Recording & Mixing

TUBES FOR TRACKING SYNTH by BendingBus

Tubes give synths a more organic and 3-dimensional sound, not so dry and in your face. And they let you adjust the tonality subtly, without using EQ.

Recently I made some changes to the tubes in a matched pair of Pendulum Audio Quartets that I use for tracking. The Quartet is a channel strip with three independent tube stages: a preamp, 3-band eq, and opto compressor. 

Pendulum Audio Quartets

Previously I had a pair of vintage Mullards in preamp sections—great for low-mid warmth, a smooth top end, and vibe...but are sometimes a bit dark. So I switched to a RCA Short Gray Plate in one of the preamps—mid-range focused, punchy, with a touch of upper-mid crispness. Sounds neat when overdriven, sort of 1950s-ish. Note these are different from the RCA Long Gray Plate which is a fuller and mellower sound (more low-mids), I have one of these too, but prefer it in the LA2A for giving tone to leads.

I still have early 50s Telefunkens in the EQ and compressor sections—clean, detailed top end, nice low extension, slightly pulled back midrange. So now I can switch between a rich low-mid mullard sound, punchy upper-mid RCA, or bypass the pre section for the clean telefunken sound. And it's still possible to get matched stereo by bypassing the pre section. Lots of options when tracking. 

By the way, Christian Whitmore of Pro Audio Tubes is a serious tube-geek who knows every tube that has ever existed, makes great recommendations based on what you’re after, and tracks down pristine specimens.

FABFILTER Limiter "CLIPPER TRICK" by BendingBus

The FabFilter Pro-L version 2 is sounding even clearer than the original, which was already transparent. Here's the most invisible operating mode I've found so far...

Clipper Trick:

  • Modern algorithm

  • 1ms lookahead

  • attack max (removes this control from use)

  • 0ms release

  • left/right operation unlinked

  • No oversampling

  • Ceiling -0.2db (so it doesn't clip when converted to MP3)

  • Just clip occasional peaks by 1db

Clipper mode settings

Clipper mode removes unnecessary complexity. The limiter just ramps up fast, clips whichever channel peaked, and gets out of the way. No two stage release ("attack" and "release" are actually both release controls, which is confusing). No oversampling, which seems to kill the vibe. No stereo linking. Minimalist. When you engage the audition button (difference between the input minus output) you should hear silence, just an occasional "pop" in one or both speakers as the limiter briefly flicks on. I confirmed that this algorithm is doing nothing while audio is below the limiter's threshold by using SpetraFoo's transfer function; both frequency and phase are flat across the audio spectrum.

From here you can increase the lookahead to avoid harmonic distortion, 3-5ms gives a less crispy high end when the limiter pops. And you can also mess with increasing the release for a less punchy sound, that blends with the track's tempo. 

Clipping an occasional peak actually seems more “hi-fi” to me than a bunch of attack/release pumping.

Note there is a preset called "almost clipping" which uses similar settings, but the "aggressive" algorithm. To me this sounds less transparent than "modern", but might be useful for more aggressive-style electronic music.