The result of two+ years of field testing and tweaking, Chris Muth’s latest creation is a dual-mono/stereo compressor for tracking, mixing and mastering. Created to be an “alternative compressor” that would be easy to use, powerful, and transparent, the Dangerous Compressor was made with optimal utility in mind for multiple tasks.
Its controls have a split personality. On the one hand, they’re designed for professionals who prefer manual settings — meanwhile, emerging engineering talents can dive right into various professional “auto” compression modes.
Highly musical as well as transparent, the Dangerous Compressor is available now for a street price of $2799.
Early fans seem to be legion, including Sterling Sound’s iconic mastering engineer Greg Calbi (Tame Impala, The National, Sara Bareilles); record producer/mix engineer Rob Chiarelli (Charlie Wilson, Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin); mastering engineer Jonathan Wyner (Javier Limon, Josh Groban, Nirvana, David Bowie); producer/mixer Michael James (New Radicals, Hole, Robben Ford, L7, Edwin McCain, The Coronas); mastering engineer Alex Saroudakis (Sony music, Universal music, Virgin); mixer Ryan West (Jay Z, Eminem, Rihanna, T.I.); and mastering engineer Mike Wells (Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, Tony Sly, and STS9).
From its approach to sidechain to how it handles transient and average level control, the Dangerous Compressor was created to have an identity – and studio functionality — all its own. Here are the full details, direct from Dangerous:
What’s so Different about the Dangerous Compressor?
The ‘Smart Dynamics’ feature employs two independent slopes in the detection circuit. One stage of the detector controls the average level. The other handles only rapid transients. Normally a spike would shove down the entire track, creating an audible faux-pas moment. Instead, with the Dangerous Compressor, the normal slope stage handles the smoothing of the entire content and the other deals with the spikes. This results in a higher average level relative to peak, without the stereo image collapsing.
By default, the unit is set to ‘Auto Attack / Release’ mode which uses time constants carefully selected for versatility. Engaging the ‘Manual Attack/Release’ button allows the manual use of the attack and release knobs.
The Dangerous Compressor may be operated in either ‘Stereo’ or ‘Dual Mono’ mode. Dual Mono has two completely independent paths; for example, kick drum in one channel and snare in the other. Stereo Mode may be applied to stereo instruments, stems or complete mixes. Many stereo compressors sum the left and right channel audio and feed that signal to one detector, resulting in any out of phase material will either not get compressed or will be under compressed. This will over-represent mono (content in the middle of the mix) and under represent panned instruments to the VCAs, making normal single-detector compressors potentially overreact to kicks, snares, and the lead vocal while ignoring the panned toms, guitars and keys. The stereo button on the Dangerous Compressor still uses both its detector circuits to drive each channel’s VCA for a more musical result.
The audiophile ‘Sidechain’ circuit offers both Bass Cut – sensitivity reduction to low frequency energy to keep the compressor from “dunking” with loud bass or kick drum levels-and Sibilance Boost, which increases sensitivity to high frequency energy causing the compressor to react more to the top end, taming the harshness without resorting to EQ changes. Users can control sibilance by reducing “S” sounds from a singer or gently tame the harshness from cymbals recorded with cheap condenser mics or poorly sampled loops.
Because of its transparency and audiophile sidechain and detector circuitry the Dangerous Compressor performs like an automated fader for riding vocals: no more manual volume drawing; Just a natural, transparent vocal sound, and it boasts extremely low distortion, even with 20dB of gain reduction.
Studio engineers in search of fresh ideas for signal flow: Ready to get an education?
Then go inside the intriguing design of the freshly minted Studio I at The Blackbird Academy in Nashville, which was designed from inception by its dedicated audio educators to do what no other teaching facility can do. In the process, Blackbirds principals John McBride, Kevin Becka, and Mark Rubel built an incredibly flexible new room that not only other schools can learn from, but also any studio that wants to dramatically renovate its workflow.
Launched in 2013 to provide students with an experience-based education within one of the world’s most in-demand sound facilities — McBride’s famed Blackbird Studio – the academy’s curriculum is taught by an all-star team of “musical mentors”. In addition to the expert staff, visiting mentors so far have included Dave Stewart (The Eurythmics), Ken Scott (engineer/producer), Ben Wysocki (The Fray), Tim McGraw, Bob Olhsson (engineer), Nick Raskulinecz (engineer/producer), Viktor Krauss (bassist), Dave Morgan (live sound engineer), Julia Sheer (artist), Dave Pensado and Herb Trawick.
