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5 Tips To Make Your Studio Sound Better

5 TIPS TO MAKE YOUR STUDIO SOUND BETTER

01 – Add some basic treatment

It is essential to install some treatment to your room to remove reflections and reverberations, tighten bass and keep a good frequency and phase response. Even top tier monitors will not function at their best in an untreated space. General rule is some absorption on the front wall, side walls and maybe the roof, bass traps on the corners and some diffusion on the back and/or the roof. Those are some starting points, most acoustic treatment companies will offer you expert consulting for your room before purchase. Last but not least a good carpet, some curtains on the windows and a selection of sturdy and heavy furniture can help a lot.

02 – Choose the right monitors

You have to choose the right size of monitors for your room. Big monitors will not function well in a small room and small monitors will not be enough for a big room. Also take into consideration how far away from the monitors you will be sitting. From there your decision depends on personal preference and budget. Take some time, pick some reference tracks and visit a store that offers monitor listening facilities, have a listen and compare what suits your hearing.

03 – Position your speakers carefully

This is a step many people neglect but it is a very important one. Try different positions for your monitors move them front to back, closer or further apart and hear what works best for your listening position. After that place and isolate your monitors the best possible. If you don’t, vibrations will affect a lot monitors’ performance. Our preference is any solution from IsoAcoustics. We have seen a huge improvement in monitoring detail and clarity by just placing our monitors on ISO Stands. There is a convenient online calculator available on their site that suggests the perfect ISO Stand for your monitors.

04 – Monitor at the right level

Depending on your room’s size there is a certain volume that sounds best. If you monitor too low you will not hear enough low end and the opposite when you monitor too high. As a general rule for a small home/bedroom studio a volume of about 74 dB will work best. A good monitor controller and a decibel meter can help you here a lot.

05 – Add a DSP solution to fine tune problems

Sometimes even if you follow all the previous steps you may still have issues with your room. In this situation a DSP or plugin solution (like Sonarworks) can help. By measuring your room you can see where your problems are and digitally fix them or use the results as a guide to add some more problem focused treatment to your room. Moreover it can work as a first aid kit to check that everything works as intended.

Top 5 Modular FX Plugins

5 essential Modular FX plugins we use everyday from sound design to mixing. From tips and tricks to all round info this article will give you extended information on some of the best plugs for modular style processing.

01 – Cableguys Shaperbox 2

We must be some of the most prolific users of Cableguys’ plugins, from the first version of Volumeshaper, it is a go to for sidechaining and sample trimming/enveloping. Shaperbox 2 comes with a lot of new tricks and accumulates all those years of experience under its belt. The main plugin Shaperbox is just the host that you can load the effects in. There are 6 types of effects available Volume, Pan, Width, Filter, Time and Crush but more are planned to come. The main concept is that all those effects can be modulated from LFOs that you design. So it becomes very flexible as you can create custom curves, chops, pulses and any LFO shape you can imagine. All LFOs can be locked to DAW’s tempo with sample accuracy or triggered via MIDI. If all these are not enough all processors can work in multiband so you can for example sidechain just the lows from your bass or autopan only the top end from a synth. Latest version adds envelope followers so shapers can react to the dynamics of the input signal or an external sidechain, a compressor that offers extra control over the dynamics of your sound and introduces pens which are preset shapes that you can draw without having to add multiple nodes. Without diving any deeper seems like anything can be done with Shaperbox from basic stuff like trimming/side chaining to more complex such as scratches, stutters and haas panning. A real everyday workhorse.

Tip 01: Tighten your beats and remove any flabbiness or flams with precision that will lead you to cleaner louder mixes.

Tip 02: Use the presets on your sounds to create new interesting variations and overcome writer’s block.

02 – Kilohearts Multipass & Snap Heap

The key word here is Snapins. Multipass and Snap Heap are just hosts for the Snapins with different routing possibilities. Multipass is multiband while Snap Heap offers serial and parallel processing (and is also free). Both hosts include macros, LFOs, envelopes, pitch and midi mappings so you can modulate anything, any way you want. But what Snapins are? Snapins are regular VST/AU plugins that you can use on their own but the key thing here is that they can also work as modular FX processors inside the Snapin hosts. Effects vary from basic ones like filters and EQs to more unique ones like tape stop and reverser. Basically any effect you may think of is already there ready to use. Also all the other premium Kilohearts’ effects like Faturator and Disperser offer Snapin versions you can load inside the hosts. Working with Multipass or Snap Heap is very easy and the workflow is natural like working on an outboard modular. You add the Snapins you want, patch them modulate, automate them and easily save the whole chain for future use. 99% of the time the results are useful and interesting. Fantastically musical and amazingly good sounding plugins.

