Learning To Listen Again

Inner Portal Studio Upgrades 2014 #2.

Well, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I ordered some new monitors for the studio, Tyler Acoustic D2x’s.  Due to huge snow storms in the US, they took an extra week to get to me, but the wait was worth it.  Last Thursday, 4 big boxes arrived via UPS Freight, the 2 speakers and their stands.  

The freight truck couldn’t make it up my driveway, and the UPS driver was lazy in his own weird way, so we ended up pulling all 4 boxes at once up a long hill on a dolly.  It was sketchy, but soon they were safe inside.

Tyler D2 02

The next step was getting them up to the studio on the third floor, knowing that the large boxes were almost 160lbs each.  Oh, and I did it myself, with the injured shoulder, fun.  🙂  A bit of leverage and using my legs to push from below made it not too difficult, but still a bit intimidating as you don’t want to slip and have one of these come back at you!

Tyler D2 03

The only really difficult part was getting them on the 12 inch stands I had made for them (gets the tweeters at ear level), but by that point I was determined.  Luckily it all worked out, and after a couple hours playing with the positioning of the new D2x’s (as well as the Opals now), it was all working well.   This is obviously a pretty big upgrade for me, so it’s nice to see it all set up in the studio finally:

InnerPortalStudio

 Of course the $6000 question everyone keeps asking me, is how do they sound?

In a word, different.  I know, not very descriptive, but that’s the best way to describe it.  Right away I could tell they had real depth to their imaging, placement of instruments was incredibly precise.  But I knew before I bought these that they would need 200 hrs to break in, something the manufacturer reminded me of a few times in the process of ordering them.

Like most of the reviews of Tyler Acoustics speakers, at first they come across as a little underwhelming.  It’s a big sound, you feel like you’re really IN the music in a way I’ve never experience at this level of clarity.  But the lows were frankly weak, and the highs were frankly dull.  They sounded “good”, but not reference grade mastering monitor good.

Again, all this I expected, and having confirmed it with my own ears, I set about breaking them in.  They’ve been playing non-stop since I got them, so I’m at about 120 hours now.  I have the Hilo set up to switch between the Tyler’s and the Event’s with a button press, so it’s been easy for me to compare the way they sound (in a nice level-matched way) quite simply.  The Opals are a tiny bit closer together than they used to be, but otherwise they are what I know inside and out, having used them exclusively for the last few years.

Right away it was apparent the Beryllium tweeters on the Opals were a lot brighter than the D2’s, the highs were right in your face while the D2’s were much more muted.  It wasn’t bad, but definitely more smooth than I was used to.  Luckly I’m told it’s pretty easy to swap out a resistor on the tweeter crossover to make them a little more present sounding, so I always have that option later depending on how they break in.

The D2’s also have a more prounced low end, it’s not so much louder as just deeper and more physical feeling.   I had always used the way the Opals made my chest feel for deep bass as a guide for how much was too much, and with the D2’s this is much more a whole body affair. 🙂

Still, I know that I have to break them in fully before I draw any conclusions, so that’s what I’ve been doing.  Anytime I’m not listening to music on them and comparing with the Opals, I’m blasting pink noise at 96kHz through them to really get all the speakers working.  After 5 days of non-stop use, they already sound a LOT  better.  The subs are much more apparent, and the tweeters have brightened up a little too.  Still a big difference from the Opals, but I’m only halfway there.

It’s been interesting trying to assimilate this huge change in the way I’m going to be hearing things, while at the same time knowing I have work coming in too!  When you’re used to a playback system so well that you never have to second guess yourself, learning how to hear music all over again is both a fun challenge and a bit stressful too!

But, I’m not complaining 🙂

I’ll post some more of my thoughts on this change in a couple weeks once everything has been broken in and I have some more mastering done on them!

——————

I just wanted to remind people one more time about my video series on Optimizing Sound Quality In Ableton Live too.  Been getting a lot of good feedback on these 4 videos, and I can’t recommend the rest of the Warp Academy stuff enough.  If you’re a Live user, you probably won’t find better deal on Live training:

http://www.warpacademy.com/tutorial-series/210-optimizing-sound-quality-in-live-2/

Thanks everyone, until next time!

