For many engineers of a certain generation, Roger Nichols needs no introduction, thanks to his long recording history with Steely Dan, John Denver, Joe Cocker and many others, as well as his technical consulting work with several major manufacturers. Nichols is now hoping his fame and expertise will translate into customers for his eponymous commercial venture, Roger Nichols Digital (RND). In May, Nichols partnered with plug-in developer Elemental Audio to rebrand and market Elemental’s full line of innovative dynamics, equalization and metering plug-ins. Nichols is also in the process of developing a number of plug-ins of his own design.
Studio, post production
Includes Dynam-izer, Finis,,Uniquel-izer, Frequal-izer dynamics and EQ processors; 192 kHz-capable; AU, VST and RTAS formats; PC, Mac and Intel Mac-compatible; iLok or challenge/response authorization
Roger Nichols | 727-230-1603
With the release of the Elemental Audio plug-ins under the RND label comes feature enhancements, redesigned interfaces and new names, plus a growing collection of downloadable presets and instructional videos by Nichols himself. The RND versions also come with price increases of $100 to $200 per plug-in and some grumblings from the existing Elemental Audio user base.
The RND Pro Bundle ($745) consists of four unique plug-in processors: Dynam-izer multizone dynamics controller, Finis
mastering limiter, Uniquel-izer customizable EQ and Frequal-izer FIR (Finite Impulse Response) EQ. The PC, Mac and Intel Mac-compatible plug-ins are provided in mono and stereo versions for VST, RTAS and AU formats.
As there is no way to detail all the controls of the Pro Bundle’s feature-rich plug-ins in this space, I’m going to cover their general features in this section and their hands-on usefulness in the “In Use” section.
All four of the plug-ins share some common features, including sample rate support up to 192 kHz, built-in preset load/save functions, dual workspaces, host-based parameter automation and advanced multiprocessor compatibility.
The Dynam-izer provides a unique level of dynamic control by dividing the compressor’s interface into (up to) four “compression zones.” As opposed to multiband compressors, which divide audio into frequency ranges, the Dynam-izer’s zones are based on amplitude ranges. Each zone has its own attack, release and ratio controls, allowing the user to customize the compression or expansion behavior of the processor for each. Zone settings can be adjusted by numeric entry, control sliders and/or by moving points and reshaping the multi-colored zones in the graphic I/O Map. The Dynam-izer also features comprehensive metering and keying sections, automatic gain compensation and an auto limiter.
Finis is a brick-wall limiter that employs look-ahead processing and one of three different psycho-acoustic processing algorithms. It features an easy-to-use interface consisting primarily of four slider controls (input, release, reaction and output ceiling) and a comprehensive metering section.
The Frequal-izer is a linear-phase equalizer based on finite impulse response (FIR) filter processing. A built-in spectrum analyzer can be superimposed over the 50-point EQ curve for real-time comparison of pre and post-EQ signals as well as spectrum matching between different sources. The EQ curve can be drawn freehand and smoothed and/or manipulated using a variety of tools.
The Uniquel-izer allows the user to construct an EQ of any size by adding as many bands as required from a list of 11 filter types (parametric, low shelf I and II, high shelf I and II, low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, notch, and harmonic 4 and 8). Stereo-linked bands can be split into independent bands for separate adjustment, and any band can be soloed for auditioning without interference from the other bands.
There are plenty of Elemental Audio customers who are upset with the lack of advanced notification and the name, interface, marketing and price changes that occurred with the Roger Nichols Digital-EA partnership. I certainly can empathize; perhaps it could have been handled better. To Nichols’ credit, however, RND seems eager to work with its user base on issues (to wit: the recent addition of challenge/response authorization in response to complaints about iLok-only authorization) and to provide added value to the existing plug-ins via custom preset banks, instructional videos and improved features.
Most potential users, including myself, will not evaluate these plug-ins based on past incarnations. Plug-ins stand or fall on their usefulness, sound quality and value, and I think even the most jaded EA customer will agree: these four plug-ins are close to phenomenal.
