iconic design: 1960s BRAUN Hifi

Just seen in an exhibition downtown.

dear acoustics researchers!

Thank you for all the latest research papers in acoustics and especially the basics of acoustic design for concert halls. I have learned so much about the ambivalance of early reflections, auditory proximity, the critical timing of sound distribution but also amazing things about natural frequency dependent compression in real rooms. Thanks also for making many contributions available as an easy introduction via YT.

However, many of these YT contributions shine through the poorest audio quality imaginable. Recorded in bad acoustic environment (!), poorly miked, badly placed headsets, hissing, booming, humming, dropouts – the whole lot. Resulting in recordings of the lowest audio quality and speech intelligibility. Sometimes so bad that you can hardly follow the content. Seriously, guys, the kids over at Tiktok can do better. So next time please do your homework and walk what you talk, okay?


the twisted world of guitar pedals III

According to urban legends, the Inuit have more than a dozen words for one and the same thing: snow. But forget that, it’s nothing, really. The ambitious modern guitarist is guaranteed to know a multiple of different words for one and the very same phenomenon: distortion. Seriously, guys, who comes up with terms like “clean distortion” or “transparent overdrive”? The other day, I was searching the online store of my trusted dealer for distortion pedals and got 632 hits.

Anyway, somewhere in the sheer mass of pedals and terminology, the really interesting concepts and devices are lurking. And from my humble explorations in the twisted world of guitar pedals, I mostly found them in the realm of boutique manufacturers. Small companies that have often gained a large following among guitarists and are looking for new approaches and distinctive sounds that cannot be found in the mass-produced products of the big manufacturers.

They not only experiment with new ideas and designs that larger companies may overlook, but also take the risk of being successful with niche products. They skillfully combine analog and digital technology to reinterpret classic effects or bring entirely new concepts to the table. You can literally tell that many of these companies are run by musicians who know the needs and wishes of guitarists or just are willing to work closely with customers to develop very individual or extraordinary pedals.

For me personally, some of these boutique devices and manufacturers are a true source of inspiration, whether as a musician or plugin designer. And I can only hope that they continue on their chosen path, survive difficult economic times, and above all, don’t get swallowed up by the big boys.


the twisted world of guitar pedals I

the twisted world of guitar pedals II

why the Thrillseeker compressors complement each other so well

Audio compressors use either a “feed forward” or “feedback” design to control the gain of an audio signal. In a feed forward compressor, the input signal is used directly to control the gain of the output signal. Essentially, the compressor compares the input signal to a threshold and reduces the gain of the output signal if the input signal exceeds the threshold. In a feedback compressor, the output signal is fed back into the compressor and used to control the gain of the input signal. So, the compressor compares the output signal to a threshold and reduces the gain of the input signal if the output signal exceeds the threshold. Both feed forward and feedback compressors can be effective at controlling the dynamic range of an audio signal, but they operate in slightly different ways and do have different characteristics in terms of their sound and response.

However, the specific sound of a device depends largely on other features of the circuit design and its components. For example, an optoelectric compressor uses a photoresistor or photodiode to detect and control the degree of gain reduction of the signal. But the make-up amplifier afterwards may contribute the most to the sound, depending on its design (tube or solid state). A variable gain tube compressor, on the other hand, uses a vacuum tube to control the gain of the compressor. The vacuum tube is used to amplify the signal, and the gain of the compressor is controlled by changing the bias voltage of the tube. This alone provides a very typical, distinctive sound that is very rich in harmonic overtones.

Both opto-electrical and variable-mu tube compressors are commonly used in audio production to control the dynamic range of a signal, but they operate in different ways and can produce different tonal characteristics. Opto-electrical compressors are known for their fast attack times and smooth release characteristics, while variable-mu tube compressors are known for their warm and smooth sound.

bringing mojo back – volume 2

ThrillseekerVBL is an emulation of a vintage broadcast limiter design that follows the classic Variable-Mu design principles from the early 1950s. These tube-based devices were initially used to prevent audio overloads in broadcast transmission by managing sudden level changes in the audio signal. From today’s perspective, and compared to digital dynamic processors, they appear to be rather slow and can be considered more of a gain structure leveler. However, they still shine when it comes to gain riding in a very musical way – they’ve written warmth and mojo all over it.

