Category Archives for "Software"

Outstanding Audio Software From AES 2016

Audio Software AES 2016As I said in my post yesterday, there were fewer audio software companies at AES than one might have expected. The reason is that many software companies are boutique operations with only a few employees, so taking time away from development and spending a lot of money on a show is a critical decision. When it comes down to it, it’s either exhibit at NAMM or AES, and since NAMM reaches more people, that’s the show that usually wins. That said, I did see a couple of plugins at AES that might change the way you mix.

Izotope Neutron

Izotope has always been a company on the cutting edge of audio software development, and it’s constantly coming up with new and useful plugs. The latest is Neutron, which may change the way you mix forever. Neutron does a couple of things – first, it analyzes a track and finds the EQ problems and automatically fixes them for you. Then, it will analyze multiple tracks and find where one track may be masking the other frequency-wise, and sets the EQ and compression. The company is quick to point out that the plug’s suggestions are only starting points, but that certainly performs much of the heavy lifting that sometimes takes years of experience for a mixer to achieve. Check out the video below.

The price for Neutron Standard is just $249 with a $199 introductory price.

I should also point out that I was approached by another company at the show that was in beta test for a plug that did much the same thing but with a different approach. More on that when it’s released.

Eiosis E2 De-esser

De-essers are a necessary evil in audio. We generally don’t like to use them, and when we have to, they’re sometimes finicky in setup. The Eiosis E2 de-esser takes de-essing to the next level, making it a dead-easy setup yet with plenty of flexibility to be able to tackle just about any problem area that you might have. What’s even better is that it has a dynamic EQ built in, which again makes tweaking easy, especially on a vocal. Works great on instruments as well, which isn’t the case with all de-essers. All in all, the results are some of the smoothest you’ll find from a de-esser anywhere. The Eiosis E2 is a bargain at its current sales price of $99. Check out the video below for more details.

There were certainly other fine plugin releases at AES, but these two are the ones that caught my eye.

September 27, 2016

New Features In Pro Tools 12.6

pro-tools-clip-effectsIf you’ve been a Pro Tools user for any length of time, then you know that sometimes the upgrades don’t have a lot to show in terms of user improvements. You’ll be glad to know that in the latest version, Pro Tools 12.6, there are some features that many users may find useful. Here are a few of the cool ones.

  • Clip Effects provides real-time clip by clip, input gain, polarity, EQ, filters, and dynamics, complete with shortcuts and presets. That’s is based on the Avid Channel Strip plugin from the Euphonix System 5, which is very cool. The best thing is that you no longer have to worry about automation or rendering to make this happen. This is for HD users only, unfortunately.
  • Layered Editing is basically being able to edit a clip under another clip that overlays it, so if you delete the top clip, then you don’t have a hole there on the timeline like previously.
  • Playlist Improvements include new views, plus new options in the Preferences that will automatically send a clip that is fully overlapped, either by recording or editing, to the next available playlist.
  • Fades are now easier to manipulate as well.

The thing about the above new features is that other workstations have had these for a while now, so in many ways Pro Tools is still playing catch-up.

You can read all about Pro Tools 12.6 improvements on this Avid Blog entry, or check out the following video.

New Music Gear Monday: Empirical Labs Arousor Plugin

empirical-labs-arousorIt’s rare when a modern compressor becomes a standard, but after 20 years, the Empirical Labs Distressor can be found in every major studio, as well as many smaller and home studios, and is as widely used as any of the “classics.” The Distressor has a sound that’s different from everything else, and is one of the few hardware units that’s never had a digital plugin emulation. Until now, that is, as the new Empirical Labs Arousor comes about as close as you’ll ever get to the esteemed Distressor.

The Arousor has a similar look to the distressor, but there are a few things that jump out immediately that are different. For one, there are two new choices for gain reduction – 1.5:1 and 8:1. The much used Nuke setting is gone and Rivet can be found in its place instead (although they do much the same thing). There’s also a control called Attack Modification, which changes the envelope of the attack, as well as a new Soft Clipping control, which adjusts the amount of distortion from none up to plenty. Then there’s the new variable hi-pass filter and a sidechain EQ section (both were fixed on the Distressor). Finally there’s a Blend control that allows you to perform parallel compression with ease.

Does it sound exactly like the Distressor? Even Empirical Labs says that it’s close, but not exactly. According to their webpage, “We say “close” because most of Empirical Labs’ analog gear will pass 150KHz easily, and that is something that is impossible with current digital technology.” Another thing is that the ratio controls don’t exactly line up, according to the helpful online manual, which states that you should always use a ratio on the Arousor that’s one higher than you’re used to using on the Distressor. In other words, if you’re used to using 4:1 on the Distressor, use 6:1 on the Arouser to get close to the sound.