Tip 01: Don’t be afraid to take advantage of all the modulation possibilities the Snapin hosts offer. 

Tip 02: If you want to blow off some steam Multipass includes a snake game you can play 🙂

03 – Sugar Bytes Looperator & Effectrix

Those two offerings from Sugar Bytes are based on the same concept, step FX. That means you can add  different FXs the same way you add hits on a step sequencer or daw. Every step can have a different FX and modulation or you can combine the various FXs on the same step. Looperator is more focused in chopping and re-arranging the material on the fly with the Slicer before you apply the FXs while effectrix is more focused in the FX processing and modulation of it. In depth Looperator offers, in rearrangeable order, a slicer, a looper, an enveloper, a filter and two custom multi FXs. Effectrix offers 14 FXs for each step, ranging from loopers and stutters to delays, reverbs and bit crushers. Also has swing capabilities for the sequencers, two modulators for each effect and midi triggering. We love the randomisation functions on both plugins that helps to unlock creativity when stuck and the fact that while there are a lot of stuff in offer using those two tools is easy and before you know it you can reach results that can make you sound unique. Last but not least all processing is A+ quality while keeping the CPU really low and without adding any latency to your chains.

Tip 01: Use the carefully designed and useful presets. 

Tip 02: RANDOMISE.

04 – Unfiltered Audio BYOME

Before BYOME, Unfiltered Audio created many plugins from delays, compressor and distortions to pitch shifters and spectral processors. They all have one thing in common, an extended modulation section.

Now take all these algorithms from the individual plugins, add a bunch more (over 40 FX in total) and an overhauled full featured modulation system and you get BYOME. Not enough? There is also a master panel with controls for in, out, sample rate, auto gain compensation and mix that affect the whole engine, a very informative metering display and more than 400 presets from well known designers. All modules FX and modulation as well as the presets are smartly organised in categories so you do not get lost when browsing. Everything sounds modern, unique and super musical and gives the opportunity for non stop experimentation.

If you are ever stuck and do not know what to do there is randomisation options for every module individually and for the whole plugin. Some of the standouts from the vast collection are the various reverbs especially the Deep and Renoun modules, the Frequency Shifter, the Granulator and the Stutter and Reverse delays.

 

Tip 01: Use the macros to make complicated moves easy.

Tip 02: It is not just a crazy sound design tool, includes some very useful effects for normal mixing too.

05 – Native Instruments Molekular

Molekular is an ensemble for Reaktor (or the free Reaktor Player) made by a collaboration between Native Instruments and Denis Goekdag the mastermind behind Zynaptiq. It contains 35 effects and 16 modulators you can patch any way you want so as to create your custom modular system in the box. It has 4 DSP slots which you can load the effects that vary from simple ones like EQs and delays, to dynamics, distortion, modulation, glitch effects, pitch effects and resonators. Last two are those that make it stand out from any other processor. Using them you can even transform percussive sounds to melodies. On the modulators side there are LFOs, Step Sequencers, Trigger Sequencers which are mostly found in hardware modular systems and Logic Modulators to add an organic feel to your patterns. All processing is done with exceptional quality (it is a bit cpu heavy) and really gives you the analog vibe with deep subs and lush reverb tails. Surely a tool that deserves its time to be deeply explored.

Tip 01: Experiment with the morphing function for ever changing patterns. 

Tip 02: Includes some very nice sounding filters, reverbs and delays.

Acustica Audio – Pensado EQ

Acustica Audio strikes with a collaboration between the usual suspects at Studio DMI and the acclaimed mixing engineer Dave Pensado. This is the first time a plugin carries Dave Pensado’s name and emulates equipment from his studio and specific techniques and tricks he uses throughout his multi-year career.

The plugin is based around Acustica’s Core 14 and features all the latest technologies and innovations the company has to offer. Featuring 4 bands, 2 filters, 2 preamps, an autogain that compensates for the input setting so you can drive the preamps and an x2 extender that doubles the dB range of the bands. There are also on/off switches for each band, each filter and each preamp making it very easy to A/B every movement.

Let’s dive in a bit deeper.

The filters: HP is very smooth and effective and does its job perfectly. The only issue is that the Hz readings on the interface are not very accurate so do use your ears. LP follows the same principle plus it seems to change its shape/Q on the various settings thus leading to very musical results.

