Thanks to dedicated Motorola DSP chips, Pro Tools users have had access to TC plug-ins for years. With the advent of today’s powerful Pentium-class processors, TC Works was able to bring a few of its high-quality algorithms to the PC world with the TC Native Bundle. This bundle includes DirectX and VST plug-ins that will work with the vast majority of digital audio and audio/MIDI packages on the PC. Native Bundle is also available for the Mac platform.
Product PointsApplications: Studio recording
Key Features: DirectX and VST plug-ins for PC; includes compressor/de-esser, parametric EQ, graphic EQ, maximizer and reverb; available for Macs
Contact:TC Works at 800-288-5838.
+ High audio quality
+ Excellent metering
+ Good plug-in variety
– Some interfaces are consistent
The Score: A diverse plug-in bundle with excellent sound, lots of nice touches and a handful of interface quirks.
The TC Native Bundle ($499) includes five discrete plug-ins: the DeX compressor/de-esser, L single-band limiter/maximizer, reverb, seven-band parametric EQ and 28-band graphic EQ. The reverb and parametric EQ algorithms are included as VST plug-ins, along with DirectX. What follows is a rundown on the plug-ins’ features, in no particular order.
The DeX compressor/de-esser is just what its name implies. DeX offers variable soft knee compression with attack, release, threshold, ratio and hold time sliders. It has wonderful metering, including stereo input, stereo output, gain reduction, key level and key delay. All have falling peak hold indicators, and the gain reduction and key level meters have a nice peak numeric readout.
DeX also provides input and output level controls, a soft sat button and display (more on these later), de-esser frequency and gain reduction sliders and side-chain monitor button.
In addition, you can set up two “key input” plug-ins to route external key signals to the DeX. Switchable auto makeup gain compensates for loss of level due to gain reduction.
The L limiter/maximizer is designed primarily for mastering. It offers zero-overshoot digital limiting with switchable makeup gain and variable attack, hold and release times. A large threshold slider sets the amount of gain reduction, which is tracked on an equally large reduction meter with numeric readout. Input, output and reduction meters also have falling peak indicators.
L has stereo input and output faders complete with digital readouts. With makeup gain enabled, the stereo output faders set your maximum output level after processing. One of L’s more unique features is a histogram that shows the level distribution of your music either before or after the limiting process. A third mode shows the difference between the input and output data.
The TC Native reverb offers a somewhat stripped-down control set and striking graphical interface. Three slider groups control room shape, diffusion and color, each with a little display window above them. A cube becomes curved then cylindrical in the shape window, while 3D-rendered letters in the second window get blurrier as diffusion increases. The color window has a vertical and horizontal slider that moves a small circle (which can also be clicked on and moved) across the face of the window. The sphere changes color in response to the reverb parameters.
Other controls include a large value knob to recall presets or adjust decay time and room size, predelay increment/decrement buttons, input and output level sliders and a mix control. The now-familiar stereo input and output meters appear in the reverb plug-in, complete with those nice falling peak indicators.
The TC Native parametric EQ offers seven bands of stereo processing, a unique loudness/treble joystick, soft sat button and graphical EQ curve display. Traditional controls include a filter-type selector (shelf, peak or notch), frequency and bandwidth window and gain slider. You can unlink the gain sliders to control the left and right channels separately, which is a very powerful feature. You can also enable or disable left and right bands separately.
Perhaps most interesting about this plug-in is the EQ joystick, which controls loudness contour on its horizontal axis and treble level on its vertical axis. Flip the joystick button on and you can quickly dial in broad EQ changes in series with the seven-band parametric EQ.
TC’s graphic EQ offers 28, 14 or seven bands of equalization with soft sat, I/O level sliders and interesting group/master fader functions. The Group All button lets you scale your curve for more or less EQ. You can take your curve all the way flat or expand it until each gain value is multiplied many times over. Pull an EQ band across the 0 dB line in group mode, and your EQ curve inverts. The master fader performs a similar feat, although it won’t increase your gain values beyond a factor of two. Changing EQ values is easy in the graphic EQ – simply click right on the curve display.
All the plug-ins share some common features. A ROM button pulls up a short (but thoughtful) list of presets created by TC Works-created presets, which are independent of your software’s presets. All plug-ins offer some way to compare two different configurations of their settings.
