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March 11, 2011

Mixing in a Plug-In World

Filed under: Mixing reviews, Plugin — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:17 am

You gotta love plug-ins, but they’ve changed the rules of mixing. In the hardware days, the issue was whether you had enough hardware to deal with all your tracks. Now that you can insert the same plug-in into multiple tracks, the question is whether your processor can handle all of them.

Does it matter? After all, mixing is about music, balance, and emotional impact—not processing. But it’s also about fidelity, because you want good sound. And that’s where Mr. Practical gets into a fight with Mr. Power.

The Plug-in Problem

Plug-ins require CPU power. CPUs can’t supply infinite amounts of power. Get the picture? Run too many plug-ins, and your CPU will act like an overdrawn bank account. You’ll hear the results: Audio gapping, stuttering, and maybe even a complete audio engine nervous breakdown.

And in a cruel irony, the best-sounding plug-ins often drain the most CPU power. This isn’t an ironclad rule; some poorly-written plug-ins are so inefficient they draw huge amounts of power, while some designers have developed ultra-efficient algorithms that sound great and don’t place too many demands on your CPU. But in general, it holds true.

Bottom line: If you need to use processing in your mix, you want as much available power as possible. Here are the Top Ten tips that’ll help you make it happen.

1. Upgrade Your CPU

Let’s get the most expensive option out of the way first. Because plug-ins eat CPU cycles, the faster your processor can execute commands, the more plug-ins it can handle. Although there are a few other variables, as a rule of thumb higher clock speeds = more power for plug-ins. Still running in the sub-GigaHertz range? Time for an upgrade. Cool bonus: Pretty much everything else will happen faster, too.

2. Increase Latency

Réglage de latence

Fig. 1: Click for full image and description.

And in the spirit of equal time, here’s the least expensive option: Increase your system latency. When you’re recording, especially if you’re doing real-time processing (e.g., playing guitar through a guitar amp simulation plug-in) or playing soft synths via keyboard, low latency is essential so that there’s minimal delay between playing a note and hearing it. However, that forces your CPU to work a lot harder. Mixing is a different deal: You’ll never really notice 10 or even 25ms of latency. The higher the latency, the more plug-ins you’ll be able to run. Some apps let you adjust latency from a slider, found under something like “Preferences.” Or, you may need to adjust it in an applet that comes with your sound card or audio interface (Fig. 1).

Now let’s take a closer look…

9. Use Snapshot Automation

Plug-ins aren’t the only things that stress out your CPU: Complex, real-time automation also chows down on CPU cycles. So, simplifying your automation curves will leave more power available for the CPU to run plugs. Your host may have a “thinning” algorithm; use it, as you generally don’t need that much automation data to do the job (particularly if you did real-time automation with fader moves). But the ultimate CPU saver is using snapshot automation (which in many cases is all you really need anyway) instead of continuous curves. This process basically takes a “snapshot” of all the settings at a particular point on the DAW’s timeline, and when the DAW passes through that time, the settings are recalled and applied.

10. Check Your Plug-in’s Automation Protocol

Our last tip doesn’t relate to saving CPU power, but to preserving sound quality. Many plug-ins and soft synths offer multiple ways to automate: By recording the motion of on-screen controls, driving with MIDI controller data, using host automation (like VST or DXi), etc. However, not all automation methods are created equal. For example, moving panel controls may give higher internal resolution than driving via MIDI, which may be quantized into 128 steps. Bottom line: Using the right automation will make for smoother filter sweeps, less stair-stepping, and other benefits.

Okay . . . there are your Top Ten tips, but here’s a bonus one: Any time you go to insert a plug-in, ask yourself if you really need to use it. A lot of people start their mix a track at a time, and optimize the sound for that track by adding EQ, reverb, etc. Then they bring in other tracks and optimize those. Eventually, you end up with an overprocessed, overdone sound that’s just plain annoying. Instead, try setting up a mix first with your instruments more or less “naked.” Only then, start analyzing where any problems might lie, then go about fixing them. Often tracks that may not sound that great in isolation mesh well when played together.

To read the full detailed article see:  Mixing in a Plug-In World

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October 27, 2010

SPL DrumXchanger Review

Filed under: Drums/Percussion, Plugin, Software — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 2:17 pm

Drum replacement tools were very rare a decade ago but have become much more common in modern music productions. When the inventor of the famous Transient Designer launched its own sound replacement plug-in, it was obvious for us at AudioFanzine to want to test this tool!

Application

SPL DrumXchanger

With the evolution of music production workflows, the trend seems to be to delay artistic and technical decisions of each production step as much as possible. On the other hand, recording techniques in home studios don’t really allow users to get a fully satisfying result, which can be heard in the final production. Sound replacement tools have become a necessity when it comes to improving the sound of a recording or providing it a different frequency or dynamic response. That’s why SPL developed the DrumXchanger, a mono/stereo plug-in available in VST, AU and RTAS formats, that allows the user to trigger a sound using another one. But as we’ll see it later, the plug-in can do much more!

The DrumXchanger requires an iLok and it is provided with an additional file that includes a small sample bank so you can replace the recorded sound with SPL samples. Installing both files (application + sound bank) is easy and quick; you may install the sound bank in the directory you wish. When you run the DrumXchanger (I inserted it in a ProTools track) you see a… grea user interface! Nothing sad indeed: the DrumXchanger just inherited the visual characteristic of the Analog Code plug-in suite… It’s true, it doesn’t look very joyful — a bit more color would brighten up my session — but then again, we are here to work, right? What are we waiting for!

Five in a Row

The first thing that strikes you when the DrumXchanger opens is the intuitive layout of the different processing stages. In fact, the plug-in is divided into five clear and distinguishable sections, each of them with its own special editing and setting possibilities…

Let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

In a market packed with developers who constantly offer new triggering plug-ins, SPL distinguishes itself once again from with a sound replacer that provides really effective detection and sound shaping features. With a dual detection system, two Transient Designers, three dual filters, a pitch shifter, and a compressor, the DrumXchanger is much more than a simple triggering plug-in. It is a comprehensive sound processing tool that provides plenty of settings for you to always achieve the sound you need. At $199.66 + VAT, the DrumXchanger is a no-brainer!

Advantages:

  • Overall structure, layout and design
  • Sound possibilities
  • Two Transient Designers in a single plug-in!
  • Dual detection system

Drawbacks:

  • Delay control is too imprecise
  • Hey Mr. SPL, how about including more samples with the DrumXchanger? Because your samples sound really good…

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  SPL DrumXchanger Review

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