Arguably the single most important aspect of any TV show or film, dialog is at the front of any such production. But how to balance dialog with foley, sound effects, and a sweeping musical score? Introducing the SA-2 Dialog Processor – active equalization strategically placed to handle the signal spikes of the spoken word. Based on hardware originally conceived by Academy Award winning re-recording mixer Mike Minkler and used on over 100 major motion pictures, the SA-2 just might be your new ‘crutch’ in the studio.
What Is It?
The SA-2 Dialog Processor consists of five pre-programmed active equalizers at frequencies and bandwidths best suited for dialog sibilance adjustment. Each band has its own threshold control to adjust the signal level at which the band’s active equalizer begins to reduce signal level, and an enable button to quickly audition the effect of each band’s processing.
Above each threshold control is a meter showing the amount of signal level reduction for that band. Metering is displayed as a percentage of maximum reduction.
Input and output gain controls are provided for final adjustment. The input gain control can also be used to adjust the effective threshold of all the band threshold by increasing or decreasing the signal level going into the active equalization bands. Adjustments made with the input gain control in this regard can be offset by the output gain control.
The SA-2 Dialog Processor can do more than just improve recorded speech. Vocals are equally benefited by some adjustments from the SA-2. Other instruments, like bass, guitar, drums, and keyboards can also always do with a bit of active equalization to soften frequency areas that are too strong relative to the instrument itself and/or the entire mix.
The main design focus of the SA-2 Dialog Processor is, as its name implies, for dialog processing. Recorded speech contains plosives, transients, steady state vowel sounds, inflections and other nuances that make it a difficult signal to adjust. The situation is even worse for the dialog editor or mix engineer because the loss of any one of these elements of the recording could cause the loss of intelligibility. A shouted command by the movie’s hero at the height of the epic battle in the final scene needs to be balanced with the rest of the elements in the mix, but also has to be understandable.
The SA-2 takes all these issues into account, and delivers five highly customized active equalization bands with three ballistics options (Mode) and four frequency distributions (Band Mode). The user only needs to adjust the threshold controls to dial in just the right amount of plosive and transient reduction, balance out vowel and other steady state sounds, and influence inflections.
Going through some of the presets for dialog can get any user on the right path towards a nicely adjusted dialog track. Using the active equalization bands enable buttons is a great way to quickly audition how each band is affecting the audio. Sometimes a good setting is made better by simply disabling one or two of the five bands.
A powerful vocal can only remain powerful if the listener can understand what the singer is saying. The SA-2 Dialog Processor is just as suited for this purpose as for dialog. Like dialog processing with the SA-2, using some presets is a good place to start. More aggressive vocals could be better suited with the “Assault” ballistics mode. If a more subtle approach is warranted, then the “Normal” or “Gentle” modes might work better.
Another approach is to drop all the band thresholds to a nominal level – say -24 dB (all the threshold knobs point straight up at this setting). Then audition the different modes to see what might be the most appropriate. Again, applying one band at a time is a great way to get familiar with the strategic placement of the active equalization bands in the SA-2.
Yes really. Drums. All those snare hits, kicks, cymbal crashes, etc. can get pretty nasty and make any mix a tad too crispy. Apply an SA-2 Dialog Processor to your drum buss now man! Consider the drum track just like a dialog or vocal track. There are some signal spikes you want to adjust just a bit to bring the drums back in line with the rest of the mix. If it’s a rock band, the “Assault” mode is probably well suited for the job. Like dialog or vocals, checking out one band at a time gives the mixer a sense of where the SA-2 is processing within the frequency spectrum, and what parts of the drum mix are really in need of adjustment (and which parts are not!).
Why stop at drums? Indeed the SA-2 Dialog Processor can be useful on pretty much any audio track. Too much resonance in that synth solo? Over doing it in the mid range of your guitars? What was that flute player thinking? All issues that can be addressed with the SA-2. Simple yet sophisticated, the SA-2 Dialog Processor just might be the thing your mix or movie needs.