SPL Analog Code Plug-ins

SPL forms a new division to recreate its hardware for the digital realm: "Analog Code" is the result.
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Sound Performance Labs (SPL) plug-ins are clones of the company's RackPack Series hardware. Dirk Ulrich, founder of Brainworx Music & Media and a huge fan of SPL's hardware products, convinced SPL to allow him to recreate hardware pieces in the digital domain, and in what SPL MD, Hermann Geir called, "extensive brain exhange between the analog and digital guys...not just component modeling." SPL proudly dubbed the result "Analog Code."

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The first-born of SPL's new software division, led by Ulrich, is the gorgeous Twin Tube, the unique EQ Rangers, and the immensely popular Transient Designer [reviewed separately by Russ Long — Ed.].

Twin Tube

In the case of clones, I judge a plug-in's usefulness on its merits and apart from how exact the "mimic." Besides, the closest I've come to using Twin Tube hardware was pressing its buttons at the SPL booth at a NAMM Show. Demonstrating the kind of science typically cloistered within great retroinspired plug-ins such as the Waves JJP Collection, the Twin Tube strips it down to the bare essentials: a harmonics knob and saturation knob. "Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto, you're beautiful!"

Twin Tube's harmonics control does what no EQ can do to increase the presence and brilliance of a source. It makes sounds clearer and brings them closer to the listener with absolutely no harshness. This is now my go-to box for guitars. Whether saturation is set low for a subtle complexity boost or set full-tilt like an overdriven tube, the effect is always smooth-sounding. I find it most useful in the 20-75 percent range.

For a plug-in to quote verbatim, a meritorious analog piece can be a mixed blessing. Where this succeeds for Twin Tube is in its amazing sound and look — I've always loved the SPL aesthetic. The analog Twin Tube uses only the purest methods, including real tubes and coils, in order to accomplish harmonics generation with no added extraneous distortion. It would be neat if the software version could go a step further by offering more harmonics center frequencies or a continuously variable selector. The harmonics selector buttons are clunky, and the frequency selection key is confusing; it is simply hard to tell visually what frequency is selected.

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I also would appreciate an output control to reduce the considerable amount of gain Twin Tube can add. [According to SPL, the company is about to release a Twin Tube update featuring output gain. — Ed.] And why does the scale read 0-20 when the range is exactly 0-15 dB? [SPL's Dirk Ulrich comments: "All models of analog SPL devices — and other companies, too, I would guess — have scales and values that are not matching the printed number exactly. This is due to small changes in the analog production (schedule) after layout closing time, tolerances of parts, etc. We have decided to model the very one unit we get to measure and test." — Ed.]

SPL did make one functional departure with its addition of a smart quad-snapshot feature that's great for getting your sound or automating changes. This maintains the visual continuity with a physical Twin Tube's power supply rack.

The Twin Tube has instantly become an indispensable plug-in in my arsenal. In terms of quality and fun factor, it belongs in a family of harmonics-altering plug-ins such as Crane Song Phoenix, Massey Plug-Ins Tape Head, and PSP MixSaturator2, yet stands alone by virtue of its ability to alter harmonics independently from saturation or distortion artifacts. I have been dreaming of a plug-in like Twin Tube for so long; it's the first dedicated vacuumtube simulation I've encountered that sounds amazing.

EQ Rangers

In this set of SPL plug-ins, there are three 8-band EQ "Rangers" for three frequency ranges: low, mid, and wide — named Bass, Vox, and Full, respectively — each with different fixed frequency centers. Based on passive analog circuits, the sound is anything but passive. Bass Ranger is the perfect kick drum EQ. The 16 kHz boost on the Full Ranger reminds me of the textured top end of a Helios EQ. It's simultaneously useful and annoying that Vox Ranger inherently rolls off the bottom end; hence, I didn't necessarily want to use Vox Ranger on vocals. The manual's frequency response charts paint a valuable picture of each filter's bandwidth: The lows are generally narrower, while the mids and highs are broader. Mid frequencies sound aggressive in boost and create a vacuum when cut.

