Mixing for iPod anyone?

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by IainDearg, May 9, 2006.

  1. IainDearg

    IainDearg Guest

    I've found I've got a realistic stereo image on my acoustic guitar using a simple X/Y setup. Through a hi-fi , the guitar sounds, well, about 3 feet wide, which is about what it is. But - one or two folks have complained that my mixes are narrow or claustrophic, So I experimented with a bit of mid-side-in-the-box-jiggery-pokery to widen the image only to find the guitar sounding about 30 feet wide.

    Now, it comes to light that the folks who find the sound narrow are listening to the stuff converted to mp3s on iPods. The penny drops. Most folks who are listening to pop/rock with earbuds seem to be getting conditioned to only accept music with a huge, artificially wide, soundstage.

    I haven't seen this discussed anywhere and my curiosity is piqued. Anyone share this experience?

    Dave

    Edit: SPAM = eye-podd. Pretty good word censor you got there!! :D
     
  2. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Well, Ian, this is a most interesting topic. I joined the "other side" (Mac world) just a little bit over the holidays last December when I got a couple of Eye-podds for family members, and included myself on the list.

    In short, I think they're the coolest thing to come out of the new millenium. So far. ;-) Anyone who uses these devices knows what I'm talking about: the convenience of moving, sorting and listening to your favorite stuff in a convenient package like that, without sounding all that bad in the process. Pretty cool indeed. I carry my nanoooo around and have found some interesting uses for it in addition to listening. (Just yesterday on a remote, I needed continuous music/signal in a bunch of headphone sends to set up seven sets of HPs, and the CD player was already busy doing a clone copy. My Aye-podd was the perfect choice; set it up for loop playing of one track, and went to work.

    As for the quality; yes, I know it's compromised, as is the case with all MP3 players. But in a way, this is another interesting challenge for anyone who's music may end up on one of these things. (That would be about 99% of us.) I've been making a point of listening to my favorite material and CDs on my mastering rig, and then creating the best MP3's I can, with both the Eye-toons software and Samplitude/Sequoia conversion. (Both sound pretty darn close at 128kps, FWIW.)

    We all know there is a difference in detail and purity on low-level signal, ditto for fades and things. And of course, the more complex stuff banging away tends to sound better - safety in a crowd and all that. So, in some ways, I am at least aware of these anomalies when doing transfers and what not.

    "Acoustic Music" - which of course is processed the least (in terms of compression/limiting, DSP, etc.) - may tend to sound different (not better or worse) on eye-podds in contrast to the latest uber-crunch by your favorite emo band, but still.....things can sound great when done right.

    Like cassettes and 45 lps, or even 33 rpm vinyl, this kind of end-user medium should make all of us all the more aware of the need to get it right on every level of the production chain. Sure, I know things will get worse with each mp3 converision or file share, but this new step-child of our industry is just one more delivery system, and one more place where we can do a reality check on our mixes and mastering.

    It's not a stretch at all for anyone doing mixing and mastering to take a moment, make an mp3 out of a track, and give it a spin on yer favorite MP3 player. (Like the old days of playing it in the car! ;-)

    And speaking of eye-podds, I just picked up a little gizmo called the
    iKEY. (about $99-125 USD, depending on where you get it.) It's got stereo RCA -10 line inputs, and has a variety of MP3 or full WAV (16/44) setttings. Runs on AAs or wall-wart. It dumps data out via a USB port, and it says it will record RIGHT INTO your eye-pod with CD quality results. I've tried it on several USB sticks, but not my eye-podd yet. (Stay tuned on this - right now, I'm getting some low-level clock noise, and am in touch with the manufacturer about its cause...this thing may - or may not - be the next cool toy in "on the fly" field records on a budget.)

    Who knows? With this thing, you COULD, as they advertise, record directly into your eye-podd at various MP3 or WAV file sizes with pretty good results.
     
  3. Plush

    Plush Guest

    Thank you for your great post, Joe! I too have come over to the dark side.

    It took many years for me to embrace downloadable music, but the day is here and none too soon for classical music. AAC@128Kbps is acceptable and
    AAc@256Kbps is actually pretty good.

    Last year I began experimenting with encoding symphonic music with various encoders and algorythms. AAC, the subset of MPEG 4, provided the most acceptable benefit when balancing fidelity and file size.

    What I found is in order to help the encoder render the fullest fidelity, one had to compress the sound gently with a sophisticated "look-ahead" multi-band compressor. You also have to do some dynamic range control. We are using the Junger Accent 1 with special EQ's to prepare symphonic material for MSO Classics (Milwaukee Symphony Orchesta)

    The MSO was the first American orchestra to offer its back catalog (over 300 pieces) on iTunes. Other American orchestras are now following in the path of MSO.

    We have other tricks up the sleeve as well--- including some things that will make DG Concerts $*^t its pants. The classical music downloading scheme is likeable!


    Last weekend there was an NPR piece about our efforts.
    see:
    click for audio


    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5389571
     
  4. MasonMedia

    MasonMedia Guest

    Plush,

    Thanks for the notes on your encoding process and the NPR link.

    Asside from the technical issues employed to minimize typical encoding artifacts which have already been covered here, the original author of this thread asked about experiences with listeners' perception of soundstage width when an MP3/ACC recording is played over earbuds (headphones). I wonder if this need to "widen" the soundstage might actually be a subtle correction for some psychoacoustic cue that is lost in the encoding process?
    Any thoughts?

    Peter
     
  5. larsfarm

    larsfarm Active Member

    mp3 is many levels of quality. All that is specified is decoding, interpretation of the bitstream. Not encoding. So different encoders can produce different complying results from the same source at the same bitrates. At higher bitrates the quality can be usable for many things. The major problem is one that should be familiar to those that have used analog tape - generation loss. Encode once and you're ok, twice or many times and you're in trouble.

