Behind the Kernel (#3 - March 2012)

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Behind the Kernel (#3 - March 2012)

Post by enriquesilveti » Mon Mar 12, 2012 10:24 pm

Kevin Rowe from Own Hammer interviewed.

Acustica Audio: How did you know about Acustica Audio and Nebula?

Kevin Rowe: When in the early conceptualization and developmental stages of my first library offerings, I read about people trying out Nebula and NAT on the forum. The initial results were mixed, however any negative feedback seemed to be related to configuration and an overall sense of lesser understanding of the platform and provided tools. However, this served the purpose of introducing me to Acustica Audio, and after some brief browsing of the site and forum I felt that the concepts for which Nebula is built upon seemed like a logical next step for cabinet simulation as a DAW plugin platform and something I was very interested in looking into. At the time there seemed to be the potential for market demand here, so I dove in and am VERY happy that I did!

Acustica Audio: Which feature you look into gear before get sampled?

Kevin Rowe: Usefulness. In the digital audio market there are a lot of algorithmic programs and sample libraries that have been created 'just because'. I don't see a point in adding to the sea of options for people to wade through unless there is space for a certain type of offering and an obvious potential advantage to consumers for me to develop something. For example, this is why I have not jumped into sampling mic preamps and compressors - it has already been done and done well so why clutter the field. Where applicable and when possible, I also make it a point for what I provide to be different from like freeware and commercial offerings and to an extent for which it is advantageous to be dissimilar. I don't see any logic in there being two identical offerings from multiple vendors of anything in an exact sense; it serves no purpose but to confuse and belabor consumer commitment, ignite heated fan-boy holy wars on discussion boards, and fuel price wars amongst developers. In the end this does nothing but hurt the consumer and market as a whole, and in the latter most example only creates a domino effect which results in lower quality products or abandonment of new product creation from vendors.

Acustica Audio: Which studio configuration do you use. ITB, OTB or Hybrid?

Kevin Rowe: Hybrid. I will go wherever I feel the tools perform the best, or in which the sonic compromise is small and is an acceptable alternative given the added convenience it provides. The fantastic added bonus to Nebula is the dramatic closing of the gap between the two, and allows one to get an almost completely OTB feel ITB at an unfathomably lower cost. This makes the impossible dream gear list a reality for everyone, given that piece has been sampled and sampled well.

Acustica Audio: Do you think that audio engineering is better today?

Kevin Rowe: I would say that higher quality tools and a wide array of turn-key solutions are more readily available to vastly more people and at drastically lower prices, increasing the potential for a larger percentage or output of better sounding recordings. The addition of the internet as a knowledge base for not only opinions on what the best tools are for a job, but also how to use them, substitutes in many cases for skill, creativity, and experience otherwise and previously requiring of many years of being in the trenches and figuring it out on your own. To this extent, the home studio has significantly damaged the local stand alone mid-level studios, but is a natural progression of how technology and the evolution of consumer goods can break down one wall but build many others in its place. In the end, it makes more music accessible to more people, and that is certainly a good thing (well, most of the time)!

Acustica Audio: Which gear was the more complicated to be sampled with NAT and why?

Kevin Rowe: So far my greatest challenges (or ultimate failures and defeats) have been anything that introduces the element of signal distortion, which does not translate at all above a certain saturation point. By altering how many kernels are captured this can be worked around to a small degree, except when distortion generation is the primary function of a device one would hope to sample. Dynamic convolution and vectorial Volterra kernels technology is not the proper venue for this task in my opinion, so this shortcoming is to no fault of the Nebula and NAT platform.

Acustica Audio: Comparing impulse responses with Nebula technology what are the advantages and disadvantages between both?

Kevin Rowe: On the surface I would have to say:
Nebula Pros
. Better sound quality.
. Infinitely more configurable through the use of customizable multi function faders/sliders and internal interpolation between static sample points.
. Gateway to other quality libraries outside of the Speaker Cabinet domain.
. Future friendly as it provides a creative outlet for those such as myself who may not have the time or know-how to create standalone plugins but want more than just the ability to offer 'a bunch of files in a bunch of folders'.
. Evolving and improving host - Nebula gets functionality updates and enhancements, and is always challenged and moved forward by supportive users and a passionate and talented staff and visionary developer.

Nebula Cons
. Resource utilization and full resolution latency are not as low so real time monitoring and irresponsible distribution may hinder certain types of workflows.

Convolution Pros
. Low latency operation.
. Multiple available host options.
. The ability to use as a parent file to subsidiary devices based on what is now a common technology.
. The ability to combine and customize files as the audio data is exposed.

