There have been some important developments in the DP world this last month, including new and newly-updated plug-ins that could prove extremely useful to DP users. Perhaps the most widely anticipated of these is MOTU's own MX4 'multisynth', which has been shown in pre-release versions since the start of 2004. Whilst its $295 price tag puts it amongst the most expensive soft synths on the market, stability and compatibility with DP 4 should be about as good as it gets, and it certainly looks to have some interesting features.
Possibly the best of these are the multi-architecture design, with options for standard subtractive synthesis alongside FM and AM, and wavetable oscillators. MX4 also continues the tradition of American synths of yore with its mind-boggling modulation options. Not only, it seems, are single modulation sources capable of controlling multiple parameters, but multiple sources can control single parameters — a programmer's delight. Less great, perhaps, is the processor hit, described recently by one of MOTU's head honchos as similar to synths such as Camel Audio's Cameleon 5000 — which, in my experience, puts it easily into the 'hog' category. Also, as is the way with Mach Five, copy protection is via an iLok USB dongle. While MOTU state that MX4's authorisation can be transferred to a Mach Five iLok, this approach doesn't make it easy for legitimate owners to shop out processor hit to multiple Macs as and when necessary — and, as far as I'm concerned, a single iLok is already one too many. The sound quality of the MP3 demos posted up at www.motu.com put MX4 on the 'digital' side of warm, but as soon as I can get my hands on a copy I'll confirm whether this is really the case or not, and report on ease of integration with DP 4.
DP is, and always has been, notorious for its potential window clutter. Having dozens of windows open not only makes your work environment confusing but also saps processor power. Two simple settings can help with this. First, consider choosing 'Apply Closes Window' from the mini-menus of the Transpose and Quantise windows, so that they don't outstay their welcome. Also try the 'Open one Graphic Editor for each sequence' option in DP's preferences if you work with MIDI much — the resulting single Graphic Editor, with a track list selector, is much easier to work with, I find.
I mentioned Audio Hijack Pro in last month's column as a possible candidate for Bounce To Disk alternatives in DP. No sooner had I submitted my copy than Audio Hijack Pro 2 was announced, with some important new features, such as built-in CD burning and support for AAC and Apple Lossless file formats. It costs $32 from www.rogueamoeba.com, or a measly $10 for owners of AHP version 1.
If there's been one type of plug-in that DP 4 users have missed out on until now, it's undoubtedly the guitar effects and amp/speaker modelling combo. MOTU's own Preamp1 is useful, but it's no Pod, and despite great initial promise, IK Multimedia's Amplitube has never been a reliable match with DP 4. Enter, then, Native Instruments' Guitar Rig (reviewed in the September issue of SOS), which offers a complete guitar effects and amp modelling environment in the form of an Audio Unit plug-in. My initial reaction, when I heard about Guitar Rig, was to wonder why anyone would choose it over a hardware device such as a Pod or J-Station, but having used it for a couple of weeks now I can unreservedly recommend it. Compatibility with and reliability in DP 4 is excellent, and both the huge range and sheer quality of sounds it produces makes the 449 Euro price tag (which includes a hardware controller) look nothing short of a bargain. The plug-in is useful for more than just guitar too — the huge flexibility of Guitar Rig's 'rack' architecture means that vocals, drums, piano, synths, and almost anything else, can benefit from its capabilities. The cabinet modelling, in particular, can impart anything from subtle to massive tonal changes, on a wide range of sources, and all with a distinctly 'musical' quality.
Another new plug-in, not quite arriving in time for my round-up of DP 4-based mastering plug-ins in the August edition of SOS, is Wave Arts' Multidynamics. Where their Finalplug takes its cue very obviously from Waves' L1 and L2 limiters, Multidynamics looks uncannily like a Waves C4 or Linear Multiband, but with up to six independent bands of compression. Multidynamics sounds different to the Waves offerings, though, not least because it doesn't pretend to preserve relative phase between the bands, and it's definitely a case of 'different', not 'worse' — this is a seriously nice processor. Wave Arts' MAS plug-ins are amongst the most bomb-proof out there, represent good value for money, and are extremely useful on a wide range of projects. Multidynamics is no exception. Wave Arts also have excellent customer support and a sensible copy-protection policy. Multidynamics costs $150 by itself, or comes as part of the bread-and-butter Power Suite bundle for $500, from www.wavearts.com.
Autotune, the automatic pitch-correction plug-in by Antares, occupies a very special position in the world of plug-ins. It can call attention to itself like almost no other, and has been heard of well outside of the world of music technology, often thanks to some ethical debate or other about modern production practices. Indeed, the mere mention of it can cause some people to get very hot under the collar, but it's a safe bet that we're all hearing it all the time, even when we don't realise we are.
