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What the f*ck is oversampling?

What the f*ck is oversampling?
Oversampling options for Cytmoic’s The Glue.

Plugins have been drastically increasing in quality over the last 10 years. We are at the point now where we have some very innovative developers creating some truly remarkable sounding plugins. Not just digital emulations of classic analog gear but also new types of processors that wouldn’t be possible in the real physical world.

Unlike hardware, plugins require the use of complex algorithms, and the sound of the plugin is dependent on the coding of the developer. The better coders will be able to achieve better-sounding plugins much like a better electrical engineer can design a better circuit for a compressor. Trained ears matched with talented developers allow software companies to turn out some very high-quality plugins.

So, what is oversampling or upsampling?

Oversampling is when a plugin converts the audio to a higher sample rate for processing. Processing at the higher sample rate usually removes some of the negative artifacts associated with processing digital audio, mainly aliasing. Aliasing happens when information outside of the frequency response range of the digital converters and the sample rate you’re using are interpreted by the converter to be different frequencies.

oeksound Soothe
oeksound’s Soothe, a dynamic resonance suppressor for mid and high frequencies.

Oversampling mitigates issues, including aliasing, and will usually yield smoother, more pleasant-sounding results at the cost of using more CPU power. But all oversampling algorithms aren’t made equal, and some are better than others. You may even find that you prefer the sound of a plugin with the oversampling turned off. It’s not necessarily guaranteed that oversampling will make the audio sound “better.” If you see a plugin or DAW that offers oversampling and you have the CPU power to spare, try it out and see if you prefer the way it sounds. If you are short on CPU power, you’ll probably want to keep oversampling off unless you decide to freeze the tracks.

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Setting yourself apart: recording unique sounds

Recording Unique Sounds

It seems the older you are in the recording industry, the more credibility you have, and for a good reason. An engineer who has been working since the 80s has seen the transition from tape machines to Napster and the first two channel interface in just a couple of years. If someone has been working that long and been able to stay relevant, it’s a huge accomplishment in an industry that’s known to chew you up and spit out without any remorse.

As I mentioned in “[More] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering,” there used to be a mentality in the audio industry that trade secrets were just that, secrets. Only the select few included in the inner circle would get to learn them. It wasn’t until the internet that people started to realize giving away these secrets was an excellent way to pad their pockets with a little extra spending money.

What I’ve learned from the older generation of engineers that I see younger engineers sometimes lack is going out of their way to be unique and original. In a world where everyone can have the same plugin, it’s a uniqueness that will set your sounds and productions apart from the rest of the engineers using the same cracked version of RCompressor as you. I’m not saying you have to be Sylvia Massey and record drums through a garden hose (you’d be cooler if you did, though). But, if you can use a weird guitar pedal as an insert or record vocals through a cassette player, then you’ll at least be able to include a sonic footprint that is uniquely your own. Not many people have that weird guitar pedal, and I doubt anyone is using the same cassette deck to saturate a vocal track.

Sylvia Massey’s special drum hose mic technique in action

The convenience of digital recording is the reason many of us are even making and recording music today. Computers have made the barrier to entry for musicians to record themselves almost nonexistent while the internet has made it easy to find information that was once only found under lock and key in the major studios of New York and LA.

But the problem with digital and the abundance of information is that it’s almost too convenient. Everyone wants to know how so and so got that sound. What guitar did they use? What microphone? Creativity thrives due to necessity, and it can’t flourish when everything is easy. You can’t be a revolutionary using a tool that everyone else uses, trying to get the same tones that everyone else has. Can you imagine what Sgt. Peppers would sound like if they had Pro Tools in 1967?

Instead of being able to go to a plugin preset, George Martin, Geoff Emerick, and the rest of the crew at Abbey Road had to make everything on their own. Effects, tape loops, and any processing were all carefully thought out and made in house, but you don’t need a crew of electrical engineers to be original. Experiment with unusual mic placements, and use real hallways and bathrooms for reverb. Think outside the box. All of these things will set your recordings apart from Johnny “Audio” down the street.

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