Mix and Mastering Comparison

January 29th, 2011

I have a fairly standard response whenever asked about mastering tracks: If this is a serious project headed for a physical or digital product, take it to the mastering studio of a great engineer. A good studio will have the equipment to reveal and correct problems, and balance the tracks to meet current standards and trends. Naturally this presumes you’ve done a good job with the mix, but that topic will have to be covered in a different post.

Once again, I’ve been working again with Goh Nakamura, who is starring in an indy film titled after his song, Surrogate Valentine. The film is due to hit film festivals throughout 2011 starting in March, so Goh has been hustling to get a product available for the release. We tracked the titled song at my place into Propellerhead Record using our collective nice gear. The Rhythm section for the B-Side was recorded in Portland and we redid the lead vocals here. I mixed everything in Propellerhead Record relying heavily on the Record SSL emulation EQs.

Mike Wells in San Francisco mastered the project and provided two versions. One version is the standard PCM master for CD Redbook/MP3, and the second version is for vinyl pressing. I just received the mastered files and took a look at them in a waveform editor. The comparison between the original mix and the mastered versions is quite interesting and I wanted to share some of my observations.

The top set is the final mix (mixed in Propellerhead Record). The Middle set is post mastering, a 16bit 44.1kHz CD master. The bottom set of waveforms are the 24bit 96kHz masters headed for Vinyl pressing.

At first glance the most noticeable difference is the gain between the mix and the mastered versions. I left plenty of headroom with the highest peaks around -9dBFS.

The MP3/CD Master is second set of waveforms. The target for this file is a Digital Download, so Mike optimized this version for typical CD/PCM format or a high resolution MP3 file. The density in waveform and the brickwall limiting reveals that this is pretty tightly compacted making it sound pretty steady, but not overly loud by todays standards. There’s a touch of low end lift which translates well across the board from small format listening systems clock radios and iPod earbuds to home stereo and automotive environments. This file is used for the video which is available for download from iTunes

The Vinyl Master is the bottom set. Straight away you can see that the dynamics are well preserved as the peaks are not jammed to 0dBFS. This version is definitely my favorite. Being that this target format has certain physical limitations, I really needed Mike’s expertise to help get everything balanced. Going into this project, I wasn’t sure if it would be my favorite rendition of the masters, but it best reflects the feel of the original mix.

Audio Examples

I’ve put together a 24/96 Record session which has three 30 second clips which allow you to hear the difference between each version. The session file will play fine at any setting, but for optimal playback fidelity, set the sample rate to 96,000 in the Record audio preferences. The loudness drastically increases from the first clip to the second is drastic, so watch your monitoring levels.

Download the file here: peff-GNSV-mixmastercomp.record.zip

Kong 808 Refill

December 2nd, 2010

I thought this would be easy… Sample the Roland TR-808, load the files into the Reason 5 Kong Drum Designer… Bam… done! Nope, that definitely is not how things went down.

The primary goal was to create a set of Kong patches that effectively simulate the classic 808. This involved selectively sampling variations of each sound. For example the bass drum required sampling 6 different tone settings, with a normal hit and accent hit at seven or eight different decay settings. This is probably overkill, but I approached this from an archival perspective and wanted a lot of detail. The initial sampling resulted in over 500 individual audio files. The actual sampling part was pretty easy into Propellerhead Record, and I used my standard signal path for sampling: ADL D.I./Neve/UA-2192, from a Roland TR-808 bestowed to me from composer, Stuart Diamond

To address the 808 Accent sound, each combination of the drum tones required velocity switching, where the normal and accent hits could be easily accessed. Initially, the switching threshold was set to a 125 velocity level. According to some testers (Thank you Ph WTF Crew!), this was too high for effective playback on pad controllers, so a second set of patches was created with more moderate velocity switching levels at 101. In the end, this required that all the patches originally programmed with velocity switching zones at 125 needed to be duplicated and modified with lower switching thresholds.

Accent Programming

To take full advantage of the velocity mapped accent switching, there are a couple of production strategies you can employ. One approach is to manually program patterns in the sequencer with the pencil tool and manually make velocity lane adjustments. The second approach still requires some editing, but after setting up the initial pattern, a regroove template can be used to apply accent patterns to multiple sequencer lanes. See the following video tutorial on how both techniques are applied in Reason 5: Accent Programming with the Kong 808 Refill

Analog Variations

The TR-808 is an analog device, and one of the characteristics of the analog charm are the inconsistencies. Certain tones like the Bass Drum and Toms/Conga are fairly consistent, but snares and other percussion tones have subtle, sometimes very noticeable variations. To emulate this characteristic, a set of Kong drum patches with alternating sample zones was created. Each time a NN-Nano sampler is triggered, one of three or four different samples is randomly selected for playback. For example, the patch “808 Hi Hat Alternating.drum” has four closed hi-hat samples and four accented closed hi-hat samples. Each time the drum channel is triggered, a different sample is heard. When a string of hi-hats is sequenced to this drum channel, the variations mimic the analog nature of the device.

