DIGITAL Adventures in second guessing the mastering engineer, Vol 1 - George Benson 'Breezin'

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steelydave

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(With apologies to Steve Hoffman for paraphrasing his thread title.)

I've been in the process of ripping my surround collection to multichannel FLAC, and spurred on by the success of fixing the swapped front/rear channels on Neil Young's 'Harvest' I resolved to look at some of the other discs in my collection with wonky mixes that have troubled me. I've wanted to do this for a long time, but the watermarking on DVD-A always prevented me from being able to play my corrected mixes back - now with FLAC this is no longer an issue.

The disc at the top of my list was George Benson's 'Breezin', which I got on release day some 10 years or so ago. It troubled me from the first listen... seemingly drenched in reverb, with very little bottom end to speak of - I remember being really annoyed at the fact that the bass drum 'popped' instead of thumped. The whole thing was baffling to me though, given that the album was remixed for 5.1 by the original producer. Not just that they could end up with a bad mix, but that they end up with a 5.1 mix that sounded so unlike the original stereo mix, which has great bass response and isn't drenched in reverb.

So I ripped the album to 5.1 WAV files using Foobar2000 and loaded the first track in to Nuendo and this is what I saw:

benson.jpg

It was immediately obvious just by looking at the waveforms that the centre and LFE channels had been turned way down, but that there was content there.

So I put my headphones and had a listen to those two tracks, and I was shocked with what I found: the centre channel has DRY lead guitar, vocals, bass guitar, and drums in it, and the LFE channel (less shockingly) has bass guitar and drums in it. I started to think that maybe the same fate had befallen this disc that befell the Led Zeppelin 'How The West Was Won' disc, that after the 5.1 mix was done, for whatever reason the mastering engineer decided to second guess the mixing engineer and drastically altered the level of the centre channel.

I wanted to balance the centre and LFE channels in relation to the other speakers in a (to some degree) scientific method, rather than just subjectively guessing at what the levels should be. To do this I used a wonderful free VST plugin that Neil Wilkes turned me on to called Voxengo SPAN. It does realtime visual audio spectral analysis, and it allows you to overlay one audio signal on top of another, so you can compare them relative to each other.

So I made two audio groups, one with the Centre & LFE channels (yellow curve), and another with the Front Left and Front Right channels (green curve), and piped them through SPAN. This is what I saw:
benson_SPAN_before.jpg

It's clear from the shape of the curves that there's a ton of common content between these channels, but just that the C+LFE channels were way lower in volume. So I first tried boosting the volume of the C+LFE channels so that the volume of the lead guitar was the same in the centre channel as it was in the FL & FR channels. So I did this and had a listen to the mix and it didn't sound right - the front soundstage didn't have any depth, it was just a wall in your face, and the bass was overpowering. So I went back to the drawing board and decided instead to match the bass levels in the C+LFE with the FL+FR channels. Once I did this, my SPAN readout looked like this:

benson_SPAN_after.jpg

As you can see the bass matches up exactly, and the volume of the rest of the frequency spectrum in the C+LFE is a few dB lower than the FL+FR channels. I had a listen to the mix like this and OH MY GOD it's a revelation! It sounds like the proper 5.1 version of the stereo album we should've got, rather than the abomination we did get. The reverby echoiness is gone, and the bottom end is full and solid!

Strangely, different tracks required slightly different boosts, but all were within the 12-14dB range, with a couple of notable exceptions:

Track 6 ('Lady') has the orchestral intro mixed at the correct volume in all 6 channels. I had to make a split between the orchestral intro and the rest of the track on the centre and LFE channels because they still needed their 12-14dB boosts even though the orchestral intro was correct.
benson_t6.jpg
Track 6 - note the identical waveform in all 6 channels.

Track 8 ('Down Here On The Ground') has an almost correct LFE channel, but not quite. Look at how much more energy there is in the LFE track in comparison to the previous two tracks.
benson_t8.jpg
Track 8 - note the much louder LFE track...none of the other songs on the disc are like this.


