Sometimes plug-ins don’t fit into any particular class — maybe they serve a unique role or combine multiple functions into a single interface. In this installment of “PAR Picks 6,” we’ll take a look at six useful plug-ins that defy categorization.
Brainworx Bx_digital V2 digital mastering processor
The bx_digital V2 is a mastering processor that packs a wallop. In it, you have an 11-band EQ, M/S De-Esser, Intelligent Bass and Presence Shifter, Mono-Maker, Pan for M & S and Stereo Width Control. It also works in three modes: M/S mastering, M/S recording and L/R Stereo.
The M/S capabilities split your mix into two components: mid sum or mono (M) and side/difference (S). You can solo the S and M signals: very useful in tweaking. Of course, you can link any feature for full stereo EQing.
My favorite feature is the Auto Listen Mode — clicking a knob automatically solos the selected band for tweaking. Letting go of the knob immediately brings the full mix back. It has a few other useful functions such as separate Pre, Post and Output meters, Stereo Width, builtin M/S De-Esser, Mono Maker (sets a frequency below where the mix becomes mono) and a Panorama adjustment for both M and S signals. There’s an EQ graph for both the Mono and Stereo section, and Pan M, Pan S and Bal L/R knobs for mix balancing.
V2 clearly uses unique algorithms because the audio has this almost “indefinable” quality to it. Use that Bypass button frequently because you’ll do so and say, “Oh, yeah — that’s pretty obvious!”
Price: $359 (TDM, Venue, RTAS, AS, VST and AU, Mac or PC)
Contact: Brainworx | brainworx-music.de
Crane Song Phoenix analog tape compression modeling
Talk about one-knobbed goodness. Phoenix is another one of those “Yup, it sounds good!” plug-ins. Officially, it is designed to emulate the properties of magnetic tape machines and their record/reproduce characteristics, but I actually don’t think of it that way. It simply adds subtle sonic character to my mixes that EQ/compression cannot.
Phoenix is a suite of five separate plugins: luminescent (neutral), Iridescent (more bottom/mid), Radiant (additional compression), Dark Essence (even more aggressive) and Luster (gentle at first/aggressive when pushed).
Each also has three “color change” buttons for more sonic flavor. Typically, I will place them (especially Luster) on the Master bus and turn it up until I like what I hear. Because they are very DSP efficient though, they can easily be used on individual tracks. It’s kind of a bummer that Phoenix is TDM only, as I’d like to use it on all of my rigs.
Price: $450 (TDM)
Contact: Crane Song | cranesong.com
iZotope Vinyl lo-fi/vinylsimulation plug-in
OK, so not all of us may need to call up a lo-fi plug-in that simulates vinyl. But when you do, this is the one! Vinyl uses 64-bit processing, modeling and re-sampling to make your audio sound like it’s been run through a record player.
The simple controls include faders for Mechanical Noise, Wear, Electrical Noise, Dust, Scratch, Warp Depth and I/O Levels and Meters. But my favorite is the Year knob, which offers up 1930, ‘50, ‘60, ‘70, ‘80 and the ‘aughts (2000s). Next to that sits an RPM (revolutions per minute) selection knob with 33, 45 and 78 options. I tend to use it on drum loops, as it can add a cool, “midrangy” punch that cuts right through a mix (especially when layering drums). Just put up your loop and crank through the Year(s) to instantly change sonic character. Throw in a little Dust and Mechanical Noise, and you’ve gone lo-fi — but in a hi-fi way.
Price: Free download (RTAS/AU/HTDM, VST, MAS, AU DirectX)
Contact: iZotope | izotope.com
Pro Audio DSP Dynamic Spectrum Mapper (DSM)
This one is a little hard to explain: It’s a dynamic audio chameleon for making your tracks sound better. It can do loudness enhancement, multi-band compression, limiting, de-essing and/or sound modification.
While you can simply call up a preset, put it on a track and start tweaking, the DSM has a cool trick up its sleeve. Using the Capture button, it can map the sonic characteristics of a mono or stereo track (single parts or entire mixes), and then reapply them to another track.
The DSM splits the signal into multiple bands using an FFT based process and uses “adaptive techniques to capture both the frequency-domain and dynamic characteristics of audio program.” You can then “map” the copied audio characteristics to your own track and tweak further from there.
It also features such functions as Threshold, a Limit button for limiting overloads, 16-bit Dither button, Gain (up to +24 dB), Ratio, Attack, Knee, Decay, and Low Frequency Attack and High Frequency Release. What looks like a three-band EQ is actually a Parametric Threshold section, which lets you blend the chosen frequencies into the active-threshold curve. It’s a very cool and effective product indeed ... but watch out, it can easily be overdone.
Price: $325 (RTAS, VST & AU)
Contact: Pro Audio DSP | proaudiodsp.com
Soundtoys Crystallizer reverse echo effects
Did you ever want to use a plug-in that just messed with your audio in ways you can’t really understand? Well, that’s what the Crystallizer does. This little gem combines granular reverse echo slicing and pitch processing to maul your audio. But unlike other processors of this nature, it does so in a very musical way.
It’s simple to use, too — you’ve got such controls as Pitch, Splice, Delay, Recycle, Gate/Duck, Reverse/Forward and Threshold.
It can be tempo/MIDI synced, and by placing a plain old keyboard pad into it (or guitar/vocal/drums, etc.) a whole new pulsing, dynamic sound can be had in just a few minutes. It’s loaded with killer presets that can help get you started, and that’s where I usually begin. You just playback your pad and start pushing through the presets until you find a cool one. I also turn to it as a sound design tool, as you’re never quite sure what you’ll get out of it.
Price: $349 & $179 (TDM and RTAS/AU/VST, respectively)
Contact: Soundtoys | soundtoys.com
Waves Dorrough Meter Collection
We all know how important metering is: It��s the level lifeline between what’s in our DAW and the outside world.
Without fail, a Dorrough loudness meter is the last thing on my Master bus. The Stereo Edition features its mono/stereo 280D/240D (Horizontal), 380D/340D (Vertical) and 40 AES/EBU meters (Arc).
What makes these virtual meters so valuable is that I trust them. You can select three sizes: Small, Large and Extra Large. When it comes to mix time, I’ll stick a vertical 380/340D on the side of my screen, make it XL (which is quite big!), and lock it there.
They feature very fast peak response, as well as L/R Phase Correlation, Sum and Difference Energies, Peak and Average Level Relations, and displays for number of overs. You can also quickly switch between display sizes and styles, and I use the Dorrough Surround Edition on every 5.1 session I do as well. Visually, they are clearly the best meters currently available.
Price: $240 (TDM or Native)
Contact: Waves | waves.com