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Author Topic: Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?  (Read 880 times)

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Offline if_then_else

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Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?
« on: August 24, 2018, 08:39:45 AM »
Something completely different: How would you select (respectively set up) your mics (omnis/sub-cards/cards/hypers) in order to catch as much natural / "organic" amp distortion as possible?

Assumptions:
* Open taping situation. Both the band and the local promoters are cool with it.
* Setup: 2x mixpre-6's and/or 1x Audioroot Femto -> Sony PCM-M10
* Mics: MBHO-KA300NB, MBHO-KA500HN, Sennheiser MKH-8020, LineAudio CM3 or OM1
* The band plays insanely loud (>= Dinosaur Jr or Swans). The vocals mostly get drowned out by the wall of sound piled up by the guitars and drums.
* Small to medium sized venue
* Style: Heavily distorted sludge / noise rock
* I've taped them a couple of times before - but those recordings (SBD + AUD from FOB) used to come out a bit too "tame" for their liking. (Although, apparently, my latest recording of their support act / friends got a limited vinyl release earlier this year.)

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Re: Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?
« Reply #1 on: August 24, 2018, 09:15:55 AM »
Seems to me that what you are looking for is more impact and punch in the recording.  Easiest way to get that is proximity to the stage.  I'd try omnis or sub-cards at the stagelip or on-stage rather than out in the audience + SBD.  Get your mics up close where they are picking up the amps and drums on stage where that sound is most impactful and where they are not picking up as much of the PA.  Let the SBD feed provide the PA sound component.  Then mix the two to suit.

If you want a touch of thicker distortion, phatter bottom than what that provides, you could try a preamp with transformer inputs and drive it hard instead of the clean preamps in the mixpre and Femto. Or use some sort of saturation plugin afterwards to provide that additional flavor.
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Offline DSatz

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Re: Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?
« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2018, 08:59:31 PM »
Some effects make sense to use on a mix as a whole, while others make more sense to use on the feed from one or more particular sources before everything gets mixed together. Saturation distortion is usually in the latter category. When the bass is "going at it" at a given moment, you don't want to add extra distortion to the drums and the singer directly in response to the bass, or vice versa. It would just sound weird and wrong, like having a broken recorder.

Plus, to get good-sounding distortion from an audio transformer, you have to hit it with just the right amount of signal for the particular blend of frequencies that you have at that moment. Too low a level (especially in the bass) and nothing fun happens at all; too high a level at any frequency (by even a few dB) and the transformer's core will saturate. Then the whole signal will lose definition and seem to be buried in a "noise version of itself" for the duration of the overload.

But the incoming signals are varying in level and spectral content in real time, which makes the task of accurate level setting very difficult. I wouldn't recommend trying to do it during a live recording; you can't monitor closely enough or adjust quickly enough to stay "in the pocket" at all times. And even if you could, the adjustments would reduce the program dynamics to the narrow window in which the transformer is doing what you want, and not doing what you don't want.

It's just way too restrictive an approach, I think. Other kinds of distortion-causing devices or circuits are much more pliable--some are built around tubes, while some use diodes or other semiconductor junctions in clever ways.
  • Side note: An interesting thing is going on these days at Neumann, where their solid-state TLM 67 (which contains tube emulation circuitry) and a limited edition reissue of their classic vacuum-tube U 67 are both for sale at the same time. The capsule heads of both microphones are absolutely one and the same. But the genuine tube model costs $7,000 while the transformerless, solid-state model costs $1,800. And the thing is, you can't hear any tube distortion from the tube microphone in normal use; you'd have to really scream in order to hear it. Good circuit design is good circuit design; back in the vacuum-tube era, a condenser microphone WAS a tube microphone because nothing else had been invented yet. The good ones had the clear, transparent sound quality that you would expect from professional microphones--no artificial "tube warmth" and certainly not "toob" distortion.
IIRC some distortion devices from decades ago used to wrap the distortion-causing circuitry in a 2:1:2 analog compander. That way, level setting was less critical. But even those circuits were really meant for one instrument or voice at a time--not something to hang on the mix bus.

