Having spent a bundle on great sounding analog tube gear, Andy Krehm, our chief mastering engineer, is moving on his desire to acquire more class A outboard digital gear. Our first unit was the Waves L2 Outboard Ultramaximizer, Peak Limiter / Volume Maximizer followed by the K-Stereo Processor (see Jan. 2002 Press Release).
Tube gear is used not only for its functionality, but for the sound, i.e., it adds or emphasizes musical harmonics. Whether its a pre-amp, compressor or equalizer, class A tube gear, properly used, usually adds “warmth” and “musicality”. In other words, it colours the sound in a way that most people find pleasing.
So why digital? Because digital gear can be very precise in how it functions. As well, certain processes, such as the stereoization techniques available in the K-Stereo Processor, cannot be achieved in the analog domain. Although world class digital gear has its own unique sound, it doesn’t colour the sound in an unpleasing manner and one might describe the sound as being “neutral”. In fact, the best units sound precise, clean and transparent as they go about working their magic. Great digital gear is the perfect partner for great analog tube gear.
Why outboard digital instead of plug-ins? For recording engineers, plug-ins are the only way to avoid the purchasing of many, many outboard units. In fact, one of the reasons your local world class studio is so expensive is because they offer a good variety of class A outboard units.
The reason we try to avoid plug-ins in mastering is that the vast majority of them colour the sound adversely. There are various reasons for this, ranging from the plug-ins themselves, to how the computer or the program’s internal bussing works but the result is the same. While this isn’t as noticeable when using plug-ins on separate tracks, it can become a problem when running a full bandwidth mix through them. Try this experiment. Route a dense mix through your favourite plug-in, making sure that you do not select any of the functions in that plug-in (i.e., if its an eq, do not select any bands). If you have a good monitoring system (and good ears!), you will most likely notice a change in sound. Click the bypass in and out and observe the difference. With expensive outboard digital gear, you won’t hear any difference until you engage one of the parameters. What do we mean by expensive? World class outboard digital gears starts at about $6,000. Cnd. per unit and the Weiss DS-MK2 retails for $10,000.
The Weiss DS1-MK2 is a most welcome addition to our studio. It works as a full bandwidth stereo compressor and can also be used in frequency specific mode, i.e., just to compress one area of the mix. It is also the world’s most effective and transparent de-esser. Parallel compressing is a technique where the uncompressed signal is mixed with the compressed signal. For music mixed a certain way, parallel compressing allows retention of a more dynamics and a cleaner, more clear master. The Weiss makes using this technique effortless and matches the two signals sample accurate. When mastering albums of musical styles where the “industry standard” is “loud as possible”, using the Weiss DS-MK2 as a full bandwidth compressor before the outboard L2 Peak Limiter/Volume Maximizer allows us to use less of the L2 when boosting the final output. The result is the retention of more of the original mix dynamics which translates to a “punchier” master.
In order to have the maximum flexibility in mastering, it is helpful to have both analog and digital outboard gear and as usual, Silverbirch continues to offer the most unique and effective combination of mastering gear in Canada.