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Author Topic: Digital summing saturation = myth?  (Read 11241 times)

Hanjong Ko

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Digital summing saturation = myth?
« on: February 27, 2009, 08:24:21 am »

I know that this issue has been discussed to death all over many forums, and always thought that it was a myth.  That digital summing is just summing of numbers.  However, there are also many people who believe in this theory of lots of tracks will saturate digital bus and cause degradation of audio quality), even many professionals.  Could someone PLEASE explain why this is a myth or not?

Thanks and please no bullshit.
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compasspnt

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2009, 08:43:24 am »

I can't "do the match," but I personally think there *might* be a little something to it.

I do believe that any "digital problems" can be mitigated, and to a large extent, by keeping levels reasonably lower.

If you haven't yet, do read the "DAW...Desks" Sticky thread here above, and the "Digital tracking...low levels" Sticky at the top of Whatever Works.

This all leads me to believe, again not from mathematical expertise, but rather from empirical observation, that numbers are intrinsically involved.

I would venture to *guess* therefore that, the more tracks you have, the lower the levels should actually be...?
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Hanjong Ko

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2009, 12:07:50 pm »

Hmm I wonder if anyone actually knows.  I had an ironic experience when testing power cables.  I thought they weren't supposed to make much difference in sound theoretically(not sure if this is valid tho), my experience differed.  I found them not to be transparent so I came back to cheap power cables, but I am really curious.
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Andy Peters

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2009, 05:10:33 pm »

Hanjong Ko wrote on Fri, 27 February 2009 06:24

I know that this issue has been discussed to death all over many forums, and always thought that it was a myth.  That digital summing is just summing of numbers.  However, there are also many people who believe in this theory of lots of tracks will saturate digital bus and cause degradation of audio quality), even many professionals.  Could someone PLEASE explain why this is a myth or not?


Of course digital summing can overload, in the same way an analog mix bus overloads -- too much signal.

You can overload an analog summing bus by mixing lots of tracks too.

Now the smart DSP engineer can ensure that a digital mix bus does not overload for a reasonable number of tracks by appropriate scaling and such. But the smart analog circuit engineer can ensure that an analog mix bus does not overload for a reasonable number of tracks by appropriate scaling and such.

If the person mixing insists on running a hundred tracks, each at Full Tilt Boogie, the mix bus will overload. Regardless of whether the mix is digital or analog. And both will sound like ass.

-a
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Hanjong Ko

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2009, 08:52:10 pm »

So regardless of how many tracks are used on a digital bus, as long as not clipping, there isn't quality loss?  Because there are people who says "When you mix digitally in your PC, you can lose information and sound quality."  I am actually quoting that from Dangerous 2-BUS product overview on their website.
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Andy Peters

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2009, 10:36:57 pm »

Hanjong Ko wrote on Sat, 28 February 2009 18:52

So regardless of how many tracks are used on a digital bus, as long as not clipping, there isn't quality loss?  Because there are people who says "When you mix digitally in your PC, you can lose information and sound quality."  I am actually quoting that from Dangerous 2-BUS product overview on their website.


It's the same thing as mixing in analog.

At some point, if you want to mix two or three or four dozen inputs (depending on console design), you need to keep the channel faders down so that you don't overload the summing amps. It really is as simple as that.

Dangerous just wants to sell you their little mixer. Excuse me, "summing bus."

-a
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Hanjong Ko

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2009, 11:03:25 am »

I think I understand now.  Thanks all!  Some really good threads here.
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Ian Visible

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #7 on: March 19, 2009, 10:04:48 am »

How does "in the box" or digital summing work?

I can imagine how it works in the real world in air but I can't get my head round digital summing...or I'm trying to make it more complicated than it is.

jimmyjazz

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2009, 02:41:20 pm »

It's arithmetic, but unlike arithmetic with a pencil and paper, arithmetic in a computer has a maximum allowable value, since numbers have a finite length (# of bits) in that world.  Add too many numbers together and exceed that length?  Clippage.  

Imagine going to the grocery store with $200, but you take $210 worth of groceries to the cashier.  You ain't getting that 12-pack of Sierra Nevada, and consequently, you distort.