When Becka, a veteran engineer and elite pro audio journalist (Mix, Pro Audio Review, Audio Media) got the rare opportunity to design a new studio from scratch – well, let’s just say you didn’t have to twist his arm.
At The Blackbird Academy, you’ve had the rare opportunity to start an audio education program from the ground up. What’s that experience been like so far?
We’re on a rocket ship. When I first started meeting with John (McBride) and Mark (Rubel), we had these intense brain storming sessions and it got very exciting. We quickly realized that because of the foundation that Blackbird Studio offered, plus our individual talents, we could offer something unique.
Students have access to incredible facilities, ideas, world class instruction and guest lecturers, all styled in a mentor-based curriculum that is literally changing their lives. I really mean that – we’ve seen incredible progress in just the first 10 weeks of the program.
What are some examples of that?
For example, in week 4, the students spent a week tracking and mixing a band, then in week 7, they spent 3 days with producer/engineer Nick Raskulinecz who worked with them specifically on tracking drums in Studio A. We did 10 setups and teardowns on a drum kit with different mics and placement techniques in two days. It was a mind blower.
The following week, recording artist Julia Sheer came in and we tracked and mixed a great band in studios D and C, all filmed for an upcoming YouTube reality show debuting in February. The students nailed the drum setup and sounds. I remember going out to the room to fine-tune the placement, and it was spot on. Students took the knowledge they got from Nick and used it on another project with perfect execution. It was a lightbulb moment.
It’s one thing to think of something in an idea session with the founders, but once you see how fast students are learning, and how the industry, and even other established colleges want to be part of what we’re offering, it’s really quite something. People are getting what we’re doing, which is great.
As the school has gone from a concept to reality, how has that affected your awareness of what the school needs in terms of facilities, and the gear that you equip it with?
It was great to start the school on the foundation of Blackbird Studio. In my years as an audio journalist and product reviewer, I’ve seen many facilities worldwide. Judged just by how busy it is, Blackbird is inarguably one of the top 5 recording studios in the world.
Then when you get to the mics, instruments, rooms, consoles, OB gear and staff, it jumps to the top of the list. I’m not exaggerating. So this was our base.
Once we established the curriculum and how it would flow into the existing facility, we moved on to designing the classroom and Studio I, both completely new builds and concepts.
The classroom is literally a working studio with two iso booths, an API 1608 console, patchbay, Dynaudio mains, Emotiva minis, OB racks, Pro Tools HDX, Logic 10 and seats for 30 students. Each student station is tied to the main patchbay so we can send eight channels to each station and get two back. This allows the instructor, and all the students to record simultaneously.
Then the instructor can patch mixes back from each station for playback onto the main system. The student rigs each have a Universal Audio Apollo interface with every UAD-2 plugin, Pro Tools, Logic, Shure headphones and more.
The desks were designed by Setco, a company that does a lot of custom builds for touring here in TN. Then we were fortunate enough to interest NY designers Bob and Cortney Novogratz in our project who came down and knocked the finish of the room out of the park. We were featured on the Katy Couric show twice last year.
Both the tech and trim makes for a great way to teach in a great-looking studio environment. Each student can swap live audio with the teacher and trade audio files with each other across a network – everything works together.
On the visual side, Blackbird IT guru Nick Shasserre has pan/zoom/tilt cameras placed in the isos, above the console and the back of the room which we can push to our three 65” flat screens. It’s very immersive.
Tell us about the design concept behind Studio I — what are the unique needs of a studio designed specifically for audio education?
Studio I was a pet project of mine. I wanted to build something that was very different from a traditional studio, which we already had nailed.
To get the students up to speed with modern production, they should be exposed to every kind of working environment, especially desktop. So with John’s blessing I put together a summing-based, desktop production room that can jump from tracking, to mixing, to mastering.
In my career, I’ve been fortunate to have built two studios where I literally worked construction – bricks and mortar – to a home studio for Kenny G, to the Esquire House in 2010 where we put a high end tracking room into a house in the hills above LA. In 2011 I built my own space at home which is more like Studio I, except scaled down.
