Tag Archives: David Hurd

Review: Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition for audio calibration

By David Hurd

What is a flat monitoring system, and how does it benefit those mixing audio? Well, this is something I’ll be addressing in this review of Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition, but first some background…

Having a flat audio system simply means that whatever signal goes into the speakers comes out sonically pure, exactly as it was meant to. On a graph, it would look like a straight line from 20 cycles on the left to 20,000 cycles on the right.

A straight, flat line with no peaks or valleys would indicate unwanted boosts or cuts at certain frequencies. There is a reason that you want this for your monitoring system. If there are peaks in your speakers at the hundred-cycle mark on down you get boominess. At 250 to 350 cycles you get mud. At around a thousand cycles you get a honkiness as if you were holding your nose when you talked, and too much high-end sounds brittle. You get the idea.

Before

After

If your system is not flat, your monitors are lying to your ears and you can’t trust what you are hearing while you mix.

The problem arises when you try to play your audio on another system and hear the opposite of what you mixed. It works like this: If your speakers have too much bass then you cut some of the bass out of your mix to make it sound good to your ears. But remember, your monitors are lying, so when you play your mix on another system, the bass is missing.

To avoid this problem, professional recording studios calibrate their studio monitors so that they can mix in a flat-sounding environment. They know that what they hear is what they will get in their mixes, so they can happily mix with confidence.

Every room affects what you hear coming out of your speakers. The problem is that the studio monitors that were close to being flat at the factory are not flat once they get put into your room and start bouncing sound off of your desk and walls.

Sonarworks
This is where Sonarwork’s calibration mic and software come in. They give you a way to sonically flatten out your room by getting a speaker measurement. This gives you a response chart based upon the acoustics of your room. You apply this correction using the plugin and your favorite DAW, like Avid Pro Tools. You can also use the system-wide app to correct sound from any source on your computer.

So let’s imagine that you have installed the Sonarworks software, calibrated your speakers and mixed a music project. Since there are over 30,000 locations that use Sonarworks, you can send out your finished mix, minus the Sonarworks plugins since their room will have different acoustics, and use a different calibration setting. Now, the mastering lab you use will be hearing your mix on their Sonarworks acoustically flat system… just as you mixed it.

I use a pair of Genelec studio monitors for both audio projects and audio-for-video work. They were expensive, but I have been using them for over 15 years with great results. If you don’t have studio monitors and just choose to mix on headphones, Sonarworks has you covered.

The software will calibrate your headphones.

There is an online product demo at sonarworks.com that lets you select which headphones you use. You can switch between bypass and the Sonarworks effect. Since they have already done the calibration process for your headphones, you can get a good idea of the advantages of mixing on a flat system. The headphone option is great for those who mix on a laptop or small home studio. It’s less money as well. I used my Sennheiser HD300 Pro series headphones.

I installed Sonarworks on my “Review” system, which is what I use to review audio and video production products. I then tested Sonarworks on both Pro Tools 12 music projects and video editing work, like sound design using a sound FX library and audio from my Blackmagic Ursa 4.6K camera footage. I was impressed at the difference that the Sonarworks software made. It opened my mixes and made it easy to find any problems.

The Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition takes your projects to a whole new level, and finally lets you hear your work in a sonically pure and flat listening environment.

My Review System
The Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition was tested on
my Mac Pro 6-core trash can running High Sierra OSX, 64GB RAM, 12GB of RAM on the D700 video cards; a Blackmagic UltraStudio 4K box; four G-Tech G-Speed 8TB RAID boxes with HighPoint RAID controllers; Lexar SD and Cfast card readers; video output viewed a Boland 32-inch broadcast monitor; a Mackie mixer; a Complete Control S25 keyboard; and a Focusrite Clarett 4 Pre.

Software includes Apple FCPX, Blackmagic Resolve 15 and Pro Tools 12. Cameras used for testing are a Blackmagic 4K Production camera and the Ursa Mini 4.6K Pro, both powered by Blueshape batteries.


David Hurd is production and post veteran who owns David Hurd Productions in Tampa. You can reach him at david@dhpvideo.com.

Review: RTW’s Masterclass Mastering Tools

By David Hurd

RTW, based in Cologne, Germany, has been making broadcast-quality metering tools for audio professionals since 1965. Today, we will be looking at its Masterclass Mastering Tools and Loudness Tools plug-ins, which are awesome to have in your arsenal if you are mastering music or audio for broadcast.

These tools operate both as DAW plugins and in standalone mode. I tested them in Magix Sound Forge.

