Plugin Testing

February 27, 2002

It's been a busy couple of days, even if I wasn't working on what I was meant to... I was tired of programming (I've spent the last two-three months updating namesuppressed's Softener plugin, due March 1st) and decided to take a quick break to play with some music. That "quick break" turned into 2 days of nearly 8 hours each.

I was lucky enough to get to try out some new audio plugins & software - Antares Autotune, BBE Sonic Maximizer, Waves Gold Bundle and T-Racks 24. These are all ultra-professional studio tools, in some cases costing up to $US2600... you could buy a second hand car for that much, geez. I was interested to see if they lived up to the hype, or if the price was inflated due to these products being regarded as "cure-alls". Keep in mind I only had a few hours to play with them, you may well disagree with my opinions.

Antares Autotune was (surprisingly) a disappointment. It's a program that can alter offkey vocals so they're put perfectly in tune... it was the first of its kind, was called the "Holy Grail" of audio and led to the rise of Boy/Girl Bands. I loved v2.0 and nearly bought a copy due to a supreme lack of confidence in my singing ability - but then I was accepted as a beta tester for the RBC Voice Tweaker 3.0. Autotune 3.0 sounds smoother than VT3, but it's difficult to tune it properly. On something as simple as tuning vocals to a single note, VT3 gave perfect results while Autotune got confused and couldn't decide which octave to tune to. Not only that, VT3 lets you do pitch shifting, formant shifting (lets you sound more womanly or manly) and add your own scale presets (eg for different songs), all things Autotune can't do. I wouldn't hesitate to say that VT3 is better than Autotune - and considering VT3 is $US59 and Autotune is $US250, you'd be crazy not to go for the Voice Tweaker.

Conversely, the BBE Sonic Maximizer plug-in was quite impressive. It's a very simple plugin, there's only two controls of significance - Lo Contour for boosting bass, Process for boosting high frequencies. But instead of adding harmonics or new frequencies, the BBE delays the frequency bands in a way that adds clarity and depth. It compensates for flaws in loudspeaker design to create a better sound - and it works. At $US129 it's a bit expensive ($US79 would be more realistic) but I can see myself buying this one, and hey, it's cheaper than a hardware analog BBE unit.

The Waves plugins were very interesting to test, since it's the most expensive package. You get 30 plugins in all, but many of them are near-duplicates of each other. Simple things like EQs coming in 4 and 10 band models, harmony processors in 1/3/6 voice models, multi-tap delays in 2 & 6 tap models... I consider 12 out of the 30 plugins to be duplicates. Waves plugins are supposedly easy to use, but I was scratching my head at some of them, TrueVerb in particular. Some of the plugins just aren't intuitive.

It's not all bad news though - there can be no doubt that the L1 Ultramaximizer is the best digital limiter available. You can really increase the volume of your mixes and get that thick, commercial sound. The Cool Edit Hard Limiter (my previous favourite) sounds grainy in comparison, it just doesn't get the same thickness. The S1 Stereo Imager looks fantastic too, offering very precise positioning of instruments. My guess is that these two plugins alone give most of the commercial sound you hear on pop records. The Waves Native Power Pack contains these two plugins and is much more affordable at $US500... but that's still quite expensive. If someone bought them for me I wouldn't turn them down, but otherwise I'd have to do a LOT of saving up, and it wouldn't be worth it.

Lastly, T-Racks 24... I'm undecided on this one. I've heard rave reviews, and it's used by Banco De Gaia. It definitely makes a drastic difference to the sound, but it looks like it would be hard to control, and when you're mastering your music control is the most important thing.

Basically, I'm not overly impressed by these expensive plugins, they aren't magic wonder boxes that will fix all your music problems. Almost everything can be done instead using shareware audio plug-ins. I think it all comes down to talent and lots of practice and refinement.

I'm quite happy with my studio setup now, I have nearly everything I need and I don't feel like I have to keep buying new kit. A couple more plugins might be nice, but beyond that all I need is to practice my music, probably get some singing lessons (!) and go for it.

I'm reminded of an early credo of namesuppressed - "Work with what you've got".


Comments

OLARU CATALIN-MIHAIL says:

This is amazing. I reached the same opinion on VTP3 and aat3 before i've read this. I think that vt is the best. And you can make it sound smooth too by switching the autocorrection knob to 66 or 75% and it still does the pitch correction (that knob is similar to a combined aat3's retune and track knobs) and its great and u can make ur voice ssound like scooter's virtual singer in "posse" track

(Posted by OLARU CATALIN-MIHAIL on September 29, 2002 07:37 PM)