While most productions probably do not require the detail of the analog variations, a few Kong Kits were created around this programming method. The patch, “Classic 808 v3.kong”, has several alternating kong drum patches for the snares, hi-hats, claps, and percussion.

To further enhance this experience, the refill includes several ReGroove templates which are extracted from programmed 808 patterns. These quantization templates render slight timing inconsistencies, and when combined with the alternating drum tones, the experience of the TR-808 comes to life.

Hit Types

Programming sampled instruments in the Kong Drum Designer is time consuming, especially with so many details to address. The NN-Nano sampler allows you to program four different sounds in the drum patch, and each sound can be accessed by selecting the HIT TYPE parameter on Kong. You will find that some patches only have one type programmed, however, many have multiple types programmed. While there are only 180 kong drum patches, these patches contain one to four different Hit Types.

There are certain areas where the sounds are a little rough around the edges, so some tweaking might be necessary to make the sounds fit in your productions. Provided it’s available, first try a different hit type.

At the suggestion of ph user, dioxide, the patch, “Classic Pallete 808.kong” uses the hit type feature to switch between percussion tones in the same manner as they are established on the TR-808. For example, the Toms and Conga sounds are switched, so the Low Tom and Low Conga cannot be triggered at the same time. This applies for other tones like the Hand Clap and Maracas.


The Kong Kits are mapped to a general MIDI keyboard layout, meaning that the drum channels are designed to be triggered from a MIDI keyboard from C1 through D#2, and the upper register keys. If you prefer the pad controller layout, bring the Kong device into focus, then from the edit menu or right click contextual menu, select the item “Convert GM Mapping to Pad Mapping”.

If you prefer these mappings, it’s recommended that you save the patches into your kong patch library.

Refill Contents

The following is a description of the file organization structure of the refill:

Example Sessions - a few example files in Record 1.5 and Reason 5 file format

Kong Drum Patches - Various Kong Drum Sound patches of the standard 808 set and variations.

Kong Drum Patches (v100) - Duplicates of the 181 Kong Drum Patches with Velocity Switching Accents at 101. Velocity to amp scaling patches are straight duplicates

Kong Patches - 33 Complete Kong Kits based on the TR-808 sample set.

Kong Patches (v100) - The Kong Kits with velocity switching accents at 101. Velocity to amp scaling drum channels are straight duplicates.

NN-XT Patches - a couple of sampler patches based on granular 808 bass drums

Redrum Patches (.drp) - a few Redrum sets from the TR-808 samples

ReGroove Patches - Groove templates extracted from TR-808 ReCycle loops

REX Loops - several ReCycle Loops of TR-808 patterns

Samples - The sample archive of the straight TR-808 samples, and some processed samples including DSP, Bitcrushed, granular, and distorted 808s. Over 800 samples.


Ok, I’ve bored you enough with the details… Get it now for only $8.08!!! While supplies last - limit one per household. kidding of course, this is a free download.

Download the Peff- 036 Kong 808 ReFill 146Mb zip archive

As if it needs mentioning… This refill requires Propellerhead Reason 5.0.1 or the Reason + Record 1.5.1 duo

ReBirth for iPad

November 10th, 2010

Propellerhead ReBirth is not only back (again), it is better! The classic RB-338 techno micro composer software has been adapted for the iPad. The ReBirth for iPad app has several new features. Most notable of the improvements is the new standard ReBirth 303, 808, 909 graphic user interface from bitplant and multi touch support!

The YouTube Video is an infomercialistic advertorial, and in the eight minute video, we managed to present a little tutorial on the basics of programming patterns and sequencing pattern automation. Kudos to Ryan Harlin, who did a great job producing this segment! (and thanks for not making me look too goofy)

I’ve received a few inquires about the props in the video. It was shot in the parlor at my house, where the old hammond and rhodes suitcase reside. However, most people have been asking about the iPad stand: the Joule from element case. It’s a great design that complements the iPad extremely well.

129th AES in San Francisco

November 3rd, 2010

The Audio Engineering Society convention returns to San Francisco this week, and Propellerhead and Line6 will be exhibiting Reason 5 and Record 1.5. The exhibits open on Friday, November 5 and run through Sunday, November 7. Gerry Basserman, Ryan Harlin, and Matt Piper will be around so this will be an opportunity for people to get some one-on-one time with the experts! Naturally there’s plenty of other cool stuff to see like microphones, pre-amps, and other sound and studio technology.

The SF Bay Area Reason Users Group has an informal meet up on Saturday at the conference, and we will probably congregate at the Line6 booth. #528.

I’ll be walking the exhibits on Friday and will face|tweet some pics of all the goodies. I’m still on my quest for ribbon mics :)

Berklee Online - Producing Music with Reason

October 6th, 2010

Erik Hawkins of Berklee College of Music, has asked me to join the faculty of the Berklee Online Producing Music with Reason course.

We are in the second week of the term, and I’m really enjoying this online education format. The system and course layout is comprehensive and the online environment fosters a lot of interaction between the participants. I especially enjoy the webex conferencing system where there’s real-time interactivity with the class.

