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Innovations: oeksound Soothe Live Plug-In

oeksound product specialist and live sound engineer Veera Vallinkoski discusses the development of the new Soothe Live plug-in, an automatic resonance suppressor optimized for live audio.

oeksound Soothe Live Plug-In
oeksound Soothe Live Plug-In at work.

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Mix. Innovations is a monthly column in which different pro audio manufacturers are invited to discuss the thought process behind creating their products of note. Veera Vallinkoski is a product specialist and live sound engineer at oeksound.

Live audio engineering is fast-paced and challenging, facing a multitude of common problems: tonal imbalances caused by sound sources, microphones, speakers, venue design, resonances and feedback. Audio engineers have always sought out tools to tackle them quickly and effectively.

oeksound recently announced its Soothe Live plug-in, an automatic resonance suppressor optimized for live audio. It’s available on Avid Venue S6L systems, and can also be used with Pro Tools HDX systems. While oeksound is well-known for its innovative studio plug-ins, our ambition is to create relevant, modern tools for both live and studio mixing.

Soothe Live is based on the technology behind the award-winning studio plug-in Soothe2. It analyzes the audio signal for resonances and automatically applies matching reduction. Soothe Live has been designed from scratch, focusing on optimizing the processing and user experience for live sound.

We like to think of Soothe Live as a Swiss Army knife of live sound, with a wide range of applications, from softening overly bright instruments to dealing with the proximity effect in vocals. It’s great for subtle tonal shaping on busses and master channels, or for more complex problem-solving, like feedback control.

While the user interface and parameters are similar to Soothe2’s, a lot of work was put into optimizing them for live sound. Each parameter has been mapped individually for useful settings and likely use-cases. Soothe Live is more level-dependent by design, so it can be used both as a multiband compressor-type tool in more lenient settings and a problem-solving tool in more extreme ones. The plug-in also takes advantage of the touch screen: Multiple gestures have been implemented to speed up the setup process. Many of our developers are live sound engineers, and we put a lot of effort into testing to make sure the user experience is intuitive. Creating a fast workflow without compromising versatility was an essential challenge.

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The idea of oeksound Soothe Live started before the studio versions of Soothe. Live audio has specific limitations that need to be considered. Latency in studio mixing is often a non-issue, but in live mixing, every sample counts. The first Soothe Live iterations were made in 2017, and in 2019, a working prototype was made. The latency was reduced to a mere 64 samples or 0.6 ms—but this came at the expense of the CPU load. The algorithm was heavy to run and wasn’t a viable solution yet.

It was time to go back to the drawing board. Making the CPU load low enough depended on multiple minor breakthroughs in maths and optimization. The algorithm design had to be approached from the perspective of “what is fast,” and work the math and mappings around that. Small details, like the order of operations, required several rewrites of the algorithm. The framework of the DSP techniques only offers a starting point, and all of our algorithms have been tuned by ear. The end product is made by carefully fine-tuning a number of internal coefficients and mappings against test signals and real audio.

It was a conscious decision on our part to invest a lot of time into R&D—a challenging context that has given us a great framework to work in. The techniques and technology used in Soothe Live will find their way into the upcoming plug-ins we’re currently working on.

We initially examined the possibility of introducing Soothe Live as rackmountable hardware. Our strengths, however, are not in hardware design but rather in software. If we delved into the territory of hardware design, we would have a whole new world to explore that we don’t have any current expertise in. It was a conscious decision on our part to release Soothe Live as a stand-alone live plug-in. After careful investigation, we decided that the Avid HDX platform was best suited for our needs.

At the beginning of 2022, the prototype was deployed to several bands and high-profile tours, and the response has been very positive. The feedback we have received is that Soothe Live has eliminated the need to use an EQ to notch out unwanted frequencies, sped up the mixing process, and opened up new possibilities for feedback control. We’re excited to bring modern solutions to live mixing and expand the toolkit of audio engineers.