Archives for February 2003

Producer David Bendeth Uses the SoundField ST250 Mic System to Re-Mix Elvis in 5.1 and Stereo

A quarter of a century after his death, Elvis is topping the charts once again. The re-mixed greatest hits package “Elvis: 30 #1 Hits” has gone triple-platinum in America on CD, with sales of nearly nine million worldwide, and the DVD-Audio release tops the charts for the 5.1 surround audio format.

The enviable task of re-mixing the classic Elvis Presley tracks fell into the hands of David Bendeth and veteran mixing/recording engineer Ray Bardani.

Canadian producer/engineer David Bendeth has worn many hats in the recording industry. As a guitarist, he toured with the legendary drummers Billy Cobham and Lenny White. Bendeth’s songs have been recorded by a host of major artists, including Joe Cocker and Jeff Beck.

He’s also comfortable sitting in a businessman’s chair. Up until recently, Bendeth was senior vice president of A&R for RCA Records. He recently produced and engineered Bruce Hornsby’s new album, “Big Swing Face.”

“It was when I was producing the Bruce Hornsby project that I met Ray Bardani,” says Mr. Bendeth. “I asked Troy Germano, who owns The Hit Factory in New York, to recommend an engineer, and he mentioned Ray. We got along quite well, one thing led to another, and we ended up working on ‘Elvis: 30 #1 Hits’ together. My title on the Elvis project is compilation producer and mixer. Bardani is listed as mixer and engineer.”

Bendeth and Bardani spent a little more than three months at The Hit Factory assembling and re-mixing tracks for both stereo and DVD release. What kind of shape were the original masters in?

“Interestingly enough, all of the masters were in good shape except for ‘Way Down,’ which was the very last hit Elvis had. That song was recorded in 1977 and was the only piece of material that came to us on two-inch tape. We needed to bake that one as the oxide was falling off!”

Over the course of his career, Elvis was tracked with many different technologies. Now, it was up to Bendeth and Bardani to create a seamless whole out of material that was originally recorded in a variety of ways.

“The first thirteen tracks on this package were originally recorded in mono, so there was nothing we could do to them but master as artfully as possible: that was handled by Ten Jensen of Sterling Sound. George Marino, also of Sterling Sound, did a superior job of matching top, bottom and mid-range levels with the stereo mixes that comprise the remainder of the record.”

“Around the time of the release of Elvis’ ‘In The Ghetto,’ engineers began tracking him to 8 and 16-track recorders. In fact, one of those tracks, ‘A Little Less Conversation,’ was a worldwide number-one hit for the remix artist JXL last year. This cut came to us on Pro Tools and we mixed it in 5.1.”

“We had to have just about every recording platform you could think of in the studio, along with the original recordings. We even had to borrow an old RCA three-track tape machine from a museum to make the transfers! Fortunately, Elvis was an RCA artist, and this project was released on that label, so we were able to get our hands on the original masters, which was a big help. Believe me, when they arrived at the studio people were lining up to get a look at them!”

Bendeth chose to work at The Hit Factory for several reasons. The mix environment of all of the studio’s rooms is pristine, for one thing.

“I love the SSL J9000 console they have as well. Choosing the right equipment for this project was absolutely essential. You’d think that remixing a master tape that had only three tracks would be simple, but we actually spent as much time riding the vocals and EQ’ing the tracks as we normally take mixing a large multi-track session.”

How do you take a three-track source and remix it to give a convincing 5.1 sound field?

“We actually worked with both the three and four-track masters in a way that had never been done before. We set up a Tannoy speaker in a very large room at The Hit Factory. In front of the speaker we placed a SoundField ST250 Microphone System. In back of the speaker we placed a variety of vintage ribbon mics. The idea was to recreate the space and feel of Elvis’ band, and then place him at the heart of the group.”

“The SoundField technology is really amazing. Although, to tell you the truth, it’s so revolutionary, that I still don’t quite understand how it works its magic! The microphone takes a single point signal and tracks it to multiple tracks. We split it to five different tracks of a Sony 3348 digital recorder. Somehow the signal, which doesn’t sound that different until you output the various tracks to the SoundField SP451 Surround Processor, is interpolated by the system. When you incorporate the processor into the picture, you end up with a signal that’s separated into five different spatial dimensions, six if you include the sub-woofer information that it also outputs. It was really incredible.”

