Observations on 2 Bus Gain Reduction

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by DonnyThompson, Apr 21, 2015.

  1. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    @audiokid @Boswell @paulears @pcrecord @kmetal @Davedog
    (et al)

    I've decided that, at least for awhile, and for sure on this current album project I'm working on for my friend and client, that I'm really going to be cutting back on the use (and the amount) of GR on the 2-bus. I'm not saying that I won't use any (but then again I'm out ruling out not using any, either, it's going to depend on the song) but at the least, I'm really going to reign it in.

    Here's why:

    Since researching these new broadcast standards, and listening to remasters of older albums - albums that were initially over limited and squashed during the early days of analog to digital transfer for CD, but have been remastered with attention being given to respecting the original dynamic range - I've gone back and listened to previous rough mixes of my own, which sounded "okay" to me - and compared them to more recent ones - which sound much better, and the only thing that separates those previous mixes from the recent ones is that the older versions have much more gain reduction on the 2-bus.

    Because I really have no intent on becoming a mastering engineer, and because every pro project I engineer ends up going to a bona fide M.E. anyway, there's no point in me putting heavy limiting - or in many cases, even really any limiting - on the 2 mix. If an M.E. is going to add an appropriate amount of limiting on their end, why would I want to send them something that has already been limited? There's no benefit that I can see to limiting the content twice.

    Years ago, putting a limiter across the 2-bus was really more about letting the client get a listen to the mix in a way that would be more reminiscent of how it would sound after mastering, but only in rare cases was this limiting actually printed to the 2 mix. It was assumed that limiting would be added by the mastering engineer. It was really mostly about serving the purpose - a temporary one - of allowing the clients to hear what the song (or album) might sound like after it was mastered. It also served the purpose of being able to record things as hot as possible without peaking, to masque the noise inherent to tape.

    But digital is a much different format. We don't really have to worry about masquing a noise floor anymore, the dynamic range can now be much greater, with virtually no noise, as a result of higher resolutions. So, we should ask ourselves, hopefully before we put the limiter on the stereo bus - "why exactly am I doing this, and what do I hope to achieve by doing this, or doing this to this degree?"

    The result of me backing off on the limiting on these most recent mixes - while lower in RMS - is that they now have a much wider dynamic range. They sound nicer, because they are more open, they breathe much nicer, sonics are fuller, and tracks don't have that "thin" sound that is often the result of heavy compression... and are more pleasant to listen to sonically all the way around.

    Gain Reduction can change the tone of your tracks. Sometimes for the better, adding a certain vibe or pleasing character to them - some like to use a hint of it on the master bus for "glue"... and I don't see a problem with that - in small amounts, I think it an often be beneficial - but - it can also be detrimental, too. When you limit their dynamic range, instruments sound different. Often they sound great... the right amount can bring out the crack or pop in a snare, or lengthen the sustain on a bass or guitar, but, it can also make things sound thin, and at times, even harsh and brittle.

    I'm certainly not telling anyone what to do, and I'm not saying I won't use any GR at all... there are certain individual tracks that sometimes require it. Compression isn't an enemy, it's not something that should be avoided at all costs, but, you should make sure that it's not also possibly damaging the sound of the tracks, too.

    I guess what I am suggesting is, if you do decide to add limiting to your stereo bus, ask yourself "why" first. And, if you do decide to use it, make sure that you understand how it works, what it will do, and that you are using it in a way that isn't detrimental to the song.

    IMHO of course. ;)

  2. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I think it's all about having source specific masters, and encodes. And I think I'm late to class on that. I listen to music on my iPad and iPhone, either thru the built in speakers, or my mackies. iTunes and I heart radio are my main music apps, and heart is twice as loud, and album versions. iTunes is the latest batch of mass distributed versions, and I must say its improved drastically in the last 2 years or so.

    Smarter, more focused mastering, better processing tools, and better clocking and conversion are adding up to great songs.