--best regards
« Last Edit: August 25, 2018, 12:33:03 PM by DSatz »
music > microphones > a recorder of some sort

Offline if_then_else

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Re: Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?
« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2018, 07:49:15 AM »
Thanks for your suggestions.

I'll have to check with the local organizer or venue manager first, if there are any practical limitations or if some set-up options are more practical than others. Also about the number of direct outs or AUX outs available.
In fact, I already have the Fabfilter Saturn VST plugin, so post-processing the recording to taste shouldn't be too difficult (as long as the source material is good).

One more question: How far would you space the omnis apart?
I haven't taped at this specific venue yet but, going by some pics I've seen on the internet, the stage is rather narrow (but deep).

BTW: in-studio performance (I understand that it's more difficult to capture the "impact and punch" in a real live setting).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBRU4AOEF68

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Re: Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?
« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2018, 09:39:01 AM »
That's a thick sound.  Lots of compression and EQ in the studio recording.

I'd place them along the stage lip in a way that is most practical given the stage setup, with a clear line of sight to the amps and instruments on either side of the stage, preferably so that both have a good line of sight to the drum kit, and the right mic (stage left) is pointed at the snare drum.  Shoot for 3' apart. If you've got SBD feed you'll be mixing with your mics, you won't have any problem with the omnis being spaced too far apart, and in that case wider is fine. 

EQ in post will do a lot to shape such a saturated sound so as to push it towards what you want.
« Last Edit: August 27, 2018, 11:01:52 AM by Gutbucket »
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Re: Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?
« Reply #5 on: August 27, 2018, 09:42:35 AM »
This is interesting to hear about, thanks for the inside view!

    • Side note: An interesting thing is going on these days at Neumann, where their solid-state TLM 67 (which contains tube emulation circuitry) and a limited edition reissue of their classic vacuum-tube U 67 are both for sale at the same time. The capsule heads of both microphones are absolutely one and the same. But the genuine tube model costs $7,000 while the transformerless, solid-state model costs $1,800. And the thing is, you can't hear any tube distortion from the tube microphone in normal use; you'd have to really scream in order to hear it. Good circuit design is good circuit design; back in the vacuum-tube era, a condenser microphone WAS a tube microphone because nothing else had been invented yet. The good ones had the clear, transparent sound quality that you would expect from professional microphones--no artificial "tube warmth" and certainly not "toob" distortion.
IIRC some distortion devices from decades ago used to wrap the distortion-causing circuitry in a 2:1:2 analog compander. That way, level setting was less critical. But even those circuits were really meant for one instrument or voice at a time--not something to hang on the mix bus.
musical volition > vibrations > voltages > numeric values > voltages > vibrations> virtual teleportation time-machine experience
Better recording made easy - >>Improved PAS table<< | Made excellent- >>click here to download the Oddball Microphone Technique illustrated PDF booklet<<

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Re: Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?
« Reply #6 on: August 27, 2018, 10:56:15 AM »
I'll further that by saying that what is commonly known as tube "distortion" is, in fact, normally a combination of sag (overloading the power chain) and tube saturation. Another part of the equation can be banging the living fuck out of the drivers.

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Offline pohaku

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Re: Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?
« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2018, 12:10:18 PM »
Sounds like what you want is a direct recording of the amps to mix into your recording.  I assume that they are miced and run through the PA system.  See if you can get a separate feed of the amps from the board as well as the two mix.  Mix to taste.
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Re: Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?
« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2018, 01:57:47 PM »
If they're loud on stage there may be next to no guitars in the mix depending on the venue.
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Offline if_then_else

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Re: Recording "natural" tube / amp distortion (on purpose)?
« Reply #9 on: August 27, 2018, 03:42:07 PM »
If they're loud on stage there may be next to no guitars in the mix depending on the venue.

I got the go-ahead from one of the two local promoters involved.
He also gave me the mail address of the venue's FOH engineer.
So, hopefully, I will be able to sort out the technical aspects before the show.

FWIW: Last time I had to use some -30dB pads between my
mics and the mic-ins of my mixpre-d in order not to overload
them. Just to give you an idea about the SPL...

 

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