Professional Sound - April 2017 - Page 23

Waves Nx Virtual Mix Room & Head Tracker

By Richard Chycki

I

started my first Nx session by repeatedly pulling my headphones off of my ears , wondering if the speakers were accidentally left on – while staring straight at the speaker cut indicator . That was weird , in a very good way …
Mixing through headphones has always been somewhat of a juggling act – comparatively cost-effective , excellent detail without the effects of external and often deleterious ambiences / reflections versus an exaggerated listening field that ’ s unnaturally fixed in position . Waves aims to transcend the limits of conventional headphone monitoring with the innovative Nx Head Tracker and Virtual Mix Room software . The system creates a virtual mix environment to emulate the effect of listening to speakers ( both stereo and surround ) in an “ optimum mix room environment ” through headphones .
Overview The Nx is comprised of both a software and hardware component – the Nx Virtual Mix Room plug-in and the optional Nx Head Tracker hardware . Like all Waves plug-ins , the Nx Virtual Mix Room installs via the Waves Central application .
Instantiating the plug-in and selecting your webcam as the tracking source loads the Waves Head Tracker application , which runs in the background . It immediately locks on to the user ’ s face / head position and translates its position into aviation terms like yaw , pitch , and roll . This information in turn manipulates the virtual room acoustics in direct relation to the user ’ s head position . Detailed adjustments are possible via a low light mode for enhanced face / head detection , by inputting the user ’ s head dimensions in the Head Modeling section for improved accuracy , and the ability to lock one ’ s head position in a selected sweet spot . While the camera tracking approach is useful for self-recording / monitoring users who are either using laptops with built-in webcams or workstations with an attached camera , the situation becomes complicated in applications where the listener is either in poor lighting or for a listener who has no camera access , such as a vocalist tracking in a booth .
The Nx Head Tracker is designed to overcome those exact scenarios . The tracker is rectangular and diminutive , roughly double the size of the single AAA cell that powers it . It attaches to the top of your headphones with the included elastic strap , tracks your three-dimensional head movements , and sends that telemetry to the plug-in via Bluetooth . And because no facial recognition is used , up to 360-degree tracking is possible . Having the Nx tracking above 25 fps delivers optimum realism , so selecting low-light mode on the Camera + NX Tracker option ( which utilizes both the Head Tracker and webcam simultaneously and combines the advantages of each ) can bring the head tracking rate up to 80 fps .
Monitoring It ’ s recommended that the Nx be placed last in your master buss plug-in chain . Having said that , it must be physically bypassed when you print or bounce with this configuration . I found that tapping off the master buss out , feeding an aux with the Nx plug-in , and in turn sending that aux to a headphone amp eliminates the possibility of an inadvertent print of the Nx on a mix . Plus , that opens the door for an artist to use the Nx for monitoring . ( More on that later .)
The principle of the Nx system is the use of psychoacoustic technology to emulate a well-tuned mix room so a user can make better mix decisions . In stereo mode , the virtual positions of the speakers can be adjusted from zero degrees ( mono ) to a very wide 180 degrees , defaulting to a standard of 60 degrees . Surround modes also allow for speaker adjustments , though in both cases , the subwoofer is not position adjustable .
There is also an ambience control meant to reduce the “ over-intimacy ” of headphone listening and place the mix into a virtual room . In my opinion , ambience is highly subjective and in this application is not adjustable , except for moving from a default setting of 25 . I found reducing the ambience level to a setting of 3-5 was just enough to move the mix outside of headphones ; higher settings reduced the intelligibility of the mix .
Just as speaker choices are critical to complementing your mix environment , it goes without saying that the quality of headphones is critical to your work in this application .
Sessions After critical listening in my “ optimum ” environment , the Nx was a very satisfying replication of a speaker set-up . The motion of the audio was dead accurate to my head movement but felt a bit obvious or washy as I tried to compensate by tweaking the ambience and speaker width parameters back and forth looking for their sweet spot . Having said that , the overall synthetic effect I was experiencing was slight and I had the Nx under surgical conditions deliberately to push it to the limit . Higher fps head tracking rates made it feel more realistic .
In reviewing the plug-in ’ s ambience option with a high transient source like a drum kit , I confirmed that less is more in my applications . I prefer a mix room on the deader side , with ambience being supplied by the actual mix . Your tastes may vary .
Using the Nx for an extended period , I felt no image shift switching from speakers to the Nx-enhanced headphone feed . Admittedly , after a while , mixes felt a touch less satisfying when monitoring in headphones without the Nx . Read : Addicting .
I brought a test vocalist into the studio and had her sing with the Nx engaged and she absolutely loved it , repeating words like “ real ,” “ live ,” and “ open .” Her pitch was better and her body language showed she was relaxed . As a result , her performance was improved . The implications here stretch beyond studio work ; think of all the performers using in-ear monitoring and the benefits they could enjoy from this technology .