Autotune has always been a DP-friendly plug-in, available in MAS format and respectful of DP's conventions, and there's much to recommend it. Getting the most out of it in DP, though, isn't always obvious, so here are a few pointers which I hope both new and experienced users might find helpful.
Some like it hot: While Autotune's Auto correction mode is virtually a 'fit and forget' solution for some vocal lines, it's hard to find settings that will work throughout an entire song, especially if you're trying to avoid re-tuning artifacts. Selecting the appropriate Input Type is, of course, important in helping Autotune get things right, and bypassing or removing degrees of the selected scale is vital, but you should also consider placing a Trim plug-in, or even a compressor, ahead of it in the channel's signal path, to ensure that it's always being fed a good, hot signal, particularly from tracks that are a bit weedy.
Clean it up: Be aware that extraneous vocal slavers, slaps and pops can throw Autotune off the scent — knock them out using a gate or some judicious soundbite editing. Consider placing a high-pass-type EQ ahead of Autotune, too, to zap any low-frequency rumble that might have crept in to the recording.
Go Graphical: If real-time correction is just not doing it, Autotune's potent Graphical mode can nearly always do the trick, as well as being the key to extreme vocal treatments such as Madonna's 'Impressive Instant'. The basic operation of this mode is well covered in Antares' documentation, but again always make sure that the signal entering Autotune is nice and hot, both during the detection and correction stages. Sometimes it's necessary to apply the same graphical corrections to a soundbite that you've used repeatedly during a song, and having to go through multiple learn/draw/correct cycles is clearly a drag. The way to fix this would be to correct just one soundbite, somehow 'render' the result, and copy it to the remaining locations, but the obvious method of doing this — applying a graphical-mode Autotune to the soundbite 'offline' via DP's audio menu — doesn't work. The simplest workaround is to first place Autotune on the relevant track, 'learn' the duration of the soundbite, and draw the necessary corrections. Then, assuming the soundbite is on a mono track, temporarily select a mono output for the track, select just the soundbite, and choose Freeze Selected Tracks from the Audio menu. This produces a new track in your sequence with the corrected soundbite in exactly the same location as the original. It can then be dragged and copied to replace the other segments that need correcting.
Target MIDI: One of my favourite features of Autotune is Target Notes Via MIDI, in Automatic mode. To activate this you also need to record-enable a MIDI track in DP with Autotune as its output. When this is set up, Autotune 'removes' all notes of the selected scale, except, on a momentary basis, those being played via MIDI. While you can hold down chords to select multiple pitches, I find a monophonic line most useful, and this certainly opens the door to some of the most extreme Autotune treatments possible. It's also a good way to quickly correct a single note of an entire performance that is otherwise perfect, as when no MIDI notes are received by Autotune the original audio is passed without processing.
Finally, it's a very welcome hello to an old friend, Audioease's Nautilus bundle, which has just been released in a variety of formats, including MAS, for OS X. Only Audioease could offer such a disparate set of plug-ins as a bundle, though between them they cover a lot of audio treatment possibilities, and the water-themed unifying concept is nothing short of inspired. Possibly the most straightforward of the three plug-ins that make up Nautilus is the delightfully nerdy Deep Phase Nine which, as a MAS-based phaser, will surely never be surpassed. The key here is flexibility, with control over the number of frequency notches (or boosts), frequency 'spread' between the highest and lowest notch, depth and speed of sweep, and convergence between left and right channels. All these parameters are presented in a very intuitive fashion, using a colour-coded animated display. Next up is Periscope, which, for me, is an indispensable plug-in. This is a real-time frequency analyser and phase-accurate equaliser in equal parts, and it excels in both areas. With Periscope, the structure of the input signal is displayed in real time on what is effectively a frequency versus amplitude 'graph', and a series of vertical sliders is overlaid on top of this. Moving a slider cuts or boosts the range of frequencies which lies beneath it, and the total range of frequencies the sliders affect can be adjusted using an additional pair of 'flags', superimposed on their own 'graph' beneath the main display which always shows the entire bandwidth of the input signal. What makes Periscope special is the surgical accuracy of its cuts and boosts, and the way in which, with the help of the visual display, problem areas of a signal can be sorted out in no time at all. I also love Periscope's ability to strip away the harmonics of a monophonic input one by one: removing and then replacing the lower harmonics of a sustained note never fails to produce a "wow." Finally, if you're interested in granular synthesis, River Run will give you plenty to work with. Audio can be streamed into this plug-in, frozen, and then smaller portions of it used as a basis for 'grain' production. Pitch can be randomised completely or 'semi-randomised' to conform to a a series of musical scales or chords. In short, brand-new, often unexpected and very beautiful musical structures can emerge from River Run, even with the most unpromising audio as a starting point. The Nautilus bundle costs $299 from www.audioease.com, and it's no exaggeration to say that Periscope or River Run are worth that amount by themselves.