Softube Grand Channel

Mar 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Michael Cooper

Plug-in Bundle Faithfully Models Tube EQ, Compression


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Softube Grand Channel

Over the past few years, the Swedish software company Softube has built a sterling reputation for creating DAW plug-ins that model tube gear with punctilious precision. Their newest product, Grand Channel, emulates the Summit Audio TLA-100A Tube Leveling Amplifier and EQF-100 Full Range Equalizer (a passive equalizer with tube output stage). The two processors can be used in composite configuration (the Grand Channel) or as discrete plug-ins.

The cross-platform bundle is available in VST, VST3, AU, RTAS and AAX formats and for 32- and 64-bit hosts. An iLok is required. I tested Version 1.3.10 of the AU plug-in in Digital Performer 7.21 on an 8-core Mac Pro running OS X 10.6.8.

Channel Surfing

The EQF-100 component provides four overlapping parametric bands—low, low-midrange, high-midrange and high—with seven fixed frequencies each. Each of the bands can be switched to either boost or cut and can be independently bypassed. The bandwidth controls are a bit counter-intuitive, in that their “0” setting produces a narrow bandwidth while “10” is wide—the opposite of what a Q control would effect. All four bands provide peaking filters, and the high and low bands can be alternatively switched to provide shelving boost or cut. Adjustable low- and high-cut filters are also included, along with VU-style input and output meters.

The EQF-100 generates harmonics—principally sweet second-harmonic distortion—when its output level exceeds roughly -3 dBFS. When the output meter shows level exceeding 0 dB (equal to -9 dB RMS), the plug-in begins to saturate, producing modeled tube compression.

The TLA-100A component features soft-knee compression akin to that found in opto-electronic units but is capable of faster attack and release times than those types of compressors typically afford. The TLA’s attack and (program-sensitive) release times can each be switched to a preset fast, medium or slow setting. You raise the gain reduction control to lower the threshold and increase the compression ratio at once. The TLA-100A’s VU meter can be switched to show either the amount of gain reduction or output level.

Raising the TLA-100A’s saturation control decreases the modeled compressor’s headroom, promoting distortion that’s edgier in character than that produced by the EQF-100. Its main application is taming transients on drums and other percussive tracks. An associated LED lights when distortion is being generated. When the TLA-100A is instantiated in stereo, its two channels are arbitrarily stereo-linked. While this helps preserve the level balance for the stereo image, in my experience it can also collapse the image slightly. For that reason, I wished the channels could be unlinked.

The EQF-100 and TLA-100A each have an output-gain control; the compressor’s follows its saturation control, while the equalizer’s follows the EQ controls and drives modeled output tubes (thereby acting simultaneously as both an output and de facto saturation control). The two processors can be independently bypassed and their order in the audio path reversed. No matter the order, the EQF-100’s input and output meters always show I/O levels at the respective beginning and end of the Grand Channel’s entire signal chain (not necessarily those for the equalizer).

Kicking the Tires

Grand Channel dramatically improved the sound of a weak kick drum track. Setting the TLA-100A (pre-EQ) to provide around 5 dB of compression—using fast attack and release times—mowed down the kick’s attack, creating a sound that heavily highlighted the drum shell’s sustain. Raising the parallel inject control halfway (producing a 50 /50 mix of compressed and uncompressed signal) rekindled the original attack and married it to the enhanced shell sustain. I then boosted generously with the EQF-100 below 56 Hz (shelving) and at 3.9 kHz (peaking) to enhance both aspects of the kick, giving the track more heft and attack. The finishing touch was cutting slightly at 560 Hz to attenuate a residual stiff, cardboard-y aspect of the sound. The combined sonic result of these tweaks was a remarkable improvement.

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