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DDMF Metaplugin 2.2

[ 0 ] 2012/04/29

Plug-in chainers are nothing new, but Metaplugin makes the concept easier than ever.

Simply load it as an effect (Metaplugin) or instrument (Metaplugin Synth) into your DAW, then load as many plug-ins into it as your machine can handle, cabling them together (by dragging from one connection point to another) between the MIDI/audio inputs and audio outputs in whatever insane configuration takes your fancy. Even multiple instruments per instance are allowed, although there’s currently no MIDI filtering built in, so they can only be triggered simultaneously by the one input.

Every input and output (MIDI, audio and sidechain) of every plug-in shows up as a connection, and each connection can be hooked up to as many others as you like. So you can take separate outputs from multi-out instruments (or just the left and right channels of stereo ones) and send each one off to its own effects chain (with each channel of each effect heading off on its own subsequent journey), elaborately process sidechain signals, send MIDI to effects plug-ins, etc. Each module has its own wet/dry level, and a 2x oversampling mode is on board to minimise aliasing artifacts.

Also included are two ‘helper’ plug-ins for use specifically within Metaplugin. Crossover is a four-band crossover filter that enables you to split signals by frequency, with each band routed to a separate output (essentially enabling any plug‑in to work as part of a multiband processor). The second, MidSide, encodes and decodes mid/side signals, with each channel again sent to its own output.

Logic users get the added benefit of VST plug‑in wrapping within their AU-only host, as the AU version of Metaplugin can host any combination of VST and AU plug-ins.

A lot of this could potentially be done manually in many DAWs and other chainers, but it would take a huge amount of time and head-scratching, whereas Metaplugin makes it effortless. The only downsides were it crashing on us occasionally and the interface exhibiting odd behaviour at times.

Read more about DDMF Metaplugin 2.2 at MusicRadar.com



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Boulanger Labs csGrain

[ 0 ] 2012/04/29

In case you don’t know, the open-source Csound is one of the original synthesis and DSP languages, and the spiritual predecessor to the higher-profile Pd and Max. For those who want to get truly technical, the actual .csd document that powers csGrain is included.

It might all sound complicated, but csGrain is quite straightforward. An audio input – either live via a mic, imported into the app or loaded from your iTunes library – is first fed into SyncGrain, a granular processor with a pair of X/Y pads affording ‘fingers-on’ control over various grain parameters.

The SyncGrain-processed signal is sent in parallel to nine further effects (Pitch Shifter, Ring Modulator, Chorus, Flanger, Delay, Reverse, HPF, LPF and Reverb), mixed at the final output. Each effect can be bypassed and features between one and four editable parameters plus a Mix knob – just enough to strike the right balance between ease of operation, serious sound design and the fun factor.

A compressor is on board for processing live input (but not audio files, strangely). Brilliantly, each knob can be randomly modulated, turning between user-defined min and max values at a user-defined speed, either smoothly over a period of time or in instantaneous jumps.

It’s all geared towards real-time performance, with the app’s results generally landing in the ‘soundscape’ pot but spanning a full gamut of flavours, from delicate and fragile through dark and moody to hectic and terrifying. Your performances can be recorded as WAVs and exported via AudioCopy, DropBox and email.

Any issues? Well, the bypass buttons look active when they’re not, which initially confuses, and original iPad owners don’t have enough junk in their trunk to handle csGrain’s demands.

Read more about Boulanger Labs csGrain at MusicRadar.com



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Apple GarageBand For iOS 1.2

[ 0 ] 2012/04/29

For a mere point release, there’s an extraordinary amount of new stuff in the latest version of Apple’s amazing mobile DAW.

For many, the two most welcome additions will be the Note Editor and Track Merge. The former should have been there since day one, really, being the piano roll MIDI editor we’ve always wanted in GarageBand for iOS. Notes can be drawn in, deleted, lengthened, moved around and adjusted for velocity, and instrument choice and articulation for the new Smart Strings can also be selected per note. It all works as well as such things ever can on a touchscreen, although a solo button in the editor would be useful.

Track Merge, meanwhile, enables you to bounce up to eight tracks down to a single audio track. While the implementation is extremely basic, it does at last mean we can go beyond that stingy eight-track limit.

