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What's the special sauce? (Calling Theo and studio folks)


J. Dan

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I listen back to bands like Depeche Mode whom I've always had unique sound pallets between analog and samples, as well as a wide variety of other styles. Sometimes a sound is readily identifiable, yet why doesn't my saw lead sound like their saw lead? How can a sample of dropping cubes of ice in a glass sound so unique that I can't make that sound doing the same thing? What's the special sauce? Is it all in production? Studio and outboard effects, or the keyboard player, his gear, and his talent/creativity?

 

Theo you spend a lot of time in this but usually just working with basic piano sounds and the like from Kurz. But I would wonder your take on bands like Depeche Mode and Duran Duran who used well known keyboards and samplers and did not have the kind of tools you have now, or lexicon effects, but achieved sounds that seem to be out of reach in a way.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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In Depeche Mode's case, not sure what the secret sauce was, but here is what they used on the Speak and Spell album in 1981, prior to bringing in the Emulator iii.

 

 

Arp 2600

Kawai 100F

Korg MiniKorg 700s

Moog Prodigy

Roland Jupiter-4

Roland SH-1

Yamaha CS-5

 

David

Gig Rig:Depends on the day :thu:

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking a bit later, they used a lot of sampling.

(Coincidence: I happen to be listening to speak and spell as I post this)

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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A lot of it is studio effects.

 

the 80s studio effects were very good even by today's standards, including the lexicons.

Korg Kronos X73 / ARP Odyssey / Motif ES Rack / Roland D-05 / JP-08 / SE-05 / Jupiter Xm / Novation Mininova / NL2X / Waldorf Pulse II

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Yeah well, it's a long and hard story to get the stuff that's also in the famous A grade recordings that seem to defy everything else. I think it really is because my deep and seriously involved analysis and processing steps tell me so. It's not possible to sound like *well made* (mind that part) Kurzweil sounds because there's a logic in there to deal with the essence of sound, the problems with sample reconstruction and how to project proper acoustic elements into the listening space.

 

Sounds woolly but it's a whole lot of "stuff" to take care of before a sound escapes the currently very affordable standard setups of some samples with some cheap and light amping.

 

The main line is that those famous people work on the control of the errors and the perceptions of the tracks and mixes to an amazing amount. If you have no examples of measurements or materials that make that clear, it's hard to believe what's all hidden in those mixes, and you'd think there's nothing but some standard recording equipment and a few standard effects maybe in there. But somehow that does seldom gets to sound that good! Try to a convincing "Jump" patch on you synth that will make the audience go "yeah!" without h*ring their *ss of and you know what I mean.

 

The "sauce" is a built in control of perception elements (what does a listener or a post-processing person hear in the song), a preparation for digital sound (connected with the history of Lexicon which started already in the early 70's), and very good control of stereo image/theatre seat experience and the acoustics of the listening space. Later on, speaker preparations have been added, which unfortunately made most mixes unbearable on good HiFi systems, but that's another story.

 

My processing to give a very short summary, by lack of perfect reconstructing DACs, and mainly because of second order effects of the sampling (reconstruction) errors in the acoustics (which is very hard to prevent, really) searches for three main (and about 20 minor) digital signal elements, which appear to be strangely present in all the well kown materials I've tried (and I've hundreds of hours of 96/24bit flacs I made during the development, testing and modifying of my signal improvement schemes). It's not right to take this summary as proper RD science description, but it's like convolving with a medium length FFT effect, analysing subtle and the craziest thinkable digital signal distortions in parallel with that, and running that through a AM station tube effect in some complex way. Again that's a very crude description. What that does is to recreate the fluty and the pure percussive elements of the original (analogue ?) tracks/recordings as intended but the preparations (which I'm sure in many cases since the 70s involved a lot of actual Lexicon processing and what I call measurements), and prepare them to be acoustically al right through "normal" DAC reconstruction filters.

 

That might see easy, but it requires extreme accuracy and knowledge of the proper (very long) reconstruction theory, and those second and third order acoustically resonating signal errors that are almost impossible to prevent digitally can only be controlled by very accurate signal processing tools, like there are several banks of 20 or 30 band multi-pole/zero filters + dynamics per band in one of the processing phases alone, and a lot of the thousands (!) of parameters of the effects are set to sub-1% accuracy.

