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Monthly Archives: September 2020


The Vocal QuickStrip

This tip is excerpted from the updated/revised 2nd Edition of How to Record and Mix Great Vocals in Studio One. The new edition includes the latest Studio One 5 features, as well as some free files and Open Air impulses, but also has 35% more content than the first edition—it’s grown from 121 to 194 pages. And as a “thank you” to those who bought the original version, you’re eligible for a 50% discount on the 2nd edition. There’s also a bundle with the book and my complete set of 128 custom impulses for Open Air…but so much for how I spent my summer vacation, LOL. Let’s get to the tip.

Suppose you’ve laid down your raw vocal—great! Now it’s time to overdub some instrumental parts and background vocals. Unfortunately, though, that raw vocal is kind of…uninspiring. So you start browsing effects, tweaking them, trying different settings—and before you know it, you’re going down a processing rabbit hole in the middle of your session.

Next time, open up the Vocal QuickStrip. Insert this vocal processing’s “greatest hits” FX Chain in your vocal track, tweak a few settings, admire how wonderful the vocal sounds, and then carry on with your project.

There’s a download link for the Vocal QuickStrip.multipreset file, so you don’t need to assemble the chain yourself. It works with Studio One 4 as well as 5 (note that the Widen button for the Doubler is functional only in Studio One 5).

The Effects

The Fat Channel (Fig. 1) is the heart of the chain. Of its three available compressors, the Tube Comp model emulates the iconic LA-2A compressor—the go-to vocal compressor for many engineers.

Figure 1: Fat Channel settings for the Vocal QuickStrip FX Chain.

The Fat Channel also includes a built-in high-pass filter. You can place the EQ either before or after the compressor; here, the EQ is before the compressor because boosting certain frequencies “pushes” the compressor harder. This contributes to the Vocal QuickStrip’s character.

The EQ uses all four stages. The most interesting aspect is how the Low Frequency and Low-Mid Frequency stages interact subtly when you edit the Bottom control. The Low-Frequency stage is fixed at 110 Hz with 1 dB of gain, but its Q tracks the Low-Mid Frequency stage’s Gain control. So, when you pull the LMF Gain down, the LF stage’s Q gets broader; increase Gain, and the Q goes up somewhat.

The High-Mid Frequency stage sits at 3 kHz, because boosting in this frequency range can improve intelligibility. The High-Frequency section adds “air” around 10 kHz. However, as you increase the Top control, the frequency goes just a bit lower so that the boost covers a wider section of the high-frequency range. This makes the effect more pronounced.

The Chorus is the next processor in the chain, but it’s used for doubling, not chorusing (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: The Chorus provides a voice-doubling ADT effect.

The parameters are preset to a useful doubling effect, and there are only two control switches—one to enable/bypass the effect, the other to increase the stereo spread.

For echo/delay effects, the Analog Delay comes next (Fig. 3). Although many of the parameters are well-suited to being macro controls, there had to be a few tradeoffs to leave enough space for the crucial controls from other effects.

Figure 3: The Analog Delay is set up for basic echo functionality.

For example, the Delay Time controls beats rather than being able to choose between beats and sweeping through a continuous range. Feel free to change the Macro control assignment. Also, the LFO isn’t used, so if you want to modify the ping-pong effects, you’ll need to open the interface and do so manually. In any event, the Delay Beats, Feedback, and Mix parameters cover what you need for most vocal echo effects.

The final link in the chain is the Open AIR reverb (Fig. 4). Normally I use my own impulse responses (see the Friday Tip Synthesize Open AIR Reverb Impulses in Studio One for info on how to create your own impulse responses), but of the factory impulses, for vocals I’m a big fan of the Gold Plate impulse. (If you have my Surreal Reverb Impulse Responses pack that’s available from the PreSonus shop, I’d recommend using the 1.2 Fast Damped, 1.5 Fast Damped, or 2.25 Fast Damped vocal reverbs. However, note that these three files are also included for free with the second edition of the Vocals book)

Figure 4: The Open AIR reverb plug-in’s Gold Plate impulse response is one of my favorite factory impulses for vocals.

The Macro Controls 

When designing an FX Chain with so many available parameters, you need to choose which parameters (or combinations of parameters) are most important for Macro controls (Fig. 5).

Figure 5: The Vocal QuickStrip Macro controls.

Compress varies both the Peak Reduction and Gain to maintain a fairly constant output—an old trick (see the EZ Squeez One-Knob Compressor tip), but a useful one. Bottom, Push, and Top control three EQ stages. All of these, and the Compressor, have bypass switches so it’s easy to compare the dry and processed settings.

