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Sound Devices MixPre 10-II tip

 

 

Late 2021 I took the leap and ordered a Sound Devices MixPre 10-II I was motivated by a number of factors, first was a desire to record 32bit 192kHz with multiple microphones. My old SD 788T is still a rock solid performer, but its hardware limits it to only capturing 4 channels of 192kHz audio. So I mainly use it for AMB recording where 96kHz is fine, and for that it is brilliant. I had upgraded the HD to an 500GB SSD and with NP1 battery I can do long runtime recordings eg yesterday I used it to record 5 channels of 24/96 capturing over 10 hours of real-time recording, swapping batteries every few hours.

I still have my other SD recorders – two 722 and a 744. So I can combine them with C.LINK to do six channel 192kHz recording, but it is not ideal to be powering and monitoring three seperate recorders.

The other feature of the MixPre10 is the Musician plugin. This directly suits a few music projects I am working on. But I will document that once I am further down the track and have some experience with it.

So the new Mix Pre 10 arrived, I ordered a NP1 battery cap for it and have it all up & running, and it is fantastic. But there was one aspect of the MixPre that I could not understand. I read the manual before it arrived and again after I’d used it for a bit and still I could not understand it.

This is so basic, every one of my other SD recorders provides it by default, but the one thing I wanted:

Direct access to the input gain of every channel!

As an example, if I plug a mic into my 722, power it up and hit record. The gain knob on the front of the 722 gives me direct access to instantly control the input gain of the mic. This is essential. Every time I record something the first thing I do is gauge the extremes of volume and set the gain, to cleanly record without clipping.

But for some bizarre reason, this is not how the MixPre is set up, by default. The MixPre has three modes.

1. Basic
This is fixed at 48kHz, I will never use Basic mode.

2. Advanced Mode
I set up a project as 32 bit 192kHz recording. I enabled phantom power for each mic and armed the record tracks. BUT The gain knob on the front of the MixPre does not control input gain! It controls post-record level, for creating a LR guide mix! Now I do appreciate why this is useful: it is essential for every production sound recordist. Delivering a guide mix to the director and to camera is as important as recording the iso tracks. But for me: I never record a guide mix. The LR bus is only of use for monitoring. I work at a fixed monitor level & solo to check mics etc…
With the MixPre in Advanced mode, the only way to access the input gain of each channel takes 3 steps: first select mic input 1 with a click, then click select input gain, and then use the fiddly little knob beside the headphone jack to set the gain. Then do the same for mic 2. Then do the same for mic 3. Then do the same for 4. Then do the same for 5. Then do the same for 6. Then do the same for 7. Then do the same for 8. Even reading that was a pain!

3. Custom Mode
I was getting frustrated by this point. There must be a way!? I read the manual and found Custom Mode, which mentioned one feature that still did not make sense:

Gain
Allows advanced operation of channel gain, including dual gain stage (gain and fader) and Remix.

Huh? What fader?
In frustration, I asked on the MixPre FB Users Group and some lovely helpful people replied!

First thanks to Robert Keilbar, who replied with a handy photo:
“Hey Tim, try custom mode and in the submenu set Gain Basic, that should solve the problem”

Bingo! Problem solved.
But as I said I have used SD recorders for many years. I had read the manual and I was stumped. I don’t consider myself an idiot, but why was this so difficult to discover? Why is there not a default MixPre set up for this, its always been a default?

It seems like Sound Devices decided that production sound takes priority, and everyone else should have to manually set up a custom mode to get it to work, the way their recorders have always worked.

Now someone else commented (thanks Bernard Ulrich!) saying the old MixPre 10 manual was better. They provided a link and I checked. And he is right, the old manual clearly explains it on page 24.

“CUSTOM MODE
By setting the Channel Custom Setup to Advanced and the Gain Custom Setup to Basic, you can use all the Advanced Channel Input features while retaining single gain stage control using the physical channel knobs. This allows you to use the channel knobs to adjust the level going to the ISO tracks.”

Why was this removed from the new MixPre manual?
I would have found that instantly and had zero confusion.

Now someone else joined the discussion at this point, and his comments were very helpful in understanding how the MixPre differs from previous recorders (but it still does not explain that omission from the manual)

Thanks to Dmitry Chernov:
“Even in the advanced mode the knobs do not control Input gain. They are after ADC and control at what level the digital signal is recorded into ISO tracks of a poly WAV file either in 32 bit or 24 bit mode. There is no analog input gain control at all neither in MixPre II series nor in Zoom F6. The only option to choose different levels prior to ADC is switch between Mic and Line level sensitivity.

