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Testing Times…

November 25, 2013

As our research project subjective testing looms later this week, it seemed like a good opportunity to post a progress update, and also promote some other real world productions I’ve recently been working on.

This Thursday afternoon and evening, Ash and I will be conducting our subjective listening tests in one of the studios at MCUK. We’re now at the stage where we have a 10-attribute assessment, and participants will use iPads to enter their choices while listening to the test material. For each attribute being tested we are using appropriate audio, which should stress both systems. Each audio excerpt is about 15 seconds and will be played twice – for system A and then system B – so each test ‘sitting’ shouldn’t take more than 12-14 minutes with gaps in between questions for any comments to be added. The test questionnaire was put together using ‘Google Forms’, so all responses are automatically recorded to a spreadsheet where we can later analyze the data. Additionally, using iPads for participant response means we can test in low light, negating the need to screen off the two systems from view, which could introduce bias in the results.

Prior to testing on Thursday, we plan to spend Wednesday evening setting up the listening environment and systems for optimum accuracy. The 5.1 system will be set up as per ITU-R BS.775, with all listeners seated within the accepted boundaries. The Bose Sound Bar will be calibrated to the room size using the ‘AdaptIQ’ headset, and both system levels will be calibrated to listening volume of 85dB SPL. The Wednesday session will also allow time for running some pilot tests to iron out any potential issues with equipment, material and test format.

If you are free to take part in our subjective listening tests on Thursday afternoon from 5.30pm then please get in touch on 3khzstudio@gmail.com or DM me @3KHz on Twitter.

After family, University studies have taken up the majority of my time lately (aside from cycling and MTB’ing!) and I’ve not been as busy with audio projects. That said, I’ve managed to squeeze in a few interesting things…

Earlier this year I did a 5-day tracking session with Cavan Moran. I then spent a week or so mixing and mastering what was to become his “Five Simple Crimes” EP, which was launched to some great reviews at Takk in the northern quarter last month.  Cav’s songwriting is exceptional because it’s so believable. Marry that with simple, steady guitar lines and the accompanying harmonies and piano of Emma Whitworth and the result was something very special and timeless. Here’s a quick one-take live recording we did during the session of the EP’s opening track.

The session was recorded at 48k/24bit straight into ProTools. We mainly used an x/y pair of Neumann KM184’s for Cav’s acoustic guitar into BAE1073 Neve clones, and an ’87 for all of his vocals through a UA6176 pre. We double tracked Emma’s BV’s (again, using the ’87) and pushed them very far away with a tonne of reverb, giving a a very haunting effect. Vocal timing for harmonies was tightened up using Synchro Arts Vocalign plug-in. We experimented with different mics and pres for the piano, but settled on a pair of AKG414’s (HPF’d above 80Hz in Omni) into a Focusrite ISA428 Mk1, which gave an open an detailed sound, as my piano is not the brightest! The piano was miked on the soundboard, with the mics about 3′ apart and 2′ away. We used acoustic absorbers behind the mics to reduce sound reflected from the nearby plastered walls. As for guitars used, If my memory serves me right the majority of the picked parts were played on a Martin OM, with any strummed arrangements on a pretty old, beat up Gibson J50!

Post-production-wise I’ve recently completed the editing, mixing and mastering of 13 tracks for a musical film called “Ordinary world”. This was a tough job with tight deadlines, but ultimately very rewarding. As the film is due to premiere at The Cornerhouse in the new year I’m unable to post any clips just yet, as finishing touches are being applied prior to an ‘official’ trailer release. However, you can listen to one of tracks here…

Before I came on-board, all the arrangements and recording of the songs was done in GarageBand and logic using a combination of virtual instruments and live musicians. I was then dropboxed stereo files of each element to work on. The first thing I did was split pretty much everything into mono and ditch what I didn’t need. I then strip-silenced everything to get more clarity and see what was happening and where. Once I’d got a rough idea of the balance I wanted, I then set about cleaning up the vocals which were very noisy and all over the place in level. Waves “vocal rider” helped a lot with this then a touch of compression. Some quite severe EQ decisions were made for certain midi instruments, with those settings then saved and re-used on the same instrument in another song. This saved time and was a good starting point at getting some life into virtual instruments and helping them to sit right. In order to get everything to a similar level and minimise the need for difficult mastering, I mixed into the same signal chain on my main stereo bus: TL Audio EQ2, Waves Bus Compressor, Sonnox Limiter and finally a McDSP ML4000 mastering limiter. All mixes were dropboxed back to the client who would feedback to me via mix-notes in the relevant song folder. All in all, I spent about 2 weeks working on the project and aside from one meeting at completion, only saw the client once! Dropbox meant I didn’t need to leave the house…!

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