The bands: Every band has five selected positions that not only represent a change in frequency but different equipment on each setting. Low band’s 50 and 80 are custom settings that Pensado uses to carve the low end. Perfect for kicks and bass. The other three settings (100, 160, 360) are low shelfs when boosting but take more intriguing shapes when cutting. The same thing happens with the low mid band. All settings are bells but the exact curve shape changes when you boost or cut and also depends on how much you boost or cut. High mid has two custom settings (440-12k8, 1k24-12k8) that are reminiscent of Studio DMI’s Color EQ and are perfect for adding clarity or removing harshness. 2k5 and 8k settings are high shelfs and 7k has more of a custom response. Similarly, every different setting, boosting or cutting changes the curves. On the high band 8k2 and 9k8 settings are tight bells and the rest three settings are high shelfs with various slopes and curves. Again everything is customly fine tuned for musical boosting/cutting according to Dave’s techniques.

The preamps: PRE1 is very beefy and boosts the low end while PRE2 has a more HiFi, sweet sound with a top-end boost and a slight cut in the upper mids. Both preamps complement the EQ perfectly and give that extra analog mojo and depth.

Last but not least there are many useful presets included from Dave Pensado himself for every instrument you may come across in an electronic music production. We hope to also see Acustica’s AI implemented on the presets in a future update.

For more info visit: http://acustica-audio.com/store/products/pensadoeq

Top 5 Saturation Plugins

TOP 5 (+BONUS) SATURATION PLUGINS

Here are 5 + a bonus saturation plugins we use on every session. Included with some of our favorite tips and tricks.

01 – ISM & Ploytec Aroma & Mango

Aroma and Mango are two plugins that do not emulate specific hardware devices but the qualities and sound of analog in general. Think of them as clean harmonics generators that you add as much as you please. It’s like spices as very accurately described on Aroma’s interface. Both processors can work in mid/side and are useful from sound design to mastering. In more detail Aroma contains four different flavours of saturation/spices salt, pepper, sugar and chili. Salt has a valve quality and produces odd and even harmonics. Pepper also has a valve like sound but produces mainly odd harmonics. Sugar has a beefy sound that reminds the characteristics of analog tape machines. Chili has a very musical analog flavour and enhances mainly the odd harmonics. All four spices have an extra flavour knob that further tunes the processing. Mango contains just one flavour of saturation that is fine tuned for mastering. The sound loosely reminds valve or type but nothing specific. It is a go to solution for adding harmonics on the master bus, you just turn the knob and you are ready to go.

Tip 01: Use the mid/side function to create different harmonic patterns between mid and side and create extra width and depth on you sounds.

Tip 02: Use Mango just before the final limiter to push musically into it and add extra flavour to your master bus.

02 – PROCESS.AUDIO Sugar

PROCESS.AUDIO is the plugin company of pureMix which is an audio engineering training and education community. Sugar is their first tool and is a multiband saturation enhancer. Offers eight colours two for each of the four bands, three unique saturation algorithms and high-pass and low-pass filters with a steep option. In the middle of the plugin is a jog wheel that can move all of the four enhancers without changing their relative position. In simple words when you find your sound you can use the jog to push it even more or lessen the processing. Processing can work in mid/side and also there is options for listening just the fx and auto level matching so you are not tricked by the loudness difference. Crossovers are by default linear phase (you can change that in the settings) so there are no phase issues when processing. In general the plugin sounds amazing and feels professional in every aspect of it. The extra thing you should consider about this tool is the community behind it that helped developing and fine tuning it. It contains very useful presets from well known engineers and every slider/knob move feels organic and musical. You can use it, push it and drive it like an analog processor without thinking too much.   

Tip 01: Use the medium band to add low mid body to the sound. Works wonders on vocals and synths. 

Tip 02: Use the air band on your sounds or master. Between the yin and yang settings you will find the perfect top end for your material.

03 – Tone Empire Goliath

Our go to saturator these days for sound design. Contains three different types of saturation from Solid State (Silver) to Tube (Gold) and Tape (Titanium). Processing on all three can go from very subtle to edgy, sounding great all across the spectrum. What sets it apart from other solutions is the envelope section. You can add punch, sustain and movement and achieve a dimensional analog sound. Add on top of that the sweet sounding three band EQ and you have a complete toolkit. Between how hard you drive it and the roof setting (which is kind of a threshold) along with all other options available you can achieve a wide palette of sounds. Latest version added a second mode which makes the processor less sensitive for more accurate tuning via the input/drive knob.