The preamp has a fixed gain and then the signal goes to the ADC that consists of three 24 bit converters receiving the analog signal at 3 different levels to cover the wider dynamic range. The processor then combines the outputs of the 3 ADC converters to get the best signal-to-noise ratio and prevent digital clipping.”

That is very useful insight. It explains how the MixPre achieves its great results, but it still doesn’t explain the default allocation of knob useage.

I have contacted Sound Devices and provided my feedback. I hope they improve the manual, because I should have solved this myself instantly when reading the manual. Had I read the old manual, I would have solved it!

And it’s not just me. Someone else commented: “Thank you all for this enlightment! I thought there was no way to use the front knobs to adjust gain.”

Please improve your MixPre manual, Sound Devices!

EDU Your DAW History

Interesting Twitter thread: your DAW history

Can you remember your DAW history, without wincing?

me:
pre 1990: borrowed Nagra 4.2 + rented Teac A3340
1991: Digidesign Sound Tools + 24 track tape
1992: Digidesign ProTools 1.0 + every version since
1995: Opcode Studio Vision Pro + Samplecell + Recycle
1999: Metasynth 1.0 + every version since
2002: ableton LIVE 1.0 + every version since

Those early days were tough, but learning an app as complex as these is somewhat easier, incremently.
The joy of getting a new PT update, skimming the new feature list, checking if it actually works…

For a year or two ProTools really only functioned as a sound editor (ProEdit) as the recorder part (ProDeck) was unreliable. I was recording foley a lot for TV series back then, and with every new release, me and foley artist Simon (RIP) would try it, to see if we could record in sync to picture. Pre-roll the tape, run a loop, watch it drop into record, switch to ProEdit… nothing! OK back to tape.

Not to get too nostalgic but I also remember recording foley to 24 track tape with a well known Australian foley artist Greg (RIP) and on a film (End of the Golden Weather) he just could not nail an entire take of a boy walking up a rickety old set of wooden steps at a beach. So he told me to drop in between steps, just before the point where he kept missing sync. Gulp! OK.. Pre-roll the video, run the loop, count the steps up to the drop, 9 and 10 AND punch-in!

 

 

 

 

EDU007 Listening Exercise 1

LISTENING EXERCISE 1 – AMBIENCE LAYERS

PART 1 – NO EQUIPMENT REQUIRED

Go for a walk, stop for a break, sit down & listen for ten minutes.
As you listen, mentally consider this:

If you had to recreate the ambience you are hearing (with control of each of the elements)
how many layers and perspectives would be required?

It can be useful to categorize elements by perspective:
Foreground, mid-ground, distant.

What are you hearing that can be discreetly assigned to each layer?

Which sounds are constant?
Which sounds are periodic?
Which sounds are passing?
Which sounds are intermittently repeating?

A small notebook and pen can be useful for documenting what you hear.
While you could use your phone to do this, I recommend using a notebook and pen for a few reasons. First, phones are a major distraction. Chances are if you look at your phone, you will also check notifications and email, and without realising you are no longer present. You are no longer giving your full attention to listening and analysis. Connect your ears and brain, to a pen and notebook and pay attention to your immediate sound world. Leave the distraction device in your pocket. All the drama of social media etc will still be there when you have finished the exercise in ten minutes time. Pay attention to now.

EXERCISE AIMS:

Now this might seem like a simple exercise, but do not be fooled. It is far more complex and far more important than first impressions might indicate.

1. Creating memories & documenting references
As a sound editor every time you do this exercise, you are consciously ‘burning in memories’ which form the basis of your instincts. Maybe years from now you will be working on a film project that will have a location very similar to one you analyze tomorrow. To recreate the elements of that location to achieve basic generic coverage is not so difficult, but to make a location feel interesting and alive will come down to using these memories.

2. Analysis
We are learning to analyse what we hear in reality via critical listening, by making you aware of what you are hearing and where these sounds originate. Some of the most interesting ideas for new sounds originate from when we can’t quite identify the source of a sound. Can you identify every element in the ambience?

