Basics: Five Questions about Latency and Computer Recording

Get the lowdown on low latency, and what it means to you

By Craig Anderton 

Recording with computers has brought incredible power to musicians at amazing prices. However, there are some compromises—such as latency. Let’s find out what causes it, how it affects you, and how to minimize it.  

1. What is latency? When recording, a computer is often busy doing other tasks and may ignore the incoming audio for short amounts of time. This can result in audio dropouts, clicks, excessive distortion, and sometimes program crashes. To compensate, recording software like SONAR dedicates some memory (called a sample buffer) to store incoming audio temporarily—sort of like an “audio savings account.” If needed, your recording program can make a “withdrawal” from the buffer to keep the audio stream flowing. 

Latency is “geek speak” for the delay that occurs between when you play or sing a note, and what you hear when you monitor your playing through your computer’s output. Latency has three main causes: 

  • The sample buffer. For example, storing 5 milliseconds (abbreviated ms, which equals 1/1000th of a second) of audio adds 5 ms of latency (Fig. 1). Most buffers sizes are specified in samples, although some specify this in ms. 

 Fig. 1: The control panel for TASCAM’s US-2×2 and US-4×4 audio interfaces is showing that the sample buffer is set to 64 samples. 

  • Other hardware. Converting analog signals into digital and back again takes some time. Also, the USB port that connects to your interface has additional buffers. These involve the audio interface that connects to your computer and converts audio signals into digital signals your computer can understand (and vice-versa—it also converts computer data back into audio).
  • Delays within the recording software itself. A full explanation would require another article, but in short, this usually involves inserting certain types of processors within your recording software. 

2. Why does latency matter? (more…)

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Optimizing Vocals with DSP

Optimizing tracks with DSP, then adding some judicious use of the DSP-laden VX-64 Vocal Strip, offers very flexible vocal processing. 

By Craig Anderton 

This is kind of a “twofer” article about DSP—first we’ll look at some DSP menu items, then apply some signal processing courtesy of the VX64—all with the intention of creating some great vocal sounds. 

PREPPING A VOCAL WITH “MENU” DSP 

“Prepping” a vocal with DSP before processing can make the processing more effective. For example, if you want to compress your vocal and there are significant level variations, you may end up adding lots of compression to accommodate quiet parts. But then when loud parts kick in, the compression starts pumping. 

Here’s another example. A lot of people use low-cut filters to banish rogue plosives (e.g., a popping “b” or “p” sound). However, it’s often better to add a fade-in to get rid of the plosive; this retains some of the plosive sound, and avoids affecting frequency response. 

Adding a fade-in to a plosive can get rid of the objectionable section while leaving the vocal timbre untouched. 

Also check if any levels need to be evened out, because there will usually be some places where the peaks are considerably higher than the rest of the vocal, and you don’t want these pumping the compressor either. The easiest fix is to select a track, drag in the timeline above the area you want to edit, then go Process > Apply Effect > Gain and drop the level by a dB or two. 

This peak is considerably louder than the rest of the vocal, but reducing it a few dB will bring it into line. 

Also note that if you have Melodyne Editor, you can use the Percussive algorithm with the volume tool to level out words visually. This is really fast and effective. 

While you’re playing around with DSP, this is also a good time to cut out silences, then add fadeouts into silence, and fadeins up from silence. Do this with the vocal soloed, so you can hear any little issues that might come back to haunt you later. Also, sometimes it’s a good idea to normalize individual vocal clips up to –3dB or so (leave some headroom) so that the compressor sees a more consistent signal. 

The clip on the left has been normalized and faded out. The silence between clips has been cut away. The clip on the right fades in, but has not been normalized. 

With DSP processing, it’s good practice to work on a copy of the vocal, and make the changes permanent as you do them. The simplest way to apply (more…)

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The Art of Transient Shaping with the TS-64

Understand this often-misunderstood processor, and your tracks will benefit greatly 

By Craig Anderton 

Transient Shapers are interesting plug-ins. I don’t see them mentioned a lot, but that might be because they’re not necessarily intuitive to use. Nor are they bundled with a lot of DAWs, although SONAR is a welcome exception. 

I’ve used transient shaping on everything from a tom-based drum part to make each hit “pop” a little more, to bass to bring out the attacks and also add “weight” to the decay, to acoustic guitar to tame overly-aggressive attacks. The TS-64 has some pretty sophisticated DSP, so let’s find out how to take advantage of its talents.

