If your work involves broadcast or computer multimedia, dynamics processors likely play a significant role in your audio production. Let's face it — squeezing all that music and sound effects into the airwaves or across the Internet is what compressors were made for! Similarly, normalizing dialog or getting those peak transients under control can make a big difference to virtually any type of production.
AIPL WarmTone simulates "analog" sound.
When it comes to dynamics processing, the real “action” these days is taking place with software plug-ins. With add-in DSP boards to help reduce the burden placed on the computer's CPU, the ability to shape and otherwise manipulate audio has assumed an entirely new dimension — translating to new features and more powerful processing capability than most of us could ever have imagined just a few short years ago.
The following guide will help you gain some perspective on the dynamics plug-ins on the market. The products here represent the lion's share of available stand-alone processors for use with software audio editing and recording applications. These are general-purpose studio dynamics plug-ins as opposed to, for example, guitar processors or those designed for use with mixing consoles or other specific hardware. While most of these plug-ins are available on an individual basis, there are some that are only available as part of a bundle. On that note, we have not included plug-ins that are only available if purchased as part of a larger software recording application. So dig in! You're bound to find something ideal.
Used as a dynamics processor, AIPL's (www.aipl.com) WarmTone™ simulates a tube and reel-to-reel tape sound. Users can record music digitally, being careful to keep levels low so they don't clip. Users can then boost levels on their computer using WarmTone to produce a sound as though the music was recorded through a tube preamp to reel-to-reel. WarmTone employs 24-bit sound processing and is low on CPU resources. Available as DirectX for PC/Windows. Prices: $34, standard; $64, with ProSound premium 24-bit processing.
The CX1V from Anwidasoft (www.anwida.com) is a compressor/expander with a flexible dynamic control algorithm and a wide number of control parameters, including look-ahead and hard- and soft-knee functionality. The CX1V is ideal for controlling the dynamic of vocal parts, instruments or complex mixes. It can also improve old audio recordings by restoring a more natural dynamic and enhanced signal-to-noise ratio. The company's L1V limiter/maximizer can be used to control the dynamics of single tracks and to maximize the final mix's level. Available as VST plug-ins (PC/Mac) for $69 each.
Arboretum Ionizer multiband dynamic processor
Arboretum's (www.arboretum.com) Ionizer is a multiband dynamic processor offering spectral analysis and 512 bands of gated EQ per channel. Featuring 32-bit floating-point processing, it can be used for dynamic noise reduction, equalization, limiting, compression and expansion. Ionizer is user-configurable, enabling the processor to limit the low end, expand the midrange and compress the high end in a single pass. With its Frequency Morph function, users can analyze any sound and apply its frequency characteristics to any other piece of audio. Ionizer-DX ($499, PC) is only compatible with Sound Forge and Cool Edit Pro. Ionizer 1.3 ($499, Mac) can work within the company's HyperEngine, and is also a plug-in for AudioSuite, MOTU Audio System and Premiere-compatible apps.
Cakewalk Sonitus fx:compressor with variable knee
fx:compressor ($39) from Cakewalk (www.cakewalk.com) is a variable-knee compressor that can mimic the behavior of hard- and soft-knee compressor units, and features normal and vintage-style compression types. Manual attack and release settings are included, as well as an algorithm that adjusts the release time on-the-fly, thereby avoiding fast compression changes and reducing “pumping and breathing.” There is also a peak limiter. fx:multiband ($79) is a 5-band variable-knee compressor with normal and vintage-style compression modes. Each band contains an fx:compressor with individual control over threshold, ratio, knee, type, gain, attack and release parameters. fx:multiband also sports a peak limiter, input and gain reduction meters for each band, and an output meter. fx:compressor is available as a DirectX/VST, as well as part of the Sonitus fx:suite ($299) and included in SONAR 4 Producer Edition ($959).
Creamware's (www.creamware.com, 198 Euros) OptiMaster, for the company's Scope platform, combines a normalizer, multiband expander, compressor and limiter. The Wizard function analyzes the audio signal and automatically sets the important parameters, if desired. There is also soft clipping to simulate analog tape saturation, an adjustable look-ahead function, brickwall limiting and an Auto-Make-Up function, which automatically delivers the maximum possible loudness. OptiMaster uses 24-bit/96kHz processing and is remote-controllable via MIDI controllers when used as an insert effect.
db-audioware's (http://db-audioware.com) Mastering Limiter is a loudness maximizer and brickwall limiter with dithering. The plug-in uses intelligent look-ahead limiting, and offers 16-bit dithering for creating CD masters, 64-bit internal accuracy and support for sample rates up to 24-bit/96 kHz. The Multiband Limiter is an upgraded multiband limiter and loudness maximizer with an interface that displays what the multiband algorithm is doing in real time. It also has look-ahead capability. The Dynamics Processor combines compression, limiting, expander, gate and a brickwall limiter with true sidechain capability, with 64-bit internal processing. They are available as DirectX for PC/Windows. Prices: $39 each; or $99, bundled with a de-esser plug-in.
