Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Good Week For Music in Auckland

First up we had the Jack Body “tribute” evening at the Auckland University Music Department, which was a varied and enjoyable night out. Then a couple of days later the NZSO with a newly commissioned Jack Body piece, Sculthorpe’s Memento Mori, and Gorecki’s Symphony 3 (the strangely popular Symphony of Sorrowful Souls) – a decent program for a change, no fur-brigade pleasers! Perhaps we are the new  fur brigade.


Then tonight, Peter Brotzmann playing at Silo 6, which is a literally a collection of concrete grain silos. Not great from a viewing perspective but we managed to have a good view of the man for most of the performance, and the  lengthy reverb made a nice change. About an hour of pretty enjoyable stuff and 10 minutes of utterly astonishing slow intensity, where he seemed to find what he had previously been searching for.


And next week, more NZSO, with Lyell Cresswell, I imagine as with Jack Body, for his 70th birthday.

In The Box Vocal Processing

I’ve been getting good results lately with multiple parallel compression on vocals. Quite possibly I am getting better at singing too, but that is still pretty debatable.


My current thinking for In-The-Box (i.e. in software, not using hardware) vocal processing is to run about 4 compressors in parallel, fed prefader, from a single vocal track (BV’s I treat separately). These are all part of a group, and in general I apply echo and/or reverb to the group bus – which is the mult of the parallel compressor outputs – rather that individual tracks. However that isn’t a hard and fast rule; sometimes I might run the echo and reverb in a similar manner to the compressors – either prefade from the uncompressed original track, or maybe fed from one of the compressed tracks. A case of whatever works, do that.


Typically I start off with the main vocal feeding some combination of these:

  • Waves LA2A
  • Waves 1176
  • Slate Digital Vari-Mu
  • House of Kush UBK-1 (possibly a couple, on different settings)
  • Variety of Sound Thrillseeker VBL (though I haven’t really got to grips with this one yet) (freeware)
  • Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Feedback Compressor II (freeware)

Don’t forget to reduce these from unity gain otherwise you get an extra few db with each additional track.


This seems to be a good way of getting a solid vocal without sounding badly compressed. It is surprising how much you can slam these and it still sounds fine – in fact I often take the original vocal right out and just use a mix of the compressor outputs. The UBK-1 is particularly handy here as it can get quite dirty, so if the overall thing is a bit nice, you just crank the drive on the UBK-1 track.


On the vocal bus I typically have either a transparent limiter like TDR Feedback II, or another LA2A in limiter mode if it needs more pumping, and the FabFilter de-esser.


I sort of think this is all crazy over-the-top and shouldn’t be needed….it’s nuts right……but it’s working for me. Here I’ll also insert the required comment that it is no substitute for well recorded tracks to start with, and the better you are with that the more likely you are to benefit form this type of processing. Also obligatory – although you can, you don’t have to hammer every compressor – just a touch may well be enough.


My goto delay and verbs are Valhalla Ubermod delay and ValhallaRoom reverb, and the Liquidsonics Reverberate convolution reverb. On the question of whether delays and reverbs are best pre or post compression, I tend to favour having short/bright/dense reverb or delays compressed (I might chorus that too) and the longer ones  uncompressed.


I usually find it sufficient to de-ess on the group bus, prior to echo or reverb, rather than each track. If it is a problem I’ll try some variation of de-essing some or all of the compressor tracks,  or ducking the offending ss’s on the bus using  track volume automation. Another option is to de-ess the main vocals before it goes to the parallel compressors. Obviously with lots of compression there is a risk of the ss’s (and t’s) getting out of hand.


I haven’t found much need to EQ at all. I do apply a high pass filter on the main vocal before it goes to the parallel compressors, because if there is low frequency rubbish there  you don’t want it multiplying through or interfering with all the compression, and making its way back to the bus and echo/reverb. I just use the built-in ReaEQ in Reaper, or maybe the freeware Brainworx BX_Cleansweep.


Note that I have actually bought these plugins, and the freeware ones I use are well regarded. With some things I think you get what you pay for, and it is worth getting good software where it matters.


DIY Valve Vari-Mu Adventures

I’ve recently been working on a point-to-point build of a vari-mu compressor. Unlike a lot of DIY, the circuit is the work of local professional and so not publicly available and I can’t share it. I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to have a go at building it.


It has however been sitting on my workbench barely started for probably 3 years. I had wasted an inordinate amount of time creating a 19″ 2u case for it out of bits from other cases. Metalwork is not my strongpoint and this was an epic waste of effort. God knows how many hours I spent hacksawing, filing, drilling, threading. By the time I was done I had long lost interest in the fun part, hence it sat on the bench. Lesson – just pay the f^&kin’ money, buy a case and get building!
As is often the case, for no apparent reason I suddenly resolved to get stuck into it. The first hurdle was the external power supply – a lot of fiddling about to find a good case for the transformer, make and connect the umbilical cord, and find appropriate connectors to safely get the high voltage and heater supplies into the case (I eventually found the excellent 7 pin Bulgin connectors from RS Components).


