PSPaudioware VintageWarmer

Jul 1, 2003 12:00 PM, BY MICHAEL COOPER

Polls


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PSPaudioware's VintageWarmer plug-in delivers creamy-sounding dynamics processing in two flavors: via its wideband compression (with shelving pre-equalization) and multiband compression modes (the latter followed by a brickwall limiter). I'll warn you right now: This plug-in's processing chain and user interface are a bit counter-intuitive and take a little getting used to. But for all of its quirks, VintageWarmer earns your dollars because it sounds terrific. The plug-in works with VST, RTAS and MAS on a Mac, and VST and DirectX on PC; I reviewed the MAS version in Digital Performer using an 867MHz dual-processor G4 fitted with 768 MB of RAM and running Mac OS 9.2.2.

AT THE CONTROLS


VintageWarmer's graphic user interface toggles between two screens, showing virtual front and rear panels, respectively. (You click on the plug-in's title, inside either panel, to toggle back and forth between the two screens.) Most of the audio processing parameters, along with meters, are found on the front panel. Additional processing controls and metering tweaks (for metering preferences) are found on the plug-in's rear panel.

A toggle switch on VintageWarmer's front panel alternately selects between single-band and multiband compression modes. Single-band mode features both high/low-shelving equalizers placed before a single wideband compressor. Multiband mode offers three band-limited compressors, the outputs of which are summed and sent on to a brickwall limiter.

In single-band mode, four knobs let you adjust the corner frequencies for the high/low-shelving equalizers and independently boost/cut up to ±12 dB in each band. Permissible corner-frequency settings range between 25 and 400 Hz for low shelving and between 1 and 16 kHz for high shelving, providing excellent control.

When you switch to multiband compression mode, the four knobs I just mentioned now become gain boost/cut and crossover frequency controls for the low- and high-compression bands, respectively. The boost/cut controls remain “pre-dynamics,” rather than serving as makeup gain controls. This rather unusual arrangement forces you, for example, to readjust VintageWarmer's threshold control(s) to higher settings whenever you boost in-band gain (assuming that you want the degree of compression unchanged). Separate controls on VintageWarmer's rear panel independently adjust the thresholds for three frequency bands. These threshold controls work in conjunction with VintageWarmer's Ceiling control, which is a global threshold adjustment for all compressors (in either mode) and the multiband mode's brickwall limiter.

A Drive control adjusts the input level to the compressor(s) in both single-band and multiband modes. There are no ratio controls offered, but a wide-ranging Knee control serves up a variety of useful compression curves for all of the compressors. (The brickwall limiter is always set to hard-knee operation and is unaffected by the Knee control's setting.)

A Speed knob on VintageWarmer's front panel simultaneously adjusts the attack and release times for all compressors in proportional fashion. This knob works in conjunction with three release-multiplier knobs (low, mid and high) that serve VintageWarmer's respective band-limited compressors, as well as with a master/global release-multiplier control. To get a fast attack and slow release, for example, you would increase the speed control's value (which would speed up the attack and release times) and decrease the master release multiplier and/or the dedicated release multiplier for each band as needed (in multiband mode) to counteract the Speed control's fast release setting.

At the end of the signal chain are continuously variable mix and output controls. Controlling the end of the signal chain are Mix and Output knobs. Mix provides a continuously adjustable balance between processed and unprocessed signals. Output provides makeup gain for the plug-in's entire output.

VintageWarmer also provides switches for mono/stereo operation (the latter for use on stereo/split-stereo, and not dual-mono, tracks), stereo linking, processing bypass and various functions for the plug-in's two virtual VU-style meters. The meters' ballistics can be toggled between VU and PPM. You can also set the meters to show pre- or post-compressor(s) signal levels (which are sourced after the EQ or in-band boost/cut) or gain reduction. Ingenious clip LEDs complement the VU-style meters: They indicate both current and past clipping by lighting in different shades of red. VintageWarmer's rear panel provides a plethora of controls to tweak the meters' and clip LEDs' behaviors, including meter integration (reaction) time, 0VU reference-level setting and an Overs counter.

MISSING YOU


As mentioned earlier, there are no separate attack controls for each compressor in multiband mode. I also wish there were a separate boost/cut control for the middle band. To boost the input level to the middle band without changing levels in low and high bands, you have to boost the Drive control and then cut the low- and high-band gain controls a commensurate amount to compensate for their Drive boost. That task is made more difficult by the lack of separate threshold indicators and gain-reduction meters for each band. You also can't bypass processing for each band independently nor can you disable the brickwall limiter. That last complaint is largely pedantic, however, as the brickwall limiter sounds really transparent and serves as a safety net against digital overs.

Finishing off my complaints, numerical data entry is not possible, screen redraws can be a little slow, the owner's manual is often vague and confusing, and the procedure to edit/save custom settings is troublesome. When you save an edited preset under a different title, it always overwrites/replaces the original preset in the preset's pop-up menu. That's unfortunate, as it motivates you to avoid editing presets that you wish to retain in the menu. And the preset you can most live without (and thus don't mind replacing) may not have settings that are even close to what you want to accomplish with your edits. On the plus side, you can save multiple custom presets to any location on your hard drive, load them in any combination into the presets menu and then save the entire lot as a custom bank that can be recalled at a later time.

HOT STUFF!


Even considering all of its quirks and omissions, VintageWarmer is a truly awesome plug-in. It sounds so incredible that I quickly forgave it for all of its shortcomings. I got consistently outstanding results using VintageWarmer on nylon-string guitar, electric bass, voice-overs, electric guitars, trap drums and entire mixes.

VintageWarmer gave me subtle control over microphone proximity effect on a voice-over track, making the timbre more consistent throughout the performance. On hard-rock rhythm guitars, I could create a thick wall of sound that never got out of control. VintageWarmer spewed out over-the-top lead solos that made it sound like guitar amp speakers were on the verge of destruction (think The Beatles' “Revolution”). It was also a snap to alternately dial up tight, trashy, deep and cracky snare-drum sounds. And I got an absolutely phenomenal kick-drum sound — a spine-tingling blend of deep, tight shell resonance and slammin' beater attack — using only one mic input with VintageWarmer. Go ahead and use VintageWarmer on tons of individual tracks as it uses very little CPU power.

I got equally impressive results using VintageWarmer as a two-bus finalizer for mastering purposes. Despite my list of complaints regarding its unusual algorithm chain, feature set and user interface, I must stress that I adapted remarkably quickly to working with this plug-in and always got great results. In fact, PSPaudioware argues that it's exactly this unique design that gives VintageWarmer its distinctive, analog-like character.

The best news of all is that it costs only $149 for the downloadable version, making VintageWarmer a veritable bargain. Make that an inferno!

PSPaudioware.com, +48 601 96 31 73 (Poland), www.PSPaudioware.com.


Michael Cooper is a Mix contributing editor and owner of Michael Cooper Recording in beautiful Sisters, Ore.






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