get a fair amount of questions about SFX's Editor Mode. So I figured it might
be worth discussing it in this issue of Tips and Tricks.
First I should make sure we are clear about what is being discussed. I am not
talking about the Edit Mode and Play Mode of the SFX Workspace. Editor Mode, is
a special off-line edit mode for SFX, that can be used for many different
tasks. You can run SFX in Editor Mode without having a hardware key present on
your computer. While in Editor Mode, SFX will not playback any audio or
actually output any data, it will "fake" playing back any audio files. There is
more info about the limits of Editor Mode in the current SFX user manual,
Chapter 15 "Startup Parameters".
I use Editor Mode on a regular basis to pre-build SFX Cue Lists or Effects
Lists so as to save time during the technical rehearsal process and to make
changes to SFX cues files or effects files while away from the theatre. I
sometimes use it while I am trying to help a board operator or sound technician
solve a problem or make a change during the run of a production, over the
phone. In these types of situations I find it much easier to follow along on my
Laptop in Editor Mode, so I can describe very precisely and accurately which
buttons to click on, or what they should be looking for on the screen.
There are many uses for Editor Mode. The only hard thing about using Editor
Mode, is actually getting to it. In order to start SFX in Editor Mode, you have
to add a switch or parameter to the Target line of the SFX Desktop Shortcut.
While to those that may not be very familiar with the Windows Operating System
this might sound difficult, it's really not. I would refer to it as more of
nicely hidden secret inside the SFX User Manual. So let's go through the step
by step process. I'm going to assume you have already installed SFX, and have
the SFX shortcut on your desktop.
Go to the SFX Shortcut on your desktop, Right click on it and then select
2. You should then see
a standard Windows dialog box like this one:
3. Notice that I have
the "Target" for the shortcut highlighted above.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Windows
OS, the entry under "Target" is basically what the Windows OS will try to run,
when you double click on the icon. You can make a shortcut to just about
anything you like.
So the next step in the process, is to add a "-e" to the end of the Shortcut's
Target. Note that you must put a space in between the quotation marks for the
target and this switch. It should look exactly as it does in the screenshot
below, with the exception that you might have installed SFX in a different
directory than the one listed below. Although the one listed below is the
default location (folder) that SFX will install itself into. So unless you have
changed it, this is most likely where your copy of SFX is installed on your
4. Once you have added
the switch onto the end of the target, simply click on the "OK" button, and you
are done. The next time you double click on the SFX icon on your desktop, you
should start up SFX in Editor Mode. The only disadvantage to doing this, is
that in order to start up SFX, normally again, you'll have to repeat the above
steps, and take the switch out of the Target box. Changing this back and forth
can be a real pain, so what I usually do, is rather than changing the icon that
SFX creates during the installation process, I'll make a copy of it on my
desktop first. (You can do this, by clicking on the icon
and hitting Ctrl+C, and then Ctrl+V.) Then I'll modify
the copy of the icon. This way I'll have two SFX icons on my desktop. One for
starting SFX normally, and the other for starting SFX in Editor Mode. When I'm
done I'll have something similar to the screenshot below on my Windows desktop.
This way, choosing
which mode I want to open SFX in is as simple as clicking on the proper icon.
See Chapter 15 "Startup Parameters" of the SFX User manual for more info on
this subject, and for many other options that you can put into the Target for
you SFX desktop icon.
Improving Fade Ins and Outs
anyone that is a member of the SFX Users Email list can tell you, the most
common complaints and comments about SFX on the list are about the quality of
the fades in SFX's audio engine.
What is that? You say you're not a member of the SFX Users
Email list? Well why not?
Stop what your doing and go to: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SFX_Users/
and sign up now.
(sorry about that plug)
Anyway, here is a trick that I've been using for some time now, to improve the
quality of a fade in or fade out within SFX.