Four synth Smart Basses and four synth Smart Keyboards (all of which sound great, if a bit generic) boost the existing instrument roster, while Smart Strings introduce a whole new category. Smart Strings comprise violins, viola, cello and double bass, each with three playing articulations: pizzicato, staccato and legato (these can also be controlled by the modwheel if you hook a MIDI keyboard up via the iPad Camera Connection Kit).

Single notes(freely pitch-able or snapped to fixed pitches) and chords can be played, while Autoplay mode offers four styles (Cinematic, Pop, Modern, Romantic) of prefab performances.

iCloud is now supported, enabling effortless sync between all your iOS devices. With YouTube, Facebook and SoundCloud uploading, you can also share your music with friends, bandmates or the whole internet.

The headline feature for us, though, is Jam Session, with which up to four iOS devices running GarageBand 1.2 can sync to a specified host (the Bandleader), who also aggregates all recordings onto their iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. It’s insanely good fun and genuinely productive in terms of ‘serious’ music-making – in a sketchbook kind of way, at least.

For less than the price of a pint, GarageBand for iOS was already a must-have, but 1.2 makes it even more essential.

Read more about Apple GarageBand For iOS 1.2 at MusicRadar.com



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Propellerhead Figure

[ 0 ] 2012/04/29

Powered by Propellerhead’s Reason engine, Figure comprises two Thor synths (Bass and Lead) and a bank of four Kong Drum Designer NN-Nano modules (Drum) to play with.

But don’t get too excited – you don’t get access to the actual instrument interfaces! Rather, you have 32 Bass presets, 46 Leads and 13 Drum kits (comprising kick, snare, hi-hat and perc) to choose from.

Note input is done via the ‘performance pads’, which represent pitch or drum sound on the X axis and a predefined per-preset parameter on Y – filter cutoff, pitch mod, ‘Shape’, and so on. Key and Mode can be set, snapping notes to pitch; and note ranges can be limited and defined.

Tap to play single notes or hold to trigger one of 16 tempo-synced one-bar preset rhythms, as selected with the Rhythm wheel. Hit record to capture all of your moves to a two-bar loop (a Figure ‘song’ is always two bars long), then switchto the Tweak page to apply effects and modulation.

This gives you two or three bespoke X/Y-operated parameter groups per preset (envelope decay on X and cutoff frequency on Y, for example) for Bass and Lead, and one X/Y group per drum for all drum sounds bar the hats. Finally, Pump sets the level of sidechained compression applied to Bass and Lead, keyed off the kick.

Figure’s GUI is a masterpiece of functional design, the vast majority of sounds are excellent and the multitouch implementation is superb – every available aspect of every sound always feels within easy reach. However, at least two more bars to work with would be nice, as would the ability to program our own Rhythm presets.

On the downside, with no dynamic control on offer, the ‘acoustic’ drums sound rubbish in this otherwise entirely synthesised context. We’re undecided as to how we feel about the lack of export or saving – we’re both unsettled and refreshed by the ephemeral nature of it all.

Read more about Propellerhead Figure at MusicRadar.com



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Waves Loudness Meter

[ 0 ] 2012/04/22

Loudness in mixes is a hot topic in music production and has been ever since the ‘loudness wars’ first erupted.

For the uninitiated, one of the key components in mastering is the process of ‘loudness maximising’, which one can think of as a compression process with a ‘ceiling’.

“The WLM meters output levels from mixes to ensure that these are ‘compliant’ with guidelines, though the tools on offer are just as valuable to mastering engineers cutting records. “

If you add volume to low volume content but set a level above which a mix cannot rise, you’re effectively squashing a signal up to a maximum level and the more you push the volume of quieter signals, the more significant that squash becomes.

The ‘loudness wars’ are so-called because there was a determination by some artists for their records to seem louder than those of others. As people (wrongly) associate high volume with high quality, the requirement to have a record mastered as loudly as possible became paramount.

One of the main problems with squashing all life from a mix at the mastering stage is that, despite the overall ceiling, internal mix distortion can build, bringing nasty digital artifacts that degrade a mix’s quality. Fortunately, bearing in mind that music is all about variation and ‘loud’ can only be appreciated if there’s also ‘soft’ to provide light to the shade, most artists have stepped back from the ‘loudest is best’ philosophy, but that doesn’t mean that loudness maximising doesn’t remain a critical part of the mastering process.

