Thursday, 24 April 2008

Discroom - a new DVD site

Just a quick post linking to Discroom - a new site with help and information for DVD authors, put together by my good friend and fellow DVDAfterEdit user Jake Russell. It's just getting going at the moment but it's certain to become a treasure-trove of useful information as time goes by. I met Jake at the NAB show in 2004 when we were both demoing DVDAE v2, and we've stayed in touch ever since. Discroom is concentrating mainly on DVD Studio Pro, part of Apple's Final Cut Studio package, which we use at SRT for many of our DVD titles. I think I'm going to keep things here focused pretty tightly on mastering, but anyone interested in DVD authoring on a Mac should definitely check Discroom out - for example, his latest post is about authoring a simple "play and stop" DVD.

Friday, 11 April 2008

DIY Mastering Part 3 - Room Acoustics, Treatment and Layout

This is too huge a subject to cover properly in a blog, but if your monitoring environment isn't working well, you'll never be able to make good mastering (or mixing) decisions, so before you start considering tools or techniques, you'll need to get the room working reasonably well. Here I'll try to give some short but useful pointers and links to good, more detailed information.

The Room:

  1. Needs to be a decent size - at least 3m x 4m, say.
  2. Needs to have good proportions. Square is bad, a rectangle is better unless it is twice as long as is wide. All shaped rooms have "nodes" - certain frequencies which are emphasised or minimised by reflections between the walls. The dimensions of the room determine which frequencies will be emphasised, and the goal is to spread these nodes out as much as possible, to give the most even response. There is a great free utility called ModeCalc which allows you to calculate the room nodes for a given room, and the same page has a great introduction to the subject. Ideally, you could build "splayed" plasterboard walls to give a wedge shape which reduces the nodes even further.
  3. Needs acoustic treatment. Every room will benefit from some acoustic panels - you can make these quite simply yourself using high-density fibreglass ("rockwool") mounted in wooden frames, or buy them from a company like RealTraps, who run the site that the ModeCalc utility is hosted on. These "bass traps", or more accurately "broadband absorbers", will further even out the frequency response of the room, enabling you to make better mixing and mastering decisions. Foam panels may also be helpful but are far less effective, especially in the bass end, where rooms have the most problems. Egg-boxes are useless !
  4. Needs the speakers in the right place. They should be on a shorter wall, not too tight into the corners, equally spaced from opposite walls. I've seen several very theoretical methods of determining this, but perhaps the best advice is to get a recording you know well, play it at your chosen reference level, and move them around till they sound "right".
  5. Needs a good listening position - equally distanced from both speakers, obviously, but not in the middle of the room. Whatever the shape, some bass frequencies will cancel most strongly in the middle of the room, so it's almost always a bad mix position. If you are one third of the room length away from the speakers, you'll be off to a good start.
  6. Needs the right materials. For example, Pro studios use very expensive acoustic panels to control the sound by reducing unwanted reflection from smooth plastered walls. A cheaper alternative is to put carpet on the walls, with the idea of "deadening" the sound. However this isn't always a good idea in a mastering room - since the idea is to get the best possible result for a "normal" listening environment, a certain amount of reflection in the room is important, otherwise you'll be tempted to add too much high frequency to everything. Heavy curtains are probably a better idea for controlling the "liveness" of the room, not least because you can easily change their arrangement and effect on the sound in the room.

All of the factors above affect the way your room sounds, hopefully for the better ! In a later DIY post I'll describe a few simple tests to help you check if your room sounds good.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

SADiE acquired by Prism

This post

says it all, really - this is great news for the pro mastering community, and for everyone at SADiE. Prism has impeccable audio credentials, and is even based in Cambridge, just down the road from SADiE HQ. I'd like to wish them every luck in the future.

On a less positive note our Nakamichi tape deck is on the blink, right when we need it to do some transfers - so we borrowed another one, which is also playing up !

But on the plus side I'm doing lots of classical re-compilations for Universal at the moment. In recent years classical mastering work has been pretty thin on the ground, so it's a pleasure to hear some of the old favourites. Universal now have their entire classical and jazz catalogues available online - over 100,000 albums...

More DIY mastering next post.

Currently listening to "Diamond Hoo Ha" by Supergrass.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Mastering The Split Knee Loons with John McCoy

It's not every day in your career you have the chance to say you've worked on truly legendary material - Wednesday 19th was one of those days.

It was a session which has been on, then off, then on again - one I've been looking forward to ever since I supervised the copying of the original reels over a year ago - mastering the unparalleled Split Knee Loons ( "The best live band EVER!" ) album "Loon Knee Tunes".

Supervised by the almost-equally legendary John McCoy ( Gillan, Mammoth, GMT ), the CD includes the entire, previously unreleased album, plus several astonishing bonus tracks, perhaps most notably their epic live performance of "(She's A Real) Eggtimer" at the hallowed Liverpool Empire. Previously only available in it's restored form from the original sh***y brown vinyl (now a much sort-after collector's item) this one really benefited from the new analogue reel transfer. It was also a particular pleasure to hear more of the work of Blind Frank Mellonhead, who guested on "Norwegian Wood" on Eat This's album, which I mastered last year.

It's always a pleasure to work with John, and it was great that Stix was able to drop in - 'ello Mate ! Now it's finally going to be released after 27 years, I'm confidente that the hordes of eager fans won't be disappointed with this album - truly, they don't make them like this any more.