Wednesday, December 11, 2013

96k vs 44.1k sample rates, my real life test.

By Tim Dolbear -

Back in ’96…

I tested working at 96k sample rate vs 44.1k years ago with Presonus A/D/A. It was the only way I could test it as my A/D/A devices only would work at 44.1k and 48k. I tracked out a song and then mixed and converted it all back to CD quality (44.1k/16bit), and once it was all back at 44.1, they difference between versions was really nothing, really the 44.1 session sounded best than the 96k session. So I had been at 44.1 ever since.

Fast forward to December 2013… I just got a Mytek Stereo192 DSD (Mastering version) and Apogee AD16, getting its WC from the Mytek. With such new toys, I wanted to test the whole 96K Sample rate issue again.

First I tracked a simple rock song in Sequoia; acoustic guitar, clean electric guitar, distorted electric guitar, bass and drums. The drums themselves were programmed using our sample library made from our studio kit…but the cymbals were all played live. All but the bass had a stereo room mics that were tracked as well (meaning we used close mics and a stereo room pair).

I recorded the song 4 times, at 44/48/88 and 96k; 4 sessions, exact same parts played 4 times the same way each time. I wanted this test to inform me, so I spent 2 days make sure it was done perfectly.  I set the sound, hit record, hit stop, closed the session, opened the next session, hit record…4 times through the song in a row for each instrument.

Next I mixed the songs to their actual sample rate and 32bit float. So I had mixes; 96k/32bit float, 88.2k/32bit, 48k/32bit, 44.1k/32bit. The plugs used and mixer setup were copied between sessions to be perfect copies.  I then sample rate converted them inside Sequoia using the highest quality setting, all to standard CD quality: 44.1/16bit (POW-r 1 dithering was used).

Blind listening test...

When listening to the mixes at their original sample rate, you could hear a difference, and the difference carried over to the 44.1k/16bit versions. I also made MP3 320 versions and the differences carried over too. I also ran a fader up mix versions; no plugs. The outcome was the same...

96k vs 44.1k, the 96k session in the end at both 44.1/16 and at MP3 had a little more sheen to the sound, but the big difference is the 3D and stereo imaging the 96k sampling rate made. The 44.1 session sounded flat in both image and tone. Not a huge difference, but enough for us here at Eclectica Studios to make the jump. Goodbye 44.1, my old friend, but I just cannot go back to you, knowing what I know.

You can download the results from here:  

Also, I know that A/D converters can sound different at different rates, and none of us listening liked the 88.2k as much as the 96K… Seriously, I had hoped to save the small amount of resources gained with 88.2k, but it did not sound as good. Interesting.

Another note;   I used to use the UAD 88rs channel strip for a many years during mixing.  The 88rs does not upsample to increase quality, like the newer UAD EQs do.  I could never get the high end tones I wanted, the “Air”.  So about 3 years ago I switch over to using the Harrison EQ as it would give me the results I wanted and I liked the workflow; knobs only!   I opened up the 88RS channel strip in the 96k session and setting the highs to about 17khz and turned them up!  And WOW!  Amazing.   I copied the setting and pasted it into the 44.1k session and its was gone, a completely different tone came out, not the 17khz I had hoped for.   So now, the 88RS running in a 96k session gains the benefits of the higher sample rate to be able to give me the sound I want.  I am so pleased because this now wonderful sound channel stripe is easy on the resources. Can’t wait to hear how other plugins improve at 96K.

One last thing...

Also I just tested a mix that I did at its recorded rate of 44.1k,  taking the files and upsampling them to 96k then running off the mix at 96k 32bit float to preserve it for sample rate conversion(SRC),  SRC'd it down to 44.1k 32bit float and compared it to the one mixed and run off at 44.1k 32bit float and the one that was are 44.1 though out sounded better by a lot.   So my rule now is, what ever sample rate a session shows up here to be mix at, it stays at that sample rate through out. But as for complete projects I do here from tracking through mix and beyond, I will only do 96k from now on.  There is some nice plugin quality that gets added at 96k so it may sometimes be worth the upsampling.  Case by case...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

MIX magazine Review Nov 2013, Additional content for "Three Mastering EQs"

By Tim Dolbear -

Hey all,

My review for the November issue of Mix, "Three Mastering EQ Plugins", had a lot of extra info I wanted to add, but we did not have room.  I wanted to talk about what "sound" is added to you audio when you simply load one of these EQs before you even turn a knob.  They are doing something to your sound, so let's dive in!

So…whats going on behind the GUI face plate …

Since the Pultecs, Millenia and Waves RS-56 EQs all tout the full modeling of the hardware counterpart’s analog circuitry; I wanted to share what I was hearing by simply inserting these plug-ins onto a track and not twisting any knobs.  What’s being added?  Harmonic distortion, noise, extra EQ curve… Since just placing these onto a track changes the sound before you even start moving a knob, its good to know what signature they bring to the signal.
I did this a few ways, first by simply placing a song on 2 adjacent tracks in Sequoia. I then muted the 2nd track which contained the plug-in.  Now I can simply hit the Solo button on the muted track to hear this 2nd track, allowing me to switch between them seamlessly and instantly to listen for added tones and distortions.  Secondly, with both tracks playing, I flipped the phase button on the mixer to cancel out the entire shared signal and only hear the difference, showing the added EQ curve and distortions that the plug-in was adding.

