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Most processor plugins these days fall into roughly the same categories (EQ, compression, effects, denoise and utilities), so when a plugin comes along that starts a new category it’s big news. The plugin I’m talking about is the the Eventide Fission, which uses what the company calls its new Structural Effects (that would be the name of the new category) technology to break a signal down into its separate transient and tonal components.
Why would you want to do that? A number of reasons actually. For one, you can take any sound and twist it in a new and wonderful way to create something completely different, so it’s perfect for sound design.
But for those of us that just do music, it has lots of uses as well. For instance, it can provide much more convincing pitch alterations since you can keep the transient as it is, then tune just the body of the sound (there’s a great example on both snare and toms in the video below). Maybe you want to soften (or emphasize) a transient of a guitar to reduce the string or fret noise, or do the same with the body of the sound to reduce the room ambience. Maybe you’re doing a dance track and just want to completely mess up a synth sound into something totally new. There are tons of uses for Fission.
Keep in mind that Fission isn’t just another transient designer tool since it works on more than just the transient as you can manipulate the body of the sound as well. The plugin includes six effects (Delay, Tap Delay, Dynamics, Phaser, Reverb, and Gate + EQ) for the transient component, and seven (Delay, Compressor, EQ, Pitch, Chorus, Reverb, and Tremolo) for the tonal component. Fission’s Structural Split controls (Smoothing, Trans Decay, Source Type and Focus) combine with a real-time waveform display to show the user just how they are adjusting the split.
The Eventide Fission Structural Effects plugin has a list price of $179 but has an introductory price based on your Eventide purchase history. There’s also a free 30 day trial period. Go here to learn more, and check out the video below. Very cool!
I know, I know. You can’t finish that mix until you get the sound of an old surveillance tower to pull it all together. But where to find one? Well you’re in luck as the impulse responses from the Teufelsberg National Security Agency tower in West Berlin are now available. Best of all – it’s a free VST plugin.
The Teufelsberg security tower is a three-domed structure erected on a “devil’s mountain” of WWII rubble dumped on top of a half-finished Nazi military school. From this perch high above Berlin, the US government and its allies listened in on the communists of the Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union. It’s still standing, and you can add its cavernous sound to your tracks, thanks to Balance Audio Tools.
The plugin provides 6 different IR reverb sounds, all with fast, zero-latency convolution. There are only two controls, blend and gain, along with A/B compare and preset saving functions. It’s available as a free plug-in for Mac, Windows, and even Linux, and it’s open source.
Have a listen to what it sounds like.
If you want to tour of the structure, check out the video below.
How many times has it happened where you have a great mix going, but it just needs something a little extra to bring it all together? Of course, there are now a lot of plugins available to add some “glue” to your mix, but they usually bring just one sound to the party. The Black Box Analog Design HG-2 from Plugin Alliance is different in that it’s one of the most versatile plugins mix buss plugins of its type on the market.
Like the hardware version of the HG-2 that it’s modeled after, the Black Box Analog Design HG-2 plugin brings a wide range of harmonics to a mix, thanks to the careful emulation of the 6U8A pentodes and 12AX7 triodes found in the original model. There are separate gain controls for both the pentode and triode emulations so you can dial a blend between both. You can then adjust the Density control to drive both tubes harder without changing their relative balance or the plugin’s output level in order to get more girth and mass.
The Calibration menu emulates the internal trim adjustment in the original hardware unit by modifying the HG-2’s high-frequency response to produce Dark, Normal or Bright coloration. Then there’s the Air knob, which lets you add some extra 10kHz+ to open up the mix. The HG-2 also has a saturation circuit to add either tube sheen or blistering overdrive distortion to just low or high frequencies or across the entire frequency spectrum. There’s a lot that this plug can do, and it’s certainly a lot more than meets the eye.
The Black Box Analog Design HG-2 retails for $249 but it’s currently on sale for $149. There’s a 14 day free trial available. Check out the video for more info, or go right to the dedicated page on the Plugin Alliance site.
Amplifier modeling has reached new heights of realism, and it’s to the point where even die-hard purists with big amp collections now show up to a session or a gig with just a modeling pedal. That said, one of the big problems with amp emulators has always been how difficult it is to get acoustic feedback. Let’s face it, you have to move some air first to get that sound that we all love so much. Until now, that is. Softube’s Acoustic Feedback plugin now allows you to get as much or as little real sounding acoustic feedback while staying exclusively in-the-box.
Acoustic Feedback has actually been around for while but I’m only getting hip to it now (thanks, Oz Amaro!). The plug is an offshoot of the White Marshall amp simulation from Softube’s Vintage Amp Room, although the one supplied is a stripped down version (that’s all you really need for feedback). It’s very cool in that it’s fully responsive to vibratos, bends, slides, and tremolos so it tracks your playing well. The user interface is simple: there’s a Mix control, a Feedback amount control that goes from subtle to natural to wild, and a Tolerance control that tracks your playing.
Best of all, you can assign a MIDI foot controller to the Feedback control to manually adjust the amount so it responds just like you were in front of a cranked Marshall!
