Amalgamates Review

Discuss our reviews or just talk about any old album.

Amalgamates Review

Postby billhare » Sat Mar 12, 2005 10:58 am

Valerie Kolko wrote:Then there's Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun — the opening notes alone so effectively evoke the original that I begin to envision the creepy video that still scars me from childhood.


Childhood?? Gawd you people make me feel old...

Valerie Kolko wrote:Suffice it to say that the Amalgamates don't disappoint, and they're successful even without Bill Hare's or Gabe Rutman's help (yes, it's possible!)


Of course it is. I strongly encourage everyone to try it at least, and if it seems like it's not going to work for you, then seek help. The differences are always in the details, though, and some people can find them, others can't (without a lot of experience.) It doesn't cost you a lot to at least try!

To be frank and honest, though, let me give my first and second impressions about this album from a veteran engineer/producer's perspective:

I bought the CD directly from the 'Mates at the East Coast Summit last year (notice I said "bought", yes I practice what I preach!) Knowing that (Boston engineer/producer) John Clark is an alum and that he had worked with them previously I just assumed that he had worked on this album. Without reading the liner notes and putting the CD on for the first time, my first impression was "what the hell is this??" The imaging and spectral balance are a quite blurred, and a list of other tweaky stuff as well, and because I was assuming it was JC's work I was very surprised. A quick grab of the liner notes and I see that it's self-produced from beginning to end. "What the hell is this??" turned to "very impressive" in my mind in a snap.

These differences can be Nth degrees from a listener's standpoint without a direct comparison of the same material mixed "properly" (whatever that may mean), and apparently it all got past the reviewers with no problem. Whether this shows that Nth degrees don't matter or that we've just gotten lax in the way we listen, I don't know. Again, I want to congratulate the "Mates for their work, and I also don't want to come across as someone who is worried about losing work over this (I'm not - in fact, less work would be good right about now! :-)

The point is, some can hear the difference, but it seems still more can't - is it worth an extra $5000 to bring it to a higher level? Maybe not - this album seemed to do it all - made it onto BOCA, got a very good RARB review, nominated for 2 CARA awards - very impressive.

Anyway, just sayin' - I just spew stuff out whenever I feel like it in response to stuff I see here, and hopefully it's info that's to the good of all! As long as my expert (HA!) opinion is worth anything to anybody I'll just keep mindlessly typing here...

-B

-B

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments. http://www.dyz.com

billhare
 
Posts: 2002
Joined: Thu Feb 13, 2003 11:14 am
Location: Silicon Valley, CA

Re: Amalgamates Review

Postby carlyonders » Sat Mar 12, 2005 1:50 pm

billhare wrote:I bought the CD directly from the 'Mates at the East Coast Summit last year (notice I said "bought", yes I practice what I preach!) Knowing that (Boston engineer/producer) John Clark is an alum and that he had worked with them previously I just assumed that he had worked on this album. Without reading the liner notes and putting the CD on for the first time, my first impression was "what the hell is this??" The imaging and spectral balance are a quite blurred, and a list of other tweaky stuff as well, and because I was assuming it was JC's work I was very surprised. A quick grab of the liner notes and I see that it's self-produced from beginning to end. "What the hell is this??" turned to "very impressive" in my mind in a snap.


Wow I'm glad I am not crazy, and glad that Bill was the one who said these things so they won't be summarily shot down. First though, these guys can really sing! It's like they always have that degree of soul...not quite Essence-level...who might just be the most overlooked group in the country...or Everyday People...but some soul nonetheless. Now, what I have heard of this CD (I have heard half of it) sounds very well pasted, edited, etc, with some really cool arranging and syllables. But it sounds I don't know, mono?, for lack of a more technical word. I keep wanting to reach into the speakers and move parts around/out from on top of each other/out of the middle. I also end up tweaking the EQ in Winamp whenever I listen to it to try to de-mud it. It sounds a teensy bit like recordings I used to make of my old group using a VS-880 and an SM58. I'm SUPER impressed that they did it all themselves (let me stress that again), but why on earth would they use a homemade mic? The mic is the number 1, 2, 3, and 4th most important part of the recording chain, or so I have been told? Was it to prove they could do it? Cuz I feel like it hurt them. I feel if they had just used a better mic a lot of the muddiness would be gone or at least lessened instantly. Mastering might have brought out some of the parts a bit too.

