AF’s Weblog

November 1, 2011

Native Instruments Transient Master Review

The Studio Effects Series by Native Instruments just got expanded with the Transient Master plug-in, which ought to be faithful to its inspiration made by SPL — the perfect occasion to try it out (in its software version).

Although the principles of controlling dynamics are easy to understand, dynamics processing is a field where the experience of the user is as important as the processor itself. Choosing compressors and similar tools for a setup or a mix can be a real pain because of the number of questions or problems that may arise.

When German manufacturer SPL launched the Transient Designer rack processor, many sound engineers in the music and movie industries (as well as many musicians) immediately saw it as the perfect solution to two very frequent problems: the attack (due to too soft or harsh transients) and the (too long or too short) sustain of a signal, especially for field recordings where you can’t control natural reverberations.

To achieve that, SPL and its senior engineer M. Tilgner (who would later leave the company to start elysia and develop other famous compression tools) envisioned a new analog technology based on VCAs and envelope generators, called Differential Envelope Technology, by cleverly and efficiently playing with addition or subtraction of both generators in order to boost or cut the attack and sustain. But we won’t dive deeper into details (you can find very clear explanations on the manufacturer’s website) because the most important thing is the result and the incredible simplicity of the user interface: two controls, Attack and Sustain.

Before launching its own plug-in range, SPL collaborated with Universal Audio to create a UAD-1 and UAD-2 version with an additional volume control. Many software manufacturers also presented their version of SPL’s classic tool, for instance Voxengo’s Transmodder, Waves’ Transmod, Sonnox’ Transmoder, DigitalFishPhones’ Dominion (free plug-in for PC and Mac OS9), and SSL’s Drumstrip (non-exhaustive list).

It’s now the turn for Native Instruments to present its own version, the Transient Master.

Introducing Transient Master

Test system

MacPro Xeon 3,2 GHz

OS 10.6.8

Logic Pro 9.1.5

Guitar Rig 5 Pro 5.0.2

Transient Master

UAD-SPL Transient Designer

As usual with Native Instruments, just download the Mac or PC version after buying it (see NI’s website), install and authorize via the Service Center with your serial number. After the installation, it was impossible to find the folder (usually added to Native Instruments’ directory) to read the (rather short) user’s manual. But you can download it from the product page on the manufacturer’s website.

You can use the plug-in within Guitar Rig Pro 5 or the free Guitar Rig 5 Player (the free version includes an amp and several effects), and you will find it in the Dynamics category. Drag and drop into the empty rack and it is immediately ready to use. However, before using it, check if the Noise Gate is active and if the stereo mode in the guitar amp / effect host is active (click the R button next to the input level indicator).

The user interface is extremely simple, like the original, but with an additional Gain control inherited from the UA version and two additional Smooth and Limit buttons. Limit avoids clipping caused by level boosts of one of the two processed signal components. Smooth is more original: the processing has a smoother curve specially designed for distortion guitar.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Maybe you think that using a compressor, an expander and a noise gate properly could replace the Transient Designer and its software emulations. This is not entirely wrong but this would be very difficult to do and the resulting quality wouldn’t be always worth the time invested doing it, especially regarding the complexity of following the envelope of the input signal. The plug-ins, as well as the original hardware processor, require that you turn only two controls…

Both plug-in versions —UA’s original version approved by SPL and NI’s Transient master— do a good job at what they are supposed to. And both have their drawbacks: UA’s plug-in with extreme sustain settings on some stereo files, and NI’s plug-in because of this noise-gate effect that is sometimes too present.

Perhaps your choice will depend on whether you already own an UAD-2 (or 1)… Guitar Rig 5 Player and its free components are certainly a plus, even if sometimes it would be more convenient to use the plug-in without Guitar Rig, just by inserting the plug-in into a channel strip, for example (because Guitar Rig’s GUI takes a lot of place on the screen). However, we appreciate the consistency of NI’s Studio Effects series, and we look forward to try out the Solid Mix series inspired by a famous British brand.