(I am actually ashamed of my simplistic explanation and my lousy metaphor, but hey, I'm watching college basketball and this was all I could muster.)
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Steve Hudson

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #9 on: March 22, 2009, 10:52:41 am »

jimmyjazz wrote on Thu, 19 March 2009 13:41

Imagine going to the grocery store with $200, but you take $210 worth of groceries to the cashier.  You ain't getting that 12-pack of Sierra Nevada, and consequently, you distort.


Brilliant analogy. And my favorite beer.
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Tomas Danko

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2009, 05:43:52 am »

Steve Hudson wrote on Sun, 22 March 2009 14:52

jimmyjazz wrote on Thu, 19 March 2009 13:41

Imagine going to the grocery store with $200, but you take $210 worth of groceries to the cashier.  You ain't getting that 12-pack of Sierra Nevada, and consequently, you distort.


Brilliant analogy. And my favorite beer.



But which one? Smile

Pepperwood Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Clone
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Andy Peters

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #11 on: March 28, 2009, 02:32:12 am »

Ian Visible wrote on Thu, 19 March 2009 07:04

How does "in the box" or digital summing work?

I can imagine how it works in the real world in air but I can't get my head round digital summing...or I'm trying to make it more complicated than it is.


It's really quite simple.

As in, simple addition.

With attention paid to overflow and word size.

-a
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Jon Hodgson

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2009, 07:10:02 pm »

Right now I hate Waves, since I'm typing half of this behind their advert.

Since programming DSP is something I do for a living, I think I'm reasoably qualified to answer this question.

There are two reasons why a digital summer might saturate, the first is a hardware limitation in the numerical format, the second intentioal.

Let's deal with the first one, the numerical format. There are three main ways of storing numbers in digital form, integer, fixed point, and floating point. Now for the purposes of this discussion we can lump integer and fixed point together (in fact integer is a special case of fixed point really).

In the case of a fixed point addition, the range of numbers that can be stored in n bits is +/- 2^(n-1)  (well the positive range is one less than that if anyone wants to be pedantic).

If you exceed that range then depending on the way the adder is implemented it will either saturate, or wrap (really nasty). Avoiding this is conceptually not that different from analogude design, you can reduce signal levels at certain points to prevent saturation, but the more you do that the less signal to noise you will get, so it's a tradeoff, or you can use double words which give you masses more headroom with no quality loss, but that uses much more processing power (think of that as a bit like an analogue designer having the option to use super-duper-mega-high quality components but them being very expensive).

But actually there aren't many systems which use fixed point processing that I know of. The only ones that spring to mind are Pro-Tools, which these days uses 48 bit words in the mix buss (that's what they introduced when they started calling it Pro Tools-HD) and SAW on the PC, which I think uses 64 bits in interim calculations and 32 bits for storage and busses (note that 32 bits lets you add 256 24 bit signals before you could possibly reach clipping in the worst case).

Most systems on computers use floating point, and in the case of floating point the numbers that can be stored are huge, so you're not going to get accidental saturation.

So that leaves us with the intentional saturation. The thing is that your final output format, be it a DAC or a CD/DVD, is going to have a limited range, so the numbers that are fed to that are going to have to be kept within that range, but avoiding that is just a case of setting your output level correctly.

All of the above basically adds up to the following...

in modern DAWs, so long as you don't see any clipping lights, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.
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compasspnt

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2009, 08:19:34 pm »

Jon, what would you say the trade off is in using floating point?  Or is it a Free Lunch?
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Jon Hodgson

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2009, 09:04:10 pm »

compasspnt wrote on Thu, 02 April 2009 01:19

Jon, what would say the trade off is in using floating point?  Or is it a Free Lunch?



It's not free, but it's generally pretty cheap these days.

You have two issues, accuracy and cost.

Now the accuracy part is a bit swings and roundabouts, for a given word size fixed point can hold the results of calculations with greater accuracy if they fall with a given range, but will be less accurate outside that range.

Personally I would say that it's usually (but not always) easier to get it right with floating point, even though in some cases you could theoretically get it "more" right with the same word width in fixed point.

The cost part is down to the fact that floating point calculations require more things to be done to the bits, so you need more logic circuitry and/or more processing time. This has become less of an issue over time (some people may remember when the floating point coprocessor was an extra cost option in a PC, these days you can't buy an x86 processor that doesn't have a couple of 80 bit floating point units AND a SIMD 32/64 bit unit on each core.

