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Rethinking emulation plugs on the mix
Old 17th September 2012
  #1
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RKrizman's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Rethinking emulation plugs on the mix

I just finished a 12 song CD of mostly classic funk stylings and was pretty happy with the outcome. I used a lot of plugin artillery designed to emulate consoles and tape--the usual suspects that get discussed and pimped here. I bounced a lot of stuff to actual tape as well. However, instead of a net gain, a nagging part of me wondered if I wasn't just diluting the integrity of my recorded tracks and kidding myself that they sounded better placed in some sort of artificial "box". At what point in adding coats of lacquer does the shine detract from the natural finish of the wood?

So I've started tracking a new project, beginning with strong rock and indie guitars--good Les Paul and Tele sounds miced out of a Marshall, run through vintage compressors and preamps. Good, solid performances. So far the tracks sound great--very lively and real and present. I mean, forget about whether it sounds like tape or a console, these just sound good.

So I think this time as I go down the road I'm going to avoid all the emulation plugs and see if maybe I get a stronger result from remaining more true to the recorded moment.

Just a thought. Anybody else ever have this feeling?

-R
Old 17th September 2012 | Show parent
  #2
Here for the gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Anybody else ever have this feeling?
All the time. For me, the closer to the sound of the raw instrument the better. Musical instruments were designed to deliver a unique and rich band of harmonics/frequencies/tonics. Why mess with them if you don't have to?
Old 17th September 2012
  #3
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lakeshorephatty's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I'm in your zone man. The only thing I'm trying to do is get some nice transient rounding, even harmonic goo on everything. Not so present that you can hear an altered sound. I'm pretty much passing everything through a fatso with no compression on just warmth and saturation, and then a culture vulture on the softer triode setting that only bites in a little bit if the player gets overly dynamic.

I'm finding this dimensionality for the first time that i've never really heard from my stuff.. 2 instruments into the session there is life there, its real and captivating. I may end up with 16 tracks or less on all the new material where I would have had 40+ at times in the past to add intrigue.

I'm so drawn into these sounds that I'm wondering if I'm going to enjoy traditional fet compression again during tracking. Its a big revelation really. I'm using virtually no plugs and I find when i try to add one onto a source it loses some of its magic, so I'm having to lay off completely.

My next quest, probably not until 2013 is getting another two channels of a different flavour of smooth analog butter. I'm leaning towards either an anamod tape sim or some kind of fairchild variant (perhaps the am670). My thought is from hearing vari-mu the fast soft compression with even harmonics is going to provide yet another flavour of this analogizing. I think I would have been a sucker for real tape if i wasn't scared of maintaining it. Maybe even something like the burl would be the ticket while pushing the transformers.. In any case its nice to be inspired into a new direction again, as happens every few years

Russell
Old 17th September 2012
  #4
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by RKrizman ➑️
So I think this time as I go down the road I'm going to avoid all the emulation plugs and see if maybe I get a stronger result from remaining more true to the recorded moment.

Just a thought. Anybody else ever have this feeling?
Yeah, I've definitely made my share of mess by going overboard with plugs. Just make sure you're not too quick to blame the emu's for something that's more or less just overprocessing though (somebody's got to stand up in their defense heh).

Take Care
Old 17th September 2012
  #5
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lakeshorephatty's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
oh.. and forgot to mention using the AEA R44 on everything as at least one of the mics in the last few months seems to be helping a boat load! I'm sticking to high quality dynamics/ribbons a lot more than condensers these days.

Russell
Old 17th September 2012
  #6
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henge's Avatar
Funny this should be posted today! I didn't use any console emulation on the last 3 mixes and decided to use some yesterday. Decided today the mix didn't need it.
It's a nice option to have though.
Old 18th September 2012
  #7
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RCM - Ronan's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Whether you are mixing with a million bucks of outboard or the free plug ins that come with your DAW, getting things kicking ass up front always wins!!
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #8
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henge's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by RCM - Ronan ➑️
Whether you are mixing with a million bucks of outboard or the free plug ins that come with your DAW, getting things kicking ass up front always wins!!
Law #1!! Thanks Ronan.
It ain't the tools, it's the operator.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #9
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Short Tracks ➑️
Musical instruments were designed to deliver a unique and rich band of harmonics/frequencies/tonics. Why mess with them if you don't have to?
Because we're not talking about musical instruments - we're talking about RECORDINGS of musical instruments.
Old 18th September 2012 | Show parent
  #10
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RKrizman's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jidis ➑️
Yeah, I've definitely made my share of mess by going overboard with plugs. Just make sure you're not too quick to blame the emu's for something that's more or less just overprocessing though (somebody's got to stand up in their defense heh).