Delay also has a bypass switch, as well as controls for delay time in beats, delay feedback, and dry/wet delay mix. The only switches for the chorus-based doubling function are bypass and narrower/wider. Reverb includes a bypass button and dry/mix control, because that’s really all you need when you have a gorgeous convolution reverb in the chain.

So go ahead and download the Vocal QuickStrip, use it, and have fun. But remember that an FX Chain like this lends itself to modifications—for example, insert a Binaural Pan after the Open AIR reverb, or optimize some EQ frequencies to work better with your mic or voice. Try the other two compressors in the Fat Channel (or if you’re a PreSonus Sphere member, then try the other eight compressors—they all have different characters). With a little experimentation, you can transform an FX Chain that works for me (and will hopefully work well for you) to an FX Chain that’s perfect for you. Go for it!

Download the Vocal QuickStrip FX Chain here

 

Purchase How to Record and Mix Great Vocals in Studio One here

 

World-Renowned Drummer “Kirkee B” Talks PreSonus Sphere

If you know him well, you know him as “Kirkee B.” To the rest of us, Curt Bisquera is a world-renowned professional studio and live drummer. Having played with more famous artists than we have room to name in this blog post, he’s in-demand—both in the studio and on the road. Talk about a Dinner Party DREAM guest list: Mick Jagger, Elton John, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Seal, John Fogerty, Sarah McLachlan, John Legend, Hans Zimmer, Josh Groban, Lana Del Rey, Celine Dion, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Donny Osmond, Lionel Richie… those are a few of his credits over the last 30 years in the music industry.

We recently connected with Kirkee B on Instagram and found out he’s a HUGE PreSonus Sphere user and fan! We thought it would be nice to hear his thoughts on PreSonus Sphere.

 

How did you first hear about Sphere? 

I heard about PreSonus Sphere through PreSonus’ Artist Relations Manager, Perry Tee. He really didn’t say what it was… he just said, “Look out for what’s coming… it’s gonna blow your mind!” And he was correct!

What got your attention? 

The video content. I’m on Sphere every day watching all the new video content that’s posted. I’m getting better at using Studio One 5, thanks to all the videos from Gregor and Joe! They are a huge help and inspiration.

What’s keeping your attention? 

The fact that it is always maintained and updated and that I can also join in with a bunch of other users around the world.

Can you speak to the value of PreSonus Sphere? 

Oh man, where to begin? After the morning espresso kicks in, there are two things I check: the news and PreSonus Sphere! I always feel like I’m on top by checking Sphere everyday… Super valuable!

Is there something specific that you’ve learned from one of the exclusive videos? 

YES! I’ve learned how to use the Splitter Tool thanks for PreSonus Sphere and I LOVE IT!

What would you tell someone who’s considering Sphere? 

Once you sign on, you will feel the world of creativity at your fingertips! There’s nothing like it.

In your opinion, how can PreSonus Sphere change the music industry? 

It allows users to gain confidence at their own pace in using PreSonus products and software in an easy, one-stop, online environment. Confidence is huge if you want to be successful in this industry.

How does it feel to be one of the FIRST to join the PreSonus Sphere family?

I am honored! It’s really changed the game for me, now in my creativity is limitless. I can do things now I was unable to do in the past. NOW the future for me is PreSonus Sphere!

Join PreSonus Sphere today!

 

Connect with Curt on Instagram here! 

Sweet Multiband Chorus

Full disclosure: I’m not a big fan of chorusing. In general, I think it’s best relegated to wherever snares with gated reverbs, orchestral hits, DX7 bass presets, Fairlight pan pipes, and other 80s artifacts go to reminisce about the good old days.

But sometimes it’s great to be wrong, and multiband chorusing has changed my mind. This FX Chain (which works in Studio One Version 4 as well as Version 5) takes advantage of the Splitter, three Chorus plug-ins, Binaural panning, and a bit of limiting to produce a chorus effect that covers the range from subtle and shimmering, to rich and creamy.

There’s a downloadable .multipreset file, so feel free to download it, click on this window’s close button, bring the FX Chain into Studio One, and start playing. (Just remember to set the channel mode for guitar tracks to stereo, even with a mono guitar track.) However, it’s best to read the following on what the controls do, so you can take full advantage of the Multiband Chorus’s talents.

Anatomy of a Multiband Chorus

The Splitter creates three splits based on frequency, which in this case, are optimized for guitar with humbucking pickups. These frequencies work fine with other instruments, but tweak as needed. The first band covers up to 700 Hz, the second from 700 Hz to 1.36 kHz, and the third band, from 1.36 kHz on up (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. FX Chain block diagram and Macro Controls panel for the Multiband Chorus.

Each split goes to a Chorus. The mixed output from the three splits goes to a Binaural Pan to enhance the stereo imaging, and a Limiter to make the signal “pop” a little more.

