Technology

Field Test: db audioware Quantum FX Version 2

DAW-ENHANCING MULTI-EFFECTS PLUG-IN TOOLBOX 12/01/2005 7:00 AM Eastern

Creative effects processing is the lifeblood of pop music mixes. Doubtless your DAW provides basic tools for sonic mangling, but what if you need more? Drop $299 on a multi-filter plug-in and $199 on an amp simulator, and before long, your effects rack will cost more than your computer.

db audioware's Quantum FX ($299) is a one-stop solution, providing not only a large, wide-ranging and good-sounding suite of effects, but also an open-ended modular design system where you can patch up your own visionary effects or modify the factory algorithms as needed. This elegant Mac/Windows program installs a set of more than 50 plug-ins, ranging from basic EQ and reverb to resonant delays and beat slicers with their own step sequencers. Also installed is a D.I.Y. programming environment called Workbench. The plug-ins you create in Workbench can be used in any VST/AudioUnits host.

THE RACK
The supplied Quantum FX effects are in folders called Amplifier (five types), Chorus (six types, including two flangers), Creative (eight effects, such as Trance Gate, Beatslicer and Ambient Pads), Delay (six), Distortion (two), Dynamics (five, including multiband compression and sidechain compression), EQ (six), Filter (six), Mastering (five), Premium Effects (two), Reverb (three), Vocal (three) and Volume (two). Some of them are simple and DSP-efficient; others, such as Aura in the Premium Effects folder, include distortion, 3-band EQ and a one-knob reverb, making them somewhat CPU-hungry.

The Quantum FX Chainsaw plug-in (foreground) loaded into Workbench for editing. Parameters highlighted in green are assigned to panel controls.

To avoid cluttering up your DAW's plug-ins menu, you can painlessly install or uninstall individual effects between sessions as needed. Each effect can store and load its own presets, and each comes with a pop-up Help window, whose text you can edit in Workbench to add reminders or tips. New in Version 2 is a standard MIDI Learn command for mapping panel controls to MIDI messages.

With so many effects to choose from, I was at a loss as to what to try first, so I loaded a simple MIDI-based beat into Ableton Live and processed various drum sounds through different effects. The cute but blippy electronic beat quickly took on a shimmering 3-D quality, which you can hear at www.mixonline.com in QFX1 Dry, MP3 and QFX1 Wet.MP3 formats.

INTENTLY LISTENING
I was a bit disappointed in Quantum FX's reverbs. The Roomverb effect is adequate, but not truly spacious. Inspecting the algorithm in Workbench, I found that Roomverb is a mono reverb that fakes stereo by delaying the right output slightly and inverting its phase. Enhancing it by adding more comb and allpass filters is quite feasible, but fiddly and time-consuming.

Quantum FX is capable of true sidechain operation, as seen in the ChainSaw module. I loaded one instance of this into a drum track and another into a pad track, and set the first for send and the second for receive. The pad pulsed in a hypnotic rhythm, and the effect gave me attack and release knobs, a quick way to stereo-ize the output and more. You can hear this at www.mixonline.com, as well.

I tried running a mix of one of my recent synth/cello compositions through the Quantum FX 3-band compressor and found that it added some presence, as expected. Each band has its own threshold, ratio, attack, release and boost controls, plus a Solo button. The crossover frequencies between bands are adjustable, so the plug-in can sound subtle or drastic. However, A/B'ing the dry signal with the compressed output is a bit tricky because the plug-in lacks a master output gain control for matching levels, nor does it have metering to show how much of the signal in each band is being compressed. The Quantum FX equalizers sounded quite good to me. On a side note, curiously, the graphic EQs are incorrectly called parametrics.

ON THE WORKBENCH
Creating your own effects in Workbench is not for novices — the company cautions that audio feedback is not prohibited and can damage your speakers or your ears. If you're up to the challenge, you'll find a full complement of basic modules and a no-frills but functional graphic work environment.

Modules are connected by dragging “patch cords” from one output to the next input. Many of the modules can be individually bypassed, which makes it easy to hear how they're affecting the signal. While working in Workbench, you can use a live audio input to audition your effect or load a loop and play it back.

Quantum FX’s Beatslicer

Module types include switches, signal routers, panners, EQ, filters, crossovers, mixers, delays, compressors and expanders (some with sidechain inputs), oscillators, sequencers, an envelope follower, a bit-crusher, arithmetic operators, graphic meters and MIDI inputs for real-time control. While wiring up your algorithm, you can choose which parameters will be available on the effect's panel, as well as choose from a variety of graphic styles for the knobs, switches and buttons.

Modules can be tucked away inside macro-modules, which cleans up the work area. Workbench lacks cut/copy/paste commands, however, which is fairly annoying. There's no way to grab a bunch of modules you've just wired up and move them into a macro. The program has multilevel undo, but no redo.

QUANTUM MECHANICS
Even if you never use Workbench to modify or create effects, Quantum FX is a cost-effective package, offering a number of specialized processors not included in the typical DAW. And if you'd like to pop the hood and get grease under your fingernails from tinkering with the DSP, this program is an unbeatable deal.

db audioware, sales@db-audioware.com, www.db-audioware.com.


Jim Aikin is a music technology writer who moonlights as a cello teacher.

Reviewer Jim Aikin loaded a simple MIDI-based beat into Ableton Live and processed various drum sounds through different effects. Listen to downloadable audio samples of the shimmering beats, labeled QFX1.Dry.MP3 and QFX1.Wet.MP3.

Aikin also reports that "QFX is capable of true sidechain operation, as seen in the ChainSaw module." He loaded one instance of this into a drum track and another into a pad track, and set the first for send and the second for receive. Listen to the effect by downloading the QFX2 Dry.mp3 audio clip.