    This song was well done, IMHO for a modern rock tune. It doesn't sound so hot here. Again the mastered for iTunes sounds very different than the iheart, gluetube and the actual radio in my car. I think Chris was on to something when he was commenting on the quality of sequoias codecs a few months ago. He's a mad scientist with his corner of the world, and I truly belive he's on to some things others are looking over. Nobody knows everything, but a lot of people are better at one particular thing, than a lot of others. I have a buddy with ausburgers and his encyclopedic knowledge of gear is incredible. I try and pay attention to people ledges ahead of me.

    I think YouTube just recently started with HD so crap like this 'official' release should be a thing of the past.

    Lol this is a heavily compressed mix. Wonder how much you could let off, before the impact of the Rock and roll suffered. At least a couple notches back...
    I will say, it's tough to turn bus comps and limiters off, once you get used to them on.
  3. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    There is a wind of questionning about compression and levels lately. If you specificly remove the 2-bus GR but heavily compress on the tracks and Aux, this won't make a difference, you will end up with a squashed product. It's a philosphy that shoud be aplyed to the whole mixing process.
    I use Fabfilter Pro-L on my two bus while mixing just to get a sens of what mastering will do to my mix. Before sending it to ME or starting a pseudo mastering process, I remove that GR and export the project without it.
    On the tracks, I rarely compress more that 3-4 db and the rest is done with automations.
    But of course, I'm all for natural sound. Other music styles calls for different approach for sure
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i like dynamics. dynamics are good, ummm ummmm!

    never say never
    i never and i mean never used compression or limiting on the 2-bus. i also don't use any dynamics other than gates on drums. when printing i compress bass. i compress vocals. sometimes i compress guitars especially if i want them to come out in the mix.

    now on to noise ...... i am on a crusade. i want people to understand, any complaints regarding noise with professional analog (where tape tracks are at least 1/8" @ 15ips / 30ips better) are greatly overstated. Dolby NR schemes made it even quieter. i like Dolby in all incarnations (it's more elegant and processes the audio less) but i don't like DBX (sledgehammer to kill a gnat) ... 16 track on 2" tape, Dolby S @ 30 ips ... i would challenge anyone to say it is any "noisier" than 192 PCM.

    large format consoles typically performed to "modern" standards as well .... with noise figures down -128 dB or better. this is why you will still see them in use even with DAWs. same with pro outboard gear ... it's all very quiet. balanced cable runs and interconnect assures no noise is added.

    most people who grouse on regarding noisy analog, are referring to Tascam or Fostex (or similar) gear hooked up with -10 rca connections and patch bays, running on dirty power. this would be like limiting a DAW to run at 12 bit capture and internal processing via a laptop sound card. hardly a fair comparison.

    i'm not saying we should all run out and break the JH16 out of storage. yes DAWs are more convenient and less expensive (?) the DAW revolution has changed the landscape ... but i wouldn't say things have really improved that much.
  5. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I guess if you would be carefull with noises while tracking and mixing on analog gear you could do the same with a DAW.
    I came across many recordings that I had to mix that was very Noisy even coming from a DAW.
    Good gain staging go a long way to avoid noise ! ;)
  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    proper gain staging assures maximum dynamic range. paradoxically, setting some pres at lower than nominal levels is supposed to make a "less colored" sound ... but the price paid is a higher noise floor. i don't give a sh*t about "transparency". i can make anything sound good. i crank 'em up as high as i can get them without the little led thingies lighting up ... then attenuate to DAW to -18.

    most noise i encounter when recording is either ambient / street / air planes ... or from amp tracks. i guess this is why direct recording and re amping is popular. we spend cash on equipment and room treatments, monitors and sound proofing all the while forgetting we need to clean up the electricity in our workplace. i guess it's not an issue if you only record acoustics and Gibsons ... but record a Fender in a room with stray RF and you're in for a real treat. lol.
    pcrecord likes this.
  7. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I don't use dynamics processing on the master bus. There's no point, no advantage, nothing but downside.
  8. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Pretty much why I mix into the master today. By the time a mix hits the master bus, its full. If needed , I will use a Bricasti there as I like the sound of reverb at the very last step before crushing happens. Being able to control your mix on the master bus seems to keep/ preserve the largest mix in a two DAW approach.
    Being able to gain stage OTB and fine tune the capture is still my choice.

