the ToKwerX Hybrid-System

The current mixing and mastering facility at ToKwerX is a beautiful balance of analogue and digital devices. Allowing the immense control and immediate recall of digital but gifting the ability to enhance with saturation, warmth and real vacuum-tube harmonic distortion to the mix or master. Add to this an expanded perception of stereo image and depth of field derived from 16 stems into analogue summing. The modern mixing & mastering facility need not be huge but can be incredibly powerful, whilst retaining the sonics that only analogue produces.

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Within minutes of ToKwerX this is where you can be. So special and unbelievably close to the new studio. So whilst you're undertaking editing, mixing or mastering at ToKwerX take a break and breathe some of the amazingly fresh air and listen to the birds chatter over the symphonic chorus of the forest. 

Most clients just send through their projects these days but I invite and encourage you to come, stay a while; complete your project amidst the peace that is literally moments from our door.  

Concert Sound: Subs? Shelve the Low End

I have to admit disappointment at the FOH mix for the D'Angelo concert here in Melbourne. Whilst we were most fortunate with our prime seats (thanks Neil) the level of Sub-frequencies primarily from the Kick Drum were overt and totally unnecessary; alas to the detriment of everything else. The glorious Bass and wonderful vocals were forced into a saturated and inadequate space within the mix every time the Kick was struck. I simply can't accept that an international concert mixing engineer could get this so wrong; more to the point, leave it unaddressed for the entire show. I won't suggest it was worsened by our position in the room as I've seen several shows at the same venue and they were never like this. I feel compelled to find and contact the engineer responsible and ask, quite simply; Why? You totally missed the mark on this one buddy! Such a pity 'cos the band was awesome. But on a professional level, unacceptable! This is clearly not an isolated problem, as this article from AudioTechnology magazine suggest. "Time to Shelve the Low End"

RENT: ToKwerX Mixing-Mastering Room

Due to changes in my parenting responsibilities I am relocating my studio system back into our home. This means the space I built at Coloursound Studios in Altona Beach will be available for rent.
Comprising of a customised acoustic space complete with floating floor and rear-wall bass trap that "eats everything" below 300Hz this room sounds incredibly flat. Therefore lending itself perfectly to mixing and mastering duties.
The space will accommodate up to larger midfield monitoring easily and also has an area that would quickly become a vocal isolation booth without too much expense.
For details contact Mat Robins on:
+61 405 312 061

Over Excited

I wanted to write about the use of Aural Exciters in modern mixing and mastering. Aphex brought out the first version in hardware several decades ago and they were a wonderful device for brightening up the top end of any program material. Best remember we were using tape then though and these days with the high definition of DSD (Direct Stream Digital) frequencies up this end are not rolled off as with tape. So whilst "POP" music seems to have extended the realm of possibilities in the definition of "bright" I personally find the accentuation of these frequencies potentially dangerous. I am particularly concerned about the bandwidth from 3k~10k. Yes our human recognition of frequencies is most accurate in the 2.5~3kHz range and "exciting" this area can add a sense of presence to an otherwise dull program. But presence, especially for the lead vocal is not essentially a mastering issue; this should be addressed within the mix. I know I harp on about this but "the dark art" of mastering is certainly not a collection of tools to repair an otherwise ordinary mix. Hi-Hats and Sibilance are my major concerns for the use of Exciters. I am openly an anti-sibilant engineer, requiring plenty of definition in this area of approx 7.5kHz for an "s" but I get immediately and painfully distracted if this band of frequency is overt - drilling me through the eye with "t & s" is one sure way to put me off. I think it was Bob Katz who also stated that sibilance is able to be heard above all else, even when someone is speaking facing away from you, and he's right. Turn your monitoring right down, really low to focus on what's happening in this realm of hats and sib's. De-Essing is a wonderful tool; use it! So if you're convinced that an Exciter is just what your material needs to brighten it up I am going to suggest you have some more work to do - go back to your mix. Here's a hint. I start each and every mix session with a reference track of a piece with a great top end to attune my ears BEFORE I listen to my own material. Use this as often as you require throughout your mixing to wake up your ears. This will ensure your mix is bright enough and your 5~10k bandwidth will be in control. I personally love exciters but they demand an awareness of what can occur to these frequencies I've discussed. Avoid adding harshness to your top end at all costs. As another mastering engineer states as his mantra, "keep it warm." (Bob Ludwig)