Tip 01: Use it on drums or spiky sounds to fatten and chop off the peaks without losing punch. 

Tip 02: Tube (Gold) sounds great when driven. Push it to extremes and use the dry/wet knob to mix back to taste.

04 – Wavesfactory Spectre

Wavesfactory is a well respected company for their Kontakt libraries. When they released their first plugin Trackspacer it became an instant hit as it simplified frequency dependent side chaining. Now in its latest version it still is our go to for mixing kick and bass and for creating intricate and musical interactions between tracks. Spectre their latest tool, may seem like a parametric EQ but surely is more than that as each one of its bands is a powerful enhancer/saturator. You can only boost but when doing so you do not only change the gain of the band but also add harmonic content. Each band has a selection of saturation algorithms (ten in total) you can choose from classic tube, solid and tape to more special ones like bit, digital and rectify. There is even a Clean mode that converts the band to a simple parallel EQ. From all the options you will surely find the tone that fits your material. Offerings do not stop here as the plugin has three quality modes that change the oversampling setting making it clean from digital artifacts even on extreme settings, three saturation modes that change the general amount of harmonics produced (between this setting and in/out interaction you can fine tune the amount of harmonic content created) and a De-Emphasis setting that removes the EQ boost from the band leaving back only the harmonics created. Also each band can work on stereo, left, right, mid or side and there is a master mix knob at hand. Don’t get overwhelmed from all the above, GUI is intuitive and all settings are self explanatory making the use of it as easy as a simple EQ.

 

Tip 01: Upper mids sound very nice and smooth. You can easily add back the snap on drums or make dull recordings shine.

Tip 02: Use it to replace EQ boosts on your tracks. You will find that most times you will achieve better, easier and more natural sounding results.

05 – Klevgrand REAMP

REAMP as its name states is an amp style processor which simulates seven different types of analog saturation. Algorithms are very detailed and complex and the results of the processing are really ear pleasing. Just by inserting the plugin without touching a knob affects the sound in a good way. Processing is based around a four band spectral drive so you have, in addition to the main input four independent drive bands to push. There is also a four band post eq for further fine tuning. Frequency bands are fixed but carefully selected. The seven gear profiles range from cassette deck and tape reel to tube, guitar and bass amps. There is also a harmonics selector that lets you choose how much harmonic content the processing adds to the signal, the always handy dry wet knob, an output setting and many useful presets to get you started. REAMP was a pleasant surprise when testing, always sounded convincing and real and the saturation characteristics along with the spectral drive and post eq every time gave back good and interesting results.

Tip 01: Use it on percussions (especially live ones). You will surely find a setting that complements the sound. 

Tip 02: Use it as a general dedigitizer. Gives dimension and character to digital sounds.

Bonus – PSP Vintage Warmer 2

It wouldn’t be a complete article about saturation plugins if we didn’t mention the plugin that we think started it all, PSP’s Vintage Warmer, which is about a year away from turning twenty. It was one of the first plugins that came close to the analog sound in the box and to our opinion still nails the sound of a hard hitting tape. Always finds its way in our sessions adding its magic here and there. In its latest implementation comes in three versions, the MicroWarmer which has a simplified single band interface and low latency optimized for every track of a session, the Vintage Warmer which is an updated version of the original plugin and the Vintage Warmer 2 which adds oversampling and is suited for groups and the master. It is a piece of software you should have in your arsenal apart from the nostalgia reasons its tonality is super useful especially for electronic music, it still sounds superb and many professionals swear by it.

Tip 01: Use it before your master limiter to drive into it.

Tip 02: Use it all around your mix in places you need that extra sauce.

Analog Sound In The Box

 

Modern digital tools are a god sent gift to the producer/engineer. You can edit, EQ, save and recall with ease and 100% precision but there is something about analog that we miss in the box. That euphonic, enjoyable, easy to mix sound, the depth the 3Dness and many other qualities we are all fond of. Maybe all these sound like marketing gibberish but are certainly not. But what is essentially missing in the box? Our opinion is that the big difference comes from the way analog is made and its limitations and instabilities.

A signal in A DAW goes through from input to output unaffected. In the analog world a signal to go through let’s say a console has to pass through the whole circuitry. In its way finds preamps, transformers, faders, pots, cabling, various headrooms, imperfections, picks up noise and changes its phase and tonal balance. Also every channel of a console and every hardware unit even the same model from the same manufacturer differ from each other. Maybe sounds complicated but can be done in the box choosing the right tools and techniques to add imperfections on various stages of the signal chain. For example slight variations from left to right on an EQ, same thing on compression and using emulations that come as close to analog as possible from preamps, to EQs, tapes and compressors.

