I would like to discuss about “low end” design in your song projects using Renoise. This is a topic that drives me to insanitylately, completely.
Some days ago I watched some pensado episode on youtube where he said one good sentence: If you don’t know how to do it, make it fast, leave it and come back later if you know more… Ok, I already left it and came back a bunch of times without satisfying me very much
If I listen to commonestablished composers that use Renoise and sell their music, even there I would say these people often have either too much bass or a thin bass in their production. And if you compare this e.g. to Logic or Fruity Loops users, those mixes will much more often sound fat and right in the bass. Especially Fruity loops seems to have some very, very good built-in filters and compressors for that purpose. Maybe it’s just me, but almost all fruity loops productions seem to have a tight bass to me.
Some important rules for the bass low end I experienced over the last time:
1. If you want your song to sound good on all sound systems, including car sound, desktop speakers, normal/small size hifi speakers and even headphones, you simply cannot use a bass that has most energy below 60Hz! It will always sound bad on these audio systems. For example I lately made an ambient track where some people told me it sounds “so perfect”, but that only on my audio system (where I added a subwoofer lately). Later I listened to the song on a fellows’ audio system and could not believe me ears: It sounds like crap there! So I edited already lots of songs to sound good everywhere (and still failed).
A bass should range around 60-120Hz and can have also minor harmonics below 60hz to sound large on big speakers. But not too much! If your bass has most energy on 40-50 Hz, it won’t sound good on most common audio systems. So you need a combination of eq-ing, (multi-)band compression or limitation for the bass. Often you can add some minor distortion to make it more audible in the mix. You need to high pass nearly all instruments that are not meant to be played in the bass area.
The punch of a kick should range around 60-100Hz, and a snare punch around 100-200Hz. This high, yes. Ok, that’s only my two cents. If you use a zap-like kick as in genres like psytrance, making your kick good isn’t so hard, since it uses so much bandwidth and kind of cuts into the bands. But on more tone stable kicks, it’s much more difficult. So if all bass sounds compete in 60-100 hz, of course you need to use a side chain / signal follower to limit the bass summation (only for that frequency area using a side chained eq).
So how about doing this topic in Renoise? Well, if you ask me, Renoise currently lacks of three things here:
A) The frequency analyzer is kind of unprecise in the low end.
Comparing it e.g. to fabfilter’s eq analyzers, you will see there a huge bass area which very very precisely shows you the curve of the fall-offs of high pass filters etc. The Renoise analyzer is more much huge but seems to be not so precise on the left.
EDIT : I have to admit that I just wrote rubbish… I now really compared Fabfilter’s analyzer to Renoise’s: Renoise’s one is actually more precise than Fabfilter’s. I think what I do miss is some zooming function in the analyzer, in X- and Y-axis. So the 16384 FFT bands could be used only for some selected bass area or the amplitude could be expanded… ! Zooming by selecting an area with the mouse! That would be a dream!
B ) I love to use filters instead of eqs. The renoise filter is imo quite good for some purposes. This “24db” filter is cool for limiting a bandwidth of an instrument in the mix, since it slightly raises the frequency before it cutoffs, even at 0 resonance and if it’s not visible in the graph. So mostly your instrument will sound as brillant or bassy, only with using less headroom. But what’s missing here for me are precise 6db/12db/36db/48db filters with resonance control just as in the logic build in eq. And on these new filters, 24db really should be 24db, no resonance should lead into a clean falloff etc.
**C)**The signal follower is a bit imprecise in a bunch of things: The first are the attack and release values. Especially small values are a pain to setup, since one pixel movement is about 40ms time (of course I know the shortcut for small steps)! A compressor’s attack normally ranges about 0-100ms, so what the heck? Also the sensitivity control is quite difficult to setup right for a side chain (at least for me) and maybe could conceptually improved. And better visualized!
2. Human ear cannot detect the direction of bass. The source of direction of everything below maybe 200Hz isn’t detectable at all. That’s why always make the low end of your basses mono! Then you can even use a chorus on the bass and since it is mono on bass afterwards, it usually will sound stable then - well, only on stereo. I commonly now use the freeware A1StereoControl for that (it’s “safe-bass” control is just awesome).
This leads me into some more restrictions in Renoise regarding mono/stereo bass:
A) A “safe bass” / mono bass control isn’t available at all neither in the stereo enhancer nor in any other fx.
**B )**A lot of fx in Renoise, especially the chorus and stereo enhancer are not mono stable in some situations. The stereo enhancer simply amplifies the sides, but gives no control to compensate this gain increase in stereo to sound the same loud in mono. If you split your bass using the multi band send to bass and high bands, making the bass then mono using the stereo enhancer, you will often result in phase problems in mono. I have seen a lot of choruses, enhancers lately where you do not have these problems. But I would like to use renoise internal fx. Kind of hate to work in a external plugin gui… The L-R eq mode is another good approach to split up bands into the stereo panning, but it’s so imprecise, the gui, the slider steps and all in the eq for that purpose! In Logic, Waves etc, I can split it into 20 different locations since they use some “sine” wave to split off the bands. That precision in control in not possible in Renoise L-R eq mode.
C) sometimes a bass or a high area seems to become mono unstable just because of the usage e.g. of the multi band send, a send channel or an eq. Maybe I am wrong here and have only minor knowledge in this area, but also the filters and eq need some attention to be phase/latency stable while designed. If they introduce some latency, it should be compensated.
So what’s your experience using Renoise for low end design? Would you like to share your thoughts about this topic? Thanks for taking part.