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Re: post processing setup questions

Subject: Re: post processing setup questions
From: "Rob Danielson" danielson_audio
Date: Fri Dec 10, 2010 11:19 am ((PST))
At 5:31 PM +0000 12/10/10, simmosonics wrote:
>I'm using a 13 inch MacBook Pro these days; it's good enough for all 
>of my processing needs but I find the headphone output circuit to be 
>too noisy for working with quiet recordings (e.g. nature sounds). It 
>is always hard to tell where the noise in the recording ends and the 
>noise of the Mac begins. Also, the headphone output circuit's noise 
>floor seems to be a moving target, getting louder and softer 
>depending on what's going on inside the Mac.
>But there is a solution that is very cool...
>I only use my Mac for processing, not recording, and that means I 
>can take advantage of the Mac's SPDIF optical output, which is built 
>into the headphone socket but suffers none of the noise problems 
>because it is a digital feed from your audio software. So rather 
>than using a budget piece of recording gear for my interface, for 
>the same money I put together a very high quality monitoring system 
>consisting of a Musical Fidelity VDAC (Digital to Analogue 
>Converter) and Musical Fidelity VCANS headphone amplifier. The 
>combination cost me about the same as some of the typical audio 
>interfaces designed for recording, but all of that money was spent 
>on playback electronics, not unnecessary microphone preamplifiers 
>and so on. The overall quality is therefore much higher than any 
>recording interface could provide at the same price.
>It connects via a fibre-optical cable with a Toslink connector on 
>one end and a Mini Toslink connector on the other end (to go into 
>the Mac's headphone socket). These things are readily available at 
>any hi-fi or consumer electronics store; certainly any store that 
>sells converters and headphone amplifiers will also sell these 
>I am extremely happy with that set up. I use it with three different 
>sets of headphones:
>a) a pair of AudioTechnica AD1000s open back headphones, which 
>provide my high quality reference;
>b) a pair of AudioTechnica M50 closed back headphones, which provide 
>more of a real-world perspective (I also use this pair in the field);
>c) a pair of AudioTechnica ANC7 active noise cancelling headphones, 
>which I use for editing and similar situations where I need to hear 
>right down into the recording's noise floor (e.g. editing the end of 
>a file after fading into silence, etc.) - they are almost like 
>having a soundproof control room in the way that they allow me to 
>block out external sounds and focus on the recording.
>By cross-referencing between the AD1000s and M50s, and using the 
>ANC7s for editing and similar screwdriver work, I can get very good 
>I have mixed, edited and mastered numerous albums worth of material 
>using that set up alone, and rarely have any surprises when hearing 
>it played back on speakers. Before releasing any disc, however, I 
>usually burn a CD and carry it with me for a week or two, playing it 
>back on any hi-fi or similar systems I might come across to check 
>how it is going to sound in the real world. In most cases it is 
>absolutely fine; sometimes I find myself going back to change things 
>but that is mostly for music recordings where mixing and so on has 
>been involved.
>There are much cheaper alternatives to the Musical Fidelity combo I 
>use; some combine the DA converter and headphone amplifier in the 
>same unit, and some are USB bus powered.
>In terms of bang for buck, you'll get much higher audio quality from 
>a dedicated playback signal path compared to a recording/playback 
>signal path at the same price. Likewise, you'll get much higher 
>sound quality from a pair of headphones than from a similarly priced 
>speaker system. Considering the number of hours of sound that are 
>consciously consumed via headphones these days compared to the 
>number that are consciously consumed through speakers, one could 
>question the validity of speakers altogether - but that depends on 
>who your market is and how they are listening...
>- Greg Simmons

Hi Greg--
That's impressive in terms of the time, money, planning and results 
you have gotten from the years of experience.

There's a big difference, though, between the heightened sense of 
objectivity that you have forged through years of trial and error and 
a beginner's judgement.  You can quickly distinguish the key 
problems, strengths and extremely subtle qualities that overwhelm 
beginners' ears.

I'd strongly suggest that beginners not use headphones to get started 
and stick with one set of speakers for the first few projects. 
Speakers allow one to focus on the biggest problems and not become 
lost in detail and dynamic that can only be heard in head phones (and 
often heard "accurately" with same model of phones).  Its takes a lot 
of skill to effectively use several pairs of headphones.

There are many ways to skin a cat and headphones are becoming the 
norm. I suspect this makes listening standards less uniform, not 
more.  I'd relegate the monitoring question to chance and fate had I 
not supervised many awful mixes through the years that had to be 
redone from scratch because beginners or even a very skilled 
listeners fell in love with what they could hear in expensive 
headphones. :-) Rob D.

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