TC Works Assimilator Plug-In for Powercore

May 1, 2003 12:00 PM, BY ROBERT HANSON

Polls


Mix Regional

The Mix Regional section for Mix's July 2014 issue focuses on Atlanta. Send us your studio news: updates, sessions, new rooms, club performances and installations. Let the Mix audience know what is going on! Send photos and descriptions to mixeditorial@nbmedia.com.

Have you ever sat there in front of the console, putting the final touches on a track, and felt like something was missing? For whatever reason, when you A/B your material with someone else's, you can't help but get that sick feeling that something is fatally wrong with your mix. Or worse still, you track some of the best guitar sounds of your life, and you pop into the studio the next day only to find that something has changed or somebody forgot to take notes on the settings, leaving you to eternally ask yourself, “What if?” Thankfully, these horrific scenarios may soon be a thing of the past. Enter the new Assimilator plug-in from TC Works.

Designed for the Powercore platform, Assimilator ($299) is designed to intelligently analyze different pieces of audio and apply the EQ “fingerprint” of one piece of audio to another. The two EQ curves are referred to as the Reference curve (your original signal) and the Target curve. It sounds simple enough, but the applications for a piece of software like this are limitless. A vocal track recorded months ago in a different studio with a different vocal chain can be morphed to mimic the sound of a vocal recorded yesterday and vice versa. For mastering chores, the global EQ of an entire album can now be much more consistent. And then there are the more sinister uses: You can't figure out how Bob Rock gets that monstrous snare sound? Just pass a few bars of Metallica's “The Unforgiven” through Assimilator, and you're on your way. Or, perhaps you don't feel like paying for a mastering engineer and you need to get a track up on your Website in a hurry. Find a piece of music that has that sound you want, and the sound is yours.

UP AND RUNNING

With Assimilator, TC has employed one of the more interesting packaging concepts I've seen in a while. When I first attempted to install the software, I did what anyone would do: I opened the box and dropped the CD-ROM into my computer, expecting to be under way shortly. To my surprise, the plug-in itself was not there. The CD included manuals and tutorials but no real installer. Users are instead directed to the TC Website, where they're instructed to enter their Powercore card-authentication number and Assimilator serial number. From there, you're permitted to download the plug-in. The complete plug-in package also includes a second piece of software called the Assimilator Compensator, which comes with its own documentation and Assimilator presets. At this point, I was a bit confused by the entire process.

I copied the Assimilator plug-in into the Powercore folder inside of both Cubase and TC Spark 2.5. And after quickly reading through the included PDF manuals, everything became clear. Assimilator works off both the Powercore, as well as pulling a tiny bit of bandwidth off of the host CPU, thus requiring a different compensation plug-in than the standard Powercore Compensator. For those of you who already own a Powercore or are familiar with other card-based plug-in packages, this should all make sense. For everyone else, this subject requires a bit of an explanation.

Plug-ins that run off TC's Powercore card incur a slight amount of delay because they get slowed down when crossing back and forth over the PCI bus. In an average session, where some audio tracks will have Powercore plug-ins inserted on them and others do not, this delay can cause things to play back out of sync. Most DAWs automatically account for this delay when these effects are used as standard inserts on single or stereo audio tracks. For whatever reason, the same is not true when Powercore effects are used on a group bus (a common issue with most host applications). And for this reason, the various compensation plug-ins are included. The quick fix when using Powercore effects on group channels is to set up a secondary group bus for all of your non-Powercore tracks, insert the appropriate compensation plug-in (set to the number of Powercore plug-ins in use) and route it to the stereo master. If you want to skip this step, the Assimilator Compensator PDF includes a table that tells you how far (in samples) to nudge your non-Powercore audio tracks so that everything plays back in sync: a tedious process at best.

The Assimilator Compensator includes an extra item that is different from the standard Powercore Compensator: Inside of both the Assimilator and the Assimilator Compensator are settings for low-frequency resolution. The settings are low, medium and high, and the default setting for both is medium. These two settings must be the same for the plug-in to function properly. As far as the resolution settings, the same theory applies here as with any plug-in. With the higher-resolution setting, you can expect better low-end detail and separation with a higher Powercore DSP load.

The overall system requirements are pretty basic. For Windows, you'll need Powercore System 1.6.1, Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP, PIII/500 or better, 128MB RAM and a VST host application. On the Mac front, the requirements include Powercore System 1.6.1, Mac OS 9.04 or higher, G3/300 or better, 128MB RAM, and a VST or MAS host application.

INTERFACING WITH THE COLLECTIVE

The Assimilator interface is deceptively simple. It includes three main screens or pages that are broken down into screen A, B and Morph. The first two screens are exact duplicates of each other (the A/B pun should be obvious to all), and the Morph page allows you to blend the results of page A and B — more on this later. The A/B screens include an analysis display that shows the various EQ curves in real time. There are also input and output gain controls, reference and target EQ controls, preset management, low-frequency resolution settings, limiting, level calibration and a slider that mixes the reference and target EQ signals. For the truly tweaky, Assimilator also allows users to customize their EQ settings with three tools: The pencil tool allows you to create your own reference curve by simply drawing it in; the magnet tool glues a section of the reference curve to the target curve; and, finally, the magnet tool also groups EQ points, enabling you to move them as a group.

