More on Digital Models

Sophisticated digital signal processors and careful implementations of modeling software can convincingly reproduce the sound of any piece of gear in the production of a music recording. Really. And I’m including the sounds of the instruments themselves.

The distance between musicians and recording engineers has narrow significantly in the past 20 years. It is actually possible to have marginal musical skills and talent and still be able to release professional sounding music tracks. But today I’m going to focus on the very first piece of technology that a recording engineer uses in the production of a recording…the microphones.

We all know that microphones are transducers (devices that change on type of energy to another type…in this case acoustic sound to electrical current). Without microphones we could not capture the sound of a Stradivarius violin or a gold top 1957 Les Paul played through a Marshall Stack. Microphones can be compared to the lenses that a cinematographer uses in capturing images or a movie…and the good ones are rare and very expensive.

So can a digital plugin change the sound of an inexpensive mike into the sound of a classic tube Telefunken 250 or rare Neumann U-47? As impossible as this sounds, those talented coders working at Universal Audio and other companies have cracked this nut. Professional and amateur recording engineers now have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of very special microphones.

It does make sense if you stop and think about it. The output of a microphone capsule is a stream of electrons in a ware that mirrors the acoustic energy that was hitting the diaphragm. The circuits inside the mike amplify or filter the current flowing through the components and pass the signal to the output connector. Everything about the frequencies, amplitudes, timbral characteristics etc is contained in that signal.

All we have to do is compare the original acoustic signal to the output and that the “color” of the microphone. Of course, we’ll want to do this at a variety of amplitudes and distances to make sure that we establish the boundary conditions for the microphones under review, but it is possible.

Allen Sides’ Ocean Way Studios have a very impressive collection of microphones. I consider my 50 or so cherished mikes to be quite more than adequate for my purposes but I haven’t got the quantity and diversity that he does.

According to their website:

“With virtual access to $250,000 of hand-picked, vintage microphones, Ocean Way’s microphone setups and Distance controls are the centerpiece of the plug-in. The setups capture the ideal microphone selections and placements for each room and source type — exactly as used to record some of the biggest acts of all time. Up to three vintage microphones pairs (Near, Mid, Far) are available in each setup, allowing for creative sonic blending. Click-and-drag the microphones to position them in the room, then EQ and filter their sound as desired — complete with mic bleed and proximity effects.

In Use
Ocean Way Studios offers two modes of operation: Reverb mode, using send/return paths to mix wet and dry signals; or Re-Mic mode, to fully immerse the original source audio within Ocean Way’s rooms. Re-Mic mode is by nature “fully wet,” and can be used to entirely replace your original room and microphone sounds with the fabled sound of Ocean Way.”

So not only can audio engineers emulate the sound of any room that want, they can also open up and utilize the “virtual” microphone closets of the best studios in the world.

The productions norms of yesteryear are rapidly fading away. I hope you’re ready.

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

9 thoughts on “More on Digital Models

  • January 20, 2014 at 4:49 pm
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    Of course, this will only work well if the physical mike being used is relatively neutral-sounding and doesn’t introduce strong coloration itself – unless the modeling software is going to apply a model of the physical mike to counteract its coloration before adding the desired mike’s “sound.”

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    • January 20, 2014 at 4:53 pm
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      The modelling takes into effect the sound of the original microphone.

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  • January 21, 2014 at 3:02 am
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    as Phil Olenick said surely you are still limited to the input from the mic you used? If the mic you used failed to pick up some detail in the sound you cant add that back in?

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  • January 21, 2014 at 12:33 pm
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    Go ahead and use a $2.00 electret condenser microphone from RadioShack. The DSP will fix it. I find this amusing after the, well justified, rants against signal processing to improve the sound of compressed music. Likewise, all the system can do is add further colorations to what you already captured. Those may, of course, be pleasing.

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    • January 21, 2014 at 12:46 pm
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      The microphones being used to establish the essence of an acoustic environment are hardly $2 electret condenser…they are high-end reference mikes. Signal processing is being used in virtually every commercial recording you’ve ever heard. The magic now is that the power of digital modelling can be brought to bear on both ends of the production chain…this is important and revolutionary. That I choose not to mess with a lot of DSP processing doesn’t negate the fact that most of the industry can’t make better recordings with it.

      Reply
  • January 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm
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    “So can a digital plugin change the sound of an inexpensive mike into the sound of a classic tube Telefunken 250 or rare Neumann U-47? As impossible as this sounds, those talented coders working at Universal Audio and other companies have cracked this nut.”
    So, if I can’t go all the way to the $2.00 electret, can I use a $10 dynamic mic? They can’t put back information that wasn’t captured. All they can do is re-equalize and add certain types of distortion to model a different microphone.

    Reply
    • January 22, 2014 at 10:23 am
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      As I stated in my previous response, the source microphone has to have at least the equivalent response characteristics of the microphone being modelled…but yes a reasonable but inexpensive mike can sound virtually the same as an expensive collector’s microphone.

      Reply
  • December 24, 2014 at 12:07 pm
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    Rather than use this digital signal processing to emulate some microphone, why not use it to correct the imperfections of the microphone being used, which is to say, use it to emulate a “perfect” microphone?

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    • December 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm
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      What is the perfect microphone? There will be as much debate about this as there is about the perfect guitar amplifier or speaker.

      Reply

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