Rich Tozzoli Loading the new Focusrite Red Plug-in Suite ($299 street)—comprised of the Red 2 EQ and Red 3 Compressor—was like getting back in touch with long-lost friend. Using them in a session made the memories even sweeter, especially since these updates have been completely rebuilt and recoded. Let’s take a look at what resides under those classic red, brushed-aluminum front panels—this time, to be seen on your screen.
Modeled after the famous Red range of hardware units, the Focusrite Red Plug-in Suite consists of the Red 2 equalizer and the Red 3 compressor; they are not available separately. The suite runs mono/stereo as VST, AU and AAX software on Mac OS 10.9 or higher and Windows 7 and 8.1.
The Red 2’s analog circuitry was originally designed for Focusrite’s Forte console and used the ISA 215 EQ circuits. Like the hardware, the EQ software is comprised of three sections: Low and High Pass filter, Low Shelf and High Shelf, and Low Mid and High Mid parametric EQ in the center. Also available is an Output VU meter and Gain knob (+/-18 dB).
The center section has the Low Mid and High Mid with Boost/Cut gain range of +/-16 dB, fully variable Q and a sweepable frequency select knob. The Low Mid ranges from 40 Hz to 1.2 kHz and the High Mid ranges from 600 Hz to 18 kHz. The Low Shelf and High Shelf also feature Gain control (+/-16 dB) and a frequency select knob. Low Shelf ranges from 33 Hz to 270 Hz and High Shelf ranges from 3.3 kHz to 15 kHz. The High and Low Pass filters are enabled when turning the knobs past their “off” setting. The High Pass values run from 36 Hz to 330 Hz and the Low Pass ranges from 3.9 kHz to 16 kHz. Yeah, I know: We park in a driveway and drive on a parkway.
The GUIs for Focusrite’s Red Plug-in Suite The Red 3 Compressor is based on a VCA design originating in the ISA 130 module. It’s a soft knee design, with limiting following compression. Controls include +/-18 dB of Input gain and a Ratio knob with a continuous range from 1.5:1 to infinity:1. There’s the usual Attack with Fast and Slow settings, Threshold ranging from -10 to -50 dB and Release with settings from 0.1 to 4 seconds. The Auto Release button allows the release curve to be determined by the material on input, changing with the dynamics of the signal.
Red 3 also has two level meters— the Input/Output meter with relevant toggle switch on the left and the Gain Reduction meter on the right. Inside the I/O meter, the red needle displays the selected Threshold value, which is pretty cool. Make Up Gain gives you up to 40 dB of extra gain when needed. Focusrite also includes a Dry/Wet control allowing a blend of compressed and uncompressed signal.
Putting these into a session was a familiar joy. IMHO, the original Red series EQs were the first software releases within Pro Tools that let me know where things were headed in the future. Years ago, I remember very clearly—thanks to Keith Emerson’s great keyboard tech, Will Alexander— having all three members of Emerson, Lake & Palmer standing behind me in a semi-circle while I showed them what Pro Tools was, allowing them to hear the Focusrite EQ and compression on their mix. Sure enough, I’m enjoying these plug-ins just as much as I did then.
The Red 2 EQ is a breeze to use. If I were to describe it in one word, it would be “clean.” Its filters and curves are smooth as silk. Since I do a lot of cutting in my mixes, the High and Low pass let me quickly eliminate mud and harshness. On acoustic guitars, pushing up a touch of Hi- Shelf brings out just the right amount of pick and string noise—again, in a gentle way. I like that fact that if the shelf is too much, simply dial in something similar with the High Mids and sweep it around while widening or tightening the Q.
Since the EQ is so transparent, it sounds great in stereo on my master fader, dropping in some High Pass around 50 Hz to tighten the bottom while pushing 16 kHz to 18 kHz with the Q in the middle between tight and wide. It offers that “air” that not every plug-in EQ provides, and I rarely like to use master fader EQ because it doesn’t always work. In this case, I already have a preset and it has found its way into the chain.
Meanwhile, for Red 3, I would describe it as “smooth.” It does not step on your elements unless you want it to, and I immediately put it across a Steven Slate kick drum sample that had a lot of tick in it, whereas I wanted more of the mid and bottom. I was able to pull out the initial attack and leave in the beef in a very smooth way. Then I used Make Up Gain and Dry/Wet to dial it in just right, almost like I was using parallel compression.
I also like the Red 3 on bass, vocals and even acoustic guitar, but in a specific way. Normally, I don’t compress acoustic, unless I’m going for a tight, clean country sound. Like the tick on the kick, I was able to find the top of sound where the pick resides, making it even and clean around the 10:1 ratio with Attack in the middle. I dialed it in until it was just a bit too much, then pulled back the Dry/Wet control until it sat perfectly in the mix. Once again, I made a preset and now have a great acoustic guitar compression setting.
I’m really glad I have the Red 2 and Red 3 back in my rig. They look great, sound great and are easy to use. Without a doubt, they help me make better-sounding mixes. The Red Plug-in Suite reminds me of what a treat it is when old friends drop in and bring something new to the table.
Rich Tozzoli is a producer, mixer, engineer and musician/composer for programming such as A&E’s Duck Dynasty, History Channel’s Pawn Stars, Harpo Studios’ 21-Day Meditation Challenge and more.