The reduced cost of processing as a whole means that these days the option of using double width for calculations in both formats is a lot more viable.

Basically this stuff is an issue for me when I'm tryinng to implement an AAC decoder on a low power DSP with 40,000 gates... but much less of an issue if I'm working with a desktop processor with a few 100 million gates.
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Jay Kadis

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #15 on: April 02, 2009, 11:04:31 am »

Jon Hodgson wrote on Wed, 01 April 2009 16:10


All of the above basically adds up to the following...

in modern DAWs, so long as you don't see any clipping lights, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.
I agree in theory, but I have noticed mixing in Logic that relatively higher levels sometimes results in audible distortion even though the level indicators remain below the red.  Other mixes sound OK at the same level.  This may have to do with plug-ins employed and/or their interface to the main DAW software or some other issue, but distortion does indeed seem to occur.  Lowering all the channel levels eliminates the problem.

Jon Hodgson

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #16 on: April 02, 2009, 11:38:39 am »

Jay Kadis wrote on Thu, 02 April 2009 16:04

Jon Hodgson wrote on Wed, 01 April 2009 16:10


All of the above basically adds up to the following...

in modern DAWs, so long as you don't see any clipping lights, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.
I agree in theory, but I have noticed mixing in Logic that relatively higher levels sometimes results in audible distortion even though the level indicators remain below the red.  Other mixes sound OK at the same level.  This may have to do with plug-ins employed and/or their interface to the main DAW software or some other issue, but distortion does indeed seem to occur.  Lowering all the channel levels eliminates the problem.


You would need to look into where the distortion is actually happening, also what the level indicators actually show (they might not show instantaneous peaks).

Where the distortion is almost certainly not happening however is in the mix bus itself, since in logic that's using floats and has obscene headroom. It's either something clipping it before it gets there, or after.
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Ashermusic

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #17 on: April 02, 2009, 11:39:21 am »

Jay Kadis wrote on Thu, 02 April 2009 16:04

Jon Hodgson wrote on Wed, 01 April 2009 16:10


All of the above basically adds up to the following...

in modern DAWs, so long as you don't see any clipping lights, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.
I agree in theory, but I have noticed mixing in Logic that relatively higher levels sometimes results in audible distortion even though the level indicators remain below the red.  Other mixes sound OK at the same level.  This may have to do with plug-ins employed and/or their interface to the main DAW software or some other issue, but distortion does indeed seem to occur.  Lowering all the channel levels eliminates the problem.


In Logic, the signal passes through the channel strip from the top insert to the bottom, so if you have a fixed point plug-in in that chain that is being fed too hot a signal, it certainly can distort. And certainly you can distort the output.

However, assuming that is not going on, if you have pre-fader metering engaged and nothing is going into the red, it is not possible to be creating "distortion" on the channels. For that matter even if it IS going into the red, except for the output, of course.

Still, in my book "Going Pro With Logic Pro 8" and in my private training, I encourage students to observe the good standard mixing practice of controlling the signal at its source so that it is not going into the red.
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cerberus

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #18 on: May 08, 2009, 01:32:14 pm »

compasspnt wrote on Wed, 01 April 2009 20:19

Jon, what would you say the trade off is in using floating point?  Or is it a Free Lunch?


although jon has answered. i find there is a separate, but related issue which
is a consequence of floating point's variable resolution. (32 float
values can have -up to- 23 bits of resolution, but unless the
material is a test tone, not every sample could have the
maximum resolution.) but let's assume that we have
more than enough resolution for our purposes; i
believe there is still another important issue:

with floating point, the noise floor of the system also "floats". i find that
adding some steady low level noise to summing busses in my daw
has a benefit. i do not understand the phenemonon perfectly
well, but after many years of this practice: i am sure that
whatever minor effect i am exploiting is real; and
although it's small,  it's always significant.