Once the power supply was built and connected to the case, I still had more metalwork to do –  holes for the XLR connectors, pots and VU meter…and what to attach the valves to? They had to go horizontally to fit into the 2u height, so that was 2 sets of 90 degree brackets to be drilled for 5 valves, and safely mounted in the case. Finally with those and the input and output transformers bolted in, I was under way with the hook up.


I had decided largely to wing the hookup. I didn’t plan it other than I decided what valve was going where, where the I/O was, where the knobs would go, where the audio transformers were, and where the power supply caps were going. I rotated the valves so the heater supply would have the shortest, most direct path to their tags without having to go around the other pins (as per the advice in “Building Valve Amplifiers” by Morgan Jones). Once I had checked that the heaters were all receiving their 6.3v I just started at one end of the schematic and started soldering.


Here is what I did wrong:

  • I soldered the heater wires directly to the Bulgin connector. I should have taken them off to a tag strip and run from there, as later on there was some fiddling around with the center tap and voltage divider. It was hard to get to it to solder/unsolder, whereas a tag strip would have been easy.
  • I didn’t leave enough room around the power supply caps and dropping resistors to allow me to experiment later. I crammed it all into the corner where later on it was hard to get to to change out components.
  • I connected the circuit earth to the chassis near the PS caps. The place to make this key connection is as close to the most sensitive input stage as possible. I thought you were supposed to connect it where the heaviest currents were flowing – apparently not! (note that the actual safety earth from the mains has its own dedicated connection straight to the chassis, right by the plug).
  • I wired up the amplifier tubes incorrectly. Pretty stupid mistake – in the schematic (and any similar one) the two halves of a dual-triode are shown horizontally mirrored, ie the anode is always on the outside and the cathode on the inside. I wired the top half ok then continued as though they were not mirrored, i.e. I had the anode and cathode reversed for the second half. Luckily I figured this out before power was applied – a good demonstration of why you do your idiot check a day after wiring, not immediately after. However, because I had the tubes mounted horizontally and was doing p2p instead of using tagstrips, this was hellish to undo and fix. The result is even more of a rats nest than it needed to be, and difficult to get to to troubleshoot. Lesson – anything more complex than say an Altec 436, give yourself plenty of room or use tagstrips.
  • I should have used more tagstrips in general…bit of a theme here….sturdier, tidier, easier to follow, orders of magnitude easier to troubleshoot and change.
  • I wired a couple of pots backwards. Not sure I’ll ever get the hang of that one.
  • The case…as explained, just buy one.

Things I did well:


  • The heaters – I found some nice solid core mains wire at the local hardware shop (Mitre 10 for NZ locals) that was red and black and twisted nicely with the drill. I used heavy gauge for the first part of the run then split it out to lighter gauge to each valve. Tagstrips would have made that easier too but I wanted to keep it all close to the chassis. I kept the windings tight and out of the way of everything. By raising the valve mounting brackets off the case floor the only point at which the heaters are close to other other components is where they come off the case and up to the pins. Heater noise is not a problem.
  • By using p2p pretty much all circuit interconnects are very short – in particular, as I understand it, the very high impedance (and therefore susceptible to noise) connections to the grids.

Power up.
With the assistance of Clary Schollum, who to my great benefit lives nearby, it was powered up bit by bit with a variac. Nothing exploded, voltages were near enough. However it was pretty noisy and hummy, so back to the the troubleshooting bench. Well, first mistake I found was putting an ecc83 in instead of an ecc82. No comment. Changing that out got me into the “its working ok” ballpark. However I couldn’t get the second B+ into the 90-100v range, and consequently the threshold wasn’t working properly. It was doing a better job as a overdrive box than a limiter.
After exchanging a couple of emails with the circuit designer, it was off for a troubleshooting visit. I came back with a few things to do:

  • add a resistor across the powersupply to give a load to the dropping resistor, so we can get the 90-100v required
  • change the input pad – too much level going in
  • redo the voltage divider for heater elevation – it was too high at 50v, needed to get down to 40v
  • redo the grounding as discussed above
  • attach the input transformer shield and valve shields to the chassis

I am still fiddling around with the input (and output) pads, but apart from that the only problem left is motorboating on the two fastest release settings.

Some new VST’s

The Slate Digital VST’s have become part and parcel of my mixing now, and have helped me make a significant improvement. In particular, ummm, all of them…the virtual consoles, the bus compressors, the tape emulation, the mastering compressor. I even bought the drum trigger thing as well, and its pretty handy.


AB Magic from Samplemagic is also proving worthwhile, especially considering the poor monitoring environment of the home studio. It lets you load up 9 different reference songs on the mix bus and switch between them and you mix. Trim sliders let you balance volumes so you don’t get suckered in by the “louder = better” mistake. Recommended.


Although I have downloaded the latest VoS plugins, I haven’t had a chance to try them out yet. Doubtless the Slick EQ is good, and the odd looking Slick HDR will require a bit of work to get to grips with.

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