The Producing Music with Reason course starts from the very beginning, so it’s perfect for someone who knows absolutely nothing about Propellerhead Reason. Experienced users might find the beginning of the course redundant, however the pace picks up quite quickly and by the end of the 12 week semester, each person is responsible for composing, sequencing, editing, mixing and mastering a final project all in Propellerhead Reason.

For the time being, I’m focusing my efforts towards this class. This means that my other major projects have been placed on an indefinite hold.

BitCrusher BC3 Combinator

September 4th, 2010

The combinator (version 3) in Reason 5 / Record 1.5 has a few notable improvements. Programming is easier with hierarchical destination menus - you no longer need to scroll down long lists of destination parameters. Another welcome improvement is the addition of direct CV inputs. In combinator 2 (Reason 4), a CV source such as an envelope generator, LFO, or step sequencer curve could only be routed through a rotary which subsequently modulated parameters on nested devices. Now in combinator 3, any CV modulation source can be routed directly to a parameter or group of parameters on devices in the combi sub rack.


I put together a bitcrusher patch based around the Scream 4 ‘Digital’ algorithm. In this patch, an MClass compressor not only processes the dynamics, it’s provides a variable cv source from the compressor’s gain reduction value. The gain reduction cv is routed through the combinator CV input which then alters the DAMAGE CONTROL parameter of the Scream 4. As the input signal increases in intensity, the cv routing causes the DAMAGE CONTROL value to increase. The actively changing damage value adds a different character compared to a static setting of the Digital algorithm.

Download peff-bitcrusher_bc3.zip
Combinator TS8450 v3 patch require Reason 5 or Record 1.5+Reason 5 duo

BC3 BitCrusher Controls

wordlength - adjusts the RESOLUTION parameter of the digital algorithm

bitrate - adjusts the RATE parameter of the digital algorithm

gain - adjusts the OUTPUT GAIN amount of the MClass Compressor to drive the signal harder into the Scream 4. This parameter also offsets the gain reduction CV value causing a DAMAGE CONTROL offset.

intermodulation - controls the compression THRESHOLD and RATIO and increases the gain reduction as the rotary is turned clockwise. Increased compression causes the DAMAGE CONTROL to increase in intensity.

response - controls the compressor time constants. The ON state sets long values for the ATTACK and RELEASE parameters.

variable bitrate - When this button is enabled, the gain reduction control voltage is tapped and routed to the bitrate rotary. This causes the bitrate to decrease as the input signal increases. Thor is used as a CV on/off switch.

max - This sets the Scream 4 MASTER level to max. Enabling this button can make the signal very loud, but limits around -4dB FS.

emphasis - toggles the compressor SOFT KNEE value which changes the gain reduction curve. In turn this causes starker DAMAGE CONTROL modulation.

BC3 BitCrusher Modifications

One recommended modification is to tap the gain reduction signal and route it to the Scream 4 parameter 2 CV input to establish a variable wordlength modulation. The following steps describe how to implement this feature:

1. On Thor Mod Bus 3, set the source to CV In1.

2. Set the Amount to 80, and set the Destination to CV Output 3.

3. Tab to the rear view and connect the Thor Modulation Output CV3 to the Scream 4 P1 CV input.

4. On the BC3 panel, set wordlength to zero, bitrate to 101, gain to 56, and intermodulation to 95.

5. Disable response, variable bitrate, and max.

6. Enable the emphasis button.

7. Run a drum loop signal through the BC3 BitCrusher to to hear the distortion created by modulating wordlength.

Another suggested mod is to adjust the variable bitrate switching amount. The modulation signal starts with the MClass Compressor gain reduction CV. This CV out is connected to Thor CV 1 input and distributed via the Thor Modulation Busses. The Mod Bus 2 amount value is determined by the min/max values of combi button 2. The minimum value is set to zero, and maximum is set to -50. Changing these values will alter the dynamic modulation characteristics. The following steps describe how to establish this modification:

1. Click on the BC3 Combi Show Programmer Button.

2. Click on “Thor 1″ in the combi programmer device list.

3. On the Modulation Routing section, locate the “Button 2 | Mod 2 Dest Amount” row and set the Min value to 70 and the Max value to -100.

4. Toggle the ‘variable bitrate’ button. This sends the revised values to the Thor modulation bus.

5. Process a signal through the combi patch and toggle button 2 to hear how the values change the distortion characteristics.

CycleOn with Reason 5 + Record 1.5

August 28th, 2010

For Record Reason Duo users who have upgraded to version 5/1.5, rest assured that CycleOn still works as designed with the Dr.OctoRex. Even with the new loop run mode, there are still some benefits to using CycleOn. Namely, Loops start and stop at the beginning or end of a measure marker, instead of at the moment the [Run] button is enabled or disabled. The video below describes a modification to the combinator patch which allows you to use all eight loop slots in each Dr.OctoREX.

I will get an update out….eventually…. The new CycleOn has a better crossfader!