But first, a warning: transient shaping requires a “look-ahead” function, as it has to know when transients are coming, analyze them, filter them, and then calculate when and how to apply particular amounts of gain so it can act on the transients as soon as they occur. As a result, simply inserting the TS-64 will increase latency. If this is a problem, either leave it bypassed until it’s time to mix, or render the audio track once you get the sound you want. Keep an original of the audio track in case you end up deciding to change the shaping later on. 

TS-64 TRANSIENT SHAPER BASICS

A Transient Shaper is a dynamics processor that modifies only a signal’s attack characteristics. If there’s no defined transient the TS-64 won’t do much, or worse yet, add unpleasant effects. 

Transient shapers are not just for drums—guitars, electric pianos, bass, and even some program material are all suitable for TS-64 processing if they have sharp, defined transients. And it’s not just about making transient more percussive; you can also use the TS-64 to “soften” transients, which gives a less percussive effect so a sound can sit further back in a track. 

There are two main elements to transient shaping. The first is (more…)

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Choosing the right compressor in SONAR X3 (Producer & Studio)

What is Compression?

Compression is a massively useful tool for pro audio applications. As a simultaneous corrective and creative utility suitable for both tonal shaping and controlling levels,  a compressor is one of the most important pieces of gear in your sonic toolbox.

Instead of explaining the history and value of knowing all the different types of compressors that exist, we’re just going to dive in and show you how to get results. Once you understand this you’ll be able to grasp the larger picture of compression and the many different circuits and types. SONAR X3 Studio & Producer come packed with quite a few different types of compressors, so let’s open them up and take a look.

PC76 U-Type

Modeled after one of the most classic leveling amplifiers in history, the PC76 U-Type is a go-to compressor for (more…)

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How SONAR user Bobbi Tammaro won a SESAC award over many Major Label Artists

Respect and credibility

A few weeks ago SESAC announced their 2013 Jazz Award recipients, and SONAR X3 user Bobbi “Funkeeboy” Tommaro was one of the well-deserved artists on the list.  I have been fortunate to get to know Bobbi in the last few years on and off the SONAR playing-field, and the first word that comes to mind is “respect.”  These days considering the state of the music industry, the word respect has more meaning than ever and Bobbi has earned it from his music peers along with just about everyone else that hears his story.  Besides respect, he has earned much credibility in the Smooth Jazz world from being a repeat-offender on the Billboard charts as an independent artist.

Bobbi who is also PKA “Funkee Boy” has amassed an impressive amount of credits throughout his music career. At the young age of 15 he was already making a name for himself winning the Connecticut State Organ Championship and also opening for national acts such as Spyro Gyra.  As he progressed he scored numerous chart hits across multiple music genres, as well as, several top Billboard chart hits/Top 5 Smooth Jazz hits, and licensing deals on television networks such as ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS, SHOWTIME, VH1, etc.

Before making his own records his music has [and continues to in terms of residuals] appear on some of the most popular and well respected shows ever such as Beverly Hills 90210, General Hospital, All My Children, Sunset Beach, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Love Boat, One Life To Live, Young & The Restless, They Call Me Sirr, Soul Food.  Stepping out from behind the scenes as a songwriter/producer & into the forefront as a Smooth Jazz Artist, Bobbi’s track record progressed and continued to impress.

Most recently, starting off 2014 by releasing his 3rd CD “Soul Purpose”, the smooth jazz keyboardist/producer combined his talents with assembling a stellar line up of A-List recording artists. The newest award-winning record “Soul Purpose” features guest appearances from Warren Hill, Najee, Bob Baldwin, Cindy Bradley, Nick Colionne, LEILA, Surface, Lamone, Timmy Maia, Tevin Michael and more!!!

Chalk one up for the hard working jugglers. 

A few key elements set Bobbi apart from the pack that keeps him successful.  The obvious one is the raw talent of songwriting and performing his instrument, but if you go a few levels deeper, you will find a multi-instrumentalist, producer, mixing and mastering engineer.  Peeling back a few more layers exposes an organized machine who literally “does not need a label” to hit the Billboard Top 5 Smooth Jazz Chart.  In fact Bobbi has had many labels approach him and has respectfully declined any offers to do business.  Why?… because he has cracked the code and found a formula that works for himself as an independent artist competing in the major leagues.