“Ideally, the system works best when you feed the ST250 microphone information from eight or nine different directions. That way, the SP451 Surround Processor can accurately represent the real image in 5.1. However, we didn’t have that luxury when working with the mono, and three and four-track masters. We were learning on the fly! That’s why in the mono mode, we set up the SoundField microphones behind the speaker, to help create more ambience for the surround field we were creating.”

“The final results are really exceptional. We’re proud of the fact that we were able to create one continuous sound field, across an entire CD, that started out with tracks recorded over many years and in many different formats. There’s no way that we could have achieved the results that we got without this revolutionary new SoundField technology.”

Soundfield Microphones Web Site

Soundfield USA Web Site

Rhapsody Brings Online Music Discovery to a New Level

Previous: Searching for Music Online

On Rhapsody, you can search by artist, track, album title, or composer: type in search words, choose a search type from a pull-down menu. Results show albums, artists and track titles, with material available on-demand highlighted in blue. Click on any data, and the browser takes you to a either an artist summary page, or a specific album detail page, depending on context.

On an artist page, you will find a complete listing of the artist’s albums, a link to find “stations” on Rhapsody (continuous play-list programming in many genres) that play the artist, listings and links to similar artists, and links to relevant content around the Web. On an album page, you will find the cover art, and a complete track listing, with links to either “listen now” or “add” the individual tracks or the complete album to a personal play list maintained by the Rhapsody software.

While you are listening to music, either on-demand or via one of the pre-programmed channels, artist and album data loads into the browser so that you can dig further when the music catches your interest.

Rhapsody’s search and browse interface is elegant, logical and provides useful results quickly. It also integrates track data with additional background info and the music itself, in an intuitive way that takes the experience of searching for music online to a new level.

Next: A closer look at RealOne Music (MusicNet)


AudioWorld’s Full Review of Rhapsody (Feb.19 2002)

AudioWorld’s Full Review of RealOne Music (Feb.19 2002)

RealOne Music Does MusicNet a Disservice – Will AOL Music Be Better?

Previous: Rhapsody Does it Better

Nearly everything Rhapsody does right, RealOne Music does wrong. Even the basic data in the index is inconsistent (artist names spelled in 2 or 3 different ways etc.) and frequently inaccurate (wrongly-spelled titles, titles linked to the wrong download files). It doesn’t help that you can’t test the audio associated with entries except by using up one of your paid credits (either a download or a one-shot streamed play), as there is no sample/audition feature in the service.

The most bizarre thing about the search functions in RealOne Music is the way clicks from result listings are handled. As with Rhapsody, results show track title, artist and album, with highlighted links. But when you click on a link, all you get is another search using the linked words (e.g. the track title) as search terms. Strangely, the new linked search often doesn’t include the current result (from which you searched on precise words by clicking) in its results!

I have spent a lot of time searching around RealOne Music, and I have yet to discover a way to retrieve an album detail page (and thus, access to all the tracks on an album) by searching. Even clicking on an album title just brings up another page of search results.

I won’t go into chapter and verse about the glaring flaws in the search functions of RealOne Music, they are overwhelming. The ultimate example of search engine failure: several times, I tried to find an item I had noticed in passing while browsing, and I was unable to locate the item by searching — I knew it was in there, but it could not be found.

If this is the way paid music search and retrieval had to be, I’d say “Give me Kazaa!” Fortunately, there is Rhapsody (not to mention MusicMatch and Emusic, both of which provide useful alternatives). It will be interesting to see how far America Online’s make-over of the MusicNet service will go towards dealing with the RealOne version’s glaring inadequacies.

Next: Back to the Overview


AudioWorld’s Full Review of Rhapsody (Feb.19 2002)

AudioWorld’s Full Review of RealOne Music (Feb.19 2002)

Searching for Music Online the Major Label Way

Napster, the pioneering peer-to-peer file-sharing service that revolutionized the music industry and the online music landscape, was as much a search engine as a way to acquire free digital music files.

The big business players of the music industry finally rolled out their own online music services last year, aiming to fill the void of consumer demand they created by destroying Napster and its relatives.