Controlling Subs

The frequency range we hear the least but tend to love the most - Subs. Some consider these to be 120Hz and below but in my opinion Sub-harmonics don't kick in 'til around 80Hz, where an acoustic kick drum often produces tone. Dance or synthesized kicks are another matter and essentially extend down to 60Hz, tailing off at 50. These are immensely heavy frequencies, requiring most of your power to drive them and as such demand absolute control by an engineer. Awareness of the Sub-Harmonic curve needs to be taken into account here, for there are further frequencies extending down to 20Hz and below, which need to be addressed. In order to allow 60Hz to "speak" clearly the bandwidth extending to 30 (an Octave below) has to be rolled-off. More often it's what we take out as opposed to what we put in and in the range of subs it couldn't be more true. I roll-off my entire mix during the first stage of mastering at 50Hz, essentially a Butterworth curve at approx 24dB per Octave. Throughout the EQ stage in mastering there is also a secondary HPF (High Pass Filter - "everything higher shall pass") set at 40Hz with an even steeper curve. This ensures that I am not boosting wide bandwidths of subs in order to create that wonderful thump, rather specifically targeted areas so as not to cloud or smear this frequency range. If you're not using as least one main HPF across your mix you're asking your compressor to attempt to apply gain reduction to "the sound of the Planet turning." Roll them off and I am sure you'll be astounded by the increase in clarity and definition in your sub harmonic range.

Editing & Mixing: the GRID

After a simply wonderful five days of tracking it's now time to clean things up a little more, map the audio to a grid in order to sync delays and tremelo's and apply noise reduction to some guitar tracks. We only required a click track for one of nine songs so mapping a grid ensures that delay times etc all automatically follow the subtle timing changes of the human performances. Protools gives the engineer immense control but many of these higher functions are derived from the tempo-map or time-line. Mapping to a grid is one of the first elements I cover in Protools at RMIT with my Sound Production students in Advanced Digital Editing. If you are not as yet aware of this mapping process it may well be time to reach for the manual - step one before any editing or mixing for me is "map the grid."

rule the world

Husny Thalib adds his first cover-song to an impressive list of releases over the last twelve months. Tears for Fears classic, Rule the World is now ready for mixing and judging by the vibe the new backing vocals give the track it's simply gonna rock. Keep your eyes on Husny's pages and those ears open for this upcoming release. Mixed & Mastered right here at ToKwerX.

P.S. Compress your Drum Reverb, like give it a good squash. Post Reverb try something like a soft-knee valve unit with release nice and smooth (not too short). I use the UAD LA2A (Compression curve rather than Limiter) in line after a big Plate reverb. You'll have yourself that 80's Lexicon sheen with a wonderfully held reverb release tail. This helps to sit the decay of the reverb up in the mix as opposed to just the initial "splash." It also lowers the initial early reflections to blend in more with the decay tail.

UAD "DreamVerb" Room Modeler

So you want a Reverb processor that sounds natural and unobtrusive, without having to dedicate 4 TDM chips to run it? Seriously, if you want to step up ALL of your sounds the Universal Audio Digital series can't be overlooked. Now available in an external FW800 processor as well as the PCIe card systems, the dedicated hardware runs UA's emulations of many beloved hardware units - the difference is they sound the same as the hardware - I'm not kidding and I stated to my Sound Production students "Digital has finally arrived." Check out my review of the "DreamVerb" modeler - you can hear it in any one of my mixes since June 2011.


P.S. No, I don't own shares in UAD - but I wish I did!

