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  • Mastering: what to do?

    Hi all!

     I'm an amateur using several different VSL libraries as well as Vienna MIR Pro 24. I have a couple of questions that are probably so basic that they are hardly worth the attention of most of you, but I thought I would just ask anyway. (Maybe the answers are a lot shorter and simpler than the questions)

     So I'm starting to create my own pieces now, slowly discovering what sounds natural and what does not, in terms of arrangements. It's ongoing but at least it's going and I'm really enjoying it. There is another step though in the process where I get stuck, because I don't really know what to do.

     Being an amateur, I will never produce audio for professional use. Instead the goal is to be able to send resulting audio file to friends and say "What do you think?" or maybe even post it on Facebook when I'm in a narcistic mood. I  have come to understand that that means that you have to change your audio or mix or whatever in such a way that it translates well to other people’s devices they are using to listen to your audio. As it stands now, when I listen to the audio file on my own HiFi setup in the living room, it doesn’t sound very good (Denon AVR with Keff pilar speakers). Same goes for when I listen to it on the studio monitors (Yamaha HS-8). In both cases, random reference files from John Williams soundtracks sound much better.

     My own file only sounds right when I listen to it on headphones (BeyerDynamic DT 880). On the studio monitors, three problems mainly: the strings sound too sharp and lack warmth, the low frequencies seem much to soft now (although these systems usually have no problem producing a good bass at all) and it sounds sort of muddy, like it has become much harder to distinguish the different instruments.

     I’m using MIR Pro as the venue (Vienna Konzerthaus Grosser Sahl) and use the presets made by VSL for placement, width and EQ for all the different instruments. So basically I can’t really go wrong with that, right?

    I have learned that:

        - I should have mixed using the studio monitors and not the headphones

        - All the other things should be handled in a set of changes referred to as mastering

     I have tried a simple EQ on the main output to give the lower frequencies a boost and dim the high frequencies a bit. That gives a definite improvement on the studio monitors and the HiFi set, but now it sounds less good on the headphones, with too much base.

     1) Is it not possible to create an audio file that translates well to both a Hifi set and headphones? Or have I done something wrong?

    2) I’m wondering why I should even have to, given the fact that I’m using the different presets from VSL for EQ on each instruments. Is it common to have to make these kind of changes to the resulting audio file? EQ has a big impact on the realism of the sound of an instrument and I don’t want to mess up what VSL has taken so much time to perfect. I want to do it justice.

     On many websites, compression is mentioned as a remedy to the muddiness. I read a lot about it and listened to many examples, but I’m wondering how much of all this really applies to the type of music we are making with the VSL libraries. The examples usually deal with modern music and “giving the bass drum more oomph”  is not what I’m looking for. But, since there were a couple of high peaks that were annoying when listening on the monitors, I decided to give it a go anyway. Well, it worked to get those peaks down so I could get the overall loudness up. But it didn’t really improve the sound, though. Might as well have done this by changing the mix while using the monitors, as I should have done.

     3) Do you guys use compression on the audio file or within Vienna Ensemble Pro  maybe as a plugin on each separate instrument? Does it improve the sound? I have also heard people say that, when you have to use compression a lot with our type of music, you just didn’t control your velocity and/or mixing well enough and I’m sort of leaning to that opinion right now.

     Another possible explanation for the muddiness might be that the stereo width seems to be larger in the John Williams reference files. So the instruments are spread apart more. To be honest, the stereo width in these files, could, in real life, only be achieved by standing right next to the conductor, which I’m sure isn’t allowed in the Grosser Sahl. :-)  So I guess it is a type of realism that can only be heard in movies but not in concert halls.  I could change the microphone position and place it right on top of the conductor and see what happens.

     4) But I’m just curious how much stereo width you guys usually go for. Any comments?

     5) Any other suggestions for solving the three main problems I have while listening through the studio monitors?

     Thanks!


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    Hi Vtimmerm,

    @Another User said:

    So I guess it is a type of realism that can only be heard in movies but not in concert halls.

    Very true!

