the output to 8 ohms when using two of them. Here is the formula.

(impedance of cab 1 X impedance of cab 2) / (impedance of cab 1 + impedance of cab 2)

Hans at Egnater recommended I avoid using multiple cabinets that don’t match ohms since the math gets complicated and the output ohm settings don’t perfectly match these types of set ups. I should also add that Egnater has been VERY quick to respond to all of my questions. Their support is one of the best I’ve ever worked with!

If you hook up multiple cabinets MAKE SURE you use speaker cables of at LEAST 12 gauge. These cables are much thicker and made specifically for this type of output.

DO NOT USE INSTRUMENT CABLES TO HOOK UP AMPS TO CABINETS!!!

Buying used amps can be risky with all the things that can go wrong.  In this case it was well worth the savings.  Always be sure to put the amp through it’s paces when you try them out so you find issues right away.  If you have issues like I mentioned you’ll probably be fine with these fixes.  If something is fizzy, cutting out, or smoking then you’ll need to talk to a tube amp repair guy which can take a month and cost quite a bit.

I hope this clears up some questions you all may have had about tube dampeners, tube biasing, and the Rebel 30 Egnater combo. I LOVE this amp and so does EVERYONE that hears it!!! I couldn’t recommend it enough!

Post any questions you have below and I’ll answer them if I can.  Thanks for stopping by 🙂

Digital Microphones

Digital Microphones

 

Digital microphones are far from a new thing.  Neumann has been developing the technology for over 9 years.  Now many more companies are showing off digital microphones.  In fact, it seemed the trend at AES 2010 was digital microphone technology.   I used to think of digital microphones as either a fad or unnecessary.  Now I believe they absolutely have their use and will eventually find their way into my normal workflow.  I invite you to read on and you may find yourself a believer in this emerging technology as well.

If you aren’t familiar with digital microphones they do have a few complications that don’t exist with analog microphones.  Digital microphones use a format called AES 42.  This isn’t a typical AES/EBU signal and requires a device to interpret the signal to normal AES connections.  If you want to invest in digital microphones it will cost you extra to accept this type of signal and there isn’t a large variety of devices capable of handling their signals yet.  Prior to this years AES I thought all that hassle wasn’t worth what they might offer an audio professional.  That being said, I now think that in many situations the pros far outweigh the cons.

This year AES had lots of digital microphone technology from Neumann, Schoepps, Line 6 and other companies.  I also got a special presentation from Neumann about their digital technology as well, but I will talk more about that later.

Schoepps introduced a shotgun microphone that uses a microphone on the back to further reduce off axis rejection by a whopping 16dB!  Obviously this is technology that traditional analog microphones can’t achieve.  By reducing off axis sounds the shotgun mic is even more directional without any coloration at all that can alter the most directional of microphones.

Schoepps digital shotgun microphone

Line 6 introduced digital wireless technology using digital microphones.  By plugging in a digital microphone to digital wireless you can send full frequency content along a carrier instead of a squashed lossy analog signal.  The result is, in theory, a lossless wireless microphone at a distance of up to ~300 ft.  Digital wireless also send 4 of the same signal and checks them all later to be sure the signal hasn’t been altered by drops or interference!

 

 

 

As a sound designer this really caught my attention.  By using digital lav microphones or condensors I could record sounds on location in full quality.  Imagine putting a lav microphone on a skate board as a professional rides around a skate park or a remote condenser that allows you to control it’s polar pattern and pre-amplification remotely.  The Line 6 tech is limited to a lav and a handheld mic at the moment, but the lavalier can also use a Schoepps capsule.  I look forward to seeing where this particular tech goes.

A valuable part of digital microphones is that their signal is converted immediately and is therefore unnaffected by long cable runs.  This may not make a bit difference in a perfectly wired studio, but imagine a cable run of 200 feet in a live venue or even longer in a broadcast situation.  Now audio professionals can achieve full quality sound at great distances.

I was fortunate enough to attend an event sponsored by Neumann Berlin and Sennheiser USA on digital microphones at SkyWalker Sound on Sunday during AES 2010.  It was here that I really got to hear how digital microphones are used by todays professionals.  We also got to witness Leslie Ann Jones do a mic shootout of analog Neumann microphones and their equivalent digital microphones.  It all started with an informative presentation by Wolfgang Fraissinet, the President of Sales and Marketing for Neumann Berlin, and Mike Pappas from Jazz 89 KUVO.