There are various offerings and ways to emulate hardware but to our ears the offerings from Acustica Audio and generally their approach and technology seem to come the closest possible. Nothing will ever 100% replace the real hardware and it will always have the edge but why not have a respectable in the box alternative. Acustica’s technology is based on Vectorial Volterra Kernels and many other patents and custom techniques they implement to improve and optimise response, quality and usability.

To simplify things their technology is something like a highly advanced dynamic convolution. Think of a convolution reverb but now instead of a room or hall you have the response of an analog circuit. To capture the hardware they pass impulses and sweeps through the gear at different settings and levels resulting in a response library that contains all possible tunings. With that approach you get an exact image of the hardware from in to out and not an approximation of the circuit and its response. The downside is that you need computational power to implement all that, latency is high and also the captured kernels/impulse responses take a lot of hard drive space. Does it worth it? We think yes but you can check for yourself as they offer generous 30 day trials.

Let’s see some of Acustica’s Acqua plugins in detail:

AZURE

Our master bus main stay these days when it comes to EQing. It is a collaboration between Analog In The Box a company that specialises in capturing hardware with Acustica’s technology and mastering engineer Zino Mikorey. It captures a hand-made passive tube EQ and also the preamp/tonality of the hardware and Zino’s high end chain. Sounds transparent but three dimensional and has a wide sweet spot. Captures every little detail of the hardware and offers the preamp, HP/LP filters and four bands of EQing that can be stereo linked, unlinked or work in mid side. Has a “sounds like a record” tone from the get go and becomes one with the sound without sounding over processed even on extreme settings.

TAUPE

This is Acustica’s tape offering. It includes 21 analog and digital tape machines into 40 finely tuned programs, 3 EQs, a compresor and a limiter. Taupe is very detailed and one of the most realistic tape emulations to our ears. Has all the characteristics of a real tape such as the distortion and compression and using the input you can go from clean to pushed. Among the 40 programs and the various machine, tape and setup combinations you will surely find one that fits your material perfectly. Combine that with the smooth EQ and the versatile compressor/limiter you can achieve a wide range of tones. It includes separate plugins for the whole strip, the tape, the EQs and compressor/limiter. We cannot miss but comment on the great interface and the various nostalgic references on it that make the use more fun.

CREAM

This one is based on various iconic pieces of hand-built British hardware between the 50’s and 70’s. It is one of the biggest offerings from Acustica as it contains the line, mic and tube preamps from various channels of the console, all the accompanying EQs, the magic EQ/exciter band and two compressors. It has a strong vintage character and unique tone quality that does not disappoint considering the legendary hardware it emulates. It comes as a complete channel strip but also offers separate plugins for the preamps, EQs and compressors. Sounds 3D, driving, exciting and works wonders as a de-digitalizer. If your track sounds dull, clean and digital Cream is your best friend!

EL REY

This is a special one. Not only because it is an emulation of one of the finest and most musical tube compressors but also because of the people that worked on it. It is a collaboration between Acustica Audio, Studio DMI and Greg Wells and includes presets from some of the best sound engineers. The plugin is fine tuned with a velvety sound and the compression action is very smooth even at extreme settings. Has a certain richness and fullness in the low end without becoming blurry or muddy and the rest of the spectrum gains a certain clarity and quality even passing through the plugin. Works wonders on many sources and the combination between how hard you hit the input and the level of gain reduction can give various tone combinations. A real gem in the box!

VIRIDIAN

Based on a similar concept as Cream, Viridian is based on various iconic solid state units from the 60’s and 70’s. It includes 6 types of preamps, 3 compressor models and 3 EQs. Among them are a very rare german console with a special tuby sound and also a powerful modern reissue of a FET compressor. Has a beefy but driving sound, lifts beautifully the low end and pushes the mid and top to the front. In the EQ section the bands interact with each other which is an integral part of the design of the original unit and also the compressors are some of the best Acustica has made so far. As previously it also includes separate plugins for the whole strip, preamps, EQs and compressors.

Top 5 Compressor Plugins

 

Our List of the current best compressors on the market for your mixing needs.