Most of the news about the paid subscription services (MusicNet, Pressplay, Rhapsody) is flat-out bad: rip-off pricing and usage restrictions, second-rate sound quality, buggy software, poor selection. But there is a silver lining, in that the new services are a big step forward in music search capabilities — at least in theory.

How We Used to Search — Peer-to-Peer

You probably know how Napster and its P2P file-sharing successors like Kazaa work: you install the desktop application, log on to the service, then search for music or other media files of interest by song title or artist name. Just as if you are using a search engine, they retun lists of available files with file names that match your search terms. Then the software makes it easy to download files from the results list with a few clicks.

As search methods go, this is a rough and un-sophisticated approach. Getting results depends largely on the scant and unreliable information embedded in file names. You can gather a little extra insight from other data drawn from the file properties, such as duration and encoding bit rate: for example, you might distinguish between alternate recordings of a particular title and artist by checking the duration, perhaps comparing this information with data from some other reliable source.

Some of the post-Napster alternatives go a little farther, for example by offering classification tidbits derived from the descriptive tags (genre, more complete artist and title info) embedded in MP3 files. In my experience, however, this counts for little, as tag data is typically too sketchy and unreliable.

In a way, the unpredictability of the search process is part of the allure of P2P file sharing. It may be difficult to find exactly what you are looking for, but along the way you might discover all kinds of unexpected musical treasure.

Of course, you might also waste a great deal of time in a frustrating search.

How We Can Search Better

This is where the licensed online music services have a huge opportunity.

Each service has full data for its catalog of content, and can potentially make the data accessible through powerful search technology.

Not only that, but as a by-product of the digital rights management process (copy inhibition and protection), each service also provides its own custom-built application for accessing the content, so the search method can be tailored precisely to the structure of the data.

To the paying subscriber, this should mean it’s easy to find and access music, either known content through precise field searching, or new and unfamiliar selections through style, mood, tempo or other classification matching and comparison.

In Reality… RealOne Music and Rhapsody

To see how the reality of major-label online music services is playing out, consider the two offerings that illustrate the best and the worst of the breed.

The worst of the lot is RealOne Music, offered by RealNetworks as the first outlet for the MusicNet download service it is operating with backing from Warner Music, EMI and Bertelsmann Music (BMG).

The best is represented by Rhapsody, the on-demand subscription service built on’s multi-channel radio-style streaming audio service, with major-label content from EMI, Sony Music and Bertelsmann.

RealOne Music and Rhapsody each provide search interfaces that query against both their paid subscription content, and a broader universe of free content and information. Each also provides a database of artist and composer biographies, album reviews, and a recommendation engine that suggests similar artists as you browse through the catalog.

The experience provided by the two services is vastly different, however. To put it bluntly, Rhapsody’s search and browse interface works, RealOne Music’s doesn’t.

Next: A closer look at Rhapsody


AudioWorld’s Full Review of Rhapsody (Feb.19 2002)

AudioWorld’s Full Review of RealOne Music (Feb.19 2002)

Universal Audio’s 6176 Channel Strip and 2192 Dual D/A & A/D Converter Win EQ Blue Ribbon Awards

Universal Audio, manufacturer of vintage audio hardware and DSP software plug-ins for digital audio workstations, will receive Blue Ribbon Awards from EQ Magazine for 2003 for its 6176 Channel Strip and 2192 Dual D/A & A/D Converter.

The 6176 combines two of Universal’s most successful products – the 2-610 tube-based mic/instrument preamplifier, and the 1176LN compressor – into a single “channel strip” product.

Universal's 6176 combines the quality and character of the 2-610 mic pre with the tone, lightning-quick attack and release times of the legendary 1176 compressor

The 2192 is a single rack unit analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converter with simple front-panel controls. It supports sample rates up to 192KHz, and transcodes between AES/EBU, S/PDIF and ADAT digital formats in realtime, with single- and dual-wire AES modes.

Universal Audio's 2192 offers tremendous flexibility in signal routing and monitoring

EQ Magazine’s Blue Ribbons are presented in 22 categories, with the winners selected by EQ’s panel of editors and industry experts. Winners were chosen from the new products introduced at the Fall 2002 AES show and between the months of September and December 2002.

Universal Audio Web Site

More Universal Audio 2192 Info

More Universal Audio 6176 Info