The Pultec EQP-1A with EQ switched out but the plug-in on, added some low mids warmth. With the EQ switched in, but with the EQ set flat, there is also a nice sheen added to the sound, slightly more highend and even more low mids. But this is not just a frequency boost, but more of a transformer type sparkle or excitement, Hi-fi-esc.
The Pultec MEQ-5 adds a bit of the same sheen as the EQP-1 had with its EQ switched in.  But, I do not hear any difference between having the EQ switched in or out on the MEQ-5.
The Pultec HLF-3C with the low cut and High cut set to off, There is no difference to the sound compared to the unprocessed signal since there is no in/out circuit to be modeled. The original HLF-3C does not contain an amplifier or other circuitry outside of the passive EQ cut filters.

The Millennia in Class A Discrete J-Fet delivers a light Hi-Fi sheen to the sound, but it’s very very subtle. In Class-A Vacuum Tube mode, an additional, very subtle silky high end enhancement, you also get a slight bump to the low mids, but again, very subtle. 

With the WAVES eq set flat, there is a slight boost to the highs but not a lot of added tone from modeling of tubes and transformers, like you find with the UA Pultec collection. Something entire different was going on. The thing I heard, and easily confirmed through running the null test, there is actually some very fast, tube like compression taking place to the transients. 


Friday, January 18, 2013

A songwriter/arranger/producer thoughts about songwriting in 2013.

By Tim Dolbear -

By Tim Dolbear c2013
1. A pleasing succession or arrangement of sounds.
2. Music
a. A rhythmically organized sequence of single tones so related to one another as to make up a particular phrase or idea.
b. Structure with respect to the arrangement of single notes in succession.
c. The leading part or the air in a composition with accompaniment.
3. A poem suitable for setting to music or singing.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about why current music is so disliked by so many, including me. Basically we are bored with what we are hearing. This goes beyond the 'sludge' of bad music and ‘artist’ you find flooding Facebook and YouTube, created by people who now have GarageBand on their Macs and delusions of grandeur (a bad combination)...but this is not about or for them. This is for the serious artist and songwriters, the ones that want to strive for excellence, and create because of the love of art and not for a simple ego stroke from their friends. 

Recently, I listened through a new release from an artist I have been listening to for most of my life. They have had huge success and tons of hits.  I had high hopes for this new album, but the songwriting was…well, flat…and I had heard it all before. The artist is on their own label now so it’s not an issue with them just being forced to rewrite a hit, but more of an issue with them perhaps not trying new colors on the canvas.

Hearing this new album was perfectly timed, as I had been thinking a lot about songwriting and the future.  And here is what I found:

The next big change in music will come from a new type of use for melodies. We cannot do what everyone else is doing and has done; we must strive for better and different melodies.
It all comes down to the melody.

The Pentatonic scale, though tried and true for the last 100 years, still only has 5 notes. It’s amazing how many artists are still writing songs using only the Pentatonic scale.  Play most any current pop/rock or country song and you should be able to hum right along with the verse melody, being able to predict where the singer is going with the melody, and not for any other factor than you have basically heard it all before.

The Pentatonic scale has allowed writers and artist to stay in key with no real knowledge of music.  Many of today’s musicians and singers do not know anything different, they also do not know about scales or theory since they have relied on the Pentatonic scale their entire musical life. Both the major scale and minor scale have 8 notes, the minor Pentatonic scale only uses the 1(root), 3, 4, 5, 7.  If we are to bring out new melodies in our writing the first thing we must do is become acquainted with the 6th and the 2nd (9th).  

It’s much like a lead guitar player that plays the same licks that Jimmy Page did in 1972, we see them as dated, old school, even as a beginner. Yet we accept these 40+ year old melodies when it comes from a singer. Imagine if no one ever played a D chord, and then added a sus4 to it?

When rock and roll broke out in the 50’s, the melodies were different than what had been heard prior.  Compare Benny Goodman/Peggy Lee with Fats Domino or Elvis.

When the Beatles hit, their use of melody (and harmonies) was different yet. Then think about Paul Simon, Queen, Sweet, Boston, even Disco.  When The Police came out, there was nothing comparable to the melodies they were using. Jump ahead to the Grunge movement in 1992. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana, all brought out different melodies than we heard before.  Some may say the melodies were familiar, but the chords accompanying the melody were all new.

See, we also need to understand how chords work with the melodies. An example would be how interchanging the relative major and minor can completely open up how a melody is brought across. Try this: Write a simple melody in E major. Play the E major chord underneath as you sing this simple melody. Now sing it again over a C#m. 

We also need to learn and put into use different scale modes.  My personal favorite is the Mixolydian scale; it’s a major scale with a minor seventh.  What’s yours? Is it time to learn the different scale modes and even develop a favorite one?

My challenge for you is not to necessarily travel the world looking for a strange new melody, or go so left field that Bjork is waving at you to come back, but to simply look for the changes and additions to your melodies that opens up the entire song and takes it to a new level.