Still, what I have heard so far sounds really good. A solid 4.0, if I were the reviewer. It's not Bamboo and it's certainly not Juice, but it's a solid effort that everyone should buy. I am buying one tomorrow. Hopefully if enough peeps buy it the 'Mates can buy themselves a real mic for the next CD and perhaps take their self-recorded and fully edited tracks back to Jon for some truly amazing results. Lookout world!!
carlyonders
 
Posts: 253
Joined: Fri Aug 13, 2004 1:45 pm

Mates Review

Postby tbaran » Sat Mar 12, 2005 4:01 pm

Thanks for the comments, all around. It was our expectation that people would probably do one of two things shortly after popping in the disc:

1 - Listen to the recording equipment we used
2 - Listen to the 'Mates sing

It seems like the "2" types (which are in the majority) tend to dig the disc, while some "1"'s understandably find gripes with certain technical issues. (Then again, there are other "1"'s who would disagree with this.)

It's really not surprising that some in the "1" category may have a more difficult time digesting the disc upon an initial listen. The disc represented alot of firsts, both for the 'Mates and for me personally. It was the first album I'd recorded, the first one I'd mixed, not to mention the first time I'd hacked together a mic. It was a big accomplishment for the Mates, who I think have always embodied the DIY spirit of college a cappella. What you hear on that disc is the raw love, commitment, and effort which went into doing an album entirely in-house for the first time in the group's history.

For those who take issue with some of the sonic imperfections and use Winamp, there is a workaround. It'll work if you have the Nullsoft Signal Processing Studio installed (it's a free option that comes with Winamp). Go to Preferences->Plugins->DSP/Effect and select Nullsoft Signal Processing Studio, then Configure Active Plugin. Click New, Show Editor, and paste the following code into the Per Sample field:

a=(spl0+spl1)/2;
b=1.7*(spl0-spl1)/2;
t0=a+b;
t1=a-b;
spl0=t0-(0.27*p0);
spl1=t1-(0.27*p1);
p0=t0;
p1=t1;

Select Enable Processing, then close the windows you've opened. This will cut through some of the mud (attenuate some of the bass) and expand the stereo image a bit.

As for the mic, it has a close to ruler-flat response from 20-20k and was modified specifically to ensure linear operation for the SPL's we dealt with in our application. It was truly the only mic used on the entire disc and I think it really shines at times (Lisa's rockin' solo on track 11). I will say, however, that mic placement and room acoustics made a HUGE difference.

Whatever "muddiness" you may hear is probably from the mixing, and in some cases possibly from room acoustics (probably not the mic). Man, after doing this project, I have all the more respect for the art of making a good mix! My little PC couldn't handle the 50+ tracks, so I had to slow time down (run the soundcard clock at 22kHz, which times all the software/hardware) and do mixing at half speed. It's a great way to effectively double your MIPS, but a pretty bad way to do a mix. The take-home message: sub-mixes are your friend.

All of this being said, it's been my experience that most people enjoy the sound of the disc as-is.

Anyway, pick up a copy and support the current 'Mates (of which I am no longer a member). It'll make you dance.
tbaran
 
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Dec 14, 2004 2:28 pm

Postby Mahka » Sat Mar 12, 2005 5:52 pm

Wow...so there is a fix for the muddiness I have heard. Although I didn't understand any of it.

Although, kudos again to the 'Mates for self-producing on a homemade mic quite a rockin' album. Everlong and Black Hole Sun are, according to WinAmp's Most Played List, among the top, with over 20 plays each.
~Mark
Formerly of the UCLA ScatterTones
Looking for a group in SF?
ICCA/ICHSA Judge, Producer
CARA Nominator/Judge
And all that jazz
Mahka
 
Posts: 1106
Joined: Thu Feb 06, 2003 10:24 pm
Location: San Francisco, CA

Re: Mates Review

Postby billhare » Sat Mar 12, 2005 8:19 pm

tbaran wrote:Thanks for the comments, all around. It was our expectation that people would probably do one of two things shortly after popping in the disc:

1 - Listen to the recording equipment we used
2 - Listen to the 'Mates sing

It seems like the "2" types (which are in the majority) tend to dig the disc, while some "1"'s understandably find gripes with certain technical issues. (Then again, there are other "1"'s who would disagree with this.)


Hey Tom,

First off, congrats on your work on the CD, other groups should take note what can be done if you have someone dedicated enough in the group to take it on!

