Here I am, Tape Op’s Gear Geek, butting into an otherwise enthralling review from Joel Hamilton. After reading Joel’s draft of this review of the Yardstick, I asked him to send me the unit so I could take it for a spin, with a plan to add a brief second opinion as well as a bit of background to the review.
The original Quantec Room Simulator was introduced in 1982, during the early years of availability for digital audio tools. The QRS wasn’t cheap, but many of them ended up in high-profile studios where they stayed in use for decades, despite (or perhaps because of) the proliferation of low-cost digital effects boxes. And even when another wave of digital reverbs gained popularity, this time in the form of convolution-based processing, the QRS and its various revisions weathered on. Today, many engineers still revere the original QRS for its transparent, natural-sounding room simulation. The latest series of room simulators from Quantec, the Yardstick, is still based on the 1982 QRS algorithm.
When I first unpacked the Yardstick 2496, I had a “where’s the rest of it” moment. The unit isn’t much more than a faceplate; although it’s a full rack-width, it’s only a couple inches deep, even with an internal power supply. Just as Joel mentioned in his writeup below, I found the device initially daunting. Two compact, high-resolution screens, one surrounded by tiny LED-lit buttons, and a conical rotary encoder next to an oversized (relatively speaking) toggle switch make up the user-interface. But after spending some time with it, I discovered the power of Parameter Follow Me mode, and very quickly, I began to appreciate the very German efficiency of the interface. With simple motions of the hand and fingers, I could dive deep into the parameter tweaking.
The Yardstick arrived right when I got a call to deliver stems of a “Bad Moon Rising” cover by Rosa Chance Well for the movie trailer of Straw Dogs (a remake of the classic 1971 psycho thriller). I plugged in the Yardstick, and within minutes, I had a patch that tied the sparse elements of the song together into a single performance. It was as if everything Joel had written in his previous reviews and on his TapeOp.com forum — about how the best reverbs create a coherent and believable sense of space, even when given disparate material — came true when I brought up the returns from the Yardstick. In the end, I used the Yardstick on this song sparingly, knowing that I was delivering stems for another engineer to mix. But then I reopened other projects I had archived, just to hear what the Yardstick could do for them, and not surprisingly, I was thoroughly impressed with the Yardstick’s life-like ambience working like glue to hold a mix together.
Anyway, enough of me paraphrasing Joel. You can read Joel’s own words below. By the way, I recommend downloading the Yardstick manual from Quantec’s website; if you’re at all interested in simulation of space, the manual is worth reading. –AH
Walk softly and carry a big stick. I have always disliked that saying, but I never had a Quantec Yardstick as my “stick”.
There are multiple versions of the Yardstick. The one that showed up at Studio G for me here in Brooklyn is the one with L/R inputs, and then something like 27 outputs — all digital. I don’t know. I mostly used the stereo I/O. Maybe it was six outs for surround. The unit arrived without any real documentation, though everything is available online. Much to our amazement, the company sent us the entire paper manual out of nowhere, and it was just in time.
Getting started with the Yardstick was a bit daunting because I don’t have any other reverbs hooked up in the digital domain. I have a Bricasti M7 (Tape Op #69) that I use on every mix, a plate, a bunch of springs, and an actual reverb chamber deep below Studio G. The chamber doesn’t have digital I/O — I just patch to it and it works. Getting the Yardstick set up was a good exercise in Pro Tools HD routing, which really didn’t take long at all. My assistant Francisco did all the crawling around behind the racks while I just did the software part of it in the I/O setup window, and we were rocking.
I was mixing a really fun record that included Magik*Magik Orchestra, tracked at Tiny Telephone (Tape Op #10) in San Francisco. There were like 7 million tracks recorded by my pal and great engineer Ian Pelicci, and I didn’t have 796 channels on my Neve to route it all out. I decided to sum the tracks out to just four channels of my console. I then printed stems of Magik*Magik to my 2-track machine at 15 ips, through an ADL 670 (Tape Op #35) on the mix bus, and a Chandler Curve Bender in the print path for EQ and pre-emphasis to add some top end on the way to tape. I essentially did an analog mastering job on the orchestra tracks to tape. I made an aux in Pro Tools and put the Yardstick on that aux. I then spazzed and assigned the orchestra tracks to run completely through that aux, rather than simply send to it. It sounded incredible. The default hall on the Yardstick sounded absolutely stunning, like the orchestra had been recorded in an incredible space, perfect for the type of stuff that we were doing. It was just so natural, even 100% wet, because its early reflections are so real. That’s all I kept coming back to: it sounds so REAL.
After being totally floored by the quality of the reverbs we were hearing, I decided I would poke it and push a button or two and see what it did. I went over to the unit itself and got a headache trying to look at the tiny screen and tiny buttons and alien interface that looks cool in a TRON way — but isn’t very cool if you are trying to actually use the thing.
But here is the really crazy thing. The Yardstick displays an IP address on the face of the unit, and you can actually go to that IP address to control all the powerful, incredible sounding goodness that lurks behind the cyber-rave-nightmare faceplate that defies all attempts at data entry or manipulation. Using any web browser, you can tweak away at like 7 billion parameters and get the outstanding reverb to go into surreal amounts of pre-delay, or early reflection levels that make the room grow tiles, or whatever parameters you want. A lot of the terminology is what you would expect, but there is a ton of other trouble available for you if you really get tweaky. The presets were so great I didn’t even really get all crazy with it, but I would just take down the dry level in order to send 100% wet to the rear of a surround thing I was doing, or something equally simple.
The Yardstick simply sounds fantastic, and I am hopefully going to wind up with the 2493 version which is just stereo analog I/O. Anyone looking for a way to unify sounds that were tracked in different rooms, up close, far away, under a million circumstances, should check this thing out.
With the inevitable comparisons with the Bricasti M7, I really just found them both to be incredibly useful tools for manipulating the perceived space that the events are occurring in, rather than tools for “putting verb on it.” The Yardstick has some hall sounds that are just so dense, and beautiful; the illusion of being in an incredible sonic space is very complete with the Yardstick.
While mixing Live at Stubbs, Vol. II for Matisyahu in surround for the DVD of the performance, I used the Quantec 2496 and it really helped me create a convincing “space” that helped to unify all the elements, bleed and all. I sent more to the rear speakers than the unit would have done on its own by bringing the return out to a pair of faders on my console. The rear was stemmed out with the ambient mics and essentially was treated as an intrinsic part of the overall sound.
During another mix in stereo, I had a red flashing light on the face of the box and could not figure out why the Quantec was not passing signal. I hadn’t gone through the manual to learn that not all of the algorithms/patches are available at higher sample rates. I rarely work at HD sample rates, so I hadn’t noticed this before, but a producer brought in some tracks that were at 88.2 kHz, and I decided not to sample-rate convert the project before mixing in this case. When we loaded one of the patches that is capable of operating at HD sample rates, duh, it worked perfectly again.
I would recommend the Yardstick to anyone in need of a very, very, very high quality reverb unit for any purpose. Much like the utility of a plate, where it only does one thing — and does one thing perfectly for any genre or occasion — the Yardstick does reverb — space — and does it incredibly well. This thing would be applicable no matter what style of music you are working on, but it was certainly at home with an orchestra, where any amount of cheap aliasing or artifacts would simply have been unacceptable.
This box is not inexpensive, but you can hear what you paid for immediately. This could be one of those boxes that helps move you forward with your mixing. It certainly will be there waiting when you get the mix where you want it to go. (2496 $5695 MSRP, 2493 $4250, www.quantec.com)
–Joel Hamilton, www.joelhamiltonrecording.com
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