The Digidesign/Bomb Factory (www.digidesign.com) BF-3A ($245) plug-in, a classic compressor and leveling amplifier, is commonly used for processing guitar, piano, vocals and drums in Pro Tools. Offering more than just a simple simulation of attack and release times, the BF-3A's design captures every tube, transformer and transistor of its hardware counterparts. The maximum supported sample rate is 192 kHz. BF-3A works on Mac OS X and PC/Windows XP (TDM HD Accel, TDM HD, TDM Mix, RTAS and AudioSuite). Also from Bomb Factory are the Fairchild 660 and 670 Tube Limiter Emulation Plug-Ins ($595), which are available for Mac OS X and PC/Windows XP (TDM HD Accel, TDM HD, TDM Mix, RTAS and AudioUnits). Digidesign offers additional dynamics processors that extend beyond the scope of this article. For information, please visit www.digidesign.com.
Based on Drawmer's (www.drawmer.com) DS201 noise gate, the Gate/Compressor/Limiter Plug-In ($595) is designed for processing percussive and highly transient material. The Sidechain Trigger can be set to key the gate off of any audio track. For less-percussive signals, the company's “Program-Adaptive Circuits” can gently control excessively dynamic passages. This Expander/Compressor/Limiter Plug-In 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 adjusted. Both automatic attack and release and manual adjustment are available. Built-in limiting protects the monitors when using heavy compression. The Zero-Overshoot Limiter maintains control of signal peaks. The plug-in is geared for Digidesign TDM users: Mac OS 9 (TDM HD, TDM Mix), OS X (TDM HD Accel, TDM HD, TDM Mix) and Windows XP (TDM HD Accel, TDM HD, TDM Mix).
Max DUY (1,295 Euros) from DUY (www.duy.net) is a sound level maximizing tool. It uses the company's ILO (Intelligent Level Optimization) algorithm for seamless level maximizing, zero harmonic distortion at low frequencies and prevents unnecessary level scaling and limiting. It can be purchased as part of the Global TDM bundle for TDM, RTAS, VST, MAS, AudioSuite and Premiere.
Omnipressor is modeled after Eventide's classic compressor/limiter.
Omnipressor (TDM) from Eventide (www.eventide.com) is modeled after the company's legendary compressor/limiter/expander. Identical in functionality to the original hardware, Omnipressor offers simultaneous compression above the threshold point and expansion below. The app operates at 48/96/192kHz sample rates. The plug is shipped as part of the Clockworks Legacy bundle ($795) or the Anthology bundle ($1,195), which includes the five plug-ins found in the Legacy bundle, plus Octavox, Eventide Reverb, H3000 Band Delays and H3000 Factory.
The n-Track Compressor is a compressor/expander/noise gateplug-in for DirectX from FASoft (www.fasoft.com). This plug-in allows you to define a custom dynamics graph, so even complex dynamics processing can be obtained with a few mouse clicks. The n-Track Compressor features independent left and right controls and processing (with stereo audio data), and operates on mono and stereo 16-bit and 24-bit audio material with an internal 64-bit resolution. Standard registration costs $49; 24-bit registration (for use with 24-bit soundcards) is $75.
Focusrite D3, bottom, bundled with D2 (top)
Modeled after its respective Red Range hardware counterparts, the Focusrite (www.focusrite.com) d3 ($595) is a compressor/limiter for TDM and AudioSuite-capable systems that provides two mono or stereo configurations. The d3 supplies compression and limiting at all times, allowing users to select compression or limiting, conserving DSP power for other operations as necessary. One d3 plug-in can be used multiple times simultaneously and is limited only by DSP capacity. Pro Tools software supports sidechain processing with the d3, accepting post-fader input to control dynamics parameters. The d3 provides separate insert configurations and also functions in AudioSuite, providing file-based processing and conservation of DSP resources. The d3 is bundled with Focusrite's d2 multiband EQ processor. d3 works on Mac OS 9 (TDM HD, TDM Mix, RTAS and AudioSuite), OS X (TDM Accel, TDM HD, TDM Mix, RTAS and AudioSuite) and PC/Windows XP (TDM Accel, TDM HD, TDM Mix, RTAS, AudioSuite).