(since we are already splitting hairs here,
or are we?  imo,  such subtleties
are why some people with
discerning ears claim
to prefer analogue.)

jeff dinces

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2009, 06:08:12 am »

cerberus wrote on Sat, 09 May 2009 03:32

compasspnt wrote on Wed, 01 April 2009 20:19

Jon, what would you say the trade off is in using floating point?  Or is it a Free Lunch?


although jon has answered. i find there is a separate, but related issue which
is a consequence of floating point's variable resolution. (32 float
values can have -up to- 23 bits of resolution, but unless the
material is a test tone, not every sample could have the
maximum resolution.) but let's assume that we have
more than enough resolution for our purposes; i
believe there is still another important issue:

with floating point, the noise floor of the system also "floats". i find that
adding some steady low level noise to summing busses in my daw
has a benefit. i do not understand the phenemonon perfectly
well, but after many years of this practice: i am sure that
whatever minor effect i am exploiting is real; and
although it's small,  it's always significant.

(since we are already splitting hairs here,
or are we?  imo,  such subtleties
are why some people with
discerning ears claim
to prefer analogue.)

jeff dinces



Very interesting. What kind of noise and how do you introduce it ?

Thanks in advance if you answer.

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cerberus

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #20 on: May 16, 2009, 11:13:03 am »

hi mark;

it's from one of the waves vintage plug-ins, seems to be mostly 60hz line noise.
there is a switch on these plug-ins which can turn off the noise; so it is easy
for anyone to experiment and perhaps discover the effect.

i recorded the noise to a 32 bit file, which i run as a daw track. i can send it
to any summing busses. in order to prevent noise  from building up in
complex chains: i run a polarity-inverted  copy, sent to alternate
busses; i tweak the exact levels carefully by ear.

jeff dinces

Kassonica

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #21 on: May 16, 2009, 07:54:47 pm »

cerberus wrote on Sun, 17 May 2009 01:13

hi mark;

it's from one of the waves vintage plug-ins, seems to be mostly 60hz line noise.
there is a switch on these plug-ins which can turn off the noise; so it is easy
for anyone to experiment and perhaps discover the effect.

i recorded the noise to a 32 bit file, which i run as a daw track. i can send it
to any summing busses. in order to prevent noise  from building up in
complex chains: i run a polarity-inverted  copy, sent to alternate
busses; i tweak the exact levels carefully by ear.

jeff dinces



Much thanks for your answer Jeff.

I'm still trying to get my head around this so bare with me if you can.

Your saying that you run this to your internal (DAW) busses and it helps with the summing process say like (and please correct me if I'm wrong) a kind of dither?

I am truly fascinated by this and any other info would be graciously accepted.

I am a ITB guy and anything I can learn about making the digital process better for me and my clients I'm very interested in.

I don't have the waves plugins, but I'm sure I will have something that will do the trick.

 
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Mark Ludwig

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compasspnt

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #22 on: May 16, 2009, 09:04:42 pm »

Just for fun, try adding a hum track and a noise track to your mix.

Hum from perhaps an old radio or other device that has a steady low (60-ish) hum.

Noise from perhaps a TV set on a blank channel.

Keep them very, very low, just below where you can/can't hear them.

Then see how your 'regular' mix compares to this one with the added artifacts.
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cerberus

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #23 on: May 16, 2009, 11:30:50 pm »

Kassonica wrote on Sat, 16 May 2009 19:54

Your saying that you run this to your internal (DAW) busses and it helps with the summing process say like (and please correct me if I'm wrong) a kind of dither?

that is my anecdotal observation, but it cannot be literally dither.

Kassonica wrote on Sat, 16 May 2009 19:54

I am truly fascinated by this and any other info would be graciously accepted.


when i refer to floating point noise floor, i mean the quantisation noise,
which is unfortunately correlated to the sample value (amplitude).

i will go out on a limb and say that "activity occurring below -150db"
could have an effect on the sound... daw companies may not
agree, but whatever is going on there is quite insidious,
and were it to be amplified...

so at the very least, i am masking that with noise at the minimum 24 bit level,
(somewhere near -143db).note: i always monitor through dither, which must
be placed just after the output fader in the daw, imo, one will not learn
anything about what we are discussing if they monitor without dither.

well, maybe that is all that is going on? or maybe there is more?

Quote:

I am a ITB guy and anything I can learn about making the digital process better for me and my clients I'm very interested in.

I don't have the waves plugins, but I'm sure I will have something that will do the trick.

compasspnt wrote on Sat, 16 May 2009 21:04

Just for fun, try adding a hum track and a noise track to your mix.

