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Entries in Gear Review (12)

Wednesday
May182011

Upcoming SFX Library Reviews

I am about to launch a “column” on this blog that will review commercially available sound effects libraries, but before I publish the first review I want to take a bit of time to set some ground rules and explain where I am coming from with these reviews.  I want to explain how I use royalty free SFX in my work flow, whats important to me besides the actual sounds included and my time lines for the reviews.

There are sound editors on large movies and AAA console games that have the luxury with schedule, and budget, to go out and record from scratch most of what they need for each project and get fresh, great, amazing and unique soundtracks for their efforts. Sadly at this point in my career that is not an option for me.  I mostly work on animated television series, of the mid budget variety, enough to make a nice living off the projects but not enough to fund regular specialized field recording trips.  These programs also have fast turn arounds, sometimes I have to deliver a complete half hour episode (22 minutes of program), including ambience, foley and hard sync in just a few days, built from scratch.  This means I rely heavily on commercial royalty-free libraries in order to meet these dead lines and I need quality sounds in order to keep the clients happy and coming back for more.  Without a vast collection of sounds ready to go I simply can not do my job, so these libraries are extremely important to my ability to generate income.

Some libraries are meant as the basis for getting really imaginative and using them as elements to make other un-worldly sounds when combined and altered creatively.  While some are simply very usable sounds that are not flashy but make my life much easier with them in my toolkit.  

I will also be reviewing more then just the sounds, because great audio recorded expertly is perfectly useless if you can not find it.  So the way the audio files are organized as well as how rich the metadata embedded into the files will also be a major factor in my reviews.

There are lots of different software companies out there that make sound library search engines, and I am sure there are many great ones but I am going refer to Soundminer as my asset manager.  I have been using Soundminer exclusively for almost a decade (m-Tools before that) and I know it well and it seems to be the closest thing to an industry standard that I know of.

I have purchased libraries from the standard major players, Sound Ideas, Hollywood Edge and more recently Blastwave, and they serve their purpose well and mostly do great jobs, but I am going to concentrate more on the recent wave of "Independent" or "Boutique" SFX libraries.  These are libraries being made by working Sound Editors/Designers that fill holes in the big boys products or simply offer more variety.  They are located all over the world, (US, Germany, New Zealand) and have varied perspectives and approaches.  Here is a link to a page on DesigningSound that lists many of the indie publishers I have been purchasing from recently.

http://designingsound.org/sfx-independence/

When one of my favourite bands comes out with a new album I read reviews of it from various websites I trust and figure out if I want to get the album the day it comes or not.  Sadly I will not be able to help with quick decisions like that on new SFX libraries, because doing a review immediately after I get my hands on a library would be pointless.  Depending on the size of a library it can take months before you really feel like you have a grasp on it, so I will be reviewing libraries after they have been out for a little while so I can dig into it and get a real idea of its strengths and weaknesses.  I will try to time my reviews to match up with a publishers next release so if you are thinking about getting a brand spankin' new library you can at least see how I felt about the previous release in order to get a gage on the quality level you can expect.

Finally to make sure you know I am not being paid off, everything I plan to review will be something I purchased with my own cash so I have no reason to pull punches, I will give you my honest opinions and you can form your own ideas from there.

Starting next week I will be posting a new review every month along with the other posts on this blog.  I have a couple ready to be reviewed and I am not sure which one will start the party off.  Check back to see........

Friday
May062011

Recording in Honest Ed's

One main problem with recording in stores or just about anywhere these days is that music is ominpresent in public spaces now.  Every store, every restaurant, even every bathroom seems to have canned music piped into it and this makes getting clean recordings of our world damn near impossible. But every once in a while you can luck upon a great recording and avoid capturing the music along with it.  

I recently got my hands on a Sony PCM-D50 (see review after audio samples below) and the day after i got it, I took it along on a shopping trip with my wife. Luckily on this trip a few things conspired to let me get a really great recording at Honest Ed's.  For those outside of Toronto Honest Ed's is a bit of an institution, located at a major intersection in the city the store has been in operation Since 1948.  

Ed's is huge its four stories covers a full city block and it sells just about everything you can think of and everything is massively discounted.  There are hand painted signs all over with "zany" sales pitches like "Honest Ed's is for the Bird's - Cheap Cheap" or "Honest Ed is Repulsive - But his Prices are Appealing!" and a big sign over the exit reading "Wasn't That Fun!"  This one store does over $65 million in sales a year on dime store fair, so it is a massive success.

One section of the store is for groceries and there is a strip of large very, very old freezers containing all the frozen foods, but unlike a traditional grocery store, this is a row of individual two door units instead of one huge aisle long unit.  So there is a humming chorus of all the compressors working away.  Thanks to the portability of my new recorder I was able to get in-between the fridges and record the ancient compressors  from the back of the units.  Luckily they were so loud and located a bit away from the ceiling speakers so that the music playing within the store was completely drowned out and a clean recording was possible.

 

I knew what I had got was going to be useful, both as literal refrigerator compressor sounds and as a base for for Sci-fi force fields and spaceship ambiences, with the help of some processing.

Here is a sample of the refrigerator compressors,  followed by some quick manipulation to transform the fridge into some sci-fi -esque sounds:

Honest ED'S Fridge Treated by azimuthaudio

 

After shopping on the way home we were on a particularly squealing subway car and I was able again to pop out the D50 portible recorder and grab some subway squeal.  Sadly I could not get everyone to be quiet for this recording (that would just be rude right?) so there is lots of subway passenger walla in the recording as well.

Subway Squeals by azimuthaudio

 

 

SONY PCM-D50 mini Review
I am really happy I finally got it.  I borrowed one from my friend Simon Edwards at Resolve Audio two years ago for a podcast I was working on at the time and it was great so I am not sure why it took so long for me to get one of my own, but so far I am glad I did.  Previously my portible recorder was the Zoom H2, and although it has had its uses it is really not a very good device.  The D50 is a massive upgrade in terms of the on board microphone and over all usability.  One of the things that drove me nuts about the H2 was how insanely long it took for it to boot up when you turned it on, on many occasions by the time it booted up the sound I was hoping to record had long since passed and the moment was lost.  The D50 boots up quick and is ready to go in seconds.  
I also picked up the Rycote mount for it so it is comfortable to hold and eliminates handling noise.  I can not go to deep into a review as I have only had a very short period of time but so far it has been a great addition to my gear closet and I am looking forward to more "stealth" recordings with it.

 

 

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