With Studio I, we had a chance to take the idea to the nth degree by using Blackbird rental gear as the front and back end, and integrating it through Dangerous Music’s summing, monitoring and processing gear recording to Avid’s latest for Pro Tools. The room was a former lounge with a large, glass front window that looked down into the tracking space – beautiful.
Please tell me about the signal path that you designed – how are the equipment choices fitting in with your academic plan?
For starters, the summing concept is elegantly played out with the Dangerous 2 Bus. It’s a hands-off approach that adds no color to the signal and lets us hear all the great Blackbird mics and gear just as they sound. That was very important.
Next, the Dangerous Liaison lets us A/B compare processors in a quick fashion. We place much emphasis on listening skills at The Blackbird Academy – starting each day with an “Ears On” session. So being able to compare gear through quick relay switching with memory is fantastic.
The Dangerous Monitor ST is a great way for us to hear exactly what we’re getting out of our converters, processors and summing system. Once again, it’s relay switched and clean. Plus it’s future proof. Although we didn’t start this way, the room is large enough to support a surround setup. With the Monitor ST, we can easily step up to that workflow – we won’t have to gut and re-invent the room to jump into a multi-channel setup.
Lastly, the BAX EQ is a versatile tool that can be used when mixing and tracking. I’ve used it across my overheads when going to Pro Tools HD during a tracking session, then turned around and patched it on my 2 bus when mixing. It’s subtle, clean, and lets us demonstrate the power of filtering out the extremes of the spectrum to increase our headroom.
Besides the Dangerous gear, what are some other choice pieces of hardware and/or software that you specified for the room, and why?
We’ve got 32 channels of Pro Tools HDX with the new IOs from Avid which sound great. Preamps are a revolving cast from rentals but now include units from GML, Shadow Hills, John Hardy, Millennia Media, Grace Design, Chandler Ltd., and Radial Engineering. The outboard racks include something old and something new including an AMS RMX16 reverb, NTI EQ3, Bettermaker EQ502P, Empirical Labs FATSO JR, Alan Smart compressor, ATI mixer for talkback from the floor and gates from Keepex.
In the computer we have a UAD-2 Quad card and all the UAD-2 plugs plus the usual cast of plugin characters from the rest of the industry. We’re listening on ADAM S3-A monitors and are using an Aviom A16-D Pro headphone system when we track and overdub.
That’s an intensive setup! So what has been the faculty and student response been to the room so far? Are you finding that it is enabling you to do things beyond what you had planned on when you designed it?
We’ve had a range of sessions in I and it’s been a blast. The students are grouped in workflows of five each per class so there is a lot of focus with their hands on the gear, and they can book the room for projects.
As with the rest of the program, we’ve written interactive books for the patchbay and another for room operations so you can hold the Rosetta stone in your hand on the iPad and work through all the gear until the ideas and workflow is solid.
It’s a great way to learn! Concepts first, then soon after, execute over and over. That’s what we’re all about here.
– David Weiss
A full house of producers, engineers, mixers, artists and – of course – mastering engineers kicked off their weekend with knowledge and networking at the always-buzzing East Village recording/mixing facility.
Kutch’s presentation in FLUX’s “Dangerous” live room captivated the crowd’s attention, as he shared the considerable wisdom he’s gained in mastering for the likes of Alicia Keys, The Roots, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson, MNDR, Natasha Bedingfield, and many more.
In addition to covering advanced mastering techniques such as mid-side processing and parallel processing, Kutch went over file labeling protocols, gave career/life advice (“Hang out with people smarter than yourself!”) and fielded some high-quality questions from the crowd.
In the meantime, demos of Dangerous, Focal, and Manley gear went down in the artfully appointed “Fabulous” suite. And as per FLUX’s most hospitable tradition, champagne and snacks fueled musical conversations before, during and after in the lounge and on the roof.
Check out Kutch’s essential segment on mid-side mastering techniques.
For dance music producer Matt Verzola, “Demystifying Mastering” was a highly informative experience. “I’m doing my own mastering on my dance tracks,” he noted, “so when this clinic came up I said, ‘I’d love to hear more about how the real pros do it.’ I really liked how open Dave was – he wasn’t keeping any secrets. He explained how he’ll use parallel compression for mastering, for instance, which I never thought to do.