    I feel a mix sounds better when the mix is all going through the room (reverb ( like it would be live in the audience) rather than the room going through the mix which sounds unglued and artificial in comparison..
  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Agreed. It doesn't do much good to remove limiting from the master bus and yet still use heavy amounts of it on individual tracks or sub groups/buses.

    I can only speak for myself of course, and my recent findings - at least with my own mixes - is that they sound better without limiting on the master bus. I still use light amounts of compression on certain key tracks - kick, snare, etc. - if they are needed, but lately, I'm even straying away from using compression as a knee-jerk /go-to step on vocals, and am instead doing a lot of volume envelope editing. And yes, I know it's more time consuming than just throwing a compressor on it, but I like the results (I'm also doing quite a bit of manual de-essing too) and I find that if I can manually smooth out the track, then very often I don't need GR, and if I do end up still needing some compression, I don't need nearly as much of it.

    And, I have to be honest and admit to being guilty of doing this in the past. About a month ago, I mistakenly opened an older project file I had created - probably 4 years old or so - which was a template that I had set up so that I wouldn't have to take the time to create different tracks - so I had some VSTi's in there for drums, keys, etc., along with tracks set up for lead and backing vocals, guitars, bass, etc. And on every one of those tracks I had created, I had inserted a compressor - because at the time I had created that template file, that's what I was doing. It was a really dumb thing to do, if you think about it, because here I was, inserting compressors on nearly every track (including the master bus) ahead of time. It was a foolish thing to do, and a bush league approach to mixing.

    I think that if you are trying to capture the vibe of a live performance, there's no better way to do that than to do what Chris is saying here. Recently, I pulled an older mix out for a client ( the project stalled a few years ago and he wanted to finish the song) and the vibe of the song is very much that of a live performance. When I played the old mix back, I was hearing all kinds of sonic clashes. I determined that these were being caused by my using different reverbs on different instruments.
    So, in this newer situation, I pulled out all the different reverbs, and instead I used a nice-sounding large room reverb on the master bus for everything. I have to say that, at least for that song, I liked the results better than when I had several different reverbs going on within the mix. It was more cohesive, more realistic sounding in the sense of a live performance.

    There are times though, where I'm not so much looking to recreate the sound of a live ensemble performance, but instead am looking to create a multi layered texture, and the use of different reverbs can work on certain things for increased depth, such as a hall reverb on the backing vocals, while using a plate or chamber on drums or guitar. You have to be really careful of how much of these different reverbs you use ... but it can be done, if you pay close attention to what is going on.
    On the other side of that coin, I can say that there have been times where I don't use any reverb at all on certain tracks. I do think that it's song dependent, and is determined by what kind of vibe you want to present.

    I think that this thread is a good discussion to have, and it allows us to look closer at our own workflows and mixing styles.

    But I'll be honest, and come right out and admit that my own style of mixing needed improvement; certain things I had been doing previously - some out of old habit - haven't been working to my satisfaction, lately.

    It's not always easy to admit to a group of your respected colleagues that you feel that you are doing things wrong, especially if you're like me and have been at this awhile - LOL - but, if I don't admit to having some issues in my mixing technique(s), then I'll never grow, I'll never get any better.

    But again, I'm only pointing the finger at myself here... I can't speak for anyone else, and if what you are doing works for you, then that's all that matters.

    Simply put, my own style wasn't working for me anymore.


  10. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    What is it that you are retaining without it? Jw

    I find I don't like limiting much, especially on the 2-bus. But I like some light to medium compression in general. I don't add it until about 1/3 thru the mix.

    I find most often that players don't have there dynamics under control. I go for whatever the song calls for, open and natural or in your face. But most of the stuff out there is fairly compressed, and I don't know that leaving 2-bus compression for the last step in mastering is always better. I think the results are better in general with compression lightly added twice, than once heavily. Chris's system is different than most, and I like what problems it attacks.

    To me natural, has more to do with tonality, and perfomance, and whether you use tape, or record at home, that kind of thing. If your looking to do something up to current comercial style mix wise, I belive compression is a big part of it, and bus compression, not just 2-bus compression, is the thing.