It’s not easy

Hitting the Top 5 on any Billboard Chart is not an easy thing to do.  Besides the songs and production alone (which he does ALL in SONAR INCLUDING Mastering), Bobbi also has to oversee the efforts for Radio Promotion, Publicity, Social Media, Sales and Marketing.  If you ask me, this is a very rare skill-set to have as an artist considering just the time it takes alone to write and record a [great] full length record.  Bobbi does have help from his wife Leila who is also a very credible artist, and the two of them seem to have a great formula for getting the music out to the masses as if they were a Major Label.

Cakewalk:          It’s pretty amazing that you do so much to get your music out, can you describe the short-form version of a typical record release?

Bobbi Tammaro:            Sure, it’s hard to keep it short form because so much goes into it… So here goes (more…)

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The Sound of Console Emulation in SONAR X3

The age of hybrid studios

The day has come where digital audio has caught up to the analog trends of the pre-xyz age. Hybrid (digital/analog) home-studios are more common and the need for more analog flavored plugins is a must. Cakewalk has harnessed these trends in some of the latest software additions to the X-series with their track by track Console Emulation ProChannel plugin.

At a glance

Simplicity is one of the key ingredients in the world of plugin interfaces and the Console Emulator is no stranger to that. It’s an easy tool to use, just turn up the Drive! Each algorithm has the same 3 parameters for locking in the sound, Drive, Tolerance, and Trim. Each version of the plugin reflects the circuitry of 3 classic large format console from the past 30 years. Every board has it’s own sound because each circuit is completely different than the other.

Let’s take a closer listen 

For most part, Console Emulation is about subtle character. If you apply subtle changes to your entire mix it will collectively sound different. One track may not sound all that different in the final mix, but if you apply this effect to the entirety of your session, well then you’ll probably start to hear some differences. These DSP algorithms are tuned (more…)

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SONAR Tips: How to Easily Sync Your DAW to Audio

Introduction

Have you ever recorded a song that isn’t set to any type of tempo? Or maybe you have just have to make a click track for your songs? Well SONAR can certainly help that in that department. One of the great things about SONAR is it’s flexibility across different types of workflows. In this particular situation there is a nifty tool hidden in one of the menus that helps get your tempos mapped out in your DAW. Think of it like syncing your DAW and your audio files.

Out of time? Put it in time.

Let’s a take a perfectly good song like the following sound example:

This is a great song, but it was tracked to an independent (more…)

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DAW Best Practices: How to use metering in SONAR

[Originally posted as a daily tip on the SONAR forums and reposted for viewers here on the blog.]

The Overachieving Meters

by Craig Anderton

To change resolution for any audio meter, in any view, right-click on it and choose a range of 12, 24, 42, 60, 78, or 90 dB. Each meter can have its own range. With the Console view, I set the output bus meters to 12 dB to help gauge the approximate amount of loudness maximization that may be required. For example, if the meters make it to 0 but otherwise spend very little time in those upper 12 dB, then the track will probably need to be made “hotter” when mastering. For the Track View track meters, choosing the maximum resolution (90 dB) helps reveal if there’s noise at the lower range of an incoming signal.

Vertical or Horizontal Metering

In Track View, the meters can be vertical or horizontal. Choose Options > Meter Options and select the desired option. When vertical, the meters behave more like activity/clipping indicators, because when you collapse the track to a short height, you basically see only activity and clipping. If you use the Console for mixing, this is a good choice because you can see more track parameters in the Tracks Pane, as the vertical meters don’t take up space along the bottom.

If you generally mix using the Track View rather than the Console, then you can extend the width of the Track Pane, enable horizontal metering, set them to a fairly wide playback range, and enjoy high-resolution metering. Also under Options > Meter Options, you can specify the Record, Playback, and Bus meter characteristics. Choose from Peak, RMS, or Peak+RMS (my favorite choice) response, whether playback meters are pre- or post-fader, and whether bus meters are pre-fader, post-fader, or pre-fader and post-FX.


These settings are independent from equivalent meter settings for the Console view. You can also choose whether peaks are held or locked (I recommend checking both), as well as show Peak Markers. These indicate the highest point in the track and can be extremely useful when mastering.

This kind of flexibility allows the Track and Console views to be far more than just two ways to view the same type of material. For example, the Console meters are probably better set to post-fader, so you can see at a glance which tracks are contributing the most amount of level. But in Track view, a pre-fader setting lets you monitor track activity so you can check whether a Track has signal, regardless of the fader position. The metering options are just one more reason why I tend to mix in Console view, but track and edit in Track View.

