Acustica Audio: How did you know about Acustica Audio and Nebula?
Henry Olonga: I remember a few years ago religiously buying many music magazines like Sound on Sound and Computer Music to help me with deconstructing classic mixes. One particular month Computer Music had a disc that had the free version of Nebula with a few choice EQs. I was just stunned by the quality of the sound, bought the software, signed up on the original forum and got involved from there. In time Giancarlo invited me to become a beta tester as a result of my other sampling activities and then I eventually learnt to use NAT. To start with I wanted to sample just for my own projects but then when I sarted sharing my work freely and getting positive feedback, I began to consider doing this for others. In addition, I thought I might have a way to support my chosen charity in Zimbabwe in a small way. The pioneering and leading third party developers were very inspiring to me and also very helpful.
Acustica Audio: Which feature do you look into gear before get sampled?
Henry Olonga: I have always looked at gear with a little bit of character that is easily discernible even to a hobbyist, in other words I like high quality, quick results. There is a growing number of 'jack of all trades master of none' type people like myself who have built home studios and are producer, engineer, mixer and mastering engineer all in one. I understand that it is not ideal for one person to do it all but it is undeniably a growing trend. I imagine that those sorts of people do not want to get too bogged down on the one process so I look for gear that I can massage for instant feedback, especially gear with valves. Of late as I have expanded my inventory, a few subtle and transparent pieces have come in, but on the whole I like to offer tools that move the mix on quickly. Of course I look to give the end user building blocks as well to build their own chains if they have the time. My main focus is the tone of gear and I rent or buy classic and modern gear. I encourage the use of algorithmic plugins alongside with my Nebula tools because both camps bring unique qualities to the table. In the coming months I am looking at adding some classic tools that will bring access to desirable and rare tonal surprises. . . so watch this space.
Acustica Audio: How do you handle the noise during the sampling process?
Henry Olonga: Every inch matters when sampling. I obviously try to get a good signal to noise ratio as best I can so I record using clean 24 bit convertors at high sample rates and pay attention to my gain staging. Good balanced cables make a small but discernible difference here and I use Mogami, Chord company and Van Damme cables but to be honest I have never really struggled to get enough dynamic range and bandwith for most presets. When it is a problem and it is inherent to the hardware I just deal with it in post. but so far 99% of my presets have been trouble free.
Acustica Audio: Which gear was the more complicated to be sampled with NAT and why?
Henry Olonga: The Bricasti reverb that I am working on in 2012 has easily been the craziest project to date. Difficulties arise because of the complexity of such a well thought out reverberator. So much is happening in a few seconds. It has modulation, stereo shift, phase shift, perhaps pitch shift, unusual wet/dry challenges, constant frequency changes, oodles of parameters etc and doing justice to it will be impossible. But Nebula has produced the most realistic emulations to date compared to simpler convolution methods. Michael Angel and I hope to release in the coming months.
Acustica Audio: Tell us the main differences from tape sim to mojo libraries. Does the sampling process change in each library?
Henry Olonga: All these samplings were done with the same basic technique. High sample rates, enough settings to broadly cover the gear and trying to find the sweet spot of each piece of hardware, and that obviously changes from piece to piece. The Mojo Series is all about capturing tone whether it is an equaliser or a compressor. I use the 10 kernel preamp template when sampling so I try to get as much distortion as Nebula will allow. Too much and you run into issues, too little and it sounds bland even when pushed so it is a real art. With compressors I get the go to settings first, then deep compression, no compression, then a low level of compression, say 2 dBs gain reduction. There is obviously no action of the compressors so they need to be paired with the algorithmic equivalent. The tape sim was relatively straight forward as it was an all analog piece with no processing latency internally so I did the usual 10 kernel preamp. It was just a matter of extracting the soul of the tapes. As far as the tape models go I cannot confirm the sampled types because when I sampled I was not in a position to open the case. I sampled them all in one day so the technique was the same. Furthermore the documentation of the company that makes the hardware does not inform one of the models so one has to rely on various reviews to even understand which tape machines and tape types were modeled. In addition several months passed between sampling and editing. I would need to have access to the machine again to study the frequency plots and confirm which was which but I hope in time as people get to use the tools more, we will be able to gather a general description of them so purchasing is easier to decide. I will try to sort this out next year when I have time as it is a frequent question. To make things easier when purchasing, I will have a really cheap bundle offer soon so buyers can have all the models.
Acustica Audio: Will there be bundle releases or will continue selling separately?
