Helpful ReplyEmulating Mic Preamps in the digital world

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stm113cw
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2018/04/13 18:04:10 (permalink)

Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world

As the subject says. I am gettIng more serious about my recordings and I’ve been wondering about this lately. I am running a Scarlett 18i8 and it works reasonably well, though I notice high end information seems to not make it to my tracks. I’ve been thinking lately about trying to mimic the benefits of using a hardware mic pre on the way in when recording (especially) vocal tracks.

I saw a video from Graham at Recording Revolution where he was talking about tracking with plugs but what he basically did was apply 1 level of dynamics control and some slight Eq moves, then printed the track, which I guess is almost the same, or can yield the same effect right?

Do any of you guys try to emulate such things? Another benefit I see is that I’ll use less instances of plugins in my mix which I know my PC will appreciate. My thoughts were to try to really emulate a more classic recording flow I would add what ever plugins to simulate a mic pre, eq slight dynamics, maybe the tape from prochannel then print. When I import that track I’d probably throw a SSL channel strip on the vocal bus, another comp, de-esser, delay and then an Aux reverb channel. Does this sound right to y’all? Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Also what plugins do you like to use for hear kinds of things?

Thank you all!
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gswitz
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/13 19:19:45 (permalink) ☄ Helpfulby tlw 2018/04/14 02:07:07
Emulation of preamps doesn't really work, imho. Short of things like the liquid pres.

Neither does Mic emulation. The real thing is the real thing.

StudioCat > I use Windows 10 and Sonar Platinum. I have a touch screen.
I make some videos. This one shows how to do a physical loopback on the RME UCX to get many more equalizer nodes.
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bitman
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/13 19:25:36 (permalink)
Black Rooster Audio VPre-73 VST is one.
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jackson white
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/13 19:47:07 (permalink)
your comment on printing eq/comp moves on the way in sounds exactly like what engineers used to do, which is spend time (and skill) on getting the desired sound before recording it. still think it's a good idea. 
 
UAD is marketing an entire product category for this. 
https://www.uaudio.com/uad-plugins/unison.html
 
which could be interesting and useful in the hands of an experienced engineer. however, i'm currently trying to salvage a mix done with these plugs by a client who has more money than experience. every track with a unison plug-in has been completely over-cooked and sounds awful. 

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BenMMusTech
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/14 17:25:04 (permalink)
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=exItqtzax5o

The above link was created using nothing but emulations, and in particular Abbey Road via Wave's plugs. Whilst I agree with one of the above posts - that you can't emulate microphones...everything else is possible. But you need to emulate the signal flow exactly as the rock avant-gardes did - but remembering there were quite a few signal flows within the rock avant garde paradigm. Think again Abbey Road versus Olympic or Trident studios. And you have to understand advanced digital audio theory 64bitfp versus the rest.

Ben

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Lanceindastudio
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/14 20:44:22 (permalink)
This one does mics and preamps.
It looks interesting because they use a controlled environment using a very "flat/neutral" microphone as the source for their emulations.
 
http://slatedigital.com/virtual-microphone-system/
 

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Jeff Evans
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/14 22:29:03 (permalink)
gswitz
Emulation of preamps doesn't really work, imho. Short of things like the liquid pres.



 
That is tired and old view. Things are getting way better now. I have the Waves Scheps 73 and also Omni Channel. Both of these are outstanding. Studio One allows you to insert these things on the input signals before they even reach the track for recording. They can sound excellent. 

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gswitz
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/15 02:31:58 (permalink)
Jeff Evans
gswitz
Emulation of preamps doesn't really work, imho. Short of things like the liquid pres.



 
That is tired and old view. Things are getting way better now. I have the Waves Scheps 73 and also Omni Channel. Both of these are outstanding. Studio One allows you to insert these things on the input signals before they even reach the track for recording. They can sound excellent. 


 
I'm not saying that the FX don't sound cool. I'm saying they don't really sound like what they're emulating. For years I thought they did. I faithfully used Amp Sims sure that it got me the same thing for fraction of the cost. Slowly over the years, I bought some of these mics. I have some nice preamps. I decided one day to record a short segment on my guitar and try to see if the royer ribbon R-121 I own sounds like the Royer in TH3. 
 