    The thing about it is compression is altering the sound, so it's always going to have side effects, but it is difficult to compete with the thickening effect it has. When you bring the uncompressed mix, up to the same gain level as the compressed one, you still the same artifacts you get any time you start bottlenecking the 2-bus. I belive that compression is overused, myself included, but I think some of it is just do to people thinking its a good ideas to go to -.1.

    We gained 18db of headroom over tape, can't we see a couple for taste? Compressed or not as soon as the bus gets upwards of -6dbfs sonic quality suffers. Mids get scratchy and the depth of field gets 2d.

    I'm talking more about modern rock and pop, than other more nuanced things.
  11. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I too have never really liked the sound of anything squashed - limiting especially, but on some recordings even moderate compression sounds just a bit unreal - but I'm finding that my video work is actually needing it more and more. The clients just throw in "oh, and we need a version of iPads too..." and in practically every case this needs a remix to cope with the awful frequency response and performance of these devices. The music, that usually has the narration over the top, just vanishes in places - because for the iPads, it's just too low - and I'm having to break my own rule and compress the audio to match the limited dynamics, and also be very careful of the bass content, because although it can't be heard, it does impact on the compression success. It's very annoying to now have loads of dynamic range that can really be used, but then have to reduce it to cope with pads, tablets and phones! Many years ago I'd try my mixes in the car, but gradually the need for this got less, but now my van can play DVDs, it's a handy way of seeing how the audio sits, comparing it with the iPad.

    Is it actually getting more difficult, not less?
  12. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I agree that this seems to be the trend right now, Kyle ... and I think that there's still a lot more heavily-limited two bus mixes coming out of studios than there should be - but I also think that this is gonna change, and I don't think it's a distant change, either. I think we're getting closer to that change, much closer on the horizon than many may think we are...

    With these newer LUFS standards coming into play, a heavily limited mix, brought right up to -0.1, with a total dynamic range of only 3 or 4 db, is likely going to sound much quieter - and perhaps even less powerful and with less intended impact - when compared to other mixes that aren't at those ridiculous levels... once it's been attenuated by the broadcasters by the offending amount(s).

    And to take it even further, there are some who are getting to the point where they won't play a song at all - if there is any square-wave clipping happening. That Metallica album - Death Magnetic - which is arguably considered by many to be the first nail in the coffin of the loudness wars - had loads of clipping and bit distortion. I look at it this way - a mastering job has to be pretty bad for the general public to take notice, and really bad if the engineer (Ted Jensen) feels it necessary to actually issue a public apology.

    I don't know that I'd call it "difficult"... after all, all you would really need to do is to either reduce or add limiting/gain to a particular degree that is dependent upon the final medium. So, for ipads, ipods, etc., you may need to jack that volume up to max, at least for now, until the manufacturers of those devices add more gain to their various devices - because currently, those devices are not known for their beefy output. But, even Youtube is starting to develop their own set of volume criteria for submissions - if they haven't already - that is of a greatly reduced RMS measurement. iTunes has done the same thing. It's all changing. Making changes to your mixes to meet the criteria of the newer standards isn't really the difficult part - it's keeping up with all the new changes in standards. I can't say for sure that YouTube and iTunes is sticking to the EBU stndard of -23 RMS, but I do know that they have set forth new standards that do bring the RMS level down from what it used to be for new submissions.

    Tim Dolbear - a member of RO and the North American Rep for Samplitude/Sequoia - has recently released a new "how to" course on mastering for different media. And I'm betting that his won't be the only one for long... you are going to start seeing a lot more of those "how to" instructional courses/videos popping up.

    FWIW ;)


  13. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    My inspiration for trying to learn recording was to try to make things that sound like records I hear. I've always thought it was important to be able to keep up at that level, reguardless of whether I like it personally or not. I've not yet been able to achieve that level of excellence, and may never be able to. But I still cannot fully criticize it, because I cannot match it, so I wouldn't know how to correct it. It's part of my artistic side, I feel I need to be able to do all types of sounds well, so I can help create the artists idea into a tangible product. Thats one of the most meaningful comments to me when it is said. 'Oh that's that's what I hear in my head!'

