Question & Answer #2
This is a collection of questions received by readers of the blog. All questions are securely submitted anonymously and will be answered with no judgement. Questions will be added as they are received, new editions biweekly or when applicable.
Table of Contents
Reverb in mono.
- Question: What are some mix techniques to help reverbs remain present when the mix is collapsed to mono?
Answer: The easiest way to fix this little problem is to just default to mixing in mono— if you spend the majority of your mixing time in mono, by the time you switch over to stereo, the effect should only enhance the track. Not a fun answer for sure, but realistic.
For a more specifics, let’s talk stereo width. Sometimes called “depth” or “distance”— you gotta be careful with this one. Any time you have an effect that skews the mid/side channel balance, you can expect some anomalies when summing it to mono. This is more prevelent when you have settings like “character”, which tend to add some type of modulation to the signal. That modulation can lead to phase issues in mono. Not to say you shouldn’t use these effects, but use in excess can translate in unexpected ways.
For an alternative to cranking the stereo width, consider the stereo placement of each track as they hit the reverb buss. Just like the mix itself, your reverb buss can have its own soundstage. For example, a Rhodes track 30% left in the mix— placing it even further left in within the reverb buss will naturally create a wider field without adjusting the overall mid/side balance. I’ve illustrated the two signal flows below.
- Increased natural stereo placement:
- Altered mid/side balance:
One signal flow creates more stereo information on a per track basis and the other adjusts the overall mid/side balance of the entire buss. The difference is small, but there’s a clear distinction.
Remember those phase issues I mentioned earlier? This is even more pronounced when you have a significant amount of low-frequency content within your reverb. Using a HPF to clear out some of the muddy areas can really optimize the buss and emphasize the frequency range that contains the reverb aesthetic.
There are a few other general “best practices” that help contribute to a better sounding reverb regardless of mono consideration. Such as, adding slight delays to your reverb help preserve the initial transients of the source material while also spatially placing it within the “reverb tank”.
TL;DR: Using EQing and filtering, and also being mindful of stereo information VS. mid/side balance.
Resonant LPF while EQing.
- Question: While working DAWless, is it generally bad practice to beef up the low end of audio with a resonant high pass filter? I have a constant battle between weak sounding bass and kicks, or becoming far too resonant and boomy and struggling to compensate for it after recording. Any tips would be helpful.
Answer: Generally, no. Adding a bump right after the cutoff point of a HPF is pretty commonplace, but as it is with all audio processing, restraint is key. Decisions regarding the low end can be stressful if your monitoring situation isn’t being completely truthful to you as well, so make sure you’re using a system that can faithfully reproduce the low-end or work with a set of monitors/cans that you know intimately.
If you’re having a hard time striking a good balance, consider the two step alternative to the HPF with a tight Q: a gentle HPF (6dB/OCT) plus an additive lowend shelf.
Instead of relying on one filter to both cut unwanted frequencies AND boost desired ones, use two. You’ll get finer control over the sound and can use the two filters to play off eachother. If your HPF is gentle enough, you can even place it above the shelf, so the ramp of the latter occurs within the slope of the former.
Also consider carving out a spot of the bass and kick to sit in— filter out any information below the fundamental on mid to high range frequency content and make sure low-frequency content is mono summed. Keep in mind, when your LF content is mono, you’re effectively using all available speakers in the system at the same level, giving you slightly higher percieved loudness without actually requiring you to increase the volume.
A HPF in your master compressor can also help, as the rest of the track won’t duck down as hard when the bass/kick hits.
TL;DR: No. Faithful monitoring is crucial. 1 Function per filter. Mitigate boom in the master chain if all else fails.
Parallel Compression 101
- Question: I’m generally befuddled as to what a good parallel compression chain looks like. Is it just compression? EQ’ing out anything specific generally? things to avoid? 1 comp instance? 2? 3? Where does it end?
Answer: Good question! Parallel anything can be confusing, especially compression. Taking one of the hardest effects to discern and then throwing another layer of obfuscation on top by adding convoluted routing— it can be tricky to get a handle on.
I think it’s a good idea to first define the idea of parallel and series processing.
In the typical signal flow of a single track, usually we’ll have the source audio, some effects, then finally the output to the master buss. With no extra routing, this chain is using a signal flow in series, meaning the source audio directly feeds into the plugins in the order they are arranged, compounding the effect each time. This is typical behavior in any DAW and looks like this:
Parallel processing, on the other hand, takes that source audio and creates a duplicate signal to be processed through the effects alongside the original signal. It looks something like this:
For that example, you’d have 2 tracks in your DAW. “Dry” and “effected” which get summed at the mixer. Congrats! That’s parallel processing. From there, you can blend the balance of the two tracks to taste and be continue forward with your track.
Depending on your DAW and your choice of plugin, this choice of series/parallel routing can be handled automatically and behind the scenes. For example, REAPER by default has a “blend” knob at the top of each FX window— because that’s essentially what parallel processing is: wet/dry.
Any time your reverb gives you the wet/dry option, that’s automatic parallel processing. “Dry mix” on TDR’s Kotelnikov, for example— automatic parallel compression. The dry/vulf slider on Vulf compressor: automatic parallel compression.You get the idea.
So why is parallel processing such a big deal for compression anyway?
Well, I’m sure you know the feeling you get while dialing in a compressor sometimes— finding that sweet spot where the unit reacts just right is an art and can take some time and real consideration. Subtle and natural sounding compression can be hard to nail down, but being able to blend in compression definitely helps.
With parallel processing, the sound of the end result isn’t wholly dependant on how the compressor is reacting. We have the another buffer between the compressor settings and the actual output sound.
Let’s look at two example tracks: a compressor in series with gentle settings equalling 2dB of gain reduction— and a parallel compression chain with a high ratio and super low threshold. You can blend that parallel compression chain so the end result is also 2dB of gain reduction! The frequency ranges affected will be different between the two examples, but that’s precisely the point. Perhaps one ends up sounding more natural than the other.
What does a parallel compression chain look like?
That depends on your workflow, compressor choices and even your DAW.
It could as simple as a “dry balance” setting on your compressor of choice, or it could be an entirely separate track with its own FX chain which is then blended in via the mixer. You can get away with a single compressor, or your entire arsenal of compressors, there are no set rules.
I’d like to encourage thinking of parallel compression as a tool rather than a technique, if that makes sense though. “Hmm, I can’t get this compressor to react just right, so I’ll go a tad heavy on the settings and blend in the dry signal to compensate”
TL;DR: Wet/Dry compression. No EQ necessary. Use parallel compression to avoid over compressing. 1 is the bare minimum. In theory, never.
Thanks for submitting your questions!
As long as people keep sending them in, I’ll keep answering to the best of my abilities. If you’d like to touch on a subject further, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Or, if you’d like to anonymously ask a question of your own to be answered on the next Q&A post, feel free to ask here.
Last modified: May 11, 2021