 

01 – Empirical Labs Arousor

From the same company that made the hardware Distressor comes Arousor. A plugin version of their aesthetic in compression, a Distressor on steroids in the box. Has a certain quality in its action that fits anywhere from slow compression, to punchy, to low ratio master bus compression. The highlights are the attack modification function that provides amazing punch, the great sounding soft clipper that helps analogize the sound and the extended detector eq which helps fine tune the compressor’s action. Maybe a premium product but you can do no wrong with it.

Tip 01: Use a 1.5:1 ratio and slight compression along with the attack mod and soft clip functions for an analog master bus sound.

Tip 02: Use it with extreme settings in parallel with the blend function to give extra vibe to any sound.

02 – TDR Kotelnikov (Gentleman’s Edition)

The mastering compressor in the box. It has a special place in our toolkit and also in the toolkits of other engineers we have talked with. Has a very clean sound but a certain musicality in its action that makes everything sound finished. Can manipulate the dynamics in large amounts without colouring the sound and has any functionality a bus or master may need. Highlights are the dual release stage, the FDR function that adapts the ratio to the frequency and the yin/yang functions that add harmonics to the compression. Last but not least something that is a standard on all Tokyo Dawn products, an extended master panel which includes an equal loudness bypass so you are not tricked by the loudness difference and also a delta function so you can hear just what is being compressed.    

Tip 01: By using mostly the peak release stage can lead to a very fast and punchy but clean compression that can lift the drum bus or any drum driven track.

Tip 02: Use the high pass (low freq relax) and the FDR function to focus and fine tune the compression to the frequency range that works best for your track.

03 – Leapwing Audio DynOne

An amazing multiband compressor with the best crossover filters to our ears. The crossover points are fixed but smartly chosen and the compression is extremely transparent. All functionality can be in parallel without any phasing or other issue and the attack and release settings are adaptive between two values so it works without the need to automate on complex program material. It has become our go to for parallel multiband compression on our buses and master and a secret weapon for transparently loud masters. A really smart tool that even manipulating the default setting can lead to a great sound but delving deeper, learning and experimenting with it we guarantee pays off.

Tip 01: Use the main sliders as a kind of EQ to lift the frequency bands that complement your track.

Tip 02: Ratio slider goes below one so each band can also work as an expander.

04 – PSPaudioware FETpressor

An amazing character compressor plugin. Even though it is a FET feedback type compressor based on a 70s model sounds very modern and has a characteristic that is difficult to achieve in the box. It has a 3D quality in its action, especially on drums and has a specific mojo that makes any source sound instantly better. The extended feature set (sidechain highpass, blend control, stereo link/unlink) pushes it further and makes it more useful than the original hardware. A true workhorse that finds its way in every session, everywhere, even in the master bus in parallel.

 

Tip 01: Use it on your drum bus in parallel to add an extra layer of depth and movement to your drums.

Tip 02: Use it with 1:1 ratio as a tone box and take advantage of the great transformer and makeup amp emulation.

05 – Kush Audio Novatron

A compressor with tone and mojo for days. It does not emulate a specific hardware but can do a range of compression styles from really fast FET type, to a bit slower VCA or even slower Vari-MU type. All in excellence with great attack/release characteristics and always with great aesthetic and vibe. If you wanna push it even further it provides adjustable in/out transformers that go beyond insanity. To all that add the great meters, a tone shift circuit, three fine tuned modes for different uses, a sidechain highpass and a blend control. A great tool that offers compression with analog dimensionality and solidity in the box.

Tip 01: Set it up with master bus settings or use any of the great presets and mix into it to benefit from the tone and glue it imparts.

Tip 02: Push it with extreme settings and use it in parallel. Adds great analog characteristics on digital synths and sounds.

Top 5 Special Tools

The following list contains tools that we think bring something new to the table and push the boundaries of digital with new concepts but still stay useful and musical.

01 – Oeksound Soothe

The make everything natural and smooth tool. A kind of auto dynamic eq for resonances. From vocals, to hihats, to synths and generally sounds that contain poking, unnatural mid-high resonances soothe can tame them in a precise but musical way. It contains all you may need to tune it and use it from sound design, to mixing and mastering. Simply by using the graph to target the problematic frequencies and cranking the depth gets great results. From there you can fine tune the algorithm (sharpness, selectivity, resolution), oversample, use in parallel and check the delta to see what the processing does to the sound. Also contains really nice presets you can use as starting points.

Tip 01: Use it like a de-esser, high frequency limiter to obtain a tapey, analog style top end you can tune to your liking.

Tip 02: Don’t be afraid to experiment with extreme settings to produce new unheard sounds.

