Adventures In Audio

Harmonic enhancement: In the master or individual tracks? (Can you hear the difference?)

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In this video I compare applying harmonic enhancement to a mix in the master channel versus applying harmonic enhancement to the individual tracks. As you will hear, harmonic enhancement can add sparkle and excitement to a mix, and also help to glue the instruments together. You can add a harmonic enhancement plug-in to the master channel (here I use the Slate Digital Virtual Mix Rack), or you can add a similar plug-in (I used the same one, with the same settings) to each of the individual tracks of the multitrack session.

The results sound different. But how different? If you watch and listen to the video you can hear for yourself how harmonic enhancement sounds, and how the different methods of applying it sound subtly, but intriguingly, different.

Automated transcript

Harmonic generation should I add it to the master channel or should I add it to the individual tracks well let's find out here's a simple song and a simple section with a simple guitar solo

okay so that's the starting point it sounds like there might have been a bit of harmonic generation already but never mind we'll have some more so in the master channel here I'm going to add the slate digital virtual mix rack so that's how it starts off and I don't need all of those I'm not going to use the EQ so I'll get rid of that and I'll get rid of that and I'm not going to use this compressor so I'll get rid of that but I'll use the rest of them so we've got a virtual channel here which seems to be set to Brit 4k II which I'm guessing is an emulation of an SSL 4000 II I might be wrong but who knows it sounds quite likely and then we've got this other one called revival and I'm not sure whether it's an emulation of anything it looks really old and battered though so that should make it sound really good shouldn't it that's some that's what I call wit in my world and at the end we've got a trimmer I'm not sure whether it changed to the sound but we will probably need it to adjust the levels so we'll just see about that so let's get that in a good position on the screen and I'm going to start off with just the virtual Channel so just this so the controls that are going to make the most difference here we've got the input control and as you can see it's ganged with the output control and that's so that it doesn't change the overall level you can just drive the channel harder and we've got another control here called Drive now I don't remember the SSL 4000 he having a drive control but maybe that's my faulty memory we'll see how that works I'll probably start with the drive on 0 so I'm going to start off just by playing around with the input level controls and see what results we get I'm going to go to some quite extreme settings so you will hear things that you don't like and I will hear things that I don't like but I just like to get to that point where I feel as though I've heard everything and I can make a balanced decision on where the right point is so here we go let's play it through and find out what the implicant input control can do

okay it can do plenty let's do the bypass test so I'll put it on full and I'll just click I'll just click the channel in and out in fact I'll click it out with this control here

okay so we can definitely hear that does something let me take the input down to zero again and we'll just have a go with the drive control see what that does so we'll just put it back in again

that definitely is a more subtle effect and it's a bit hard to hear but let's try it again

I think we might hear it more with the input set higher so let's just go all the way and let's give it a real thrashing

I can definitely hear now so I'm going to have a play around with the controls to find something that I like so go back to the start again

that sounds quite good to me whether it sounds good to you it's all a matter of a subjective opinion this is how I quite like it sorry I'm just going to do the bypass test again

I feel as though it's made it a little bit louder so can I do that with the numbers no it doesn't look like it so I'll just take it down by decibel a decibel I don't know why I'm going so precisely it doesn't really matter does it so let's just try in and out once again in fact what I'll do is put those back in I'll use the bypass of the whole thing

okay it's adding a little bit of an extra it's adding a little bit of extra liveliness to the sound I'll take that out I'll take that out and we'll put this revival in and let's see what it can do we've got these shimmer and thickness controls so let's do them one at a time

so the shimmer is quite a subtle effect while the thickness it does definitely thicken it up considerably in the low-frequency end of the spectrum so again I'm going to try and find settings that I like I suspect more shimmer and less thickness but let's see

okay somewhere around there we'll try the bypass test again okay it's a small difference but small differences are often very well worth having so I'm going to try all three now and I might just make some fine detailed adjustments here and yeah let's just see

okay I can see I've got a nasty little clip like going on there so I'm just going to have to check that and fix it with the trimmer I guess so I think roundabout there it's good enough for the purpose of demonstration let's try the bypass in and out and I'll adjust the trim if I need to