Advantages:

  • Sound
  • Integration in a coherent environment
  • Rather subtle Smooth function
  • Integrated limiter
  • Reasonable price
  • Free Guitar Rig 5 Player

Drawbacks:

  • Pretty obvious “noise-gate effect”
  • Too subtle Smooth function?
  • Watch out for the damages the limiter can cause

To read the full detailed article see:  NI Transient Master Review

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March 4, 2011

Noise Gates Don’t Have to be Boring

Noise gates aren’t as relevant as they were back in the analog days, when hiss was an uninvited intruder on anything you recorded. But noise gates can do some really cool special effects that have nothing to do with reducing hiss. This article shows how to make them a lot more interesting, and throws in a bunch of fun audio examples, too. But first, let’s do some noise gate basics for the uninitiated.

Noise Gates Basics

A noise gate mutes its output with low-level input signals, but higher-level signals can pass through. Following are the typical adjustable parameters found in a noise gate, whether analog, digital, or plug-in.

  • Threshold: If the input level to the gate passes below the threshold, the gate “closes” and mutes the output. Once the signal exceeds the threshold, the gate opens again.
  • Attack: This determines how long it takes for the gate to go from full off to full on once the input exceeds the threshold.
  • Decay: This sets the time required for the gate to go from full on to full off once the signal falls below the threshold. Since decaying signals often criss-cross the threshold as they decay, increasing the decay time prevents “chattering.”
  • Key input: Normally, the gate opens and closes based on the input signal’s amplitude. The key input allows patching in a different control signal for the gating action (for example, using a kick drum as the key signal to turn a sound on and off in time with the kick’s rhythm). Note that in most cases, you won’t find this in plug-ins, only in hardware units.

All right, let’s get into applications.

Selective Reverb

I was using a premixed drum loop from the Discrete Drums Series 2 library, but in one particular part of the song, I wished that the snare—and only the snare—had some reverb. Although Series 2 is a multitrack library, I didn’t want to go back and build up the drum loop from scratch. So why not just extract the snare drum sound, put some reverb on that, and mix it in with the drums?

Referring to Fig. 1, I copied the drum loop in Track 1 to a second track in my sequencer (if you were doing this in hardware, you’d split it into two mixer channel inputs). In the second track, there’s EQ inserted to roll off all the low end, which took most of the kick out of the signal, as well as the high end, to reduce the level of cymbal crashes.

Reverb sélective

Fig.1

The next step was to insert a noise gate in Track 2, and raise the gate threshold so that only the snare peaks made it through (the screen shot shows a Compressor/Gate plug-in, but the compressor was disabled by setting the ratio to 1:1). These peaks fed the reverb, which dumped into the master bus along with the original drums. The end result: Reverb on the snare only, added in with the rest of the drums.

Now let’s take a closer look and listen to some samples…

Kick Drum “Hum Drum”

Here’s a trick for hardware noise gates. Suppose you want to augment an existing kick drum sound with a monster rap kick, like that famous TR-808 rap sound. Here’s a sneaky way to do it:

  1. Set a sine wave test tone oscillator somewhere between 40 and 60Hz, and plug it into a mixer channel module containing the noise gate.
  2. Patch the kick drum into the gate’s key input and set the threshold relatively high, so that the kick exceeds the threshold for only a very short amount of time.
  3. Set the noise gate decay for the desired amount of oscillator decay. Hopefully your gate decay can go up to about 2 seconds, but even 1 second can do the job.

Now whenever the kick drum hits, it opens up the gate for a fraction of a second and lets through the sine wave; the decay time then provides the desired fadeout.

