Technology

Dynamics Processing Plug-Ins

SOFTWARE TOOLS FOR CONTROLLING GAIN 3/01/2008 7:00 AM Eastern

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'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.

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.

Kjaerhus Audio (www.kjaerhusaudio.com) offers the Golden Audio Channel | GAC-1, which gangs its processors in a serial fashion, including two equalizers, two compressors, a noise gate and a de-esser, with a double EQ and compressor architecture. Next, the GCO-1 is a versatile compressor and expander plug-in featuring high compression and expansion rations, five envelope types and program dependency to avoid pumping. The GPP-1 is a high-quality soft-limiter/peak compressor designed for peak taming/compression during real-time tracking, sub-tracking and mixing — live or in the studio. The Golden Uni-Pressor | GUP-1 is a general-purpose compressor made for tracking, mixing and mastering apps, offering VCA and opto models that can be run in a Warm or Smooth mode, and a Program-Dependent Envelope (PDE) to decrease pumping and increase loudness. The MPL-1 Pro SE is a mastering limiter offering oversampled peak detection with look-ahead, smooth-hold function and four stereo meters with peak hold.

Visit McDSP online at www.mcdsp.com and check out Channel G, which is actually four plug-ins, including G Dynamics, a fully featured console-style dynamics section with an expander/gate, compressor/limiter and a versatile filter section; and G Surround Compressor, a compressor/limiter solution with compressor “sets” (L/R/C/Ls/Rs/LFE). All Channel G configurations feature calibration modes for music and post-production, as well as models of popular analog mixing desks. ML4000 is a high-resolution limiter and multiband dynamics processor designed for music, mastering, post and live sound, and features the ML1 mastering limiter and ML4 multiband gate, expander and compressor fed into the ML1 mastering limiter.

Compression/limiting reigns supreme at PSPaudioware (www.PSPaudioware.com), where three different plug-ins provide audio pros with some very useful tools. The latest is Xenon, a full-band, dual-stage limiter plug-in that was designed for controlling peaks and crest factors of the recording while preserving its spectral balance and clarity of the transients. VintageWarmer features digital simulation of an analog-style compressor, and offers single or multiband gain reduction. Unveiled as a high-fidelity stereo dynamics processor, MasterComp's double-precision (64-bit floating point) and double-sampled (Frequency Authentication Technique) processing offers transparency even at extreme compression settings and high sample rates.

Massey Plug-Ins (www.masseyplugins.com) has the CT4, which provides clean and smooth gain reduction with a little punch. Designed to have both electro-optical and vari-MU characteristics, users have noted that the CT4 is very good at preserving the “air” of the source material.

Nomad Factory (www.nomadfactory.com) is the source of Analog Mastering Tools, a high-resolution limiter and multiband dynamics processor that includes three plug-ins. The A.M.T Amp Leveler is a highly optimized, look-ahead brickwall limiter and level maximizer using a new proprietary algorithm, ensuring maximum loudness without digital-overclipping and low CPU consumption. The A.M.T Max Warm is a highly optimized, look-ahead brickwall limiter, EQ and level maximizer, with a unique approach to its dynamic signal analysis that maximizes the incoming signal level while limiting the ceiling peak levels. The A.M.T Multi-Max multiband peak limiter features a 3-band look-ahead brickwall limiter and level maximizer with separate gain controls for each band and five settings each for limiting and recovery. Also from Nomad Factory is the Blue Tubes Dynamics Pack, a collection of six plug-in processors for PC and Mac OS X that re-create the warm sound qualities of classic dynamic analog hardware with a simple and functional vintage-style interface, while offering low CPU consumption. It includes the BT BrickWall BW2S-XP brickwall compressor/limiter; BT Compressor CP2S analog tube compressor emulation; BT De-Esser DS-2S, a stereo de-esser with vintage controls and sound; BT Compressor FA770; BT ExpanderGate GX622; and the BT Limiter LM2S tube-emulation limiter.

RNDigital (www.rogernicholsdigital.com) offers a trio of products starting with Detailer, a stereo mastering process developed by Roger Nichols that offers a new way of increasing the perception of “detail” in the mid-level of a final mix while still allowing increased loudness. With Dynam-izer, multiband compression gains flexibility because users can break up audio levels into “zones” for precise control. For brickwall limiting and loudness maximization, Finis employs psychoacoustic limiting algorithms that analyze several aspects of the audio and — considering the way humans perceive volume levels — intelligently adjusts the audio levels to keep them under the maximum specified.

Time marches forward at Sonic Timeworks (www.sonictimeworks.com). The CompressorX is based on the company's award-winning compressor algorithm, with brickwall or soft limiting, hard- or soft-knee, and peak or RMS limiting. It has the ability to emulate the UREI 1176, dbx 165A, Manley Variable Mu or other digital compressors. The Mastering Compressor features soft-clip compression/limiting, 64-bit internal precision and loudness maximization for perceived gain increases of more than 10 dB. Two separate compression algorithms and improved dithering to 16-bit give you the tools necessary to fix poor, lifeless mixes.

Sonalksis' (www.sonalksis.com) SV-315 compressor is an analog-modeled dynamics processor featuring the State-Space System that models analog signal path characteristics into the plug-in's digital design. CQ1 is a multiband, frequency-selective dynamics processor, allowing independent compression or expansion of four freely adjustable filter bands.