02 – Soundtheory Gullfoss

A very intelligent auto eq that can help your eq decisions, tonal balance and improve the clarity and detail of your music. You can also achieve better translation of your mixes and reach the sweet post much easier. Settings are easy and self explanatory. You can recover buried frequencies and detail, tame dominant sounds, brighten or darken and intelligently boost with a curve based on the frequency balance as perceived by the human ear. After you set it up Gullfoss adapts itself to the incoming signal more than 100 times per second without any audible artifact or degradation of the sound. A real “make it sound better” plugin.

Tip 01: Use it on sounds you don’t know how to eq as a guide.

Tip 02: Use it on your master with subtle settings to enhance the sound and add movement.

03 – Sonible frei:raum

This offering from Sonible may seem like a standard eq but is much more than that. It consists of three layers: the smart:EQ, the proximity:EQ and the entropy:EQ layer. The smart:EQ layer is a high quality seven band eq. Three of the bands are smart bands that can learn the input and create custom filter curves so you can boost or attenuate the best way possible according to your input. You can boost without pushing resonances up or attenuate without touching the “good stuff” of your sound. It has a certain quality in the processing and one of the best transient responses we have heard. Proximity:EQ layer is where things start to become interesting. Here you can boost or attenuate the spaciousness, the reverberation of the sound on each of the seven bands. You can move things closer or further away and still sound very natural. It is a great problem solver on bad recordings. The entropy:EQ layer pushes things even further dealing with the harmonic and inharmonic components of the sound. You can manipulate the attack of a kick, snap of a snare, pluck of a synth or guitar and go from really punchy and dry to very sustained and boomy all with ease like using an eq.

Tip 01: Use the high smart band to create a custom curve for your track and push the top end smoothly and cleanly. It works wonders for that. 

Tip 02: Use the proximity and entropy layers to tighten boomy or spacious sounds you want controlled like kicks or basses.

04 – Oeksound Spiff

The master of your music’s transients whenever you want to boost or cut them. All intelligently and frequency dependent. You can surgically smooth clicks, pops, consonants or enhance the punch, freshen and bring elements to the front. The interface is very intuitive and easy to use (as soothe). By using the graph you target the areas you want the processing to take place and from there you can fine tune the algorithm with the extended settings provided and manipulate the transients any way you wish. It is a really great tool to lift your sounds, especially old drum samples and bring them to today’s standards.

 

Tip 01: Use it in cut mode as a sound design tool to remove transients from sounds and transform for example a guitar to a kind of pad and drums to a rhythmic noise bed for your track.

Tip 02: Use it in boost mode to tightly enhance the fundamental frequencies of your tracks, buses or master.

05 – Ohlhorst Digital DeEdger

A tool that deals with the hardness of signals without compromising the original sound’s qualities. As hardness you can think of poky/spiky transients. The processing works only when hardness is detected and threshold free so you can set and forget it. With DeEdger you can focus on the frequency those problems appear and invisibly tame them. It is very easy to use, fine tuned and the processing is very musical. Even though it is created with modern mastering in mind you can use it all over the place during sound design or mixing.

Tip 01: Use it on percussions, drums or percussive instruments to fine tune them.

Tip 02: Use it early on your master chain to deal with problematic areas of your mix.

Top 5 Mastering EQs

TOP 5 MASTERING EQs – An extensive review on the best eq’s for mastering with tips on how and when to use them. From analog emulations to modern M/S processors this list has you covered.

01 – Brainworx bx_digital V3

The follow up to the successful and industry standard V2. It’s always on our master bus cleaning up the mid and side, pushing the stereo width or notching resonances. You can do not wrong with this power house of an EQ. The update extends the high frequency band up to 40 kHz for that expensive air boost, adds proportional Q filters, a dynamic EQ and extends the usability of the bass and presence shifters with extra options.

Tip 01: Use the auto-solo and auto-listen buttons and go hunting for nasty frequencies in your mix.

Tip 02: Use the bass and presence shifters to sweeten the top or tighten the lows.

02 – PSPaudioware E27

Probably the best algorithmic emulation EQ plugin. Officially approved by Avedis Audio.

Solely the tone of the transformer and preamp makes everything sound better. Each one of the three bands has a careful selection of frequencies that seems to work on every source. With characteristics and quality that seems like the best mixture of Neve and API EQs. Offers left-right, mid-side routing linked or unlinked, the option to double the bands, a subtle but sweet drive, a great high pass, the option to turn off the preamp and transformer and last but not least the option for an extra 28k boost.

