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Author Topic: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?  (Read 182992 times)

Paul Frindle

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #75 on: May 13, 2005, 07:33:35 PM »

Quote:



I am extremely intrigued by your comments.  I am trying to reconcile your recommendation with a statement made by digidesign engineering.  They claim that it is impossible to clip the internal mix bus.  With the maximum number of tracks possible in Pro Tools, all with coherent signals at +6 db on each fader, it is impossible to clip the internal mix bus.  Yes it is possible to clip the output, but not the internal mix bus.  To avoid clipping the output, they say you can simply lower the gain on the master fader however much needed to avoid the problem.  Your statement and digidesign engineering's statement may be completely unrelated, so forgive me if I am linking them together inappropriately.  Can you comment?



Yes they are right - the mix summing has sufficient range to add a great many channels at full level without saturating. But I am not talking about a summing issue as such. I am talking about what may occur in the signal domain if you add lots of hot contributions together where either clipping or significant processing may occur within individual tracks - and you try to modulate at full output from the mix using sample value metering supplied with the DAW. And of course comparing this with a chain that reconstructs every channel before you mix them - i.e. OTB etc..

Quote:


Your experiment recommends never peaking above -6dbr, even after any final limiting.  Are you saying it's impossible to ever bring a final mix up to 0dbr without adversely affecting the sound quality?



No - and that's the important point, it IS possible to have a full scale sample value signal that is legal.

For instance in my experiment, had the noise generator (set at -6dBr) been followed by a brickwall filter (like a DAC) it would have given a legal SIGNAL output at full level.

Similarly if an ADC (if properly designed with a good filter) is driven to it's max output modulation, this is also a legal signal that a good DAC (with a good filter) will decode correctly. (However this does rather expose those guy's who propose that the ADCs and DACs should have minimal filters etc..)

SO if you use the system as a straight recorder (with well designed ADCs and DACs) it shouldn't be possible to produce an error of this kind and the sample value metering - although not perfect - will give an acceptable indication of peak programme level.

Quote:


If I put a limiter on a master fader in Pro Tools, the digital summing has already occurred at 48 bits then been dithered to 24 bits before it even hits the limiter plug-in.  If I were to sum my mix, never peaking above -6dbr at any stage before hitting the limiter plug-in, then bringing the final level up to 0dbr using the gain on the limiter, would this negate your experiment?  


This is an interesting question - and complex to answer in one go because there are 3 situations working together.

Firstly - providing that all the contributions in your mix were entirely legal at every stage, raising the gain to peak levels at the mix output should not result in an error in itself. But in practice it's risky since any contribution that gets processed after the ADC recording that introduces phase shifts, non-linearities or accentuates distortions that existed in the recording at upper mids or HF could result in a reconstruction error at higher contribution gains. In other words raising the levels of a 'troubled signal' may push it into the reconstruction error zone, where previously it was admissible.

Imagine for instance a loudish instrument with rich HF percussive harmonic content that for one reason or another only just reached peak values at the output of your ADC in record. You then EQ it a bit (perhaps rolling off the HF a bit) changing the relative phases of the freqs in the spectrum, noticing that the peak sample value level has dropped a dB or so, you increase the gain to max once more. The drop in peak sample value resulting from a slight re-arrangement of the phase of the freqs - may still have resulted in an almost flat out signal when reconstructed - before you added the gain - now it could overload even though no red light is on.

Secondly we need to consider HOW the limiter acts on the signal. For instance it is possible (even likely) for the fast peak limitting which is popular today to produce it's own illegal signal by modulating the sample values quickly. Imagine for instance a pure sinewave that has had it's peaks reshaped by the fast action of the limiter - this is harmonic distortion which could result in an illegal signal during reconstruction if freq are high enough, despite never producing full level sample values. There are ways of preventing this but many applications do not include them.