That said, it’s rare when a software emulation compares 100% to its hardware counterpart. We’re in the realm of “really close” and for the most part, that’s been good enough even more the most hard-core of golden ears, so the Arousor is definitely in the ballpark here. The fact of the matter is, it’s great to have a Distressor-like compressor plugin now available, and the fact that Arouser comes from the same company ensures that you’re getting software with its seal of approval.

The Empirical Labs Arouser isn’t inexpensive at $349, but it currently carries an introductory price of $299. There’s a free 14 day trial, and you can get it directly from the Empirical Labs Arouser webpage. Check out the video below for a sample of how it sounds.

New Music Gear Monday: Exponential Audio NIMBUS Reverb Plugin

nimbus-reverb-pluginI really love Exponential Audio plugins because you get high performance effects that don’t require a ton of CPU power at a reasonable price. While the company’s existing plugins are very cool indeed, Exponential founder (and ex-Lexicon engineer) Michael Carnes has outdone himself this time with his new NIMBUS reverb, a true next-generation plugin.

NIMBUS takes the excellent sound and parameters of the company’s PhoenixVerb and gives it an injection of steroids, providing a host of new and useful features. For instance, there’s expanded EQ with 3 separate sections – one on the reverb tail, another on early reflections, and a new EQ on input. Each section allows you to select between 6 different types of filters (2 Lowpass, 2 Hi-pass, Bandpass and Notch). Thanks to these new EQs and filters, it’s easy to keep problem sounds like traffic and rumble out of the reverb, create different effects, or work around buildup in overused frequencies.

There’s also a very cool new dynamics process called Tail Suppression that helps lower reverb levels when the input signal is strong, so you never have to worry about having a vocal that’s too wet yet you can keep the lush reverb in the spaces in between phrases.

NIMBUS also provides a choice of several early reflection patterns, which I don’t ever remember seeing in another reverb. One of the patterns is a special ‘Vintage’ selection that has a very low density that helps to get the sound of some of those old hardware favorites that we all know and love. Another feature that I really like is that you can lock predelay and reverb delay to tempo, something that had to be done manually previously.

Finally, there’s a new Warp section that provides three different parameter sections. One is an input compressor/expander that provides variable attack, release and knee to allow you to control how the input feeds into the reverb.  This can allow you to set how much reverb dynamically occurs during quiet passages, for example. Plus, it can even approximate the non-linear converters of 30-year-old hardware devices (Lexicon 224 anyone?).

Warp also has a  flexible overdrive circuit that gives you the ability to add some nice sounding harmonic distortion or even a bit of transistor crud to get a sound closer to what real plates and chambers (the ones that use real analog amplifiers) sound like.

Finally, there’s a word-size reduction control that can help you emulate the sound of the convertor and DSP distortion from all those expense vintage reverb devices that we used to use back in the analog days.

The Exponential Audio NIMBUS Reverb plugin is available for Mac (10.8 and up) and Windows (7 and up), and in various plugin formats – VST and VST3 (64-bit only), AudioUnits (64-bit only), and AAX (32 and 64-bit) so it will play nice with just about any workstation that you use. Go here for all the details.

NIMBUS will be available at the end of September for $199, and you’ll be able to test-drive it for 21 days. You’ll find it at the Exponential Audio Online store.

New Music Gear Monday: Audified MixChecker Plugin

Audified MixCheckerEven back before the cassette days engineers and producers checked their mixes in their cars. Back then, some studios maintained a low power AM transmitter on site so you could run out to your car to make a quick check, but now we use all sorts of portable files to check on everything from computers to phones to even an Amazon Echo to be sure that a mix translates. All that running around takes time away from mixing, so that’s where Audified’s new MixChecker plugin can be a big help.

MixChecker inserts across the stereo buss to simulate the response of a number of different devices and environments. You can switch between simulating a pair of headphones or a monitor with a 5 inch or an 8 inch monitor to start, or just hit bypass to hear the mix normally. When it comes to environments, you can then switch between normal monitors (although with different speakers), small Auratone-like monitor simulations, headphones, smartphone, tablet, laptop computer, computer with external speakers, earbuds, the car, a television set, a home stereo system and a boombox. Pretty cool.

I can’t say for sure how accurate these are, but it looks like Audified spent a lot of time sampling the environments and devices to at least get you in the ball park. That said, we all know how our cars sound, and for many of us, that’s still the ultimate test.

