A rant on the hiss that's in so many orchestral libraries.

Discussion in 'SAMPLE Talk' started by Headlands, Mar 20, 2019.

  1. Headlands

    Headlands Active Member

    Aug 18, 2017
    I come from a strong recording background, and through my dad (who was a classical musician his whole life) I know that most classical orchestras embraced digital years ago primarily because of the noise/hiss issue -- very soft passages weren't covered in analog hiss for the first time. There were sonic tradeoffs with that, especially in the old days of digital, but not as much these days.

    So many libraries seem to prefer having hiss on there (I'm NOT talking about room tone or bow noise -- I'm only talking about actual tape/mic/older mic pre hiss), like it's somehow a good thing. Engineers were always trying to get rid of hiss in the analog days. It's a cute nostalgia thing but has no place in modern productions, unless you want to add it yourself for some reason. Libraries, from Spitfire to CSS, have huge amounts of noise on every patch that's highly audible in softer dynamics, and I can't understand who thought that it's a good idea to not address that as best as possible. Recording to tape? Well, OK, but not at the cost of hiss that adds up hugely in sampled orchestra projects.

    I think it's a mistake and it bugs the living hell out me when I have to deal with it. I've even had a couple of clients for my scores ask me if I can get rid of the hiss because they're used to hearing things clean and clear. For my pop song mixes, if I have plugins that add audible noise my clients will almost always ask me if I can get rid of it.

    I've even considered using Izotope RX to reduce the hiss on the actual samples for these libraries, but that's a huge project. There is no reason to be stuck with the bad parts of analog in these modern times -- you can record with great pre-amps and mics and not have nearly as much noise as many of these libraries have with softer dynamics -- I know because I did that all of the time when I was recording. Are they all going to tape? I know Spitfire does, not sure about other noisy ones.

    I would strongly urge library companies to give people the option to add their own noise with plugins or something if for some reason they think it makes things sound better. It's nostalgic for no reason whatsoever otherwise, IMO.

    Thoughts? Opinions? Note: I know extremely well how to mix (I do it professionally as well as composing/producing - not saying this to be egotistical) and record, and I know all about how things used to be --that's not the issue here. The issue is that in 2019 we need to have the utmost flexibility to do whatever we want to do creatively, and excessive noise like these libraries have can and does get in the way of that, for me and many other composers I know. Don't agree? Don't be haughty or prideful about it -- just tell me your opinions, I'd love to hear them.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2019
  2. chocobitz825

    chocobitz825 Active Member

    Aug 7, 2018
    funny because ii went back into Light and Sounds Chamber strings, and tried the patch "Room Tones" which seems to just be harmonic hissing from the room....

    I'll admit the hiss hasn't bothered me overall, but if there were a cleaner way to record, its probably best if they did it.
  3. OP

    Headlands Active Member

    Aug 18, 2017
    I agree, yes. I've been doing extremity quiet pieces for a film I'm working on and it's super noticeable, which is what prompted me to finally write about it. :)
  4. miket

    miket Team Dany

    May 17, 2016
    New York
    I like the little bit of noise and "character" that comes from tape and analog devices (or emulations), but as a final step in the chain. A little bit sprinkled over everything. I don't think I'd miss it if it were purged from every individual sample.
    Desire Inspires likes this.
  5. erica-grace

    erica-grace Senior Member

    Sep 7, 2015
    Isn't some hiss normal? Caused by mic pres?
    Greg and d.healey like this.
  6. OP

    Headlands Active Member

    Aug 18, 2017
    Some hiss, yes. But the degree that it's in some libraries indicates either tape or something else (old noisy mic pres, etc). When I was recording I could do super quiet passages with just a tiny bit of noise, compared to bucketloads of noise that I hear in some libraries.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2019
    erica-grace likes this.
  7. OP

    Headlands Active Member

    Aug 18, 2017
    I hear you, yeah.
  8. Quasar

    Quasar Senior Member

    Jun 26, 2012
    I love this patch in L&S, which of course can be used with any VI and adjusted to taste... With the libraries I have at least, I am not bothered by hiss. More troublesome are the occasional pops and clicks, though they can also be dealt with fairly easily.