There were things I found... Like my Royer Ribbon sounds almost exactly like my MXL Ribbon which cost half as much. That doesn't mean the Royer isn't more durable or otherwise cool. It just means that the type of mic had a lot to do with the awesome sound. The expensive version might be easier to replace the ribbon. Things like that. Idk. I'm not saying the R-121 isn't worth the money, in other words. I'm saying that it might not be what everyone needs.
 
And I'm definitely saying that the Amps, Mics, and Preamps make a real difference.
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3GKLkHxGqI
 
I might not be that great at matching using TH3, but the differences here are obvious. One next to the other they really don't sound alike.
 
This was a precursor video where I just compared an SM57 with a Ribbon.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s67PQ8ZoBKk
 
When I got my first Ribbon I suddenly realized how awesome the sound was. I also realized that I was hearing something new that wasn't coming from the amp sims.

StudioCat > I use Windows 10 and Sonar Platinum. I have a touch screen.
I make some videos. This one shows how to do a physical loopback on the RME UCX to get many more equalizer nodes.
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Jeff Evans
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/15 03:51:25 (permalink)
You are off topic a bit. The OP was about emulating Mic Pres nothing more from what i can see. You are into guitars, amps and speakers now and yes I tend to agree with you on that front for sure. They still seem to sound very good although I think they have made some quantum leaps in the guitar amp simulations area.
 
But as I have said many time though if you can play as well as Frank Gambale for example it doesn't matter squat. People like that are going to make your drop no matter what they use. Talent and skill overrides everything. 
 
 

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TotteG
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/15 11:05:05 (permalink)
Jeff Evans
gswitz
Emulation of preamps doesn't really work, imho. Short of things like the liquid pres.



 
That is tired and old view. Things are getting way better now. I have the Waves Scheps 73 and also Omni Channel. Both of these are outstanding. Studio One allows you to insert these things on the input signals before they even reach the track for recording. They can sound excellent. 


Yeah the Waves ones are great.

I also like Lindell Audio’s emulation of their own hardwares preamp EQ’s, you can find a limited CM version of the preamp with Computer Music Magazine

Regards, Thomas
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wst3
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/15 13:30:52 (permalink)
I have tried many (most?) of the microphone preamplifier emulations. There are some that sound really cool, but I'm not ready to say they replace a great microphone preamplifier... yet.

Of the bunch I'd put the UAD Unison preamplifiers at the top of the list, not by a huge margin, but they appear to be doing something with Unison that a standard plugin can't do (yet). Next in line would be some of the Waves emulations, but if you listen side by side I think you'll find that the UAD plugins seem to react more like a microphone preamplifier. It is difficult to describe in words, and frankly, difficult to even demonstrate once you leave the room.

And even within the UAD collection they vary. One of my favorite signal chains right now is a Millennia Media HV-37 into the A/D section of an Audient ASP-880 into the DAW via LightPipe - yup, bypassing all the magic in the UAD Apollo Twin. Makes no sense, and yet I like the sound. Sometimes.

Sometimes it works better to just go straight into the Apollo Twin and use a Unison plugin.

What hasn't worked, yet, is the HV-37 into the line level input on the Apollo Twin. Can't explain it, but I just haven't been able to get that combination to work for me. Perhaps it is that the Apollo Twin doesn't see the microphone (or vica-versa)? I don't know.

And, if you have some spare change buried in the back yard I can't praise the Townsend Labs L-22 highly enough. We're still not replacing classic microphones completely, but many of the models sound really good, and I'd even go so far as to suggest they are very close emulations. (this is made difficult by the fact that the classics they are emulating are 30-40 years old, and no two sound the same anyway!)

All of which is straying, a little, from the original question (I do that sometimes.)
 
The "classic" recording workflow was the result of limitations. In the 1970s we had 8, maybe 16 tracks if we were lucky. We had a handful of outboard effects and processors, although we probably had a good EQ for each channel.

Everything (and I mean everything) had to be planned from the start. Which ain't easy, and it does limit one's options. For example, if I were recording a typical 4 or 5 piece band my track layout might look like:
1) Bass and Kick
2) drums mix Left
3) drums mix right
4) rhythm guitar
5) lead guitar
6) keys and background vox L
7) keys and background vox R
8) lead vox
 
Lead vox lands on an outside track so bleed only comes from bg vox.
Bass and kick land on an outside track so that they don't bleed all over the place.
If I was going to lock to time code I'd have to give up one of the outside tracks!
 