“Dave offered up a lot of good resources to go to later, and the crowd was really good,” Verzola continues. “I think only people that understand what mastering is were there, so there weren’t any questions that weren’t great. It was a really good forum.”
Also in the audience was Heba Kadry, Mastering Engineer/Project Coordinator at The Lodge, who was more than happy to learn from one of their accomplished colleagues. “It’s terrific to have someone like Dave Kutch – with all his experience – demonstrate some material pre- and post-mastering, and illustrate the difference that mastering can make on your record,” she said. “He showed the progression of mastering over the years, and talked about the best way for mixers to approach their mixes with the mentality that the material will be mastered later on.
“Just beyond the geek talk, its great to get out of your studio bubble and see what other people are doing in a relaxing environment,” Kadry adds. “FLUX is a great studio. It’s really fun to talk to people and see what they’re doing.”
Now see more for yourself! (BTW, SonicScoop, FLUX, and our friends will be holding more audio-centric events throughout 2012 — if you want to be notified about future happenings, drop us a line at email@example.com with the word “events” in the subject line. Thanks! See you soon.)
– Text by David Weiss, photos by Janice Brown and David Weiss
Event Alert: “Demystifying Mastering” – with Dave Kutch of The Mastering Palace, Dangerous, Manley, Focal & Alto NYC, 5/11
Join us for “Demystifying Mastering,” an evening event presented by SonicScoop and Flux Studios on Friday, May 11 – for engineers, producers, musicians and mastering engineers who want to gain a deeper understanding of the mastering process, and hear modern tools and techniques in a studio environment.
The event will run from 6PM-9PM and will feature a clinic led by top NYC mastering engineer Dave Kutch (The Roots, Alicia Keys, John Legend), listening stations for demoing gear by Dangerous Music, Manley and Focal Professional, and a fun Friday night mixer with drinks/snacks.
Kutch’s clinic (7-8PM) will be a Q&A-driven discussion and demonstration of:
- Best engineering practices leading up to mastering
- Best production practices to optimize your mastering experience-
- How to break bad habits that limit what can be accomplished in mastering
- Tools and tips for sonic problem solving
- Effective mastering chains and techniques
Before, during and after the clinic – throughout the rest of Flux – Dangerous Music will have stations setup where you can demo the Dangerous Master, Monitor, Liaison and Bax EQ; Manley will be on hand with their Pultec EQ, Mastering SLAM! and Mastering Massive Passive; and Focal will be showing – for the first time in NYC – their new SM9 monitoring speakers, which are now available. Alto NYC’s Shane Koss will be in the house as our retail/technologist partner in the event.
Not sure when/where else you’ll be able geek out this hard on mastering. So, come through! RSVP to Janice@sonicscoop.com and we’ll put you on the list!
Demystifying Mastering Clinic & Social
Friday, May 11, 6-9PM
154 East 2nd St, NYC
Free with RSVP: Janice@sonicscoop.com
While Anaheim is most famous for attracting hoards of children to Disneyland each year, this past weekend the “adults” of the music world got to take over for a long weekend.
The enormous Anaheim Convention Center was absolutely packed with virtually every gear and instrument manufacturer that one could imagine. As I had never been to a Winter NAMM show this was a great treat for me, and I had an awesome day walking around and chatting with representatives from some of my favorite companies. My only complaint was the fact that, pathetically, my legs were sore the next day!
This year at NAMM there were quite a few big announcements from some major players in the audio world, along with the typically exciting spread for musicians, so without further ado… let’s discuss:
In the past ten years, Universal Audio (UA) has a come a long way, not only continuing to make their classic hardware products, but also creating one of the best lines of plug-ins that’s out there right now. They’ve really embraced the DAW age, and in the process have created what most engineers and producers now consider an essential part of their creative toolset. This year there was a lot of buzz surrounding UA’s release of their first foray into the world of multi-channel audio interfaces: Apollo.
The Apollo interface is feature-packed: Offering 18×24 inputs and outputs, it will work at sample rates up to 192 kHz and connects to the user’s CPU via either Firewire 800 or Thunderbolt. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Apollo’s functionality is that it is also loaded with either the UAD DUO or QUAD DSP cards, so you’ll also be able to run the full complement of UAD plug-ins when using the interface.