To start, I simply opened Sound Forge and added the RTW plug-in to the Plug-in Chain. RTW’s Masterclass Mastering Tools handle all of the loudness standards for broadcast so that your mix doesn’t get squished while giving you a detailed picture of the dynamics of your mix for use on the Web.

The Masterclass Mastering bundle includes a lot of loudness presets that will conform your audio levels to the standards of other countries. Since the listeners of most of my projects reside in the USA, I used one of the US standard presets.

The CALM Act preset uses a K- weighted metering scale with “True Peak,” “Momentary,” “Short” and “Integrated Total Level” views, as well as a meter that displays your loudness range. I was mostly concerned with the Integrated Level and True Peak displays. The integrated level shows you an average of the perceived loudness over the entire length of the program. It actually improves your dynamic range since it doesn’t count the extremely quiet and loud areas in your mix.

This comes in handy on projects like a home improvement show that I work, where I have mostly dialog except for a loud power tool like an air nailer or chop saw.

As long as the whole program conforms to the average for US standards for Integrated Level, my dialog can be heard while still allowing the power tools to be loud. This allows me to have a robust mix and still keep it legal.

If you have ever tested the difference between Peak and RMS settings on a loudness plug-in, you know that your settings can make a huge difference in the perceived loudness of your audio signal. Usually, loud is good, but it depends on the hardware path that your program will have to take on its way to the listeners.

If your audio is going to be broadcast, your loud mix may be degraded when it is processed for broadcast by the station. If the broadcast output processing limiters think that your mix is too loud they will add compression or limiting of their own. Suddenly, you’ll learn too late that the station’s hardware has squished your wonderful loud and punchy mix into mush.

If your listeners are on the Web, rather than watching a TV broadcast, you will have less of a problem. Most of the Internet broadcast venues, like YouTube and iTunes, are using an automatic volume control that just adjusts the file volume instead of applying any compression or limiting to your audio. The net result is that your listeners will hear your mix as it was intended to be heard.

Digital clipping is an ugly thing, which no one wants any part of. To make sure that my program never clips, I also keep an eye on the True Peak meter. The True Peak meter looks for peaks in your audio program, and here’s the cool part. It actually calculates where your audio wave would have peaked had there been headroom and uses that level. This allows me to easily set an overall level for the whole mix that doesn’t include any clipping distortion.
As you probably know, the phase relationship between your audio channels is very important, so Masterclass Mastering Tools include tools for these as well.

You get a Stereo Correlation Meter, a Surround Sound Analyzer and a RealTime Frequency Analyzer. To top it off, you also get a Vectorscope for monitoring the phase relationship between any pair of audio channels.

It’s not like you couldn’t add a bunch of metering plug-ins to your present system and get roughly the same results. But, why would you want to? The Masterclass Mastering Tools from RTW puts everything that you need together in one easy-to-use package.

Summing Up
If you are on a budget, you may want to look into the Loudness Tools package, which is only $239 dollars. It contains everything the Mastering Tools package offers, except for the Surround Sound Analyzer, RealTime Analyzer and the Vectorscope. The full-blown Mastering Tools package is only $578.91, which gives you everything you need to comply with loudness standards all over the world.

For conforming world-class professional audio, you need to use professional tools, and Masterclass Mastering Tools will easily enable you to get the job done.


David Hurd own David Hurd Productions in Tampa, Florida. He has been reviewing products for over 20 years.

A one-man production band… on wheels

Capturing an event with pro know-how and flexible tools

By David Hurd

I recently had an opportunity to shoot a gala event at a mall for the Tampa Innovation Alliance. The CEOs of all the big local companies, as well as the mayor were there, along with 600 guests. The event was held in the large space that used to be an Old Navy store, and there were booths out in the mall that needed coverage as well.

The plan was for Tracy, the interviewer, to get short interviews with the VIPs before the sit down part of the event and then I would record the speakers. The footage would then be edited down into a five-minute 720p YouTube video.

Because of the many set-ups, and the size of the venue, I needed a rig that was quick and portable. I started with a pair of American Grip Dana Dolly Baby Combo Stands on wheels. These things are awesome and built like tanks. I then attached a 48-inch SmartSystem slider to the top of the stands and a Manfrotto head and pan bar. The 48-inch SmartSystem slider can take a lot of weight and allows me to use any camera rig.

I assembled the rig in the parking lot, and just rolled it into the mall. During the shoot, I used the slider to re-position shots quickly when the crowd got in my way, and it came in handy for creating moving shots as well. Let’s talk about the camera.

My Gear
I have grown to love my Blackmagic 4K production camera for jobs like these. I use a 35mm Rokinon lens, which due to the crop factor ends up at around 50mm. Indoors, I set it to Film mode (iso 800) and a color balance of 4000, which always seems to work best. I also turn on the 2:35 mask so that I have an idea of what the image will look like later.

