How do you capture the essence of a legendary engineer/producer with 23 Grammys, 160 gold and platinum albums and a ‘who’s who’ resume, and put that into a piece of software? Well, that’s just what Leapwig and the iconic Al Schmitt went for with the new Al Schmitt signature plug-in. The team literally encapsulated his gear, mixes’ textures and workflow to come up with something that ambitious.
When first opening the plug-in, you select from a Source dropdown menu that offers up Vocal, Bass, Brass, Mix, Piano or Strings. These are referred to as ‘profiles’ and each of them are tuned differently with their own character and tone. Each profile also features a different ‘tuned’ amount of harmonic distortion. Within each profile, there are a number of options as well—for example, Vocal features Body Level, Air Level, Echo Level, Compression, Air Type and Echo Type.
This approach to plug-in design has led Al and the team at Leapwig to create something that operates in a unique fashion. When audio is played, rings that represent loudness are played around the relevant icon in the center in real time. If there is something like gain reduction happening, the outer rings tighten up accordingly at ½ dB per ring. For instance, if there are four rings happening, you’ve got 2 dBs of reduction. It’s something your eyes have to get used to because it’s simply a new way of operating.
Since each source features its own customized parameters to tweak, you quickly adjust to how to get around. For example, Mix features Sub Boost, Low, Mid and High Level, Low, Mid and High Comp, a compressor link and Air Boost. Bass is nothing but Compression, Body Level and Air Level, but it includes additional harmonic distortion within those parameters. Piano, which is one of my favorites, features Compression, Echo Level and A/B/C Echo Type. Note that “echo” is actually a reverb, a name that was chosen since that is what Al calls it. Aside from that, there’s In and Out Meters with up to 12 dBs of gain.
What I like about this plug-in is that you can dial in some taste very quickly. When first listening, it helps to run through each source to understand what the parameters do. To hear the echoes clearly, I would simply put on audio with attack and stop the transport, listening to what sound is created afterwards. The others, such as Sub, Air bands and EQs are easy to hear. Compression is subtle yet clearly audible. I found it useful to also mix and match—for example, using the compression in the bass source on something like a piano. Then, if I wanted more, I put another instance after in the DAW and used the EQ in Echo in the Strings source, or the EQ and Air settings in the Mix source. Once you have a feel for it, your instinct knows where to go. I saved a number of presets for easy recall: I like Echo Type C on the Strings source, so that’s now my “RT Echo 1 Strings’ preset, and I also captured a nice Mix bus preset with Sub Boost, Air Boost a few dBs of Gain and a touch of Highs as “AS Master 1.”
Aside from being easy, this plug is fun to use. You can get to a sound with just a few quick fader slides and most importantly, it works as advertised. It’s not big, bold and aggressive, but subtle and tasty, especially in the reverb/echo fields. Most importantly, all of these sounds are clean, clear and tasty. I would also use the word “refined,” which is a testament to the team making it. Since you probably can’t get him to your session, now you can bring a little of Al Schmitt’s magic sonic touch to your own tracks.
Leapwing • www.leapwingaudio.com
Rich Tozzoli is an award-winning, Grammy-nominated producer, engineer and composer for programming such as FOX NFL, Pawn Stars and Oprah & Deepak Chopra. www.richtozzoli.com