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Studio Makeover Month: The Controller Freak Setup

The Controller Freak is an on-the-road/off-the-road producer, sound designer, and analog enthusiast. His hands-on approach to digital music requires quite a few tactile surfaces for immediate and innovative musical ideas. He limits himself to this world because he finds that infinite possibilities can sometimes hinder his creative process. Keeping a solid sextet of different synthesizers spreads his ideas around equally. Moving, standing, sitting, and walking to different synthesizers is a part of the entire feel of his studio and how he stays in touch with his inner muse.

The Gear

The Controller Freak creates with a DAW and hardware that needs to be bridged by a dependable system. These days his work is mostly his own productions. To keep things mobile he opted to lay down some money on an HP Z-book 17” laptop. This high performance laptop can support multiple display formats (even Thunderbolt) (more…)

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HOW UPGRADING TO SONAR X3 GAVE THESE PRO ARTISTS AN EDGE

Luigie Gonzalez
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Grammy nominated Producer, Songwriter, Mixer, Multi-Instrumentalist

“When I walk into sessions with my SONAR machine, I hear ‘what is THAT’ a lot from other producers and artists.  And then like clockwork, I hear a lot of ‘whoah’ and ‘wow’ when they see what I can do beyond their limitations.  I’ll never forget Jimmy Jam being blown away once in a studio when I started getting my sounds going in SONAR – that was a pretty cool feeling because he could see and hear what made my **** sound different from other producers on the scene at that time.”  

Since upgrading to SONAR X3, my favorite new feature is the Nomad plugin suite.

The Nomad Bundle that comes with X3  has been a go-to for me when boosting mid and high frequencies.   The mids are awesome and super-musical!  I also usually use them for HiHats to boost 8KHz – 16KHz without sounding to square-digital or harsh.   It just has a nice sizzling tone that sounds so different than any other plugin in my arsenal of VSTs.  When I mix I am very observant of the “stereo image,” and Nomad’s “Imager” is the trick to help make room for things.  Also, I use the Tempo Delay often because of its warmth and versatility.   I also, love the Tempo Delay’s parameter controllers – having 3 independent delay configurations is great to achieve the perfect delay tone in my mixes.  I can really get unique sounds with the delays and shape them to my heart’s content.

On the other hand, I cannot live without the Console Emulator (I believe this was new to X2 but it just never gets old)…  It just opens my mixes in such organic ways that have I become addicted to it!  I use the trident (A-type) mode for kicks, bass and everything with low end character because it adds great sub harmonics.  The SSL (S-Type) I use for snares, kicks and everything in between to achieve that pocket /punchy sound which warms up the top end frequencies without dulling the sound.  The Neve (A-Type) for Vocals, synths, guitars and everything that needs to sound frontal or cut through mix.  It helps my “center” in the mixes along with some nice mid-frequency response.

I always add a bit of drive (Console Emulator) to my buses to emulate the console circuitry saturation because it works without distorting anything too much – just enough to add more random harmonics and make the whole mix sound even more organic and full.  I think the Console Emulator is one of the best features to SONAR in a long time, and I’m very happy Cakewalk implemented it as part of the ProChannel.

Track coloring is also something I was waiting for some time.   It helps me keep organized especially when mixing 100 plus tracks sessions which is usually the case for me.  It’s so smart that the track colors respond to the bus colors, this way I stay even more organized by visually understanding my large mixes.

I really dig the QuadCurve ProChannel EQ as well.   It’s super-transparent and colorless on certain modes which plays an important part when carving very precise frequencies.   It’s kind of like the FabFilter but the fact that it’s part of the ProChannel makes it easier and faster to use.  It’s also dead-precise while still sounding amazingly clean!

~Luigie Gonzalez

DJ Spooky
Location: New York City and The Poles
Producer, Music/Song/Sound Creator, Author, Visionary

When you are as diverse of an artist as DJ Spooky you need some serious music-creation tools.  Take Of Water and Ice for example.  This album is the result of DJ Spooky’s art residency at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Of Water and Ice is a composition for string quartet and video that evolved out of his large-scale multimedia work Sinfonia Antarctica: an exploration of the composition of ice and water, and our relationship to the vanishing environment of the arctic poles. DJ Spooky created The Book of Ice based on his travels to the poles. All of the electronic sounds are generated by interpretations of either algorithms that mirror the geometry in ice crystals or the math of climate change data.

“The biggest asset to me upgrading to SONAR X3 was the speed (more…)

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