    Sorry for the slightly delayed reply - I have to admit that I was hoping to see answers from fellow forumites. 😉

    I think I understand what you're asking for, but the truth is: There's no simple answer to your questions. 

    You've reached a level of insight to be able to see / to hear that there's something missing, but you can't spot the proper tools or decide upon the next step. That's quite an achievement, but it's also a somewhat awkward position, because there are no ready-mades that will magically make your issues disappear. They _might_ help to get you started, but no library, no collection of presets, but also no "better" speakers, headphones or studio hardware will compensate for a lack of experience. 

    Regarding your questions: A good listening environment is indeed the key for any music production that is meant to "translate" to the outside world. Although there _are_ people who are able to mix properly with headphones they are a rare exception. You need some kind of "white screen" to judge colours correctly, and that's what a good monitoring system in a treated room is meant to be: A reference. Hifi boxes and/or cans won't cut it, most likely.

    As the guy who created most of the EQ presets you were referring to I can assure you that I did my best to come up with useful settings, but of course I have no way to know in which context you're actually using them. So it's again a question of your own judgement to choose presets that fit the task at hand - which brings us back to routine and proper monitoring.

    Stereo width is especially hard to judge on headphones due to the dreaded "in-head-localization" of sound sources. A good starting point is to use the whole stereo width, while trying to avoid too much out-of-phase content. A goniometer (a.k.a. "Vectorscope") makes it easier to judge. 

    Audio processors like compressors and the like are might tools when used properly, but don't thing that you _have_ to use any of them "just because". As long as you don't really feel/hear the need for a certain kind of acoustic intervention, it might happen that you do more harm than good.

    ... maybe fellow users will chime in with more food for thought now. 😉

    All the best,


    /Dietz - Vienna Symphonic Library
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    Check out the book Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio It's fantastic and is the equivelant of a two semester college course in mixing for $42! It starts with setting up your mixing room and speakers, and why you shouldn't mix with headphones. Then goes onto to cover the use of eq, compression, reverb and other effects. It's all very practical information, that not only teaches you how to use effects, but why you should or shouldn't use them, how to use them to fix problems, and importantly how to mix in a time effective manner.


  • Hi Dietz,

    Thanks for your reply. I was already afraid there weren't going to be clear answers. I think I'll just continue to experiment then and see if I can gain some experience. 

    Appreciate you taken the time to reply, though! 


  • Hi mschmitt,

    Thanks for the suggestion. It certainly looked interesting so I went ahead and ordered it. (Kindle version was only 28 Euro's.)

    Lets see what I can learn from that!


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    @Another User said:

      On many websites, compression is mentioned as a remedy to the muddiness.

    Compression shouldn't be looked to as any kind of panacea. Always have a reason to use compression.
    One cause of the muddy is conflicting frequences in the same space of the stereo field.

    But a stronger (misleading) bass signal in your 'phones has ramifications in more than the range of the fundamentals, you'll have a false picture of their resonances/overtones as well.


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    @vtimmerm said:

    Hi all!

     I'm an amateur using several different VSL libraries as well as Vienna MIR Pro 24. I have a couple of questions that are probably so basic that they are hardly worth the attention of most of you, but I thought I would just ask anyway. (Maybe the answers are a lot shorter and simpler than the questions)

     So I'm starting to create my own pieces now, slowly discovering what sounds natural and what does not, in terms of arrangements. It's ongoing but at least it's going and I'm really enjoying it. There is another step though in the process where I get stuck, because I don't really know what to do.

     Being an amateur, I will never produce audio for professional use. Instead the goal is to be able to send resulting audio file to friends and say "What do you think?" or maybe even post it on Facebook when I'm in a narcistic mood. I  have come to understand that that means that you have to change your audio or mix or whatever in such a way that it translates well to other people’s devices they are using to listen to your audio. As it stands now, when I listen to the audio file on my own HiFi setup in the living room, it doesn’t sound very good (Denon AVR with Keff pilar speakers). Same goes for when I listen to it on the studio monitors (Yamaha HS-8). In both cases, random reference files from John Williams soundtracks sound much better.