As most of you are probably aware, the settings within SFX's mixer allow you to
adjust the volume for each output from a maximum level of -0dB (essentially
unity gain) to a minimum level of -100dB (essentially off or mute). Logic would
tell us that this allows for 100dB of volume control from each .wav file
playback to each output. However in reality, this is rarely the case. The
simple fact is that most theatre playback systems would not allow for such a
large dynamic range in volume settings. The combination of the theatre's noise
floor (simple audience noise, air handler noise, etc.) and the limitations of
the dynamic range of our sound systems typically allow for a smaller dynamic
range from the audience's perspective than 100 dB. Add to this the fact that
it's not uncommon that many of our sound system's speakers are often placed on
or behind the set. This can sometimes add several layers of heavy weight
fabrics and/or other set materials between our speakers and the audience. All
of these factors combine to give a much smaller dynamic range out of a typical
theatre sound system, than 100dB, from the audience's perspective.
So what does all this mean from the standpoint of the playback
levels within SFX?
Essentially what it means is that if you play a cue (using the preview
function) and grab a pair of the faders within SFX's mixer, then slowly run the
faders up from -100dB, in many cases (depending on where that particular output
is being routed) you won't hear any audio until you hit at least -75 to -60 dB.
In some cases for speakers that are on stage, behind several layers of scenery
I've had to take the faders up as high as -40dB or even to -25Bb (in some rare
cases), before I could hear any perceptible audio from within the audience
seating. Now if I walked back stage I could hear the audio coming from the on
stage speakers at a much lower level, of course. But in most cases we are not
designing the sound for the pleasure of the backstage crew, we are designing
the show for the audience.
So why does this matter?
The reason this matters is because if you are telling SFX to either do a fade
in from -100dB, or a fade out to -100dB, then it's highly likely that the first
25 to 30 dB of the fade in (or the last 25 to 30 dB in the case of the fade
out) is a complete waste of SFX's resources. Your having SFX spend a lot of
fade time, on something that no one in your audience is going to hear.
As an example, let's say that I'm fading a music cue out. The level for the cue
prior to the fade out is -20dB. I go into SFX's mixer and by adjusting the
outputs I realize that I can not hear any perceptible audio until the mixer's
faders reach -60 dB. This means that if I were to create a fade cue that took
the levels all the way down to -100dB, the last 40dB of that fade would be a
complete loss. That means that upwards of 50% of that fade is wasted.
To combat this issue, Stage Research has added several different fade curves to
SFX over the years. This would be all the different varieties of logarithmic
fades, compared to a straight linear fade. Although these added features have
improved the fade quality within SFX over time, I still feel that I can get a
better sounding fade by doing some of the work by hand.
So what I do, is rather than fade the levels all the way down to -100, I'll
only fade the levels down to -65 or -70dB, and then stop the cue. (I like to
find the point where I can not perceive any sound, and then go 5 to 10 db
lower...just in case.) Using this method I find that the quality of the
standard linear fade improves greatly, in most cases. Depending on the source
material, speaker position, the gain structure of the sound system, etc,
sometimes even the logarithmic fades can improve using this method.
What I will typically do to help speed the process up during technical
rehearsals is, at the start of tech I'll play a fairly loud piece of audio that
is fairly consistent in volume (i.e. little dynamic range). I'll start by
playing it with all the outputs at -100dB. I'll then open the mixer window, and
slowly with my mouse bring up the outputs until I can just barely perceive any
audio being played back. I'll do this one output at a time, and for each output
I will find the low point of audibility on SFX's mixer. I then typically jot
these numbers down on a piece of paper, and use that as a reference (or
starting point) during the level setting process, and the rest of the technical
For those of you, who work on the same machine in the same venue a great deal,
it might even be worth your time to find what I call the "low point of
audibility" for the SFX outputs you use on a regular basis (the ones that do
not typically change from one production to the next), and then put those
levels into SFX's Default Volume settings within the Options Dialog Box. This
way all new cues would start out with the volume levels at the "low point of
At first it might just seem odd, to stop a fade out before it reaches maximum
attenuation, or to start a fade in with the fader not at it's lowest volume
setting. However with some experimentation, and once you get used to setting
levels this way, I think you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised by the
improvement of SFX's fade quality.