How to EQ: Carving Out The Right Sound For Your Mix

Sometimes EQ is more about “sonic sculpture” than anything else

by Craig Anderton

One of the most important aspects of mixing is using EQ to “carve out” a specific frequency range for instruments so they don’t conflict with each other. If instruments have their own sonic space, it’s easier to hear each instrument’s unique contribution, which increases the mix’s clarity.

Dan Gonzalez did a great series for the Cakewalk blog on subtractive EQ, and how cutting frequencies can help create a better a mix; this is more of a complementary article about how I carved out EQ for various instruments in a cover version of the song “Black Market Daydreams” (by UK songwriter Mark Longworth). All the displays are set for +/-6dB.

Choirs: Using a low-shelf response to cut starting at the midrange gives the choir more brightness and “air.” This way it sort of floats over the mix. The same approach works well for ethereal pads, and lets you mix them a little lower to make space for other sounds. Also note that I couldn’t resist throwing a little Gloss in there…

Try the QuadCurve EQ in the SONAR X3 Producer Free Trial

Guitar power chord: Enabling the high pass and low pass filters creates a broad bandpass in the midrange area where there’s not a lot of energy Continue reading How to EQ: Carving Out The Right Sound For Your Mix

“Object-Oriented” Clip Mixing in SONAR

When you need to get really detailed, object-oriented mixing is a convenient solution

by Craig Anderton

Many times when mixing, you’ll want to apply an effect or volume change to a small, specific section. Clip Automation makes it easy to handle Gain or Pan changes, but you can also work with effects by isolating specific “objects” in a track, then processing them individually. This is different from the usual method of applying effects to an entire track, but can come in really handy for detailed work. Also note that object-oriented effects processing works with any type of clip—audio, MIDI, or groove.

Here’s a step-by-step example of how to apply object-oriented mixing by adding maximization to one drum fill to make it really stand out. Download SONAR X3 to give this a try.

1. To isolate the object from a selected track, alt-click with the Smart tool at the beginning of the section you want to isolate, or place the Now time at this point and type “S.” Do the same at the end of the section.

2. Right-click on the object, and select “Open Clip Effects Bin” from the context menu (keyboard shortcut: Alt+K).

3. An effects bin opens up that’s similar to the standard track effects bin.

4. Right-click on a blank part of the effects bin, choose Audio FX from the context menu, then drill down to find the effect you want.

5. The effect will now appear in the bin. Like a standard effects bin, the small “power symbol” circle (blue for enabled, gray for disabled) appears to the effect’s left. To insert more effects Continue reading “Object-Oriented” Clip Mixing in SONAR

Mixing with the Console Emulator

Mixing with the Console Emulator

Snake oil, or useful processor? Read on, and find out

by Craig Anderton

Console Emulator plug-ins are controversial. First, a lot of people are convinced they don’t really make a difference. Second, there’s the philosophical question of whether emulating a console is a good thing—after all, you’re emulating imperfections. And third, there’s the question of which console you want to emulate.

However, before you can judge whether a console emulator is going to be useful, you need to know how to use it correctly…so let’s investigate.

About Console Emulation

There are legitimate reasons why analog consoles can sound different compared to mixing “in the box,” and also, legitimate reasons why some might consider these differences desirable. Technically speaking, there are two main differences compared to digital summing.

First, analog circuitry has inherent non-linearities (or in less polite terms, distortion). As a signal goes through multiple analog stages, these non-linearities add up although the end result can still be extremely low-level. Because there are differences between the left and right channels, this tends to “widen” the image and create the appearance of a wider soundstage. If the distortion is relatively high, as can be the case with older consoles, distortion generates harmonics in the audio spectrum’s upper range. With increased highs, and given that highs are more directional, this can widen the sound even further.

Second, consoles often use audio transformers and it’s not an overstatement to say that transformers are some of the most complex signal processors ever introduced into a signal chain. What’s more, the transformer’s characteristics are dependent on the circuitry that surrounds it—such as the source impedance, capacitive loading, resistive loading, and the like. For example, the external circuitry may damp some of the “ringing” that occurs when passing square waves through audio transformers. Transformers also generate distortion (primarily odd-order) that’s highest at lower frequencies. While the effect of all of these variables is subtle, many people like the sonic characteristics transformers can impart to a signal. Overall, good transformer implementations provide a somewhat “fatter” low end, and can add “warmth.”