     My own file only sounds right when I listen to it on headphones (BeyerDynamic DT 880). ....

     5) Any other suggestions for solving the three main problems I have while listening through the studio monitors?

     Thanks!

    Hello Vtimmerm
    Basically, you are on the right way. You listen with different monitors (loudspeakers, headphones,...), you compare your sound with real orchestras,... and you realise that it sounds different, at least when you listen through your speakers and your headphones. The headphones seem to sound closer to what you expect or think is correct.

    I offer to analyse your mix (for free of course) and send you feedback on what you could try to change to get a better result - if it is necessary to change something.

    The best thing is to send me an mp3-file of an excerpt where you think I can best hear that something is wrong.

    But before you send anything, I would listen to different audio examples to see if this could be the sound you want with VSL. If it doesn't correspond, you don't have to send anything.

    By the way, here you can download many small orchestra pieces (played with VSL samples) - without any effect for sound comparison.

    All the best

    Beat


    - Tips & Tricks while using Samples of VSL.. see at: https://www.beat-kaufmann.com/vitutorials/ - Tutorial "Mixing an Orchestra": https://www.beat-kaufmann.com/mixing-an-orchestra/
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    @vtimmerm said:

     4) But I’m just curious how much stereo width you guys usually go for. Any comments?

    Dear Vtimmerm - me again - this time to your point 4)VSL provides us users with most of the instruments that can be found in an orchestra. VSL gives us different stages, different presets. And now it's up to us to create the sound we want or the one we imagine. Now your questions arise: Compress dynamics? How much EQ?, How much stereo width? How much reality?

    Luckily everyone is their own sound builder. If the sound is not intended to appeal to a wide audience or if you have to earn money with it, then everything is allowed. One wants to recreate the reality of the 15th row in the Konzerthaus, the other the way the conductor would hear it. But of course one thing must be clear. Most of us have the two stereo channels and speakers or headphones that can never reproduce the power of a symphony orchestra. If you've ever stood next to a tubular bell when the musician hits it with a mallet and then you're thinking about your PC speakers at home, then it's clear that all the way from the tubular bell to the PC speakers probably is has to be compressed a bit... - at least if you want to create the virtual reality "as close as possible to the orchestra" 😉 On the other hand, anyone who has ever made a stereo recording in row 15, in the middle of the audience, won't really enjoy what we can hear at home.

    Then there is another component that comes into play: Actually, it is not our ears and all the theories on acoustics that hear, but our brain. It has gotten used to how canned concerts sound over time. When we listen to music at home or on the go today, it should sound within certain standards in order for us to be satisfied. 

    To cut a long story short A): With our mixes we always create a virtual concert atmosphere, which also depends on the limitations (2 channels, dynamic range, etc.) It's up to us again to decide what kind of atmosphere we want to create. Since I run a recording studio that mainly records live concerts, I also had to think about what my recordings should convey to the customer:
    I decided that the customer should hear as many details as possible and still have a good overview of the whole event. So I decided that they should get a series of 2-3 shots from me and not one like from the balcony. That would perhaps be more balanced at all times in the different volumes, but much less detailed because of the distance. That's why customers have been ordering me for this rather "near" virtual concert reality for almost 20 years. Example 1 / Example 2 / more

    To cut a long story short B): Your question about stereo width. It's up to you how far to the right or left you want your horns to blow from. If it benefits the virtual concert atmosphere why not. By the way, if you listen to the original Jurassic Park music, you'll notice that all the brass is placed more to the right and all of the strings are more to the left, and the woodwinds are more centered. Of course, this leads to a totally transparent mix at the expense of the not quite "correct", classic line-up.
    The sound counts here and nobody cares in the cinema whether everyone was sitting in the classic way.

    Sorry for getting a little long.

    Beat


    - Tips & Tricks while using Samples of VSL.. see at: https://www.beat-kaufmann.com/vitutorials/ - Tutorial "Mixing an Orchestra": https://www.beat-kaufmann.com/mixing-an-orchestra/