A third and more interesting thing to think about is how the limiter sidechain will respond to the levels of the signal. If we go back to my experiment with the noise genny and the filter; we can see that filtering the noise samples produces nearly twice the peak sample value for the same apparent signal level. Now if you follow this with a limiter or compressor that has a sidechain that measures sample values (i.e. acting like your meters) how will it respond in either case if set with a threshold of -6dBr? Well with the filter out it won't compress or limit at all since no values get bigger than -6dBr. However with the filter in it will compress and reduce the reconstructed output to -6dBr again. I.e. it will compress by 6dBr - and the audible result of this will be to drop the signal level by 6dB. The presence of the filter severely reduces the total loudness you can obtain from the limited signal (and this is another story for another day). Try it - it's a real eye opener Smile

Quote:


How could a DAW application be designed to eliminate the problem you point out?  Would some kind of an internal reconstruction filter after every track and process be required?  Is the problem apparent only in DAW's or does it show up in any digital mixer?



There are several possible ways one might arrange things to avoid this problem within the design of the whole system (particularly if the production culture was more sensible). But we should appreciate by now that making a mixing app of great quality is not simply a question of providing something that 'adds samples together correctly'. And of course this fact blatantly exposes the fallacy of those who try to compare the quality of mixer apps by setting them up identically and taking the results of one away from the other and measuring the differences!! Sad
As with all pro-audio design at least 50% of the design effort is about how you present the information to the user and the nuances of control you give him over it. And of course the cost of the system is important wrt the quality the user expects to obtain and the resilience of the system under duress and not forgetting how it performs within the popular production culture of the times. This subject is too big to discuss here in great detail, but it can be seen that there are largely hidden performance issues regarding digital systems driven to full metered levels that exist at multiple levels, from the quality of the ADCS and DACs (filtering in this case), headroom within the application at the interfaces, plug-in process quality, metering style etc etc.. It is likely that some combinations of system may sound different from others when faced with high sample levels. It is definitely likely that the users' CD players will vary in the artefacts they produce - and this is perhaps the most worrying aspect of it all. In tests I have done most popular CDs produce reconstruction errors at around 2dB or so somewhere in the duration of the production - and paradoxically these are not necessarily the loudest or harshest styles of music. Many of the worst I have are actually (intentionally) clean crisp sounding jazz style CDs. The most often offending programme includes percussion - cymbals, bells, tamborines etc and highly Eq'd (and intentionally clipped) female vocals. Remember that intentionally clipping sounds to produce bite, attack and 'definition' is commonplace in certain quarters of artistic production. How much more clean and crisp would they have actually sounded if mixed and mastered just 3dB less hot Sad

The simplest practical advice right now (with the kit you are currently compelled to use - and if your paymasters will let you) is to think of sample value levels in the green section of the meter as always legitimate (i.e. repeatable at destination). Those in the yellow area (-6dBr and -3dBr) are most probably ok, but caution should be taken as they're definitely big enough and may just cause reconstruction errors if clipped or intentionally distorted in the digital domain or digitally recorded from an artificial source. Levels between  -3dBr and 0dBr are dangerous and those that actually reach the red light are almost certainly broken signals and are very likely to degrade in various ways at the destination DAC - in both your's and the end user's!! And above all - don't assume that any meter anywhere within the system indicates a legitimate signal by dint of it not hitting a red light Smile

And to get back to the original subject and my original reason for posting - be aware that by mixing OTB in analogue and encoding to digits via an ADC afterwards - you are removing the possibility of making reconstruction overs in your master. This is very significant within an industry environment where everyone is currently aiming for absolute max loudness and modulation.





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gwailoh

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #76 on: May 13, 2005, 09:01:39 PM »

Paul, many thanks for helping us understand this issue better.

Now, supposing one were to follow your recommendations re staying -6dBr down, and so on, mixing ITB.  The mix is great, everyone's happy with it.  But, you want it to be competitive, that is, loud, in the clubs and on the radio.  What to do?  Can level be safely added during mastering, or do the same issues apply there when processing the stereo mix one provides to the mastering engineer?

(Would it be better to provide digital stems to master with?)

Again, many thanks.