For anyone who wants to attempt this on their own, here's a list of the channel alterations I made (in dB):

TRACK___C____LFE
-----------------------
1_______13___13
2_______13.5_13.5
3_______14___14
4_______14___14
5_______13___13
6_______13___13 (except for string intro)
7_______14___10.5
8_______12___3.5


Spectral analysis revealed some interesting results too - there's pretty much no audio content about 18kHz, aside from some bands of ultrasonic noise in the 30kHz to 40kHz range, which accounts for the somewhat dull sound of this album. I have CD's that have frequency extension higher than 18kHz!
benson_spectral.jpg

And last but not least, here are the DR numbers from Foobar's DR meter, which are very good:


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Analyzed: George Benson / Breezin' (96/24 5.1 Surround)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DR15 -2.45 dB -20.52 dB 5:42 01-Breezin'
DR15 -2.43 dB -22.25 dB 8:05 02-This Masquerade
DR15 -2.57 dB -21.86 dB 5:11 03-Six To Four
DR14 -2.42 dB -20.32 dB 6:51 04-Affirmation
DR14 -1.91 dB -20.47 dB 7:00 05-So This Is Love?
DR14 -1.71 dB -21.18 dB 6:02 06-Lady
DR15 -0.74 dB -21.85 dB 6:11 07-Shark Bite
DR15 -0.38 dB -20.64 dB 9:05 08-Down Here On The Ground
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Number of tracks: 8
Official DR value: DR14

Samplerate: 96000 Hz
Channels: 6
Bits per sample: 24
Bitrate: 6823 kbps
Codec: FLAC
================================================================================


All in all, pretty interesting stuff. Anyone else brave enough to attempt the channel alterations I made? I'd be interested in what other people think.
 

quadtrade

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May we be able to get a listen! I have the ability to pop up this stuff on the computer with ease. Time may be an issue, but any others that come to mind that may have issues?
 

dr. simple

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This is both fascinating and depressing... As much as I'd love to hear "Breezin'" and "Harvest" as they should have been, as well as "Pet Sounds" and God knows how many others, I simply don't have the time, equipment, or gumption to fix them all. If - eventually - there were a way for us to hear these, please know that I'm not the only one who would be interested.
 

LizardKing

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Working through this now...

WOW - a 13-14 DB boost is a lot...

Just as a side note - The string intro in track 6 is in full range in the LFE channel...:mad:@:
 

JonUrban

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Just as a side note - The string intro in track 6 is in full range in the LFE channel...:mad:@:

You know how people will complain that "The 5.1 mix is missing the guitar solo, or the keyboard part, or some other part of a song?". I have a feeling that those missing parts are actually like this string intro, somehow the mixing engineer put it in the LFE. Could they really be that clueless and think that they really have 6 channels to put stuff in? Maybe it all boils down to a drag and drop error? You would think they would listen to it more carefully.

Odd.
 

LizardKing

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You know how people will complain that "The 5.1 mix is missing the guitar solo, or the keyboard part, or some other part of a song?". I have a feeling that those missing parts are actually like this string intro, somehow the mixing engineer put it in the LFE. Could they really be that clueless and think that they really have 6 channels to put stuff in? Maybe it all boils down to a drag and drop error? You would think they would listen to it more carefully.

Odd.

In this case - as you can see below the strings are in all channels....

Capture.jpg

This is with the levels adjusted... as per steelydave's recommendation (y)
 

proufo

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Maybe the right approach is not to use the LFE channel at all for music, at least with the movie-derived disk formats (DVD-A and Blu-Ray).
 

wavelength

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Maybe the right approach is not to use the LFE channel at all for music, at least with the movie-derived disk formats (DVD-A and Blu-Ray).
Just because it gets mis-used imo does not make a valid argument for not using it at all. The subwoofer is a legitimate piece of the surround setup and should be used.

Do we also say don't use the Center channel because it gets mis-used as well. Gee, guess what, now we are back to Quad.
 

ProgRules

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Just because it gets mis-used imo does not make a valid argument for not using it at all. The subwoofer is a legitimate piece of the surround setup and should be used.

Do we also say don't use the Center channel because it gets mis-used as well. Gee, guess what, now we are back to Quad.

But just b/c you leave out the LFE channel doesn't mean you lose your sub. That's what bass management is for. I always used to think that discrete 5.1 sound was best w/ a 5.1 mix, but given how often it seems the .1 gets messed up and the fact that LFE is unnecessary if bass management is used right (and having LFE won't sound right anyway if BM isn't used right), then what's the point? Make hi-rez 5.0 mixes, eliminate one source of potential errors and have your AVR/Pre-Pro/Disc Player take care of distributing the low end.

Is there a reason not to, to which I am just oblivious?
 

steelydave

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This is both fascinating and depressing... As much as I'd love to hear "Breezin'" and "Harvest" as they should have been, as well as "Pet Sounds" and God knows how many others, I simply don't have the time, equipment, or gumption to fix them all. If - eventually - there were a way for us to hear these, please know that I'm not the only one who would be interested.

Sooo, that's why this DVD-A always sounded flat as a pancake (once served)...thank you so much for the investigation and work!