Acoustic Feedback is available for VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native and AAX DSP formats, and is just $49 with a 20 day trial period. You can find out more info here.
For those of you who gig with a modeling pedal and don’t want to drag your computer with you, Fender made a version of this called that Runaway pedal that combined the Softube Acoustic Feedback algorithm with a built-in foot pedal. Unfortunately, it’s no longer available, but you might be able to find one used.
We’re starting to see more and more next generation DAW plugins where outside the box thinking results in an easier user interface which ultimates leads to new or more useful sounds. Nowhere is that more evident than with the new FabFilter Pro-R Reverb plugin which takes many of the more difficult reverb concepts and controls and presents them in a new, easier to understand way.
FabFilter Pro-R has the same familiar interface as it’s other wonderful plugins, showing a real time waveform display, but this time with a decay time and EQ curve superimposed over the top. While there are many unique features of the plugin, one of the most striking and useful is the previously mentioned decay curve, which allows the user to simply grab and shape as necessary. This allows you to have different decay times for different frequencies, which while not totally unique, is presented here in a way that’s far easier to achieve the final result you’re looking for.
Another unique feature is the continuously variable Space control that lets the user fade between dozens of different room models and automatically chooses a matching decay time. Once again this is possible with most other reverb plugins, but the fact that as you dial up the Space control it automatically switches from algorithm to algorithm is not only pretty cool, but one of those “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?” features.
There’s also a Distance control that adjusts how close the source is in relation to the reverb, so you can bring things closer or further away as needed. Of course, on most reverbs you can do this by adjusting the first reflections, but this is so much easier. A Character control also changes the sound from a clean, transparent decay to one with that’s over-modulated for a chorus-like effect. This is one clever plug!
The FabFilter Pro-R reverb plugin costs $199 (EUR 169 or GBP 149), and supports both Windows and Mac OS X in VST and VST 3, Audio Units, AAX, RTAS, and AudioSuite plug-in formats. Check out the website for more details, or this excellent video that pretty much explains everything.
It’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.
Vocal tuning can be a touchy subject. Many think that it’s putting a big band-aid on a problem while others feel that it’s just a normal by-product of today’s music production. But tuning a vocal in the studio is something completely different from doing it live on stage, where many see that as cheating of the highest order. Putting the moralities aside for a second, when you have a tool available that really helps a vocalists stay in tune, you might as well use it, and that’s where the just released Waves Tune Real-Time pitch correction plugin comes in to play. It’s so fast that it can be used to tune vocals in real-time during a performance either live on stage or while recording in the studio.
Waves Tune Real-Time uses a brand new algorithm to automatically tune vocals with ultra-low latency. It has loads of features that make it easy to correct the pitch while keeping it sounding natural thanks to its advanced formant and vibrato correction, as well as it’s many manual features. It features intuitive controls and a simple layout, and can be easily programmed to the song’s key and customized to the singer’s articulation.
One of the cooler things is that it has a built-in software keyboard to help with the correction programming, or for just playing back guide tones to the singer, which any producer or engineer who spent time connecting a keyboard while the vocalists was waiting will appreciate.
Waves Tune Real-Time works on just about any available DAW and runs on any live mixing console via MultiRack SoundGrid. It’s also compatible with all SoundGrid applications like StudioRack, MultiRack, eMotion ST, and eMotion LV1.
The plugin is now on sale at an introductory price of just $99. Check out the video below that not only provides a demonstration of how it works, but a rundown of all its features as well.
There 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!
Anyone 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.
Let’s face it, when it comes to a new piece of gear or plugin we’re often enamored because it’s brand new, or because of the name on it, or what we’ve read about it. How often do we do real blind testing? The answer is probably “Not much” since blind testing is pretty hard to do. Until now, that is, since the Hofa 4U+ BlindTest plugin has made blind testing a piece of cake.
To use it is pretty simple – insert 4U+ BlindTest as last plugin on every track you’d like to compare. At that point, only the tracks that are soloed play and all the other tracks are muted.
The real key is the Shuffle function though, since that will put the tracks in random order without names. You can then switch between the different signals to judge them objectively, then assign a ranking and add your comments. You can later uncover the track names.
It’s pretty easy to shuffle and evaluate several times so you can get average ratings. The Hofa 4U+ BlindTest will allow comments to be summarized so that you can check if your aural impression was always the same. If there’s a track that you’ve eliminated from the competition, just drag it to the “Inactive” section to eliminate from the next round of listening.
The Hofa 4U+ also has a couple of other very important features. There’s a peak display and a gain control per track so you can avoid influences caused by loudness differences, because as we all know, louder = better. The user interface is also scalable so that you can use it to hide anything on your screen that may influence your decisions, like your DAW’s mixer panel.
Like all Hofa plugins, 4U+ BlindTest works with VST, AU, AAX and RTAS formats. Best of all, the Hofa 4U+ BlindTest plugin is free if you can live with just 3 comparison choices. Want unlimited choices? Then just upgrade at any time to the paid version, which is about $45US.
Hofa makes some great other plugins as well that are definitely worth checking out.