Apollo can also be completely software controlled, and UA has built a fantastic software interface that works seamlessly with most DAWs. For the first time, UAD users will be able to use their coveted plug-ins with near zero latency! Not only that, but you are now able to track with as many DSP-powered plug-ins as you like, and you also have the option to print the processed tracks as you record; with less than 2 ms of input latency. The system is naturally instantly recallable, and in the demos that I saw, is very solidly incorporated with the user’s choice of DAW.
In addition to the Apollo interface, UA also announced a new Direct Development partner for their UAD-2 platform: Sonnox. As with other third-party developers like Brainworx and SPL, this partnership means that Sonnox will be able to directly create software for the UAD platform, and to sell these plug-ins via UA’s online store.
I was also assured by Lev Perrey, UA’s Director of Product Management, that AAX and 64-bit versions of all of the UAD plug-ins are a top priority, and that they should be ready by the end of the year.
I was excited to see some big surprises here! Steven Slate was on hand to announce three big new products, two of which were completely unexpected. First of all, the new Raven X1 Production Console was introduced.
The Raven is a unique console and control surface solution for DAW users. It is, essentially, a monitor and cue section loaded into a 32-channel frame. Along with racks for favorite gear, the Raven also ships with 4 Avid Artist Mix controllers pre-loaded, as well as an LCD monitor, metering, and a unique set of laptop-style monitors built into the surface. This is definitely a cool (and more cost effective) alternative to Avid’s D-Control and Command control surfaces.
While price is still TBD on the Raven, and the model on the show floor was just the prototype, Slate Pro Audio assures the first consoles will start shipping in 60 days.
Next up from Slate was the new Siren D3 Monitoring system. The Siren is a 1,000 watt 3-way monitor speaker with a phase-linear DSP-powered crossover. The coolest thing about these monitors is that the user can alter the crossover settings remotely using an iPhone app; different speaker response characteristics can be easily emulated by changing the way the crossover works. This feature essentially gives the user several different types of monitors all in the same package.
Last but not least was Slate’s new tape emulation plug-in, called the VTM (Virtual Tape Machine). Although tape emulations have been a bit de-rigueur over the past few years I’m definitely excited to hear what this one sounds like. The VTM models two machines, a 16 track 2”, and a 2 track 1/2”, and according to Slate, every aspect of the machines’ characteristics were gone over. In fact, Slate’s CTO, Fabrice Gabriel went as far as to say that the algorithm they used was “bloody” in its complexity: sounds good to me!
Pricing/availability on the Siren D3 and Slate Digital VTM plug-in have not yet been announced. Stay tuned!
Over at Dangerous Music, the major news was their brand-new monitor controller called the Dangerous Source.
Dangerous designed the Source with portability in mind, incorporating the components and build quality of their other monitor controllers into a smaller box. This is a desktop or rack installable unit providing monitor control for up to two pairs of speakers and headphones with digital, analog and USB sources. Especially notable here is that this is a “Dangerous”-ly well-crafted product at a sub 1k price point!
The Source has two headphone outs, a USB-in for use of Dangerous’ superior D/A converters in place of a traditional I/O interface, and multiple digital and analog inputs (including an 1/8’ in). An especially interesting feature, which you’ll be hard-pressed to find in another small-footprint monitoring solution, is the inclusion of four monitor outputs that can all be used at the same time if desired; users can monitor on two sets of different speakers, or incorporate a subwoofer as a supplement to one set of speakers. The Source will begin shipping in the 2nd quarter of 2012.
Perhaps the biggest news Moog had at NAMM this year was the introduction of the Minitaur, a new analog synth based on their classic Taurus foot pedals. I got to spend some time with it and it sounds incredible! Equally appealing is the Minitaur’s low price: $679.00 MSRP.
The Minitaur has a small footprint, but really sounds enormous; definitely a great addition to the Moog line.
Cyril Lance, a senior engineer at Moog was nice enough to show me some of the other newer Moog products as well, including the Anamoog iPad app, their 500-series Ladder Filter, and the Cluster Flux Moogerfooger pedal. As per usual with Moog products, all three designs sound incredible and are incredibly musical in their orientation and usability. A really inspiring visit!