3. Target focus your hearing
When you notice a singular element of an ambience, it can feel like you are focusing your ears. Unlike our eyes, our ears cannot physically change focus, but using your mind and focusing attention to a single aspect is a very important psychological skill to develop. It is an invaluable skill when recording sound, while editing and during a mix. Being able to hear ‘into’ a complex mix and identify a discrete element so it can be addressed, is not dissimilar to sitting on a park bench and clearly identifying an element of the ambience you are hearing. While you may have past experience at doing this with music, the world of sound is far more complex and requires different listening skills which can only be gained from practical experience.

4. Preparation for sound editing
Thinking in terms of layers of sound, and of perspectives is based in reality. With filmmaking, we constantly manipulate perspective and point of view, scene by scene and sometimes moment by moment. So for example, the sound you analyse in reality in a sunny park at lunchtime is useful when compared with say a reverberant back alley. As a sound editor, you may use elements from many locations to create a composite that feels both real and evokes mood as required by the story. Your memories of real-world examples are an invaluable and important tool.

5. Preparation for field recording
When arriving at a location to do some field recording, it is important to first listen with your ears, before you listen via microphones. Your brain can locate and focus the attention of your ears to any sound source in an environment, so an important skill to develop is to consider this: if I was recording this ambience where would I place my microphones?

This thought process can be extended to multichannel recording. If I had two microphones, where would I place them? If I had four microphones, would quad be the best approach or would multiple stereo images be more useful? Such decisions should be informed by the location and what you are actually hearing with your ears, rather than arriving with pre-conceived ideas.

Another aspect of this process is to also identify unwanted elements. For example, maybe you wish to record city ambiences without any wildlife. While sitting in a park at dusk you notice how the birds get very active at sunset, but then quieten right down. This is useful knowledge. Maybe years from now you will use that dusk bird activity, or maybe you will return to this location after dark to capture the spacious empty park without birds.

WHEN TO DO THIS EXERCISE:

For me this is a lifelong exercise. I have deliberately trained my mind to pay attention, but any time I am in a new location and have five or ten minutes, I will stop and deliberately pay attention to what I am hearing and do this exercise.

Some typical opportunities might include:
– Out for a walk, getting some exercise & fresh air.
– Walking the dog.
– If working from home, use this exercise as a reason to leave the house!
– Maybe you have an appointment, or are waiting to meet someone? Arrive ten minutes early.
– While running errands, or doing the shopping (eg how many layers in a supermarket? book shop?)
– While at work
– While “sportsing”
– In a local park, gardens, forest
– At home
– When travelling, or on holiday

This last example is useful because especially when we travel to another country and culture, the new sights and smells and sounds are such a joy to experience. Despite it being over 20 years since I visited USA, I can still vividly picture for example the ambience in Union Square, San Francisco (and know I have a recording of a great car sub doppler from there) or the beautiful hushed ambience in the basement of Gaudis La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, or the vast diffuse ambience at the massive enclosed entrance to the Tate Modern Gallery in London.

But this also provides insight as to how we should proceed, all of the time.
There is a great saying by George Kneller:

“To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted”

So this process is training our mind to pay very specific attention to sounds, in composite and individually.
Sounds that many people have become oblivious to, zoned out or simply try to ignore.
We must be able to listen afresh at what we normally take for granted.

LOCATION EXAMPLES:

Exterior and interior locations should be used, as well as transition EXT/INT areas such as a foyer or entrance – notice how the ambience changes when eg automated doors open and close.

It can be especially interesting to compare contrasting locations. Rural and urban locations should also be used. Many films and TV series are set partly in cities and partly in suburban homes, apartment builngs etc…

As an example, let’s say you work in an office building in the central city.
– Lunchbreak, sit outside and complete the exercise.
– Coffee break, sit in the foyer and complete the exercise.
– While working, sit for a minute and complete the exercise in your workspace.

While interior, quieter locations can appear less complex, that may not be the case as more careful and particular attention must be paid. Sensitive microphones will pick up more than your ears may hear, so it may require walking around a location to clearly identify more subtle sounds.

It is also useful to revisit locations at different times of the day, and during different weather and seasons. Notice how a city ambience changes during rain, and changes again after the rain finishes… Even a quiet office interior changes between winter and summer.

 

NOTE: AT ALL TIMES BE AWARE OF YOUR PERSONAL SAFETY!
Always have a safe exit planned if some paranoid person mistakes you for the FBI or something.
If visiting or recording a sketchy location, take someone with you. And make sure others know where you are going & when you should be expected back. This is not intended as a high risk activity!

