AF’s Weblog

October 4, 2011

IK Multimedia T-RackS Black 76 & T-RackS White 2A and Native Instruments VC 76 & VC 2A Review

The (almost) simultaneous launch of the 1176 and LA2A software versions by IK Multimedia and Native Instruments is a good opportunity to make a quick comparison. Let’s go!

Some hardware products —instruments, signal and effect processors— have a kind of Holy Grail status. Among studio processors —and regardless of their denomination: limiting amplifiers, leveling amplifiers or just compressors— the Teletronix LA-2A and Urei/Universal Audio 1176 LN, as well as the legendary Fairchild 660 & 670, which are extremely rare to find (we saw a unit sold for $42,000 on ebay…), are highly regarded pieces of gear you’ll still find in big studios either as original or reissue versions. Many recording studios also use more or less faithful replicas of the originals designed by manufacturers ranging from Studio Electronics to Purple Action that (mostly) have a great sound quality. It’s simple: these legendary tools can be heard on almost every album ever produced since they were first introduced.

As expected, the software world also has its own interpretation of these legends. Since the early attempts by Bomb Factory to the latest products by IK Multimedia and Native Instruments in collaboration with Softube, and including the existing Universal Audio, URS and Waves products, the market is packed with software simulations.

We do not intend to review all software versions (they are too many) nor to compare them with vintage or modern hardware products. We just want to compare two manufacturers and use the same plugins for Universal Audio’s platform UAD-1/2 as a reference, without neglecting the performance of the original processors and some hardware replicas. Note that Native Instruments’ Vintage Compressors bundle also includes the famous dbx 160 compressor, which we won’t take into account for this review.

Introducing the Plug-ins

Test system

MacPro Xeon 3.2 GHz

OS 10.6.7

Logic 9.1.4

IK Multimedia T-RackS3 Black 76 and White 2A v.3.5.1

Native Instrument Vintage Compressors VC 76 and VC 2A

UAD-2 UAD 1176 LN and UAD LA-2A v.5.9.1

Native Instruments decided to collaborate with Softube, a manufacturer that has launched quite exceptional plugins — I can’t seem to get enough of — like the Acoustic Feedback and the Tubetech CL 1B. I haven’t had the opportunity to try out their reverbs and amp simulations yet, but other user’s feedback is very promising. So let’s start with the Urei 1176 LN and Teletronix LA-2A emulations (VC 76 & VC 2A) conceived for Guitar Rig 4, like the other Studio Effects of the manufacturer. The good news is that the Guitar Rig 4 player is free. The bad news is that you can’t use the plugins unless you have the manufacturer’s guitar multi-effect. Available for Mac (Intel only) and PC in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, the bundle —including the host (GR4 or GR4 Player) plus the plugins— supports AU, VST and RTAS formats and includes a standalone version. As always, activation is done via the Service Center.

As their name already implies, IK Multimedia’s T-RackS Black 76 and T-RackS White 2A were conceived to work within T-Racks 3, but also as individual 32-bit or 64-bit plugins to be used directly in any DAW that supports AU, VST or RTAS. As usual, to activate them you’ll have to use the Authorization Manager.

As for Universal Audio’s UAD 1176LN and UAD LA2A plugins, they are only available for the DSP cards developed by the manufacturer, from the UAD-1 to the UAD-2 Quad. Our card uses OS 5.9.1. The plugins are Mac and PC compatible, they support 32-bit and 64-bit operation (only the card drivers actually work in 64 bits, the plugins still operate at 32 bits and require a bridge), and work with AU, VST and RTAS.

Did you ask for the 1176…?

All software manufacturers took their inspiration from the LN version of the FET 1176 compressor. LN (for Low Noise) means that the product includes a modification made by Mr Plunkett, engineer at Urei, who wanted to reduce the noise. You can recognize it by the famous black front instead of the traditional burst aluminum front with blue stripes around the VU-meter. These versions, referred to as C, D and E, are the most venerated. From a technical and audio standpoint, FET compressors contributed the principle of adjustable ratio, as well as much shorter attack and release times compared to competitors using Vari-Mu or optical designs.