Several plug-ins offer TC Works’ patented soft sat processing. Almost like inaudible limiting, soft sat turns digital clipping into a smoother, more analog-like overdrive when levels get out of hand. Soft sat is free headroom, allowing you to work with hotter signals.
I first noticed the TC Native plug-ins’ form rather than function – the plug-ins look really cool. From glowing meters to brushed-aluminum faceplates to realistic glass windows, the TC plug-ins make you feel like you are using real hardware devices. This trend in plug-ins is great fun for the eyes.
Almost as important as a how a plug-in looks is how it sounds, and the TC Native Bundle doesn’t disappoint. Most impressive of the bunch is the DeX, which emulates everything from a wheezing, classic compressor to a pristine modern design. Dialed in right, DeX can fatten up a track with the best of the hardware compressors. The de-esser works very well and has the smarts to track signal level and to adjust the threshold accordingly.
DeX’s auto makeup gain is a bit overzealous, taking the output signal past its input level and right up to 0 dB. This makes it hard to match gain for compressed/uncompressed comparisons. If you want a hot signal, however, DeX eliminates the need to normalize your file. One thing about DeX had me stumped – with a very short kick-drum sound (50 ms), DeX’s gain reduction meter read the same whether its attack slider was at 0.1 ms or 50 ms. There was a slight audible difference between these settings instead of the drastic one I expected.
L is easily one of the best-sounding single-band limiter plug-ins I’ve heard. The attack, hold and release time controls let you tailor its actions to the type of music you’re squashing, and the auto makeup gain really fills the meters. With the optimum settings, the limiting effect stays transparent right up to obscene amounts of gain reduction. I never really saw the value of the histogram, but it’s pretty if you have the spare CPU cycles lying around.
Though TC’s reverb doesn’t offer all the tweaky controls of some other plug-ins (its own Pro Tools TDM reverb, for example), I was able to get virtually any sound I wanted out of it. From short ambiences to long tails, the TC Native reverbs sounded excellent. The color adjustment is an interesting idea, simultaneously adjusting reverb density and HF damp. It took a while to figure out that although you can move the color indicator directly, only its horizontal axis (density) actually changes the sound. You have to move the vertical slider itself if you want to change the HF damp. Whoops!
Finally, the TC EQs are wonderful. Their sound is clean and musical, and they’re equally adept at everything from small adjustments to major surgery. Even when used to simulate high- and low-pass filters, the EQs stay free of ringing, resonance or other sonic maladies. I especially liked the parametric EQ and its ability to adjust left and right gains independently. With this EQ feature alone, you can add some subtle stereo imaging to mono sources.
The graphic EQ’s scale function was really nice, allowing you to set a curve and then adjust its overall strength. For quick-and-easy EQ adjustments, the seven-band graphic is the way to go.
The TC Native Bundle stakes out the middle ground when it comes to CPU usage. The reverb taxes the CPU the most, while the EQs and L plug-ins use the least CPU power. Though it’s hard to quantify CPU load, my Micron Max 500 MHz Pentium III system started to choke when running two reverbs, two DeX and two parametric EQs (all bands on) in Cubase VST. Your mileage will certainly differ. You can disable the metering on some of the plug-ins, which frees up a little CPU power.
I have only one significant gripe with the TC Native plug-ins – they don’t have a consistent interface or feature set across the bundle. For example: DeX has an A/B switch for comparing two sounds, L has A/B buttons and the EQs and reverb have a single compare button. The graphic EQ’s compare button brings up a 20-level undo history if you right-click on it, but it is the only plug-in with this feature.
The graphic EQ has a Flat button; the parametric doesn’t. You can shut off some meters, but not others. To change values in the various plug-ins you move sliders, double-click numbers, turn knobs, move pop-up faders, drag and move the mouse, and the list goes on. The lack of consistency from one plug-in to the next gets a little tiresome.
The TC Native Bundle plug-ins sound as good as they look, with ample control and some of the best plug-in metering I’ve seen. Effects quality is consistently high, and computers with fast processors should be able to run a mix of six to 12 plug-ins at once. With the diversity of effects included, this one bundle will cover the majority of your processing needs (minus modulation and delay effects). The only drawback is that the bundle doesn’t exhibit more of a grand design across all the plug-in interfaces.