    By far my biggest pet peeve with sample library imperfections is when an instrument's timbre is inconsistent across the various articulations. AFAIK there is no obvious work-around for that...
    SoNowWhat?, dzilizzi and Spike2000 like this.
  9. Jeremy Gillam

    Jeremy Gillam Active Member

    Jun 10, 2017
    Los Angeles, California
    All sample libraries have to be de-noised due to the noisefloor build up that you get from layering so many microphones. Many string libraries for example have three microphone positions to choose from, but those are actually submixes of 20-30 mics or whatever. So if you play just 4 notes you might be dealing with the noisefloor of 120 or so microphones. De-noising sacrifices some of the clarity of the original recordings, but it's a necessary tradeoff. Different developers have different philosophies of how to approach this, hence the disparity in hiss/noise across various libraries.
  10. ashtongleckman

    ashtongleckman Member

    Apr 8, 2017
    Indianapolis, IN
    Go listen to James Newton Howard, Ben Wallfisch, or Desplat recordings. You’ll hear tons of room tone. It’s normal and I really like it in samples, keeps it raw and realistic.
    spaunsam7, MAA, LamaRose and 10 others like this.
  11. erica-grace

    erica-grace Senior Member

    Sep 7, 2015
    Umm, there aren't that many...
  12. Jeremy Gillam

    Jeremy Gillam Active Member

    Jun 10, 2017
    Los Angeles, California
    In order to create polyphony the number of microphones used to sample each note is multiplied by the number of notes being played. So if you play one note on the violins that was sampled using 20 microphones, one note in the violas that was sampled using 20 microphones (in the same configuration perhaps but at a different moment in time), and so on, the number of mics skyrockets.
    dflood, Casiquire, Lawson. and 2 others like this.
  13. erica-grace

    erica-grace Senior Member

    Sep 7, 2015
    Oh, I misunderstood! I thought you were saying that there were usually about 120 mics for a recording session. I didnt realize you were saying that it's the amount of mics X the amount of notes being played. Sorry!
    Casiquire and Jeremy Gillam like this.
  14. colony nofi

    colony nofi Senior Member

    Jul 19, 2012
    Oh stacking noise is a huge issue with sampling.

    I sometimes think that every (media) composers formative education (or even later when they're in the world trying to make a living from this artform) should include learning how to make a sample instrument. Start with something basic - and do a project like Christian Henson's MVP Piano. Indeed - if anyone here hasn't done it before and has a piano, go ahead and contribute to that project NOW!

    Anyone here who uses Nuendo can build really simple sample instruments right in their timeline. It's awesome. Then when you want a little more flexibility with things, learn a little about Kontakt. (The Logic sampler is quite good too!)

    Anyway - my point is - this will quickly show up how sampling is a very different artform to recording. Even though it involves recording.

    As Jeremy pointed out, voice stacking quickly adds up.

    For fun, go grab a detailed piano kontakt library, and play with the pedal down for a while. Maybe some ostinato / textural phrase. It is easy to reach 300PLUS voices playing back at once. Each of those voices can be made of more than one mic (if using a "mix" palette it will often be 6 or 8 even for just a piano. So its quite easy to get a situation with just a single instrument to have 1000's of individual signals summing to make the one sound. Noise - no matter how low - will play a part.

    My conversations with various developers over the years have shown me how the attention to noise floor is paramount. Even when they're using character equipment.

    Some devs go for super super quiet mics, preamps etc. Even they can need post production (you'd be surprised the amount of work done on samples before they hit a final product in kontakt!) . Some devs do like tape / using tube gear etc. Used well, this isn't as quiet as solid state gear, but it is still very quiet - and it definitely changes the character of the samples. But perhaps it is not to taste for composers who need things to be super super quiet.

    Add to that the need for media composers to present palettes of sound that could never be reproduced by a real recording without riding faders. I'm talking about super soft pianos, strings, orchestral instruments. Its an artificial dynamic created by gaining up the samples significantly.

