New Dither Examples

A few years ago I produced some audio examples of different types of dither, so that people could more easily hear what dither does and what a couple of different dithering options sound like.   As there are even more options for dithering algorithms these days, I figured it was time to update my examples and talk a little bit about what seems to be one of the more confusing aspects of music production for people.  You can download all of the audio examples and graphs I’ll be talking about here:

http://innerportalstudio.com/files/DitherExamples.zip

For these examples, I used a 24bit sample of a ride cymbal with some reverb applied.  I then converted this to 16bit wav files in various DAWs using the dithering options they offer.  Specifically:

– Rectangular, Triangular, POW-r1, POW-r2, POW-r3 from Ableton Live 9.

– The only dithering option in Presonus Studio One.

– UV22HR from Apple Logic Pro X, though it also offers the same POW-r options that Live does.

– Goodhertz dithering from Audiofile Engineering Triumph.

In addition, I also created a 16bit wav file version using no dithering at all, this is called truncating.

The next step was to cut off the all but the very end of the reverb tails of these files, and normalize the remaining portion to -0.5dBFS.  This was done because dither noise is extremely quiet, with all but it’s very peaks around -96dBFS, well below the noise floor of most playback equipment.  Boosting only the tails of the audio files allowed me to raise the overall level of the files to make the dither noise itself audible at normal listening volumes.  These files are located in the folder called “Dithered Ride Tails”.

I recommend listening to the truncated version first, so you can hear what it is we’re trying to achieve with dithering in the first place.  At the very end of the truncated sample, you can hear what sounds like digital noise as the least significant bit toggles on and off trying to replicate the very quiet end of the reverb fading out to silence.  By adding dither noise, we make this last little bit of fade out much smoother and more natural sounding, at the expense of a very tiny bit of noise.

Remember, in these examples I’ve boosted this noise A LOT just to make it audible, in normal use, it’s so quiet as to be almost completely inaudible.  Plus there’s some tricks with dithering to reduce how much of it we hear even more, which I’ll talk about shortly.

I included the full length ride samples without trimming or normalizing as well, in case anyone wants them to hear how dither sounds in more real world situation.  You’ll find them in the folder called “Original Rides”.  Though I highly doubt that many people will be able to hear the dither at all, even on what is arguably one of these best examples for demonstrating it’s purpose.  It’s just extremely quiet, just imagine trying to hear it on a full mix!

In addition to the ride cymbal sample, I also created a 24bit sample of nothing but silence.  This was also converted to 16bit using the above dithering options, but in this case it was so I could provide FFT analyzer images of just the dithering noise itself for visual comparison.  I used DMG Audio’s Dualism plug-in for the FFT analysis.  The scale was set from 20Hz to 20kHz, and from 0 to -144dBFS (effectively 24bits) to make the shape of the dithering algorithms easier to see.  Keep in mind that a 16bit file has only a range to -96dBFS when you look at the graphs, so anything below that will be discarded.  All the graphs are unsurprisingly located in the folder labeled “Graphs”, and you can see them below too (click each for full-sized versions):

UV22HRUV22HR

Studio One Dither
Studio One

Live TriangularAbleton Live Triangular

Live RectangularAbleton Live Rectangular

GoodhertzGoodheartz

POW-r 1POW-r1

POW-r 2POW-r2

POW-r 3POW-r3

Why are they shaped differently?  That’s one of the tricks I mentioned earlier.  Since our ear is most sensitive around the 2kHz range, the dither noise in the various algorithms is created to be stronger in the frequencies away from this sensitive area.  Most of the time it’s boosted way up by 20kHz, beyond the range of most human hearing, but the actual shape and slope of the boost varies depending the algorithm.

Each manufacturer has what they consider the ideal way of doing this, sometimes, in the case of POW-r, with different options for different kinds of music. You can hear this in the subtle tonality of the noise in some of the different dither examples, as well as seeing the exact shape in the graphs I provided.  Some of the options like Ableton’s Triangular and Rectangular dithers are almost perfectly flat, however that doesn’t mean they are less effective.

Ideally this gives the producer the flexibility to choose the dithering that best suits their material on a song by song basis.  But again, this noise is so incredibly quiet that for most music, you’ll never hear it.  Which is ideal anyway, as dither was created to be as inaudible as possible in the first place.  I’ll admit that as a mastering engineer, even I rarely audition different dithers, since with most material there’s no audible difference anyway.

Once in awhile I’ll get a very dynamic song with lots of quiet passages, certain ambient or even orchestral songs fit this category.  In those cases I might try out a few different dithering options, though even then the differences can be almost impossible to hear, even in my studio.

The point of all this is make you realize that while dithering does fulfill a useful role in the audio production process, it’s arguably the least important aspect and isn’t something people should worry too much about.  Certainly add dither if you can when you’re rendering your mixdown or master to a 16bit file at the end of the writing process, but don’t lose sleep over which dithering option is the best.  The differences are incredibly subtle, even to those people with well-trained hearing, and in almost all cases the dither is so far below the noise floor of any playback chain that no one will hear what dither you used, or even if you used it at all.