Bob Olhsson

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #77 on: May 13, 2005, 10:17:03 PM »

gwailoh wrote on Fri, 13 May 2005 20:01

...Can level be safely added during mastering, or do the same issues apply there when processing the stereo mix one provides to the mastering engineer?
The same issues apply however the mastering engineer has the benefit of operating within the final context that the level will be set at combined with a variety of different peak-limiting tools and, hopefully, superior monitoring so that any damage can be minimized. If the audio is clean and punchy to begin with, a lot can easily be done. If it has been clipped too many times, it becomes fragile and breaks easily.

Paul Frindle

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #78 on: May 14, 2005, 06:19:46 AM »

gwailoh wrote on Sat, 14 May 2005 02:01

Paul, many thanks for helping us (me anwyay) to understand this issue better.

Now, supposing one were to follow your recommendations re staying -6dBr down, and so on, mixing ITB.  The mix is great, everyone's happy with it.  But, you want it to be competitive, that is, loud, in the clubs and on the radio.  What to do?  Can level be safely added during mastering, or do the same issues apply there when processing the stereo mix one provides to the mastering engineer?

(Would it be better to provide digital stems to master with?)

Again, many thanks.


Ahh yes - you have picked up on the comments I made in brackets Smile Now this is the rub, it doesn't matter where the gain increase, clipping, limiting occurs, the same thing applies. If the mastering engineer does stuff that causes this all you have is something that doesn't sound like your original and may behave differently from system to system in the user's environment. This is however also true if you mixed OTB, the only saving grace being that it may be less likely to happening twice Sad

Hopefully a good mastering engineer should be savvy enough to avoid doing this, however as we all know the pressure to get the loudest possible results is a significant influence on him as much as anyone else.

There is no doubt that illegal signal can be made to sound louder than legal signal and annoying broken sounds can attract attention in the short term.

The challenge for design of a digital programme limiter is to somehow address both these mutually exclusive situations simultaneously - because if it reduces the overall percieved volume (or initial surprise factor) in comparison with one that produces illegal signal - no one will use it, no one will buy it. There is no point making something wholly 'correct' if it is of no use to anybody! My job is to struggle with such things - certainly makes life interesting Smile
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Bob Olhsson

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #79 on: May 14, 2005, 12:37:35 PM »

Paul, a couple questions:

1. does the digi white noise generator produce an illegal signal? I can't get pink noise recordings, even that I eq., to do anything comparable using hi-pass or low-pass filters. OK, I just bounced the digi white noise to disk and see the same thing in both Pre Tools LE and Samplitude.

2. I notice huge variations between different software filters. Why is this, what is the mechanism?

Eric Bridenbaker

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #80 on: May 14, 2005, 02:19:08 PM »

Thanks, Paul for clarifying this issue.

Recently I've found that running the mixes at lower overall levels has yielded far better results, a certin clarity and punchy transparency that is quite audible, compared to a "hotter" mixing approach.

Even though an analog VU meter is too slow to catch these overs, I find it to be a helpful tool, to have some form of metering OTB.

I have a question about ITB meters though: Is it not possible to get better metering of these anomalies ITB?

There is a plugin by Elemental Audio calle Inspector, for example which is supposed to show clipping instances.

http://www.elementalaudio.com/products/inspector/index.html

Is something like this of any use in getting a visual on this stuff ITB?

Cheers,
Eric
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Paul Frindle

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #81 on: May 14, 2005, 06:16:15 PM »

Bob Olhsson wrote on Sat, 14 May 2005 17:37

Paul, a couple questions:

1. does the digi white noise generator produce an illegal signal? I can't get pink noise recordings, even that I eq., to do anything comparable using hi-pass or low-pass filters. OK, I just bounced the digi white noise to disk and see the same thing in both Pre Tools LE and Samplitude.

2. I notice huge variations between different software filters. Why is this, what is the mechanism?


Well it is not illegal provided it is at -6dBr. In fact it is no more illegal than the very expensive Audio Precision test set, as on the white noise setting this actually delivers -6dBr peak, even though it reports it at 0dBr in the generator panel!!