Real Time Manipulation

This real-time performance tip can sound very cool with hip-hop, techno, and other types of music that rely on variations within drum loops. With most loops, the snare and kick will reach the highest levels, with (typically) hi-hat below that and percussion (maracas, shakers, tambourine, etc.) mixed in the background. Tweaking the noise gate threshold in real time causes selected parts of the loop to drop out. For example, with the threshold at minimum, you hear the entire loop. Move the threshold up, and the percussion disappears. Move it up further, and the high-hat drops out. Raise it even higher, and the snare and kick lose their decays and become ultra-percussive.

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see: Noise Gates

 

February 4, 2011

Dynamics Processing Meets Rock Guitar: How to Compress a Guitar or Bass

Dynamics processing with studio-oriented processors? Been there, done that. But have you re-visited it lately in a guitar context? Dynamics control for vocals or program material is very different compared to guitar. Much of this is because there are many ways to use dynamics processing for guitar (or bass). So, let’s take a look at the different ways to apply dynamics, with examples of suggested settings.

For an introduction to compression, check out the article “Compressors Demystified.” If you’re already up to speed, let’s give a few basics on how to set up studio processors with guitar (however, note that these same basic techniques work with plug-in software compressors as well as hardware).

The Interface Space

“Stomp box” dynamics processors, while designed specifically for guitar, are more limited than rack-mount studio hardware – but the latter have issue levels with guitar. Interfacing involves one of four approaches:

Use the instrument input. If the processor has an “instrument” input, you’re golden. Plug the guitar directly into the processor, then run it into the mixer, amp modeler, guitar amp (assuming you can adjust the output level to avoid total overload), or whatever. Look for an instrument input impedance above 100kilohms, and preferably above 220kilohms, to avoid dulling high frequencies and reducing level. But too high an impedance (in the 5-10Megohm range) reaches a point of diminishing returns, because now the input may be too sensitive and prone to noise pickup. A 1Megohm impedance is a good compromise setting.

Use a preamp or suitable direct box. Adding a preamp or direct box (assuming it has an appropriately high input impedance) before the processor will preserve the guitar signal’s fidelity and allow for best level matching. If you’re driving a guitar amp, you may be able to use the dynamics processor’s output control to add some extra overdrive, but don’t go overboard (or do, if you like really nasty sounds!).

Insert into your guitar amp’s effects loop. If you want to record with your guitar amp but are using a line-level processor, patch it into the guitar amp’s effects loop. The loop should be able to provide line levels for the send (goes into the processor’s input) and return (comes from the processor’s output).

If you’re using a hardware mixer, insert the dynamics processor into your mixer’s channel inserts. This will also match levels properly, although you’ll still have to figure out how to interface the guitar with the mixer. The choices are the same as above: If the mixer has an instrument input, great. If not, use a preamp, direct box, etc. between the guitar and mixer.

Now let’s take a closer look how to really do it…

Double Your Pleasure

Patching two compressors in series, with both set for small amounts of compression, can give a significant amount of compression but sound less obvious than using a single compressor to give the same amount of compression. The first stage essentially “pre-conditions” the signal so that the second compressor doesn’t have to work so hard.

 

If you have a stereo compressor that can be set to dual mono operation, you can patch the two individual compression channels in series. With plug-ins, you can just insert two in series in a track. The drawback is that unlike standard compression, where you have to adjust only one set of controls, an ˆ la carte approach requires adjusting both sets of compressor controls. While this might seem like a disadvantage, most of the time you’ll set them to similar settings anyway.

Window Shopping

To get an idea of what’s out there in compressor-land, visit a few retailers and manufacturers and you’ll see the choices are huge, ranging from under a hundred dollars to thousands (and thousands!) of dollars. But realistically, for the type of application we’re describing here, you don’t need anything too fancy – it’s not like you’re using the compressor to re-master vintage recordings for audiophile releases. Besides, these days technology is at a level where even fairly inexpensive devices can deliver excellent results.

 

In any event, all the above tips are just guidelines. Experiment with your dynamics processor, and you may find yet another way to exploit these perhaps unglamorous, but extremely useful, devices.

To read the full detailed article see:  How to Compress a Guitar or Bass

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