sustaining trends in audio land, 2022 edition

Forecasts are difficult, especially when they concern the future – Mark Twain

In last years edition about sustaining trends in audio land I’ve covered pretty much everything from mobile and modular, DAW and DAW-less up to retro outboard and ITB production trends. From my point of view, all points made so far are still valid. However, I’ve neglected one or another topic which I’ll now just add here to that list.

The emergence of AI in audio production

What we can currently see already in the market is the ermergence of some clever mixing tools aiming to solve very specific mixing tasks, e.g. resonance smoothing and spectral balancing. Tools like that might be based on deep learning or other smart and sophisticated algorithms. There is no such common/strict “AI” definition and we will see an increasing use of the “AI” badge even only for the marketing claim to be superior.

Some other markets are ahead in this area, so it might be a good idea to just look into them. For example, AI applications in the digital photography domain are already ranging from smart assistance during taking a photo itself up to complete automated post processing. There is AI eye/face detection in-camera, skin retouching, sky replacement and even complete picture development. Available for all kinds of devices, assisted or fully automated and in all shades of quality and pricing.

Such technology not only shapes the production itself but a market and business as a whole. For example, traditional gate keepers might disappear because they are no longer necessary to create, edit and distribute things but also the market might get flooded with mediocre content. To some extend we can see this already in the audio domain and the emergence of AI within our production will just be an accelerator for all that.

The future of audio mastering

Audio Mastering demands shifted slightly over the recent years already. We’ve seen new requirements coming from streaming services, the album concept has become less relevant and there was (and still is) a strong demand for an increased loudness target. Also, the CD has been loosing relevance but Vinyl is back and has become a sustaining trend again, surprisingly. Currently Dolby Atmos gains some momentum, but the actual consumer market acceptance remains to be proven. I would not place my bet on that since this has way more implications (from a consumer point of view) than just introducing UHD as a new display standard.

Concerning the technical production, a complete ITB shift – as we’ve seen it in the mixing domain – has not been completed yet but the new digital possibilities like dynamic equalizing or full spectrum balancing are slowly adopted. All in all, audio mastering slowly evolves along the ever changing demands but remains surprisingly stable, sustaining as a business and this will probably continue for the next (few) years.

Social Media, your constant source of misinformation

How To Make Vocals Sound Analog? Using Clippers For Clean Transparent Loudness. Am I on drugs now? No, I’ve just entered the twisted realm of social media. The place where noobs advice you pro mixing tips and the reviews are paid. Everyone is an engineer here but its sooo entertaining. Only purpose: Attention. Currency: Clicks&Subs. Tiktok surpassed YT regarding reach. Content half-life measured in hours. That DISLIKE button is gone. THERE IS NO HOPE.

The (over-) saturated audio plugin market and the future of DSP

Over the years, a vast variety of vendors and products has been flooded the audio plugin market, offering literally hundreds of options to choose from. While this appears to be a good thing at first glance (increaed competition leads to lower retail prices) this has indeed a number of implications to look at. The issues we should be concerned the most about are the lack of innovation and the drop in quality. We will continue to see a lot of “me too” products as well as retro brands gilding their HW brands with yesterday SW tech.

Also, we can expect a trend of market consolidation which might appear in different shapes. Traditionally, this is about mergers and aquisitions but today its way more prominently about successfully establishing a leading business platform. And this is why HW DSP will be dead on the long run becuse those vendors just failed in creating competitive business platforms. Other players stepped in here already.

the twisted world of guitar pedals II

Meanwhile I had the opportunity to put my hands on some Fairfield Circuitry effect pedal stuff mentioned earlier here and the “Meet Maude” analog BBD delay was right here on my desk for a deeper inspection. My actual experience was a rather mixed one.

Focusing on a rather dark and LoFi sound quality on the one hand plus a rather simplistic feature set concept wise on the other, they do not appear to be very flexible in practise and this at a rather steep price point. They appear to be very noisy featuring all kinds of artifacts even when integrated to the mixing desk via reamping. One may call this the feature itself but at the end it makes it a one-trick pony. If you need exactly that, here you have it but you get nothing beyond that. To me this trade off was too big and so I send it back.