Pink noise will not produce the same results for two reasons; it is filtered - it must be to get the 3dB/oct roll-off needed to make it pink. And the roll-off ensures that the mostly offending HMF and HF freqs are at significantly reduced levels - thereby avoiding the error in reconstruction. I would be very surprised if my experiment showed anything with pink noise.

To be honest I haven't tried it with many different filters myself - since we actually don't have any. But I have tried it briefly with the newest free digi EQ - the only other one I have that includes a filter - and it only produced between 2 - 3dBr boost. But on closer inspection it can be seen that this filter in fact does not hold up a flat response right up to the turnover point. It is significantly down from 10KHz upwards when adjusted to the 20KHz setting Sad
This of course will significantly reduce the effect because it lowers the offending freq range considerably.. It will also invalidate the listening test since it is adversely affecting freqs below 20KHz - i.e. you can directly hear differences in the response when it is in anyway. It's true that all filters are not the same despite what one would expect from limited published specs.

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Paul Frindle

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #82 on: May 14, 2005, 07:34:37 PM »

Eric Bridenbaker wrote on Sat, 14 May 2005 19:19

Thanks, Paul for clarifying this issue.

Recently I've found that running the mixes at lower overall levels has yielded far better results, a certin clarity and punchy transparency that is quite audible, compared to a "hotter" mixing approach.

Even though an analog VU meter is too slow to catch these overs, I find it to be a helpful tool, to have some form of metering OTB.

I have a question about ITB meters though: Is it not possible to get better metering of these anomalies ITB?

There is a plugin by Elemental Audio calle Inspector, for example which is supposed to show clipping instances.

http://www.elementalaudio.com/products/inspector/index.html

Is something like this of any use in getting a visual on this stuff ITB?

Cheers,
Eric


Yes it is quite easy to make a meter plug-in that reconstructs the signal and shows you the value (I have made such processing as integral parts of other applications) - and you could put it where you like in the mix - i.e. the main outputs for a start. It is fairly costly in terms of processing load though, so you certainly wouldn't want to pepper such a thing all over the tracks in your PT mix!!

Such a meter would considerably help you to avoid these problems - IF you could afford the processing load and were prepared to reduce modulation levels to satisfy it's readings (in reference to the points made by others about the 'target volume level culture')? I have certainly pondered on how readily the industry might accept a meter that sometimes read higher than another on the same programme, that caused people to produce mixes that - although more accurate - sounded less loud? As a designer in the present climate however, I am understandably more interested in somehow providing people with the best of both worlds Smile

All that aside though, it is much cheaper to simply modulate at lower levels. After all, in the days of analogue ssytems, VU meters and PPMs, even with 10dB of headroom on the average tape machine, no one would attempt to record a cymbal crash or tamborine at 0VU would they - if they were after an accurate rendition of it's character! In those days we were used to inaccuracy and system limitation, we dealt with it using experience and even subverted it's side effects for our own artistic purposes. As I have said in many previous threads (everyone yawn!) - IMHO the whole human perception of math being something of a religious higher cause - greater than reality itself, is the main reason we are reluctant to accept that digital systems could legitimately posses limitation and imperfection. Or was it that we have been brought up to believe it by decades of (religiously crusaded) marketing spin? Whatever - we still discuss to death the possibility that digits cannot add up - when in fact thats the easiest of functions that it can perform to an arbitarily higher accuracy than we could ever need. When the very issues with which we actually cause it to falter (because lately we WILL stress it so) are hidden by dint of metering that suffers from the very same issues.

