So Many Plug-Ins, So Little Time

Nov 1, 2001 12:00 PM, by Randy Alberts

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2001 has already seen a bumper crop of new plug-ins — no less than 55 new signal processing packages have been released since Winter NAMM in what one busy software developer has called “a slow year for plug-ins.” Some of the innovative new audio tools described here demonstrate that there is little in the way of audio processing that cannot be done with a DAW and a range of plug-ins. Today's plug-ins can emulate almost every kind of hardware-based signal processor, from tube mic pre's to vintage compressors, from graphic EQs to pitch shifters, from reverbs, delays and flangers to panners and mastering processors. And the new plug-in “shells” that allow for cross-format use of otherwise incompatible plug-ins multiply the audio possibilities exponentially.

Our latest listing of signal processing plug-ins includes new products released this year, listed alphabetically by manufacturer. While instrument-based plug-ins fell outside our listing criteria, many software-based synthesizers are capable of processing external and internally bused signals with a wide range of filters and envelopes. And, because this article was written before the postponed AES convention, more exciting plug-ins will no doubt become available before the end of the year.

Auto-Tune 3 from Antares Audio Technologies is an updated version of Antares' popular pitch-correction software. The new version now supports Mac TDM, RTAS, MAS, VST, PC RTAS and DirectX host plug-in platforms, and the user interface has received a noticeable facelift — it now includes a new Graphical mode for displaying mouse-drawable pitch envelope curves of any recorded performance. A new Automatic mode uses a revised core pitch detection algorithm to correct vocals or solo instruments in real time, and pitch correction is now phase-coherent in stereo tracks. Several new source-specific detection and correction algorithms include presets for soprano voice, alto/tenor voice, low male voice, instrument and bass instrument. Auto-Tune has also been ported to the Mackie Digital 8-Bus platform. Prices are $539 for TDM; $359 for RTAS/MAS/VST versions.

If “seeing” a plug-in preset helps visualize its sound, then take a look at AudioEase's Altiverb. This 1, 2 and 4-channel sampled acoustics reverb processor for Digital Performer/MAS host environments displays a photo of the actual room a preset is based on, and comes with additional software for creating JPEG pictures of user-sampled acoustic spaces. Taking full advantage of the G4 Altivec Velocity Engine co-processor, Altiverb works in real time, produces up to 40 seconds of reverb decay, and includes presets ranging from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw to the back of a Ford Transit van. Price is $495 direct from AudioEase.

BIAS' Vbox is a real-time control environment for VST plug-in effects that combines, re-patches and mixes any of hundreds of available third-party VST plug-ins. Bundled with numerous, free VST plug-ins, Vbox employs a matrix grid for combining multiple individual plug-ins per channel in series, parallel, or series and parallel. Each plug-in's input/output levels can be controlled without leaving the Vbox Control window. Vbox is priced at $129.

Five new processing plug-ins have been released to date from Bomb Factory. The moogerfooger 12-Stage Phaser ($249) and Analog Delay ($249) plug-ins emulate the signature sound of Dr. Moog's Big Briar hardware modules; ditto for the Bomb's plug-in emulation of Joemeek's SC2 Compressor ($399) and VC5 Equalizer ($249.) The SC2 is based on Meek's photo-optical compression circuitry, while the VC5 is a faithful recreation of a treble and bass circuit with sweepable mid, also based on circuitry developed by Joe Meek. Rounding out Bomb Factory's new releases is the Pultec EQP-1A ($399), a digital EQ plug-in that captures every sonic nuance of its analog predecessor.

The BBE Sonic Maximizer ($129; $99 for registered Cakewalk users) is now available exclusively from Cakewalk. Based on BBE's Sonic Maximizer hardware audio processor, this DirectX plug-in restores the presence of recorded music with clearer highs, natural brilliance in the midrange and harmonically rich lows. The BBE plug-in makes digital keyboards sound more realistic and helps vocals and guitars rise above a muddy mix.