The first presentation was all about the Canadian olympics.  All of their audio was in 5.1 including sound effects and music.  Their choirs and orchestras were all recorded using Neumann digital microphones.  They used the digital microphones primarily to prevent signal loss over long cable runs, but also for their sonic qualities.  Their work all sounded amazing and everything they presented used only the digital microphones.

Another reason they loved the digital microphones was the extremly low noise floor they can provide.  They worked with lots of stacked tracks and they said even with all faders up over multiple transitions the noise never became an issue.  This was important to them because they made all of their 5.1 cues overlap without the need for crossfading.  I was very impressed with their results.

The second part of the presentation involved tracking a live quartet called Quartet San Francisco.  They played a rendition of Eleanor Rigby on the orchestral sound stage that sounded ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!

We then went into the SkySound control room to listen to the results.  Overall I felt that the digital microphones were a bit more focused and provided a bit more clarity and high end than their analog counterparts.  Most of the crowd heard things the same way.  Both recordings turned out stellar with Leslie Anne Jones running the session through Millenia preamps and the Neve board.

The general consensus was that these microphones, while not a replacement for the current analog microphones, are more of a new flavor available to engineers.  Digital microphones will probably not replace analog microphones, but rather give engineers a way to problem solve long cable runs, improve wireless technology, and simply give us new ways to record sound not possible with regular analog microphones.

Overall, I now understand that digital microphones absolutely have their place in professional audio.  Hopefully this post has helped change your opinion about the usefulness of digital microphones.  I can’t thank the Neumann and Sennheiser people enough for inviting me to such a great event.  It has opened my eyes and my ears to the potential that digital technology has to offer microphones.


XMA VS. VORBIS – Comparing Game Audio Compression Methods

Comparing compression methods of the XBOX 360 and PS3

There is no doubt that next-gen gaming has demanded more complex sounds than ever before in games.  The amount of sound necessary for a high fidelity game is many times larger than that of a film due to longer game lengths, variety of sounds per event, and needing sound to cover all possible gameplay situations.

It is for these reasons that file compression is a necessary evil of game audio.  This isn’t the signal reduction type of compression, but rather data compression to save space.  Without it there is no way to fit all the necessary physical media onto the shipped game.  On PS3 and X360 you can use PCM, XMA or Vorbis formats.

There are pros and cons to each of the formats.  PCM is uncompressed, but takes up a lot more space.  Vorbis sounds great and loops easily, but can take more processing power than XMA.  XMA is free on the X360 because of a hardware decoder, but can be hard to loop properly and I think it sounds the worst.  I decided to take some time to compare and contrast the compression qualities of Vorbis and XMA.

Below you will find charts analyzing the two methods and a summary comparing them.  This post gets pretty techy.  If you are in a hurry you can just look at the charts and read the summary below 🙂

I hope this will help you figure out what compression methods you will use on your games in the future.  I’d love to hear any advice you have on conversion methods in the comments.

VORBIS CONVERSION QUALITY

I did two vorbis quality tests. I took an explosion with glass and a vehicle engine loop.  I then converted them to Vorbis qualities 2,4,7, and 10 using normal and high quality conversion.  The difference in file size between quality 2 and 10 ranged up to 300 kb.  However, the sonic difference is pretty subtle on most assets.  This is of course unless it has LOTS of high end.

CHARTS

Note the spectrum analysis below.  The real difference is found with a 20db reduction around 11 and overall reduced quality.

Original Asset

Vorbis Quality 2 – Low shelf drop below 20 and wide dip at 11k at about 20 db down compared to original asset.

Vorbis Quality 10 – only a 10 db reduction at 11k.

Comparing Original in blue with Vorbis Quality 2 in Orange.  Note the reduction in highs and 20 db dip around 11k.

CONCLUSION:

The difference between Vorbis 4 and 10 is negligible.  Vorbis 4 seems to be the best sound to size compromise.   Loud heavily compressed sounds are less affected by these qualities.  If an asset REALLY needs frequencies above 10 k and is iconic to the game then it could either be changed to a higher quality or PCM and streaming.  Any setting under Vorbis 2 introduce noticeable artifacts.  Rarely should sounds need to be higher than 4 high.


XMA CONVERSION QUALITY

Next, I used WMA to see how XMA sounds when using it’s VBR compression settings.  WMA seems to use the same compression algorithms as XMA so this should be pretty accurate.

My previous Vorbis comparisons used values = 0,2,4,7,10

I intended to use XMA values of= 20, 35, 50, 75, 100.  I ended up using 25-50, 75, and 100 WMA because this is as close as I could get using VBR WMA methods.