Convolution Cons
. Lesser sound quality, primarily in regard to the lower quality of the more commonly used freeware host applications, and the standards required for the audio data files themselves.
. Without additional development by 3rd party plugin makers, zero added functionality past static individual pass through.
. Fully matured technology, it is what it is and it does what it does and there really isn't anything else it can do unless used in conjunction with a complex and versatile external host application.

Acustica Audio: Did you have formal study in audio engineering?

Kevin Rowe: No, self taught over many years at the school of hard knocks, diligence, and experimentation. Many years ago I had enlisted to study audio recording (I feel the term 'engineering' is misused here in modern times) formally, however opted instead to remove myself very near to relocation and pursue an alternate field as my primary career path. I saw the fledgeling stages of digital piracy and the directional trends of popular music heading down a road that would lead to the ultimate death of my enjoyment of music altogether. Instead of continuing on I opted to make my own path and keep my music and recording something I did not completely rely on for my primary source of financial stability, thus ultimately preserving and extending my enjoyment of it as an auxiliary occupational activity and hobby. My secondary and post-secondary education has always centered around math, science, and technology so in combination with my passion for music and sound the transition into what I am doing now in the form of the Own Hammer website has been natural and enjoyable.

Acustica Audio: What are the differences of Speaker Cabinets MMS, Speaker Cabinets NEB and Speaker Cabinets PRO?

Kevin Rowe: Each of the series represents varying inclusions and configuration options that are intended to appeal to users of different skill sets and workflow requirements, while still offering a simple and intuitive interface and features that can appeal to everyone. Briefly:

Speaker Cabinets MMS:
MMS stands for Music Maker Series, and my intention here is to appeal to the music creator that wants to spend more time composing and less time messing around with settings. These libraries are presented at the speaker level, and the configuration options are such that they employ the use of general tone descriptors instead of microphone names and placements. For those unfamiliar with such things, this leads to zero aimless-guess auditioning. To that end, I know of several users of this series who fully know and understand the concepts and equipment involved with cabinet micing, yet still prefer this as their "grab and go" option if they don't want to be overly meticulous with creating their own advanced custom combinations of sounds, then use the other library series if/when they have the time or need to do so. Other users I've spoken with love the included options and see no need for any further libraries or configuration/tone possibilities. For the Nebula portion of this implementation, the multiple faders/sliders allow easy customization of the available controls and sounds.

Speaker Cabinets NEB:
This has been and will probably always be my primary library series, and is what I initially started out with as my Nebula format offerings. These libraries are presented at the speaker level and include multiple mics and mic technique/placement options, each with a subset of differing configurations. My goal in this was to still provide a relatively simple yet powerful solution that lowers confusion and speeds up workflow for the average guitarist and non-recording expert. The value and versatility far exceeds the complexity, and truly does have something for everyone. The naming scheme is such that it follows sonic trends laid out in the documentation, and does not rely on the user to know and understand the nuances of microphone placement as it pertains to using measurements of distances from certain physical locations of the speaker. The Nebula platform is very useful in this series as it utilizes (where applicable) dual faders/sliders to blend or move between contrasting tones to meet a satisfying middle ground, if desired.

Speaker Cabinets PRO:
The PRO series was born of the request for those that fully know and understand speaker cabinet micing, and want as close to a virtual experience as possible. Nebula's interpolation is invaluable in providing this, and is the core of the concept and function of the PRO series. The libraries are sold at the microphone level, and allow the user to sweep the mic along the speaker from the center to the edge, from the grill cloth to 1 foot back, and anywhere in between. Add to this the ability to adjust tonality through the tone control of one of my favorite tube power sections (or left at a neutral solid state setting) as well as blend in certain pre-configured auxiliary mic placements and signal treatments, it truly is the tweaker's haven and what I consider to be the next step in speaker cabinet simulation. All of this is presented in a multi-fader/slider set up that is incredibly powerful, versatile, and indispensable to those seeking as close to a real micing experience as you can get, given the boundaries of the inherent options.

Acustica Audio: Speaker Cabinets libraries are based into mic/cabinet sampling how is the best way to use with a guitar/bass modelling software like Amplitube, Guitar Ring or Vandal?

Kevin Rowe: With guitar and bass modelling applications/plugins such as this, it is ultimately imperative that the cabinet simulation be disabled/bypassed in said plugins prior to feeding into any form of standalone speaker cabinet simulation that would follow it. There are some parts of a guitar signal that can sound good when daisy chained, speaker cabinets are not one of them unless you are going for some kind of special effect tone. In this regard, one could place the speaker cabinet simulation in line after one of these plugins, or on a stereo bus or buses that the guitar tracks can be sent to. The stereo (or in this case, dual mono may be the more appropriate term) operation of the Nebula plugin allows for what is at the source a mono capture to be functionally used as a stereo filter.