Typically we'd record the rhythm section with as many microphones - and channels - as we owned. A fairly standard starting point might look like this (channel assignments, not tracks):
1) kick
2) snare/hat
3) drum OH left
4) drum OH right
5) rhythm guitar
6) keys L
7) keys R
 
That's a handful, and we'd mix that down to the track list above - no bounces yet, but I'v'e tied up 5 tracks already! Time to start thinking!!
 
Next up would probably be  the lead vocal to track 8, and the background vox to tracks six and seven, bounding the keyboard mix into those tracks at the same time! That could be fun!

(If I was willing to give up on some stereo information I could mix both keys and bg vox to individual mono tracks, which made life a lot easier!)
 
Another approach would  be to mix the drums, keys, and bg vox down to a single stereo pair. I tried to avoid that because some mix decisions were made significantly more difficult that way.

Yet another trick was to use the same tape track for the lead vocal and guitar solos, since they seldom played at the same time.

From there it just came down to tracking and bouncing until you had the material you needed for the mix.

If that looks frustrating, well, it could be. But there was an element of fun to it too. AND, there was a collaboration between the band and the studio, everyone had to be part of these decisions or life could get really ugly!
 
The other part of the puzzle was microphone selection and placement. You could do a lot about the sound of a track by selecting the "right" microphone and placing it just so. You could get the effect of some compression, and quite a bit of EQ based solely on how close, and at what angle you place the microphone.

How does that  benefit us today?

In my (less than humble) opinion it really isn't a hardware question so much as a philosophical one. I have no desire whatsoever to give up  my (for all purposes) unlimited track count, nor nearly unlimited processors and effects. My decisions can now wait till mix time, which is a luxury!

Somehow I can't help but think that thinking things through - at least a little bit - still helps, especially if you are collaborating with a band, but even if you are working alone.

I still map out my tracks - although I may have five or six microphones going to five or six tracks for a single acoustic guitar (how embarrassing!) And I try to hear the finished product before I ever hit record.

Seems to me that even if that's all you ever do it can have a profound impact on the finished product. What Graham was describing - I think - is simply destructive editing in place of non-destructive editing. Apply the compression and EQ on the way in and then you never have to think about it again, which is big, but more to the point,  you've already thought that part through, and it will have an impact on every subsequent step.

Guess I should have placed that paragraph first?

-- Bill
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#11
gswitz
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/15 16:38:53 (permalink)
The question of whether applying eq and compression to a track can accurately replicate a particular preamp... I wouldn't want that job.

That said you can definitely bring out the best of your track with those things.

While I tend to keep all tracks (non destructive), i do often record versions of the tracks with eq, compression and de-essing on the first pass. This just gets me closer to a final version faster.

I recognize that my videos weren't about preamps. I have heard great preamps and I doubt that magic could be added after the fact. That doesn't mean you can't do great things to make a track sound awesome.

StudioCat > I use Windows 10 and Sonar Platinum. I have a touch screen.
I make some videos. This one shows how to do a physical loopback on the RME UCX to get many more equalizer nodes.
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wst3
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/15 17:56:24 (permalink)
It dawns on me (slowly some days!) that perhaps a better way to frame the question might focus more on emulating the techniques we used 40 years ago to work around the limits that were imposed by 8 track tape machines and really expensive (we thought) outboard gear.

It isn't, and probably never should be, about emulating a specific piece of hardware. It should be about getting a sound that fits the application, what you hear in your head. Sometimes, I suppose, that does mean emulating specific hardware. As an example, when I was coming up the dBX 160 was ubiquitous, many studios had a couple of them, maybe even more. They also had LA-2s, LA-3s, or LA-4s, and 1176s. They had Symetrix CL-100s, and Ashly (can't even remember the model!). Doubtful they had 8 compressors, but that was kind of the line up. And they all sound different!
 
And for reasons that defy rational thought, there are times when the sound of a dBX 160 is exactly what I want. So I will use an emulation (I happen to love the UAD plugin).

