Dynamics Processing Plug-Ins

Mar 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By David Weiss



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While most audio pros will state up front that there's nothing like hardware compressor/limiters, they can generally talk a lot longer about why there's nothing like a plug-in. “In the scenario where you have the choice of both, I'll always grab the hardware compressor/limiter because it's tactile: It has knobs, tonal qualities, transformers and good stuff,” says Roey Shamir, a busy New York City-based producer/mixer whose credits include Al B. Sure!, Duran Duran, Ronnie Spector, Sting and more. “That said, if I'm mixing and trying to capture a sound that I can bring back tomorrow, along with 48 other tracks, with some form of compression, the plug-in is the answer.”

Composer Wendell Hanes (www.volitionsound.com) writes regularly for national advertising campaigns, scores films, and is the author of the new book, The 30-30 Career: Making 30 Grand In 30 Seconds — Producing Music for Commercials (AuthorHouse, 2007). Hanes notes a number of factors that make plug-in compressor/limiters valuable to his everyday workflow. “As a composer, the sound of an instrument is just as important to me as the melody or line I am playing,” he says. “The sound of an instrument influences what I play. Therefore, I try to nail the sound as I am creating melodies. I think plug-ins allow for greater experimentation, especially when time is of the essence. The ability to A/B different settings quickly is very helpful when I am creating a score.

Prolific producer/musician/engineer Chris Parks (www.albrightmusic.com) cites several examples of go-to compressors in his own personal plug-in directory. “I like the [Universal Audio] LA-2A and LA-3A,” he says. “It almost seems like a thickening agent: You get more low-mids or lows, it's a subtle effect if you don't really squash it, and it's more based on an amplifier than a compressor to me. It's this massive transformer you're emulating, and it gives you this weight.”

Shamir makes frequent use of the compressors from Unique Recording Software when hitting a mix. “Most notably, the Console Strip Pro,” he says, “the reason being that you can match it up so well with the proper EQ, put it before or after, emulate the mic pre front end and then have a way to saturate the front end. The key to compression is knowing your gain structures, when to overdrive or not, depending on how much second- or third-order harmonic distortion or fuzz you're going for. And especially with the URS Console Strip, you're able to do Distressor- and Variable MU-like stuff.”

Before we venture into our list of compressor/limiter plug-ins, we should state that it includes only plug-ins that feature gain reduction as their main job set — not effects and other processors with embedded compressor/limiters.

Compression/limiting comes to the fore at 4Front Technologies (www.opensound.com), starting with the freeware W1 Limiter, a brickwall limiter with threshold and release options. The XLimiter is a brickwall limiter with soft response and is powered by a special multistage algorithm that provides a very soft transition envelope; thus, rapid level changes at an extreme threshold level will not pump or distort as much as with other limiters.

Anwida Soft (www.anwida.com) offers the CX1V, a compressor/expander plug-in with an easy-to-use interface that drives a flexible, dynamic control algorithm. Features include look-ahead compression and hard/soft-knee control, making the plug useful in a wide range of applications.

At BIAS (www.bias-inc.com), one of the latest additions is Sqweez, a component of the company's Master Perfection Suite. Sqweez 3 and Sqweez 5 are multiband compression/limiter/upward-expander plug-ins with new linear-phase equalization algorithms. These offer graphic-per-band viewing/editing of the threshold and EQ, as well as linear-phase filters providing precise control over compression settings of three (Squeez-3) or five (Sqweez-5) frequency bands.

Blue Cat Audio's (www.bluecataudio.com) Dynamics has been designed to serve as a complete dynamics effect processor: It can be used as a compressor, limiter, gate, expander or even a distortion unit. Users can manage the plug-in's dynamics response with a unique two-thresholds system. It includes an input filter and a sidechain filter to control the frequencies affected by the compression.

