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Topic: Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

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  1. #1

    Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

    I've been trying to burn a demo of my score, which was created entirely from sampled instruments in Kontakt 2 (GPO, JABB, etc.) from Sonar 6. First, I was getting distortion in the mid-bass range. I addressed this by using fewer bass instruments and reducing the volumes of the ones that I used. Now I'm getting it in the treble.

    I mix down to "Broadcast" WAV (i.e. CD compatible files) in Sonar. And when I play them back on my DAW, using Windows XP Media Player, it sounds just fine. (I am using Genelec 1029A speakers with a Genelec 7070A active subwoofer). But when I play it back on my home theater system, using Genlec 6020A speakers (the home theater version of the 1029As) & no subwoofer I've been getting the distortion mentioned above.

    At first, I thought it had something to do with not using a subwoofer on the latter system. Next I tried rolling off the bass and treble using the switches on the 6020As. But the flat response sounds the best. I tested the setup using commercially produced CDs (classical & cast albums of current Broadway shows) and they all sounded just fine, at any volume level. No distortion.

    Let me also note here that the volume levels of the CDs I burn of my own music sounds very low compared to commercial CDs. I have turn the volume up to twice as loud as the commercial CDs to hear my own stuff on the playback system.

    So, I'm thinking that I must be doing something wrong in Sonar. From what I have been reading, I'm thinking that I need to use some kind of compression. But the few attempts that I have made to use compression in Sonar were disasterous. I really don't know what I sould be doing with the compression plug-ins (what settings I should use). I've tried Vintage Channel (VC64) with all the various presets and they just seemed to make things worse. I tried fiddling with all the settings, but, admittedly I am groping around in the dark. I also tried the Sontius:fx Compressor and the freeware VST plug- in Classic Master Limiter from KJAERHUS AUDIO with no better luck. If compression is what is needed, I could use some basic help in figuring out how to use one of these.

    As for the distortion, my best guess is that I am not using Sonar's peak meters properly. For each instance of a Kontakt2 (and NI Akoustic Piano, which I am also using in my compositions) I let the volume go into the red area as much as possible without hitting 0db. Then I do the same for the master (audio) track, which is all the Kontakt tracks mixed down. I was doing this because I was trying to get the volume up as much as possible without distorting it. Let me stress again, that when I do it this way and play back the WAV files that will make up the CD on my DAW, I don't get any distortion and don't need to set the volume very high.

    I am really not sure what is going on here. I'd appreciate any ideas or suggestions.

  2. #2

    Re: Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

    Hello, ejr

    This looks like a job for SUPER DAN (AKA: DPDAN) - and I imagine that once he finds your post, and has the time, that he'll offer you some good guidance. There are many people on the Forum who are good at mixing, and DPDAN is certainly one of our Masters. He engineers the yearly Garritan Christmas CD.

    I am by no means a Master, and always feel like I'm learning all over again every time I mix down a project--But, I manage some successful mixes using Sonar, so let me begin the replies to your thread with a few bits:

    --Look at the red peak indicators at the top of the audio fader strips in Sonar. When I'm mixing, if those Ever turn red, I know I've hit the digital wall where ugly distortion will be in the mix, so I pull back.

    --Taking a step or two back in the process, I start with all my audio tracks at no more than half volume. Once you get a lot of audio tracks playing in combination, your DB level starts increasing very quickly. So I start getting the balance I want with the 1/2 way mark as a starting point.

    --When necessary, I strap on a Limiter. That's an easy plugin to figure out--it simply limits in an absolute way how loud your mix is able to get. But it can squash your track considerably if you're pumping too loud of a signal through it.

    --I use compression usually, but a very low setting, like 1:5. You really do need compression, or I do, when mixing down.

    --I don't rely only on Sonar for the final output. You really need a dedicated mastering program, like Sound Forge that I use. I'll bring my mixed down 2 track master into Forge, and invariably find that there's still headroom to be filled.

    --In Forge I use a Volume Maximizer - I select portions of the track that dip down too low and put a volume envelope on the whole low section to bring it up.

    --I Normalize after Maximizing--I use the tools in Forge to see what the output is like, and I can get the overall volume to come rather close to commercially printed CDs which use every trick in the book to boost volume levels.