I found Rangers very true to the source; if the source sounds great, the Rangers will sound amazing. If the source is harsh or somewhat flat, Rangers will tend, when boosting, to reveal the flaws more so than other plug-in EQs. EQ Rangers have a realness and texture I've never heard in a plug-in before.

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As I would with Twin Tube, I'd ask Brainworx to take some liberties with its software version. Considering that it is sometimes frustrating to be limited to fixed frequencies points, I'd like to see a Ranger EQ plug-in that combines all the frequency points of each of the three EQs into one mega-graphic EQ — how about the Long Ranger, 24 bands of bliss?

Finally, these things are not "DSP-lite." Thankfully, Brainworx recently coded up a TDM batch to relieve CPU strain. The "digification" of the remaining member of SPL's RackPack — the DynaMaxx compressor — is something to look forward to considering these SPL Plug-ins are worthy of its given "Analog Code" moniker.

Alex Oana is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review and can be found atwww.alexoana.com.

Transient Designer: SPL's Groundbreaking Dynamics Go Digital

by Russ Long

The Transient Designer (TD) plug-in of Sound Performance Labs' Analog Code line is based on the groundbreaking hardware solution for level-independent dynamic processing. As with the hardware version, the plug-in provides the ability to increase or decrease the attack of a sound source and to extend or shorten its sustain.

It does this with only three controls: Attack, Sustain, and Output Gain. Transient Designer's complex algorithm deems traditional dynamics controls — threshold, ratio, and gain — unnecessary, while time constants — attack, decay, and release — are set automatically according to the input signal's characteristics; TD provides quick, natural, and musical-sounding results.

In its plug-in form, Transient Designer superbly blends extreme sonic power with beautiful simplicity. Turning the Attack knob increases or decreases the level of the signal's transient, and turning the Sustain knob increases or decreases the sustained portion of the sound; that's all there is to it.

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The plug-in has a tendency to clip internally rather easily, so an Output Gain control has been added to compensate. The Output Gain control allows up to 22 dB of reduction or up to 6 dB of boost, ensuring that the following devices receive an optimized input level.

The plug-in's strong suit is drums and percussion, and I've put it to successful use on kicks, snares, toms, djembe, and congas. The plug-in feels like magic in how it allows room ambience to be adjusted during the mix process. It's like being able to travel back in time to add or remove dampening to the snare drum or the toms before tracking began. It works well on other sound sources, too: a bass performance can be made more legato, or ambience can be removed from a piano performance.

Transient Designer is fairly taxing on the DAW, making me have to limit the number of instances that it is used. However, I'm running a Pro Tools|HD-1 rig on an older 2 GHz Dual Processor G5, so users with more powerful computers won't have the same problem. One other minor complaint: TD's GUI buttons are comparably slow to react to adjustments. [At press time, Russ confirmed that a later version of TD solved the problems explained above: "I'm no longer experiencing the DSP consumption and knob delay issues; while this was a problem with earlier versions, it has been corrected." — Ed.]

The Settings feature is a main strength of TD and is available on all of the SPL plug-ins; after four months of use, I've fallen in love with it. Settings allow the user to store four completely different sets of adjustments for each SPL plug-in. The settings can be stored and recalled with one click. I've found myself frequently varying the kick and/or snare from section to section of a song (e.g., a tighter kick and snare in the verse with added sustain in the choruses and even more sustain on the kick in the bridge). This is much faster than automating plug-in parameters, and it makes fine-tuning the plug-in parameters later much easier, too.

The Transient Designer plug-in has quickly become one of my most powerful mix tools. It is truly indispensable.

Russ Long, a Nashville-based producer/engineer, owns The Carport recording studio. He is a regular contributor to PAR. www.russlong.ws.