Camel Audio (www.camelaudio.com) holds water with CamelPhat, a “phattening” processor with a “coloring” multi-effect that is optimized for use on guitar, bass and drums, adding warmth, punch and presence wherever required. Other features include four distortion modules, three filters, two LFOs, an envelope follower and 128 categorized presets.

Check out Chandler Limited (www.chandlerlimited.com) to experience the EMI TG12413 limiter plug-in, which continues the tradition of EMI limiters started in 1954 with the RS114 tube limiter and continued with the RS168 Zener limiter in 1968. Two versions are included in the TG Limiter Pack: The 1969 version is the historically accurate take from the TG12410 Transfer or mastering desks, which has the original Hold control. The 2005 is closer to the Chandler TG1 hardware reissue, which exchanged the Hold control for a standard input control, and also features a 12dB higher input to the compressor.

Digidesign Smack! offers three compression modes.

Digidesign Smack! offers three compression modes.

Digidesign's (www.digidesign.com) Smack! has three compression modes, ratios ranging from subtle compression to hard limiting, the ability to add analog-sounding distortion, external/internal sidechain processing with a sidechain EQ, multichannel support for all Pro Tools track types and full sample rate support, including 192 kHz. Impact is a console-style mix bus compressor with a flexible control set, support for Pro Tools multichannel formats and sampling rates up to 192 kHz, external sidechain input with key listen and a photo-realistic gain-reduction meter. Maxim is a professional brickwall limiter with full-color histogram, high-quality optimization of audio levels and advanced predicting peak limiting. From the Digidesign/Bomb Factory line emerges Classic Compressors BF-3A, offering peak-reduction controls, output gain, bypass and comp/limit switching. Then there's the Slightly Rude Compressor, a unique and aggressive plug-in that lets users tailor the sonic footprint via traditional and “rude” controls, introducing more punch to the signal. The Fairchild 660 and 670 Bundle is modeled after the rare and coveted Fairchild compressor/limiter, the 660 (mono) and 670 (stereo). The Focusrite d3 is modeled on the Red 3 dual-compressor/limiter and provides two separate plug-in configurations, allowing for maximum DSP efficiency in the TDM environment. The d3 can be used as an AudioSuite or RTAS plug-in for file-based or real-time host processing. The Trillium Lane Labs TL Aggro is an analog-modeled FET compressor with optional low-frequency compensation, linked stereo operation and a tube drive module.

Drawmer's (www.drawmer.com) Dynamics TDM plug-in for Pro Tools is based on the Drawmer DL241 auto-compressor and DL251 limiter. Auto-gain adjusts the compressor's gain when the threshold or ratio controls are changed. The compressor/limiter section of TourBuss for Digidesign VENUE combines aspects of both ratio-style and soft-knee compressors, promising analog-style response. SDX100 for Soundscape digital audio workstations features many Drawmer innovations, such as frequency-conscious noise gating, program-adaptive expansion, “bootstrap” compression and zero-overshoot limiting.

At Eventide (www.eventide.com), the Omnipressor dynamics processor is available in the Anthology II bundle. The plug-in can compress and expand audio, and is capable of extreme compression, limiting, expanding and dynamic reversal.

Focusrite (www.focusrite.com) offers 40 different compressors via its Liquid Mix platform, offering DSP powerful enough to drive 32 tracks of vintage EQ and compressors simultaneously without taxing the host CPU.

IK Multimedia (www.ikmultimedia.com) is building its own fan base for T-RackS, a complete mastering suite that is available as a plug-in and as the T-RackS 24 stand-alone package. According to the company, T-RackS' algorithms are based on true analog circuitry, with a familiar interface for controlling all five processors.

iZotope (www.izotope.com) has been making its own plug-ins for years, including the Ozone mastering system and the Trash distortion processor. The highly useful Multiband Dynamics plug-in, part of the Ozone 3 64-bit mastering system, features up to four bands of compression, expansion and limiting; analog-modeled and linear phase crossover filters; gain-reduction meters; and level histogram and spectrum analyzer. It supports resolution up to 64-bit, 192 kHz.

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