Available only from CreamWare's online shop are three new Pulsar and SCOPE platform plug-ins. Surround Tool ($455) from zplane.development in Berlin enables users to pan up to 16 movable sound sources among up to 16 speakers under mouse or MIDI control. Surround Tool also offers a Grouping function, a Doppler effect and distance-dependent volume automation. The 16-channel Surround Mixer SMM 166 ($80) supports Dolby 5.1 and uses a graphical X/Y matrix and separate control for LFE (Low-Frequency Effects) in each of the 16 channel strips for mixing to six surround channels. The new 24-channel Recording Mixer RMR 242 ($45) can be used as an alternative to standard Pulsar mixer modules and/or as a submixer. Channel pairs can be coupled, and, like the SMM 166, the RMR 242 can be remote controlled and automated via standard MIDI controllers.

New from Digidesign this year is the SurroundScope surround metering plug-in ($295) for RTAS and TDM host environments. Providing a visual display of up to eight channels' signal levels within the Pro Tools multichannel sound field, SurroundScope supports all standard multichannel formats (stereo, LCR, LCRS, Quad, 5.0, 5.1, 6.0, 6.1, 7.0, 7.1). SurroundScope's handy Lissajous phase meter also displays full-spectrum signal coherency for Pro Tools TDM and LE users alike.

INA-GRM's GRM Tools have been used by musicians and sound designers for years, but a new distribution channel through the Electronic Music Foundation and CDeMusic and a serious new TDM bundle are newsworthy '01 items. Designed and developed by the Groupe de Recherches Musicales de l'Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA-GRM) in Paris, GRM Tools TDM ($459) and GRM Tools RTAS ($349) bring a host of comb filter, phaser, delay, Doppler, bandpass, pitch, freeze, EQ and other effects modules under one roof. The TDM version, which comes bundled with all eight plug-ins, including a shuffler for rearranging audio fragments, supports Pro Tools 5.1 and earlier on the Mac, with PC versions expected by AES/New York.

Originally released as a TDM plug-in by its subsidiary Kind of Loud Technologies, Universal Audio recently announced the development of the SmartCode Pro line of software encoders for Mark of the Unicorn's MAS plug-in format. SmartCode Pro DTS-DVD ($1,495) is targeted for those encoding prior to DTS-format DVD duplication; the DTS-CD version ($495) is used in creating 5.1 preview masters with standard CD burners; and SmartCode Pro Dolby Digital ($795) creates AC3 DVD masters. Also new from UA in '01 are the 1176 and LA-2A Vintage Compressors that join a host of new powered plug-ins based on the company's UAD-1 DSP card ($995), the latter also bundled with the RealVerb Pro and CS-1 Control Strip plug-ins.

Those recording and mixing with a Mackie Digital 8-Bus console can now make use of plug-in audio effects. Sold through Mackie direct and supporting the company's new V. 3.0 OS, each third-party plug-in's processor card is easily plugged into an available rear panel slot on the D8B's CPU box. Delay Factor ($199) from Acuma Labs allows users to drag-and-drop 16 delay taps while simultaneously editing delay time and output panning controls, each tap filtered through a fourth-order high- and lowpass filter. Antares' Auto-Tune ($499) is now available for pitch-correcting voice and solo instruments on the D8B. Drawmer's ADX100 ($399) is a frequency-conscious gate, limiter, expander and compressor plug-in based on the company's successful hardware analog dynamics processors. Developed by George Massenburg's new Massenburg DesignWorks group, the MDW2X2 ($599) is a high-resolution parametric EQ that can be configured as four mono 5-band or two stereo 5-band parametric EQs. TC Electronic's TC FX II is bundled free with Mackie's D8B UFX card ($499), and incorporates fully automated versions of many of TC's effects algorithms, including those found in the TC Electronic M2000.

McDSP's MC2000 Multiband Compressor was released in 2000. New for 2001 is McDSP's Analog Channel plug-in ($495) for Digidesign's Pro Tools DAW. Physically modeled after high-end analog tape machines, consoles and channel strips from Studer, Ampex, Otari, MCI and others, Analog Channel's AC1 module acts as a digital preamp for up to 24 mono or 16 stereo channels on a single MIX card. The plug-in's AC2 module emulates standard analog tape machine parameters and the effects of different bias, playback speed and IEC 1/2 equalization.