Contrary to what most people might think, I myself am not a "1". Had I not specifically expected something else I probably wouldn't have thought a thing about it, because I leave my engineer's hat at home when I listen to other stuff (just gets in the way of the music!) I just was under the mistaken assumption that John Clark had engineered your disc, and with that in mind my engineer's hat unconsciously slipped back on for a moment when I heard the first few notes.

tbaran wrote:As for the mic, it has a close to ruler-flat response from 20-20k and was modified specifically to ensure linear operation for the SPL's we dealt with in our application.


Well, response doesn't mean much when put into musical terms - there are pretty flat mics that you can get for $100 that will run 10Hz to 25kHz but they still have no character. There are also $20,000 mics that only have a response of 50Hz to 16kHz (and very colored in various ranges, not flat at all) that sound so sweet you'd think you had died and gone to Heaven! This is what I'd much rather have. It's all about musicality, not specs when it comes to mics. 2 different mics can have the exact same specs in all respects, but sound RADICALLY different, just as a Steinway piano verses a Young Chang piano of the same size.

I am curious about your mic, though - what is it? A kit? Something you came up with yourself? I'd love to see some photos and hear more about it.

tbaran wrote:All of this being said, it's been my experience that most people enjoy the sound of the disc as-is.


Yes, because at the end of the day, it's all about the music, as it should be. There's always more that can be done (even after being mixed by one of us so-called experts) but that's always up to the individual artists' budget and vision for their product.

-B

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments. http://www.dyz.com

billhare
 
Posts: 2002
Joined: Thu Feb 13, 2003 11:14 am
Location: Silicon Valley, CA

mic

Postby tbaran » Sat Mar 12, 2005 9:33 pm

I am curious about your mic, though - what is it? A kit? Something you came up with yourself? I'd love to see some photos and hear more about it.


The mic was a kit from PAiA (http://www.paia.com/msmic.htm) and uses electret capsule transducers. After building the kit and being slightly dissatisfied with the lack of high-end and a somewhat offensive noise floor, I replaced the capsules with Panasonic WM-61A's which have a pretty flat response (and are just a few bucks a piece). It's got a 2-stage preamp built right in, and if you're not careful you can overload the first stage pretty easily; a change of an internal resistor fixes this. (The only way I've been able to make the mic clip is to scream and actually hold it inside my mouth.) Anyway, here it is! I extended the element outside of the body since the aluminum cabinet had annoying resonances to it.

Image

Point taken about flatness not implying character. I was mostly making the comment in response to the mic being blamed as the cause of the muddiness. It's probably not. Since it was the only mic we used, I tried to keep everything as flat and linear as possible and then color things in the mix as appropriate. Yes yes, "fix it in the mix" can be a bad way to think about things in many cases, but since we had one mic, I figured it would be a good policy to keep everything as linear and flat as possible until being digitized. :)
tbaran
 
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Dec 14, 2004 2:28 pm

Postby streetnix04 » Sat Mar 12, 2005 9:48 pm

Mahka wrote:Everlong and Black Hole Sun are, according to WinAmp's Most Played List, among the top, with over 20 plays each.


WinAmp's most played list?? Whoa... how do you see that?

-Corey
-Corey Slutsky
Voices Only Founder
Former Collegiate and Professional A cappella Performer '97-'05
www.voicesonlyacappella.com
streetnix04
RARB
RARB
 
Posts: 377
Joined: Sat Dec 27, 2003 12:12 pm
Location: Murrieta, CA

Postby billhare » Sat Mar 12, 2005 9:54 pm

Yikes, I see... ;-) I used to build PAiA kits back in the '70's, didn't even know they were even still around. Anyway, that kind of element isn't really that great for vocals, a cheap large diapragm condenser would have served you better - no matter what level of SPLs you were dealing with - I don't believe that would have been a factor with just about anything available out there anyway. But I'm doubly impressed now with what you ended up with considering that limitation!

-B

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments. http://www.dyz.com

billhare
 
Posts: 2002
Joined: Thu Feb 13, 2003 11:14 am
Location: Silicon Valley, CA

Postby Mahka » Sun Mar 13, 2005 5:09 am

Corey wrote:WinAmp's most played list?? Whoa... how do you see that?


Assuming you're running WinAmp 5.05 on Windows...I don't think I messed with any of the original settings on mine...the little lightning bolt (location varies by skin), which used to trigger the playlist, should pull up the Media Library instead. There's an option to see Most Played, Recently Added, Never Played, etc.

If your lightning bolt opens either the equalizer or the playlist, you can also do View-->Media Library.

