I wish to coin a new phrase. Playback Hell.
Been working on an ep since 2011. Some of the tracks, I wasn’t really happy with, but the main stumbling block putting me off finishing them was that they sounded terrible outside of the DAW. I’d have them on my MP3 player and the bottom-end would be flickering up and down, all glitchy like. Some sections sounded dirty as if the DAW couldn’t handle the enormous bottom-end I was employing – very much like tape saturation. And instead of the reverb tailing off as it should, it would break down nastily as the volume ebbed. Something just seemed disastrously wrong.
So I reinstalled the mastering plug-in that I was using, to fix the reverb problem. Several times. To no avail. After much trial and error, I found that the default threshold setting of the expander in the multiband harmonics section was set too high. I know – it should’ve been obvious.. *rolls eyes*
That was the reverb fixed, but what of the rest of it? Too much bass? Really?
Ignoring this madness, I finally got the tracks to the point where I was convinced they were 99% complete, and listened on my MP3 player – I like to give them a few days of listening to see if there are any last tweaks to be done. Some tracks sounded fine.. some sounded awful. The glitching and saturation thing was still there. So I listened to them in the DAW and they were fine. I listened to them in the mastering app I use and they were fine. Jesus Harold Christ.
I then played them back in Windows Media Player (I still use XP) and they sounded.. awful. Must be the MP3 encoding, I thought, so I listened to the wavs in Media Player – still crap. Yes, I know it’s Media Player, but it doesn’t usually do this. Sinking feeling abounds. I relay this to someone and they suggest I listen back using VLC, as they’re not hearing the problems I’m describing.. I do and the tracks sound perfect, wavs or MP3s. Good old VLC.
What is the point of all this whining? Well, I guess I’m concerned that other’s playback devices/apps/whathaveyou won’t do the tracks justice. No one else who’s heard the ep has said anything about audio glitching, and it could just be that I’m in my very own Playback Hell, but it still concerns me.
My MP3 player is hardly a cheap thing – it’s a decent Philips device. I’d imagine Mac users won’t get these problems, but if you’re using Windows, get the lovely VLC – there are many reasons to use it, not least it being able to achieve the mighty feat of playing back audio as it was intended.
So, beware of your playback choices, because they may be interpreting audio differently to how the originator wanted. Which is pretty ridiculous.