Mark of the Unicorn added four new surround plug-ins to its flagship Digital Performer 3 platform. ArcPanner provides a large, high-resolution surround panning “dish” display for flying sounds around, and n-Panner provides customary surround panning via Cartesian coordinates on a square-grid display. The new TriPan plug-in gives users a three-knob positional panning control with graphic three-way divergence, and allows users to make precise panning maneuvers along a signal's diagonal path using mirror, parallel, asymmetric, balance and mono panning modes. DP3 also now supports the Mac OS Input Sprockets protocol for connecting a compatible USB joystick to a Power Macintosh to control any MOTU or third-party surround panner.

A licensing agreement between Antares and Gibson this year has produced Oberheim's OB-Tune Pitch Correction plug-in ($49.99). Based on Antares' Auto-Tune technology, OB-Tune is an easy-to-use, DirectX plug-in that implements Auto-Tune's Automatic mode of pitch correction. Countless presets available in OB-Tune include major, minor, equal-tempered chromatic, and a host of historical scales such as Greek diatonic, just intonation and the Ling Lung scale from 2700 BC China.

PSP (Professional Sound Projects) of Piaseczno, Poland, has added PSP MixTreble ($30) to the company's PSP MixPack bundle of VST plug-ins ($100). MixTreble is designed for processing a range of treble frequencies, and includes a hiss removal tool and a transient section designed for stimulating flattened transients. Also included with MixPack are MixBass, MixSaturator and MixPressor; new to MixPack are additional mono versions of the plug-ins to be used in host applications that require single input and output plug-ins as insert effects for mono tracks. The company also planned to announce PSP VintageWarmer (price TBD), an analog-like limiter and tape recorder emulator plug-in, at the upcoming AES convention.

Two new CEDAR for SADiE plug-ins were introduced in recent months, both available in 44.1/48kHz and 88.2/96kHz versions. (The latter includes 44.1/48kHz capabilities.) DeCrackle and DeCrackle 96 ($2,495 and $3,295, respectively) remove audio degradation and many forms of impulsive buzzes and amplitude distortions. DeThump and DeThump 96 (same pricing as DeCrackle) remove unwanted low-frequency energy bursts (thumps) in an acoustic signal without significantly degrading the underlying signal. DeThump uses the data in and around a thump to build up a picture of a signal's original low-frequency data.

SEK'D has released DeClicker and DeCrackler, additions to the Audio Restoration Suite ($1,299) of DirectX plug-ins, originally developed for the company's Sequoia workstation. DeClicker removes clicks and crackling from audio source material, and eliminates transient noises and spikes originating in old vinyl recordings, digital switching and static discharge. DeCrackler may then be used to reduce any remaining small clicks, crackles and surface noises without signal degradation or loss of ambience.

Serato Audio Research expected to announce the release of the Pitch 'n Time 3 plug-in ($799) at AES. This Mac- and PC-based AudioSuite, RTAS and MAS pitch and time-compression/expansion tool now also sports a new stand-alone version for offline batch processing. The plug-in also now has separate real-time pitch-shift and time-stretch modules and a new formant control. Also expected at AES are Serato Scratch and Serato Scratch Pro ($125 and $250, RTAS, MAS and VST), two new plug-ins that allow users to record vinyl scratching, back-spinning, varispeed, stabs, stops and other turntablist performances that can then be controlled from a hardware turntable.

Another built-in signal processing plug-in added to an existing DAW platform is Wavehammer from Sonic Foundry. Included with Sound Forge 5, Wavehammer combines two mastering tools for putting the final touches on a project. Volume Maximizer can be used to boost the overall level of a signal without clipping or distorting the sound or limiting a signal's peak amplitude. Compressor limits the dynamic range of source audio material while adding punch or creating analog-type distortion for effect.

3DPanner Studio ($95) from SpinAudio is a PC VST and DX plug-in (Mac version expected soon) that incorporates an expandable and flexible 3-D positional audio engine. The plug-in supports multiple HRTF sets with distance zones for future expansion and HRTF subsets for performance tuning. 3DPanner Studio's positional engine uses Intel's NSP library and takes advantage of SIMD extensions of PIII and P4 processors. The user-friendly intuitive interface makes it easy to fly sounds by the seat of your pants.