Inner Portal Studio Upgrades 2014 – Part 1

StudioBack

Well, 2014 has barely started and I’ve already been pretty busy with some important changes for my studio.  The biggest is ordering some custom Tyler Acoustic D2x monitors to replace my Event Opals.  I love the Opals, but for a long time I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a larger, full-range speaker more ideally suited for mastering.

Tyler D2 03(A D2x unfinished cabinet next to the larger D1x)

Unfortunately, these are build to order, so there’s a 3-4 week wait for them to be fabricated and tested.  Hopefully I will have them in the studio in the next week or two though, and I can’t wait!   More details in a future blog post once they arrive.  🙂

In the meantime, I decided that adding more bass-trapping would probably be a good idea, especially since I’m upgrading to a much larger monitor.  As you can see in the top picture, I had already installed some GIK Super Bass Traps in an old closet area at the back of the studio.  The shape of the closet walls worked well with the traps in the corners like that, it reduced a lot of the bass build ups in my room just as it was.

Still, in smaller studios like mine, you can almost never have too much bass-trapping to tame the low end.   After shopping around online, I found a store called Buyinsulationproducts.com that had some really good prices on the bulk insulation types used for most acoustic treatment.   Using the noise-reduction data I found in the link below, I was able to compare various types of insulation and how they absorb sound at different frequencies:

http://www.bobgolds.com/AbsorptionCoefficients.htm

I initially was going to purchase cheaper Roxul (Rockwool) material for the bass traps, as it’s ever-so-slightly better at absorbing the low end compared to the more common Owens Corning 703 insulation typically used.  But the downside of Roxul is that it’s less rigid than 703, so you pretty much need to make frames for it to work best.  There’s a chance I’m moving to a larger studio in a few months, so I didn’t want to make a bunch of frames that might be the wrong size for the new room.  In the end, I decided 703 was the best way to future proof this investment, so I ordered 8 cases of this:

Owens Corning 703 Panels

If you order from the site above, and are ordering more than just a couple cases, be sure to call them about discounted shipping rates.  It’s MUCH cheaper than the calculator on their site says.  So then, time to build!

IMG_2676(5 of the 8 boxes of 703 in total that I ordered)

The basic plan was to pull the shelving units out of the old closet area, and build a (roughly) 20″ thick wall of solid 703 aross the whole back wall, then put the shelving units and GIK traps in front of it.  Overkill….. yes!  🙂   Because these panels would not really be seen, I didn’t need to use fancy fabric to cover them.  I ended up using weed-blocking cloth from a home improvement store, which cost me only $10 for a roll and was more than enough for the job.

The first step was to stack the panels making one thick panel that I could wrap with a few layers of the cloth, before being placed in the studio.  Pro Tip: If you need to cut the insulation, an electric carving knife makes the job really easy!  Same with any foam (like Auralex) for your studio, the electric knife cuts it like butter.

IMG_2678(The ends of the bundles were covered first, then I wrapped the
middle with multiple layers of cloth to hold it all together.
T-pins were used to fasten the fabric to the insulation)

IMG_2674(Almost empty closet)

IMG_2680(New panels in place, with one more layer of cloth to cover them
and prevent any insulation fibres from becoming airborn)

BassTrapWall

(The final result, doesn’t look much different than it did at first – as planned!)

All together it took me only a few hours to get all the insulation bundled, wrapped in fabric, and placed in the studio.  A few people have asked me if there was any smell from the insulation, since I was using such thin fabric to cover them.  There was a slight smell for a couple hours, but by later that night it had dissipated and hasn’t returned.

I’ll be honest, I was a little curious how much of a difference this would make since I was trying to do this fairly cheap.  And because I wasn’t able to make these proper panels, since my shoulder surgery means no carpentry right now. Plus not knowing if I was even staying in my current room for more than a couple months.

Happily, there was a HUGE difference in sound once I was able to give things a listen!  A much bigger difference than I even hoped for in fact, the low end is incredibly tight in the studio now.  Notes across the low end are even and clearly heard, and the sweet spot for my monitoring increased dramatically too.  All in all the difference was immediate, and obvious to the ear.  All that mass stopped a ton of reflections from being directed back into the studio, my whole back wall is like an audio black hole now.  🙂  I might need to get a diffuser for back there now in fact!

Of course, it wasn’t until AFTER I installed all that bass-trapping that I thought about measuring the low end in the studio using the reference mic and software that came with my Opals for just this purpose.  So unfortunately I only have the “after” results, I don’t have any readings from before the treatment, sorry.