But more often it is about fitting a track into a mix, and an emulation is not the only way to make that happen, sometimes it isn't even the best way.

For now I think I need to think more about old approaches, not old gear.

And for the record, I'm not insane. When I do pre-process or destructively process an input I also record an unprocessed track, just in case!

-- Bill
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BenMMusTech
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/15 23:15:08 (permalink)
wst3
It dawns on me (slowly some days!) that perhaps a better way to frame the question might focus more on emulating the techniques we used 40 years ago to work around the limits that were imposed by 8 track tape machines and really expensive (we thought) outboard gear.

It isn't, and probably never should be, about emulating a specific piece of hardware. It should be about getting a sound that fits the application, what you hear in your head. Sometimes, I suppose, that does mean emulating specific hardware. As an example, when I was coming up the dBX 160 was ubiquitous, many studios had a couple of them, maybe even more. They also had LA-2s, LA-3s, or LA-4s, and 1176s. They had Symetrix CL-100s, and Ashly (can't even remember the model!). Doubtful they had 8 compressors, but that was kind of the line up. And they all sound different!
 
And for reasons that defy rational thought, there are times when the sound of a dBX 160 is exactly what I want. So I will use an emulation (I happen to love the UAD plugin).

But more often it is about fitting a track into a mix, and an emulation is not the only way to make that happen, sometimes it isn't even the best way.

For now I think I need to think more about old approaches, not old gear.

And for the record, I'm not insane. When I do pre-process or destructively process an input I also record an unprocessed track, just in case!


This...to make analouge emulation to work, you need to replicate the original signal flow that was used on classic albums...otherwise it won't work. It won't work as well either if you don't use 64bitfp also, because errors. Think about it, a Beatle recording could contain a tube mic, 2nd harmonic distortion, which would capture a vox amo for example...early Beatle vox amps were tube but later Vox amps were transistor. This was then fed into a a Redd tube desk pre 69 and a transistor desk after 69. Listen to Revolver and Then Abbey Road and you should be able to hear a massive difference. This is key in understanding how to use analouge emulation plugs l.

Again, I agree about mic emulation software...this is the thin edge of the wedge, but on saying that...these tools are just sonic shading tools. Where people are getting confused is between 1966 and 1976...music drifted towards sonic painting and sculpture...you wern't capturing a performance - you were painting a sonic picture.

Guitar amp sims do work...the key again is understanding how guitars were recorded by the greats. For example, just because you have a fender and a hiwatt amp won't turn you into Dave Gilmour...you need a tone of compression and the rock avant garde signal flow to create that tone.

Lesson over. I've spent 20 years on this topic, and I've done one research degree and am hopefully about to start another with this topic a part of this research.

Ben:)

Benjamin Phillips-Bachelor of Creative Technology (Sound and Audio Production), (Hons) Sonic Arts, MMusTech (Master of Music Technology), M.Phil (Fine Art)
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gswitz
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/16 00:07:22 (permalink)
Cool, Ben. I guess since TH3 let you pick amps, cabs and mics, I thought I could maybe test to see whether it really sounded similar to similar components using the same input.
 
There were problems with how I did it, I'll grant. For example, I recorded a bit and then played it back through the amp without doing impedence matching first. In other words, I was sending directly from my RME UCX to the amp, not from the guitar.
 
To me, the difference in sound between and SM57 and and a Royer R-121 was strikingly obvious.
 
To exclude all else, in TH3, I should be able to switch from a Royer R-121 to SM57 and get some similarly distinct tonal difference. With TH3, the difference is no where near the difference when I use my mics on my amp.
 
I definitely use TH3 all the time b/c I live in a small house with my wife and daughter and I can practice nearly silently. I'm not saying it isn't great. I'm just saying it isn't close imho.

StudioCat > I use Windows 10 and Sonar Platinum. I have a touch screen.
I make some videos. This one shows how to do a physical loopback on the RME UCX to get many more equalizer nodes.
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BenMMusTech
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/16 05:02:02 (permalink)
gswitz
Cool, Ben. I guess since TH3 let you pick amps, cabs and mics, I thought I could maybe test to see whether it really sounded similar to similar components using the same input.
 
