Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Discussion of music production, audio, equipment and any related topics, either with or without Ableton Live
Willyum
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Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by Willyum » Wed Dec 10, 2014 3:00 pm

(I responded in a post a couple pages in, so I know only a few people will see it... So I am posting it here because I think it is important and usually overlooked.
I live in an apartment with thin walls BUT would recommend Virtual Reference (studio) Monitoring even to people who own Pro Studios)
fishmonkey wrote:
tedlogan wrote: - will they approximate the soundstage etc of using monitors ?
no. never.
monitors always sound different. with monitors the sound of the room is part of the equation, plus both ears hear the sound from both speakers. you can approximate it with fancy DSP processing, but it's never the same experience...
About the DSP processing... I absolutely love the the VRM DSP of my Focusrite stuff. (it's like having 24 dumb friends in my pocket... I'll explain later)

I have 2 units, the Saffire Pro24 DSP ($250) and the VRM Box Headphone amp (I caught the VRM Box on sale for $55, Awesome). VRM if I remember stands for Virtual Reference Monitoring... It's supposed to simulate 2 different things...
1- a real world environment (Studio or Bedroom or Livingroom... I really wish they would have more places like a car, club, lounge, shopping center) and
2- Multiple official speakers (Yamaha NS-10's, Rokits, Genelecs, Flat screen TV, Computer speakers... etc). Each Listening environment has multiple speaker setups you can use in the room and in multiple listening locations of that room... So basically there is a shitload of combinations.

Fishmonkey is correct in Saying it is not the same as the real thing... I agree, but I still absolutely Love my units and I will tell you why...

The very first time I switched into VRM mode, I hated it! I felt it sounded weird like someone just threw some chorus and reverb all over my track and it actually sounded a bit messy to me. But I went on and started flipping through the rooms and speakers... And after a while my brain stopped fighting the artificial sound and relaxed. VRM is trying to trick your brain into believing you are in those different places, but YOU KNOW you are not there and know what your headphones are supposed to sound like, so there is a big fight in the beginning. It actually wasn't until the 2nd or 3rd day when I was using the VRM late at night in my apartment, I had to take my headphones off cause I thought I had forgot and left my real monitors on and it was late... That's when I smiled cause I realized the VRM actually tricked me. Now I am familiar with the sound and let my brain relax right away and I'm 'there'.

About the 24 stupid friends... Although most of your friends are not recording engineers, when 9 out of 10 of them ask you 'why you put that 'whatever sound or vocal' so loud?...' Or say 'I can't hear what he/she is singing about' (when you play them or email your song)... You begin to realize you have a problem with your mix that you did not detect. They are listening from a completely different perspective than you OR are just more sensitive to different sounds than you. I get that from the VRM stuff. The way I use my VRM is not to sit there and write my whole song in a pretend environment with pretend speakers... I use my regular headphone mode (by the way this is Focusrite so the audio quality is top notch anyway through monitors or headphones as well as the Mic pre's), then occasionally switch into the VRM mode to check my work. If most of the 24 VRM modes sound like too much bass or my guitar is not cutting through, I know I need to fix that. Every mix that I have included using the VRM in turns out better than when I only go off 1 perspective. And I do this in the daytime as well as night... It has become my go-to tool for challenging my mix. To me some of the 24 modes sound less real than others, but that still doesn't take away from the fact that it is a different perspective.

BOTTOM LINE: I didn't like the VRM DSP at first... But I will punch you dead in your face if you try to take it from me now!!! One of the best tools in my little un-treated home studio, and truth is I bought the VRM Box a year later as a backup in case my home unit ever goes bad. VRM has never caught on in a big way, I'm guessing because of that initial fight in the brain... and maybe because of peoples past experiences with that VST plugin Red-something (I forget the name... was a little popular, but never really did it for me), but Focusrite has pretty close to nailed it!


I have posted about this a couple years ago... So I'm actually posting for all of the tons of newer people around here.
I would really like to hear your different experiences (from people using the VRM) and to know what other solutions have worked well for you (I do not work for Focusrite so I want to hear about all products that actually work).

Willyum
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Location: Jamaica, Queens

Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by Willyum » Wed Dec 10, 2014 9:01 pm

One correction (not like anybody gonna pay any attention to this post anyway)... The Vrm Box does not have different listening positions around the room like the Saffire Pro24 DSP does. Just has the different rooms and speaker setups (24 combos). The Pro allows you to sit in like 6 different areas of the room you are in (front center, front R/L, back of the room in a corner... etc).

TomViolenz
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by TomViolenz » Wed Dec 10, 2014 9:35 pm

I pay attention and hope many comment and give more insights.
I just have nothing to contribute 8)

beats me
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by beats me » Wed Dec 10, 2014 10:12 pm

So with the VRM Box how do you route audio for headphones to it and then a completely different interface for your mains? I'm not home and can't check but I've only used audio interfaces that have the headphone out built into them.

tedlogan
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by tedlogan » Wed Dec 10, 2014 10:32 pm

TomViolenz wrote:I pay attention and hope many comment and give more insights.
I just have nothing to contribute 8)
Same here.

fishmonkey
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by fishmonkey » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:29 am

just a heads up that Focusrite has dropped OS X support for their VRM Box with Yosemite, you need Mavericks or earlier...
badbrainz wrote: I'm a drummer, so I'm already at an intellectual disadvantage here

fishmonkey
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by fishmonkey » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:44 am

also, from a technical standpoint, the main issue with systems that attempt to do speaker + room emulation through headphones is that when listening to speakers, your unique combination of ears, head and torso filter the sound. this means that there is no one-size-fits-all technique that works well for everybody (or even most people).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head-rela ... r_function
badbrainz wrote: I'm a drummer, so I'm already at an intellectual disadvantage here

Willyum
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by Willyum » Thu Dec 11, 2014 6:58 am

beats me wrote:So with the VRM Box how do you route audio for headphones to it and then a completely different interface for your mains? I'm not home and can't check but I've only used audio interfaces that have the headphone out built into them.
My home unit, Saffire Pro24 Dsp, Is the full package... In's Out's great Mic preamps (especially for the price... I would be daring enough to put My Pro24 up against most thousand dollar pre amps and put money on it if someone could tell the difference), But the home unit also has the VRM built directly into it... I just click a button on screen.

