December 8, 2005

An odd thing...

by Chris Randall

I have a question for you: do you think that people that learned how to engineer in a "real" studio (and by that I mean an API and a Studer A80) that have now migrated to digital are still mentally bound to the limits set by working on 2-inch?

I never really noticed it before, but something came up today that made me realize that I'm really stingy with track counts. Of course, if you worked in a studio with only one deck, you were by necessity limited to 23 tracks, or 22 if it was a not-too-well-maintained machine and you didn't want to hear the SMPTE whirring away. Or 21 if you didn't want the foot spread across three channels. (And for extra credit, how many people reading this have spent more than a thousand dollars discovering that you can't print a 909 foot next to SMPTE and expect it to still be, like, useful?)

I was just thinking that there are major parts of my production/engineering style that are informed heavily by the fact that I learned how to do everything on analog desks and decks, even though the last time I mixed anything off 2" was almost a decade ago, and the last time I mixed anything with any deck at all was five years ago. (The size of the tape on those Mitsubishi digital machines for some reason made the music seem less present, even though I know it wasn't the case.)

Anyways, I don't mean to get all maudlin; I'm seriously curious. Did you learn in an analog room, and do you find that you still work within those constraints, even though you don't have them any more?




Dec.08.2005 @ 3:03 AM
I don't know if it's a constraint, exactly, but even on the computer I automatically think of tracks and channels in groups of eight...1-8, 9-16, 17-24...

I also tend to try to limit numbers of tracks, even when there is no practical limit to how many the computer can handle. I think this is partly habit from working on analog tape, and partly my innate organizational tendencies (i.e., anal retentive neuroses). I like to be aware of everything that's going on at all times, and the more shit there is spread out over a million tracks, the harder that is for me.

Learning in analog studios, I think, made me more neurotic about studio work all around. With computers and gear today you can pretty well stumble you way through anything and do okay, but with the old stuff you could fuck up real bad if you didn't know certain things, like how to properly align or de-mag the tape machine, or how to stripe the reel, and with what code, and what sync reference etc. etc.. Or you could destroy things forever with one false move on the remote. There was more at stake.

That has definitely affected how I work. I don't know if it's a limitation but I am aware of a certain amount of old-fashioned, slow and careful, suspicious-of-computers, "things were better before" old guy thing in my working style. And I'm really not an old guy. (or am I...uh oh)



Dec.08.2005 @ 12:11 PM
Muff Wiggler
Hell, I learned my way around recording first on TASCAM 4-tracks, then on rented ADAT machines in the 90's. Now I use Cubase SX and a bunch of outboard gear - and although I have spent a bazillion more hours using Cubase than I ever did on 4-tracks and ADATs, I find that my work in cubase is very heavily influenced by 'the way i learned'

i try to keep track counts down, i have to fight the urge to 'bounce' (even though I haven't bounced in years) and I really have to remind myself that I can use non-desctuctive editing instead of take after take after take and punch-in after punch-in after punch-in

old habits die hard I guess


Dec.08.2005 @ 4:11 PM
have you all been keeping up with all the talk about intersample distortion (there's a trillium labs white paper, along with a lot of prosoundweb threads, about it)?

upshot is, DON'T record your digital tracks at close to the red. especially if you use plugins. i never really did analog, but even so, i'm struggling with this one.


Dec.08.2005 @ 4:14 PM
Muff Wiggler
hmm i have no idea what you are talking about, but it kinda sounds like bullshit snake oil to these tin ears....

Dec.08.2005 @ 6:22 PM
There is a possibility for inter-sample clipping. It is however unlikely to happen. It would require a loud signal that contained frequencies in the nyquist+ range (1/2 sample rate) and a bit of luck. More than likely, you would see clipping. However, if you are worried, you can either turn down your recording source (very slightly), or run the track through a low pass filter set at the nyquist frequency. This would be an issue, I believe, only for software, hardware / speakers should take it in stride.

Dec.08.2005 @ 7:23 PM
Chris Randall
That's one area that I've actually adapted quite well. When recording to tape, I've always slammed it, to the point of having a lot of crosstalk. I just ignore the meters entirely, and when setting levels, I'll listen off the playback head to hear what's happening. My motto when using a tape machine is "If the LEDs don't light, the shit ain't right."

But when I started recording to digital, I gave myself a lot of headroom because I didn't fully understand what was happening, and I still generally consider about -6db as the maximum I'll let any particular track rock. This gives me a lot of room for mastering, too. It's especially nice on the 2-buss chain, because I tend to use URS EQs a lot on the final out, and I always have some wiggle room there if I want to apply gain instead of cut. After all is said and done, I bring the track back to 0db with a limiter.

Also, since I almost always mix to stems, it's nice to have room on the individual group tracks, too. If you're nailing the group, you don't have anywhere to go but down.



Dec.08.2005 @ 8:23 PM
Chris Randall
In pondering about this some more, I think it depends on what the main source material you use is that informs your habits. If someone uses a lot of loops and samples, which are all over the map, but mostly normalized to digital zero, they end up with all the tracks slamming all the time.

For someone that mostly records their source material (like myself) I think one tends to do what I mentioned above.

Interesting, when you think about it.



Dec.09.2005 @ 8:01 AM
yeah, definitely interesting. i'm in musical inspiration hell right now, but since i really started believing in 24-bit and recording at comparatively lower levels (say, around -6 to -12 db), stuff is sounding noticeably better.

giantm: apparently the issue is worse than that. i wish i had the links for you (there was a good one where some dude showed how lots of vinyl records could not be adequately "remastered" directly to digital without intersample clips, because of high slew rates or whatever), but i'm at work right now.




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