The Rokinon lens is f1.3, so it does well in low light. Since I was going to be constantly on the move, I just used available light. Did I mention that the lighting inside the event looked like a dark bar? That’s where Film mode (iso 800) and the lens saved my butt.

For important jobs, I record a 220Mb/sec stream in ProRes 422HQ, otherwise ProRes 422 100Mb/sec works fine for the web. You will only see the difference when you zoom in a lot in post. For power, I used a V-mount Blueshape battery. Blueshape batteries are what professionals are changing to. The one I used that night lasted the whole shoot.

For audio, I use the amazing little JuicedLink BMC366 mixer for Blackmagic cameras. It’s small, lightweight, and has everything I need. I used a Shure VP64 mic, plugged into a Sennheiser RF transmitter in one channel of the mixer for the interviews. I also needed the house audio for the sit-down speeches. For this I used a Sennheiser lav transmitter plugged into a sub out on the house mixer via a 1/4-inch jack. Since the jack was mono and the mixer was stereo, I only pushed in the jack to the first click to avoid shorting it out. After adjusting the in and out levels, the Sennheiser transmitted the house audio to wherever I was in the room.

Interviews
The interview part of the shoot went something like this: Tracy walked around with his mic in hand, finding interview victims. I followed him, happily pushing my rig along. When one was found, I directed them into position to make use of available light, framed for a wide shot, focused and hit record. It was painless, and the process took about one to three minutes per interview.

When everyone went inside for the sit-down part of the evening, I found a place off to one side of the stage, about 30 feet from the podium. Using the same lens, I could get most of the stage in the shot. After a quick battery change in the house audio transmitter, I was ready to rock.

About an hour later, after the event, we stood by the exit and snagged people for interviews as they were leaving. Then I rolled the rig to the parking lot, took it apart, loaded it up, and headed home for the edit.

The Edit
The edit is where the magic happens. Thunderbolt is wonderful, and I have built up a system that is fairly state of the art, so that I don’t have to wait much while editing.

I called on a Mac Pro “Trash Can” with 64GB of memory and 12GB of GPU processing on the two video cards. The computer is connected to four G-Tech G-Speed esPro drive boxes via two HighPoint RocketStor 6328 RAID controllers. Each controller is connected to its own TB channel. Each set of two boxes (eight drives) is a RAID-5, and all 16 drives are striped RAID-0 in OS X. The system reads data at 2000MB/sec and writes at over 1700MB/sec. — perfect for 4K editing.

For viewing, there are two 32-inch monitors, one of which is a Boland broadcast monitor run through a Blackmagic UltraStudio 4K interface box via SDI.

The workflow is easy. I simply drop the SSDs from the Blackmagic camera into my RocketStor 5212, which transfers the data via Thunderbolt to my RAID really fast. I record on OWC 480GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G SSD cards, so the transfer rate is over 550MB/sec.

In Apple FCPX I create a 720p timeline and when I import the 4K footage, I select “Leave Files in Place.” Basically, I am dropping roughly 2000×4000 pixel footage onto a 720×1280 pixel timeline.

For more of a “film” look, I place a 2:35 aspect ratio mask that I made in Photoshop over the footage. Now, I simply open up the scopes and color correct the footage, which is much easier to do before it’s all cut up.

My intention was to have the original wide shot, and zoomed-in medium and close-up shots, so first I had to see where I wanted to cut them. To do this I had to go through the footage and make cuts with the Blade tool. For example, I may start close-up on Tracy and go to a two-shot when he introduces his guest. Then I go to the guest when he says something interesting and then back to a two-shot for the close.

With the cuts made, I clicked on the clips, re-sized them and moved them around into the medium and close-up shots. Because I had about 2000×4000 pixels to work with, I was able to zoom in up to 300 percent and still have pixel-to-pixel coverage. If the shot was in focus, but looked a little soft, I would call on a sharpen filter to fix it.

Since I shoot with a Prime lens, there is no zoom. If the client wants a slow zoom, I just use keyframes. This is actually better than trying to zoom in and out at the event, where there are no re-takes.

This rig and workflow turned what would have been a lot of lifting and moving about in a crowded space into an efficient one-man shoot. I didn’t have to worry about zooming, or getting the exact framing, which removed a lot of stress. I got 90 minutes of footage, and I only needed five.

This story has a happy ending. The client was pleased with the video, and I got paid.


David Hurd is the owner of David Hurd Productions in Tampa, Florida. He has been in the business for over 40 years.