Snapshot Product Reviews

IK MULTIMEDIA T-RACKS Mastering Plug-In IK Multimedia now has a plug-in version of its stand-alone T-RackS mastering software.


Mastering Plug-In

IK Multimedia now has a plug-in version of its stand-alone T-RackSmastering software. HTDM, RTAS, VST, DX, AU and MAS plug-in formats aresupported across Mac OS 9, OS X and Windows 95/98/ME/NT/XP platforms.T-RackS is actually a bundle of four individual mastering tools and thewhole “rack” of all four in a mastering suite. The fourprocessors are a 6-band parametric equalizer, a“tube-based” modeled stereo compressor, 3-band stereolimiter and my favorite — an adjustable soft-clipping outputstage.

Those familiar with the original stand-alone T-RackS will recognizesome significant improvements in the plug-in version. The equalizer nowoffers full 20-20k Hz range with a sweepable midrange; there is now asidechain highpass filter in the compressor module; individual limiterband controls and adjustable crossover points for more precisemultiband limiting; and a calibrated limiter and clipper outputguarantees that your mix will never go over -0.05 dBfs.

I installed T-RackS VST version on a PC (XP) running Steinberg'sWaveLab 4.0 and the HTDM/RTAS version on a Mac running Pro Tools|HD (OS9.2.2). I also installed the plugs on another XP PC running both CubaseSX and Nuendo 2.0.1. IK Multimedia allows you three additionalauthorizations on different machines from joining its online usersgroup.

All versions of the modules and suite plug-ins work well, althoughrunning all four in the suite uses a good amount of CPU resources inVST. I found the compressors very warm and smooth for mixes andindividual tracks. However, on separate tracks, I'd have to crank thema lot to get any action. The soft-clipping stage is my pick for gettinga saturated sound on mixes or separate instrument tracks. I also likedthe Chaining feature, where you can easily “re-order” thechain of three of the four processors.

The multiband limiter is for stressing certain frequencies overothers or reducing frequency peaks of individual instrument tracks— it works as advertised. The “tube” compressormodule is probably best suited to vocals and drums, and the enhancedparametric is great for any vocal, track or mix. The sidechain filteris great for mixes where heavy kick drum and bass can cause excessivepumping. You can use more compression with the filter set to around 150Hz and have less of these artifacts.

I found that the VST plug-ins do not report their latency to thehost's plug-in delay compensator. Latency compensation is an inherentfeature (over Pro Tools) when mixing inside of Nuendo or Cubase SX.This flaw would preclude me from using these plug-ins onphase-dependent tracks, like drum kits or any other multimiked acousticinstruments. I also found instantiating the mono versions of T-RackScrashed these programs, although in Pro Tools, this didn't happen. Techsupport assures me that they are aware of these bugs and are working onthem, with a fix due out by the time you read this.

Apart from these quirks, the plug-ins sound great and make aworthwhile addition to any multitrack DAW. T-RackS plug-ins sell for$399 MSRP.

IK Multimedia, 954/749-3016,
Barry Rudolph

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Dave Smith's name ought to be a household word. Here's a guy who'smade a huge impact on our lives — his many innovations includedesigning the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, laying the foundation forMIDI and developing Seer Systems' Reality, the first successful virtualsynth. With chops like that, he could have gone on to bigger things,but instead he went smaller. Housed in a compact, 6×11-inchdesktop chassis, his latest creation is Evolver, a monophonic synththat blends FM synthesis with four oscillators: two analog and twodigital. So for a paltry $499 retail, you get an analog/digital synth,16×4 sequencer and full stereo audio processing.

Under the small hood, Evolver is a powerhouse. Digital oscillatorsemulate the dense wavetables of Sequential's Prophet VS. Each channelhas a VCA and a resonant analog lowpass filter (2/4-pole switchable).There are four LFOs, three ADSR envelope generators and an analog-stylestep sequencer that synchs to MIDI clock. Sounds can be triggered viathe internal sequencer from an external sound source (mono or stereo),using the ¼-inch line inputs/outputs or from a MIDI keyboard,using Evolver as a MIDI sound module.

Despite the Spartan top panel, Evolver's eight-knob interface givesthe control of a massive analog synth without the size (or cost) of100-plus pots. This approach uses a Shift button and eight row selectbuttons to give quick access to any parameter. It takes a few minutesto get used to it, but once you're there, it's fast and intuitive. Thecompany also offers a $49 Evolver Editor for PC users; a Mac version iscoming. This lets users see all parameters at a glance, as well asother goodies such as random program generation.

Evolver is powerful and deep. You can dive right in and startcreating amazing sounds simply by stepping through its 512 (four banksof 128) programs. But the fun really accelerates if you have someknowledge of synth basics (ADSR, filters, oscillators, etc.). I routeda thin, wimpy Farfisa organ to the audio inputs, and within a minute, Ihad a phat monster bass! Acoustic drums can be transformed into huge,thick techno rhythms. Electric guitar can go directions you'd neverimagined, and vocals — well, you'll just have to try it tobelieve it. The onboard sequencer can build everything from complexcompositions to simple loops.