I just checked my lists again, and for some reason everything got reset. I'm not sure if that occurs if your playlist changes, but...yeah.
~Mark
Formerly of the UCLA ScatterTones
Looking for a group in SF?
ICCA/ICHSA Judge, Producer
CARA Nominator/Judge
And all that jazz
Mahka
 
Posts: 1106
Joined: Thu Feb 06, 2003 10:24 pm
Location: San Francisco, CA

Postby streetnix04 » Sun Mar 13, 2005 11:41 am

Hmmm, interesting. I found the media library with all those options, but the categories don't show anything at all for most played or even recently played, and I haven't changed my playlist in a while.

-Corey
-Corey Slutsky
Voices Only Founder
Former Collegiate and Professional A cappella Performer '97-'05
www.voicesonlyacappella.com
streetnix04
RARB
RARB
 
Posts: 377
Joined: Sat Dec 27, 2003 12:12 pm
Location: Murrieta, CA

Postby Mahka » Sun Mar 13, 2005 10:19 pm

Weird...I have it all under my Local Media tree...sorry it's not working out for you.
~Mark
Formerly of the UCLA ScatterTones
Looking for a group in SF?
ICCA/ICHSA Judge, Producer
CARA Nominator/Judge
And all that jazz
Mahka
 
Posts: 1106
Joined: Thu Feb 06, 2003 10:24 pm
Location: San Francisco, CA

Re: Mates Review

Postby Tippy » Sat Mar 19, 2005 6:10 am

tbaran wrote:For those who take issue with some of the sonic imperfections and use Winamp, there is a workaround. It'll work if you have the Nullsoft Signal Processing Studio installed (it's a free option that comes with Winamp). Go to Preferences->Plugins->DSP/Effect and select Nullsoft Signal Processing Studio, then Configure Active Plugin. Click New, Show Editor, and paste the following code into the Per Sample field:

a=(spl0+spl1)/2;
b=1.7*(spl0-spl1)/2;
t0=a+b;
t1=a-b;
spl0=t0-(0.27*p0);
spl1=t1-(0.27*p1);
p0=t0;
p1=t1;

Select Enable Processing, then close the windows you've opened. This will cut through some of the mud (attenuate some of the bass) and expand the stereo image a bit.

...

My little PC couldn't handle the 50+ tracks, so I had to slow time down (run the soundcard clock at 22kHz, which times all the software/hardware) and do mixing at half speed. It's a great way to effectively double your MIPS, but a pretty bad way to do a mix.



"well, yeah, but you can fix how it sounds!! just access the registry/kernel via VNC from another continent, flash the bios 4 times, rewrite the OS in Olde Flemish, titrate the mix through a 72% tritium, 28% wolfram emulsion, rinse and repeat, and voila! you've got a mix!"
Tippy
 
Posts: 76
Joined: Tue Dec 07, 2004 1:42 pm

Postby tbaran » Sun Mar 20, 2005 9:21 am

Haha well put Tippy. Let's put it this way: if you're someone who can't stand the sound of the album, this little plugin may help. If not, (please) don't bother using it!

As for what's going on, it's not rocket science, just a little down-home DSP! :) The routine separates the L-R signal (spl0 and spl1) into mid-side channels and boosts the gain on the side channel (giving you a and b). (This is just an old analog trick for stereo expansion.) Then there's a quick-n-dirty digital filter which basically does the inverse of the bass bost on your discman. If you want to play with it, that 1.7 value adjusts how much the stereo spread is enhanced, and the 0.27 values adjust how much the bass is reduced (0 is no reduction and 1 is full reduction). Anyway, I thought it would be better to post it than not, no?
tbaran
 
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Dec 14, 2004 2:28 pm

Postby Mahka » Sun Mar 20, 2005 2:37 pm

................

::turns off all musical training and tech specs and enjoys SfB for what it is::
~Mark
Formerly of the UCLA ScatterTones
Looking for a group in SF?
ICCA/ICHSA Judge, Producer
CARA Nominator/Judge
And all that jazz
Mahka
 
Posts: 1106
Joined: Thu Feb 06, 2003 10:24 pm
Location: San Francisco, CA

Postby tbaran » Sun Mar 20, 2005 3:59 pm

A welcome and refreshing reminder from Mahka! Let's banish technical jargon to another thread or private e-mails. It really is making my head hurt.

::gets back into "type 2" mode::
tbaran
 
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Dec 14, 2004 2:28 pm

Next

Return to zzCommunity Reviews

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests