Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Octaves

I've got a little trick to share today that will help you if you're fishing for settings. It doesn't matter if you're an old hand with something or just figuring out a setting for the first time, you need to know where you're at. If you're the former, you've got a lot of experience and you're using that to home in on that right setting. If you're the latter, you're just fishing around for what sounds right. In either case, there's a simple method that can improve your accuracy and save time.

The title of the post is "Octaves" but I'm not referring to musical notes in this case. An octave is just a doubling or halving of something so don't get all nervous about learning scales and such. Let's say you're dialing up a reverb for the first time on a new box. Pick a point on the return fader, say unity, and have a listen. Too much? Cut it in half. So now you've got the fader down somewhere around -40 and it's definitely too little. So now go back up but half as much and you're at -20 but you're still not quite feeling it. Half as much puts you at -10 and now you're pretty close and can fine tune it. With a little practice that whole exercise can take place in about four seconds.
 
The technique works great in either direction. Either stat out with a huge overshoot and cut it down or start out with a pinch and keep doubling it. I had an instance where a friend and I were trying to figure out an optimal gain setting for a transistor in a simulator. He kept blowing it up so I grabbed the mouse and started at 1, then 2, 4, 8, 16, and within a few seconds had found an ideal number.
 
The only thing I would add is that it helps to have an understanding of what a decibel is. In the simplest terms it's the smallest adjustment that's detectable by the human ear. It's a logarithmic scale though which makes it a little harder to grasp and that's not what this article is about. But if you can remember that an increase of 3db is twice as much energy and 6dB is perceived as twice as loud you've got a start. Have a look on Wikipedia, it's a bit of a brain twister.  With that in mind, making moves of 1db, then 3, 6 and 12 can be a good habit to develop.

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