Four new plug-in offerings from Steinberg include Voice Machine ($149), TC Works' Native Surroundverb ($699), Nuendo Surround Edition 1.5 ($1,299) and Nuendo Dolby Digital Encoder (price TBA). Voice Machine, with its intuitively handy voice-generator keyboard display, is a real-time pitch processor that can create up to four additional voices via MIDI note on/off events. The special Nuendo Mac version of TC Native Surroundverb provides Nuendo users with TC-quality 5.1 reverb smoothly integrated into the Nuendo environment. Nuendo Surround Edition is a collection of six real-time surround plug-ins with up to 8-channel capability and includes an 8-channel surround compressor, 8-channel loudness maximizer and 7-band parametric equalizer. Nuendo Dolby Digital Encoder, expected to ship in fall 2001, will allow Steinberg Nuendo projects to be encoded into Dolby Digital.

TC Works has released Spark FX- machine SE ($29.95 online direct only), an easy-to-use plug-in interface that employs a 4×5 routing matrix for combining up to 20 combinations of VST effects plug-in within any VST-compatible host. Also able to load any VST plug-in to MOTU's Digital Performer DAW, Spark FXmachine serves as a sort of plug-in clearing house, each automatically “hard-wired” into the FXmachine matrix to ensure that audio paths are never disconnected. One Spark FXmachine provides processing of up to four split-frequency bands, each with its own chain of up to five plug-ins that can then be saved as a global multi-effect preset integrating 20 VST plug-ins.

SoundToys (price TBD) from Wave Mechanics is a mega-effects processing plug-in shell for Pro Tools environments. SoundToys carries on the company's tradition of emulating classic high-end hardware processors and includes 13 combinable plug-ins. In addition to phasing, filtering, delay and ring modulation, SoundToys plug-ins include Distort-O-Matic, Huff-N-Puff, Decapitator, NoiseBoy and SexFilter. ModBox is a modular effects processing rack that combines up to eight SoundToys, and all modulation rates and delay times of combined SoundToys can be synchronized with MIDI beat clock or tap tempo.

Waves recently announced Windows RTAS support for the company's Waves Version 3.0 shell and has added five new plug-ins/bundles this year. The Restoration bundle ($1,200) for Native PC and Mac platforms is a suite of noise and transient-elimination tools for post-production, remastering and forensics applications. Restoration includes X-Noise, X-Click, X-Crackle and X-Hum plug-ins. The L2-Ultramaximizer ($1,200) for Mac-based Pro Tools 24|MIX TDM systems uses the exact same algorithms found in the company's hardware-based L2, including a proprietary brickwall look-ahead peak-limiter algorithm with Waves' IDR (Increased Digital Resolution) dithering. Renaissance Vox, part of the Renaissance Collection 2 bundle ($400 TDM; $200 native), is the first in a series of Waves' plug-ins that uses a simple one-knob interface for optimizing vocal tracks. Also included in the bundle are Renaissance DeEsser and Renaissance Bass, the latter plug-in employing Waves' second-generation MaxxBass psychoacoustic algorithm technology.


Randy Alberts is a writer and musician living in Pacifica, Calif. His first book, TASCAM: 25 Years of Recording Evolution, is available through Hal Leonard Publishing.

MANUFACTURER WEBSITES

Antares Audio Technologies
www.antarestech.com

AudioEase
www.audioease.com

BIAS
www.bias-inc.com

Bomb Factory
www.bombfactory.com

Cakewalk
www.cakewalk.com

CreamWare
www.creamware.com

Digidesign
www.digidesign.com

INA-GRM
www.emf.org;
www.cdemusic.org

Kind of Loud Technologies
www.kindofloud.com

Mackie Designs
www.mackie.com

Mark of the Unicorn
www.motu.com

McDSP
www.mcdsp.com

Oberheim
www.oberheim.com

PSP
(Professional Sound Projects)
www.pspaudioware.com

SADiE
www.sadieus.com

SEK'D America
www.sekd.com

Serato Audio Research
www.serato.com

Sonic Foundry
www.sonicfoundry.com

Spin Audio
www.spinaudio.com

Steinberg
www.steinberg.net

TC Works
www.tcworks.de

Universal Audio
www.uaudio.com

Wave Mechanics
www.wavemechanics.com

Waves
www.waves.com






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