Formats: Mac & PC UAD1
When I visited the Universal Audio offices in California a few weeks ago, they were getting ready to ship the new Plate 140 plug-in for the UAD1 card. Like most of their other plug-ins, this is very closely modelled on real vintage analogue equipment. Although convolution technology makes it very easy to replicate vintage reverb devices exactly, convolution is still very processor-intensive, and only captures the sound of a device for one set of front-panel settings. Instead, the Universal Audio team have used modelling, to replicate not only the sound of a vintage reverb plate but also its interaction with the physical dampers used to control the decay time.
Perhaps the most revered reverb plate of all time is the German-built EMT 140, which dates back almost half a century. Audio was fed into a transducer attached to a suspended metal plate, thus making it resonate; then the vibrations were picked off using surface mics and fed via EQ into the reverb returns of the mixing console. Such plate reverb systems were expensive and bulky, and also needed to be housed in such a way as to isolate them from outside sound or vibration. As soon as digital reverb came along, almost everyone ditched their plates before realising what they'd given up!
Universal Audio's Plate 140 is designed to replicate the sound of three specific EMT 140 plates still owned by The Plant Studios in Sausalito, near San Francisco. Even the graphical interface is based on the controls of a real plate, but of course the sound is what really matters. The plug-in works with all the plug-in formats supported by the UAD1 card, namely Audio Units, VST, DX, MAS and RTAS. As plug-ins go, the controls are very simple, with a pointer knob used to select which of the plates ('A', 'B' or 'C') is in use. Each has its own mechanical damper which can be adjusted to make it longer or shorter using two buttons or, if you are less patient, by grabbing the indicator and dragging it to where you want it. The reason all three plates have their own dampers is so that you can set them up as you like them, then switch between them to see which works best.
In addition to the dampers, there's a two-band shelving equaliser with adjustable frequencies (20Hz to 2kHz and 200Hz to 20kHz) and a pre-delay control of up to 250ms, followed by a stereo width knob and a wet/dry balance control (which has an 'all wet' button for when you're using Plate 140 on an aux channel). The EQ has a bypass switch, while a 'power' switch bypasses the whole plug-in. A nicely antique meter monitors the output level from the plate and there's even a Bakelite fuse holder that serves no purpose other than decoration!
Though all three plates are EMT 140s, they sound very different, with plate 'A' being quite light and bright. 'B' has more depth, while 'C' is almost cavernous at the bottom end. Heard in isolation, the booming, rippling artifacts of a real plate are quite evident, but as you balance the wet and dry sounds, the reverb gels with the dry source to produce a wonderfully warm and cohesive sound. These plate emulations are very different to most reverb Plate patches: special algorithms had to be created to emulate the way the energy in a real plate builds up, as they tend to have a very fast attack, with the sound becoming complex almost immediately. Early reflections are almost non-existent with plates. Having owned a somewhat lesser plate myself, I felt quite nostalgic listening to this plug-in, and while purists might detect a subtle difference, I think UA have come very close to nailing the authentic sound. Plate 140 sounds great on drums but it also delivers the goods on vocals, piano, guitar — in fact, just about anything you throw at it. There are a handful of excellent presets to get you started, but with so few controls, it doesn't take a moment to create your own.
To sum up, Plate 140 is the nearest thing I've yet heard to a real plate reverb and it gives you access to the sound of three great plates without taking up any space in your studio. If you have a UAD1, you owe it to yourself to check this out, even if you're not a vintage gear freak. Paul White
Formats: Mac & PC VST
Meet the vocoder's bigger brother: the Audio Morpher. Those of you who remember the release of the Hartmann Neuron synthesizer (reviewed in SOS August 2003) will be interested to hear that Prosoniq have incorporated elements of its signal-processing power into a bite-sized VST plug-in. In short, this nifty little processor from Prosoniq analyses and resynthesises two input signals, before allowing you to 'morph' smoothly between them, in real time. The process is based on a 'discrete wavelet transform' — a method used to analyse the wavelet and scale functions of each input signal before its resynthesis and morphing — and the resulting sound is a crossbreed between the acoustic properties of each signal.
Installation and authorisation is a simple process, after which Morph can be opened inside your VST host as an insert or send effect. Routing signal to Morph, on the other hand, is not so intuitive. The manual suggests starting with a stereo file, where the left channel is signal 'A' and the right channel is signal 'B'. Morph is then loaded as an insert on the stereo channel. In most cases this stereo file would have to be prepared in an audio editor from two sources beforehand. The alternative is to route two channels, panned left and right, to a stereo buss, with Morph as an insert on the buss. Unfortunately this means that it's not possible to perform stereo-to-stereo morphs, which would be fantastic for DJ users. Prosoniq attribute this to the constraints of the VST system, and tell me that it will be improved upon in forthcoming revisions when the VST architecture can keep up.