To make Assimilator work properly, you must do two things: First, you need to pass your reference audio (the piece of music you want to alter) through the plug-in. To do this, simply insert the plug-in on the channel in question, press the Learn button under the Reference heading and hit Play. You'll notice a real-time analysis curve appear in the main screen. The curve doesn't bob and weave to every note of the music; rather, it is looking for an average EQ signature. (If you stop playback, then the curve will slowly come back to zero.) Once you've played your reference piece through the plug-in, it's time to find your target EQ. Under the Target heading, press the Learn button and repeat the same process as before. This time, however, you're going to send your target material through Assimilator. After the plug-in has both curves stored and analyzed, it's possible to hear what it can really do. The slider under the Apply heading allows you to blend between the untreated source signal and the custom curve that the plug-in has created.

The Morph function offers a slight variation on the process. Inside both the A and B pages, users must first move through the same analysis steps as above. Once that is completed, they can move over to the Morph page and blend between the results of four EQ curves (two reference and two target). For DAWs capable of plug-in automation, this makes it possible to move between two radically different EQ settings in real time.

WHOLESALE THEFT

After first auditioning the plug-in and getting a clear picture of what it can do, I immediately turned to my CD collection and began making some extensive notes. I wanted to hear some of my own material processed with the EQ curve of a number of my favorite recordings, and my preset names were just as shameless as my intentions. Some of the best/worst included “Sweet Spawn of Mine,” “March of the Sheep,” “Space Not-So-Oddity,” etc. And the results were fabulous. I found that moving the Apply slider all the way to the right produced some extreme results, and it didn't quite work on full mixes. The happy medium seemed to be somewhere in the middle, and especially with things like snares, hats and higher-register rhythm guitars, the results were very satisfying and instantly apparent.

The plug-in's real magic is its ability to match up different recording sessions. About two years ago, I recorded a number of guitar and vocal tracks in my old studio space. And, as is so often the case, those songs got shelved, and it wasn't until recently that my band and I felt the need to finish tracking them. So rather than start from the beginning, we recorded only the parts that we needed and I began the task of matching everything up. In this instance, the Morph function was a lifesaver. Inside screen A, I processed the old tracks against the new; vice versa in the B screen. Between the two Apply sliders and A/B morph, the dry tracks sounded nearly indistinguishable.

As mentioned previously, the package also includes a number of self-contained presets, as well as an extensive collection of target curves. The target curves are all divided into aptly named subfolders, and some of the preset names are as ridiculous as my own (“Nu Metal,” “Heavy Anger Metal” and “Deutsche Disco,” to name a few). They include curves for individual instruments, vocals, FX cues and full mixes. And for tasks like tweaking a snare channel or an acoustic guitar, they were all great jumping-off points.

CHECKING OUT

While a fabulous product, Assimilator didn't really strike me as the kind of processor you would want to use in a multitrack session. While it's totally capable of working in that kind of environment, I felt that it was much more at home inside of a 2-track editor. The plug-in sometimes produces extremely subtle results, and it would behoove users to work with it in a less cluttered environment.

The ability, however, to match up or blend different recordings will prove to be a godsend for many engineers. With so many artists working out of project studios or whacking down vocals in hotel rooms with less-than-ideal signal paths, a tool like Assimilator is priceless. And for those shameless practitioners of gonzo engineering like myself, Assimilator will afford us even more bragging rights. All in all, it seems silly for any Powercore owner not to cough up the extra cash for Assimilator. I'm keeping this one.

TC Works, 805/379-2648, www.tcworks.de.


Robert Hanson is Mix's assistant editor.

POWERCORE 1.6.1

When Powercore was launched in June of 2001, it was heralded as one of the most innovative products in recent memory. Unfortunately, the operating system for the original Powercore left a little to be desired. While the OS did essentially what it was purported to do, it was plagued with a number of bugs. With Version 1.5, released in December 2001, the entire OS was more or less rewritten and the product was relaunched. Since then, the performance has been rock-solid. Even with sessions that push the unit to its limits, freezes and crashes caused by the Powercore have been all but eliminated.

Now in V. 1.6.1, a number of refinements a have been added to the package including: “No Latency” mode in Windows; less RAM usage and improved multiprocessor support in DP3; MegaReverb and ChorusDelay work at 96 kHz in all applications; and more. The basic Powercore bundle currently includes the 24/7 Compressor/Limiter, Classic Verb, Master X3, MegaReverb, ChorusDelay, EQSat, Voice Strip and the Powercore 01 Synthesizer. The company has also launched the Powercore FireWire, which moves the Powercore from a PCI-based unit to a 1U chassis that can now work with any FireWire/IEEE-1394-enabled computer.
Robert Hanson






Acceptable Use Policy
blog comments powered by Disqus

Mix Books

Modern Recording and Mixing

This 2-DVD set will show you how the best in the music industry set up a studio to make world-class records. Regardless of what gear you are using, the information you'll find here will allow you to take advantage of decades of expert knowledge. Order now $39.95

Mastering Cubase 4

Electronic Musician magazine and Thomson Course Technology PTR have joined forces again to create the second volume in their Personal Studio Series, Mastering Steinberg's Cubase(tm). Edited and produced by the staff of Electronic Musician, this special issue is not only a must-read for users of Cubase(tm) software, but it also delivers essential information for anyone recording/producing music in a personal-studio. Order now $12.95

Newsletters

MixLine

Delivered straight to your inbox every other week, MixLine takes you straight into the studio, with new product announcements, industry news, upcoming events, recent recording/post projects and much more. Click here to read the latest edition; sign up here.

MixLine Live

Delivered straight to your inbox every other week, MixLine Live takes you on the road with today's hottest tours, new sound reinforcement professional products, recent installs, industry news and much more. Click here to read the latest edition; sign up here.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Wire, a virtual press conference offering postings of the latest gear and music news, direct from the source. Visit the The Wire for the latest press postings.