Take Care
Well when you put an emu on every track, which would seem to be the point of using one at all, you're adding a coloration to your entire mix. This could be a fairly extreme step, and just because it might sound almost exactly like console X, it begs the question of whether console X is an actual improvement over your untainted (untinted?) tracks in the long run. I'm not slamming emus--I don't regret my purchases--but I'd be hesitant to actually endorse any of them because it's such an extreme thing to do that people have to decide for themselves. (not that anyone's asking me for an endorsement)

Just thinking out loud. I've always enjoyed the Cranesong Phoenix plugin as a way to shape tone in a somewhat analog (or just pleasing) sounding way, but I like having control and using sparingly. Slapping something on the whole tracking and mixing bus seems like it could be surrendering too much.

Anyhow, worth going out and coming back in again to check my perceptions.

-R
Old 19th September 2012
  #11
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🎧 10 years
Ive heard virtually no emu's that live up to the name bar PCM90, possibly. The VCC was a bit of a let down for me but since I;ve not used one of the consoles VCC is emulating its a bit difficult. The biggest point I've learned about all this is, once again, gain staging. I wish there was a tute in setting optimum levels from Virtual Instrument, Mic'ed and Di'd, to converter, through console connect MIO (metric halo in my case) to DAW.
Old 19th September 2012 | Show parent
  #12
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by lakeshorephatty ➑️
oh.. and forgot to mention using the AEA R44 on everything as at least one of the mics in the last few months seems to be helping a boat load! I'm sticking to high quality dynamics/ribbons a lot more than condensers these days.

Russell
well the RCA 44 is one of the most real and accurate sounding transducers you could have....
Old 19th September 2012
  #13
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12thStreetSound's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Old 19th September 2012
  #14
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🎧 10 years
This is a good topic. I do mostly jazz recordings but not everything falls in the camp of "exists acoustically in nature" so the straight "classical" approach doesn't always work. I often have to manufacture a sense of reality.

That said, I have been of the mind that, with good sounding instruments (and the good sounding music played on them) in a good room, picked up by good transducers, good preamps and good converters, you will have a great sounding recording in the box. No need to muck it up with plugs. So I try to use as little eq and compression as needed- and the most subtle or transparent versions of those tools.... I don't want to change the sound, just make it work in the context of the other ones present in the soundstage. But the most pure signal path to me, is the best way for "realism". Now much production these days isn't after realism and of course that is where other tools come into play, but if you are trying to capture a sound that exists in nature, I don't want to muck it up.

I think console and tape emulations are bunk. They are an effect that have a noticeable effect and are useful as an effect. But we used consoles because that is what we had and how we combined and routed signals. Because of the circuitry they all have a sound, good bad or indifferent. But it isn't necessarily a sound one would ideally want, but when you need that tool, you're stuck with what you've got.

We don't have that problem today. We have good transducers, preamps and converters, so we are able to capture a stunningly accurate signal. more accurate than ever before. The only reason to muck it up is if that adds the effect you want to achieve.....
Old 19th September 2012
  #15
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greggybud's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
This is GEARslutz.

Just look at all the oozing here
https://gearspace.com/board/new-prod...be-series.html

466 replies all about a product that hasn't even been out for a week.

As each year passes, it's more and more about skills and experience and less about the quality of the emulation. I'm amazed at many comments that seem to be biased, maybe by marketing. Others rely on the famous producer and then spread their gospel.

So, at what point in adding coats of lacquer does the shine detract from the natural finish of the wood? I don't think that can be answered. It depends on your sonic goals. Rock, jazz, pop, classical, are all very different.