Opals Flat - Post Bass Trapping(Not too bad at all!)

Overall I’m plenty happy with the way this part of the studio upgrade turned out, it really made a much bigger difference than I expected.  And best of all, it really didn’t take that long to do either.

The next step for me is to space my current GIK 242 panels a little bit off the wall, likely just an inch or two to improve how well they work at absorbing the lower-mids.  And then of course, I have some new monitors coming in a couple weeks too.  I don’t think I need to say how I excited about that I am.  Well, except for the part where I have to carry 155 pound (each) speakers up two flights of stairs.

Check back for more pictures and a run down of the speaker install in Part 2!

Decibel Festival Mastering Session

This past weekend Dubspot asked me to host a Q&A session on mastering as part of the Decibel Festival conference.  The session went great, there were more people than I expected for it being earlier in the day, and I was able to answer a lot of questions for everyone.  Luckily, all of the conference sessions were video taped, and are now available online for anyone to watch.

There were a lot of Live focused sessions, so definitely worth a look if that’s your main DAW.  Note that it says you need to install Silverlight to watch the videos, but you can just click on the Podcast version to watch without it.  Here’s the full list:

http://dbfestival.com/news/streaming-db-conference-panopto

And here is the direct link to my mastering session:

http://decibel.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer/Default.aspx?id=6d727890-9b16-4934-a619-2e8e2d3bb65e

I was the first session of the day, so the first few minutes didn’t get recorded, and there’s some audio issues later on.  Otherwise it turned out pretty well I think.

Enjoy!

 

Decibel Festival 2013

Well, that week is upon us, a non-stop ride of electronic music here in Seattle as Decibel Festival celebrates it’s 10th anniversary.  This year I won’t be performing, but I will be giving a talk as part of Dubspot’s workshops on Thursday, Sept. 26th, from noon to 2:00 PM.  The topic will be “A Day in the Life of a Professional Mastering Engineer”.

Dubspot Instructor Chris Petti will be fielding me questions about what it’s like to be an audio professional today, and of course we’ll be taking audience questions as well.  Stop by to say hi or if you have any questions you’d like me to answer, happy to talk about other audio subjects afterwards too 🙂

SXSW_pj_02

The following day Ableton will be hosting a day of seminars as well, along with Warp Academy who are launching their new Live-focused video tutorial service this weekend.  I did some videos for them that I think people will find really useful, stay tuned for more details!  I’ll be there all day Friday as well most likely, say hi if you see me.

1277629_632394230114521_168097408_o

 http://dbfestival.com/dbx/schedule

For those of you going to Decibel, who are you looking forward to seeing this year?  Other than the Orb, I haven’t made up my mind, so I’m open to suggestions 🙂  Anything but Dubstep or Bass music please, nothing against it but I hear that music all day.  Thanks!

Inner Portal Studio Fall 2013 Update

InnerPortal2013-03

Hi everyone, just wanted to let you know about some changes happening at Inner Portal Studio.

First up, I have new rates for all of my studio services, effective as of today.  For those clients who I have already discussed a project and budget with, I will continue to honor that quoted price.

Mastering is $60 a song.  If you need a DDP file, physical CD master, alternate version (acapella, radio edit, etc.) it’s an additional $20 per song.

For mixdowns I’m now doing a single flat rate of $350 a song, that includes the mastering as well as the mixdown.  There will be some flexibility for extremely simple or extremely large mixes still, so let me know if  you think your project fits that category.

Track Consulting will be only $30 per song.

In addition to the new rates, I also have a new way for you to make payments if you prefer not to use PayPal.  The link below (it’s also on the Inner Portal Site) will take you to my new Square online store where you can make a payment for all of my services directly with any credit or debit card:

https://squareup.com/market/inner-portal-studio

PayPal is still accepted for those that prefer to use it, this is just another option to make things as flexible as possible for all my clients.  Please let me know if you have any trouble using the new store for submitting a payment.

 

Finally, Dubspot has asked me to give a seminar as part of this year’s Decibel Festival Conference here in Seattle.  I’ll be speaking on Thursday, Sept 26th from Noon to 2:00PM, stop by and say hi if you’re at the conference.  Full details and line-up here: http://dbfestival.com/dbx/conference

Thanks everyone, I look forward working with you on your latest projects!

And The Best Sounding DAW Is…..