Running the Nx in a surround session , I found it excitingly unusual to monitor 5.1 mixes through stereo headphones . I had the sensations of sound emanating from behind me , but I still missed the physicality of the surround environment .
One quick cheat : Even though its primarily designed as a monitoring plug-in , the Nx made a pretty cool down-and-dirty upmixer and spatial enhancer for individual tracks added to a mix .
Summary Waves has performed a pretty astounding feat with their psychoacoustic technology at a ridiculously affordable price point . Am I ready to give up speakers ? Not quite yet , but I could see a set-up with Nx being another option for mix monitoring , useful for mobile or in-transit mix work , or for performers who don ’ t enjoy wearing headphones .
In short , the Nx is amazing technology . I wouldn ’ t be a bit surprised if it becomes a staple in everyday virtual reality applications .
Richard Chycki is a multi-platinum mixer , engineer , and producer who has worked with acts including Rush , Dream Theater , Skillet , and Aerosmith .
PROFESSIONAL SOUND 23
Waves Nx Virtual Mix Room & Head Tracker By Richard Chycki I started my first Nx session by repeatedly pulling my headphones off of my ears, wondering if the speakers were ac- cidentally left on – while staring straight at the speaker cut indicator. That was weird, in a very good way… Mixing through headphones has always been somewhat of a juggling act – com- paratively cost-effective, excellent detail without the effects of external and often deleterious ambiences/reflections versus an exaggerated listening field that’s unnaturally fixed in position. Waves aims to transcend the limits of conventional headphone moni- toring with the innovative Nx Head Tracker and Virtual Mix Room software. The system creates a virtual mix environment to emu- late the effect of listening to speakers (both stereo and surround) in an “optimum mix room environment” through headphones. Overview The Nx is comprised of both a software and hardware component – the Nx Virtual Mix Room plug-in and the optional Nx Head Tracker hardware. Like all Waves plug-ins, the Nx Virtual Mix Room installs via the Waves Central application. Instantiating the plug-in and selecting your webcam as the tracking source loads the Waves Head Tracker application, which runs in the background. It immediately locks on to the user’s face/head position and translates its position into aviation terms like yaw, pitch, and roll. This information in turn manipulates the virtual room acoustics in direct relation to the user’s head posi- tion. Detailed adjustments are possible via a low light mode for enhanced face/head detection, by inputting the user’s head di- mensions in the Head Modeling section for improved accuracy, and the ability to lock one’s head position in a selected sweet spot. While the camera tracking approach is useful for self-recording/monitoring users who are either using laptops with built-in webcams or workstations with an attached camera, the situation becomes complicated in applica- tions where the listener is either in poor light- ing or for a listener who has no camera access, such as a vocalist tracking in a booth. The Nx Head Tracker is designed to over- come those exact scenarios. The tracker is rectangular and diminutive, roughly double the size of the single AAA cell that powers it. It attaches to the top of your headphones with the included elastic strap, tracks your three-dimensional head movements, and sends that telemetry to the plug-in via Bluetooth. And because no facial recogni- tion is used, up to 360-degree tracking is possible. Having the Nx tracking above 25 fps delivers optimum realism, so selecting low-light mode on the Camera + NX Tracker option (which utilizes both the Head Tracker and webcam simultaneously and combines the advantages of each) can bring the head tracking rate up to 80 fps. Monitoring It’s recommended that the Nx be placed last in your master buss plug-in chain. Having said that, it must be physically bypassed when you print or bounce with this configu- ration. I found that tapping off the master buss out, feeding an aux with the Nx plug-in, and in turn sending that aux to a headphone amp eliminates the possibility of an inad- vertent print of the Nx on a mix. Plus, that opens the door for an artist to use the Nx for monitoring. (More on that later.) The principle of the Nx system is the use of psychoacoustic technology to emulate a well-tuned mix room so a user can make better mix decisions. In stereo mode, the virtual positions of the speakers can be adjusted from zero degrees (mono) to a very wide 180 degrees, defaulting to a standard of 60 degrees. Surround modes also allow for speaker adjustments, though in both cases, the subwoofer is not position adjustable. There is also an ambience control meant to reduce the “over-intimacy” of headphone listening and place the mix into a virtual room. In my opinion, ambience is highly subjective and in this application is not adjustable, except for moving from a default setting of 25. I found reducing the ambience level to a setting of 3-5 was just enough to move the mix outside of headphones; higher settings reduced the intelligibility of the mix. Just as speaker choices are critical to complementing your mix environment, it goes without saying that the quality of headphones is critical to your work in this application. Sessions After critical listening in my “optimum” environment, the Nx was a very satisfying replication of a speaker set-up. The motion of the audio was dead accurate to my head movement but felt a bit obvious or washy as I tried to compensate by tweaking the ambience and speaker width parameters back and forth looking for their sweet spot. 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