In perfect harmony

Of course, music is mastered for all kinds of purposes, the creation of CDs and MP3s being just one. In addition to the requirements set by artists for their mastered projects, there are guidelines for television mastering, for cinema trailers and films and other outlets for audio content too.

Television, in particular, now has strict rules about levels to ensure that as viewers flick from one channel to another, or as programmes give way to commercial breaks, we’re not all reaching for our remotes to adjust levels. The same thing is true in radio broadcasting too, in part to ensure that drivers aren’t constantly groping for volume controls when they should be concentrating on the road ahead.

Level best

The WLM is a professional plug-in aimed at providing metering of output levels from mixes to ensure that these are ‘compliant’ with the guidelines as described above, though the tools on offer are just as valuable to mastering engineers cutting records.

The display is split into two sections with the upper panel providing large text-based readouts of Short Term,Long Term and Range levels, while below, Momentary and True Peak values are displayed as levels are tracked in real-time. In the lower section, you can select the Measurement Method with the broadcast standard EBU covered alongside LM1 (whole program) and Dial, which measures average volume when dialogue is detected, to help ensure balances are set for music against the spoken word.

The plug-in will work with mono, stereo or surround material and an output log of levels can be created in real-time to help you identify problem spots. There’s no doubt that this is a niche plug-in to aid a relatively small group of audio professionals, whose job is to be responsible for the output levels of mixes of all descriptions, primarily for broadcast purposes. If you’re working in that field, it’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive tool.

Read more about Waves Loudness Meter at MusicRadar.com



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Plugin Alliance Mäag EQ4

[ 0 ] 2012/04/22

The hardware Mäag EQ4 may not be something you have heard of but you have certainly heard it.

Used and cherished by a selection of top engineers and producers, it graces the vocal sounds of artists such as Madonna, Celine Dion, Snoop Dogg and the Black Eyed Peas, to name but a few. Its unique design means there is very little phase shift between the bands, which is why it’s often praised for its ability to shape a sound while keeping it as natural as possible.

“The Air band’s ability to add presence to a sound or indeed a mix is something we haven’t really come across in a plug-in EQ before, and we’ve used a hell of a lot of them.”

The power of six

A six-band EQ sounds like it might be complex but this is no parametric. With the exception of the Air band, each one operates at a fixed frequency.

From bottom to top these are the Sub at 10Hz (that’s right, 10Hz) and then 40Hz, 160Hz and 60Hz which are all bells, then comes the 2.5kHz which is a shelf and it’s then topped off with the Air band which switches between 2.5kHz, 5kHz, 10kHz, 20kHz and 40kHz.

This is essentially another shelf and is the only band that needs a separate cut/boost knob. Because of the nature of the low phase shift design these bands interact with each other quite significantly. When you boost with one of the bell filters they’re quite wide, so you’re generally affecting the area around the centre frequency rather than doing something surgical or adding a peak.

Watch that gain

The Air band doesn’t just add shelved high end, it also adds gain so you do need to keep an eye on the overall level because it’s easy to overload. If you boost a lot on the Air it’s recommended that you lower the five band pass knobs to avoid ‘overcooking’. This is inherent to the design, and takes a little getting used to, but once you’re in the swing it becomes second nature.

It’s the same when boosting one of the band passes but it’s not a fault, just how you’re supposed to do it. As an extra feature the plug-in version has an extra master gain knob so you can compensate that way should you prefer.

In use this is a magical device. The Air band’s ability to add presence to a sound or indeed a mix is something we haven’t really come across in a plug-in EQ before, and we’ve used a hell of a lot of them. It’s particularly fine on acoustic sources, especially vocals, but it can enhance anything.

Knowing its reputation, our first tests were all about adding top end but we then started to play more with the lower bands. It can round out a bass or bass drum and add warmth and depth with equal aplomb, and as a way to get clarity into a muddy sound it has no equal in the digital domain. It reminds us of the awesome analogue EQs made by Decca in the late ’60s and early ’70s. They have that same ability to add shape and tone to a sound without taking away any of the original character.

