Before your audio creation is released to the masses you should consider your mastering process. You may send your mixes off somewhere and trust the final product to the golden ears of some mastering engineer. This is fine if you have the budget to afford a truly talented mastering engineer. For the PC-equipped project studio, however, there is now an affordable way to master your own material.
Product PointsApplications: Audio mastering
Key Features: Six-band parametric EQ; stereo tube compressor/leveler; stereo limiter
Price: $299 (Mac and PC)
T-RackS, from IK Media (distributed by ILIO Entertainments), is the equivalent of three rackmounted effect units in the form of software. The digital algorithms emulate the sonic qualities of classic tube mastering gear. It’s a form of physical modeling – a technique similar to what keyboard makers use to emulate the sound of various instruments.
Instruments with less intense harmonics and more predictable characteristics are less of a challenge to fake than others. An imitation rarely sounds as good as the real thing. And the same goes for imitation rack gear. That said, the T-RackS sounds nothing like a $300 piece of software – it sounds great!
It’s a pleasure to use an application that isn’t a slave to the Windows or Macintosh environment. Some audio editors and sweeteners are so menu- and quick-key-driven that using them makes working with audio less of an art. I love digital tools, but I want knobs to twist and buttons to push.
Which is exactly what the folks at MK Multimedia have done with T-RackS. The program is launched in its own environment. No file menu this, alt-cntrl that. Just launch and tweak to your ears’ content. It’s like real rack gear on your computer screen. Every dial and button is live. As you make adjustments to your audio you hear the effects real time.
And you get your money’s worth. T-RackS includes a tube compressor/leveler with stereo enhancer, multiband master stereo limiter, real-time preview and processing, 32-bit floating point resolution, fade-in/fade-out/song markers, snapshots for recall, a variety of presets, as well as a take feature that allows you to compare different settings as your audio plays in real time.
I tested T-RackS on two systems. A 400 MHz, AMD K6-2 system with a 7,200 RPM Seagate Medalist Pro drive and a 600 MHz PIII SCSI system with a 10,000 RPM Seagate Cheetah drive. Both systems have plenty of memory and high-end graphics cards and performed very well.
The software includes a CPU monitor to help track how much processing power it’s using. The K6-2 hummed along at 40% while the PIII barely used 10% of its power. I didn’t load the software on a Mac, but suspect the new G4 will really scream with a math-intensive program such as this.
I’ve been using T-RackS for everything. I found an old Toby Redd tape that I wanted on CD but could never find. (Toby Redd was a band I used to see in Detroit back in the ’80s. Drummer Chad Smith went on to play with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.) I found this old low-bias tape and it was in pretty bad shape. So I digitized it, cleaned up the noise in Sound Forge and then mastered it in T-RackS. Even with a poor source tape, I was able to remaster the entire album and make it much more listenable on CD.
I’m doing some work for the Home and Garden network, HGTV. Every now and then they need me to retrack some of my voiceover work. I record a few paragraphs, sweeten it in T-RackS, burn it to CD and overnight it to the client. The tracks work perfectly with what is recorded in a full-fledged studio. Not to mention it saves me a trip.
I have a couple of minor complaints. MK Multimedia uses a dongle approach to prevent illegal use of its software. Dongles are a good idea for software makers, but a bad idea for customers. With both Cubase and T-RackS installed, I now have a dongle train protruding from the back of my PC.
Some software makers, like the Propeller Heads, require that the software CD be in the CD-ROM drive for the program to run. It’s the lesser of two evils, but software protection as a rule just isn’t user-friendly.
When multitasking with other applications the screen redraws in T-RackS are very slow. The good news is the audio continues to be processed. But because the graphics are all fragmented on the screen, it’s a bit unnerving and gives the impression that the program is about to crash. Luckily, crashes with T-RackS were very rare.
T-RackS is an excellent mastering tool. It is easy to use and sounds great. You would be hard-pressed to find a better tool to add to your digital arsenal in hardware or software for less than $500. T-RackS is a bargain at $300.