In our industry, tried-and-true rules the day (usually for good reason) and most new products are reissues or logical evolutionary steps in a product line or type. Products that are unique for unique’s sake typically don’t take into account user demand or practicality, and die a quick death. It is therefore refreshing to see a unique take on familiar processors that proves to be useful, technically in-depth, and entirely warranted.
Though some of the plug-ins present seemingly complex interfaces and unfamiliar controls, spending a short time experimenting moves you quickly up the learning curve and onto devising creative applications. All of these processors are capable of rudimentary and familiar functionality appropriate to their type: the Frequal-izer and Uniquel-izer can be used as standard EQs, and the Dynam-izer and Finis can perform standard compression and limiting. It is the pioneering user-interaction methods plus comprehensive technical features and metering that sets these plug-ins apart.
The Dynam-izer, for example, presents a clear graphic analog of its multilevel processing in its colorful I/O map display. Dragging one of a zone’s “flags” presents a visual representation of changes in the zone’s input threshold, ratio and/or output settings, and shows the interrelationship between zones. Trust me, — describing this in print takes longer and provides less clarity than simply trying it. In under a minute, you should have a decent grasp of the basic operation and potential of this powerful tool.
The four zones provide complete and independent compression (or expansion) control of low-through-high volume levels. Lower-level signals can be brought up, left alone or pushed down, while adding an increasing amount of compression in the middle zones and near-limiting in the highest zone. It can also be used as a standard full-range compressor by turning off three bands. On the more advanced technical side, the plug-in provides an unparalleled set of keying tools that include selection of left channel, right channel, left + right or side chain input (where supported), as well as a three-band keying filter with a choice of seven different fully adjustable filters per band, and three audition modes.
On the surface, putting two equalizers in a four-plug-in bundle of this cost may seem redundant or superfluous. In my use during the review period, I found them to be more than sufficiently different and equally useful, and I wouldn’t want to have to choose between them.
The Uniquel-izer is the more standard of the two in that it is based on manipulating specific bands/filters. As mentioned in the section above, the EQ can be constructed of literally any number of filters (okay, I got bored once I got to 100) chosen from 11 different types. The sheer variety and scope of the filters – including the 4 and 8-multiple harmonic filters with equal, diminishing or increasing amplitude shapes, choice of odd/even/both harmonic orders and a fundamental mute – provide technical satisfaction.
The Frequal-izer delivers its technical and creative satisfaction through its unique EQ curve display. Unlike traditional band-based EQ, the Frequal-izer EQ plot is made up of fifty closely spaced control points that are manipulated by “drawing” freehand with the mouse pointer. Similar to drawing a waveform at the sample level, simple or complex curves can be quickly realized, smoothed and manipulated with completely linear phase response. You can also choose to display the input signal spectrum and/or the output spectrum (showing the result of your curve) in real time, or in a paused mode. Also of interest is its ability to learn the frequency response of one source and apply it to another.
Since the operation of this EQ is so different from the usual paradigm, automation is implemented using 50 addressable snapshots called “states.” I had no trouble storing and recalling various states via Nuendo’s automation. I do wish, however, that there was some crossfade control in switching states, as the changes are instantaneous. Perhaps this could be one of RND’s future enhancements? Scroll-wheel implementation for adjustment of controls and parameters would also be a welcome addition across the board.
The processors contained in the Roger Nichols Digital Pro Bundle are some of the most interesting, useful and technically satisfying plug-ins I have used. I check out new plug-ins all the time and very rarely do they distinguish themselves enough for me to add them to my collection, and even more rarely do they warrant first-call status.
These plug-ins sound superb, possess immense technical prowess and feature GUIs that not only let the user interface with the processor in fast and effective ways but also give the user comprehensive control over what is displayed and how it looks. I highly recommend checking out the 14-day demos and spending a little quality time with these guys.