it's just a little bit louder I feel so let's check it down by a half a decibel

okay I think that's roundabout what I want I want a subtle effect that you've really got to quite listen hard for so it's not standing out like a sore thumb it's just a subtle enhancement and small changes can be important so what I'm going to do now is do some bouncing so first of all I'll take that out well back I'll make it inactive so the plug-in is totally inactive now and I can make a bounce of the flat track so let's just make sure this this is that's where it was before in my little practice before I started videoing so this is non VMR non so we're on lint leaves interleaved so we're on interleaved 24-bit 44.1 import import after bounce and offline so it doesn't take too much dough let's listen to let's listen to it it's gonna bounce all the way to the end of the the session and this is the sermo stuff which is not on the screen so let's do it again we'll just do it offline and that'll be quicker

import the track and unmute it because we don't need it just yet so what I'm going to do now is put the VMR in the channels so I'm going to copy that so it's got the same a settings ink one two just put it down one rung on the ladder and then make it active so in reality you'd really want to adjust the settings for each channel and not every channel would need it but this is just an interesting experiment just to see what happens so I'll copy this with the settings to all of the other tracks except the reverb I don't want it on there so this one here is inactive and all of these are now active with the same settings that I had before I can deactivate them all it's a little bit slow let's get the right let's get the right key combination here we go it's a little bit slow and it can disrupt the audio but we'll have a go with it anyway so let's let's play it through and I'll deactivate it and reactivate it so you can hear what the difference is here we go

okay so it sounds like it's doing a similar thing to having the VMR in the master but we'll see in just a second whether that is true I can see now that I've made a bit of a mistake there and I forgot to bounce the VMR in the master so I'm going to go back and do that and maybe I'll edit the video and just put things in the right order but it won't make any difference ultimately so let's bounce that and this is going to be VM are in the channels okay

and import it and mute it just for the moment and now what I'm going to do is deactivate all of those reactivate that one and I can bounce it like I should have done previously with the VM are in the master see here we go VM our master okay that's good so we've got these three here so we've got VM our non VM our channels and VM our master and I can make those active again we're going to ignore all these tracks over here we're not going to hear them I'm going to use these solar buttons here so that I can compare the three different versions so let me just stir flip backwards and forwards between the three different versions I need to take that vm r out so that we're not listening to that as well here we go


the effect is quite subtle but the more you listen to it the more your ears get tuned in to the sound of it and what I'm thinking at this moment I'd have to probably listen to it a bit more to make a final decision but I'm finding the flat version it sounds a bit dull in comparison to of the others not dull in the sense of the frequency balance but it doesn't have the same interest and excitement just quite so let's just listen to that by itself

and compare it with the channels

there's that extra little bit of fierce and sparkle in the EMR in the channels let me compare the original with the VMR in the master what I'm hearing here is slightly different than once again it's a subjective response to it but you often hear people talk about glue now the idea that you could put a processor in this either got to be a compressor or a harmonic generator and it's going to somehow combine the individual instruments and vocals if there are any together it's like it's like someone makes an oil painting and everything looks wonderful when they've finished painting it but after the paint has dried they put a coat of varnish on it and it pulls all the colors together that's what I've heard people say anyway and it's ER I think it's quite a decent analogy to be honest what I'm hearing here is the difference between the no VMR and the VMR in the master it's not adding the fizz and sparkle and excitement of the VMR in the channels but it is adding glue and I'm going to say go to the limb here it's just a little bit more glue than having the VMR in the channels so let me flip back between these two and see what you think about that so start off with channels

my money goes to the VMR in the master on this occasion you know I ran through all of this previously previously before I started videoing and the settings were slightly different and to be honest I did prefer the VM are in the channels so that demonstrates to me at least that it can go either way and that's not a bad thing because you have all these options to play with and you can find the results that suits you so I'm gonna say that a little bit of harmonic generation in the master or in the channels can be a good thing as long as you don't overdo it so let's have one listen oh you forgot sorry about this I forgot about this I was going to give you a run-through of all the rest of what's going on here but I kind of like missed that out but here's what the rest of what's going on just to be complete here's a bus this is in the solo guitar and that's sending a signal to this reverb here once again it's the slate digital verb Suites classic said I'll get paid for this you know I just use it because I like it and it's not these are not the only plugins that I like but I do like them and this is just rolling off a little bit of the low frequency from the reverb sometimes that's a useful thing to do but this last one we are going to use this and this is the flux stereo tool just get rid of that bus we don't need it and what this is going to show us is the difference between the left and the right channels and I'm going to do it in quite a weird way so this is one weird trick like this here in the Internet I'm going to pan the original one all the way to the left and I'm going to pan the harmonic generation ones to the right and I'm going to test them out in pairs like that so this isn't the kind of thing that you would do regularly for normal recording but it does help tune your ears into the differences in the sound because it'll show up in the stereo image that you hear you'd have to listen on headphones because unless speakers it's very difficult to hear the difference but on headphones you will notice it you might have to listen up and we try and focus in but it's a good test of whether there is a difference or whether there isn't much of a difference at all and also we'll see it in the stereo tool because the left channel will go in this direction here and the right channel will go in this direction here so this is going to be the original and this is going to be the harmonic generation and version and it's going to make like a squiggle in the middle if there were that if they were the same you just got a straight line all the way up and down just exactly dead straight but these squiggly Ness if that's a word that will show us how different the two versions are so let me just play it I think I might have to adjust the level but we'll just see yeah that's gone up in in level hasn't it I'll just bring that down by three decibels is my guess that's because the the pan law when when oh that's another 50 oh that's another that's another video and I do have another video on that but let's just even it out so the level doesn't change let's have a listen and look