I hope this helped you not only understand why we use dither, but also highlight some of the differences in the various options available to us.

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

And That’s A Wrap!

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Well, it was a bit of a marathon session this week trying to get everyone’s projects wrapped up before the shut down, but I’m happy to say everything is done and it’s time to start packing.  Well, I’m not happy about having to pack up the studio, but it’ll be nice to have one less thing to worry about before the movers come on Friday.

So, as of now, Inner Portal Studio is officially closed for approximately 8 weeks.  I’ll be sure to post when I’m ready to start accepting tracks for mastering again.  In the meantime you can follow me on Facebook if you want to keep up with the move, and setting up a studio in a new country:

https://www.facebook.com/ErikMagrini.Tarekith

I want to thank everyone who offered good wishes with the move, it’s been great working with you all over the last few years!

Peace and beats,
Erik

Electribe Video Review

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Finally got a chance to record my video review and walkthrough of the new electribe, hope some people find this useful!

http://youtu.be/KF9DK2eQOdw

Hopefully over the coming weeks I can do a few more indepth videos on different aspects of the electribe.  This should give people a decent overview of how it works and what it can do sound-wise.

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

2 For 1 Mastering

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At long last we finally have a date for our move to Luxembourg, which means only a few short weeks to keep the studio up and running.  The last day I will be able to accept any mastering jobs will be January 21th, any mixdowns I will need to have by January 16th to make sure I can complete them in time.  If all goes well I’ll back up and running roughly 6-8 weeks after that, though I’ve been warned by the moving company it could take up to 3 months.

I know for some of my regular clients this is an inconvenience, so in order to help you get as many of your tracks as possible mastered before I leave, I’m going to be offering 2 for 1 mastering until the 21st.  This applies to regular mastering only, stem-mastering and mixdowns are still the normal rate.  Hopefully this helps make up for any hassles with your release schedules in the coming weeks.

Just select the normal 1 track mastering payment option when you send me your 2 tracks via the links here:

http://innerportalstudio.com/mastering/

Thanks everyone, looking forward to working on your tracks one last time while still officially a Seattleite!

Erik

Electribe 5 Days In

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Well, it’s been a busy week getting everything prepped for the big move still, but I’ve been trying to get as much time on the Electribe as possible. Overall it’s been a super fun experience, and I’m really starting to feel like the new Electribe could be my new main instrument for some time to come. Given all the gear I’ve been through this year trying to find “the one”, that’s a great feeling.

Now that I’ve had more time to get deeper into the synthesis options, I’m getting more and more confident that there’s a lot of sound design capabilities. The Mod section in particular really adds a lot of animation to your sounds, especially when you start adding in motion sequencing too. One of the few downsides of the Mod section is that a lot of the BPM synced LFO are also key sync so the cycle starts with each note on. Not a huge deal since there’s unsynced LFOs that can run freely, and happily the rate on these goes super low for really long evolving sounds.

One of the few frustrations I’ve been having is with editing my sequences after I’ve recorded something. The Electribe has a Step Editor for this exact task, which allows you to change a note’s pitch, velocity, or the gate time (note length). Unfortunately it seems that because you can’t have a note longer than one step, really long chords and the like are recorded as tied notes. This makes it hard to see which step has the actual note trigger, and which ones are tied. I still need to dive into this a little more, but for now it’s just been easier to delete the part and just record it again. More to come on this.

I’m still exploring the basics of Pattern creation at the moment, so I haven’t had a chance to do much from a live performance standpoint. I’ve been experimenting a little with how to do transitions from one pattern to the next, mainly using master effect delays. If you set a really long decay time for the delays (and use the same delay for both patterns), you can do a decent bit of blending to smooth out the transitions. Unfortunately the Hold button on the Touch Pad doesn’t seem to work when you switch patterns, so you need to keep your finger on the trackpad to keep the delay effect on and at the same level. Still, better than nothing and at least it’s s starting point.

In happier news, it was recently discovered that you can connect an iPad or iPhone to the Electribe via the camera connection kit, and the Electribe will show up on the iPad and a MIDI source and destination. This means you can sequence your iPad apps from the Electribe, or use an iOS MIDI app to enter notes on the Electribe instead of the Trigger Pad. ThumbJam and Genome users should be happy with this!

Especially when you realize you can then route the audio from the iPad into the Electribe, either directly through untouched, or to be effected by the Electribe effects. Since each part on the Electribe can host its own Audio Input OSC, that means in theory you could have 16 different effects processing the audio input signal in parallel, all at once. Sweet. I starting to think the Electribe and my iPad running Gadget could be a pretty awesome live combo!

I’m still trying to get a video review and some audio examples done asap, so hopefully I’ll have some more info soon. Stay tuned!

Tarekith

A Better electribe Default Pattern

I felt some of the settings in the stock Korg electribe default patterns (upper 200’s of the Pattern list) were a bit odd, so I made a new default of my own. Thought some people might want it, feel free to use it or modify it as you want.