ThrillseekerVBL is a modded version that not only features basic gain control, but also gives detailed access to both compression behavior and the characteristic of tube circuit saturation effects. Used in subtle doses, this provides the analog magic we so often miss when working in the digital domain while overdriving the circuit achieves much more drastic musical textures as a creative effect.

ThrillseekerVBL offers an incredibly authentic audio transformer simulation that models not only the typical low-frequency harmonic distortion, but also all the frequency- and load-dependent subtleties that occur in a transformer-coupled tube circuit and that contribute to the typical mojo we know and love from the analog classics.

new in version 2

Conceptually, the mkII version has been refined in that the peak limiting itself is no longer the main task but versatile and musically expressive gain control as well as a thrilling saturation experience. The saturation is now an integral part of the compression and is perfectly suited for processing transient-rich material. Both compression and saturation can be individually activated and controlled.

The circuit-related frequency loss in the highs has been almost eliminated and the brilliance control – originally intended just for compensation – can now also perform exciter-like tasks. The bias control has been extended to shape the harmonic spectrum in much greater detail by allowing the contribution of second order harmonics as well as the adjustment of the saturation behavior in the transient area of the signals. The transformer circuit has also been technically revised not only to resolve all the subtleties realistically but also to reproduce an overall tighter sound image.

ThrillseekerVBL has become a real tonebox, able to reproduce a wide range of tonalities. It provides access to the attack and release behavior and all compression controls can also affect the saturation of the signal, even when the compression function is turned off. This allows specific textures of signal saturation to be realized. As with the good old outboard devices, the desired sound colorations can be achieved just by controlling the working range. And if too much of a good thing is used, the DRY/WET control simply shifts down a gear.

To further improve the user experience some additional UI elements have been added giving more visual feedback. Although oversampling has been added, the actual cpu load was significantly reduced thanks to efficient algorithms and assembler code optimizations.

ThrillseekerVBL mkII will be released October 14th for Windows VST in 32 and 64bit as freeware.

sidechain linking techniques

How an audio compressor responds to stereo content depends largely on how the channel linking is implemented in the sidechain. This has a major influence on how the spatial representation of a stereo signal is preserved or even enhanced. The task of the compressor designer is to decide which technical design is most suitable for a given overall concept and to what extent the user can control the linkage when using the device.

In analog compressor designs, in addition to unlinked “dual mono” operation, one usually finds simple techniques such as summing both stereo channels (corresponding to the center of the stereo signal) or the extraction of the maximum levels of both channels using a comparator circuit implementing the mathematical term max(L,R).

More sophisticated designs improve this by making the linking itself frequency dependent, e.g. by linking the channels only within a certain frequency range. It is also common to adjust the amount of coupling from 0 to 100%, and the API 2500 hardware compressor serves as a good example of such frequency dependent implementation. For the low and mid frequency range, simple summing often works slightly better in terms of good stereo imaging, while for the mid to high frequency range, decoupling to some degree often proves to be a better choice.

The channel coupling can also be considered as RMS (or vector) summing, which can be easily realized by sqrt(L^2+R^2). As an added sugar, this also elegantly solves the rectification problem and results in very consistent gain reduction across the actual level distributions that occur between two channels.

If, on the other hand, one wants to focus attention on correlated and uncorrelated signal components individually (both of which together make up a true stereo signal), then a mid/side decomposition in the sidechain is the ticket: A straight forward max(mid(L,R), side(L,R)) on the already rectified channels L and R is able to respond to any kind of correlated signal not only in a very balanced way but also to enhance its spatial representation.

More advanced techniques usually combine the methods already described.

TesslaPRO mkIII released

the magic is where the transient happens

The Tessla audio plugin series once started as a reminiscence to classic transformer based circuit designs of the 50s and 60s but without just being a clone stuck in the past. The PRO version has been made for mixing and mastering engineers working in the digital domain but always missing that extra vibe delivered by some highend analog devices.

