When to time-align tracks?

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woodhenge
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Post by woodhenge » Wed Jul 15, 2009 12:03 pm

Actually, the sound of the multi-miked 4x12 scenario has always bugged me.

One of the other engineers at a commercial studio I used to work at would always use 3 close mics and a room mic on a 4x12. (he'd use a 57, a 421, and a U87 up close, with another U87 about 12 feet back.) This guy swore up and down that things were in phase, but all I heard was phase-funkiness. (plus, a U87 on a Marshall isn't really my cup of tea...) At that studio, things were all analog, so I couldn't check out the alignment like I can now on my DAW. It makes me wonder now what I was really hearing!

You've all convinced me to not jack with the tom or overhead mics. Generally, I'm pretty happy with the results I get, but I'm always looking for a way to make things even better. This is clearly not the place to look, based on those comments!

The multi-miked kick, however, is something I'll probably keep nudging. I'd rather nudge it instead of having to add EQ. When I nudge the front head mic in time with the batter mic, it sounds the best to me. Big and full, with tons of bottom. Sure beats triggering!

The miked bass aligned to the DI is a good one, too. Forgot about that...
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Post by woodhenge » Wed Jul 15, 2009 4:45 pm

I've been stewing on this guitar cab miking problem all day and have a couple of other questions:

Is it possible that one of my mic pre's and/or DA converters is doing something weird and throwing things off?

Today, I took both a 57 and a 421 and figured out to the millimeter how far the capsule is offset inside the body of the mics. I miked up my favorite greenback 4x12 and was really precise in measuring the distances from the speaker cone. (I miked the same speaker this time, too.) They should be precisely in phase at that point, right?

Well, after a test recording, the 421 was a hair ahead of the 57. So, I swapped the inputs and I was amazed to find the 57 was a hair ahead of the 421! (both were audibly phasey,too.) The cables are the same make and length, both running into my Saffire 56 interface channels 3+4. Anybody heard of this type of thing happening? Mega-weird...

I feel like I'm chasing a ghost here!
Last edited by woodhenge on Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Jitters
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Post by Jitters » Wed Jul 15, 2009 11:01 pm

I think with the time aligning, short of fixing actual problems, you're really just playing with texture vs. focus. It sounds to me like you may prefer the latter to the former. I would just suggest that you make sure that you're doing it because of how it sounds to you, and not because of how it looks on the screen.

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Post by mjtrain3 » Wed Jul 15, 2009 11:54 pm

When you are recording a source with multiple mics at multiple distances, you are creating an unnatural phase relationship. Recording this way inherently causes phase problems. So don't tell me that it is not proper to align your tracks. Just because we didn't have the technology previously, doesn't mean it was correct. For example, when you are playing drums, you are not hearing the snare drum coming from multiple tracks at different times - so obviously playing back the audio this way isn't correct. I'm not saying that nudging in pro tools is going to solve all your problems, because it won't. I'm just making the point that regardless of how amazing you may mic your drums, there will be unnatural phase relationships. Better micing techniques can minimize these problems, but if mics are at different distances from the source, unnatural phasing is unavoidable. So basically, in my opinion, neither way is perfect, and I don't think that there is one "right" way. It all depends on how it sounds, as is everything in audio. So use your ears, and make it work.

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Post by chris harris » Thu Jul 16, 2009 5:56 am

mjtrain3 wrote:When you are recording a source with multiple mics at multiple distances, you are creating an unnatural phase relationship. Recording this way inherently causes phase problems. So don't tell me that it is not proper to align your tracks. Just because we didn't have the technology previously, doesn't mean it was correct. For example, when you are playing drums, you are not hearing the snare drum coming from multiple tracks at different times - so obviously playing back the audio this way isn't correct. I'm not saying that nudging in pro tools is going to solve all your problems, because it won't. I'm just making the point that regardless of how amazing you may mic your drums, there will be unnatural phase relationships. Better micing techniques can minimize these problems, but if mics are at different distances from the source, unnatural phasing is unavoidable. So basically, in my opinion, neither way is perfect, and I don't think that there is one "right" way. It all depends on how it sounds, as is everything in audio. So use your ears, and make it work.
"nudging" doesn't exactly "fix" these "unnatural phase relationships". It just shifts the problem to different frequencies. Any time you use more than one mic on a source, regardless of whether or not you line it up with your eyes, you're going to have phase issues.

It IS NOT proper to align your tracks. It's a technique that can be useful for a certain sound. But, if you think that dragging tracks around is going to somehow "correct" "unnatural phase releationships", then you don't really understand the phase relationships. While nudging tracks CAN minimize phase cancellation at some frequencies, it will no doubt CAUSE phase cancellation at others. And, you just simply CANNOT EVER LINE UP EVERY SINGLE MIC ON A DRUM KIT. If you nudge a track so that it lines up with the close kick mic, chances are it will not line up with the close floor tom mic.

Nudging room mics to line up with close mics, can make for an interesting sound. It isn't an accurate or realistic sound at all. In fact, it sounds TOTALLY UNNATURAL. But, sometimes it can be a useful effect.