Line 6 debuted a surprising new product this year called the StageScape M20d. The StageScape is an all-in-one digital mixer for live sound, targeting bands and musicians who want great sound and ease of use.
The most remarkable thing about this product is the touchscreen interface and GUI. All functions of the mixer can be accessed by a 7” color touchscreen that controls easy-to-use software; all mixing is done using a graphical representation of instruments on a stage. For the technically uninitiated this makes the live sound mixing process incredible simple; just orient what’s on the screen to match what you see in front of you and you have the beginnings of a solid live mix.
Of course, the user can go deeper, incorporating easy-to-use effects and recording capabilities as well. There are 12 mic pres/inputs built-in, as well as 4 line inputs, 4 monitor outputs, USB, and two main speaker outs. Additionally, the StageScape can also be controlled by iPad!
As noted above under the Universal Audio heading, one of the more notable pieces of news with Sonnox this year is that their full line of plug-ins will now run on the UAD Powered Plug-Ins platform. However, this is definitely not the only news. Sonnox is one of the first plug-in developers to offer their full line of products in not only 64-bit code, but Avid’s AAX format as well! This is great news, as these plugs are so well-loved and used!
Additionally, I got to see a demo of the Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec. Although it isn’t brand-spanking new, I have to say that it is an invaluable tool! The Pro-Codec allows the user to hear their mix in multiple codec formats in real-time within the DAW; you can instantly hear exactly what an mp3 or m4a version of your material will sound like. Definitely a unique piece of software and great to have around!
Shure’s news this year is on the wireless front, specifically with their new ULX-D Digital Wireless system. Given that the FCC has shrunk the bandwidth available for wireless networks, new efficiency is needed, and the ULX-D is Shure’s answer. The ULX-D system converts incoming signal digitally, and broadcasts the digital signal to the receiver. This system not only allows for greater accuracy, but allows a full 14 streams per channel, maximizing the narrow bandwidth currently available.
The ULX-D1 sports a rugged build, and uses lithium-ion batteries which provide a 12-hour life per charge. Click for more details and pricing.
Additionally this year, Shure is getting into the professional open-backed headphone market with two offerings, the SRH-1440, and SRH-1840. Open-backed headphones are prized because of their naturalistic sound, depth of field, and wide imaging characteristics.
Sennheiser also has a wireless offering this year, but on the more affordable end of the spectrum with their XS Series. Designed for ease-of-use, the XS series offers true diversity reception, 8 frequency banks with 12 coordinated channels each, up to 10-hour operation using AA batteries, and a scan function which easily identifies all available frequencies.
The XS series comes in several different configurations (Instrument, Vocal, Presentation), all around the $400.00 range which makes it a powerful and affordable solution for most budgets.
On the live and installed sound tip, Harman introduced a new version of HiQnet system configuration and control protocol. The new Crown HiQnet Band Manager 2 is a simplified version of the software designed for smaller systems, giving musicians, DJs and venues control and monitoring for Crown Audio’s XTi 2 product lines. Users will be able to manage up to eight XTi 2 amplifiers via intuitive USB interface. Click for more details.
Lexicon’s news was that its PCM Native Effects and PCM Native Reverb plug-ins will now available individually. Starting in February, the 14 PC- and Mac-compatible plug-ins, including Pitch Shift, MultiVoice Pitch, Chorus, Resonant Chords, Stringbox, Vintage Plate, Concert Hall and Chamber, will be available individually at prices ranging from $199 – $699 a pop.
So Much To See
Beyond what I’ve outlined above I was able to see a myriad of other wonderful offerings, including Peavey’s Auto-Tune guitar, some stellar mic amp and summing options from Phoenix Audio, and Arturia’s fantastic new analog synth – the MiniBrute.
I also saw some great offerings from Blue Microphones for musician-recordists and discriminating consumers, including the Spark Digital iPad mic, the Mikey Digital iPhone mic and interface, and the new Tiki USB mic.
Looking forward, I am hoping to give more in-depth reviews of some of these new products in the near future, and in the meantime, I’ll be bathing my aching legs in Epsom salts!
Bo Boddie is a Grammy winning engineer/producer and composer who has worked with Santana, Everlast, Korn, Reni Lane, and many others. He just completed work on Imperial Teen’s second release on Merge Records, as well as composition work on HBO’s 3rd season of Hung.