Regarding the control panel, the Delay, Depth, LFO Width, and 1/2 Voices controls affect all three Choruses. Each Chorus also has its own on/off switch (C1, C2, and C3), Chorus/Double button (turning on the button enables the Double mode), and LFO Speed control. You’ll also find on/off buttons for the Binaural Pan and Limiter, as well as a Width control for the Binaural Pan. Fig. 2 shows the initial Chorus settings when you call up the FX Chain.

Figure 2. Initial FX Chain Chorus settings.

The Multiband Advantage

Because chorusing occurs in different frequency bands, the sound is more even and has a lusher sound than conventional chorusing. Furthermore, setting asynchronous LFO Speeds for the three bands can give a more randomized effect (at least until there’s an option for smoothed, randomized waveform shapes in Studio One).

A major multiband advantage comes into play when you set one of the bands to Doubler mode instead of Chorus. You may need to readjust the Delay and Width controls, but using Doubler mode in the mid- or high-frequency band, and chorusing for the other bands, gives a unique sound you won’t find anywhere else. Give it a try, and you’ll hear why it’s worth resurrecting the chorus effect—but with a multiband twist.

 

Download the .multipreset here.

The Limiter2 Deep Dive

 

At first, the changes to the effects in Version 5 seem mostly cosmetic. But dig deeper, and you’ll find there’s more to the story—so let’s find out what’s new with Limiter2 (Fig. 1).

 

Figure 1: Limiter2 has had several design changes for Version 5.

The control parameters are more logical, and easier to adjust. Prior to V5, there was an unusual, by-design interaction with the Ceiling and Threshold controls; setting Ceiling below Threshold gave the limiter a softer knee. However, the tradeoff was difficulty in obtaining predictable results. Besides, if the soft knee aspect is important to you for dynamics control, just use the Compressor with a really high ratio.

In Limiter2, the Threshold is relative to the Ceiling—the Ceiling sets Limiter2’s absolute maximum level, while Threshold sets where limiting begins below the Ceiling, based on the Threshold parameter value. For example, if Ceiling is 0.00 and Threshold is -6.00, then the limiter’s threshold is ‑6.00 dB. But if the Ceiling is ‑3.00 dB and the Threshold is -6.00, then the limiter’s Threshold is -9.00 dB. Makeup gain occurs automatically so that as you lower the Threshold parameter, the output level increases as needed to meet the Ceiling’s target output level.

Modes and Attacks

There are now two Modes, A and B, and three Attack time settings. The pre-V5 Limiter had less flexible attack options, which mostly impacted how it responded to low-frequency audio; the waveform could have some visible distortion when first clamped, but the distortion would disappear after the attack time completed.

I’ll spare you the hours I spent listening and nerding around with the (highly underrated) Tone Generator and Scope plug-ins to analyze how the new options affect the sound, so here’s the bottom line.

In applications where you want to apply something like 6 dB of peak reduction to make a track or mix “pop,” the Limiter2 performance in Mode A is essentially perfect. Unless you’re into extreme amounts of limiting or material with lots of low frequencies, Mode A should cover what you need 95% of the time (and it also outperforms the pre-V5 limiter).

If you’re using Limiter2 as a brickwall limiter to keep transients from spilling over into subsequent stages, then use Mode A/Fast attack for the highest fidelity and give up a tiny bit of headroom, or Mode B/Fast Attack for absolute clamping.

Fig. 2 shows how the fast and slow times compare. The following were all set for 50 ms release times, 1 kHz sine wave input, and -20 dB Threshold—so Limiter2 was being hit pretty hard.

Figure 2: Fast and Slow attacks compared for Modes A and B, cropped to 150 ms duration. Top to bottom: Mode A/Fast, Mode A/Slow, Mode B/Fast, Mode B/Slow.

The visuals are helpful, but on signals with fast transients, you may hear more of a difference with the different attack times than these images might indicate. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Mode B/Fast is super-fast. If you look carefully at Mode A/Slow, you’ll see a very tiny downward blip on the first cycle of the attack (it’s less visible on Mode B/Slow). Mode A takes about 20 ms to settle down to its final level.

Low-Frequency Performance

For more background on the nuts and bolts of how this works, the tradeoff for Mode B’s higher speed mostly involves very low frequencies (under 80 Hz or so, and especially under 50 Hz). With a 50 Hz sawtooth wave, 100 ms Release, and a significant amount of limiting, Mode B/Slow gives some visible overshoot and distortion. Mode B/Fast reduces the overshoot but increases distortion. Mode A does less of both—with Slow, there’s less overshoot, and with Fast, there’s less distortion. Note that any distortion or overshoot occurs only when pushing Limiter2 to extremes: very low-frequency waveforms, with steep rise/fall times, short release times, and lots of limiting. However, this is mostly of academic interest with waveforms that have lots of harmonics, like sawtooth and square. The level of the harmonics is high enough to mask any low-level harmonics generated by distortion.