Time aligning by rote, using your eyes, is a crutch for people who haven't taken the time to properly understand phase relationships. It's most certainly not some revolutionary new technique. It's a way for people who don't have good ears, to visually convince themselves that they're correcting a "problem" that they don't even understand.

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Post by woodhenge » Thu Jul 16, 2009 7:23 am

I guess I'm on the right track then, based on subatomic pieces's post. I only align things if they sound funky to me, or to enhance things (like the kick drum thing). I don't just generally look at the waveform and align everything just for the sake of doing it.

I've tried aligning room mics for the fun of it, but it's not a good sounding thing. I don't see the point in this actually, as the time relationship of a room mic is completely lost if you nudge it forward.
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Post by r0t4ry » Thu Jul 16, 2009 7:39 am

subatomic pieces wrote:
mjtrain3 wrote:When you are recording a source with multiple mics at multiple distances, you are creating an unnatural phase relationship. Recording this way inherently causes phase problems. So don't tell me that it is not proper to align your tracks. Just because we didn't have the technology previously, doesn't mean it was correct. ......
"nudging" doesn't exactly "fix" these "unnatural phase relationships". It just shifts the problem to different frequencies. Any time you use more than one mic on a source, regardless of whether or not you line it up with your eyes, you're going to have phase issues.......
You just spouted exactly what the guy you quoted said and acted like he was wrong. Bahahaaa

TIME aligning, is doing just that aligning the mic in TIME, this does alter the phase relationship between mics, but as has been said... theres no way to get around that, the mics will always be out of phase at some frequencies. Try both ways, if it sounds good leave it. Sometimes i time align the drums then use a phase shifter like PhaseBug to see if i can get a better tone. I would never recommend time aligning a room mic though.

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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Thu Jul 16, 2009 9:21 am

mjtrain3 wrote: So don't tell me that it is not proper to align your tracks.
it is not proper to align your tracks.

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Post by mjtrain3 » Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:35 am

Did you read the rest of what I said? Or just stop there? I made the point that both have problems, and no one should be telling anyone that either is right or wrong.

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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:42 am

dude i'm just pushing your buttons.

but i do think it's wrong to say there are "problems" inherent with the normal micing of a drumkit.

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Post by ashcat_lt » Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:44 am

Assuming that the phase "problems" are in fact caused by a difference in time between when the signal from one source hits one mic and when it hits one or more other mics, nudging the tracks to where they are perfectly lined up in time will correct the phase issues, period. All frequencies should be in perfect alignment.

Problems come when there are mulitple sources. As said, a drum kit is usually a number of mics at varying distances from a number of sources. It is correct that nudging, for example, a tom mic to be in time with the kick will likely cause it to be out with some of the other mics.

I'd also like to mention that while nudging as we know it today (on the DAW screen) is a relatively new phenomenon, people have been doing this for years by way of short delays. Those folks didn't have the benefit of seeing what they were doing, and pretty much had to twist the delay time knob while listening.

And, as for "proper": If it sounds good, it is good. It is a good idea to learn about proper mic placement, and to try to get the best sound possible at the source, but don't ever let anybody tell you that you're not cool if you nudge things around. Just don't tell them about it. Nod and have a private laugh when these snobby pricks are raving about how great your drums (or guitars, whatever) sound.

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Post by mjtrain3 » Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:46 am

subatomic pieces wrote:
mjtrain3 wrote: Nudging room mics to line up with close mics, can make for an interesting sound. It isn't an accurate or realistic sound at all. In fact, it sounds TOTALLY UNNATURAL. But, sometimes it can be a useful effect.
And by the way, neither is accurate, realistic, or natural. Humans only have 2 ears, and are used to hearing phase discrepancies of less than a ms (the time it takes sound to travel between our 2 ears) to determine directional information. We cannot, and will not ever naturally hear direct sounds from multiple distances (i.e.close mics and overheads) "naturally"

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Post by mjtrain3 » Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:48 am

ashcat_lt wrote: And, as for "proper": If it sounds good, it is good. It is a good idea to learn about proper mic placement, and to try to get the best sound possible at the source, but don't ever let anybody tell you that you're not cool if you nudge things around. Just don't tell them about it. Nod and have a private laugh when these snobby pricks are raving about how great your drums (or guitars, whatever) sound.
Well said.

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Post by woodhenge » Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:51 am

ashcat_lt wrote:And, as for "proper": If it sounds good, it is good. It is a good idea to learn about proper mic placement, and to try to get the best sound possible at the source, but don't ever let anybody tell you that you're not cool if you nudge things around. Just don't tell them about it. Nod and have a private laugh when these snobby pricks are raving about how great your drums (or guitars, whatever) sound.
Dude, you just made my day! :D
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Post by vxboogie » Thu Jul 16, 2009 1:17 pm

ashcat_lt wrote:Assuming that the phase "problems" are in fact caused by a difference in time between when the signal from one source hits one mic and when it hits one or more other mics, nudging the tracks to where they are perfectly lined up in time will correct the phase issues, period. All frequencies should be in perfect alignment.
It might if in an anechoic chamber, but a mic closer to the source will sound different due to dispersion and reflections in the room and be higher in amplitude due to being closer as well.
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