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My Favourite Plugin EQs & Compressors

My Favourite Plugin EQs & Compressors

There are many (perhaps too many) EQ and compressor plugins on the market. How are you supposed to know which one should you use, and why? There is a valid argument that states that most EQ plugins are essentially the same. Mathematically you should be able to approximate the function of any EQ plugin using a stock EQ in your DAW. The reason, however, for different types is that they get to the desired result quicker and in a predictable manner. Do you want some mid-range punch on bass guitar?  Use an API 550a Need some airy high-end shine? Use a Pultec EQP-1A Are you after smooth gain-reduction for vocals? Use an LA-2A or CL-1B I often get asked why I use a certain EQ or Dynamics processor for certain tasks. So here is a list of some of my current favourites and the reasons why I like to reach for them.   Compressors: Waves API 2500 – Drum bus compressor par excellence! Watch the input as it might get too squishy too quickly so maybe a gain plugin before helps – instant drum smasher. CLA-76 (blue) – great for bass, snare, kick and vox. VERY quick attack and controls work backwards so 1=slow, 7=quick. Try all ratio buttons in for room mics. Threshold increases as the ratio does so you compensate with more input and less output. CLA-2A – Very smooth vocal compression with some added valve tubbiness. Good on bass too. Set the amount of peak reduction required and then make up the gain – easy! CLA-3A – One of my favourites. Cleaner version of the LA-2A. Great on guitars, vox etc....
Cambridge Location Recording – Day 2

Cambridge Location Recording – Day 2

Before heading back to Caxton near Cambridge for the second day of location recording, I made a detour via the studio to check through the rough mix from the day before. I find that Genelec speakers tend to make everything sound pretty good so I wanted to check the balance on my trusted Yamaha NS10s in the studio. The good news was that the mix was working well and most importantly the bass was clear and defined – something I had been worried about when using the Genelecs. I had packed down a lot of my gear the night before and brought back a lot of the spurious equipment now that we’d finished tracking drums so setup was a simpler affair – I created a “control area” out of the way in the main music room where I could setup speakers for playback as well as have mics setup for vocals with a set of headphones and a floor wedge covering fold-back duties for the singers. The 'Control Room' The “control room” setup for the second day. This was in the music room to facilitate easy recording and communication with larger groups of singers not to mention freeing up the billiards table for the social activities! Vocal mic can be seen along with the fold-back monitor for the group recordings. I chose a Neumann TLM103 for the main vocal mic with a metal pop shield and SE Relexion filter to try and capture as clean a recording as possible. I ended up not using the relexion filter after all due to a shortage of mic stands – I had clearly...
Cambridge Location Recording

Cambridge Location Recording

When I was asked to take basically my whole studio up to Caxton near Cambridge to do some location recording for a couple of days my reaction was “sure thing, but why don’t you come here?” – the answer being “there’ll be over 20 of us on the stag…..” The penny dropped – I was being asked to essentially provide a recording studio service on location to a bunch of drunken reprobates for a couple of days….why not! Jonas – the organiser and best man had tried to find a residential studio but the sheer number of guys meant that it was proving difficult as they were all descending on the venue gradually over 2 days, bringing an assortment of instruments with them and they sought a more relaxed feel afforded by the 15th century manse that would serve as our HQ for the weekend which belongs to the groom’s parents – who were mercifully away! The plan was to record a 7-8 minute medley of songs that all members of the party would perform on in some way – either instrumental or vocal duties and day one would be used to lay down the backing track and record the majority of the instruments with day two reserved for vocals in between bouts of clay pigeon shooting and copious amounts of drinking! The Gear List The first thing I had to decide on this job was what to take with me – I essentially needed to track a full band (albeit separately) over a weekend and would probably need to work fast and mix as I went along so...
The Cheap Speaker Test

The Cheap Speaker Test

The way we consume music has changed drastically over the previous few decades. I remember growing up listening to ABBA and Billy Joel vinyl records on my parent’s HIFI in the sitting room whereas now it seems that everyone listens on iPods or their phone. So you have some pretty decent studio monitors but how do you know that your mixes are going to translate to the real world? The answer is to invest in some cheap, nasty “grot boxes”. So why are these so useful? Speakers like the ones pictured don’t tend to be very flattering and also tend to over-emphasise the mid range so they will really highlight any problems or deficiencies on your mix. These speakers also don’t tend to go very loud so you will have to work hard to get the details across on them, making you work harder on your mix, and that’s a good thing right? And don’t just take my word for it – many top mix engineers take the same approach: Most of my mixing is done listening to my little Sony boombox. Because the speakers of the boombox are relatively close to each other, I essentially listen in mono. The Sony is like a magnifying glass, it tells me whether my mix sucks or not. Michael Brauer – Coldplay, James Brown, Aerosmith. I use a Fostex 6301b for my mixing duties and prefer this over a set of smaller PC speakers for a couple of reasons. Firstly the speaker is mono so it is a point-source which helps generally when mixing and also the speaker can go fairly loud which helps...
Which Microphone Should I Use?

Which Microphone Should I Use?

I often get asked this question, especially when teaching or in the recording studio: “which microphone should I use to record X?”. The answer I always give? – “the one that gets you the sound you want”. It sounds kind of flippant I know but it really is that simple. You can save yourself a whole load of of time by simply putting a microphone up and having a listen to what you are capturing. Try moving the mic around while you are listening on headphones and see whether you and the musician/band are happy with the sound. Not what you want? Move the mic. Need it brighter? Try a capacitor/condenser mic or move more on-axis. Need it warmer? Try a Valve/Tube mic or Ribbon if you have one. Not the right kind of sound? See if you get nearer to the sound with EQ and if not, switch the mic out for something with a different character. I always try to get the best sound first without having to resort to EQ – just a personal preference. Now it gets interesting when you “mix as you go” – A very common practice nowadays due to dwindling budgets for recording studio time. I personally follow this approach and try to get the sound I want in the mixed track as I go along so you are not always listening for the best the sound can be as that might not be what the track needs! You may want to listen to the track as you go and you’ll soon hear a sweet spot where the instrument seems to sit...
Say Hi to the High Pass Filter!

Say Hi to the High Pass Filter!

I was hanging out with my brother-in-law the other weekend (hey I kind of have to – he made my website! ;0) and he was having trouble getting a guitar track to fit in the mix. There wasn’t a lot going on in the song – mainly drums, bass and guitars with a few vocals – but he was having some real trouble getting all the elements to be heard clearly in the mix, especially when it came to the chorus which sounded kind of wimpy. This is when I gave him some tips on using an HPF – High Pass Filter and this should be the first bit of EQ’ing that you master before you start cutting and boosting all over the place. The theory is that there will be an awful lot of bass information recorded on a track when you don’t need it. For example – if you record a high frequency part like a shaker, the mic will still have picked up a load of bass information that you don’t need – stuff like air conditioner hum, foot tapping etc etc. This is where you should use an HPF because although you might not hear the bass per track it will all add up to some serious mud when you get to 50+ tracks! The picture below illustrates what I mean by High Pass Filter. It’s an EQ that lets the higher frequencies through unchanged while cutting or removing the bass or lower frequencies. Here I am using the stock EQ plugin from Apple Logic Studio 9 but any EQ will do although some might...