I do feel however that the longer you do this, the better you get. That is until someone releases an emulation with an "experience" preset.heh
Old 19th September 2012
  #16
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zvukofor's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Personally, i'm completely agree here with engineering giants such as George Massenburg, Paul Frindle and others - digital recording and mixing is much more clear and better in terms of high definition sound reproduction. It is just less forgiving to misuse and operator's errors.

All those psychoacoustic stuff we used to use sometimes in analog recording, such as natural compression and saturation of tape or preamps, definitely can be substituted in digital domain for a sake of artistic needs, but no one should use them as a default setup. Moreover, i fing that good recorded classic rock/pop songs can sound great without all those analog behavior simulations. It is just a matter of knowledge how to record good digitally.

Yet we do not have all those time-prooved good sounding equipment in digital, but most of equipment - EQs, for example, when well understood at engineering level, can be substituted with good digital ones, even overhyped Pultecs can be substituted with simple parametric, if you really know how they works and what you're doing, it is undisputable fact.

As for saturation psychoacoustic effects - if you need one - just get a good one, there're a lot of them too, just know HOW and WHEN to use it. It is a fact that people overusing these devices in digital starts to overusing it in analog, and this is not good at all.

So what we have here is not a bad behavior or nature of digital sound reproduction or processing, we have a big, big hole in understanding of basic audio-engineering principles, a lot of ignorance multiplied by availability of digital recording to masses.

Yes, we can make great sounding digital recording without emulation of analog domain artefacts. Yet, deepest ignorance in even basic engineering knowledge, and marketing greed drived hype of manufacturers are the only reasons of all "analog vs digital" "discussions" and others of similar topics.
Old 19th September 2012
  #17
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edva's Avatar
 
26 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
I have heard plug-ins that do, IMHO, detract from and diminish the mix.
OTOH, I would not want to mix ITB without some plug-ins.
For me, what works is: 1. Lots of A/B comparison along the way (is it better with or without plug-in?), and 2. Record and mix at 96k (this really seems to help open up the sound of the plug-ins I use).
IMHO, and YMMV.
Old 19th September 2012 | Show parent
  #18
Here for the gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by bing81 ➑️
Because we're not talking about musical instruments - we're talking about RECORDINGS of musical instruments.
Yes, I understand this. Maybe I didn't express myself clearly in my last post. Why make a recording of a live instrument that sounds any different once it's digitized? For me, the goal of recording music is to capture the sound without the "layers of lacquer" that a plugin introduces into the mix. Isn't that the essence of this thread? Rarely do I EQ or compress anything. If there's 'mud' in the mids or lower frequencies, it's a message that there's too many tracks in the mix. I'd rather go with less than more. But that's MY music. To each his own. Cheers.
Old 19th September 2012 | Show parent
  #19
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by RKrizman ➑️
Well when you put an emu on every track, which would seem to be the point of using one at all, you're adding a coloration to your entire mix. This could be a fairly extreme step, and just because it might sound almost exactly like console X, it begs the question of whether console X is an actual improvement over your untainted (untinted?) tracks in the long run. I'm not slamming emus--I don't regret my purchases--but I'd be hesitant to actually endorse any of them because it's such an extreme thing to do that people have to decide for themselves. (not that anyone's asking me for an endorsement)

Just thinking out loud. I've always enjoyed the Cranesong Phoenix plugin as a way to shape tone in a somewhat analog (or just pleasing) sounding way, but I like having control and using sparingly. Slapping something on the whole tracking and mixing bus seems like it could be surrendering too much.

Anyhow, worth going out and coming back in again to check my perceptions.

-R
+1
Nice to hear.
IMO digital is great for transparence and fidelity to the source.
I've noticed I like the stock or clean plugs sound better than emus quite often.
A.
Old 20th September 2012 | Show parent
  #20
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Short Tracks ➑️
For me, the goal of recording music is to capture the sound without the "layers of lacquer" that a plugin introduces into the mix.
There is no "the sound". Once you plug in a cable and put up a microphone, you're already at one remove.

No plug-ins is already a sound in itself. It's not inherently "better" than a with plug-ins sound, it's only different.