Mäag masterpiece

There is always a need for a surgical EQ and there are plenty of good ones around, but in the digital domain this is a unique and very special device that will give you the ability to enhance your mixes like nothing else.

Hats off once more to the Brainworx and Plug-in Alliance teams. Another hit.

Read more about Plugin Alliance Mäag EQ4 at MusicRadar.com



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KRK Systems 12s Subwoofer

[ 0 ] 2012/04/22

KRK’s 12s slots into the middle of its subwoofer range, between the cheaper 10s and the 12sHO (high output) model.

Subwoofers are generally a huge help in most studios and for all styles of music, making the mixing and blending of low frequencies much easier. They can be a great addition to any well treated or acoustically balanced control room and essentially act as magnifying glass for the often forgotten extreme low frequencies.

Family traits

There’s certainly no mistaking that the 12s is part of the KRK family with its grey cabinet and yellow 12-inch Kevlar driver, covered with a removable mesh grille. It feels built to last and looks the part too.

One word of advice: make sure you have someone else to help you lift it, because it’s scarily heavy at more than 30kg (66lb). Getting it into the studio single-handed proves a struggle, and the lack of any sort of built-in carry handles is a real oversight. We also wish there was a power indicator/switch on the front instead of the rear – it’s handy to know at a glance if something is powered on or not.

Connecting up the 12s between mixing desk and Focal Twin 6 BEs was simple and aided greatly by the well-written manual, which describes positioning and set-up in an easy to understand way. There’s a good compliment of connectivity including balanced inputs and outputs (with combo connectors that can accept jacks or XLRs), a footswitch jack for muting the sub in and out (a great feature), an LFE input for integrating the 12s with surround systems, plus unbalanced RCA inputs and outputs too.

Control-wise, there are dials to adjust the volume of the sub so it can be matched to the volume of your main monitors and a low pass frequency control that runs from 55Hz to 170Hz. This sets the frequency range that the sub operates at, so that only the 12s deals with the low frequency range and not your monitors.

Our ideal placement for the 12s was under the mixing desk, between the monitors, with the phase/polarity switch set to 0. This switch may need to be set to 180 degrees instead, depending on how even the bass response of your room is. You can also switch in the built-in limiter if you like to run your levels hot.

So solid

In use the 12s is excellent. Running mixes and a Moog Voyager through the 12s proved that its response is smooth across the frequency range, with a solid and deep bass extension that is never flappy or hard to distinguish. There’s also little port noise, often a downside of ported designs, and not an ounce of cabinet rattle – the only things rattling were our studio’s foundations.

We found the 12s a surprisingly useful extension and the low end of mixes was certainly easier to examine and correct. Also, being able to mute in and out the 12s with my Boss FS-6 foot switch was a real bonus for workflow. All in all then, there is little to complain about and we heartily recommend the 12s to anyone in the market for a high quality, very well engineered sub, at a fair price point.

Read more about KRK Systems 12s Subwoofer at MusicRadar.com



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Audio Ease Altiverb 7

[ 0 ] 2012/04/22

Altiverb uses impulse responses (IRs) to apply the sonic characteristics of real acoustic spaces and studio hardware to the input signal.

An impulse response is a sample of the reverb generated by the space/gear in question in response to a particular sound – a sine wave sweep in the case of Altiverb’s IR library. By convolving (combining) this impulse response with the audio input, incredibly authentic ‘real-world’ reverb is simulated. That, in a nutshell, is Altiverb.

“Altiverb 7 sounds every bit as beautiful as Altiverb 6 – often more so, thanks to the algorithmic reverb layer, gate and tempo sync.”

Lucky 7

Altiverb 7, released at the end of last year (almost five years after Altiverb 6!), brings a moderate number of functional improvements, as well as an overhaul of the UI. Gone is the faux rack-mount view of old, replaced by a simpler, more contemporary layout that keeps the fundamental controls always in view and hides the ‘deeper’ ones away in slide-down drawers.

These actually turn out to be rather pointless, since the blank area of the interface into which they slide is no less space-occupying without them, so you might as well just leave them all open.

