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Old March 14th, 2004, 02:44 PM   #1
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Quality of mixing

I always try to find something new and different to do in every project. Anything to keep me interested. At the moment that something is sound design for a number of animations we are producing.

Recording the sound is not a problem since we use a professional studio for voice overs and all the sound effects and music come from CD libraries. Occasionally I have the need to record a grunt, a scream, or other human sound which I do right into my laptop with no problem. But that's where my question lies -- is my laptop good enough for mixing? (The tracks are quite full - I've used as many as 20+ tracks with some signal processing in a number of them.)

I know the short answer is "no" but I have gradually begun to do more and more in my VAIO using Adobe Audition (formerly Cool Edit) and dumping the mixdown as an AIFF file to sync up with the images on the AVID. Audition gives me a great deal of latitude and choices in processing the audio. I monitor the mix with headsets and check it out over speakers afterwards.

But I can't help but feel I might be ... well, cheating the clients by not giving them the best. I feel that way even though the mixes sound great and no one has found anything to critique. So I guess my question is not so much - is my VAIO laptop good enough, but are there certain undetectable aspects of mixing I should be aware of? I guess I just doubt the Duke Ellington's saying "if it sounds good, it IS good."

What do you think?
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Old March 14th, 2004, 03:55 PM   #2
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The short answer I think is actually 'yes', and I think you are doing fine. The most important thing is that you use your ears and actually care about the sound.

Actually mixing quality, when you are in the digital domain, doesn't get affected much by the kind of hardware you are using. What will happen is, if your computer is slow, it will take more time to do stuff and you might end up doing a sloppy job, but the hardware you have should be quite enough if you are using the right software.

There are a few thing to keep in mind like the use of dithering, avoiding sample rate conversion and pitch shift, as little eq as possible... tricks like that.

The important thing when mixing digital is to get the most out of digital's dynamic range and resolution, especially if you are working at 16 bits. To do this, you need to get your mix level as high as possible without clipping. When you clip in digital, it sounds awful. When your levels are too low, you will have quantization noise and less dynamic range.

Usually a good audio production software like Pro-Tools in the right hands produces great results regardless of whether you are running it on a high-end G5 system or on a Pentium III-based PC. Just make sure you know what you are doing with the audio. If you are not, get some help from a pro, read the manuals and the 'net for the tips and tricks, and ask *us* for advice here at the forum :-)
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Old March 14th, 2004, 05:39 PM   #3
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Ignacio,

Thank you for the input. I guess I just haven't gotten over the fact that I'm doing in my laptop what the folks down the hall are doing with a studio full of gear.

I try not to do any EQ unless necessary. I do find it necessary to normalize, and even compress, the narration track often, also I need to doctor some of the audio tracks to change their natural sound. For instance changing pitch without changing the time frame. Why do you advice against pitch changes?

As far as sample rate conversion goes, that is almost a must when working with mixed sources. Avid expects 48k, while the stuff coming from CDs is 44k. I've even gotten stuff from third parties at 33k. It is the necessity to perform all of these operations that drive me ask the question about using a laptop for really sophisticated mixing. After all, the folks down the hall have over 100k invested in one room. All I have is, a mid-range level of experience, and about $4k worth of hardware.
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Old March 14th, 2004, 07:08 PM   #4
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I think the most important part here is what you're monitoring with. Laptops generally have poor on-board audio so you'll likely want an external USB device. Also, you want a good pair of monitor speakers in a good room. The room you mix in will need acoustic treatment and would be even better if it had non-parallel walls.

On the run you could lay together a rough mix with headphones, but headphones definitely have deficiencies. They don't give you proper stereo or room effects, and they have too much dynamic range.

Pitch changes introduce artifacts. Sometimes it can be ok, sometimes not. There are different algorithms that work better in some situations than others. You can listen on headphones and try pitch shifting various material (voice, music, etc.) to see what the artifacts are.
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Old March 14th, 2004, 09:23 PM   #5
 
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If you're working on a laptop, consider the Echo Indigo card. 8 virtual outputs, plus 24/96 capability, you'll hear a difference between the laptop's audio card and the Indigo over good monitors or over most headphones. Great card, and exceptionally lo latency if you are recording using the Indigo for live recording/monitoring.
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Old March 14th, 2004, 10:41 PM   #6
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Pitch shifting and sample rate conversion are things we must sometimes use and when necessary they are valuable tools. But sometimes you have the alternative of using analog instead of sample rate conversion and finding another soundbyte instead of having to change it's pitch. Most products use poor algorithms for these two operations by default so this makes it especially bad when having to resort to these kind of operations.
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Old March 15th, 2004, 12:52 AM   #7
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Thank you all for the comments and recommendations. I just ordered the Echo Indigo IO card. Read a great deal of good reviews.

I agree with your comments on the problems with digital manipulation of audio and I try to keep it to a minimum, but when a voice is recorded in a sound booth and then it has to sound as if it's in a dungeon and fifty feet away, there is very little that can be done without resorting to digital manipulation of some sort.

Ignacio - great web site!
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