Inserting Cakewalk’s Console Emulator

As with any processor, there are no rules if you want to get creative—so take the following as personal preferences, not as “rules” that must be followed.

Prior to mixing, I’d recommend inserting a Console Emulator Channel plug-in (CEC for short) last in the ProChannel for every track, and a Console Emulator Bus plug-in (CEB for short) in the master bus. The easiest way to do this is with the Quick Grouping command: in the Console view, open a ProChannel in a non-selected track. Then while holding the Ctrl key, right-click within the ProChannel, select Insert Module, and choose Console Emulator Channel; this places the CEC last in every audio track. You’ll need to insert the CEB in the master bus manually, as Quick Group works only across similar track types.

To ensure that the CEC is last in the chain, place the ProChannel post-FX bin (right-click in a blank space or effect header in the ProChannel, then select Post FX Bin—see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Placing the ProChannel post-FX bin, and inserting the Console Emulator plug-in as the last effect in the ProChannel, guarantees that all effects in the track will go through the Console Emulator.

Continue reading Mixing with the Console Emulator

Mixing Tips: Ten Nasty Mixing Mistakes

Not happy with your mixes? One of these reasons might be why

By Craig Anderton

Mixing is tough enough as is, but avoiding the following mistakes just might help the process go a little more smoothly—and give you audibly better results.

1. Mixing in a lousy monitoring environment

If you mix in a room with horrible acoustics or use inaccurate speakers that do tricks like hype the bass, your mix is doomed. You may think it sounds fine, and it might, because you’re compensating for the monitoring deficiencies. But as soon as you get the mix outside of your environment, it will likely sound dreadful.

To solve this problem, strive to use speakers that emphasize accuracy. They may not flatter your music that much, but that’s the point: If your mix sounds great over accurate speakers, it will at least sound decent over other speakers.

Proper acoustic treatment is ideal, but may not be possible. IK Multimedia’s ARC can help with fixing your acoustics (normally I see little value in “room tuning,” but IK’s system is quite effective). Also consider buying a really good set of circumaural headphones, and use them as a reality check compared to your speakers. Just remember that headphones give a particular “flavor” of reality that accentuates ambience and stereo separation; their main use in this case is evaluating the amount of bass because room acoustics aren’t a factor. However if you use something like Beatz, that won’t help—you want headphones designed for monitoring, not consumers.

2. Too much reverb or too little ambience

Some people seem to think that adding lots of reverb will compensate for a problematic part. Actually, all it does is give you a problematic part with too much reverb. Mitigating factor: If you’re doing a 60s revival/tribute recording, then make sure you do use too much reverb if you want to be authentic.

On the other hand, an overly dry sound doesn’t do you any favors either. We usually hear music in an acoustic environment of some kind, so adding in audio like room mics on drums (Fig. 1) can create a much more realistic and satisfying mix.

Fig. 1: Take advantage of the room mic option in Addictive Drums to give a more “real” feel.

Note that with recorded drums that already have some ambience, you can often make the existing ambience more prominent by putting the drums through the Concrete Limiter. By reducing the peaks Continue reading Mixing Tips: Ten Nasty Mixing Mistakes

Making the Gibson EB 5-String Bass Expansion Pack

What goes into creating a comprehensive expansion pack? It’s not as easy as it might seem…

If only I’d known what I was getting into…

When I first played the EB 5-String Bass, I loved the sound and wanted to sample it for my own use. In the process, I created a Dimension Pro instrument and made it available for free to the Cakewalk community as a “thank you” for all the support you’ve given SONAR.

But also in the process, I found out the EB uses a unique Tuned Coil Tap technology for the two pickups, yielding a total of eight distinct sounds. I found them all useful, so of course I wanted to sample those before the loaner bass went back.

And that’s how the new Gibson EB-5 String Bass Expansion Pack started. If you’re interested in what goes into creating a Dimension Pro instrument…read on Continue reading Making the Gibson EB 5-String Bass Expansion Pack

TH2 Producer: Not Only Guitars

TH2 Producer amp sim can do more than you might think

By Craig Anderton

Overloud’s TH2 Producer offers amp modeling with multiple amps and cabinets, as well as several effects. So while it’s a perfect subject for guitar month, and hopefully the following will give some inspiration to guitarists, let’s also consider what non-guitarists can do with a processor designed for guitar.