Results:

XMA Vehicle Comparison

#1 = original

#2 = 75 WMA VBR

XMA 75 drops at 18,000 Hz. about 28dB.

#3 = 50 WMA VBR

#4 = 25 WMA VBR
Note the steep falloff of 40dB at about 11,000 Hz. for XMA 50 and 25.

XMA Explosion with glass Comparison

#1 = original

#2 = 75 WMA VBR

#3 = 50 WMA VBR

It drops a whopping 50dB at 15,000 Hz.

#4 = 25 WMA VBR

Note the VERY STEEP falloff at about 11,300 Hz.  It’s 60 dB down at this frequency.

CONCLUSION:

The difference between XMA qualities is much more obvious than that of Vorbis compression.  XMA 50 and below introduce steep rolloffs starting around 15 kHz.  Aliasing was also more noticeable in these tests than the Vorbis tests.

Overall Conclusion

Vorbis sounds FAR superior to XMA in my opinion.  Just by looking at the charts above you can see that XMA has much more frequency altering and falloff.  The listening results sound better than the visual results, but anything needing clarity such as glass or with anything higher than 12,000 Hz.  should use Vorbis if possible or XMA 60+ to maintain sonic integrity.  I believe it is best to use Vorbis as often as possible until CPU usage becomes an issue.

Thanks for stopping by.  I hope this was enlightening to those of you wanting to know more about game audio and compression methods.  If you have any comments I would love to hear them.

Note: I apologize for the lack of audio samples. Unfortunately I can’t post the files I used in this test.

 

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How to break into the professional audio industry – Find and keep your first video game jobs and recording studio jobs.

If you are reading this then you likely aware of how difficult it can be to get your start as a professional audio engineer. Whether you want to work in recording studios or the games industry, breaking in takes more than just talent and dreams. In this post I’ll give you a lot of tips on how to get your big break and stay employed once you do.

Sampling Spaces (Make your own impulses for convolution reverbs) – Part 2

 

How To Sample Reverb Units In Your DAW
Tutorial: How to sample your Reverb Units to use them in Convolution Reverbs.

Before you haul all of your gear out into the world and attempt to sample real spaces, it is worthwhile to make a few Impulses of reverbs you have in your studio.  I’m aware that convolution reverbs take WAY more CPU than your average reverb unit, but I do think it’s important to follow this guide to really get the process down.  By doing this you can demystify convolution reverb sampling and have a better understanding of how it all works before wasting a lot of time sampling real spaces.  To do this you only need a few things.  Really, it is a pretty simple thing to do.  Let’s get down to business!

List of gear you need to sample a Reverb unit.

  1. DAW and Convolution Reverb unit (Obviously)
    1. I”ll be using REVerence which comes free with Cubase 5.
  2. Hardware or Software Reverb unit.
  3. DeConvolver to decode the recorded signal.
    1. Voxengo DeConvolver – This program is free to try and awesome.  It can generate your sine sweep impulses and DeConvolve sampled spaces so you can put the IRs into your Convolution Reverb Unit.

Once you have the necessary components you can follow these steps to sample a reverb unit.

  • Run Voxengo DeConvolver.  Click the button at the bottom that says Test Tone Gen.
DeConvolver Test Tone Generator
DeConvolver Test Tone Generator
  • Now load the SineSweep into your DAW of choice.  Put the reverb unit you want to sample into the first Plug-in Insert.  I used a Hall Church setting that is in RoomVerb from Cubase 5.  Any reverb unit will work.
    • Set the reverb unit to 100% wet so it will be entirely outputting a reverb signal.  I also recommend turning the volume down to about -8 to allow headroom.
  • Bounce the signal going through your reverb unit.  Be sure to set the bounce region to be long enough to keep the reverb tail.  I left about 2 seconds for the church hall.
  • Take the bounced signal and import it into Voxengo DeConvolver to DeConvolve the signal.  First load your original Sine Sweep test tone file at the top, then load the bounced signal into the program.  See the screenshot below for my settings.
    • Click process to generate your very own Impulse Response file!

CONGRATULATIONS!  You have just taken the steps to make your very own Impulse Responses for convolution reverbs.  That wasn’t so bad was it??

  • Now make a new track in your DAW with a convolution reverb.  Import the IR into your Convolution Reverb and you are ready to hear your sampled room at work.  After comparison you can hear that they are almost exactly alike.
Sampling Reverb Units in Cubase 5
Screenshot of Sampling Reverb Units in Cubase 5

This process isn’t limited to reverb units!