The best thing about Evolver is that it offers so much for solittle. It does have a few drawbacks: a wall wart power supply, nosingle output volume knob and no headphone out, (although the outputcould drive phones if you had a dual ¼-inch-to-TRS jack adapter).Besides its awesome musical synthesis and compositional capabilities,game developers and sound designers are gonna love this one. If youwant more, Dave Smith Instruments just debuted the Poly Evolver, whichis the $1,395 rackmount polyphonic version, slated for delivery nextmonth.

Dave Smith Instruments, 707/963-7006,
George Petersen

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With all of the complex music-making capabilities available fromsoftware, it's easy to forget another basic reason why computersentered the mainstream in the first place: to make life easier.Sibelius, founded in 1993 by twin brothers/composers/programmers Benand Jonathan Finn, has never lost sight of that objective. And itscomposing software, Sibelius 3.0, takes a traditionally time-consumingprocess and makes it much faster, more efficient and more creative.

Priced at $599, or $199 for an upgrade, Sibelius 3 is a deceptivelysimple yet deep program offering a complete toolkit for composers,songwriters, arrangers, teachers and students. Designed to streamlinethe task of writing, playing, printing and publishing music, Sibeliususes a flexible, intuitive user interface that's meant to take the painout of creating charts, whether they're for solo piano or a fullorchestra.

Sibelius' designers have paid careful attention to customer needs,adding features that will be welcomed by advanced and beginning users.Most notable is the addition of Native Instruments' Kontakt PlayerSilver, providing a range of high-quality instrument samples, includingbrass, woodwind, strings, percussion, voices and a Bösendorferpiano. An upgrade to Kontakt Player Gold is also available. Sibelius3.0 also sports an improved look and feel via its freshened interface,which has a new Smoothness setting that enhances display clarity, andoffers zooming and navigation. Additions include a Focus on Stavesfeature to help navigate/edit specific score sections when writing forlarge ensembles and Shadow Notes, which displays where a note willappear before it's input.

Installation and setup of the Mac/Win-compatible Sibelius disc wasroutine on my machine, which runs Windows XP on a 2.26GHz Pentium using1 GB of RAM. Once installed, I ran the helpful Quick Tour, whichappears at the front of the well-written manual. While the Sibeliusinterface is extremely intuitive and its basic functions can be quicklymastered, some more complex commands and procedures — such ascreating an entire orchestral arrangement from a single instrument— need to be learned step-by-step before they can be pulled offcorrectly.

The program makes it easy to establish an onscreen template forcreating a score, which it delivers with uncomplicated dialogs and ahost of options for appealing looks. When inputting a score, Sibeliusoffers a flexible approach that lets users enter notes via mouse,QWERTY keyboard or MIDI keyboard. This last method of real-time inputuses what Sibelius calls Flexi-time: Play the notes — and voila!— they show up on the staff. Not only is it highly accurate, butthe program is also intelligent enough to track your tempo as you speedup or slow down against the click and then reflect it on playback.

Thanks to Sibelius' easy-to-navigate user interface, designers wereable to pack it with a tremendous amount of functionality, as evidencedby the whopping 589-page manual. This makes for a sizable list ofshortcuts and commands that must be mastered to make the fullest use ofthe program. But as composers of all skill levels will find, such depthmeans that the only true limit of Sibelius 3.0 is your own knowledge ofmusic theory. Whether you're just keeping track of your own ideas forreference, charting for a jazz band or scoring for a symphony, Sibeliusmakes short work of a hard task.

Sibelius, 925/280-0600,
David Weiss


Years ago, I tried Tweek, a conductivity enhancer for the consumeraudio market. It was effective, but was sold in tiny bottles —enough to treat a home hi-fi system — making it pricey for thepro user who deals with hundreds (or thousands) of plugs, jacks,connectors and switches. However, the same formula — but in aconcentrated industrial form — is available as Stabilant 22. Whenused in thin films between contacts, this nonconductive,amorphous-semiconductive polyoxyethylene-polyoxypropyline block polymeracts under the influence of the electrical field and switches to aconductive state.

Among other sizes, Stabilant 22 is available in $28.95 5ml and($56.75) 10ml concentrate kits. Each is mixed 4:1 with 99% isopropanolor pure ethanol that you supply to fill a larger container (includedwith the kits) to the right dilution. The alcohol is not an activeingredient but evaporates, spreading the active ingredients evenly overthe contact surface.

A small amount does the trick: One tiny bottle can treat hundreds ofconnections. Stabilant 22 is not a cleaner or lubricant (although itdoes do a bit of each), but does an exceptional job at improvingconductivity. On various surfaces — ranging from internal Molexconnectors in my MCI JH-110 2-track, to a noisy guitar pickup switch onXLR cables linking outboard preamps to my Pro Tools rig, the differencewas audible and noticeable. The most dramatic improvement was on phonocartridge connections and interchangeable mic capsule interconnects,two areas of superlow voltage exchange. In both cases, the result wasalmost like a veil being lifted from the listening chain, with lowerdistortion and improved signal to noise. I'm hooked!

Stabilant 22, dist. by Posthorn Recordings, 212/242-3737,
George Petersen