A step by step guide to help you incorporate Harrison into your REAPER workflow.
This requires the installation of Soundflower originally developed by Cycling 74 for use with Max MSP. Soundflower is available here and is now developed by Matt Ingalls. A few things to add, in case they aren’t clear in the video, I have my individual instruments setup in folders in REAPER and each parent master send is turned off. These are sent to one of the of the four stereo busses, labeled Drums, Bass, Vocals and Guitars, which I then send to Mixbus.
The Soundflower routing can get a bit fiddly, so I hope that it is clear here. REAPER has alias names for Soundflower channels whereas Harrison doesn’t, which is why I don’t show the name mappings in the video.
At the end of the video I solo some tracks in Harrison, but not REAPER. If you want to solo in REAPER you must remember to include the Mixbus return track in your soloing otherwise you won’t hear anything.
Just remember that when routing between the two DAWS to turn your monitors or headphones down in case you route something incorrectly and get feedback that could potentially damage your hardware, or your ears!!!
If you want to do this on a PC then follow this link. This technique uses Rearoute, an ASIO driver that comes with the REAPER install.
REAPER Harrison Comparison
In the pursuit of fairness I pulled two versions of the same mix in REAPER, one a straight REAPER bounce and the other running through 4 stereo mixbusses with the tape saturation drive set at 0 and level matched them to -16LUFS.
Here are the two comparison tracks in full for you to listen to. The differences are extremely subtle, some may say negligible, but that is for you to decide.
I would agree that this is quite a laborious process for such tiny changes, but you also get access to the Harrison EQ and Compressors, which I didn’t use in any of these examples but do sound great. Mixbus 32C has an updated engine too and includes the 32C EQ.
I do find some of the Mixbus features to be lacking however, and the track management for me is not intuitive (yet), as most DAW’s allow you to freely drag tracks at will. Also, utility busses are not delay compensated which makes little sense to me.
Hopefully some of these issues will be ironed out in future updates.
The tracks I use in the video demo are free from Produce like a Pro and the song is called ‘Wasting Away’ by Alexx Calise.The comparison track is called ‘Vintage’ by the artist Pablo and is a free download. You can grab the raw tracks from David Glenns page here.I would suggest you check out both of these subscription services. The tutorial videos for each monthly track are worth the admission price alone and you get a mountain of free content. Also, you can use these tracks for your resumé to attract new clients.
*There are a lot of similar comparisons online, most famously the one from Spectre Sound Studios. One video shows a REAPER bounce and a Harrison bounce nulling, but it is worth pointing out that in that particular example the mix exported from Harrison is not running through the mixbus saturation stage.
Last year I wrote a blog entry about using Magic AB to reference mixes or masters against commercial recordings. You can see the original post in the side pane but having reviewed it, I realised I had left out one vital piece of info; making sure the reference material was appropriately level matched for accurate comparison.
Magic AB seems to have become the standard for referencing, which makes a lot of sense given its ease of use, as well as the ability to load multiple tracks independently of the session and save presets etc. It makes referencing fun (an achievement in and of itself) but unfortunately, the RMS and peak metering on Magic AB can leave you in the dark when trying to frequency match commercial music against our own.
If you are a member of the production advice forums, you will have heard Mastering engineer Ian Shepherd talk about how crucial it is to have level matched reference material, and how even half a dB difference in volume can affect your judgement when trying to match frequencies.
Over the years his videos have helped me enormously and you can check out his production advice site here.
LUFS (loudness units relative to full scale) is the measurement system used to gauge the overall, or integrated, loudness of audio. It takes an average reading over time and provides an integrated, short term and momentary level reading, something that can’t be deciphered manually using traditional peak or RMS meters, which Magic AB has.
This means that level matching in the plugin can only be rough, and not as accurate as if you used an LUFS meter to level match reference tracks to a set target loudness, before importing them into the plugin for AB’ing.
So, here is a short video showing how I level match my reference material. I master to a target level of -16 LU, but you can set it however you like. The most important thing is that the integrated loudness levels are matched to your material when referencing.
I use the LUFS plugin from Klangfreund, which has great metering and auto level adjustment (as well as an extremely handy grouping feature), all for $49 (there is also a $24 version with a few less features). I use this particular meter because the auto adjust speeds up my workflow, but a meter alone is good enough and something like Toneboosters EBU Loudness meter is a pretty affordable option. As long as it works according to the specifications laid out in ITU-R BS. 1770 it’s fine.
I use auto adjust, but you can do it manually by taking a reading (using the offline render like in the video) and adjusting according to your target.
Usually when you invite a friend for dinner, and they ask if they can bring something, you might get a bottle of wine. Probably the last thing you expect to receive is a Tascam Portastudio 488Mk2, which did happen last week thanks to the kindness of one Mr Simon Horn (BIMM Berlin, KMR Audio).
I have been after one of these for a while and admit to being ‘sniped’ more than a few times when trying to bid on one on eBay. I eventually admitted defeat and got a Zoom R24 (as an easy mobile recording solution), an intend to grab a 500 series lunchbox and the DIY recording Distortastudio colour module, a design based on the channel of a late 80’s TASCAM 464 (You can read the whole story on their site), in the next few months.