We're not working with realities here. We're working with perceptions.
Old 20th September 2012
  #21
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by RKrizman ➑️
I just finished a 12 song CD of mostly classic funk stylings and was pretty happy with the outcome. I used a lot of plugin artillery designed to emulate consoles and tape--the usual suspects that get discussed and pimped here. I bounced a lot of stuff to actual tape as well. However, instead of a net gain, a nagging part of me wondered if I wasn't just diluting the integrity of my recorded tracks and kidding myself that they sounded better placed in some sort of artificial "box". At what point in adding coats of lacquer does the shine detract from the natural finish of the wood?

So I've started tracking a new project, beginning with strong rock and indie guitars--good Les Paul and Tele sounds miced out of a Marshall, run through vintage compressors and preamps. Good, solid performances. So far the tracks sound great--very lively and real and present. I mean, forget about whether it sounds like tape or a console, these just sound good.

So I think this time as I go down the road I'm going to avoid all the emulation plugs and see if maybe I get a stronger result from remaining more true to the recorded moment.

Just a thought. Anybody else ever have this feeling?

-R

I think following your instincts or gut feelings is the way. Things will flow and be more inspired. This could of course go any direction in terms of getting the sounds.

Nice post.
Old 20th September 2012 | Show parent
  #22
Here for the gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by bing81 ➑️
Once you plug in a cable and put up a microphone, you're already at one remove.
I understand what you're saying but you can't possibly compare a simple amplified sound to the squelch/distortion of an emulation plugin. And yes, when you get down to it, it's all about perception. The perception that you're hearing something 'clean/natural' as opposed to something 'artificial'. We could argue this until the cows come home but it all comes down to taste and style.
Old 20th September 2012 | Show parent
  #23
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greggybud's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by bing81 ➑️
There is no "the sound". Once you plug in a cable and put up a microphone, you're already at one remove.

No plug-ins is already a sound in itself. It's not inherently "better" than a with plug-ins sound, it's only different.

We're not working with realities here. We're working with perceptions.
I really like this.

At some point or degree, it becomes what flavor of ice cream do you like? Do you want vanilla to keep it generic and acceptable to the widest market? Or chocolate to make it more fun and interesting?

I wish some of my old mastering clients would take this to heart.

I suppose the point of debate is arriving at that relative point or degree where the song is about comparing ice cream flavors as opposed to comparing ice cream with say....liver!
Old 20th September 2012 | Show parent
  #24
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RKrizman's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by nnajar ➑️
I think console and tape emulations are bunk. They are an effect that have a noticeable effect and are useful as an effect. But we used consoles because that is what we had and how we combined and routed signals. Because of the circuitry they all have a sound, good bad or indifferent. But it isn't necessarily a sound one would ideally want, but when you need that tool, you're stuck with what you've got.
I don't agree that the emus are bunk, but the rest of the paragraph is exactly what I'm getting at. To some extent consoles could have been seen as a necessary evil. Choose your poison and make the best of it. I can't think of any top-flight studio that was ever continuously happy with their console.

-R
Old 20th September 2012 | Show parent
  #25
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j-uk's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
It's a tool, you learn what it works best on and then move on... I don't see a either all....

Quote:
Originally Posted by nnajar ➑️
But we used consoles because that is what we had and how we combined and routed signals. Because of the circuitry they all have a sound, good bad or indifferent. But it isn't necessarily a sound one would ideally want, but when you need that tool, you're stuck with what you've got.
Nostalgia aside, emulation plugins gives you so much more versatility and sounds great for a fraction of the price and upkeep.....
Old 21st September 2012
  #26
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zvukofor's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
I figured it out!
Most of emulating plugins are like instagram effects for photo - people tend to use those to mask inability to create a good composition and a lack of good theme in a song. Cheap effects.

But there are good ones, which function like a tonal curves of old photo film, just to give a touch of "physical look", a little polish, osome spice to already good photo (or song in our terms).

Nobody can see a good effect of this kind, or even if it is very defined it looks like it should be there as a part of composition. Now compare it to all those instagrams - almost all look the same boring and cliche, like a parody to analog photography. Same with emulation plugs.

