We've just been sent a new mastering compressor on evaluation for a few months by one of our suppliers. It's an Elysia Alpha and our supplier is pretty keen that we use it as well as/instead of our main compressor.
Anyway, Ivan very kindly provided me with an audio wave of a track he has recorded recently with Bogdan and their group Ljute Papricice called 'Nocni Gruv' to put through the Elysia. I should say at this point that what follows was aimed at evaluating the Elysia so Ivan and his group had very little chance for input in to what I did and so have been particularly kind to allow me to post the result here. Thanks guys .
Ivan has very kindly posted the original recording as an mp3 - see post no. 13 below. Thanks Ivan
Anyway here is my 'Nocni Gruv' Elysia test master for Ivan and Ljute Papricice.
Click to view attachment
And here is an edited version of the mastering log to give you all some idea of what went on and why:
Client: In house Elysia Alpha Mastering Compressor test.
Track: 'Nocni Gruv- Ljute Papricice'
Original: 96/24 Wave Required final format:44.1/16 Wave for Ljute Papricice plus MP3 [for upload to GMC]
Track length: 3:54 approx 110mb 96/24 wave.
[File was sent zipped via internet. Zipping here both reduces the file size and also provides a degree of data conformity checking.]
Internal DAW to 96/24 [to match the 96/24 wave; any final format changes required will be done as a final when I re-convert to 16/44.1/mp3.] Chain is :
Daw aux out -->Lavry DA1--->Elysia-->Ibis--->Lavry AD-->Daw aux in: daw main-->Lavry DA2 -->monitoring
Monitors and meters to K14 [I don't use peak meters for mastering. I use the K system and usually set out at k14 for rock/jazz. Monitors are pink noise calibrated on the K system. This means that I can accurately set, maintain and repeat spl, volume etc for mastering. This is important both wrt the Fletcher Munson effect and also so that I am much less likely to clip on transients.]
Normally a client would supply me with a reference track - a piece of music that they like the sound of that they want their recording to be like. I didn't have one and didn't discuss with Ivan what he wanted as this is about evaluating the Alpha.
Import into sequencer. No errors from sequencer. Save Session 1. (As most of the work here is OTB the EDL isn't as important. Instead I'm dealing with sessions - each one ending in a discrete audio print/take of the processed audio.)
1st audio play - impression - nice original studio recording number . Generally well recorded although, to me, has a slightly emphasised mid band. Levels fine.
2nd audio play [focus on what Elysia may be for]
Glue - bring the recording together and make a little more cohesive. Possible to bring up bass and add more punch to the drums as this should work for this type of funk. Final levelling to bring up rms for the 44.1/16 wave. Overall I'm looking to use the Elysia then three times - normally for most mastering sessions I tend to do one analogue pass. Most, possibly all of these three could be done in the Elysia in one pass but I've opted to do each one separately as it's easier for me to clearly hear what it's doing where and how.
Session 1 is the original, unprocessed 96/24 wave.
I've put the Alpha in a very basic compression setting to bring the recording together. Threshold is down at -25, moderate ratio at 1:2, release at 280ms.
Save and AB with Session 1.
Playthrough 2- see previous comments. Note I'm AB'ing what I've done against the original - no point in making a change if it doesn't actually improve on the original. The Alpha actually allows you to monitor both the unprocessed and processed signal so you can AB in the Alpha. However, to keep things simple at this stage I'm going to monitor via the second DA on our Lavry and put down a temporary print between 'sessions'.
Drums and bass - as this is quite a nice funk groove I want to bring both up in the mix and add a bit more punch, particularly to the drums. It would be possible to do this using a split band or multi-band compressor but MBCs very often introduce unwanted artifacts in to a recording. It's usually best therefore to use an MBC rarely and with caution in mastering. I want to add a bit of weight to the drums whilst maintaining a sense of groove to the track. To do this I've focused a lot on both the release time and the gain reduction limiter and I'm using the side chain of the Elysia on LP.
Save as Session 3.
Playthrough 3 - generally better to me - bass and drums have come up and there is more punch on the drums and they sound 'bigger' with a bit more weight and ambience. However, think some of the warmth of the original has gone and the track now sounds a little bright.
At this stage I would normally use a separate eq - either our Ibis or, if ITB a Flux or Sonoris plug-in. However, the Alpha has an Audio Filter so I'm going to use that as a sort of shelfing eq to bring the low end up by about 0.5 dB and the high end down by the same amount with a cross-over at about 1k.
Playthrough 4 - better, track sounds warmer but Ivan's guitar sounds a little brittle. As I want to focus on his guitar I'm going to bring in an external EQ.
Ibis added to signal chain. EQ cut -o.8 dB, medium q, 610hZ, bell. Note - normally I'd put an eq before the compressor but in this particular case it works better after.
AB - better, Ivan's guitar still, to me, sounds suitably funky but without the previous brittleness.
Save as Session 4
Last bit for the Alpha - I'm going use it to level the track. I want to try to bring up the rms by a few dB and so give the track increased perceived loudness but without using a brickwall limiter or hardclipping. The Alpha has a soft limiting function and I'm going to set the overall gain stage so that fast transients clip out at -.5.I'm aiming at -.5 rather than 0.0 or -.2 (which I normally use) as I'll have to process the final track as an mp3 and LAME tends to add between 0.2 to 0.5dB to peak levels - if I aim at -0.3 LAME could easily force hard clipping and produce some nasty digital distortion on the mp3. [I did the gain stage here manually just by listening for overshoots rather than watching the meters].
Downsample to 44.1k dither to 16bit and print as CDA Wave for Ivan.
Final listen/quality check on 44.1/24 wav
Plays through ok but there is, to me a little distortion on a couple of fast transients at, for instance, 31 seconds. To me this seems to actually be intersample peak distortion and may have been partly as a result of the multiple, sequential sessions saves. Even though the set up, etc have all remained at 24/96 and no dithering has taken place until the final 44.1/16 print it's a possibility that the multiple saves has accumulated distortion (the final track is a forth generation.) A single pass through the Elysia Alpha and one session take would probably eliminate it.
44.1/16 bit wave sent to Ivan as a zipped file (approx 38 Mb)
Format change to mp3 VBR for GMC. Added linear fade out at Ivan's request.
Total time - approx 1 hour 17 mins. - slightly longer then normal as quite a bit of time was experimenting with the Alpha and some additional time connecting the Ibis in to the signal chain.