Please note that my experiment using a conventional IIR filter isn't good enough to form the basis of an accurate measurement method, because it has a large amount of natural phase shift across it's freq range (being a music programme filter). Also, it will still misbehave (wobble about) around integer divisions of the sample rate cos its output signal is at base rate - i.e. it's output still requires reconstruction! It was only an illustration.
BTW to witness the wobbling peak sample meters at divisions of sampling rate, set a sinewave to 11.02KHz on a system running 44.1KHz sampling (or 12.01K at 48KHz) and watch the meters vary cyclically as the sample values wander in and out of phase with the sampling rate - (you may need to fiddle very finely with the osc freq to see it at it's worst depending on meter fall rates etc). This is a graphic illustration of aliassing caused by displaying unreconstructed sample values. This is also a taste of what your DAC would do - if it suffered from insufficient filtering.

But to finally answer your question - I had not heard of the device in the link you just posted, but a quick look at the site doesn't reveal a presence of the all-important reconstruction processing? So it may not fit the bill? However there may be others that might.


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zetterstroem

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #83 on: May 15, 2005, 04:25:27 AM »

Eric Bridenbaker wrote on Sat, 14 May 2005 19:19

Thanks, Paul for clarifying this issue.

Recently I've found that running the mixes at lower overall levels has yielded far better results, a certin clarity and punchy transparency that is quite audible, compared to a "hotter" mixing approach.

Even though an analog VU meter is too slow to catch these overs, I find it to be a helpful tool, to have some form of metering OTB.

I have a question about ITB meters though: Is it not possible to get better metering of these anomalies ITB?

There is a plugin by Elemental Audio calle Inspector, for example which is supposed to show clipping instances.

http://www.elementalaudio.com/products/inspector/index.html

Is something like this of any use in getting a visual on this stuff ITB?

Cheers,
Eric


i don't think it will work..... it needs to emulate the reconstructio process in the d/a

as this : http://www.tcelectronic.com/Default.asp?Id=3322

it's called gibb's effect...

we talked about it here:

http://recforums.prosoundweb.com/index.php/t/4140/6691/?SQ=1 8552ac44754d36523d0c0da1d75d3b5

i glad someone is debating it again.... i think we all really need to rethink our approach to digital sound.....
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Paul Frindle

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #84 on: May 15, 2005, 06:50:47 PM »

zetterstroem wrote on Sun, 15 May 2005 09:25

Eric Bridenbaker wrote on Sat, 14 May 2005 19:19

Thanks, Paul for clarifying this issue.

Recently I've found that running the mixes at lower overall levels has yielded far better results, a certin clarity and punchy transparency that is quite audible, compared to a "hotter" mixing approach.

Even though an analog VU meter is too slow to catch these overs, I find it to be a helpful tool, to have some form of metering OTB.

I have a question about ITB meters though: Is it not possible to get better metering of these anomalies ITB?

There is a plugin by Elemental Audio calle Inspector, for example which is supposed to show clipping instances.

http://www.elementalaudio.com/products/inspector/index.html

Is something like this of any use in getting a visual on this stuff ITB?

Cheers,
Eric


i don't think it will work..... it needs to emulate the reconstructio process in the d/a

as this : http://www.tcelectronic.com/Default.asp?Id=3322

it's called gibb's effect...

we talked about it here:

     http://recforums.prosoundweb.com/index.php/t/4140/6691/?SQ=1 8552ac44754d36523d0c0da1d75d3b5

i glad someone is debating it again.... i think we all really need to rethink our approach to digital sound.....


Yes I agree entirely. But we should also remember that this is not new, it's more a question of 're-learning' the correct approach. The possibility for these peaks has always been there and in the 'old days' DACs with analogue filters might have coped with it - but only by accident as a result of the analogue nature of the filter. However in a world where 'more is always better' and spec competition gets ever-harder, sacrificing 3dB or more SNR in an oversampled DAC with a gain reducing digital filter is perhaps something manu's won't risk? Also it has to be said that the unstoppable march towards ever more loudness has made the whole thing much more important anyway - it is exposing other short cuts in the kit i.e. meters, DACs, dynamic limiters etc.

