Live-Stream Upgrade

I can’t really help myself, so take advantage of my obsession with sound. Please. I am always going to be improving and upgrading all of the equipment and workflows. I really think we should have world class sounding presentations here in Austin. There are so many outstanding performers and organizations. I want Tonehaus to be out there 3-4 times a week – recording rehearsals, performances, producing content for arts organization websites, blogs, radio and TV. I want all of my team members to be working on your media every day. Editing, mixing, mastering your sound. Editing your video, color correcting, doing graphic overlays. Photographing the magical moments.

You guys have it going on! We are here to help you get those artistic messages in front of the eyes and ears of people so they can be affected, so they can enjoy the beauty, so they can be provoked, so they can experience the richness that the arts bring into the world.

Which brings me to my latest obsession. Our live-stream sound quality. So, as you may or may not know, the human ear is calibrated to hear what frequency range with the most detail? The range of the human voice. Makes sense, right? But what you probably for sure don’t know is that capturing a singers voice is probably one of the biggest challenges in audio. I mean, an operatic singer. I learned this the hard way. It must’ve been 2012. A soprano hired me to record a recital up at Southwestern in Georgetown. This is all pre-QuadRaven and pre-THOR24. I didn’t have a set mobile rig. I was trying things out. I had complicated racks of super high end gear, that needed a lot of plugging and unplugging to get out of the studio and onto location.

Guitar center, and… the internet… always with shiny new, and inexpensive things that never even existed a few years ago. I bought this little battery powered 6 channel mixer, it was a couple hundred bucks. This is awesome! It is compact. It doesn’t cost a fortune. It runs on batteries. I can plug these incredible vintage style, tube powered, large diaphragm mics into it, and there’ll do all the heavy lifting. Then just send the output to a portable recorder. Simple as pie. So, I added it to my arsenal and headed to the recital.

Guess what. Most of it was fine, but a couple times, that soprano hit some notes that just SHREDDED the intermodulation and crosstalk on that shitty little mixer. It was totally useless. How could anything ruin such a great signal so easily? This is pro gear. Well, so-called pro gear. If I had a nickel for every time I got suckered into buying something with great promise, only to be disappointed, I’d have a pretty big bucket to take to the bank.

All I’m saying is, for a folk singer and a guitar, so much gear could work. But for this music, forget it! You need THE BEST. After working on your craft for what, 20 years? MINIMUM. You want your media to reflect that. So there is a lot that goes into having a great rig that give you the performance that you need, but as in all walks of life, it is nearly invisible. Such is the nature of the world.

We don’t see the hard work. We don’t see the effort. We often don’t acknowledge the awesome. We only see flaws. We see failures. We see it when something got messed up. And that’s what we remember. Why is that? I don’t know.

But I do know this. The QuadRaven is recording a matrix of four microphones. They are badass microphones. They are from one of the few audio manufacturers who has the guts to publish IM distortion specs. These mics minimize that – they are a handfull of all the pretty and amazing mics out there that can actually do this well. And do you know what causes a ton of IM distortion? Choirs. Yeah. The human voice, times 30, will eat your signal chain for lunch. Imagine a 130 piece choir.

Anyway the QuadRaven records those four mics individually. There is also an analog mixer in the kit with extremely high resolution. Extreme. I know that the common thought is that digital is way better than analog. It’s cleaner. etc. But just think about this for two seconds. If you wanted to make a landscape portrait like Ansel Adams digitally, guess what? There is no gear that can do that currently. That large format process was super high resolution, and can’t be captured in a modern digital camera. That’s what this mixer is like. It has flat frequency response from 2 Hz to 500kHz. That’s sound waves that cycle twice per second. That’s sound waves that cycle 500,000 times per second. (There is nothing that I know of that anyone can hear that is more than, maybe 16-18,000 cycles per second.) So what’s the deal with that? It’s just basically extremely high resolution. Every detail from all four of those mics gets combined in the live stereo mix. That is part of the magic of the QuadRaven.

Honestly, the QuadRaven sounds way better than I ever intended. I wanted it to sound very good, but had no idea it would sound phenomenal. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it was designed to be a low cost option for struggling arts groups to get some pretty rockin’ recordings. It wasn’t supposed to be so insane sounding. Actually, the very first incarnation of the QuadRaven didn’t sound so great. The weak spot was quickly identified, and upgraded. But that upgrade is delivering far more than I ever thought. Hey, I’m totally cool with that. This is an example of where what you get is a reflection of my cumulative experience and insight into the world of audio. Though fundamentally, much is the same as when I started 20 years ago, I certainly have learned a LOT, and am delivering product that is so so much better.

The point of this post was meant to be about the upgrade of the Live-Stream sound. Okay, so here’s the short of it. We digitally take that insane sounding QuadRaven live stereo mix, and INSERT it into the live-stream! Pretty awesome! Again, I never thought this would even be possible, but there you go. So, what about upgrading it? Here’s the deal. When we record digitally, which we do, we can capture an astounding dynamic range. BUT, unlike if we were recording to tape, if it gets too loud, there is instant destruction. So we keep the levels low….just. in. case. the music gets suddenly loud. And it does! Live performances. Man, everyone is all jacked up on adrenaline.

Those low levels, though. They do not sit well next to practically anything else on social media, YouTube, or Spotify. Despite digital having an insanely high dynamic range, current practice is to make everything pretty dang loud. That’s actually a side effect of having too much choice, in my opinion. With the ultra wide range, you have to deliberately put the program where you want it. The program has maybe 30dB of range. Streaming audio has 96dB of range. Back in the days of analog, it wasn’t a big deal. The range was where it was. It wasn’t really big or anything.

So my latest challenge this season has been: how do I get that awesome, QuadRaven, highly dynamic range audio, sitting nice and high in the livestream audio, with a smaller dynamic range, BUT WITHOUT compromising the amazing quality. That will be the subject of a future post.