However, I found their nifty low pass gate implementation (very prominently featured within their “Shallow Water”) that much unique and interesting that I replicated it as a low pass filter alternative in software and to have it available e.g. for filtering delay lines in my productions. The “Shallow Water” box made me almost pull the trigger but all in all I think this stuff seems to be a little bit over-hyped thanks to the interwebs. This pretty much sums it up for now, end of this affair.

Timeline & BigSky – The new dust collectors?

Going into the exact opposite direction might be a funny idea and so I grabbed some Strymon stuff which aims to be the jack of all trades at least regarding digital delay and reverb in a tiny stomp box aka desktop package. To be continued …

Further readings about BBD delays:

the twisted world of guitar pedals I

Quite recently I had a closer look into the vast amount of (guitar) effect pedals out there. Most are already DSP based which surprised me a little bit since I still ecpected more discrete analog designs after all. While looking for some neat real analog BBD delay I finally stumbled across Fairfield Circuitry’s “Meet Maude” which got me intrigued, having a rather rough look&feel at first sight but some very delicate implementation details under the hood.

Their delay modulation circuit has some randomness build in and also there is a compression circuit in the feedback loop – both designs I’ve also choosen for NastyDLA and which makes a big impact on the overall sound for granted. But the real highlight is the VCF in the delay feedback path which actually appears to be a low-pass gate – a quite unique design and soundwise also different but appealing in its very own regard.

They employed very similar concepts to their vibrato/chorus box “Shallow Water” featuring also random delay modulation and a low pass gate but this time a little bit more prominent on the face plate. On top, their JFET op-amp adds some serious grit to any kind of input signal. All in all, I did not expect such a bold but niche product to exist. If I ever will own such a thingy, there will be a much more detailed review here for sure.

What I like about the Behringer 2600

What I really like about the Behringer 2600 is that it’s not just a plain copy but introduces some real useful improvements over the original concept. Most important to me is the 19″ form factor which not only reduces the originals size and fits in the rack but also remains big enough to enjoy a great user experience while cabling and tweaking things. And they got rid of those speakers! Instead it offers 2 filter revisions to choose from, two of the oscillator sections are now fully featured, the LFO is part of the main chassis now and new additional timing options for the envelopes has been added as well.

On the other hand, the Behringer 2600 sticks to CV gate voltages following original levels which limits full integration in todays modular world quite a bit. However, this is currently not a big deal to me. I only wish they would have made a true analog delay instead of the spring reverb (emulation). Offering audio in, the device also doubles as an excellent analog effect unit which seems to be a little bit underrated in this regard. Given it’s pricepoint, this feature is already something to consider if one is just looking for an outboard analog filter box or an alternative for something like a MS-20.

The ARP 2600 turns 50

And if time allows, watch this awesome documentary about the history and story behind ARP:

A short review of the LIRA 8 VSTi

While currently having the original SOMA Lyra-8 hardware here on my desk I was curious how the VST emulation created by Mike Moreno DSP might appear in comparison. The release is available in VST formats for Mac and PC under “Pay what you want or download for free”.

In case you never heard of the hardware Lyra, it’s basically a 8 voice drone synthesizer, providing some LFO and FM modulation capabilities plus a basic delay and distortion FX. It does not provide any Midi control but solely relies on manual interaction with it’s analog interface (plus some quite limited CV support). It also does not have any sort of filter, mod matrix or effect structure. However, it perfectly fits for different styles of experimental electronic and ambient music as well as all kinds of sound design e.g for film scoring and such.

The VST plugin resembles the overall appearance and usage concept almost identical to the hardware. All parameters are accessible via host automation in your DAW which indeed turns out to be really useful. To trigger the sensors, Midi notes C1 to G1 can also be used instead of clicking the interface. Since the original sensors are sensitiv to skin capacitance/resistance, I would have expected the plugin sensors to have some sort of velocity or aftertouch control accordingly but this is not the case.

Soundwise the plugin was a real surprise. While it might not stand an A/B test with its analog counterpart, it amazingly captures its overall sound aesthetic and gives instant gratification in this regard. Wobbling drones, shimmering soundscapes and fizzling FM weirdness – it can all do that and much more. But maybe even more important it is real fun to twiddle with and it appears to be very inspirational, exactly like the HW does.

What the plugin itself can’t give you of course is the tactile experience. Beside that there is an issue when it comes to tuning sounds. The oscillator tune parameters actually do have just very imprecise control given the huge frequency range across all octaves. This becomes even more of an issue if you try to finetune something in its FM sweetspot area.