    Personally recording is just a way to capture song ideas, my home setups are simple, and the productions incomplete and average. I enjoy live tracking, and I feel very strongly that the right enviornment for the band, including recording/mixing methods, mediums, and approaches match well. It's more than just one room or set of ears.

    But that said, I know from messing around w mastering plug-inslately that I always end up goosing too much. Discipline Daniel San. Lol
    pcrecord likes this.
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    It is a discipline - and that's a good word for it, too.

    Those of us old enough to remember when the first digital reverbs came out - the Lexicons, the Yamaha's and Eventides - it was very easy to overuse those processors. They were very cool, and they sounded great - for their time they were incredible - and along with the similar delays, and then into the early multiple FX models ( like the Yamaha SPX90) not only did guys on the home/project studio level end up overusing them, but even the major studios could let it get away from them occasionally as well. There are still songs I hear from that time period, and I know without a doubt, if they were to be mixed and released today, those mixes wouldn't have been nearly as "processed" as they were... especially with digital reverb.

    It took a little time for it to kind of all begin to "level out" - for mix engineers to find a "truer" and more natural balance, and a sense of those FX being more complimentary - without them being overbearing, or even in some cases, the sonic focal point.

    But those first few years, when those digital rack mount pieces became affordable to studios everywhere, and particularly those studios with lower budgets, man, you heard songs that were drowning in digital reverb. I was guilty of mixing that way myself.
    If I have an occasion to listen to some of the work I did, back around '81-'85, there are some of those mixes I did where, when I listen to them now, I feel as though I need a towel to dry off with -LOL -

    (immediately followed with the obligatory " WTF was I thinking...?" ) LOL ;)

    These days, with so many processing possibilities available - and for pennies in comparison to what a well-stocked OB rack used to cost ( I'm not kidding when I say that for me to have had everything then that I have available to me now, my OB rack then would have cost me a second mortgage at that time - to have the hardware version of processing back then that I have in plug form now, would have been financially unreachable for me as a small project - 16 track - studio owner).

    But I think that with such the availability, and easy access to the digital/software processors that are out there, I think it can also be easy to go too far with them. Personally, I'm constantly reigning myself in, and always asking and second guessing myself in regard to the type and the amount of the processing I choose. I ask myself if what I'm about to add is needed, and if it will benefit the song. The days of me inserting processing, in a knee-jerk fashion without really thinking about what I'm adding, or just because I have it to use.... are gone.


    kmetal likes this.
  15. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Jeez, you guys are stiff. Compression is awesome when used properly. No amount of misuse or over-application changes that. One reason compression is a good thing is that it emulates the compression we have built into our own hearing apparatus.
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Indeed! I love compression. Use it all the time but very tastefully. Love limiters too! Always use one on the master bus. ProL is amazing
  17. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    In the last 4 years I have owned 20 grand in analog comps. Today they are all replaced with Samplitude . Good trade. $19,000 savings lol!
    kmetal likes this.
  18. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    My biggest improvement lately is bypassing the dbx units I've got patched into the path of most of my inputs. But I'm not going to take them out of the chain since the studio is also a rehearsal and performance space. For the live stuff I like having them available, but ITB compressors are way better for studio recordings.
    audiokid likes this.
  19. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Right on. The key is that it will hard bypass eh?

    That's how I included my outboard comps too. I also used a SSL X-Patch to switch them from tracking, to mixing to summing. When I saw the USA Dollar climbing, I decided it was a great time to recoup my investment.
    ITB comps are awesome in comparison to hardware. But, I do love my UA comps for tracking.
  20. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    The thing is the next obvious path of persuance for the machine is Dsp tracking stuff. Which I'm down with. But I just don't see myself wanting to use the same plug-insand manufactures for both, I'll have to test it but I bet it's not going to stack well. Maybe the tracking stuff will get so good mixing will be just about volume an panning. More like electronic music.

    @bouldersound sorry bro it was a long month lol
    audiokid likes this.

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