    But back in Sonar, while you want a nice healthy signal, you Don't want to be ever crossing into the red. You simply have to start with all tracks at a lower level, and adjust accordingly.

    Briefly and generally--there's some feedback that may be helpful. Stand by for more expert advice from DPDAN and others.

    Randy B.

  3. #3

    Re: Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

    Thanks. That is helpful.

    Another thing I noticed about Sonar -- when I mix down all my MIDI tracks to a WAV track, it looks like the best setting for dithering is "triangular", which is what I have been using.

    But when I export the WAV file, according to Sonar's online help, it seems like I want to use the "Pow-r3" ... the only problem is, after I did this and re-exported all my files, when I tried to burn the CD my CD burner application rejected them all, saying that they were not supported. (I used to use "triangular" dithering for both, but I was getting distortion -- again, only on the CD, not when the WAV files were played back on my DAW.

  4. #4

    Re: Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr View Post
    Thanks. That is helpful.

    Another thing I noticed about Sonar -- when I mix down all my MIDI tracks to a WAV track, it looks like the best setting for dithering is "triangular", which is what I have been using.

    But when I export the WAV file, according to Sonar's online help, it seems like I want to use the "Pow-r3" ... the only problem is, after I did this and re-exported all my files, when I tried to burn the CD my CD burner application rejected them all, saying that they were not supported. (I used to use "triangular" dithering for both, but I was getting distortion -- again, only on the CD, not when the WAV files were played back on my DAW.
    Hi ejr,

    Whether you use Powr-3 or triangular dithering should be irrelevant. All dithering does is use an algorithm to decide how to do the math to discard extra bits when moving from a higher bit depth to a lower bit depth. Using the "Burn Audio CD" tool, however, you need to be sure that the exported tracks are all 16-bit 44.1kHz WAV files. My hunch is that when you clicked export you still had it set on 24-bit. Many burning apps are capable of dealing with different sample rates, but can't dither on the fly.

    The distortion might come from a normalizing setting checked somewhere on your burning application. What external CD burning program are you using?

    Regarding compression and levels, you've seen firsthand how easy it is to destroy a mix with compression! Orchestral material is a terrible beast to start learning how to use compression.

    But, it's a powerful tool worth learning how to use. I recommend using an audio drumloop as a medium for playing with compression. I'll try to add a few basics about using it to this thread a little later.

    Out of curiosity, what are your commercial references for levels? Orchestral and choral music are supposed to have large dynamic ranges, and many parts on commercial CDs can be very quiet.

    Best,
    Reegs

  5. #5

    Re: Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

    My reference CDs were of the opera "Carmen" and several Broadway shows (since the CD I am trying to burn is a test for the demo of my score for a musical). "Wicked", "Spring Awakening", "Urinetown" and "Gray Gardens" -- all very different in style and orchestration. They all sounded good on the home theater system. So I assume there is something that I am doing with my CD that is screwing things up. But, again, the tracks (WAV files) sounded fine after exporting.

    The CD burning application I am using is Nero. This is a very no frills app. It does not dither or normalize as far as I can tell. I also have Roxio Media Creater on my other machine, which I could use in a pinch. But I really can't afford to invest in any new software at this time. It seems to me that burning CD compatible tracks that Sonar Producer should be able to handle, even if I am still using version 6.

  6. #6

    Re: Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

    Okay, in re-listening to my test (commercial) CDs I can detect some very slight distortion of in the high range, of the type I am experiencing on the CDs I create in Sonar. I don't hear the boomy mid-bass there, though, or the overall quality that you are listening to the recording with cotton stuffed in your ears (regardless of the volume level.)

    I think I negelected to mention that, on my home theater system, I am playing the CDs on a DVD player/recorder. Perhaps this has something to do with it. Though, I wasn't expecting that. It's a high end piece of equipment (cost me over $700). But the sound from DVDs doesn't have that distortion. I'm not hearing any distortion on the signal from my cable TV connection, either.

    So, I am now going to try testing the CD on my old home stereo system. (No pro-quality CD player or speakers there.)