EXAMPLE EXT by Tim

Location: Civic Square, Wellington

Date & Time: 20220131 lunchtime
midday, mid week.

Ambience Foreground:
pedestrians – footsteps, passing by
pedestrians – voices, some kids playing
bicycle – riding & wheeling
busker playing music
hangry seagulls
sparrows
gentle wind in the few trees

Ambience Mid Ground
traffic, diffuse passbys from 1-2 blocks away
traffic, buses occasionally on schedule
pedestrian crossing buzzer, timed
flagpole/wire rattle from gentle wind
vehicle with PA/loud hailer – passby

Ambience Distant:
diffuse city rumble
diffuse traffic from 4 lane waterfront street – periodic x traffic lights
distant siren (nice slap echo off buildings)

Notes: Even if a film set in Wellington only briefly shows an establishing exterior shot of Civic Square, I now have a great list of material to consider sourcing and using when editing ambiences, from just this ten minute listen

EXAMPLE INT by Tim

Location: Wellington Public Library, Second floor

Date & Time: 20220131 lunchtime
midday, mid week.

Ambience Foreground:
pedestrians – footsteps, passing by carpet
pedestrians, students – hushed voices
pedestrians – activity, chairs, book & newspaper movement

Ambience Mid Ground
lighting buzz
computers in use
book checkout, downstairs
elevators
distant verby voices
lift doors and beeps
automated entrance double doors, with EXT presence
traffic – occasional loud passby, bus

Ambience Distant:
air con – diffuse
city rumble – diffuse
traffic – diffuse

NOTES: Noticed a few people asleep in the library.
No audible snoring but…

PART 2 – EQUIPMENT: RECORDER + MICS
If you wanted to, this exercise could be expanded to include field recording.

While following all steps as per PART 1, also: take a recorder & mics with you.
Record 10 minutes of the AMBIENCE from the same position as your note-taking.
If you wish to monitor your recording through headphones, do so after making your notes while directly listening with your ears, not via headphones. Take a photo of the location, as a visual ‘memory prompt’ & also capturing time of day and GPS. Make this a habit: every time you make a recording, document it with a photo.

 

Later, back in studio:
Listen to your recording on studio speakers.
Does it match your description?
Can you clearly hear all of the layers that you noted?
What elements are lost? How could you improve your recording?


AIMS:

Learning how your microphone hears, compared with how your ears & brain hear.
Start to collect your own personal Ambience Library.

REPEAT: FOREVER MORE!

If you have any questions about this listening exercise, or would like to share some of the results from completing it, then please feel free via the comments.

Of course, there will be occasions where it is not practical to pull out a notebook and sit for ten minutes, but as you gain more experience at critical listening it can still be invaluable to make ‘mental notes’ when you hear an interesting sound. For example, maybe once a year I notice a car pass where the fan belt is clearly loose. The doppler sound of that car, shrieks past, like it is some kind of shrill scifi vehicle. I have not recorded this, it is not in a notebook. But when I have heard it I have consciously thought to myself: that is a crazy great sound source and when the occasion arises, it could be a great source of strange doppler passbys! Where a mechanic would hear only a problem, I hear an opportunity and make a mental note.

Also finally, to reinforce:
This requires no equipment, or prior experience. But it does require initiative and action on your part. If it sounds like too much work or hassle, then sorry but I doubt you would last the first week as a trainee sound editor. Equally, if I was interviewing you for that assistant or trainee sound editor role, I would very likely ask: what have you done, in terms of your own learning?
Passively watching Youtube videos would not impress me, anyone can do that. But if you pulled out a small moleskin notebook containing handwritten detailed breakdowns of 100 interior and exterior locations, I would think wow! This kid is already working hard, and has evidence of their initiative, and is clearly thinking about their future work as a sound editor. Every potential employer wants to be impressed and this small exercise (that maybe takes you ten minutes every few days) within a few months could directly contribute to that. But it is primarily for your own benefit. Developing critical listening skills and building memories of the elements of naturally-occurring, complex ambiences.

The plural of vinyl is vinyl

Came across this photo yesterday, it is from my when I was moving out of my old studio in Ropa Lane, Miramar. It was a great space – a massive industrial warehouse… Two studios ago now!

One and a half rows of that vinyl is classic library music, it was destined for a landfill but was thankfully diverted to me (thanks Mike!) There is a great book on the history of library music HERE – it is worth tracking down a copy!

 

 

 

 

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