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 5.36.49 PM

Not sure what’s causing it, but in the last few weeks I’ve been getting a lot of people sending me emails about my Live versus Logic Sound Quality post from a couple years ago.  Figured it was time to maybe update my views on the topic.  Or maybe clarify my views my be a better term.

So no, I’m not really going to pick the best sounding DAW, sorry.  🙂

For years I was the guy arguing that (everything being equal) all DAWs sounded the same, or the differences were beyond the range of our playback equipment and hearing. Every test I’ve run or tried has shown the same thing, people can’t accurately hear the differences.

Then I became a full-time mastering engineer and spent a LOT of time talking to other musicians about how things SOUND. And I realized that everyone hears things differently, none of us hears things exactly the same way. Over and over I’ve been amazed at how different people focus on different areas of music, in how they approach conveying and describing it to others. In how they internalize and interpret what reaches their ears.

I’ve met people who could hear the tiniest changes to the most background parts in a song, but miss the fact that they had muted the vocal track in one section accidentally. Or people who swore two identical copies of the exact same song sounded completely different. Usually the differences are more subtle, but I’ve been surprised at what the human brain can honestly believe it is hearing.

Now, I’m not so sure all DAWs sound the same to people.

Personally, I think everyone uses a lot of other external sensory inputs when determining how things sound. Maybe one DAW is slightly brighter in it’s color palette, and for some reason that triggers something where that person hears things as slightly brighter. I don’t know, I have no idea how it works or what is happening. But I do think that for whatever reason, people can legitimately hear differences where others can not.

The question of are those differences really there in the first place is the thorny bit though, and for that I still turn to the cold hard science of digital audio. Maybe one day we’ll have a better way of describing and measuring sound.

Ultimately though, it’s a dumb fucking thing to argue about no matter what. If you can’t make a great professional sounding track in ANY modern DAW, it’s not the tool’s fault.

 

🙂

The New Studio Desk

For awhile now I’ve been thinking about building a new desk for my studio, one that would be custom-designed for my own personal needs.  In the past I’ve maintained two separate set ups in all of my studios, the main work area where I do all of my critical mastering work and most of my writing, and a separate set up for DJing and working on my live sets.  I’ve never been able to really get into the mindset of performing while sitting down, so this second set up has always been based around a taller table I could stand up at.  You can see the last set up I did like this here:

LastOldDeskShot

 

What I really wanted was a way to combine those two set ups into one area though, as well as giving me a way to take my OCD with hiding any cables to new heights (err… pun intended, as you’ll see).  Last year I saw a really cool height-adjustable desk that Argosy was making, but it was way bigger than I needed for my studio, and super expensive as well.  But it gave me the idea that perhaps an adjustable desk was the way forward, I just needed to figure out how to build.

The biggest hold up was trying to find actuators that would strong and stable enough to support not only the desk and my gear, but also the Event Opals I use for monitoring too.  No easy task considering the Opals are something like 80 lbs each!  After a lot of thought and research, I decided it just wasn’t practical, so I shelved the idea temporarily.

As luck would have it, I ran into a solution that I felt would work perfectly while out shopping for furniture with the wife.  One store had a sit/stand workstation designed by Jesper that caught my eye:

Jesper Sit Stand Desk

I had seen other desks like this before, but most were still pretty cheap feeling for my needs, they just didn’t look like they would last long.  This one however had a weight rating that met my needs (rated at 300 lbs), and more importantly it was incredible solid.  It lacked some of the functionality I had originally wanted, but I knew I could build what I needed later on.

Of course, it still didn’t solve the issue of how to raise and lower my Opals, but at this point I don’t think there IS a good solution for that yet.  In the end I decided to just move my HR824’s so that they could still be used for monitoring while working on my live material.  I had to redesign their stands a little to fit closer to the Opals, but it was the best solution for the issue.  Just use two sets of monitors, duh.

After that it was time to get rid of the old Ikea desk, and then build the new one.  Briefly thought about mastering with no desk, just via iPad control on my chair, but it felt too weird:

DeskBuild01

Time to get building!  Overall I felt desk was really well designed and easy to put together.  Heavy S.O.B. though, especially the legs with the electric actuators.