The resident smart guys making Oxford plug-ins at Sonnox (www.sonnoxplugins.com) present the Oxford Limiter, which employs oft-used parameters and an Enhance function, providing the sample-value limiting needed to avoid overloads in digital workstation environments.

SSL (www.solid-state-logic.com) offers a range of plug-ins for its Duende platform. These include the SSL Dynamics, offering a variable compression ratio from 1:1 to infinity:1; variable threshold and release; auto-sensing attack time; and peak and RMS detection. Also available for the Duende is the Stereo Bus compressor modeled from the SL 4000 G Series. The venerable VST Listen Mic Compressor plug-in is also available from the company's Website as a free download.

There are multiple compression/limiting possibilities within the PowerCore platform from TC Electronic (www.tcelectronic.com). Five-Band Dynamics for PowerCore offers five bands, different filter slopes and double-precision processing for even more detailed access during the mastering process for CD and broadcast. The Fabrik C is a full-blown EQ, de-esser and 3-band/full-band compressor in a single plug-in for all of the qualities of a channel strip. The MD3 stereo mastering package for Pro Tools and PowerCore includes two pristine algorithms, MD3 multiband dynamics and a brickwall limiter. MD3 offers dual-mono and stereo dynamics processing in three frequency bands with a true sidechain split-structure. Brickwall Limiter gets rid of the signals known to generate distortion in consumer CD players, radio processors and data-reduction codecs. The Tube-Tech CL 1B emulation plug-in brings the analog sound of the CL 1B compressor/limiter to the PowerCore platform. For Pro Tools, the Master X3 is the virtual incarnation of the TC Electronic Finalizer, a standard mastering processor in the pro audio field. It features multiband processing with expansion, compression and limiting separately for each band.

Unique Recording Software (www.ursplugins.com) offers a wide range of compressor/limiters, including the URS 1970 Classic Console Compressor, which digitally re-creates transformer input and diode bridge gain-reduction amplifier characteristics. The URS 1980 Classic Console compressor takes the mimicking up a decade by emulating the IC input and voltage-controlled gain-reduction amplifier (VCA) characteristics of popular '80s desks. Lastly, the URS 1975 Classic compressor takes the feed-forward 1975 VCA compressor into consideration with fully adjustable knee, emulating the transformer input and voltage-controlled gain-reduction amplifier characteristics.

Universal Audio (www.uaudio.com) offers a range of products for its UAD platform, including the Precision Bus Compressor, a dual-VCA-type dynamic processor that yields transparent gain-reduction characteristics specifically designed to “glue” mix elements together for a cohesive and polished sound typical of master-section console compressors. The Precision Bus Compressor's control set includes threshold, ratio, attack and release, with all parameters specifically tailored to bus compressor usage. The famed 1176LN is available as a classic analog emulation. Originally designed and built during the 1960s, the 1176LN was the first to use a Field Effect Transistor (FET) as a voltage-controlled variable resistor, and that innovation was key to the product's unique character. An in-depth analysis of the 1176LN's “personality” allowed Universal Audio to methodically reproduce those results within a plug-in architecture. The 1176SE is derived from the 1176LN, providing sonic characteristics similar to the 1176LN but with significantly less DSP usage. The 2-channel Fairchild 670 is modeled after Allen Sides' favorite unit from Ocean Way Studios. The Teletronix LA-2A leveling amplifier is a digital copy of the LA-2A, purportedly upholding all of the original's classic, analog characteristics.

Also from Universal Audio, the LA-3A emulation provides that unit's unique compression characteristics and sonic signature within a DAW. The Neve 33609 is derived from the original Neve 2254 compressor, circa 1969, which uses a bridged-diode gain-reduction circuit and a range of custom transformers. The UA Precision Multiband is a specialized mastering tool that provides five spectral bands of dynamic range control; compression, expansion or gate can be chosen separately for each of the five bands. Next up, the Precision Limiter is a single-band, look-ahead brickwall limiter made primarily for use with program material. The plug-in achieves 100-percent attack within a 1.5ms look-ahead window, which prevents clipping and guarantees zero-overshoot performance.

Wave Arts' (www.wavearts.com) TrackPlug is an all-in-one channel strip processor featuring a 10-band EQ, brickwall filters, dual compressors, gate, sidechain EQs, clean/vintage compression modes, a peak limiter and impressive CPU efficiency. MultiDynamics is a multiband dynamics processor useful for mastering, noise reduction, volume maximization, sound design and more, with up to six independent bands available with a full-featured compressor or expander/gate per band. FinalPlug 5 is the company's professional peak limiter/volume maximizer, featuring extensive bit-depth truncation and dither options, along with noise-shaping options and a limiting algorithm with auto-release.

Waves (www.waves.com) continues to up the ante with its expansive, popular line of plug-in compressor/limiters. The list of its compressor offerings is long, beginning with the stereo API 2500, the three-in-one AudioTrack, C1 Parametric Compander, C4 Multiband, vintage-inspired De-Esser, Linear Phase Multiband, MaxxVolume, guitar-oriented Renaissance Axx, Renaissance Channel, Renaissance Compressor, Renaissance De-Esser, Renaissance Vox, Solid State Logic 4000 Series (emulating the SSL E-Channel), SSL G Master Bus Compressor, 2254-inspired V-Comp, DeBreath, TransX and C360° Surround Compressor. Waves' limiter plug-ins include the L1/L2/L3/L3-LL Ultramaximizers, L3/L3-16/L3-LL Multimaximizers and L360° surround limiter.


David Weiss is Mix's New York editor.