Have you tried Billy Cobham's "Spectrum"..another one of those that sounds REALLY flat and lifeless...

Funnily enough I did Spectrum right after Breezin' - I'll post my findings in a separate thread. My plan is to work on Pet Sounds after that, and then eventually Led Zep's 'How The West Was Won'. If anyone has any other suggestions for discs (not including Silverline type titles) that sound wonky, please let me know.

Working through this now...

WOW - a 13-14 DB boost is a lot...

Just as a side note - The string intro in track 6 is in full range in the LFE channel...

I meant to mention this in my original post, but the entire LFE channel is full range. It has bass guitar, a mono mix of the drums, and even the bongo drums for some reason in it, and nothing has been low-pass filtered. I'm assuming the string intro got cut and pasted in there by accident somehow after the levels were lowered, as the string intro in the LFE isn't a mono fold down of all the other channels (as you would think it would be if it was actually acting as LFE content for the string section), it's just an exact duplicate of one specific channel, which seems more like an error.

LizardKing, did you have a chance to listen to the album after you made the changes? I'd be interested to know how it sounded to you.
 

sukothai

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But just b/c you leave out the LFE channel doesn't mean you lose your sub. That's what bass management is for. I always used to think that discrete 5.1 sound was best w/ a 5.1 mix, but given how often it seems the .1 gets messed up and the fact that LFE is unnecessary if bass management is used right (and having LFE won't sound right anyway if BM isn't used right), then what's the point? Make hi-rez 5.0 mixes, eliminate one source of potential errors and have your AVR/Pre-Pro/Disc Player take care of distributing the low end.

Is there a reason not to, to which I am just oblivious?

I agree. Drop the LFE and make it a 5.0 disc. As long as there is nothing unique in the LFE, the bass management will create a correct .1 channel automatically from a 5.0 disc.
 

proufo

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Just because it gets mis-used imo does not make a valid argument for not using it at all. The subwoofer is a legitimate piece of the surround setup and should be used.
100% of the music I listen to has no low frequency effects. Maybe some other music does.

The only reason to use the LFE channel for the kind of music I listen to would be, when needed, bass management. And that should be done and adjusted in the playback chain, not in the studio. What sounds well in the studio gear may not sound the same in the particular listening setups.

Do we also say don't use the Center channel because it gets mis-used as well. Gee, guess what, now we are back to Quad.
The LFE thing is tricky. To mention one, SACDs do not require a 10 db boost of the SW channel, while the other two formats do. Or do in some cases and don't in others. There's a full thread elsewhere on the LFE channel. It's tricky even just for movies.
 
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quadtrade

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Back to Quad is just perfect for Music. Use full range speakers. The soundfield does not get screwed up by that out of place center. Perfection.
Just because it gets mis-used imo does not make a valid argument for not using it at all. The subwoofer is a legitimate piece of the surround setup and should be used.

Do we also say don't use the Center channel because it gets mis-used as well. Gee, guess what, now we are back to Quad.
 

LizardKing

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...

LizardKing, did you have a chance to listen to the album after you made the changes? I'd be interested to know how it sounded to you.

Sounds good.... you can hear the bass & drums at lot better - more "balanced" (y)..

I haven't had time for a full listen yet.

Thanks for your efforts. Keen to know if you can improve Spectrum.....
 

proufo

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On the other hand, I think it's Kal that says that it is better to have a single source for all the bass of the multi-channel mix.
 

sukothai

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On the other hand, I think it's Kal that says that it is better to have a single source for all the bass of the multi-channel mix.

What do you mean by "single source"? Kal told me to eliminate the LFE channel when burning discs or creating mc mixes.
 

proufo

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What do you mean by "single source"? Kal told me to eliminate the LFE channel when burning discs or creating mc mixes.
I don't remember the details or I may be wrong, but I believe Kal has said here or elsewhere that a single speaker for all the lower bass is best.
 

sukothai

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I don't remember the details or I may be wrong, but I believe Kal has said here or elsewhere that a single speaker for all the lower bass is best.

Ok, that makes sense. A single SW vs subs in each of the main speakers is probably what he is referring to. This has nothing to do with whether to use an LFE channel or not.
 

proufo

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Ok, that makes sense. A single SW vs subs in each of the main speakers is probably what he is referring to. This has nothing to do with whether to use an LFE channel or not.
Maybe the producers that use the LFE channel for music are following a similar rule: they want all the lower bass to come from a single speaker.

I wouldn't bet on that, though. My guess is that a mix that uses the LFE channel is "cooler".
 
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