 

Long story short, there's been future error control prevention in the 'sauce', a way to create "Equal Loudness Curve" elements (with multi-compression before and complicated 3-deep multi-band expansion after the tube roller bank), and an encoding of the "pure musical DNA" impermeable to all post processing agencies out there, and simultaneously a prepared mapping to what I described above so that the digital nature of the signal can be reconstructed with standard Digital to Analog Converter chips, and also, there's a lot of alternative mix elements, depending on how you adjust the post processing I use, which is another long story you probably don't want to know.

 

I'll try to make an example with some fair use idea to make clear what difference it makes to do all those pro jobs, because everyone is used to crappy mp3s by now, and that such a world apart from those great Hi-Fi products as some well remember, and probably still have nice tapes and records of.

 

The preparations marking the well known tracks and keeping the essential audio data orthogonal with pretty much all known post processing like multi compression, limiting, etc, are very complicated, which I find because of the various signal vectors I can make/measure myself with for instance filter banks at certain points of my studio signal path enhancement. Just taking an Oberheim, dialing (why's that word not in the spell check ?) in the right patch and stomping down some chords doesn't quite get there, even though that's fun, too.

 

T.

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Key ingredients = sound source, player, arrangement.

Secret sauce = saturation, compression, EQ, effects.

 

How much and in what proportions? Welcome to a day in the life of a mixer/producer!

 

I hear ya and experience the same thing. It's the little things that add up. The whole of the signal chain. I work on this with every mix and I still pop on references and hear differences that I can't quite put my finger (ear) on. But I'm constrained by VSTi's or synths plugged into budget audio interfaces while monitoring on budget monitors in my semi-treated family room.

 

Can I get "pro" results? Sometimes. Do I have to work harder? Yes. But go to a well-equipped studio and sometimes all you have to do is plug into their signal chain and you say, "Hey! That's THE sound!" The answer is some combination of experience and money.

Roland Fantom 06; Yamaha P-125; QSC K10; Cubase 13 Pro; Windows 10

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The phantasy and creativity using the tools existing in that studio and make it sound as good and interesting as possible.

Experimentation was the most important factor always.

Outboard processing was normal anyway, nothing special at that time.

 

A.C.

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A lot of it is studio effects.

 

the 80s studio effects were very good even by today's standards, including the lexicons.

Yup.

 

Secret sauce = saturation, compression, EQ, effects.

 

How much and in what proportions? Welcome to a day in the life of a mixer/producer!

 

I hear ya and experience the same thing. It's the little things that add up. The whole of the signal chain. I work on this with every mix and I still pop on references and hear differences that I can't quite put my finger (ear) on. But I'm constrained by VSTi's or synths plugged into budget audio interfaces while monitoring on budget monitors in my semi-treated family room.

 

Can I get "pro" results? Sometimes. Do I have to work harder? Yes. But go to a well-equipped studio and sometimes all you have to do is plug into their signal chain and you say, "Hey! That's THE sound!" The answer is some combination of experience and money.

The skill aspect is certainly underappreciated - especially when it comes to compression and EQ, IMO.

 

I believe there are bunch of folks who don't really understand compression and EQ as well as they could, and either are unaware that's the case or are embarrassed to ask questions.

 

dB

:snax:

 

:keys:==> David Bryce Music • Funky Young Monks <==:rawk:

 

Professional Affiliations: Royer LabsMusic Player Network

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Putting sampling aside, there's a whole very involved world inhabited by "sound designers" that I find pretty fascinating. My window into this world is KVR, and especially when they do the "one synth challenges". There are a lot of folks there--and here too I'm sure--who have the knowledge and skill to make just about any sound imaginable--depending on the tool to some extent.

 

Talking mostly software, but hardware would be no different. Modular, FM, wavetable, additive etc etc...so many types of synthesis, some of which are relatively new. You hear "workflow" mentioned a lot, which I find interesting since that's something you hear in my day job (computer/database programming). To these synthesis types, how the tool allows them to work to create sounds is super important. My own skills in this area on anything but the most basic analog synth is pretty much "spray and pray" (to steal a saying from my shooter-game-playing kids :D). I fiddle knobs and usually end up with something worse than I started, and nothing like anything I might have intended... :P

 

Then you start talking fx, a whole 'nother and super important world which has been mentioned a lot already. I recently downloaded a demo of u-he's "Repro" synth (repro 1 and 5, 5 being a prophet 5 emulation). The fx add a ton to the overall sound, and include distortion, sonic maximizer, delay, compressor, chorus, verb and probably more. Really good fx too, I wouldn't mind having these as separate plugins. Imagine trying to get that sound in the 80s, it would take a studio worth of gear and a lot of time and effort to set up just for one patch!

