Lexicon PCM Native Effects Bundle ReviewBREAD-AND-BUTTER PROCESSING, AND SOMETHING UNUSUAL 8/01/2011 5:00 AM Eastern
When Lexicon released its PCM Native Reverb Bundle last year, fans of the company’s highly prized reverb algorithms rejoiced: They were finally available in-the-box. PCM Native Effects Bundle completes the circle, adding delay and pitch processing to the mix.
For the most part, Native Effects’ algorithms are similar to those in the hardware-based Lexicon PCM96. But one of the seven included plug-ins, a compelling debutante dubbed Stringbox, is a shot out of nowhere and isn’t available anywhere else.
Available in AU, VST and RTAS formats, Native Effects runs only on a second-generation iLok. I tested the bundle in Digital Performer 7.22 using an 8-core Mac Pro running OS 10.5.8.
Stringbox emulates the sympathetic resonance that piano strings produce when excited by a loud external sound; click on any of 88 virtual keys to choose which strings will resonate. The single-voice Pitch Shift plug-in can handle monophonic and polyphonic sources; like the MultiVoice Pitch plug-in (which can independently create up to six harmony voices), it can shift pitch up or down in semitones as much as one octave or as little as one cent.
Resonant Chords is an effect first introduced in the Lexicon PCM70. This plug-in resonates eight delay voices when excited by input signal to create chords, arpeggios and weird room sounds. In the Chorus/Flange plug-in, you can modulate, filter and pan a whopping eight independent voices. Dual Delay is similar to Chorus/Flange but offers only four voices and does not have an LFO control; its fortes include double-tracking effects, and slapback and tape echoes. In the 4-voice Random Delay plug-in, a Wander control modulates the initial delay time, increasing it by a value you specify in milliseconds and back to its original value (cyclically or in random fashion). All of the delay-based plug-ins offer maximum delay times of at least 9.5 seconds per voice and can be synched to the host DAW’s tempo.
The GUI for most of the plug-ins includes stereo I/O meters, preset-category and -program selection menus, a real-time display and up to nine assignable faders for parameter adjustments. Control buttons allow you to deeply edit presets, store the modified version, reload during editing (to null all changes) and make A/B comparisons of the original and modified presets.
Click the Edit button, and you enter Pro mode. (Pitch Shift and Stringbox do not have a Pro mode.) An additional row of buttons appears below the GUI’s faders. Click on a button to access many more parameter controls. For example, clicking on the Master button in a delay-based plug-in brings up faders for adjusting wet/dry mix, diffusion and ganged delay times, levels and feedback amounts for all voices.
Pro mode also provides a button for retrieving a fader bank called the Soft Row. The Soft Row compiles copies of parameters you’ll likely want to tweak most often (from different and sometimes far-flung menus), providing fast and convenient access in one place. You can assign any parameter you like to any fader in the Soft Row and store your custom setups as a user preset for later recall.
Slapping Stringbox on a violin track while mixing an atmospheric ballad, I created fluctuating resonances that were tuned to the song’s key. (See sidebar “Try This.”) The result was a hauntingly oneiric effect unlike any other I’d heard. You’ll most likely want to fade Stringbox in for only select sections of your mix as too much of it can be distracting. I only wish the plug-in’s virtual keyboard (useful for mouse-clicking the “strings” you wish to vibrate) could be controlled via MIDI. That would help modulate the resonances in real time to avoid clashes with passing tones.
Routing a snare track to the Resonant Chords plug-in, I made snare hits trigger 8-voice arpeggios synched to Digital Performer’s tempo. I set the level, feedback amount, pitch and note value (8th triplet, dotted 16th and so on) for each voice and shaped its tone with one of several included filters. I also automated a transposition fader to modulate the arpeggios in real time to follow chord changes in the arrangement. This kind of repetitive arpeggiation is probably best suited for modal dance, techno and New Age music.
Lowering the Delay Time Master control transformed Resonant Chords arpeggios into a harp-like strum. Once again, I missed the inclusion of MIDI Note On control, which would have greatly facilitated chord changes, temporary modulations and playing passing tones. That said, my favorite uses for Resonant Chords were producing quirky room reverbs with phasey-sounding flutter echoes and triggering white noise on snare tracks. Lexicon provides some outstanding presets along these lines.
While Stringbox and Resonant Chords may have somewhat limited (but wonderful) applications, other plug-ins in the bundle cover many of the essential time-based effects so crucial to modern mixes. Chorus/Flange sounded terrific on background vocals and guitars. Playing with controls for the eight voices, four LFOs (with nine different wave shapes!), feedback, filtering and diffusion, I could create supersized vocal-ensemble effects and deep flanges for electric guitars that would make Jimi smile in his grave.
The Dual Delay plug-in offered a panoply of grandiose U2-style tape delays, slapbacks and ping-pong delays. Vocals and guitars sounded awesome with four voices independently delayed, diffused, filtered, fed back and panned. Random Delay, however, was a mixed bag for music production. With long delay and Wander times applied, the modulated delays produced unsynched multi-tap echoes I wasn’t wild about. (Why would you ever not want to lock all discrete echoes to a song’s tempo?) But I envisage sound designers putting this plug-in to good use. Imagine a screaming alien plunging into a bottomless chasm and flying back up to the rim (echoes of the screams getting longer and then shorter). For musical applications, much shorter delay and Wander times emulated early reflections that thickened vocal tracks to fantastic effect.
Next on my plate was Pitch Shift. I got great results processing dual-mono (hard-panned) electric guitar tracks—both distorted riffs and clean slow-hand parts previously recorded with a third-party chorus effect—as long as I showed restraint. Shifting up or down two semitones sounded flawless, but shifting any greater than that started to introduce doubled transients and a slightly gargled sound. Large shifts also suffered from the lack of independent formant processing. Vocal tracks fared even worse. Pitch Shift introduced gargly-sounding artifacts when shifting male lead vocals up as little as one semitone, and shifting down only one semitone made formants sound unnatural.
Using MultiVoice Pitch, I could easily create 6-voice harmonies, each voice shifted up or down as much as 12 semitones and delayed a different amount. Only parallel harmonies were possible, so they often became non-diatonic. Again, the lack of independent formant processing made all but the smallest pitch shifts sound unnatural. Sound designers for horror and sci-fi flicks, take note: You can apply feedback to individual voices to create creepy-sounding ascending or descending dialog effects that excel. MultiVoice Pitch also sounded outstanding when pitch shifts no greater than 20 cents were used to create automatic double-tracking (ADT) effects. Tuning, panning and delaying each voice differently from the others fashioned huge ensemble effects on background vocal tracks.
All of the plug-ins except Stringbox imposed a very light hit on my CPU. One instance of Stringbox used up about 30 percent of my 8-core Mac Pro’s resources. All the plug-ins stole control of Digital Performer’s keyboard shortcuts, making transport control a hassle. Clicking outside the plug-in and inside Digital Performer’s turf restored control. I’ve seen this same issue with a few plug-ins developed by other companies.
The somewhat cursory operating manual provides enough information that experienced engineers will get up to speed fairly quickly. Hobbyists lacking a deep understanding of signal processing will likely be left scratching their heads often in Pro mode. Thankfully, Lexicon provides well over 300 presets—many excellent—to keep surface-scratchers satisfied.
THE FINAL SCORE
Native Effects earns very high marks for its outstanding delay-based plug-ins and innovative Stringbox. Its pitch-shifting plug-ins don’t handle large transpositions and harmonies gracefully, but they come in handy for sound design and frame-rate adjustments (in film post), and create excellent ADT effects for music production. Overall, Native Effects Bundle is a winner.
Mix contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Ore.