I wanted to create a topic where people could discuss and share workflows featuring outboard hardware and Acustica or 3rd-party Nebula libraries.
They each have their own strengths and weaknesses but together make a most excellent pair.
Obviously source sounds form the foundation of any composition, so they are important to get right - that includes the right parts, performance, instruments, recording environment, microphones, processing, and ADC. Any problems or shortcomings here become bigger headaches later.
For the sake of discussion then, let's assume that quality recordings have already been made and in your DAW (or you are using virtual instruments).
How are you integrating HW and Nebula libraries or Acquas into your workflow?
Last edited by Brian on Tue Sep 06, 2016 5:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.
I'll start by specifying a few distinct advantages hardware still has for me:
user experience - interactive, instantaneous changes, not looking at a screen, making fast and intuitive adjustments with two hands
clipping - or behavior when approaching soft saturation or into full, harder clipping
dynamics processing - things like transient designers or gates/expanders don't exist yet in the Nebula world, and there are still cases where HW compression is unmatched
tone - in some cases when gear is pushed - in others, the difference is insignificant for me
However, Nebula sounds fantastic and Acqua workflows are greatly improved as of late. We're truly spoiled at this point, and things will continue to improve. I'm grateful for this.
I'll offer a few workflow examples to get the topic started.
Master / Mixbuss Processing Pushing hard into a stereo bus is very forgiving (to a point) in the analog world, and can add anything from a mild glue factor to a lot of aggression, midrange excitement, and transient management. Here's where some HW comes into play. I'm using a Louder Than Liftoff Silver Bullet, a clever piece which works as a stereo preamp, 2-band EQ with HPF, and also a mixbuss.
By patching it with ReaInsert as the first insert in my Reaper master bus, I'm able to play with fader balances and push against it, controlling transients and varying the degree of glue or saturation (even quickly comparing the harmonic color of A-type, N-type, or bypass). I can also add a bit of air and bottom to the overall mix, and alter the high frequency response for a smoother, more vintage sound. The metering is a great visual reference as well. I may engage (ok almost always) a Foote compressor here for a bit of mixbuss punch and the extra low end weight it's transformer output provides.
The signal goes back into Reaper, where I can adjust the trim with Klanghelm's excellent VU meter and hit Nebula/Acquas at a proper level. Here is where I'll put a console bus program, after the Silver Bullet has eaten up peaks that would drive Nebula into weird beepy ringing territory. I follow this up with another Nebula or Acqua EQ for additional brightening, midrange push, and maybe more low end size. Another compressor comes at the end, mostly for tone or a very subtle leveling (Ultramarine or Alex's Fenix). I find everything downstream from the SB works better when the material isn't as spiky and already has some nice box tone.
"Re-tracking" or Additional Preparation and Production Sometimes when mixing other people's productions or anything involving many virtual instruments and things like amplifier simulations, sounds may need help sounding bigger, more lifelike or distinct from other elements. I have a dedicated 2-channel bus for handling these tasks - I will again bounce things through the Silver Bullet, experimenting with preamp colors, different amounts of gain, and the onboard EQ.
I may also use guitar pedals for reverb, delay, modulation, or distortion - they have so much character and are fun to use.
Then, into either an Acqua channel strip or a Nebula strip (recently I'm turning to Pearl, Pink, Tim's 31102 or Alex's MP) with the goal of just pushing the sound toward its intended place in the mix, or enhancing anything interesting or emotional about it.
I'll bounce the whole track with all this processing, and save the original only as backup or reference. This frees the session from latency, CPU strain, and also organizational clutter.
Enhancing Amp Sims Well this is basically the same process as above. I find putting amp sim tracks out through HW preamps can add a bit of life to them. Then back into Reaper where Tim's Surge EQ can take care of any resonances or fizz. Tim's 37 tape also works superbly here. Ultramarine or Acquamarine opto can be great on cleans or leads. Bounce it down and it's ready to go.
From here on out, I'm using batch-rendering to apply one of Alex's console programs to everything, and then either my own Nebula recipes or Aqcua channel strips to shape the mix on inserts. The latency remains low enough to balance levels and write accurate automation from my control surface (X-Touch). Mixes come together quickly, and most importantly - it's more fun than it used to be, and I can focus on the song as a whole more than trying to dress up individual elements now.
Last edited by Brian on Tue Sep 06, 2016 4:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Mastering Here is where the user experience and tone HW provides can be really hard to replace. My Silver Bullet works really well for increasing the perceived size of the soundstage, and the A-type amplifiers are really effective at handling peaks.
There are some really special HW pieces (Hendyamps, M****y, etc.) that have very interactive controls and pleasant tube and transformer coloration that I will continue using and likely buying more of.
I love the quality and workflows provided by DMGAudio and Tokyo Dawn Labs for things like de-essing, transparent and surgical dynamics control, dynamic EQ, and final limiting.
Nebula and Acqua handle everything else. My favorites so far:
White2 in M/S mode - cutting subs (20/30 cycles) on the side while adding fullness (120 cycles) there can sometimes have a great impact on the stereo image and tightness.
Scarlet3 - general EQ and those shelves don't always work...but when they do it's a wonderful thing
Pink2412 - so flexible and can be gentle or brutally punchy
Acquamarine3 - opto section doesn't always work, but can add a kind of syrupy motion and glue on the right track, discrete section can be super punchy and tamed a bit with the wet/dry mix
TimP's Surge EQ - great for notching things, and also a very tight and punchy LF bell
AlexB's Massive EQ - beautiful midrange control
AlexB's Ely-X EQ - great HP/LP filters, the passive massage works well occasionally, great air boost
AlexB's Fenix - this can do nice things for the depth and soundstage, while also adding some sheen, have the best luck with medium or slow attack and quick release, barely working