 

Edit: I'm also constrained by space and budget. I'm hoping that I can grab some sennheiser hd-650s from massdrop for Christmas...these would be a big jump up in monitoring and probably would make me go "ugh" to some patches and sounds that I thought were just fine! That's the hope anyway, to get more discerning on a budget.

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I don't know if Depeche Mode or Duran Duran used it, but the Aphex Aural Exciter became available in the mid-1970s, and was applied by several bands from that time and later.

 

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those special EQs where you push all the frequency buttons at once

Not sure what EQ you mean. Maybe you're thinking of an 1176 compressor...? I believe those are the signal processors best known for the "pushing all the buttons in at the same time" trick. :idk:

ua-1176-black-face-front.jpg

 

I know an engineer in Nashville that has his 1176 wired that way no matter which buttons or combinations of buttons are depressed. When someone asks him to change a sound a little bit, he pushes one of the buttons and asks, "Better?" :D

 

dB

:snax:

 

:keys:==> David Bryce Music • Funky Young Monks <==:rawk:

 

Professional Affiliations: Royer LabsMusic Player Network

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Thanks dB - yes I remember there was a "push all the buttons" compressor. I thought there was an EQ or mic-channel where the frequency bands were pushbuttons - and if you pushed them all in you got this kind of "easter-egg" amazing sound.

 

But I could be wrong - I don't have much studio experience.

 

(Love your Nashville story - it reminds me of the A&R reps who want to sit in on the mix. The engineer sat the guy down at the end of the console by some unused faders, and labelled them "punch", "groove" and "vibe". You can take it from there...)

 

Cheers, Mike.

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We had several of those - I remember that trick well. Can't tell you at all what it did, but it sounded good.

Here ya go.

 

All Button Mode

 

dB

Interesting... got a link to a song with this sound in action?

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Designing the dynamic non-linear air pockets to behave according to some harmonic and rhythmic plan is an accurate matter. "Now I'm here, now I'm there" with the right feel on HiFi speakers in a listening room is not trivial. Making tones and decays with nice binoral elements so they "float" from air to your ears in varying angles is a difficult side job for the "sauce maker" especially with hard reflections going on.

 

T

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No doubt compression played a big role.

 

Having had to recreate some Emulator parts, I can attest that the Emulators did their bit to sprinkle fairy dust as well. The EIII was 16 bit which is more transparent than previous E-mu's but the analog filters, mixer and VCA still had character. So you had a three-dimensional musical signature even before tracking.

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Try to [find] a convincing "Jump" patch on you[r] synth that will make the audience go "yeah!" without h*ring their *ss of[f] and you know what I mean.
Okay, I get what an *ss is, but what is h*ring? I think we're losing something in translation.

-Tom Williams

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PC4-7, PX-5S, AX-Edge, PC361

 

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Try to [find] a convincing "Jump" patch on you[r] synth that will make the audience go "yeah!" without h*ring their *ss of[f] and you know what I mean.
Okay, I get what an *ss is, but what is h*ring? I think we're losing something in translation.

 

Yep I'm not sure if it should be haring, horing, huring hering or hiring :D

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One of the tricks that movie mix engineers use is to move sounds with delay, courtesy of the Haas effect, rather than pan them. This also generates a "front-to-back" sensation that is different than just side-to-side with a pan pot. Done across an entire mix, this creates an entirely different sense of space and depth. Alan Meyerson is on record as saying that he rarely uses pan pots - preferring delay to move things into position. I think there is also a lot to be said for very careful arrangement/voicing/orchestration. The right notes in the right spaces makes such a difference. Especially if one is aware of the overtone series and how that plays into the full sound. I think it is a lot of little things - all done at once, not any one magic thing. Really good delays, reverbs, mild distortion, and judicious eq, careful arrangement, etc and it comes together if the magic is in the playing too.
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So I'm really curious, though, on early synth stuff, was this kind of studio trickery and effects what made the sounds so special, or was it programming skill, or something else? Surely folks using 2" tape weren't doing mS shifting and doubling and all kinds of other stuff. Point taken that Lexicon was out by then.

 

And all of Theo's stuff on "corrections....it was mostly all analog at the time including recording, so should we assume that when they translated from analog tape to CD that they made all of those corrections to maintain that character or is it just inherently there if it was recorded analog?

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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