IK Multimedia designed its plugin based on an E model. Neither Native Instruments nor Softube give any information on this matter. However, Softube’s experience developing the FET Compressor was certainly an advantage for Native Instruments. UA doesn’t give any information about the model either. Anyway, all three have a very similar sound character, just like signal processors that use only analog components (don’t forget that every unit sounds slightly different than the other, even if it’s the exact same version).

As for the features, except for the major innovation in the form of a stereo version (we’re talking about the 1176, not the Urei 1178 stereo version), UA stays faithful to the original. Thus, you get all the original features users like so much for their ease of use: a pair of big controls for input and output adjustment, two smaller Attack and Release knobs, four Ratio buttons (4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1) including an All-Buttons mode, and four VU-meter buttons (Off, +4, +8, and GR). However, you don’t have the possibility to set the Attack control to Off, which would switch the compressor to ratio 1:1, meaning you could process the signal without compression in order to get only the device’s sound character. All three manufacturers reproduced the (confusing, at least in the beginning) operation of the controls: the fastest attack time is not hard left (1) but hard right (7). The same applies to the release. Attack times range from 20 to 800 microseconds (yes, micro!), while release times range from 50 to 1,100 milliseconds.

Native Instruments and IK Multimedia added some modifications. IK Multimedia added four snapshots, taken from T-RackS’s architecture, plus L/R and M/S buttons allowing the user to choose between one of the two operating modes (well done!). Three additional buttons (L, R and =, where L and R become M and S in M/S mode) allow the user to process the two channels of a signal separately or together. IK Multimedia’s version also displays the setting values, but they don’t quite match reality, at least for Attack and Release, which is a pity. What’s the use of adding values if they have no meaning… The All-Buttons mode is accessible via a dedicated knob. Ratio 1:1 is available clicking the Off button under the Attack control. You also have Bypass and Reset buttons.

In Native Instruments’ version, a Ratio slider replaces all four original buttons but offers all usual values (4:1 to 20:1 plus All-Buttons mode). The 1:1 ratio replaces the bypass button under the Attack control. The VU-meter management also changed: you can display the input level, output level and gain reduction. The plugin comes with a preset menu accessible via the advanced settings. The side-chain input (great for techno/electro fans) comes with a slider that allows the user to adjust the amount of direct signal so that parallel compression is possible by adjusting the output level (which has no effect on compression itself). Unlike Softube’s FET Compressor, note that you get no continuous Ratio setting.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

So, what should you choose, Native Instruments or IK Multimedia (UA doesn’t count because it was only used as a reference)? It’s a difficult question because both options provide advantages and good sound results. Will these plugins replace real 1176LN and LA-2A hardware processors? No. Does their performance match the original hardware versions? Yes, except for some applications (All-Button mode, transients management in given situations, settings and/or VU-meter calibration). Is it possible to do a good job with them? Yes. Software manufacturers benefit from the ever-increasing computer performance and offer more authentic emulations every time. Take for example the 24/7, which was considered a really good plugin when it was launched…

And these tools are affordable, which is not the case of the hardware gear they are based on. Each IK Multimedia module is sold for €89.99 and can be used in T-Racks. The Native Instruments bundle (including the three compressors) is sold for €199, while single plugins go for €99; and Guitar Rig Player 4, which is required for their use, is free. Moreover, both manufacturers offer fully-usable demo versions, which is an excellent way for you to expand on this comparison.

To read the full detailed article see: Vintage Compressors Review

June 1, 2010

IK Multimedia Amplitube 3 Review

Filed under: Amps, Software — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 11:11 am

IK Multimedia was one of the pioneers in guitar amp simulation software with their famous Amplitube launched in 2002. The Italian company comes back eight years later with the third version of their flagship product. And what’s new you ask?