To use it, place the file in the “KORG -> electribe” folder on your SD card. Then in the Data Utility menu, select Import Pattern, choose the card as the source, and then use the data encoder and Enter button to navigate to where the Pattern File is. By default it’s set to load into Pattern location 001, just change the file name to the correct number if you want it somewhere else. Here’s the file:

http://innerportalstudio.com/files/ElectribeInit.zip

A few of the things I changed:

– Length set to 4.
– Pattern Level set to 100.
– Chord Set changed to 4 for all Parts
– Gate Arp set to pattern 28 for all Parts.
– Groove Type changed to laidback for all Parts.
– The lower row of Trigger Pads are set up with the first drum type from each category, and all Voice Assigns set to Mono2.
– The upper row of Trigger Pads are set up with a mix of the different OSC types, and all Voice Assigns are set to Poly2.
– Trigger Pad Velocity and Scale Mode turned on for all Parts.

In addition, I set up all Parts to have a default Level of 64 to give some more headroom. I also switched the Insert Effect to the “Delay 1/4” effect for all parts, I just personally reach for distortions very infrequently.

Anyway, fixes some of the obvious ones like Trigger Pad Velocity and it also gives you more headroom to play with. Hope it helps.

Mixing & Mastering in the 21st Century

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12PM PST – Mixing and Mastering in the 21st Century  | Jake Perrine and Erik “Tarekith” Magrini

“As technology continues to advance, so do the practices for delivery in the audio industry.  With many producers working entirely on their own, how do we deliver the highest quality product we can?  Are CDs relevant?  What aout the MP3 and the many online portals for distribution?  Are there any standards we should be following?  Lead Trainer Jake Perrine hosts a conversation with Erik “Tarekith” Magrini, owner and operator of Inner Portal Studio to help you navigate the many pitfalls of mixing and mastering your own music.”

I hope some of you can stop in for the session!

Tarekith

Mastering Trends

bassNow that I have been mastering other people’s music for around 15 years, it’s interesting to look back and reflect on some of the trends I’ve seen come and go over that time. Not so much in terms of musical styles, but rather the mixdowns I’ve been sent. So, how’s does the music I was sent 15 years ago compare to what I get today? Here’s a few examples that stick out in my mind:

1. Bass issues. By far the number one issue I used to deal with when mastering other people’s tracks years ago was the low end. Too much bass, too little bass, bass all over the place. These days it’s still an issue for some people, but the range of extremes seems to be a lot smaller. People generally seem to have a better grasp of what’s happening in the low end of their songs.

I think it’s largely down to studio monitors getting better more than anything. It’s a lot easier and cheaper for producers to buy a fairly accurate monitoring setup for their studio. And more musicians than ever recognize how important it is combined with acoustic treatment.

These days it’s actually the opposite that I find true, people are putting the high end all over the place. Cymbals that will tear your ears off they are so loud, or high hats that are so quiet you can barely hear them. I have no idea why this is happening, but there you go 🙂

2. Tracks lacking stereo spread. Early on I used to get a lot of tracks that were very mono focused, some were straight up completely mono. These days it the opposite, I get so many tracks where everything in the song is panned so far out to the sides, or some type of stereo-widener was over-applied. I’ve gone from spending time to give tracks depth, to working on bringing back some solidity to the center channel.

Lots of stereo effects pushing things really wide, combined with people doing a lot of writing in headphones these days are my guesses to the culprits. Along with people over-applying stereo widening plug ins as I mentioned before. You need the key elements of the song in the center of the mix too!

3. Tracks are clipping or distorted. A pretty common phenomenon early on, people just weren’t used to paying attention to their levels as much as they are now I guess. Or they were DJs used to pinning their signals in the red all the time. Luckily with increased awareness of how to use digital audio, increased use of 24bit audio, and understanding of proper gain staging, this seems to be a lot less of an issue. A few times this year I even got a couple tracks with over 48dB of headroom, oops.

4. Producer confidence. Out of all the trends I’ve seen, this is the one that still surprises me the most. Years ago people would submit tracks and tell me “this is the bomb track, make it really slam for me!” when they submitted a mixdown for mastering. People might not have the best sounding tracks, but boy did they think they did! 🙂

Today I get so many mixdowns where the producer is obviously really insecure with what their work. They apologize for issues that I don’t even hear, or they expect me to send them a detailed mixdown revision list with a ton of fixes. The ironic thing is, usually these mixdowns sound great, fantastic even! I’m not sure if producers are just under more pressure to compete among themselves or what is causing this lack of confidence. The music sounds vastly better, but everyone expects that their work really sounds bad. Weird. Heads up, chins up, have some faith in your music people!

Anyway, that’s just a few things off the top of my head. It’s kind of interesting being in a position like this long enough to even see a trend in music making, here’s to hoping I can do another post like this ten years from now. Who knows what we’ll be seeing then!