More importantly, IRs and presets are now navigated using the new picture browser, a resizable pop-out window that boasts far more functionality than its text-based predecessor. Altiverb is famous for the flat and ‘VR’ images (interactive 360° panoramics, essentially) that accompany each IR, and now those images are used throughout the browser as well as in the main display when an IR is actually loaded. It’s not a huge deal, but it certainly makes browser navigation more immediate and, well, fun, if that matters.

IRs can now also be searched by name or keyword (‘large’, ‘metal’, ‘church’, ‘plate’, etc), organised by size and marked as Favourites; and the new Similar button instantly filters down to all IRs with similar characteristics to the currently selected one. IRs now load more quickly than before, too. Presets are also accessed via the browser, although they can’t be searched, oddly.

Full auto

The second headline feature, aimed at the post-production market, is the ability to automate IR selection. Previously, a snapshot system was used to switch between IRs on the fly, but the new system is somewhat easier, with IR Automation appearing as an automatable parameter in your host.

Sadly, ‘your host’ doesn’t include Ableton Live, thanks to its teeth-clenchingly frustrating inability to automate anything it can’t ‘see’ in the GUI – good job the old snapshot system is still in place, too, then.

Owing to the fact that there’s “a lot of trickery going on behind the scenes”, IR Automation changes have to be recorded in real time and can’t be drawn or edited by hand. The changes themselves don’t happen immediately, either, so this particular feature is more applicable to post production than music.

That aside, it works fine, although punching in and out of sections of the envelope to overwrite them causes problems. Altiverb is unable to resolve the overwrites properly, soit seems that each automation envelope has to be created in one pass.

And the sound?

Intriguingly, Altiverb now includes a fully synthesised algorithmic ‘secondary’ reverb for adding top-end sheen. Comprising just a depth control (Bright), this does an impressive job of boosting high-frequency response and, consequently, brightness.

There’s also now a gate onboard, the closing time of which can be set in host-synced beat divisions or seconds/milliseconds – as, indeed, can the lengths of the newly simplified Pre-Delay and Attack parameters.

Applying EQ has been made more intuitive by the addition of an interactive graphical EQ curve, while the new modulation controls (Speed and Depth) enable the subtle randomising of early reflections in order to add a bit of natural variation to the reverb and ‘cloud’ slightly out of tune notes. And the improved Positioner now gives 10 times more stage space for extremely flexible source positioning within the virtual environment, both left-to-right and front-to-back.

Altiverb has always had the ability to load any audio file as an IR, but now this can be done via drag and drop – though the results vary in terms of usability.

Acting on impulse

Altiverb 7′s library of IRs weighs in at 3.4GB and comprises a massive collection of spaces and devices. Audio Ease has sampled some of the world’s most acoustically impressive structures, a range of classic and not-so-classic hardware, over 20 car interiors, tons of ‘domestic’ and public spaces and a variety of off-the-wall chambers.

The full list is on the website – it makes fascinating reading and really gets across the passion that Audio Ease has for making its IR library ever more powerful, versatile and quirky.

You can also make your own IRs by firing a suitable sound into the space or through the hardware to be captured, recording the result and dragging it into the Altiverb interface. Full instructions and a variety of source sounds are on the Audio Ease site.

The more things change…

Altiverb 7 sounds every bit as beautiful as Altiverb 6 – often more so, thanks to the algorithmic reverb layer, gate and tempo sync. The new interface isn’t dramatically easier to navigate and use than before, but it is cleaner. The pop-out browser, however, is great, although 1440×900 laptop users will find themselves opening and closing it constantly.

So, with version 7, Altiverb steals the convolution crown from… Altiverb 6! It’s quick, unfussy and always sounds incredible, and that remit of providing stunning real-world ambiences and simulations of classic gear remains as solidly upheld as ever.

It’s still not really aimed at ‘electronic’ producers, but if you’re looking to put a guitar, piano, drum kit or singer in a totally convincing hall, church, studio, stadium, club or, er, bucket, there’s simply no finer solution – we can’t recommend it enough.

Upgraders from any Altiverb versions that are pre-2010, however, are being asked to drop a pretty serious 159 euro on what we wouldn’t describe as an ‘essential’ upgrade – and one that in no way renders its predecessor anywhere near obsolete. That’ll be a tough call for some.

Read more about Audio Ease Altiverb 7 at MusicRadar.com



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