Amp simulation software manufacturers have been fighting their battle over the last eight years offering more models, new GUIs, new algorithms, and new functionalities. The advantages of amp simulation software are plenty (direct recording, reamping, huge sound possibilities, etc.) and a lot of guitar players and home studio owners already have one of them or are seriously think about getting one. So, what are the advantages of this new Amplitude over its competitors? We’ll try to answer that question in this detailed review…

No Need to Go Out Anymore

Amplitube 3The first good news (specially for lazy people) is that the full software can be downloaded from the IK Multimedia website so you don’t need to go out to start playing with your new toy right away. You’ll have to pay $349.99, which seems a bit expensive compared to similar products available for under $300 (Guitar Rig 4, Revalver). This fact makes Amplitube 3 start out on the wrong foot, but maybe its sound justifies the price difference…

Once you download the product, the installation under Mac and Windows goes very smoothly and the GUI is displayed after only a few seconds. The first step is the software configuration: set up the audio and MIDI interface you want to use and the buffer size, which will have a direct influence on Amplitude’s latency. With a small buffer size (256 samples or less) the latency, i.e. the time gap between the moment the signal goes into your sound card and the moment you actually hear it through your monitor speakers, will be pretty low or even imperceptible. However, your computer will have to stand a very high processing load and some artifacts might appear if it doesn’t have enough CPU power. You’ll have to find the right setting depending on your system. Once the configuration is made, you are ready to concentrate on the GUI…

A Look Through the Window

Amplitube 3The GUI of Amplitude 3 is divided into five sections: the area on the top allows you to directly load presets sorted by amp or style (clean, crunch, extreme, etc.) or to activate the preset browser that provides a short description and indicates the sound character and instrument. Do notice that the preset browser not only monitors the preset names but also their description and sound character. Thus it is very easy to filter all jazz or metal sounds… A nice feature to quickly find presets that might be useful for your particular needs. Of course, you can also save your own presets and delete them later. Also notice the X-Change feature that allows you to share your presets with the rest of the world — you might even find interesting sounds, who knows!

The software works with three quality modes: hi, mid and eco (from most to least demanding in terms of processing power). This will allow you to reduce the system’s load if you use a lot of effects at the same time. The audio quality is slightly reduced with the mid and eco modes, but not dramatically so the software remains useful. To help you make yourself an idea, a preset requiring 25% CPU load in hi mode will require 19% in mid mode and only 11% in eco mode. This can be a big advantage if your system is not very powerful or if you work with several instances of the software simultaneously.

Finally, you can also select here an IK Multimedia StompIO ($900) or StealthPedal ($200) controller — if you are among their lucky owners.

Amplitube 3Right underneath you’ll find the section for signal path selection. You can choose among eight paths going through two pedalboards, two amps, two speaker cabinets, and two effect racks. For example, you can chain two pedalboards in series, route them to an amp head feeding two different speaker cabinets and passing through two effect racks. This system is probably not as intuitive and comprehensive as Guitar Rig where you can drag & drop any module wherever you want, but it will certainly fulfill the needs of most guitar players and it has the advantage of preventing the user from making mistakes (for instance, inserting a fuzz effect at the end of the chain!). Moreover, you can use two fully independent paths to enjoy Amplitude 3 with two guitars. In this case, each instrument has its own pedalboard, amp, speaker cabinet, and effects rack. A very good point!

Simply click one of the elements on the signal path to display it in the main section of the GUI…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Amplitube 3The third Amplitube version brings some interesting new features along, including new modelings (the list is getting longer!), an integrated 4-track recorder and the possibility to use two pedalboards/amps/speakers/effect racks at the same time. This is good news for users who like to jam with friends because each musician plays his own guitar and his own rig! The large mic and speaker selection multiply the possibilities, even though we regret the lack of convolution technology. The three quality modes available allow the software to match the computer depending on its resources, while the pedalboard drag & drop feature, the preset browser and its tagging system add a lot of comfort.

Nevertheless, we do have to criticize the background noise that is always present as soon as you increase the gain, and also the higher price compared to competitor products (can we expect a price reduction anytime soon Mr. IK?). However, there’s no doubt that Amplitude remains one of the top products out there and it will delight guitar players looking for a comprehensive and powerful software.

Advantages:

  • Plethora of amps and effects
  • Overall quality of the modelings
  • Independent preamp stage, power amp, and EQ
  • Comprehensive and convenient integrated 4-track recorder
  • Simultaneous use of two amps
  • Two mics per speaker cabinet
  • Three quality modes
  • Ability to chain up to twelve stompboxes and eight rack effects
  • Preset browser with tag management

Drawbacks:

  • More expensive than competitors
  • Some poor quality modelings
  • No convolution technology
  • Background noise with high gain settings

To read the full detailed article see: Amplitube 3 Review

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