Hum from perhaps an old radio or other device that has a steady low (60-ish) hum.

Noise from perhaps a TV set on a blank channel.

Keep them very, very low, just below where you can/can't hear them.

Then see how your 'regular' mix compares to this one with the added artifacts.



60hz is near a "b",  (50hz is not a note).
so perhaps best done in n.a. or japan?

jeff dinces

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #24 on: May 17, 2009, 05:48:20 am »

WOW

Thank you both for this.

I remember reading years ago about mixers putting white noise very very quietly underneath their mixes (in the analogue days) for A, to mask tape hiss and as a psychoacoustic effect.

This seems like a digital version in a way.

Can't wait to try it and I will let you know the outcome (monitoring with dither of course)

CHeers, you've made a long hard day much better Very Happy      
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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #25 on: May 18, 2009, 05:49:28 am »

compasspnt wrote on Sun, 17 May 2009 02:04

Just for fun, try adding a hum track and a noise track to your mix.

Hum from perhaps an old radio or other device that has a steady low (60-ish) hum.

Noise from perhaps a TV set on a blank channel.

Keep them very, very low, just below where you can/can't hear them.

Then see how your 'regular' mix compares to this one with the added artifacts.



On a game I worked on that was released last year (Mirror's Edge), we put "ambient noise" very very low into the background of the audio mix and it helped making everything sound more connected/glued together.
It masked individual sounds start and endings so that they sounded more like the belonged to the soundscape instead of having an obvious "out of nowhere" transient beginning as well as abrupt decaying end that can sound unnatural.

I made a lot of 5-10 second loops in stereo, that sounded like the ambient background noise you have in halls, small rooms, large areas, air vent drums etc

Then we switched between them whenever you entered a hall, or stepped out from the hall into a small office room etc

It also gave a subtle sense of 'air' and awareness of your position in 3D space, you know like when you exit a hall and enter a large room and the noise/air changes. It was a cool little trick, with several benefits.

Noise is good. Smile
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Ian Visible

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #26 on: May 29, 2009, 10:30:05 am »

The atmosphere in Mirror's Edge is amazing!

Your hard work definitely paid off - in my humble opinion, the game would not be the same without it!

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #27 on: May 29, 2009, 11:09:56 am »

Ian Visible wrote on Fri, 29 May 2009 15:30

The atmosphere in Mirror's Edge is amazing!

Your hard work definitely paid off - in my humble opinion, the game would not be the same without it!


Thanks, Ian. We were five people working on the sound, not counting outsourcing (such as music composers etc).

It was a bit tricky to get the mix into the sweet spot, because we only had one mix setting to tweak for all three platforms (PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3) due to the way the Unreal 3 engine works.

And to make it worse, Xbox 360 will automatically downmix to the subwoofer while Playstation 3 will not. So in practice, PS3 runs a 5.0 setting. And in order to get enough low end thump/feel on that machine, we had to crank up the low end on certain sounds which then made the Xbox 360 version very bass heavy. Also, the fold down to stereo summing system and pan law was a tad bit different between PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation. So you can really only tweak it to be as good as possible across all systems, but it's not going to be perfect anywhere.

That's technology for you. Smile
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Nick Sevilla

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Re: Digital summing saturation = myth?
« Reply #28 on: December 14, 2009, 02:35:00 pm »

cerberus wrote on Sat, 16 May 2009 08:13

hi mark;

it's from one of the waves vintage plug-ins, seems to be mostly 60hz line noise.
there is a switch on these plug-ins which can turn off the noise; so it is easy
for anyone to experiment and perhaps discover the effect.

i recorded the noise to a 32 bit file, which i run as a daw track. i can send it
to any summing busses. in order to prevent noise  from building up in
complex chains: i run a polarity-inverted  copy, sent to alternate
busses; i tweak the exact levels carefully by ear.

jeff dinces


I hear this on the new "Eddie Kramer" collection. Quite a lot of it actually. I ended up bypassing the plugin except when it was being used. the 50 or 60 cycle hum definitely added an interesting texture to the lead vocal, and the artist was happy with the results. I now have to see if you can turn that feature off, and if not, email Waves so they can put a switch on there to turn it off when not desired.

Cheers
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