Overall verdict: Highly recommended for all sorts of sound design or pure inspiration – if you can live with its constraints.

sustaining trends in audio land, 2021 edition

Now, after spending some time on digging a little bit more deeper into the current offerings and market situation in audio production I just wanted to briefly outline some of my personal summaries regarding sustaining trends but maybe outline also some new things I do see on the horizon.

The mobile audio evolution

To me this indeed looks like an ongoing trend for years now which simply does not stop. On the one hand we can see the whole software and especially the App market continuing and increasing in all areas and platforms: notebooks, tablets, smartphones and their respective eco systems accordingly. Where Ableton once started in providing an almost complete mobile music production approach in literally just a bag, Bitwig and others followed and now Apps are everywhere allowing any kind of recording and music or media production on the go. Apples recent move with the M1 SOC (System on Chip) approach fits perfectly into this trend by increasing the mobility even further in terms of power, size and efficiency. Others will follow this path for sure. Also we can see traditional music gear manufacturers going more and more into compact and battery powered solutions as well, such as the Korg Volca series or the Roland boutique thingies, just to name the two.

The retro cult continues

Companies like Behringer will continue to spit out analog HW clones like there is no tomorrow. Whether thats synthesizer reissues or blatant plain copies of vintage mixing outboard or modeled software – you’ll find everything and in almost all shades of quality and price. And I think this is a really good thing to have such a variety to choose from and also this will lead to some serious price drops in the overpriced used gear market in that area.

Modular madness

I don’t think this is part of the overall retro trend but a niche on its very own. In any case the modular synthesis thing is still gaining more and more momentum. There is a sheer amount of hardware options to choose from and meanwhile also quite a lot of audio interfaces and controller solutions are offering not only Midi but also CV support. Even in software land one can put his/her virtual hands on something modular. All in all, this looks and sounds like real fun and a great opportunity to spend a lot of time on (and money).

Look mom no computer

All those neat outboard DAW-less setups shown on YT: Some hardware samplers and grooveboxes here, some fancy retro synths there and fx stomp boxes all over the place. Well, “Look mom no computer” is of course absolutely wrong here because half of that stuff has tiny little digital displays and computers underneath you have to tinker with. Personally, I would prefer some neat “one knob, one job” analog interfaces plus a real full-blown DAW any day. However, definately a sustaining trend and a good thing.

Loudness war, quo vadis?

While it seems that LUFS finally made it and in fact has been successfully settled as a standard in the broadcast domain – in music production in general it has not. Todays audio mastering target levels are still insane and even some “engineers” continue to present converter clipping as the holy loudness grail to their YT followers. That really hurts. At least some of the big streaming sevices restricted target loudness levels to -14 or -16LUFS which gives a little hope.

ITB production finally took over

Now that even the last renowned mixing engineer has finally surrendered to the dark side in the box – at least for the recording and mixing part – the question remains, why this has taken so long. Was it for quality concerns? The time-to-market pressure to finally have total recall in all regards? Simple ignorance or fear? We might not be sure about the final answer but we do know that today almost everybody can run some media production tasks in a decent quality on his very own while having a low entrance barrier. And this is what I really would call the “game changer” of the last decade. Now, your skills are the limit.

Game of DAWs

There is really no trend in particular here other than the fact that we have the very same players on the board since a decade ago. Maybe Bitwig will aim for the crown from Ableton? It’s whole inherent synthesis and modulation integration make this comprehensive sequencer an instrument on its very own and also it runs natively on Linux. All the other contenders improved step by step here and there but quite comparable. Maybe having build in mixing scenes and more convincing analog style summing is a thing which sticks a little bit out. So, on my own I wasn’t that much impressed about this very last episodes and now I’m looking forward to an upcoming but much more entertaining season, hopefully.

The pandemic impact

As we all know, the Covid impact on everything live performance related was and still is a sheer desaster. How this will evolve in the future is hard to predict but it is clear that there won’t be any back to normal any time soon if ever. That means this area must transform into the digital/virtual domain as well and most of the suppliers in exact this kind of areas are already the winners of the current situation.

Stay healthy!

Β 

Dub Taylor (Slices DVD Feature)

OMFG

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Musikmesse 2012

Musikmesse 2012 starts in about one week, so what do you expect to show up there? Any rumours already out there? Further more: Are you visiting Frankfurt this time?

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