(We're not talking about emulation of behavior, like in program EQ, which sounds undistinguishably clear as a normal EQ, but gives us fast results being designed to work musically)
Old 21st September 2012 | Show parent
  #27
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Short Tracks ➑️
The perception that you're hearing something 'clean/natural' as opposed to something 'artificial'.
Well, where we disagree here is probably that I don't see what you call "clean/natural" as "clean/natural" as for me it's already processed through being recorded.

Once you get there, there can't be recordings that are or aren't artificial, because from my point of view, ALL recordings are artificial. Thus, there is no "more" or "less" artificial, only different kinds of artificial.

I also think that this discussion about console and tape emus etc. etc. is moot, given that the recording process for me is an artistic process, using technical means. Anyone who thinks that we're somehow approaching things differently now that we have Pro Tools and Phoenix or VCC, should go back and listen to the Beatles (to cite just one example ...). They never stopped slamming things through whatever was available, often to excess. "Tomorrow Never Knows" sums up for me why I'm "in" recording and what I love about it, and the day I get even close to something like that as a piece of recorded work, I'll stop.
Old 21st September 2012 | Show parent
  #28
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RKrizman's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by bing81 ➑️

Once you get there, there can't be recordings that are or aren't artificial, because from my point of view, ALL recordings are artificial. Thus, there is no "more" or "less" artificial, only different kinds of artificial.
Of course it's all artificial, that's trivial. He was referring to your "perception" of the recording. In spite of the fact that technically it's all artificial, you can experience something as genuine or fake. There is a meaningful difference.

I like all the Instagram analogies.

-R
Old 22nd September 2012 | Show parent
  #29
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by RKrizman ➑️
Of course it's all artificial, that's trivial. He was referring to your "perception" of the recording. In spite of the fact that technically it's all artificial, you can experience something as genuine or fake. There is a meaningful difference.
Playing Devil's Advocate here (because I mostly mix classical and acoustic folk recordings with just a little sweetening on the master bus)....

People sure thought albums like Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" were genuine acoustic recordings back in the day, in spite of the fact that it involved tracking to tape with intrinsic saturation and compression, mixed through an analog console, and then running through a whoppin' 14 transformers and 20 tubes in a Fairchild 670 ahead of the lathe cutting vinyl.

Was that not "genuine" acoustic sound?

Our musical culture has grown up accustomed to these classic recording methods and sounds, and a bare documentary recording isn't necessarily what everyone wants now. We've been trained over the years, to appreciate these sounds. I hate to use the word "euphonic" because it's so nebulous, but we've had 50 years now of recording that seems to indicate that people like a degree of "euphonic" enhancement after the bare microphone + preamp signal path. Straight-wire-with-gain in a sound reproduction system has been available for a while now, but it doesn't seem to be what tickles our ears.
Old 22nd September 2012 | Show parent
  #30
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GearAndGuitars's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by zvukofor ➑️
I figured it out!
Most of emulating plugins are like instagram effects for photo - people tend to use those to mask inability to create a good composition and a lack of good theme in a song. Cheap effects.

But there are good ones, which function like a tonal curves of old photo film, just to give a touch of "physical look", a little polish, osome spice to already good photo (or song in our terms).

Nobody can see a good effect of this kind, or even if it is very defined it looks like it should be there as a part of composition. Now compare it to all those instagrams - almost all look the same boring and cliche, like a parody to analog photography. Same with emulation plugs.

(We're not talking about emulation of behavior, like in program EQ, which sounds undistinguishably clear as a normal EQ, but gives us fast results being designed to work musically)
Those are insightful observations.

If one is going for a certain sound of "console" recording, why not just approach your recording the same way...

- record all tracks in mono, if you want the part in "stereo" record it twice and hard pan it (this also nuances in performance that add depth and space)

- use processing in the signal chain (eq, compression, delay, reverb) not in the box

- limit yourself to 24 MONO tracks, work into the creative limitations

- image your DAW as a tape deck, punch in/out, overdub without regard to measure markers and grid locked loop points

etc, etc... might be amazed how much more "console" and classic recordings sound when recorded this way...

FWIW - YMMV

Gear and Guitars : First Impressions from a Nashville Recording Session
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