The power of parallel. Parallel processing is one of my favorite techniques. Fortunately TH2 not only accommodates parallel processing (the signal path follows a serial—> parallel—> serial  protocol), it also provides different “flavors” of parallel processing.

The parallel section starts with a crossover, so the parallel split can:

  • Provide “bi-amplification,” and send highs to one path and lows to the other
  • Enable a Bandpass filter mode, where one path has a bandpass-style boost, while the other has a complementary notch. A separate “spread” control determines the notch bandwidth
  • If neither is enabled, both paths are simply a parallel connection with no filtering

For extra flexibility, a “swap” button reverses the outputs (e.g., if one output was highs and the other lows, swap reverses that).

The output mixer sums the parallel paths back together again, with Phase Inverse, Delay, Width, Pan, and Level controls, as well as a Balance slider. The TH2 Producer manual can fill you in on the details.

Bass wah. Let’s start off by not straying too far from guitar, and looking at how to use TH2 Producer with bass. A problem with putting any kind of filtering or distortion on bass it that it thins out the sound. You can solve this problem by using the crossover to separate the low end and keep it clean, while adding wah to the midrange frequencies (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Parallel processing can keep the low end clean, but process the highs (click to see the entire image).

Again, we’ll use the Normal Splitter mode, with 490Hz as the split frequency. The Crying wah pedal handles the higher frequencies. The rest of the controls are straightforward Continue reading TH2 Producer: Not Only Guitars

Anatomy of an FX Chain: CA Vintage Wah (Free Download)

You know you want it…there’s something irresistible about a greasy wah effect

by Craig Anderton

Some people think all you really need for a wah sound is to set a parametric EQ to bandpass with a fairly high Q, and sweep it back and forth. However, a vintage wah’s bandpass filter has a skirt that rejects high and low frequencies, which doesn’t happen with a parametric EQ’s bandpass response.

I came up with a technique that does the vintage wah effect quite well by copying a guitar track and flipping it 180 degrees out of phase so the signal canceled. Then, I’d set one track’s parametric to bandpass with a fairly high Q and sweep it. Because the only difference between the two channels was the bandpass peak, that’s all you heard—the highs and lows canceled out.

The VC-64 is ideal for this application, because it has two parallel paths and you can throw one of them 180 degrees out of phase. However, it’s a very Continue reading Anatomy of an FX Chain: CA Vintage Wah (Free Download)

Anatomy of an FX Chain: CA Power Chord (Free Download)

Let’s de-construct an FX Chain, and find out how to optimize distortion guitar sounds

by Craig Anderton

I like big, rich, smooth power chords—harshness need not apply. While TH2 Producer’s presets were a point of departure, I wanted to take them further.

The UI for the Power Chord FX chain

So I got to work on an FX Chain, and I’m happy to share it with you. The final FX Chain ended up as Continue reading Anatomy of an FX Chain: CA Power Chord (Free Download)

HOW TO CREATE A VIRTUAL 12-STRING GUITAR

And not just that, but virtual “Nashville tuning” too…and 18-string guitars…with lots of audio examples!

by Craig Anderton

One of the reasons I got into Gibson’s newer guitars is because of the way they implement hex outputs (i.e., each string has its own audio output). Although Gibson isn’t the only company that makes guitars with hex outs, they’ve taken the concept seriously and keep improving on it.

This all started with the HD.6X-Pro back in 2007 (the guitar that’s been in my avatar all these years!), which used a magnetic pickup; since then, the Dark Fire, Dusk Tiger, Firebird X, and Les Paul X have all had hex outs based on piezo pickup technology. The X-series guitars are my favorites, because they’ve increased the isolation between strings by reducing crosstalk even further.

The obvious use for hex outputs is hex processing, like the kind of super-clean, almost synth-like sound you get from distorting each string individually. But using a piezo pickup means it’s also possible to obtain very convincing acoustic guitar sounds, and with hex outputs, you can apply SONAR’s offline pitch transposition to emulate acoustic 12-string guitars as well as 8-string basses, “Nashville” tunings, and even guitars that don’t exist—like a 12-string where the top two strings aren’t doubled, but also transposed up an octave. Or how about an 18-string guitar, where you add another set of six virtual strings transposed up and an octave, and another set transposed down an octave Continue reading HOW TO CREATE A VIRTUAL 12-STRING GUITAR