    I'm not sure that I agree with your settings for Sonar. It seems all that keeping the signal completely out of the red zone has done is reduce the overall volume of the output to an even lower level. And Sonar doesn't seem to be set up this way. I am using the default scale 60db. The peak level numbers don't turn red until you go over zero db and the meters stay lit when they do. More importantly, you can actually hear distortion when that happens. If the signal goes anywhere into the red, below 0db, the sound is uneffected (except, of course, that it's louder than when you stay out of the red entirely.)

    Surely someone has had more experience with doing this sort of thing than I have and could post some answers.

    Thanks.

  7. #7
    Senior Member
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    Re: Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

    From what I've been told and also read, any time you push a digital signal into the red you are adding distortion into the signal path. I certainly am no expert in this area but I have found this to be true with any tracks I've burned from Sonar. If they were in the red in Sonar then they had distortion when burned to a CD.
    Jerry
    Dayton, Kentucky
    Personally, I'm waiting for caller IQ.

  8. #8

    Re: Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

    Thanks, Jaybee, for underscoring what I said earlier in this thread about getting distortion when audio faders are lighting up red.

    Ejr, "...Surely someone has had more experience with doing this sort of thing than I have and could post some answers..."

    Correct, and posting answers is what we've been doing.

    In your first post you said, "... I let the volume go into the red area as much as possible..." That's a problem. As I said in my first reply, you must watch the peak indicators in the Console view of Sonar, and keep making adjustments so those indicators never light up, otherwise, you get digital distortion which can be quite ugly.

    Randy B.

  9. #9
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    Re: Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

    Make sure you set your master fader in Sonar to 0 db. I submix different sets of instruments to about 5-8 faders in the submix section. This allows easier balancing between instrument sections. Make sure that the combined mix of the instruments doesn't hit 0 db on the master. If you do peak out, then reduce all the submix instruments. For example, you peaked at 2 db over on the master, then reduce the submix instruments each by 2 db.

    You may find that most of the submix instruments don't hit into the red on the meters. This is normal. Each instrument is additive to the total output. So it's possible to have 5 instrument sections each at -6.0 db but have the total output hit 0 db on the master.

    I use Powr-3 for most of my dithering down to 16 bits for burning CD's. It works quite well for most material.

    I recommend using another program such as CD Architect for assembling CD's. Most of these programs allow you to add crossfades, balance levels between tracks, add final compression to your mix, etc. In general it's recommended to not compress your mixdowns. This is something that should be left to mastering your CD.

    Jim

  10. #10

    Re: Getting distortion when burning CDs from Sonar

    Thanks for all the feedback. Here is where I am getting confused:

    (1) The scale markings on the meters for audio tracks in Sonar always appear the same; but you can adjust their scale by means of a Record Meter Options flyout menu, which can be anywhere from -12 to -90 db. I'm not sure how to use this, so I just left it at the default (-60) for each audio track. Each audio track in my score is a separate instance of Kontakt 2 (one for each instrument group) or Akoustic Piano. On the wind instruments, the audio track has a very light convolution reverb plug-in. I don't use any other FX, even on the final mix.

    (2) For MIDI tracks, I leave all the volume settings at the default (101 on the meter.) I control the volume of each instruments precisely by using cc:7 (and cc:1 on Garriatn VIs), entered by hand on the MIDI Event list view.

    (3) I don't detect any distortion if I let the signal of any of the audio tracks go into the red, until it reachs the top of the scale (the peak light stays on, and the digital readout says greater than +6 db and the numbers turn red as well.) Remember, I have Sonar Producer Edition 6. What you see may be different in other versions of Sonar.

    (4) I tried the test CD on my stereo system (with the cheap CD player and speakers). Guess what? No distortion in the treble range; but I do get that boomy mid-bass emphasis and that overall cotton wool in your ears effect when I listen to it ... which leads me to believe that I am just losing some of the highs.

    (5) I tried playing the CD on my DAW (just playing the CD in the drive where it was burned) and all those problems went away.

    So, this has caused me to believe the distortion problems are due to the playback systems and left me without a method of increasing the volume without literally increasing the volume.

    Comparing commercial CDs to my own - if I listen closely enough - I can hear these same differences: but they are much, much, less noticable. I'm just wondering what they did to minimize the effects of a less than pristine playback environment -- because God knows what they'll be using to playback my demo.

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