Acustica Audio: Will be more pedals libraries soon?

Kevin Rowe: As a player I've never been much of a shoegazer, more of a raw amp tone type person, and have typically never had much use for pedals. However when I have the time and opportunity to do some experimental sampling that will be one of the first avenues I explore in. I have the intention to sample my Keeley 4 knob compressor and a Dunlop Crybaby From Hell, though at the current time those projects are quite a ways away.

Acustica Audio: What is the benefit of use power amps libraries?

Kevin Rowe: My intention with the Power Amp libraries is two fold. On the intuitive side, it is meant as a tonal compliment for those that use hardware tube guitar preamps, be it standalone or the preamp section of an amp head via the effects loop or line out, to aid in adding back a quite critical part of the tone shaping path. In this regard offering them as a standalone component allows the prospective user to not only opt for certain signal path options (such as in line or in parallel with a duplicate track so as to create a wet/dry scenario of how much of the Power Amp library affected signal to use), but also the opportunity to swap around power amp types to see what may match best with a certain preamp, guitar, and/or overall sound. The second and less obvious application is to be placed after an algorithmic amp simulation. A lot of times digital amp models can come off as sounding very 'preamp-ish' even though power amp modeling is supposed to be a part of the design. In these instances, it may help to bring out a more authentic amp tone to a signal that is overly dry, direct sounding, or dull.

Acustica Audio: What is IR-LAB? And, what is Axe-O-Matic?

Kevin Rowe: IR-LAB is a tool created specifically for users of the Fractal Audio Axe Fx and now Axe-Fx II. It is a commercial 3rd party Windows OS utility which scans my directory structure for the SysEx (.syx) files, queries against the file naming convention to separate elements by the different terms if desired, and offers the ability to create custom mixes of multiple IR's, audition that mix, then export it to a single file. The utility also supports other vendor and user IR's as well, allowing users to mix more than just Own Hammer IR's. I've worked and continue to work alongside the developer on ensuring all of the changes I make to my libraries in the form of new updates and inclusions all are found and displayed properly (which is never a problem due to the program's self adapting nature and well thought out directory scanning), and he has been a saint for enduring the eccentricity I exude when in my mad scientist mode.

Axe-O-Matic is hosted on my site, but is developed by a friend and very talented and intelligent individual, Lynn Oliver. The original concept was to make available a lite and accessible free multi platform application that could convert freely between 48 kHz wave audio (.wav), Fractal Audio G1 SysEx (Axe-Fx Standard and Ultra), and Fractal Audio G2 SysEx (Axe-Fx II) format IR's. Features and functionality continue to grow as this is actively improved and expanded. There are some very exciting things going on behind the scenes with this app right now, and while everything is still in the design, development, and testing stages there is some hopeful functionality that if put into production will make this a real game changer for users of wave audio and Fractal Audio SysEx IR's.

Acustica Audio: What does means that OH SysEx files are minimum phase aligned?

Kevin Rowe: Minimum phase alignment is a reprocessing of the IR audio data to conform to a mathematic principal, most commonly the Hilbert and/or real cepstrum transform. Speaking plainly, this reprocesses the wave audio IR data to adhere to an algorithmically/mathematically altered condition so that time and phase alignment is guaranteed to conform to a standard, one which also eliminates time of flight (excess silence as the beginning of the impulse response) delay. This is a recreation of the audio data, not an adjustment of it. As such, a) you cannot simply trim the head of an IR to meet this alignment, doing so would cause audible artifacts and alteration/degradation of the source data and b) this means that to an extent it is an interpretation of the original sound. In extension to the latter statement, this is also to infer that the sound is not always 100% identical to the original capture. With the currently available market tools, I have run into gross problems with the destruction of the integrity, fidelity, and overall response and as a result have relied in some cases on the private assistance of industry developers to adhere to a minimum phase transformation result that meets my sonic approval. To that end, this functionality was something I added only after I had found a work around to the core issues surrounding this practice.

Acustica Audio: Axe-Fx II is a hardware that combine signal modelling with physical modelling, do you think that is the future? A mixed modelling environment?

Kevin Rowe: Most definitely. I feel that there are certain things that absolutely require the use of algorithmic programming to sound best or even good at all (such as distortion and amp modeling, compression, etc), and that others such as cabinet and frequency response related simulation are best left to the application of measuring physical hardware and space. The Axe-Fx II even goes so far as to blend the two by adding algorithmic simulation to elements of physically captured measurements, such as the ability to adjust a speaker motor drive in the cabinet block. In this regard, the combination of the two is far superior to relying entirely on one or the other for all tasks, and is in fact a requirement for a successful digital modeling implementation in my opinion.

Thank you Kevin Rowe from