I also tested with a sine wave, which gives an indication of what to expect with audio like a kick drum (e.g., 40-60 Hz fundamental) or low bass notes. Mode B/Fast has less distortion than Mode B/Slow, while Mode A, fast or slow, flattens peaks almost indiscernibly (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: A 30 Hz sine wave with about 15 dB of limiting. Top: A Mode. Middle: B Mode/Fast. Bottom: B Mode/Slow.

In this situation, Mode A would likely be my choice, but as always, use your ears—the light distortion from Mode B can actually enhance kick drum and bass tracks. Also note that which mode to use depends on the release time. For example, with a short (35 ms) release, B/Slow had the most audible distortion, B/Fast was next, and B/Normal had no audible distortion.

While I was in testing mode, I decided to check out some third-party limiters (Fig. 4) with a different program. These are all marketed as “vintage” emulations, and set to the fastest possible attack time.

Figure 4: The results of testing some other limiters.

In case you wondered why some people say these vintage limiters have “punch”…now you know why! The time required to settle down to the final level is pretty short (except for the bottom one), but the limiter doesn’t catch the initial peaks. This is why you can insert one of these kinds of limiters, think you’re limiting the signal, but the downstream overload indicators still light on transients. Incidentally, the Fat Channel’s Tube limiter has this kind of “vintage punch” response in the Limit mode, while the Fat Channel’s one-knob, final limiter stage—although basic—is highly effective at trapping transients.

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  • Jupiter Emulations: A collection of 183 sample presets replicating a certain well-loved synth from the 1980s, this pack was originally made by BL Studios… adjusted and adapted for use in SampleOne XT by Patch Hut.
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Ampire and Fat Channel XT VSTs – 50% Off One Week ONLY! (9/1-9/7)

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Ampire is a guitar rig simulator that leverages State Space Modeling for uncannily realistic re-creations of classic (expensive and heavy) guitar amplifiers, cabinets, and pedals. State Space Modeling is the surgical measuring and digital re-creation of analog hardware on a per-component level. Each capacitor, every resistor, all the diodes, and every circuitry element of the complete hardware schematics have their behavior measured, modeled, and re-created… including even component-specific non-linearities.

All Fat Channel Plug-ins are state-modeled to accurately produce the sound and response of the original hardware processors. The following plug-ins are included in this bundle:

Baxandall EQ
This EQ offers the world’s most popular EQ curve. Using gently sweeping treble and bass EQ shelves, it allows you to make subtle, yet effective, changes over wide swaths of the frequency spectrum.

Comp 160 Compressor
With simple controls, yet capable of extreme compression traits, the Comp 160 provides VCA character with a personality all its own. Try it on drums—you’ll be glad you did!

Everest C100A Compressor
Based on a classic design focused on gentle, natural-sounding gain reduction, the Everest C100A helps control dynamics while still letting the signal breathe.

Classic Compressor
The smooth character of this compressor allows you to create transparent or extreme color changes to your audio, making it a workhorse for just about any application.

Vintage 3-band EQ
With its distinct filter shaping, sheen, and bite, this three-band active EQ includes both high and low shelving filters, providing enhanced tone-shaping possibilities.

The Tube CB Compressor
In general, the response time of optical compressors tends to soften the attack and release, which can smooth out uneven volume fluctuations. Emulating an all-tube, optical design, the Tube CB compressor delivers musicality, preserving the clarity of the signal even at the most extreme settings.

The Tube EQ
The Tube EQ is based on a passive, all-tube design for ultra-smooth and musical equalization, making it ideal for any midrange source material.

FC-670 Compressor
This model of an iconic compressor/limiter of the 1950s imparts an unmistakable silky warmth on just about any signal.

Brit Comp
Capturing the unique sound of a twin VCA gain-reduction amplifier design, the Brit Comp is ideal for taming piano dynamics or adding punch to drums and percussion.

Alpine EQ-550
The 1960s-vintage EQ provides consistent, repeatable equalization using three overlapping bands, divided into seven fixed frequency points, each with five steps of boost or cut. Its selectable peaking or shelving filters for the high and low band, along with an independently insertable bandpass filter, provide an easy path to creating acoustically superior equalization.

Solar 69 EQ
The sound of classic British EQ is absolutely legendary and has enhanced many a great recording. Emulating this classic British design, the Solar 69 EQ adds definition to kick drums, shapes electric guitars, and adds shimmer to acoustic guitars and vocals without sacrificing body.

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