3. BITS MATTER.
The number of bits in a digital
signal affects its resolution and
dynamic range. Each additional
bit doubles the resolution of
the signal. The difference is
dramatic. A 4-bit signal has 16
steps of resolution to “measure”
and represent the signal—sort of
like using a tape measure only
marked in one-foot increments
to measure something. Moving
to eight bits gets us 256 steps.
Sixteen bits get us 65,536 steps.
And 24 bits jumps us to a whopping 16,777,216 steps! That’s
like using a ruler marked off in
100,000ths of an inch—we’re
talking super-fine measurements.
For this reason, it’s best to
track at 24 bit, then convert to
16-bit for CD or to MP3 as the
last step in the process. Having
all that resolution also allows us
to record at conservative levels
(see number 1, above) while still
having plenty of resolution and
dynamic range to make a great
recording. If you have a 24-bit
system and you record at − 18 dB,
you’re still getting 21 bits worth
of dynamic range (each bit adds
6 dB of dynamic range) and
2,097, 152 steps of resolution.
That’s plenty for excellent quality.
Watch plug-in gain. Even if your mixer channel meters seem okay, it’s possible that you are overloading them
from inside one of your plug-ins.
Choose where the color comes from. Many plug-ins that model or emulate the sound of vintage hardware
units—such as the Universal Audio Fairchild limiter plug-in shown here—can contribute nice colors to your mixes.
4. WATCH PLUG-IN
It’s so easy to drop plug-ins onto
a track to EQ, compress, or otherwise process a signal. But be
careful—many of those addictive little software processors
can change the gain or level of
the signal, which often leads to
clipping (distortion) that’s easy
to miss in the heat of mixdown.
Be sure to double-check the
meters and clip indicators inside
each plug-in to ensure that no
overloads are slipping past you.
Boosting the gain in the plug-ins
too much can also force you to
have to pull down the channel
and master faders later, which
isn’t good gain staging and can
impair the audio quality.
5. CHOOSE WHERE THE COLOR COMES FROM.
Analog tape and processors color your recording signal in a slightly different way—that’s part of their
beauty. Today, we can emulate a lot of those colors with modeling software that recreates the sound of the
original gear, including the coloration it provides. By selectively choosing the modeled processing you use,
you can carefully add analog-style coloration exactly where you want it and where it can be most useful.
Drums, for example, often benefit from analog-tape-style or analog-compressor-style coloration. Delicate
acoustic guitar, on the other hand, may not fare so well if you hit it with a highly colored processor.
COLOR YOUR WORLD
Many plug-ins can help you add wonderful tonal color to your digital tracks and mixes so that they have the
glorious sound of analog without all its headaches and limitations. Here are some good places to start.
Waves H-Comp Hybrid Compressor $99 street
Sound Toys Devil-Loc Deluxe compressor $129 street
Kush Audio UBK- 1 dynamics processor $149 street
McDSP Analog Channel tape and console emulator $199 street
Universal Audio UAD- 2 Solo Flexi pack with PCIe card and 1176LN/SE limiter,
LA-2A leveler, and Pultec EQP-1A EQ plug-ins $399 street