PSPaudioware oldTimerME ReviewVINTAGE-STYLE COMPRESSOR PLUG-IN GETS A MASTERING MAKEOVER 10/01/2011 5:00 AM Eastern
When PSPaudioware’s oldTimer was introduced a couple of years ago, I thought it was the best-sounding compressor plug-in for the price—a rock-bottom $99. But while its idiot-proof control layout and chameleon-like personality made it a user-friendly and versatile processor for basic mixing duties, oldTimer lacked certain features needed for jockeying advanced mixing techniques and mastering.
The new oldTimerME (Master Edition) addresses those needs, bringing mid-side processing, parallel compression and an internal sidechain (with a built-in filter) to the table. (See Fig. 1.) Greater control over its time constants, levels and emulated tube processing complete the meal. Recognizing that you won’t always need that much ammunition, PSP includes the original oldTimer with your purchase of the ME version. (See the sidebar “oldTimerME’s Mini-Me.”) Pinch me—the price for the bundle is still only $99! And if you already own the legacy oldTimer, you can get the ME version for free.
oldTimerME (Mac/Win) supports AU, VST and RTAS formats; 32- and 64-bit floating-point audio streams; and sampling rates up to 192 kHz. I tested the AU plug-in in Digital Performer 7.21 (DP) and Pro Tools 9.0.3 (PT9) using an 8-core Mac Pro running OS 10.6.8.
Consistent with its newfound attention to mastering applications, five of oldTimerME’s nine ratio control settings fall within the 1.1:1 to 2:1 range, allowing you to process with kid gloves. The highest ratio is 10:1. Raise the compression control to lower the threshold and increase processing depth. Tweak the make-up control for up to 30 dB of make-up gain.
Unlike with the legacy oldTimer plug-in, the ME version offers separate attack and release controls. Their knob positions are not delineated in milliseconds and seconds, but rather with nonspecific alphanumeric characters. The faster settings are good for limiting percussive tracks such as drums, while the slowest settings are good for leveling. In between those extremes, you get a response evocative of opto and tube compressors. Activating an auto-release switch implements program-sensitive release times, automatically quickening release times for transients.
You won’t have to mult your track to set up parallel compression; oldTimerME automatically splits processed and unprocessed signals and combines them at the plug-in’s output. Separate controls independently adjust the dry (unprocessed) and wet (compressed) signal levels, attenuating as much as 24 dB or boosting up to 6 dB. Want to compare your parallel-compression setup to normal compression? Mute the dry signal by clicking on the nametag for the respective control. Done!
Mid-side and dual-mono processing setups are not quite so lickety-split; they require using two instances of the plug-in on the same stereo track. For dual-mono operation, set oldTimerME’s channel-selector switch to L (left) on one instance of the plug-in and to R (right) on the other. For mid-side operation, one instance of the plug gets set to M (mid) and the other to S (side). Linked-stereo operation requires only one instance of the plug-in. Set the channel-selector switch to left, mid or linked operation for best results on a mono track.
Mastering engineers, take note: You can increase the number of steps by a factor of five for several controls (compression, makeup gain, and dry and wet levels) by holding down the Shift key on your QWERTY keyboard while adjusting them. For example, the compression control normally has 40 discrete steps; hold down the Shift key, and you get 200 steps. Makeup gain, and dry and wet levels can each be similarly adjusted in as little as 0.1dB steps.
Despite its precision, oldTimerME deliberately shuns transparency to impart a vintage vibe. Its classic character is derived from the varied compression curves it produces and a very convincing tube-emulation algorithm it employs to round transients. You can defeat the tube modeling by flipping a three-way switch (labeled Valve/Clear/Off) to the Clear position. The Valve position activates the tube algorithm, while the Off position disables compression completely.
When the tube algorithm is active, a five-step control (dubbed “Valve Reference Level”) adjusts the depth of saturation. You can produce either more or less saturation than with the legacy oldTimer plug-in, which is not adjustable in this regard. The Mid setting duplicates the oldTimer’s fixed saturation response.
oldTimerME includes an adjustable highpass filter for its internal sidechain. A choice of nine corner frequencies—from 30 to around 1k Hz—is offered. You can route other tracks into the plug-in’s sidechain using your host DAW’s facilities. A VU-style gain-reduction meter, A and B workspaces, and facilities for loading and saving presets and banks complete the GUI.
TO THE TEST
Slapped on stereo drum room mics, old TimerME sounded excellent. Heavy compression with very fast attack and release times made the room tone pump beautifully. The punchiest sounds were produced by setting the valve reference-level control to its lowest setting or using the Clear setting.
A 4:1 ratio, Clear mode, and moderate attack and release times sounded outstanding on a stereo track for strummed acoustic guitar, producing an open and detailed sound. I also tried using very fast attack and release times on this track, with mixed success. On the plus side, the compression curve sounded similar to that produced by an SSL Bus Compressor. As I increased the compression depth just barely to the point where the track began to pump, oldTimerME moved the guitar track to the front of the mix and made it sound very aggressive and huge. But on the down side, the fast attack and release times also produced audible distortion.
Male rock vocals sounded great using parallel compression with moderate attack and release times. I compressed the vocal fairly heavily, dialed in a fair amount of pleasing tube-like saturation and then nudged the plug-in’s dry output up a tad to restore definition. I got great results on electric guitar and bass tracks using similar settings.
oldTimerME also gave very good results mastering a Southern-rock mix, but it took some effort. On the mid channel, I dialed in moderate attack and release times, 1.3:1 ratio and 250Hz setting for the sidechain filter. That created a nice “thrust compression” effect that pumped up kick, snare and vocals while keeping the bottom end rockin’. Light compression with very slow attack and release times on the side channel made hard-panned electric guitars and drum room mics sound stronger and more “glued” in the mix. So far, so good.
But after my initial settings exceeded my DAW’s headroom, I lamented that I couldn’t link the mid and side makeup-gain controls to lower the overall output while preserving my carefully wrought mid-side balance. The lack of output-level meters also made me work harder to keep levels under control. Muting all outputs (wet and dry) except that for the side channel’s wet signal allowed me to, in effect, solo the side channel; a similar tack allowed me to solo the mid channel. But I missed the convenience of having dedicated solo buttons in a single GUI integrating both mid and side channels. (The higher-end mastering processors also allow you to quickly solo the left or right channel.) I also couldn’t save combined mid and side setups into a single preset.
STILL, IT'S A BARGAIN
oldTimerME wins very high marks for its convincing tube-emulation processing and the sheer variety of compression curves it makes available. The plug-in’s somewhat kludgey implementation of M/S and dual-mono processing might dissuade time-pressured pros from using it for mastering, despite its euphonic sound quality. But oldTimerME’s vintage vibe, excellent sidechain, user-friendly parallel-compression and shape-shifting character make it a versatile and musical processor for any mix engineer, no matter his or her level of experience. And you can’t beat the price!
When you want oldTimerME’s vintage vibe but need to work very quickly, the included oldTimer is the plug-in to grab. The legacy plug-in provides mono and stereo operation in a simple, stripped-down GUI. oldTimer has no facilities for sidechaining, parallel compression or M/S processing. Attack and release times are set simultaneously using one control, and there are fewer compression ratios available than with the ME version of the plug-in. But for dialing in terrific-sounding compression at the speed of a cheetah, oldTimer is king of the jungle.
Mix contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Ore.