The VRM Box is strictly a headphone amp... no inputs at all. So it is strictly for listening. However, it can choose between 2 sources to listen to... SPDIF or USB.
As a USB asio card, you can still get low latency (64 samples = in-4ms... out-5.33ms for a total of 9.3ms latency round trip, but since there is no audio in, that would only apply to midi latency. And I get no crackle or pops with this... Small 7 track project with full native fx per track). This is USB only cable to computer and headphones out of box. This would be useful for having clean, quality output from laptop for both regular headphone use as well as VRM.
With SPDIF, connection would come from the SPDIF line out of your Main audio card or PC... You would still have to have the usb cable connected to power the unit and control from the software But the audio would be coming directly from your main Audio interface SPDIF out, not from USB. This would allow you to still use your Audio interface main outs to your monitors and give access to the VRM box.

Willyum
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by Willyum » Thu Dec 11, 2014 7:06 am

fishmonkey wrote:just a heads up that Focusrite has dropped OS X support for their VRM Box with Yosemite, you need Mavericks or earlier...
Holy shit that sucks... Whats going on with so many having problems with Mac OS's lately... Seems like almost every update for Live lately has also been focused on fixing issues with Mac. And I've seen many other apps going through the same thing.

fishmonkey
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by fishmonkey » Thu Dec 11, 2014 7:36 am

Willyum wrote: The VRM Box is strictly a headphone amp... no inputs at all. So it is strictly for listening. However, it can choose between 2 sources to listen to... SPDIF or USB.
on OS X you could also create an aggregate device that combines your main interface and the VRM Box.

i can't remember the exact figure, but there is quite a lot of latency if you use the S/PDIF input...
badbrainz wrote: I'm a drummer, so I'm already at an intellectual disadvantage here

Willyum
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by Willyum » Thu Dec 11, 2014 8:14 am

fishmonkey wrote:on OS X you could also create an aggregate device that combines your main interface and the VRM Box.
i can't remember the exact figure, but there is quite a lot of latency if you use the S/PDIF input...
Using the SPDIF should have the same latency from whatever unit is driving the SPDIF signal. So if you come straight out of the PC SPDIF without asio (asio4all) then yes I guess it would be pretty bad... But coming out of an audio interface, it should have the same latency set by the AI. That signal does not have to go back into the PC or AI since the DSP chip is in the vrm box... I'm not getting any perceived latency change when I do it that way. My keys/drums hit with the same accuracy.

Could it be that the combo of using the OS X Aggregate is forcing the 2 driver units to combine latencies to have one overall latency? I'm Not familiar with mac... Either way that sucks that you had to go through that... Hey maybe that's the reason they killed Mac support, cause they couldn't get it to work optimally with macs. On PC it's running fast and clean no matter how I choose to set it up, 24bit @48,000.

fishmonkey
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by fishmonkey » Thu Dec 11, 2014 8:35 am

nope, the S/PDIF is slow on both Windows and OS X. this is because the signal flow is:

computer -> audio interface -> S/PDIF -> VRM Box -> USB -> computer -> VRM processing software -> USB -> VRM Box

http://global.focusrite.com/answerbase/ ... ng?id=1118

using an aggregate device enables you to combine the VRM Box in USB mode, so you wouldn't be using the S/PDIF in that case anyway.

huh, and after stating that they were not going to release an updated version of the software for Yosemite, because it was too much work, the Focusrite site now says that maybe the existing software works anyway:

Points of note : Although VRM box is not supported for use in Yosemite we have heard several reports of the unit working without problems.

[edit] just installed the VRM software and can confirm that it is actually working under Yosemite... having a quick play again it really is a good way to quickly hear how a mix might sound on a range of speakers and rooms...
badbrainz wrote: I'm a drummer, so I'm already at an intellectual disadvantage here

Willyum
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by Willyum » Thu Dec 11, 2014 9:12 am

I thought the whole point of those boxs was that all the DSP processing is done in real time in the box... So what's the point of even having the Box if it has to send the audio back to the PC for processing. It's saying total round trip should be about 20ms, So maybe a good plugin like the one you mentioned may be a better option for some... Even at 20ms (which I didn't even notice), I still Like Virtual monitoring as a 'Mix' challenge.

fishmonkey
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by fishmonkey » Thu Dec 11, 2014 9:14 am

the VRM Box is essentially a big copy protection dongle for the software...
badbrainz wrote: I'm a drummer, so I'm already at an intellectual disadvantage here

Schmidi
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Re: Virtual Studio Monitoring - headphone mixing is REAL

Post by Schmidi » Thu Dec 11, 2014 2:08 pm

I like my VRM box very much and my mixes have improved quite a bit since I started using it. As for latency, I run Scarlett 8i6 SPDIF > VRM box and yes there is a noticeable increase in latency if you're physically playing a VSTi. It's not meant for that, but rather, build your track and then have a listen to it on the VRM.

It's a cool little solution for apartment mixing IMOP.

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