That said, Audified MixChecker is definitely something to look into. It’s only $149 and is ilok protected (although you don’t need the hardware key, only the License Manager), and is available for AAX, AU and VST in 32 or 64 bit and for Mac and Windows. There’s also a 30 day free trial. Check out the video below for more detail or visit the dedicated Audified MixChecker page.

Thanks very much to Kurt Hoffler for the heads up.

It’s Analog, It’s Digital, It’s The XOXX Composer

XOXX ComposerEvery now and then we see a hybrid device that perfectly captures the best of both worlds between analog and digital. Here’s a great example of such a hybrid, called the XOXX Composer, that takes some spinning wheels, magnets and some custom software to become a hybrid controller.

The XOXX Composer is comprised of 8 wheels, each with 16 positions that hold small magnetic balls. The balls can be positioned so that when they pass over a sensor at the bottom of the device they a trigger a sound via the software over a MIDI connection. By moving the magnets, you create custom events that can become a beat or instrument trigger thanks to the software.

The device is a prototype developed by Axel Bluhme while studying at the Royal College of Art in London. It’s not available for sale, but Bluhme is considering a crowdfunding campaign in the future.

While I’m not sure of its viability as a product, it sure is cool. It’s great to see MIDI controllers reimagined, and this one is certainly outside the box.

New Music Gear Monday: Mastering The Mix LEVELS Plugin

Mastering The Mix LEVELSThere are a lot of plugins that monitor a single aspect of your mix, like dynamic range, frequency response or headroom, but until now there hasn’t been one that looks at everything and more within the same plugin. That’s where Mastering The Mix LEVELS plugin comes in, a neat bit of kit that instantly tells you exactly what’s happening with your mix.

LEVELS monitors headroom, the stereo field, the “bass space,” and the dynamic range of your mix, as well as provides a mono selection and left or right solo. Just insert it into your master buss you’re ready to go.

The Headroom function provides a true peak meter to make sure your master buss doesn’t clip, as well as EBU R128 compliant integrated and short term LUFS meters to accurately measure the mix’s perceived loudness.

The Stereo Field function features a vectorscope to see the stereo width of the track, a correlation meter to any monitor potential phase issues, a Left/Right meter to check the stereo balance of your mix, and a unique Low Pass button that solos the low frequencies below 300Hz so you can see just the stereo width of the low end.

The Dynamic Range function allows you to instantly see if your music is over-compressed, thanks to an oscilloscope that glows green if your music is dynamic. It also features a ‘DR’ Dynamic Range display based on the Short Term LUFS to peak ratio.

A particularly cool function is the “Bass Space” feature that provides level meters for 40Hz, 80Hz, 120Hz, and 160Hz to help you identify any channels that are too hot in any one low-frequency area.

Mastering The Mix LEVELS is about $89 USD (depending upon the exchange rate of the British Pound) and is available for both Mac and Windows platforms in VST, VST3, AU and AAX formats (both 32 and 64 bit). There’s also a free 15 day trial with no credit card required.

This is a very cool plugin that’s worth a checkout. Thanks to Kurt Hoffler for the heads up!

New Music Gear Monday: SoundRadix Muteomatic Plugin

SoundRadix MuteomaticAnyone who doesn’t use a console has the same problem while recording. You have to manually mute the talkback or listen mic when recording starts, and you have to unmute it when recording stops. Doesn’t seem like much, but doing it dozens of times during a session can be a complete pain. The clever boffins at SoundRadix have created a solution for this though, and it’s a plugin called Muteomatic.

Muteomatic will automatically mute the talkback or listen mic channels according to your DAW’s transport state, opening the mic automatically when the DAW stops and muting it when the DAW is in playback or recording mode, all while clearly displaying when the mic is open or muted, so that you won’t have to worry about talking to yourself for a few minutes without the players hearing you ever again.

In addition, Muteomatic can be used to automatically mute reverb or delay channels so that long effect tails end when the DAW stops playing, so you don’t have to worry about talking over them.

Muteomatic also works the other way as well, opening up the talkback channel when the DAW is in playback or record mode so you can give cues to the players.

The plugin is RTAS, AAX, VST and AU compatible on both Mac and Windows platforms, so it’ll work with any DAW application.

Here’s the best part though. The SoundRadix Muteomatic plugin is FREE, and you can get it here on the dedicated page on the SoundRadix website. You can check it out in action in the video below.

I love it when someone creates a truly useful utility, and it’s even better when they’re priced within reason. In this case, it’s a major bonus that the plugin is free. Thanks again, SoundRadix. You make truly awesome plugins.

Thanks to Oz Amaro for the heads up.