There were problems with how I did it, I'll grant. For example, I recorded a bit and then played it back through the amp without doing impedence matching first. In other words, I was sending directly from my RME UCX to the amp, not from the guitar.
 
To me, the difference in sound between and SM57 and and a Royer R-121 was strikingly obvious.
 
To exclude all else, in TH3, I should be able to switch from a Royer R-121 to SM57 and get some similarly distinct tonal difference. With TH3, the difference is no where near the difference when I use my mics on my amp.
 
I definitely use TH3 all the time b/c I live in a small house with my wife and daughter and I can practice nearly silently. I'm not saying it isn't great. I'm just saying it isn't close imho.


See I don't use TH3...I opened it once and I thought the interface looked like a dogs breakfast. I use 8 year old GR4. I can't say for sure that their amp emulator sounds like the real thing, but I know that when I want a Gilmour tone, and I use the hiwatt emulation...I can get a very similar tone. Granted - I know how, but I use nothing more than Sonar's tube amp sim as a leveling amp before being fed into GR4 for processing. In fact what you're saying almost confirms my belief mic emulations are a waste of time. Firstly, unless it's a tasty U47 from 1966 Abbey Road - what are you exactly emulating? Frequency response and polar pattern would be my answer - and hence there's only two options for mics at least on the amp sims in GR4...ive never really used the cab node in GR4...there might be more mic options there, but in GR4 you can choose between a large condenser type mic and the ubiquitous smaller type capsule mic or SM58. You can blend the two options and blend between close mic or a more open tone.

One of the reasons why mic emulation software is silly is because as I said above the two things you emulate with a mic emulation is frequency and capsule size/polar pattern...to make a mic emulation to work, you would need a completely flat mic- otherwise that mics characteristics would flavor the overall signal. It's perhaps why the OP felt they did not sound like The real thing...if I read what he wrote correctly. I think Slate Audio do a mic emulation, but it's DSP hardware and it comes with mic - this might work, but only if the mic is completely flat. A good software mic emulation might also work, if you used it as the first step before the amp sim, but only because you're only DIng the signal through a fairly neutral transistor input off your audio interface. I don't think a company like Overloud could could create decent mic emulations for their guitar emulation software and I think this is where your running into trouble. The reason why Wave's emulation work so well is because they've modeled these plugs on actual equipment used on classic recording. The crap emulation software and there is a ton is usually only approximated. I reckon if you dig deep - Overloud have probably done this. In fact - you'd be better off using Sonar's tube pre amp sim as a mic emulation, because it gives you 2nd level harmonic distortion - which is what you're really after as sonic shading. In fact, I use - not out of choice I've got to get a new mic, but I only use a Peavy 80 dollar mix to record my vox. I think the last couple of tracks I've put up and my upcoming Nights in White Satin cover puts the idea that expensive mics are one of the most important elements in a signal chain. Yes, again I know what I'm doing lol. The only reason I'm going to get a new mic is because the capsule is too small...msking it hard to pitch.

Ben:)

Benjamin Phillips-Bachelor of Creative Technology (Sound and Audio Production), (Hons) Sonic Arts, MMusTech (Master of Music Technology), M.Phil (Fine Art)
http://1331.space/
https://thedigitalartist.bandcamp.com/
http://soundcloud.com/aaudiomystiks
#16
batsbrew
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/18 17:50:14 (permalink)
the quality of the mic
 
is more important
 
than all the rest.

Bats Brew music Streaming
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#17
jimmyrage music
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/19 01:22:46 (permalink)
This is about as close as I can afford to get to the real thing... 
https://www.uaudio.com/blog/jacquire-king-unison
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AT
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/19 15:14:24 (permalink)
Turn any $100 pawn shop guitar into a $20,000 '53 Gibson Gold Top!  Using only software!
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gswitz
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Re: Emulating Mic Preamps in the digital world 2018/04/19 16:34:20 (permalink)
AT
Turn any $100 pawn shop guitar into a $20,000 '53 Gibson Gold Top!  Using only software!


You have to restring it, obviously.

StudioCat > I use Windows 10 and Sonar Platinum. I have a touch screen.
I make some videos. This one shows how to do a physical loopback on the RME UCX to get many more equalizer nodes.
#20
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