IK Multimedia T-Racks mastering suite
Designed as a mastering plug-in suite, T-Racks includes a tube-modeled compressor, a multiband master limiter and a soft clipper. The IK Multimedia (www.ikmultimedia.com) plug features an analog-modeled sound. The compressor incorporates a highpass filter in its detector stage for analyzing the incoming signal and determining how gain reduction can be applied, as well as mastering-oriented time constants. The multiband master limiter provides ultra-fast peak detection, a 3-band limiting stage and a soft clipping stage with variable clipping shapes. T-Racks works on Macs (HTDM, RTAS, VST); OS X adds support for AudioUnits. The plug-in is also PC/Windows-compatible (RTAS, VST, DX). Prices: $399; TDM for Pro Tools is $499.
Ozone 3 ($249.99) is a 64-bit mastering suite from iZotope (www.izotope.com) that includes a multiband compressor featuring RMS detection, an adaptive attack/release time setting, several types of meters and “gain when bypassed” for comparing the bypassed signal and full undo history. Further, Ozone 3 provides real-time visualization of the dynamics within each band, level histograms and X/Y compression curves. Additional components include paragraphic EQ, a multiband harmonic exciter, multiband stereo imaging, a mastering reverb, a loudness maximizer and a Dither function. It is available for Pro Tools, VST, MAS, AudioUnits and DirectX formats.
Channel G ($995, Mac OS X TDM) from McDSP (www.mcdsp.com) is a console strip featuring an expander/gate, compressor/limiter, equalizer and filters, plus a surround compressor/limiter configuration comprising L/R, C, Ls/Rs and LFE compressor sets. The expander/gate has adjustable range and threshold controls, as well as a continuous ratio for editing. The compressor/limiter also has a continuous ratio control and a knee control offering choices to smooth the transition into the compression region and between the modeled console dynamics processors. CompressorBank ($495, Mac OS X TDM/RTAS/AudioSuite) provides control of dynamic compression; common controls such as output, threshold, compression (ratio), attack and release are provided. Non-standard Knee and Bite controls facilitate articulation of compression characteristics. Multiple peak-detection circuits emulate different compression units.
Metric Halo ChannelStrip provides compressor, gate and EQ
ChannelStrip provides EQ, gate and compressor functions. This Metric Halo (www.mhlabs.com) plug-in provides input gain/trim, an expander/gate with integrated sidechain filter, a compressor with integrated sidechain filter, output gain/trim and high-resolution metering for each processing block. ChannelStrip ships with more than 100 presets and is available for Mac OS 9/X. The Mac TDM version is available for $699, while RTAS, AudioSuite, VST, MAS and AudioUnits versions are available for $345.
PSP Mixpressor emulates tones of classic devices
PSPaudioware's (www.pspaudioware.com) VintageWarmer ($149) is a simulation of an analog-style, single or multiband compressor/limiter with considerable presets. Within its feature set are shelf filters for bass and treble frequencies in single-band processing mode, as well as VU and PPM meters with overload indicators. This plug-in processor can also be used for brickwall limiting. VintageWarmer provides 96kHz and 192kHz compatibility. Part of the PSP MixPack, the MixPressor compressor enables users to obtain a sound quality typical of classic devices with valve and optoelectronic circuits. MixPressor's level detector can operate in peak and RMS modes, and attack and release times can be regulated across a wide range or set to automatic. MixPressor's limiter can operate as a warm-sounding peak limiter or as a limiter saturator with a sharper sound. VintageWarmer is available for PC/Windows (VST, DirectX, RTAS) and for Mac OS X (VST, MAS, RTAS). MixPack Suite is for PC/Windows (VST, DirectX, RTAS) and Mac OS X (VST, AudioUnits, RTAS).
Sonic timeworks Compressor-X employs true stereo 64-bit processing
Designed to emulate compressors such as UREI's 1176 and the dbx 165, Sonic Timeworks' (www.sonictimeworks.com) CompressorX employs true stereo 64-bit internal processing with hard- or soft-knee compression, and peak or RMS limiting. Mastering Compressor includes soft-clip compression/limiting, 64-bit internal precision, loudness maximization, two separate compression algorithms and dithering to 16-bit. CompressorX is available for Mac ($149), PC/Windows (DirectX, RTAS; $179) and Pulsar/Scope ($149). Mastering Compressor is available for Windows (DirectX, $179) and Pulsar/Scope ($149).
Part of Steinberg's (www.steinberg.net) Surround Edition of real-time surround effects plug-ins, OctoComp is an 8-channel single-band compressor, and OctoMaxx is a loudness maximizer for surround. All parameters are automatable. For Windows XP or 2000 and Mac OS X 6-channel-capable VST host applications, the plugs cost $499 each.