DeskBuild02

Because I was trying to minimize my studio downtime (work has been steady for awhile now), I just hooked everything back up asap when I was done so I could get back to work.  For awhile I lived with things like this, cables everywhere, still using the racks on the floor.  For the most part I just thought of it as having completed Phase 1 of the project, which gave me time to figure out how I wanted to tackle Phase 2.

DeskBuild03

I really wanted to get everything off the floor and have it attached to the underside of the desk.  That way when I raised or lowered the desk, I didn’t need to worry about cables being too short, or just the cluttered way it looked.  That meant building a rack for the power supplies (Monster Pro2500, and I bought a new Monster Pro3500), compartments for my hard drives, and shelving to allow me to hide all the cabling.  I also wanted to keep the same sort of aesthetic of the current desk, so I factored that into my plans as well.

You can see the separate shelf I built here, after one coat of paint:

DeskBuild04

I attached it to the underside of the original desk top with L-brackets and lots of screws.  The black box to the left is the brains of the electric actuators for the legs:

DeskBuild05

Here it is attached and ready to flip over.  The tape on the floor is just to mark where the desk was before, I had worked with it in that spot long enough that I knew I didn’t want to change things:

DeskBuild06

And here’s the final pictures, first with the desk down for mastering, and second when it’s raised up for my performance-based work (or just when I want to stand and check email, etc).  The switch to raise or lower the desk is just a pair of buttons under the left front section of the tabletop.  The range is huge, it goes low enough I can sit on the floor and work, or almost over my head.  The cables running off the back of the desk are the power cords for the Monster power supplies.  They go into an APC1500 UPS module that’s under a custom sound barrier I made for it in the lower right.

Mastering

Perform

I’m really happy with the way things turned out, it’s a really versatile desk for both my professional and personal studio needs.  Ended up looking better than I expected too, I’m always a little nervous tackling important woodworking projects like this.  It pays to go slow I’ve learned 🙂

Anyway, I know some people were curious about the desk I was building, so there’s all the details.  If you have any questions about the desk or build process, just ask in the comments and I’ll get right to it.

Tarekith Interview – December 2012

Hey everyone, earlier this month I gave a 30 minute interview to one of my mixdown clients who’s starting his own blog.  We talk about  a lot of different topics, from playing live, to mastering, moving across the country, plus I give a bunch of production tips.  Check it out and let me know what you think:

http://kylebolt.com/tarekith-interview

Oops, and sorry for the audio glitches in a few spots, Skype was acting up that day.  🙂

———————

I also wanted to thank everyone for their kind words about my new album “Epoch” that got released last week.   I wanted to apologise to those of you who tried to buy the FLAC or WAV file versions from Addictech and were told it was Out Of Stock.  That issue has been resolved now, and you can also grab those file formats from the new Bandcamp page I just added too (HINT: it’s only $7 for any format there).  Here’s the easiest places to find the album, click the name for the links:

 

 

Track Consulting Service

Back by popular demand from many of my clients, I am once again offering a Track Consulting service in addition to the normal Mastering and Mixdown services I provide.  For $20 a song I’ll take a listen to your track on my mastering rig and let you know if I hear issues in the mixdown, or just general areas of the track I think could be improved.  Of course I will continue to offer free mixdown advice prior to mastering (if needed) for all of my mastering clients.  This option is for people who perhaps aren’t ready for professional mastering and just want an experienced, and unbiased 3rd party opinion on their tracks.  Please visit the website for more details:

http://innerportalstudio.com/track-consulting

New and Updated Production Guides

Over the last few months I’ve had a number of people request PDF versions of my Production Guides and Tutorials, mainly for storing and referencing on their iOS devices.  I apologize that it took me so long to get this done, but things have been pretty busy here lately to say the least!

But, at long last I now have all of the PDF versions completed and online here:

http://tarekith.com/tutorials-and-reviews/

I tried to make the PDFs nicer looking than the html versions, a few more pictures and some nicer formatting mainly.  In case anyone is curious, I actually used Pages on my iPad2 to create all these, and I have to say it was really easy to use.  Never thought I’d prefer to use an iPad app over a Desktop one for this sort of thing, but it was much quicker in this case. Pretty impressive actually for only $9.99!

There’s also two brand new Guides I just finished as well, one on creating space and depth in your mixes (previously a blog post here) and one on working with other musicians.  Just some helpful tips people might find useful.   🙂

As always if you spot any errors or notice something that needs correcting, please let me know and I’ll do my best to correct it asap.