My 10 Go-To Plugins

10 Go0To PluginsI often get asked what plugins I regularly use, and even though I like to think that I’m pretty open minded about it, there are some that I keep coming back to. Here are my 10 go-to plugins, with a number of honorable mentions, in no particular order (even though they’re numbered).

1. Universal Audio 1176 – In my opinion, there’s never been a more versatile compressor created, either hardware or software. I’ll use it on drums, room, keys, guitars, bass, vocals – almost anything actually.

2. Universal Audio dbx 160 – Another favorite emulation, it gets used mostly on kick and snare, where it shines for the controlled punch it provides. Be sure to use a low compression ratio of 2:1 or even less.

3. Waves Schepes 1073 – What a fantastically versatile EQ! It’s also one of the few where I even use the presets and they work well (great job, Andrew!). I especially love it on kick and snare, but it will work everywhere else as well.

4. Universal Audio Maag EQ4 – I just love the Air band, which brings out the presence of almost any mic. Stick this sucker on a vocal and you’ll make that cheapie mic sound closer to a C12 than you might have imagined.

5. Exponential Audio PhoenixVerb – I loved the sound of the old Lexicon reverbs, and the PhoenixVerb has all that and more (company owner Michael Carnes spent 25 years working for Lexicon).

6. PSP Vintage Warmer – I use this on the mix buss of every mix. It just makes everything sound better, even without using too much of it.

7. PSP 2445 Reverb – One of my new favorites, it’s kind of a one-trick-pony reverb in that there’s not a lot of different algorithms to choose from, but that one trick always sounds great. The shortest decay settings are excellent.

8. Universal Audio SSL Buss Compressor – Once again, this is one that’s on the mix buss of virtually every mix I do. I’ve tried other plugins, but always come back to the SSL.

9. Universal Audio LA3 – For some reason, this is just the ideal electric guitar compressor. It even makes highly distorted guitars sound better.

10. Pro Tools Native 7 Band EQ – I use this more than just about anything, sometimes just to finish off the sound after another EQ was already applied. The good thing is that since it’s native, you can use a ton of them without eating up much computer processing power.

Honorable Mention:

JST Finality – This is quickly finding it’s way into my top 10. Sound wonderful on kick, but I’m still finding other uses for it.

Universal Audio LA2A – I use this a lot of hat and vocal (usually in conjunction with an 1176).

PSP L’Rotary – This is the best Leslie speaker emulator ever, in my opinion. You won’t need this on every mix, but when you do, it always works.

Soundtoys Microshift – Whenever I need a Harmonizer sound, this is what I turn to. It’s one sound that just can’t gotten any other way.

I know the list leans heavily towards Universal Audio, but I’m can’t deny that I’m a big fan. The list of honorable mentions could have also gone on quite a bit longer, but then I would’ve been getting into plugs that I don’t use as regularly. Anyway, now you know what I use as go-to plugins, but keep in mind that if you check back in 6 months, the list may be completely revised.

June 6, 2016

New Music Gear Monday: Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation

Spatial WorkstationAs I’ve stated in other previous posts, virtual reality is coming on like a nearly invisible distant freight train. It’s not apparent to the public yet because all the movement is behind the scenes, but believe me, it’s coming hard. Just like in the early days of surround sound, it’s still like the Wild West, with tools and techniques being developed every day with virtually no standards yet. Facebook, which owns Oculus Media (which hopes to be a giant player in the headset market) has jumped on board the VR audio train by acquiring the boutique immersive audio company Two Big Ears. The Edinburgh-based company has been around since 2013 and specializes in spatial 3D audio for both movies and gaming.

The best part of the acquisition is that a set of VR tools that company used came with it, and now Facebook is giving away that package for free. Called the Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation, the package consists of 5 components:

  • The FB360 Spatialiser plugin, which is inserted on every channel of your DAW and acts like a very advanced 360 degree panner.
  • The FB360 Control plugin, which is inserted on a single aux channel and acts communicates with the VR player.
  • The VR Video Player, which allows you to synchronize VR video with the audio you’re mixing.
  • The FB360 Encoder, which converts your mixed audio into an acceptable VR file format.
  • The FB360 Audio Engine, which incorporates head tracking information from the VR headset and integrates it with the app.

The VR Video Player is a big deal, since synchronizing VR audio and video is now one of the more difficult things in VR post. Hopefully this will make things go a bit easier.

The Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation only works with Pro Tools 12, Reaper, and Nuendo, but it looks like it’s a dynamite set of much needed tools. And you can’t argue with the price.

Download the free software package here. For more about Facebook 360, go here.