As fate would have it, I managed to get the real thing – even if only for a short period of time – and thought I would go nuts while I had the chance, putting my findings on this ‘ere blog. I may even do a full recording and mixdown on it.
The Tascam Portastudio 488 Mk2 came out in 1995 and cost £1299! Which seems like a surprising amount, until I got to spend some time with it and realised that this is a well made, great sounding piece of kit with pretty impressive features. It is solidly built (although a little too heavy to make it a practical mobile recording solution) and the trims and channel strip EQ sound great.
The 488 is capable of recording 4 channels simultaneously, with mic inputs on channels 1-4 and insert points on 1 and 2, for an effect or compressor. Each channel has a low and high (100hz and 10khz) shelving filter and a sweepable mid band EQ (250hz to 5K) that sounds smooth and warm to my ears.
There isn’t a per channel phantom power switch (it’s either on or not) which could be tricky if you wanted to combine condenser mics with non-active ribbon mics, and although the monitoring and output section is good, there is no direct tape out.
According to the manual, the 488 runs tape at 3-3/4 IPS (2x faster than normal cassette players and recorders) and its eight track functionality allows recording on one side only. That means that you only get a quarter of the cassette running time, so you might be lucky to get four takes of a song on a typical SA90 (22.5 mins of recording time if you were wondering).
Also, its tape speed makes it useless for mastering purposes so is designed to be used with mastering machine such as the TASCAM 122, and it even has designated outputs for this. Looking around on eBay you can get a broken 122 Mk3 for about £100 and a working one between £300 – £800. Pretty pricey.
With that said I have no intention of getting into the cassette mastering racket, even though there has been a resurgence of late, and I thought I would mainly use it as a lofi effect to drive the pre amps hard on drum or synth tracks and run few mixes through it.
Cassette was the first format I loved. I bought all my first albums on cassette in the early 90’s and even though the sound wasn’t pristine, it had character. Best of all, the more you played it the more the sound deteriorated, and somehow this made it even more appealing.
For that reason I wanted to hear what a full track would sound like through the 488 and had just finished off a mix of the track ‘Chosen’ by Jeris Cole from The Mix Academy.
I decided to do three; one is a straight bounce from Reaper, the second summed through channel 1 and 2 on the Portastudio using Reainsert (with the trim/drive set to about 30%) and at the same time recorded to tape (a TDK SA60 Type 2 with Dolby NR on) then brought back into Reaper.
The track was hitting the tape at pretty moderate level of between 0 and +3dB VU and each of the three tracks were level matched afterwards with Perception. Here are the results…
..pretty interesting, with the version summed through the channels being my favourite of the three. I think this could change if I had decided to leave Dolby NR off and there was a little more audible hiss. The tape version loses some low and high end clarity, adding some mid range distortion and low-mid boominess, which is exactly what I was hoping for.
The loss, and compensatory distortion, in the high and low end make perfect sense given the overall frequency response of 40Hz to 14Khz when recording to tape; however, its worth noting that each channel responds between 20hz to 22Khz individually, so the version summed through the channels has the sonic characteristic imparted by the 488 without any (or much – It is old after all!) of the signal loss of the tape version .
I occasionally use distortion on my drum buss when mixing, or as a parallel effect, so I was pretty excited to run some drums through the preamps. I decided against running to tape in this example to avoid unwanted timing artefacts of the wow and flutter, as well as speed fluctuations of the (now 21 year old) capstan motor. Instead I did three variations of the same drum recording; first the original digital recording, the second summed through channel 1 and 2 of the 488 with the trim at 50%, and the last one summed at 100% (smashed to death). Each version was then level matched in Reaper using Perception at an integrated loudness of -16LUFS, the default setting for Perception).
…and the results are very pleasing indeed. Lovely crunchy analogue distortion which will undoubtedly appear somewhere on one of my next mixes.
Last but not least, I decided to sample the little mono synth I have on my desk and make it into an EXS instrument. I recorded 4 octaves of the synth onto tape with Dolby NR, and the trim at about 20%, and recorded it back into Reaper, chopped and edited the samples and imported them into Logic.
The point of this was to have a variation of the synth at hand that I use very often (to beef up bass lines mainly), should it be required quickly. It does add an extra layer of grit to the already pretty dirty sound. I also tweaked some of the settings in the EXS24 to fatten up the low end.
Here is a short video of the synth. Listen in HD on good headphones or decent monitors and if you want to download the EXS instrument to try it for yourself, go here.
*this riff is from the Mogwai track ‘remurdered’. I didn’t write it, I just punched it in. I wish I had though, but instead, Mogwai did. If you don’t know the band, or the song, you should.
As promised I went a bit crazy here but hopefully you get a good idea of what the 488 is capable of. I still haven’t gotten around to using for its actual purpose as a multi-track recorder but hopefully I will get the opportunity soon. I doubt any clients will be welcome to my suggestion that their next song should be tracked this way, but you never know. If anyone is up for experimenting, please get in touch.
Given how long I have been after one of these, it seems a slightly extravagant piece of gear for the sole purpose of an analogue distortion effect. This makes me feel like the Distortastudio module from DIY recording would be the best way to go. I just wish they had modelled the EQ too.
Thanks for reading,
*Thanks to David Glenn Kulp and Jeris Cole for allowing me to use the track ‘Chosen’ for this blog entry.