TC Electronic Master X5 offers 5-band procession for PowerCore (Version 1.7.6 or higher).
TC Electronic's (www.tcelectronic.com) Master X5 ($249) offers PowerCore users 5-band processing with adjustable crossovers, expander, compressor, limiter and dithering. Optimized for 44.1 and 48kHz processing tasks, Master X5 also has a look-ahead feature with up to 10ms adjustable digital ceiling and accuracy up to 0.05 dB, plus high-resolution metering with selectable hold modes and a consecutive clippings counter. Requires PowerCore software V. 1.7.6 or higher for Mac OS X and PC/Windows. For Mac, the host application must be VST-or AudioUnits-compatible. For PC/Windows, a VST-compatible host application is required.
Universal Audio Fairchild 670 Compression Emulator
Universal Audio (www.uaudio.com) offers a number of dynamics processors for its UAD-1 DSP card — all developed to extend the legacy of its hardware predecessors. Among them is the CS-1 Channel Strip, which includes the EX-1 EQ/compressor module. The 1176LN and 1176SE Limiting Amplifier Emulators both provide compression. The 1176SE uses considerably less DSP power for situations in which DSP resources are limited, and the 1176LN employs vintage FET compressor emulation. The LA-2A Leveling Amplifier Emulator provides compression akin to the original hardware. The Fairchild 670 Compression Emulator is modeled after Allen Sides' favorite unit at Ocean Way Studios (Los Angeles). The UAD-1 is available in three configurations: the Ultra Pak ($1,499), the Studio Pak ($1,199) and the Project Pak ($499). The CS-1 is available in all three configurations, while the remaining plug-ins reside (for the most part) in the Studio and Ultra Paks. Most plug-ins are also available separately for $149 each. The plug-ins work for AudioUnits, VST, DX, MAS and RTAS; Pro Tools versions are also available.
Essentially a spectral compressor, Voxengo's (www.voxengo.com) Soniformer ($59.95) uses compression to adjust spectral balance, with a 32-band spectrum analyzer, 64-bit internal precision and mid/side processing. Voxengo Elephant ($69.95) is a mastering limiter plug-in providing sound limiting and loudness maximization functions. There are seven limiter modes, noise-shaped bit-depth conversion and support for sample rates up to 96 kHz. Crunchessor ($49.95) is a general-purpose track compressor featuring valve warmness, fast and slow attack modes, and mono-to-stereo and stereo-to-stereo processing, among other features. Polysquasher ($49.95) is a mastering tool offering transparent compression action. Key features include real-time gain reduction scope, variable knee compression, a highpass sidechain and support for sample rates up to 192 kHz. Voxformer ($59.95) is a multifunctional vocal channel strip featuring one-knob vocal compression. There are two compressor types: 2-band or two-stage (serial) vocal compression. Voxformer includes a 4-band equalizer, a switchable crossover and a real-time FFT spectrum analyzer. All plug-ins are for Windows and run on VST-compatible host applications.
Waves L3 Maximizer: a multiband limiter with phase linear EQ
Wave Arts' (www.wavearts.com) Multi-Dynamics is a multiband dynamics processor useful for mastering, noise reduction, volume maximization, de-essing and related tasks. Features include up to six bands with independent compression or expansion/gating per band, 18dB/octave and 30dB/octave crossovers, adjustable knees and look-ahead capability. TrackPlug is an EQ, compressor and gate plug-in with adaptive RMS/peak detectors. Final Plug is a peak limiter plug-in with bit-depth truncation and noise-shaped dithering. It provides comprehensive noise-shaping options and supports operation up to 192 kHz. The offerings are for VST, MAS, AudioUnits, RTAS and DirectX and cost $149.95 each.
Maximizer L3 from Waves (www.waves.com) is a multiband limiter with phase linear equalization. The L2 Ultramaximizer is a peak limiter and level maximizer that uses ARC™ (Auto-Release Control) technology. The L1 Ultramaximizer, a brickwall limiter/maximizer, offers look-ahead peak limiting. Renaissance Compressor re-creates the warm sound and simple operation of classic analog hardware, while Renaissance Vox is a vocal compressor with compression/limiting and gating/upward expansion. TransX is a dynamics processor made to control and shape transients. The C4 provides 4-band up/down expansion, limiting and compression, plus dynamic and standard EQ. The C1 is a frequency-selective dynamics processor allowing two simultaneous dynamic processes. These offerings are for TDM, RTAS, AudioSuite, VST, DirectX, MAS and AudioUnits. While these plug-ins are available separately, the company recommends cost-saving bundles. Many of these plug-ins are found in the Diamond bundle: $3,800 (native) and $7,000 (TDM).
Roger Maycock is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.