Another aspect worth noting is that DAC manus can attempt to justify a lack of such headroom (dogmatically) on the 'defensible' basis that such peaks cannot be generated by a fully legal PCM audio signal - i.e. any signal coming from an ADC. So the existence of such 'errors' is always the result of some extra processing the user is doing - ergo it's someone else's fault, (even if all they did was EQ the signal a tad) - no need to sacrifice a few dB from their own published specs.
This kind of attitude is increasingly evident in many aspects of the kit manus. For instance the clock jitter sensitivity issue - apparently that's not their fault either - if jitter affects the converter's quality it's not the fault of their product, it's your clock. They save a few bucks in the converter - you shell out hundreds of bucks on expensive clock gennys and lose the battle in the cabling anyway. And of course the blasted 'A' weighted noise figures they publish that preferentially (and IMO misleadingly) improve the SNR numbers on anything that has wideband noise (particularly HF prone DSM converters) and bear little resemblance to what you will actually hear. Stick your mix through an 'A' weighting filter and see if you think that's representative Sad

There are many other examples, but these kinds of liberties are the direct result of ever more fierce commercial competition IMO. Wholsesale free market competiton alone does not always ensure we obtain the best results. In the last DAC's I designed I sacrificed up to 8dB of potential SNR spec in order to linearise the harmonic distortions people might just hear - and the figures were quoted unweighted of course. But then, these were designed for what was then still a 'professional market' that had professional outlooks and priorites.

But the practical point right now is that your programme is destined eventually to play out on 'who knows what' converter in the cheapest possible consumer design produced under massive commercial pressure - so it's essential to remain on the side of caution Smile
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compasspnt

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #85 on: May 15, 2005, 07:03:56 PM »

Very nicely stated, Paul.  Thank you for the awesome detail.

Now everyone turn it all down a bit...
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Dan Pinder

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #86 on: May 15, 2005, 07:50:59 PM »

As I struggle to grasp what's going on in Paul's explanations, I wonder if this is in any way related to the phenomenon that the Trillium Lane Labs TL|MasterMeter seeks to illuminate? Or is this purely something that happens independent of the DAC, as is implied by the unexpected metering results you get in the experiment?
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Curve Dominant

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #87 on: May 16, 2005, 01:44:16 AM »

compasspnt wrote on Mon, 16 May 2005 00:03

Very nicely stated, Paul.  Thank you for the awesome detail.

Now everyone turn it all down a bit...


That means (among other things): Reductive EQing.

Yo?

zetterstroem

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #88 on: May 16, 2005, 02:03:53 AM »

Dan Pinder wrote on Mon, 16 May 2005 00:50

As I struggle to grasp what's going on in Paul's explanations, I wonder if this is in any way related to the phenomenon that the Trillium Lane Labs TL|MasterMeter seeks to illuminate? Or is this purely something that happens independent of the DAC, as is implied by the unexpected metering results you get in the experiment?


the TLL mastermeter indeed seems to "illuminate" this problem..... nice to know that one doesn't have to have a system 6000 to "see" these peaks....

but if anyone in here thinks we can get those a&r guys to turn it down even half a bit  Confused they're pretty naive..... in a world where people think that mp3s and cd are the same i think we're fighting a losing battle!! i won't stop fighting though  Twisted Evil

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Noting the music industry's complaints that illegal downloading means people are getting their music for free, he said, "Well, why not? It ain't worth nothing anyway." (b.dylan)

zed

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Re: DAW & Desks: Is ANYBODY actually still mixing on their desk?
« Reply #89 on: May 16, 2005, 07:38:46 AM »

Paul,

I have been running some tests in my protools system that have been nothing but inconclusive.

Basically what i've done is to grab a session with 20 tracks, mix them as loud as possible without peaking individual or master tracks, bounce, and repeat the above but with trim plugins at -6dB inserted in every track. (they all have some plugins that are time constant)

When comparing both stereo mixdowns the difference between them is zero, they basically cancel each other when phased inversely.

I'm sure that i'm not understanding the difference between mixing at high levels or low levels since they are giving me similar results!

please comment what i'm doing wrong!

Best Regards
Zed
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