    End of last year I recorded a quintet + piano for a score in a super quiet concert hall + studio in Glasgow. Great gear, an awesome engineer and producer.

    I was using loads of super soft playing / textural orchestration. Not too many mics. Spots, Tree and Surrounds. Never more than a single overdub. And yeah, the engineer hit me up a few days after delivering the files with new files he had additionally denoised as he felt it really needed it.

    And during the mix - oh did we have noise to deal with. Funnily enough, I got both used to it - especially after getting the temp mix from the dubbing stage for the rest of the film to mix "around'... and I totally embraced the noise in the end - even for the super quiet emotional pieces. For me it really worked - but I was on the edge at a time.

    I also played back the premixes (prior to live recording) of the noisiest cues - and they used what others would consider noisy samples - and the final result was definitely quieter than the recording.

    (We *chose*) on the recording to use ribbons on the piano for the sound - knowing the noise there would be the noisiest bit! But it was a good wakeup to the immense work the sample devs put into getting us the tools we do have.

    Most of the time I can tell noise issues in samples before buying them. Just listening to quiet demos etc. And reading reviews. I've never personally come across a time when it has stopped me from using the sound... or just changing up an idea in response to me not liking a result etc. Creative constraints and all that.

    I choose to celebrate the tools. Yeah, it can provide frustration at times. I understand that. But also, samples are bloody AMAZING! I listen to what I did 25 years ago knowing what sampling tools were around then / libs etc - and to hear what is possible - just WOW!

    So I'm just not sure I subscribe to the idea that because there is inherent noise involved in a particular sampling technique that a company shouldn't offer it to market. It isn't in everyones taste and its a square peg at times for your round hole. But there's plenty of square holes I need filling at times...

    And I appreciate the character that comes from some equipment choices and especially room choices. They're all choices. The more I think about it, the more it feels similar to the room / reverb sampling arguments that have been going on for years. Both sides have their place. Sometimes we just need to realise our tools are not all one size fits all or even most.

    And celebrate the tools for what they are.
    TheSigillite, CGR, ilja and 3 others like this.
  15. Consona

    Consona Senior Member

    Aug 5, 2011
    That's what I do. There's not even one mix where I wouldn't use RX's denoiser or declicker. Some Cinebrass Pro low dynamics patches are such a noisefest, or some Cinematic Strings 2 patches have those clicks in them. RX can help with these things a lot.

    Why can't you use it on a big project? CPU problems or what?
    Headlands likes this.
  16. nas

    nas Active Member

    Dec 28, 2015
    Jordan / Toronto
    It can be a little distracting when soloed but usually isn't a problem in a mix. I found some the other day in one of my percussion libraries on a Celesta instrument and it really bugged me because it kept coming in and out every time I struck a key and sounded quite unnatural. I just put an HPF on it and that seemed to help significantly - and as I mentioned it wan't really a problem in the entire mix, just distracting when I was working on individual parts.
  17. GtrString

    GtrString Active Member

    Dec 10, 2016
    I do agree. With other instruments like vocals, guitars ect we go through so many hoops to get a good signal to noise ratio, and pitching music to film and tv is not easy with noisy samples. When I want authentic, I record a player, or route audio out into a speaker/ cab and re-record with a mic ect. The last thing I need is baked-in noise with samples.
    Headlands and Dietz like this.
  18. Dietz

    Dietz Space Explorer

    Yes - but you hear the noise _once_ in a real recording, not multiplied by the number of voices you play. There's a difference between a "raw" and a simply bad recording. :)
  19. barteredbride

    barteredbride New Member

    Oct 19, 2018
    If you didn't record the samples straight to tape, people would complain they're not warm enough sounding!:grin:

    People are used to hearing orchestral recordings to tape. Ears are trained to associate it with authenticity.
  20. OP

    Headlands Active Member

    Aug 18, 2017
    As I said in the original post, it's not room tone that I'm referring to. It's hiss, which is in either tape or mic press that are old, etc. Room tone is something very different from what I'm talking about, and when I was recording it was definitely a desired part of the sound.
    Casiquire likes this.

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