Audio plug-ins compared

Introduction

This roundup presents an overview of six new audio plug-ins for the Mac, with comparisons drawn between similar pairs. Waves offer three new items to compare with similar offerings from Steinberg and Drawmer. As far as compatibility is concerned, Waves version 2.5 plug-ins are now supported by Mark of the Unicorn’s Digital Performer 2.3 or higher, as well as Premiere, VST and Pro Tools TDM. Drawmer Dynamics is TDM-only, while the Steinberg plug-ins are VST format only. All things being equal
Waves Renaissance EQ features a unique user interface. The top half of the window contains the frequency response graph with the filter centre frequencies visible as coloured dots so you can see exactly what you’re doing. Three rows of buttons let you set each filter’s gain, frequency and ‘Q’ or bandwidth. At the bottom of the screen, a row of buttons lets you switch filters on or off and select the filter type for each band. The Renaissance EQ has three modules for 6, 4, or 2-band operation and, uniquely, features simultaneous multi-parameter control. Simply use the selection rectangle or shift-click to select a group of controls, then drag on any of the selected controls to change them all together. You can, of course, still alter parameters one at a time. Renaissance EQ comes with loads of useful presets, based on the three filter types available, including cut, resonant shelf and bell types. You can alter the ‘Q’ values on all these filters and the parametric bell filters are designed to have similar characteristics to the classic ‘Pultec’ analogue designs. If you’re looking for a serious equalizer tool to ‘sweeten’ your recordings, then Steinberg's Q-Metric parametric equalizer deserves your full attention. Unlike many VST plug-ins that have simplified feature sets, Q-Metric includes everything needed to ‘zoom in’ on frequencies of interest and adjust the response accordingly. The seven filter sections include Low Cut and Shelf, three mid-frequency filters, and High Shelf and Cut. These are arranged in vertical columns with an on/off switch at the top of each section and three switches below to let you process left, right or both channels of the stereo input. Each filter has a frequency control that you can use to set centre, cut off or stop frequency. Mid-frequency filters allow full control of their parameters – here you set the centre frequency for the range of frequencies over which the filter acts. 'Q' controls let you set the bandwidth, which these filters control. Finally, all filters have gain controls to let you set the amount of filtering – apart from the Cut filters, which have a fixed amount. Less interference If you ever wondered how to get rid of excessive sibilance in recordings of speech or singing, then wonder no more. You need a de-esser to tame the louder ‘esses’. Waves DeEsser is a professional tool with a simple, yet powerful interface. The interface has four main buttons. The top one lets you switch the Audio path from Split to Wideband. Split affects only high frequencies for more accurate de-essing while Wideband suits gentler de-essing. The second button lets you set the sidechain filter Frequency to match that of the ‘esses’ you want to fix while the third button lets you choose the Side Chain filter type. DeEsser normally works in HighPass mode, but the BandPass filter can be used to isolate just one type of ‘ess’ – as it ‘looks’ at just a narrow range of frequencies. Finally, the Monitor button lets you choose whether to ‘listen’ to the full output or just the sidechain. A Threshold slider lets you set the level above which attenuation of the ‘esses’ takes place – just slide this down till the ‘esses’ sound natural while keeping an eye on the meters to make sure the levels are OK. Steinberg SPL De-Esser version 1.01 comes in Steinberg’s VST format, so it can be used with Cubase VST or other sequencers such as Studio Vision and Logic Audio. The user-interface could hardly be simpler. You get an on/off switch for the Auto Threshold function, a pair of selector switches to select male or female voice types, an ‘S’-reduction knob to control the amount of de-essing, and a simulated LED display to indicate the level by which the sibilant frequencies are being reduced. Choosing Male or Female adjusts the sibilant frequency settings and recognition parameters to the characteristic frequency ranges of the male or female voice. The Auto Threshold feature is ideal when recording less-experienced singers who often move around inadvertently in front of the microphone causing the output level to vary. With Auto Threshold on, Threshold and Ratio settings are automatically and constantly adjusted to cope with changing input levels. Compression
The Renaissance Compressor has an appealingly-simple user interface with sliding buttons for controlling Attack and Release, Threshold, Ratio and output makeup Gain, along with three selector buttons for Arc/ Manual, Opto/Electro and Warm/Smooth. The input and output signal meters let you see at a glance where to set your threshold and makeup gain, while a large bar meter in the centre shows the signal attenuation. In Manual mode you enter the release time using the Release control while ARC mode varies the release time automatically depending on the input signal. ARC mode is similar to responsive vintage compressors and works very well on individual tracks. Electro-type compression generates very fast release times for transient sounds like kick-drums, while Opto-mode behaves like classic opto-coupled designs – perfect for entire mixes or tracks. Character can be set to either Smooth or Warm. In Warm mode, low frequency harmonics added to the signal while approaching deeper compression produce a warm and rich sound. Smooth mode prevents the addition of harmonics – keeping the sound as close as possible to the original. The Renaissance Compressor also includes a limiter set so users can’t reach clipping through the compressor no matter how much gain is added. Plenty of presets are provided for mastering, decompression, vintage emulation and so on. For example, ‘Mastering Opto’ is a Classic mastering setup which allows transients to pass, gently compressing only the average level. “Drums”, on the other hand, is good for submix grouping of kick/snare and can also work well for full kit compression. Drawmer Dynamics emulates the controls on Drawmer’s hardware units. Three modules are provided: DrawmerECL – Expander/Compressor/Limiter, DrawmerGCL – Gate/Compressor/Limiter, and the DrawmerKey for use with the Gate module. The DrawmerKey lets you designate any track as an external trigger source for the Gate module. A key is typically used with a gate to achieve tighter synchronization between two parts played ‘live’. The gate opens to let you hear the audio only when audio is playing on the key track. So, if the bass drum is played very accurately, but the bass guitar less so, you can gate the bass guitar track and key it using the bass drum track so you hear bass guitar notes play only while the bass drum plays – not starting just a little before or ending just a little after as you would if the bass player was playing slightly off-time. The Expander module allows a wide range of adjustment and will automatically vary ratio and release times depending on the dynamics of the input signal – making it easier to avoid cutting off quiet word-endings, for example. The Gate also has impressive features, including Key Listen so you can hear the effect of the Key Filter, while the Compressor sections combine both traditional compressor styles with a ‘soft-knee’ approach to allow full creative control. Finally, a Peak Limiter catches any peaks a slow Compressor Attack might miss – particularly useful for digital recording.
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