San Salvador

"Rugged Are the Mountains" is the upcoming phat-EP release by San Salvador. The Melbourne based reggae & dub outfit have put together 7 tunes on this fresh new output, with an extended mix of their single "Spark the Fire." Entirely mixed and mastered at ToKwerX this release is the first to go to duplication featuring mixes and masters utilising the MR2000 DSD recorder; the results are quite wonderful. A broad and lush image, with warm top end and a seriously pumping sub range this is a perfect showcase for the new digital format. Captured in DSD at 5.8MHz for each analogue process, with digital processing carried out at 176kHz once back in PCM - this makes for minimal interpolation during the sample-rate conversion back down to 44.1k for CD. Maybe the band can be talked into providing hifi-skankers the DSD format in the future? For launch details check out the bands' site via the ARTISTS page here on ToKwerX.

Mix & Master in DSD

The very first Mix and Master in DSD format is complete here at ToKwerX. 'Husny Thalib's edgy pop is the initial artist to benefit from the new protocol, resulting in not only some gorgeous top end but some seriously pumping bottom-end. The definition of the lower frequency range is enhanced due to the improved dynamic range and the ability of DSD to more accurately shape the waveforms - without distortion created by PCM format's quantization errors. The area I am researching now is the conversion of DSD-PCM for editing and other digital processing, as any analogue pathway is re-captured at DSD then brought back into PCM at 176.4kHz (I am purposely using this sample-rate instead of 192kHz as the further conversion and dithering down to 44.1kHz/16bit for CD-DA is a simpler mathematical step-down from 176.4, thereby requiring less interpolation of each sample). I'll post more of my findings on this conversion process over the following weeks.

Next to benefit from DSD capture is Melbourne-based reggae outfit 'San Salvador' who's 7 track EP I am currently mixing; simply loving this new format. The superior quality will be implemented into RMIT University's Sound Production program next year. DSD - Definitely Superior Digital.

Chinatown Angels Upcoming Launch

Melbourne-based rock 'n' roll outfit CHINATOWN ANGELS will soon release their new tracks. Mixed & Mastered at ToKwerX and recorded at Coloursound Studios (Altona) this is a seriously rockin' band. The lads intend to simultaneously launch on-line and with a live performance at Cherry Bar; located where else but AC-DC lane in the heart of Melbourne city. I for one will be joining the band for this event and partake in a bit of rock 'n' roll frolic - "Zigga Zugga Zigga Zugga Oi Oi Oi!" Check out the details on their link via my Artists page here on ToKwerX.

DSD - Wow!

Two days in and I'm simply blown away by the clarity, depth, width and definition of the DSD sampling protocol. KORG's MR2000s is a serious piece of gear and reasonably priced considering what it achieves. The current mix project for Melbourne reggae outfit 'San Salvador' is a great litmus test for this new mastering recorder; all acoustic instruments, recorded nicely (by my mate Tim Johnston) and presenting a broad range of textures and frequencies. With a sample rate of 5.6 MHz and a capture bandwidth in excess of 200 kHz most audio-philes would expect the top end to be the most noticeable difference, and that is absolutely true. But the depth and bottom end is simply gorgeous, delivering the punch I hear straight out of the AUDIENT SUMO's analogue pathway. The width of the stereo image is divine and I have greater separation in each instruments position within the L-R field. Reverbs are sounding better than ever, with a beautiful tail that extends without falling apart due to quantization errors at low amplitudes. Early days yet but I am incredibly impressed with DSD and as you no doubt already detect - I'm an official subscriber and supporter!

PEARL debut album completed

Phew! Now that was intense.

Nonetheless the debut album from Marcia Howard & Rose Bygrave is complete. The women have done most of the tracking for this record - a learning curve for them both as they've stated but an increasingly common occurrence for records these days. The technology allows access to processes once only offered by dedicated studio-facilities and it is indeed the artists that are reaping the rewards. A consequent rise in interest on the part of the artist to avail themselves with engineering techniques is also directly related to this.

Deadlines are very aptly named - a line that must not be crossed and near death occurs as the engineer approaches it! Lack of sleep, lack of time to listen, lack of ... everything. And yet the ability to deliver on time, on budget must never be forgotten - it is a reality of the music industry and unlikely to change all that much. Not until we can conjure up a 36 hour day that is!

Thanx PEARL - an absolute pleasure.