    The iPod is AFAIK capable of playing full 16/44.1 both in the form of AIFF files and Apple lossless encoder.

    I don't know about the analog side of the iPod.

    best regards
    Lars
     
  6. Plush

    Plush Guest

    Getting back to the original question--I have not felt that it was necessary to widen the stereo image. But then again, it can already be quite wide with orchestra.

    Recording acoustic gtr and making the image really wide may, upon first listening, be impressive. However, the ear/brain combination finds it strange
    (since it's unnatural) and listening to gtr program material manipulated in this way will cause confusion to the brain.
    An X/Y recording method tends to produce sound that stays fully within the
    middle of the two loudspeakers.

    Of course, listening on headphones already is making the recording seem wider than it is when played back on loudspeakers.
     
  7. Plush

    Plush Guest

    Getting back to the original question--I have not felt that it was necessary to widen the stereo image. But then again, it can already be quite wide with orchestra.

    Recording acoustic gtr and making the image really wide may, upon first listening, be impressive. However, the ear/brain combination finds it strange
    (since it's unnatural) and listening to gtr program material manipulated in this way will cause confusion to the brain.
    An X/Y recording method tends to produce sound that stays fully within the
    middle of the two loudspeakers.

    Of course, listening on headphones already is making the recording seem wider than it is when played back on loudspeakers.
     
  8. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Yeah I also bought a little iPod shuffle three months ago to listen to radio programs from our wonderful ABC, but I cannot tolerate any serious music listening on it, way too low fi to me. And I hate, HATE those headphones. When I am home I plug the damn thing into my Henry Kloss Model 1 radio, and when listening "on the road" I use my Sennheiser HD25's. People look at me sideways on the ferry in the morning with HD25's clamping my head.

    Love it for radio podcasts like Roy and HG's This Sporting Life...
    http://triplej.net.au/thissportinglife/
    http://abc.net.au/triplej/thissportinglife/podcast/tsl.xml
    where fidelity doesn't matter.

    I don't like it for music at all, except when listening to WAV's. Will check out some of these other encoders though, sounds interesting. Also iTunes software gives me the @^%&^%#^.
     
  9. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I agree with you David about the software and the headphones. Both are almost useless. I prefer the updated version of RealAudio (which also seems to be the only "ripping" software that reads CDr text BEFORE going out to CDDB. Nice.)

    I bought a semi-disposable $39 set of Sony earbuds at Best Buy, and the real key to them is the soft rubber sealers that close off the ear canal, giving you a tighter fit. They also give you three sizes in the set. Nice. In spite of all the dire warnings about ear damage (which probably CANT happen with those horrible stock white earbuds), I don't ever run slamming music, and most of my stuff is far below the usual smashed-level anyway.

    As for what the end user percieves about sound stage width, it's worth remembering that speakers add their own bit of "Extra" to any imaginary sound stage. (The distance from the speakers through the room to your ears.) Headphones don't do this, for better or worse, and in many cases (particularly with minimally mic'd acoustic music), you may find yourself as close as the microphones themselves. That, plus the data compression could all be part of the phenomenom with the eye-pod listening experience. Such as it is.
     
  10. Plush

    Plush Guest

    High quality headphones are highly desirable to audition materail on an iPod.

    High sensitivity phones are recommended.

    For years I avoided MP3 and dissed it. Now I embrace it not only because
    it is a new revenue stream, but because classical music needs new ideas and a new distribution model.

    The difference is that AAC (AACPlus) is a good data reduction scheme and iTunes gives classical music a world wide audience and immediate distribution model.

    Quality is fully acceptable for a LOT of people except when the master is
    not prepared properly for iTunes use. To hear an example of good music not mastered for iTunes, listen to the recent The Sixteen release called IKON. The music is great but the mastering is for a cd, not a download.
    Volume level is very low (so low that the lowly iPod will not amplify the program material to proper listening level)

    I urge classical people to give the iPod a try and create podcasts and download libraries for their clients. The cd will be here for a long time.
    The cd is dead. Long live the cd.
     
  11. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    :lol: :lol: :lol:
     
  12. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Amen, brother, AMEN!
     
  13. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    I recently mastered the first three releases of the Los Angeles Philharmonic/Deutche Grammophon concert series available through iToonz. Though the listening experience is not as satisfying as the uncompressed version, I was pleasantly surprised how well the musicality held up.
     
  14. Plush

    Plush Guest

    Right on! Zilla
    Very nice work!

    It's a collection of pieces that is innovative and well done.
     
  15. IainDearg

    IainDearg Guest

    Thank you folks. Interesting comments. Food for thought!
     
  16. Plush

    Plush Guest

    Hello Zilla,

    I'm curious how much involvement (meddling) the DG people had in the
    mastering if any? The reason I ask is that my friends at the NY Phil said that they insisted on a certain glassy violin (LFT CH.) sound that the original engineer found to be unlikeable. No matter, said DG ---"this is the DG sound!"

    Lorin Maazel also grabbed the faders and EQ knobs and jacked the EQ to his liking.

    Did you encounter such heavy handed intervention?


     
  17. IainDearg

    IainDearg Guest

    Good grief! I will now be listening to his Mahler 4 with the Vienna Phil in a new light!
     
  18. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    none.
     
  19. Plush

    Plush Guest

    Thank you, Zilla!
    By the way, I'm not trying to insult you, nor was I making any assumption that they were involved. I was merely curious because they are HEAVILY involved in the NY Phil's mastering for iTunes release.

    Its' a shame because there is already excellent talent making the recordings in NY.



     
  20. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    Sorry if my one-word reply implied I was "miffed". I simply did not have anything else to add.
     

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