That’s right!  You can sample EQs, your favorite filter settings, or really anything you can put as an insert.  This is where you can start to get creative.  I hope this has demystified the process of sampling reverbs for you all.  I also hope you all start to get creative with this process.  If you do please take the time to comment and let me know what you’ve come up with.

Now that you know how to sample gear, you can use similar steps to sample real world spaces.  Stay tuned to the blog for Part 3 where I’ll show details on how to sample an acoustic space using a variety of gear.  This is where it will start to get REALLY useful.

-Aaron B

 

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Sampling Spaces (Make your own impulses for convolution reverbs) – Part 1

iPhone microphone - FFT Analysis
iPhone microphone – FFT Analysis

Places with interesting acoustic properties have always been interesting to people around the globe: Cavernous canyons have mystical qualities, old churches can produce heavenly reverbs, and large man made halls can all create larger than life sounds. All of these spaces can be useful to audio engineers, but until fairly recently it was extremely hard to reproduce the exact properties of a particular acoustic space. Can you imagine how useful it would be to “sample” a room’s properties and recreate it anywhere and at anytime? Now, with so many convolution reverbs available to audio engineers, it has never been easier to do! You only need a few things to start creating your own impulse responses! Ahhh, what a great time to be an audio engineer.

I’ve recently decided to start sampling spaces. As a sound designer and musician these will be useful in many ways. For example, I can sample a world class recording studio to give samples a more realistic room sound. Outdoor canyons can give an extra touch of realism to a space. I can also sample a trash can to see what texture that can add to my mixes.  Another use is to sample locations you have recorded in so you can simulate them later for overdubbing or post.  There are a multitude of creative applications for convolution reverbs.  So why is it that none of the audio engineers I know take the time to record their own impulse responses for convolution reverbs?

Over the years i have come to realize that if things aren’t simple and easily accessible they don’t get done. Now re-read that last sentence and really internalize it. To demonstrate this try putting your instrument out in the open for a week and see how often it gets played. Now take the same instrument, put it in it’s case and keep track of how often you play it. I guarantee you play it more when it is readily available.

It is for this reason that I’m making a simple tutorial on how to sample your own acoustic spaces. I will attempt to sample a variety of spaces using a variety of gear; iPhone, portable PA (crate taxi), Microtrack, MBox, Rode NT4 and Studio Projects C4 microphones. These results should tell you what results you can get from these devices. They should also give you all the information you need to make your very own impulse responses!

I will create the steps over a series of posts since otherwise this would be one giant post.  Stay tuned for more soon!

-Aaron

 

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Banshee Talk Box – Part 1

Ever since I heard Daft Punk’s “Around The World” I have wanted to recreate that sound.   Now I can finally make this sound and you can too!  Last week I broke down and bought a used Rocktron Banshee talk box!   Since it was used I had to buy a replacement tube at Home Depot. I just received the power supply i bought online (It takes a 2000 ma 9V adapter).  Now it is as good as new and I’m ready to rock!!!  Behold, the Rocktron Banshee in all is glory!

 

Rocktron Banshee Talk Box
Rocktron Banshee Talk Box

For those of you who don’t know the difference between Talkboxes, Autotuning and Vocoders I’ll quickly explain what kind of sounds they make.   I will attempt to simplify this as much as possible.  There are plenty of resources online to get more detailed info about their history and how they actually work.  Videos of the Talk Box in use coming soon!

  • Vocoders: These are processors that make voices sound robotic and synthetic.  To oversimplify a very complex effect, vocoders essentially take a voice, modulate it with another sound source that has been divided into frequency bands,  add some noise and let you control the levels of each sound.   Most of today’s vocoders allow you to control the pitch of the signal and even play combinations of notes.
    • Example: Imogen Heap – Hide and Seek
    • Vocoders available to buy: Waves Morphoder (plug in), Native Instuments Vokator (plug in), Prosoniq Orange Vocoder (plug in), Nord Modular (hardware), Electro Harmonix Voice Box (Stomp Box).
  • Autotune: Autotune is an effect that has become used in most recordings these days.  These work by taking a signal, defining a set of notes that the sound can use, and only allowing the signal to use those notes.  Many autotune devices can also be used with a keyboard to retune the vocal live, or in a sequencer, based on the notes being triggered while the signal is playing.  Their sound ranges from subtle pitch correction to inhuman-like  pitch accuracy and vibrato.   It sounds less robotic than vocoders has a high intelligibility.
  • Talk Boxes: This is the sound I’ve wanted for so long.  Talk boxes take an amplified signal, put it through a tube that goes to your mouth, and let you use your mouth as a filter.   Microphones are only used to record the signal or send it to a PA.  The sounds you can make with them range from simple formant filter (A, E, O, etc) to forming words while you play an instrument.  It is most typically used with distorted guitars or synthesizers.  It is important to note that TalkBoxes can only exist in hardware unlike Vocoders and Autotune devices.  Since your mouth is the filter it has to be a signal sent to your mouth to form that signal into words or formants.  It is for this reason that Talk Boxes tend to sound like talking instruments more than processed voice.  I guess it could be a virtual plug in if someone with years of free time could synthesize the human voice, create a digital representation of the mouth cavity, create words in real time, and side chain in a signal….  That’s a lot of work for something so simple.  I recommend we quit trying to make everything a VST and accept that some things make more sense to exist as hardware.
    • Examples: 2 Pac “California Love”
    • Talk Box devices available to buy: Rocktron Banshee, Heil Talk Box, Dan Electro Free Speech, Custom Built.
      • Personally, I like the banshee option the most for it’s blend of simplicity and tone.  Heil seems to have better tone, but there is more set up hassle involved.  Dan Electro is commonly reviewed as the cheaper lesser option.  There are a few tutorials online to build your own for cheap.  If you do this I’d love to hear your results.