it's interesting what I can hear is it's just pulling the high frequencies over to my right ear and your right ear as well as you've got your headphones off the right way round and but that's not constant it's dependent on the level of the signal and we can see it in here how the the the the squiggle is flipping from left to right and it seems to me that it's the loud notes allowed bits that's making it go to the right so just listen and watch again

so the point of this is to help tune your ears in to be able to hear the effect clearly and often seeing a visual representation you can't rely on a vision on a visual representation of anything it's what it sounds like that's important but it can help your interpretation and understanding and your aural awareness of what things sound like to see it reflected in a visual kind of view let's do the same thing with so this is the the flat version without the harmonics and this is with the VMR in the master and we'll see something similar

I'm not hearing quite so much I'm saying as much but I'm not hearing the fish pull over to the right ear like I did in the previous example so I would have to listen to that more to become more aware of the details so there we have it I'm just going to try it just occurred to me now I haven't tried this before I'm going to take that out and I'm going to solo that one there I put that on the left and we'll see the difference between VMR and the channels and VMR in the master in this same kind of home stereo test let's go no that is different I'm glad I tried that what we can see is that these two versions with the VM are in the channels and the VMO in the master are a lot more similar than comparing either of the VMR versions with the original so we've got an almost mono sound and it's going straight up and down but it's got a little bit of twitch showing that those two methods are indeed different even though the VMO have the same settings for both of the methods

okay that's good I'm gonna put it back to normal now so pad now is out and those out and I'll take that off because I'm not going to use it the stereo tool doesn't change the sound by the way I just thought I just mentioned that and just to finish off I'm going to flick between these versions and we can just listen to it once more I'll just put that back to where it was

so there we have it harmonic generation in the master first is harmonic generation in the channels I think you should decide which is the version that you like best but as I said previously it can go either way I'm David Miller course director of audio masterclass thank you for listening

Comments on this video

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TiqueO6:  Now having listened through the “stereo tool” section I could hear that the VMR added a lot of nice upper mid range information as well causing the right channel, and again I’m on my headphones, to open up a bit not that it pulls hard-right but just slightly right of center even in the 1kHz area with kind of profound difference in the snare drum body sound and the acoustics of that space, maybe even the room sounds were enhanced more on the channels version than the master one which itself is as you said has more of a packaged sound or words to that effect.
Then when listening to the final comparisons in stereo it confirmed what I heard in the “stereo tool“ section that is that the channels version is very vibrant especially in the upper mids and upper frequencies where in the master version you can hear more of perhaps cancellations that are happening probably due to the complexity of material being dealt with all at once. The result in the master sounds more like the frequencies are of a shorter envelope which would make sense with the whole cancellation idea. I think it applies to the low frequencies as well as they sound much tighter in the master version than they do in the channels version.
But as you said both are very likable for their own reasons. Thanks for the excellent demonstration, I hope I can find that stereo tool to use in my Universal Audio/digital performer set up. Might even check out some of these harmonic exciter things too, they could come in handy as we know.

TiqueO6:  'Shimmer' on my old Sony V-6 cans was pretty profound reminded me a bit of the old “Aural Exciters”, not sure of the 'thickness' control yet as far as how powerful it is. (I’m past the halfway point on the video and in the A/B section as I write this.) I agree that the VMR channel-version sounds more lively, will comment on VMR on the master shortly.

sundar iyengar:  Interesting...

Steve Ricablanca:  I think you are very good!

You can comment on this video at YouTube

Thursday March 10, 2022

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David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

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