TesslaPRO brings back the subtle artifacts from the analog right into the digital domain. It sligthly colors the sound, polishes transients and creates depth and dimension in the stereo field to get that cohesive sound we’re after. All the analog goodness in subtle doses: It’s a mixing effect intended to be used here and there, wherever the mix demands it.

The mkIII version is a technical redesign, further refined to capture all those sonic details while reducing audible distortions at the same time. It further blurs the line between compression and saturation and also takes aural perception based effects into account.

Available for Windows VST in 32 and 64bit as freeware. Download your copy here.

epicPLATE released

epicPLATE delivers an authentic recreation of classic plate reverberation. It covers the fast and consistent reverb build up as well as that distinct tonality the plate reverb is known for and still so much beloved today. Its unique reverb diffusion makes it a perfect companion for all kinds of delay effects and a perfect fit not only for vocals and drums.

delivering that unique plate reverb sound

  • Authentic recreation of classic plate reverberation.
  • True stereo reverb processing.
  • Dedicated amplifier stage to glue dry/wet blends together.
  • Lightweight state-of-the-art digital signal processing.

Available for Windows VST in 32 and 64bit as freeware. Download your copy here.

The former epicVerb audio plugin is discontinued.

FlavourMTC “Mixbus Tone Control” released

FlavourMTC follows classic “passive” equalizer designs where the EQ circuits itself are not able to amplify signals but a dedicated amplifier stage takes care of it. Those EQ designs are well known for allowing very transparent frequency changes while their amplifier designs do add some icing on the cake quite often.

mixbus tone control – closest to analog

FlavourMTC implements this by utilizing 1st order shelving filter designs avoiding unwanted resonances and takes advantage of “zero delay” implementations for most accurate higher order filtering and w/o introducing curve warping near Nyquist frequency. The output amplifier stage of the plugin can be calibrated according specific mixing levels, provides a distinct “box tone” and glues everything together. Parts of the plugin are oversampled internally for maximum transparency and sound quality.

Available for Windows VST in 32 and 64bit as freeware. Download your copy here.

What loudspeakers and audio transformers do have in common

Or: WTF is “group delay”?

Imagine a group of people visiting an exhibition having a guided tour. One might expect that the group reaches the exhibitions exit as a whole but in reality there might be a part of that group just lagging behind a little bit actually (e.g. just taking their time).

Speaking in terms of frequency response within audio systems now, this sort of delay is refered to as “group delay”, measured in seconds. And if parts of the frequency range do not reach a listeners ear within the very same time this group delay is being refered to as not being constant anymore.

A flat frequency response does not tell anything about this phenomena and group delay must always be measured separately. Just for reference, delays above 1-4ms (depending on the actual frequency) can actually be perceived by human hearing.

This always turned out to be a real issue in loudspeaker design in general because certain audio events can not perceived as a single event in time anymore but are spread across a certain window of time. The root cause for this anomaly typically lies in electrical components like frequency splitters, amplifiers or filter circuits in general but also physical loudspeaker construction patterns like bass reflex ports or transmission line designs.

Especially the latter ones actually do change the group delay for the lower frequency department very prominently which can be seen as a design flaw but on the other hand lots of hifi enthusiast actually do like this low end behaviour which is able to deliver a very round and full bass experience even within a quite small speaker design. In such cases, one can measure more than 20ms group delay within the frequency content below 100Hz and I’ve seen plots from real designs featuring 70ms at 40Hz which is huge.

Such speaker designs should be avoided in mixing or mastering situation where precision and accuracy is required. It’s also one of the reasons why we can still find single driver speaker designs as primary or additional monitoring options in the studios around the world. They have a constant group delay by design and do not mess around with some frequency parts while just leaving some others intact.

As mentioned before, also several analog circuit designs are able to distort the constant group delay and we can see very typical low end group delay shifts within audio transformer coupled circuit designs. Interestingly, even mastering engineers are utilizing such devices – whether to be found in a compressor, EQ or tape machine – in their analog mastering chain.