Come back soon to hear a demo of the Rocktron Banshee in a video demo!  Thanks for stopping by 🙂

 

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Intonation – Fix your pitch

Intonation Matters!
Intonation Matters!  Do you want the notes on your killer solo to be this out of tune?

Have you ever picked up an stringed instrument that seems in tune, but as you play some chords up the neck it begins to sound out of tune?  Perhaps you started to play a great lick only to find it just sounds kind of flat.  I know I have and I used to blame cheap instruments and poor craftsmanship. As it turns out this could just mean the instrument isn’t set up properly.  If you try to record an instrument that isn’t set up you will quickly find that tuning becomes a big issue.  Playing with other people is also difficult because your tuning changes while theirs may be constantly in tune.  The good news is that this can be very easy to fix!

Intonation is one of the most important things to understand with many stringed instruments. Electric guitars, bass guitars, and even instruments like banjos all have adjustable intonation. Instruments like acoustic guitars make it much more difficult to adjust the intonation and will require help from a luthier. This is because the bridge on acoustics isn’t easily adjustable like those on electric guitars.

How to adjust intonation:

You can test your instruments intonation by tuning the first open string correctly then playing the 12th fret on that string to see if it is still in tune. If the 12th fret note is sharp then your string length needs to be longer. If the 12th fret note is flat then the string needs to be shorter.  Adjust the bridge of your instrument appropriately. Now re-tune the string and test again. Once it is in tune on the open fret and 12th fret you can move on to the next one. Do this for all of the strings on your instrument and **BAM** you’ll have a properly tuned instrument ready to rock!

Note that none of this covers the action of the guitar .  That is a different issue that is also very important.  I may make a post on this later.

A smart man once said a picture is worth a thousand words.  Below you will find a few pictures to show you exactly what I mean 🙂

Examples:

Here is a diagram of how to adjust the intonation on a banjo.

Bridge of a banjo
Bridge of a banjo

Electric instruments usually just need a regular or small screwdriver to adjust their intonation.  Follow the same steps as above and do each string one at a time.  You’ll have a properly tuned  instrument in no time!  One thing worth mentioning is that you don’t want to press too hard on the 12th fret while making these adjustments.  If you press too hard it will bend the string and produce a sharper pitch than you normally do while playing the guitar.  Just try to press the 12th fret as hard as you would playing normally.

Fender Fat Strat - Bridge properly intonated
Fender Fat Strat Bridge – This is what mine looks like with good intonation. 
Bass Guitar Bridge - Ibanez GSR200
Bass Guitar Bridge – Properly intonated Ibanez GSR200.

It should be just as in tune on an open string as it is on the same strings 12th fret of your instrument.  I know it’s not perfect in these screenshots, but it’s really hard to get a screenshot while it’s perfectly in tune.
Here are snapshots I took of what the tuning should look like on a tuner using GuitarToolkit on my iPhone.   It’s a great tool!  Buy it if you have an iPhone.  You won’t regret it 🙂

6th string in tune on the guitar
Tuning 6th String
6th string 12th fret in tune on the guitar
12th fret of the 6th string also in tune on the guitar.  This proves that the 6th string is properly intonated.

Video demonstration coming soon!

I’d like to thank the good people at Exploring Music for showing me how to properly set up my banjo. They have very helpful employees and cheap lessons. I took a few violin lessons there and I plan on returning!

-Aaron B.

 

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