Tip 01: Use it with subtle boosts or cuts to polish the most important frequencies of your mix.

Tip 02: Add it to your master with just the 28k button and the preamp, transformer enabled and mix into it.

03 – TDR SlickEQ Mastering

The mastering version of the highly acclaimed TDR VOS SlickEQ. It sounds very musical and on point on every setting. All six bands except the filters are in parallel configuration and each boost or cut is intelligently gain compensated so you are not tricked by the changes in perceived loudness. Also offers a low frequency mono filter, an intelligent meta filter that can tilt the brightness, hardness or equal loudness contours and a smart learn function that can match pink noise or custom references. Also has a very smart way of dealing with mid-side, left-right routing on each band and output.

Tip 01: Use the learn function to create reference starting points and work from there.

Tip 02: Double click the logo to add subtle differences between the left-right and mid-side and make the EQ sound more “analog”.

04 – Acustica & Studio DMI Diamond Color EQ

The brainchild of Acustica Audio and Luca Petrolesi’s Studio DMI. It is based on various hardware EQs from the studio, hand picked for each band. So every frequency has the best response and colour for the job. Has a very nice preamp with great character and a very smooth low cut filter. The interplay between the lower two bands can make the bass tighter and sounds great even on extreme settings. High mid band has an interesting frequency response that can move the area forward when boosted or make it really smooth if attenuated. Last but not least the high band offers a very expensive colourful top end and can lift or add air to any source. A must have for master or busses.

Tip 01: Use it with subtle boosts on each band as an enhancer for your mix.

Tip 02: Use the preamp and the sweet high frequency band and mix into it.

05 – Newfangled Audio EQuivocate

We cannot believe this EQ was offered free for some time when first released. Based on a graphic/multi band style configuration with auditory filters modelled on the human ear that make it sound as natural as possible. Also has some of the best linear-phase filter implementation that minimise pre-echo artifacts. The filter distribution can be based on the MEL Spectrum or you can customise it to your liking. You can choose from 01 to 26 bands and smartly match to an external sidechain source and work from there. Everything feels very intuitive and sounds amazing.

Tip 01: Use the solo function over each band to hunt for nasty frequencies to attenuate or sweet frequencies to boost.

Tip 02: Use the great meters on each band to aid your EQing decisions.

Top 5 Transient Designers

Transient Design has been a staple of mixing for years and continues to be a must as modern mixing techniques require precise sculpting as multi-band dynamic control allows for greater depth in sounds.

1 – Waves TransX Multi

Our top pick of the bunch, because it seems to do everything and hit in all the right places.  Whether your looking to add punchiness, clicky-ness, or even low mid thump, the Waves Trans X multi-band transient designer seems to excel in all areas of sound shaping. Whether on a buss, or on an individual track this plug never seems to fail. Offered in the package is a non-multi version which also comes in handy, but we seem to always gravitate to the sound from the multi in most cases.

2 – UAD Sonnox Oxford Envolution

New to the scene and already making major waves throughout the mixing community, this plugin is clearly top of the line. Its almost multi but its not, it allows you the ability to choose different frequencies to accentuate between attack and release. This ability can take things to a new lever particularly from a sound design perspective. Creating sounds that have a snappy attack a quick drop followed by an extended release can be accomplished easily with this plugin creating movement within just a single hit. This new gem can really enhance your grooves and change the way you think about transient design.

3 – UAD – SPL Transient Designer

A classic at heart, this plugin has never lost its mojo from the hardware original to now the software version. This particular version for us specializes in mid and low mid sounds as it seems to accentuate in that punchy register on kick drums and toms.

4 – Izotope Alloy 2

Multi band transient shaping at its finest.  Having the ability to specifically dial-in and sculpt the transients for certing frequencies of a sound can prove to be indispensable these days for modern mixing.  When used correctly the ability to make sounds appear as they are jumping from the speakers can be easily achieved with the Izotope Alloy plugin

5 – Plugin Alliance – SPL Transient Designer

Yes you are reading this correctly, we have both SPL transient designer versions on here as we feel they each have their own unique sound with different strengths and accentuate different tones of a sound. For the native version from Plugin Alliance, to our ears, it tends to bring in the attack at a higher frequency adding more of a click at the top of instruments like kicks and percussion from congas to bongos. So in short for mid-high sounds we lean towards SPL native and for mid-low sounds we lean towards the UAD version, but bear in mind these are not hard rules and difference scenarios require different needs & solutions.

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