Subsequent Mastering

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Vintage Digital Series #3 :Junger Audio DO2 Digital Dynamics Processor

I'm back on my vintage digital hype after a long break, mostly due to being deep into work doing masters and trying to fix various bits of obscure transfer gear I've picked up recently, maybe we'll talk about that again soon but for now I'd like to tell you about something I picked up a few weeks back.

I had my eye on these Junger boxes after seeing various mastering houses who had the budget to buy new stuff and the inclination to not keep hold of old, hard to maintain, lower samplerate boxes, keep one of these in their racks alongside all the trendiest of modern analogue processing equipment.

They are ugly little guys, with a pretty dated user interface, that said they are a total breeze to use. 1RU of pure early 90s tech aesthetic, which if that's your thing, well, fair enouh I guess. Junger is a German broadcast equipment company who at one time branched out into pro level mastering/pro audio gear. The Junger compressor/limiter/expanders appeared on the market soon after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and were the brainchild of Herbet Junger. There are also some broadcast only units on the market second hand as well as various versions of this unique compression design. I am told by mastering engineers I trust that the dynamic EQ is especially worth looking out for, but incredibly rare.

I grabbed this on a pretty weird broadcast wholesale second hand seller in the UK, who almost doubled the price I bidded on it in ridiculous fees which if I hadn't got this for 100 bucks I would have told em where to stick it... this aside for £200 all in this was a steal. Even at it's 48kHz max samplerate I can't imagine this leaving the racks after a few weeks unless they come to some kind of arrangement to make a native plugin (go on!).

As readers of this blog may know I own a TC M5000, the original digital mastering rack unit. In the manual for the D02 (or at least the last revision, mine appears to be an earlier version) it compares their "muti-loop" to TC's "multi-band" compression and explains where the Junger algo can do something nothing else on the market at the time could do.

As dated as this thing might look you simply cannot fault the sound of the units instant capabilities: perfect digital hard bypass, clean a whistle signal with no processing applied and a learning curve of about 2 minutes. The "multi-loop" I referred to is what we would now call "parallel compression" or "upwards compression" and if I'm honest I've never heard one I liked. Every time I tried to set up a parallel compressor I couldn't get anything like the sort of RMS rise I wanted without hearing an exponential weirdness in the loud signals (now being summed against a heavily compressed version of themselves with some delay I guess...). But the Junger D02 I grabbed for 200 quid the other week changed my mind.

After working out that it's basically reacting to whatever digital juice you pump into it and you have 1 dB steps at the front of the unit to drive more or less, I got something completely usable within about 20 seconds. 

The Junger compression is so easy you end of second guessing yourself if you're used to complex push and pull in hefty analogue mastering compressors. You pick a mode (1 to 4 for different time constants), you pick a ratio (which is essentially compression amount here, as each ratio has its own make up gain built in), you match the peak level on the genuinely decent VU meters on the output, and finally you bypass.

Has it added level and perceived loudness, yet kept the loud elements rock solid where they were before? Yep then it's working. That's really all it is. But man, when it works it can do something light years more transparent than downward traditional compression. This became really obvious to me on a very sensitive piano/vocal recordings I mixed a few years back which I like to pull up to put new units through their paces. All the haunting and dramatic stabs of the piano and vocals emoting dynamically were kept clean and in the same place, but the droning low end of the piano, the reverbs, all that detail had jumped up, making a kind of thick/wide/exaggerated effect on everything BUT the lead elements. This is the parallel I had always dreamed of, but never achieved! I literally went "aaah! that's it!".

I haven't tried the expander yet, but the limiter and AD/DA is basically for the bin I am afraid, but come on, this unit is as old as some engineers!

I urge any mastering engineer, or any mixing person dealing with acoustic music especially to grab one of these when they inevitably come up cheap again, you'll be surprised.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Mastering Engineers are not Audiophiles

People often ask me about posh HIFIs out of the blue in the pub or on social media. Presumably this is because I post all about electronic music boxes and talk about frequencies and stuff. It took me years to work out why I was associated with people who spend money endlessly tweaking audio players and talking about new fancy streamers (I didn't know what one of these was until two months ago when I finally bought myself a new HIFI, mostly because I wanted to listen to BBC 6 Music downstairs and it came with one!). Recently it dawned on me: because I care about good sounding audio professionally I must be on a personal quest for audio perfection at home. I guess it makes sense in a way; I do get paid to care more about audio playback than anyone else essentially, right?

It's true; my job is to care about audio. But that's not what being an audiophile is. My aim here isn't to insult people who are into their HIFIs as a hobby or to cast aspersions on the people who do, but to draw a line between those who seek to make audio work for everyone and those who seek to make audio work for themselves.

When I master a piece of audio I have one aim in mind: To make this audio as enjoyable and accessible to those who chose to listen to it.

I am not interested in the audiophile listening rigs unless my client has briefed me that they are aiming to sell to that market.

I don't ask why the end user is listening on the format they are, whether this be ear buds, MP3, just in the car etc, I just accept that they do.

Music is so important to a human's happiness, I wouldn't for a second prejudge how and why people chose to engage with it. I'm just so happy they do and I'm happy I get to play a role in that. Furthermore I find the idea that people who can't afford good systems should have their experience de-legitimised so offensive. If all you have is a phone, ear buds and Spotify I want you to feel as much of the emotion the composer intended as possible.

The language sometimes used by audio engineers to patronise listeners who don't spend their time and money on systems to enjoy music on is not only problematic politically it is also self defeating. This is exemplified by how small incremental changes in audio format standards are sold as monumental revolutions in the audio industry and rely on cynical marketing techniques and "emperors new clothes" story telling.

I want to democratise good audio. I can do this in my daily work by being open minded and listening to my clients (and their consumers) needs, not by lobbying audio companies or paying lip service to corporations redesigning the wheel. Good audio playback is great, but then again so is a weekly deep tissue massage and fine wine, this doesn't mean everyone has ac
cess to them, and they should not be benchmarks for a "good life".

If you want to be part of the push for better audio standards be my guest as it will make my job easier and make the music I purchase more enjoyable, but it's not my role.

Joe Caithness - Owner / Head Mastering Engineer - Subsequent Mastering