Henry Olonga: Yes, I will set up bundles in the future as I have the capacity to do so in my e-commerce site but it has simply been a case of having enough 'families' to bundle together and time to organize it. Now that I have sampled enough products I will do a few things in the coming months. I want my products to be truly affordable so I am constantly revising prices. Updates to all released products are coming to correct any issues such as internal gain structure calibration and file size optimization where appropriate. I will also provide upgrades to sample rates to support 44.1 kHz, 96 kHz and 192 kHz across the board and finally provide bundles. I will always provide my packages as standard with all these three sample rates included as splitting sample rates complicates my store.
Acustica Audio: Which studio configuration do you use. ITB, OTB or Hybrid?
Henry Olonga: I work mainly ITB now after attempting a hybrid approach with a small format console. I now use my hardware in real time to bounce individual tracks that need a specific treatment. Not as hardware inserts but in a DA/AD loop in conjunction with VST plugins like Nebula - it's all about chains with me. With GML, A*I, Helios, N**e and E*I gear around, I can get most flavors I need. My dual Intel Xeon CPU, 8 core computer can handle about 10 full quality Nebula instances and so I have no option but to bounce down on a multitrack. It has forced me to learn to build a mix track by track, commit , free up CPU and move on. I have good Prism sound Orpheus convertors and there is something pleasing about turning numbers into voltage. Of course I don't do more than one generation. If I am using only plug-ins in conjunction with Nebula, such as my Mojo Series, I still do a digital real time bounce either internally in Reaper or using my S/PDIF connections for convenient routing. In other words I treat my Nebula instances as real hardware racks to be bounced in real time as it sounds closer or identical to what I hear when playing back IMHO. I find if I don't do this the sound changes with faster than real time bounces. Once I have the tracks done, I then move onto the various buses and master bus for real time final mixing. I think the master bus screams out for a Nebula preset to add instant mojo to a track. I swear by it now, even a simple preamp is enough to add some overall character. All in all, my method is quite different I am sure. Now you can understand why I like to get instant feedback with my presets.
Acustica Audio: Are you thinking of releasing any Nebula library in Acqua FX format?
Henry Olonga: Hmmmmm. . . I am not sure. I suspect that I will if sampling can be something I do more permanently. More and more big studios are closing down and home studios can now have very high quality tools to rival previously inaccessible sounds. So I can see an explosion of new Nebula users as people realize its superiority. As long as there is demand for my tools and I am supported by a kind buying community then I will keep looking to bring innovative sounds to the table with Nebula. But there seems to be a mental barrier for some because of the GUI so if entering the Acqua arena helps customers to feel more comfortable using Nebula technology then it is a no-brainier. It is a little bit more work to learn it all so perhaps next year.
Acustica Audio: Do you use external DSP processing?
Henry Olonga: Yes indeed, I have a fully loaded TC Powercore setup (4 cards) with all the major plugins, UAD Solo and a powerful Nebula server. (8 core Xeon server)
Acustica Audio: Do you think that audio engineering is better today?
Henry Olonga: I certainly believe that there are so many clever tools available now in the digital era that makes engineering easier and more spectacular, but I am somehow drawn into the nostalgia of the seventies I am afraid. Many more people are creating phenomenal work consistently and many of them even endorse certain products and produce top ten hits. But I gravitate towards the older stuff. Perhaps my mother played ABBA and Bob Seger too loud when I was in the womb but I love that era and think that subjectively the best music was made then. It breaths and has dynamics and is never harsh ( at least before the remasters ). Perhaps tape had something to do with it. Perhaps arrangements, live musicians, incredible engineering, perhaps all of the above. I do not really appreciate loud, crushed, limited music. In addition, I have sensitivities to classical music as a performing tenor vocalist so I steer away from modern loud pop. Don't get me wrong, I listen to it on the radio and TV but rarely go out of my way to buy it.
Acustica Audio: Did you have formal study in audio engineering? Henry Olonga: Mostly self taught I am afraid. No formal training from me apart from hanging out with the big boys once in a while. I have spent countless hours in studios, recording, listening and asking engineers millions of irritating questions. I have always wanted to learn. Forums have also been invaluable. I wish more newbies would learn to use the search button because there are real pearls of wisdom, freely shared on all the major audio forums. I have also been to listen to sessions held by the greats like George Massenburg and invested in various literature. Watched tonnes of free tutorials as well. At the end of the day after thirteen years in this industry, I have just learned to listen carefully. It's all in the ears for all I know and then the artistry of painting the picture with the brain takes over after that.