I have to admit that the only thing that kept me from running Focusrite's Liquid Mix 16 hardware in my studio was that you needed a slot-precious FireWire cable to run it. Well, scratch that problem: Liquid Mix HD is a new TDM plug-in for Pro Tools|HD users that provides up to 60 modern and classic EQ and compressor emulations. There are no cables needed with this bad boy — just install and play.
To run Liquid Mix HD (LMHD), you'll need (of course) Pro Tools (V7.1 or higher), a minimum of 1 GB of memory, and an iLok key. At a minimum, you'll also need Windows XP SP2 or OSX Mac 10.4.10 operating systems and a Pro Tools Accel DSP card.
LMHD will run at sample rates up to 96 kHz with a totally respectable latency of 12 samples at all rates. Since I downloaded the basic installation software, a separate install of the emulation files was necessary.
It's a Convolution Thing
Like the aforementioned Liquid Mix 16, LMHD uses a technology called, "Dynamic Convolution," to generate the included emulations. Unlike the technique of simply modeling a sound, they actually sample the behavior of audio within each unit at multiple levels, settings, and frequencies. Out of this mound of data emerges an "accurate" emulation of each of the included analog processors. These are available to be called up as plug-in inserts with each instance (stereo or mono) providing one compressor and one equalizer each.
Compressor dropdown What's Inside
The emulations provided upon installation are broken down into 40 compressors and 20 EQs. Additional library installs are available for free on the company's website, with an expanding selection forthcoming.
The emulations are selected on the GUI by using the dropdown menu available above each graph. While you're never exactly sure what models they are, the cryptic codes such as Class A1: Brit 70's, Brit Desk 2, Danish Classic Tube, etc. do provide clues (except for Focusrite's own clearly labeled Red 7, ISA 130, and Green Channel Strip). The first thing I did was to scan through them all on the same piece of audio material to hear the impact of each and get a feel for it.
The same dropdown selection applies for the EQ, except there you can choose to load All Bands or those associated with the original model.
The compressor provides the standard controls as well as additional knobs (Freq, Gain, Q) that become available when the Sidechain monitor switch is selected. Also, when Sidechain is active, another box appears offering EQ types (Low Shelf, Band Pass, High Shelf) and the EQ Graph will display a green line to indicate your settings.
There is an Input Level meter with associated Gain knob on the left side, and a Gain Reduction meter (down to -36 dB) for the Compressor aside the Compression Graph. In the middle sits a Mid Meter that shows the level of the signal directly after the Compressor, before the EQ. However, when the Compressor Post EQ switch is active, it will display the signal directly after the EQ, before compression. On the far right sits an EQ/Output Meter that displays the overall level of the signal post EQ, even when the Compressor Post EQ is active.
EQ dropdown Down Below
At the bottom of the GUI sits a row of switches that can be turned on or off. The Free switch can be used to activate all the compressor controls, whether they were available on the original emulation or not. The Compressor Post EQ switch does what it states, as does the Sidechain Monitor and Compressor On switches. The Link switch will allow for both sides to be compressed equally when using a stereo instance.
Each of the seven bands of EQ must be turned on to be used, along with the master EQ On switch, which I found useful as a master On/Off to do instant comparative listening. The same applies for the Bypass On/Off, which disables all LMHD processing. Sometimes I would forget to turn the band on, and would wonder why I heard no effect — just something you quickly get used to.
There are also Limit and Clip lights that indicate a hard limit overload and an output level clip. The small floppy disk icon above the Clip light is used for saving Snapshots, which are transferable settings files for LMHD.
Up for the Count
As you can see by the enclosed charts, LMHD is well engineered. Optimized specifically for Pro Tools|HD, users can get over 100 mono instances at once, depending on your system. For example, up to 59 stereo instances can be had on an HD3 (1 Core Accel and 2 Accel PCIe) at up to 48 kHz with 18 at up to 96 kHz. That's a serious amount of power considering how good these things sound. While I didn't use nearly that many, I found they barely put a dent into my cards, always a welcome thing on large, DSP intensive mixes.
Control Surface Mapping
LMHD is supported by a nice variety of control surfaces, including ProControl, Control24, Command8, C24, D-Control and D-Command, Venue (D-Show), Mackie HUI and Novation Automap.
Any convolution-based product is only as good as the software inside, and Focusrite has done an admirable job of sampling a decent selection here. While I can't tell you I've used every piece of hardware they've modeled, the ones I have used (and can recognize!) seem accurately reflected. It's nice that it's also an open-ended platform with additional downloadable emulations.
To me, the true indication of a useful product, though, is whether it makes my mixes sounds good and is easy enough to use that I'll return to it when needed. That is certainly the case here with LMHD. It got a good workout on my sessions because it's flexible and easy on the processor. Using it over time, I've developed my favorite "go to" models and settings, but sometimes I'll try something new and see where it takes me. It's nice to have that option available.
If I did have a complaint, it's not about the sound. It would only be in the mouse operation of the knobs. I found them to be a little "loose," and using the command key reset them to default instead of offering fine control, as is standard on many plug-ins. Sure, you can enter in the values, but it would be great to "tighten" them up a little in future versions.
Overall, LMHD is a good-sounding, well-engineered piece of software that I highly recommend. With a street price around $500, it's an excellent value for all the power that it provides. Listen for yourself: Focusrite provides a free 14-day trial of LMHD on its website at www.focusrite.com.
Rich Tozzoli is a producer, composer, sound designer, and the software editor for Pro Audio Review.www.richtozzoli.com