The interface itself is simple to use, with a wet/dry level control for each channel, solo buttons, and a moveable 'ball' in the centre which defines the balance and characteristics of the morph. MIDI control data can be used to control this, but the plug-in is also fully automatable, making a gradual morph between two sounds easy to achieve. Sound designers' ears should also be pricking up, as Morph makes creating new instruments and soundscapes possible — how about a flute/piano/tropical disease hybrid, the fluano?
Morph also incorporates a basic reverb, which has been kept simple to avoid processor strain; the quality of the reverb is thus slightly lacking, but nonetheless useful for previewing sounds. Of course there is nothing to stop you loading up your favourite, processor-hungry reverb, after Morph in the signal path. That said, I tested Morph in Cubase SX with a G4 iBook, and found it to be reasonably economical with processing power.
Of course, what we really care about is how it sounds — and the good news is that it sounds great! Morph 's perceptual analysis technique creates an interestingly musical output in comparison with that of a traditional vocoder, and sounds vastly different to a simple crossfade. You can hear various example files on Prosoniq's web site, and in the course of my testing I found that even two discordant sources could produce a consistently musical product. Interestingly, this is achieved through the implementation of a neural network (a hierarchy of listener perceptions) within Morph — presumably based on the resynthesis technology developed for the Neuron, which also used neural networks to help achieve its sounds.
In conclusion, if you're looking for a way to spice up your composition, production, or sound-design work, Morph might be just the thing, and with a freely downloadable demo available, you really have no excuse not to check it out! Duncan Williamson
£149.99 including VAT.
Turnkey +44 (0)20 7419 9999.
Formats: PC Direct X, RTAS & VST; Mac Audio Units, MAS, RTAS & VST
Wave Arts' latest and most ambitious release is the Power Suite, which sees their established Masterverb and Trackplug processors joined by Wave Surround, Multi Dynamics and Final Plug. All run at 32-bit internal resolution and at up to 96kHz sampling rates, and are also available separately, although buying the Power Suite will save you $200.
New features for all include OS X, MAS and RTAS support on the Mac and improved meter responses, but the most obvious change is a smarter user interface, including a new menu bar with Enable, Undo, A/B switching, Preset and File management options. I'd still prefer to see the current preset name displayed somewhere, but it's a clear improvement.
Masterverb and Trackplug are in essence unchanged since I reviewed them in April 2003 (www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr03/articles/plugin0403.asp), so I won't cover them again in detail. Wave Surround is a spatial enhancer that uses HRTF binaural processing, with a signal path containing optional reverb followed by 3D filters and crosstalk canceller. First, you set up the plug-in to reflect your actual monitoring situation — whether you're listening on headphones or speakers, and at what angle the speakers are set. Then you drag the Angle slider or the virtual speaker symbols to place your sounds. At the minimum 10 degrees your stereo image will be much narrower than normal, while as you increase the angle to 90 degrees the stereo field moves beyond the speakers, and may even appear to move behind you as you increase it still further to 120 degrees.
To enhance the effect there is a choice of filter settings: Off for dummy head or other binaural recordings, Flat to introduce the added realism of ITD (Interaural Time Delay) and IID (Interaural Intensity Difference) rendering, or Smooth, Medium or Sharp filtering, which incrementally improve spatial positioning at the expense of increasing tonal colouration. The optional reverb section is a slightly cut-down version of the Masterverb engine, and I found that adding just a subtle touch of reverb allowed many sounds to 'breathe' into their new space, creating an even bigger result, although you can easily go overboard with it for special pseudo-surround effects.
Although some people may dismiss it as a gimmick, I found Wave Surround capable of impressive results with suitable source material. With the widest 90 degree setting, I found the Flat setting very effective in making complete mixes sound much 'wider' through speakers while remaining reasonably mono-compatible (for those who still care about such things). Increasing the filter setting made it easier to pinpoint the instruments in their wider spread, at the expense of a slight harshness and less mono compatibility, making it more suitable for individual tracks like percussion. Narrower settings between 30 and 45 degrees also proved very effective for providing 'speaker-like' mixes when working with headphones, although going wider than 90 degrees didn't work with my ears at all under any conditions — sounds simply became impossible to pinpoint. However, Wave Surround provides far better results than simple anti-phase wideners, and earns its place alongside other great plug-ins for effective spatial enhancement including PSP's Stereo Enhancer and Waves' S1 Stereo Imager.
Multi Dynamics provides up to six bands of compression or expansion/gating, and each band you enable has its own set of rotary controls comprising Lo Gain, Threshold, Hi Gain, Ratio, Attack and Release. When the input signal level is below the Threshold (the orange ball in the Frequency and Dynamics response displays), the Lo gain (green triangle) value is used, and the Hi Gain (blue triangle) value when above it. With Lo greater than High you get a compressor, and with Hi greater than Lo you get an expander.
This interface is a variation on a theme adopted by most multi-band compressor plug-ins, although I found it easier to use than some once I got used to it; simultaneous adjustment of a particular parameter across all enabled bands is possible by dragging the appropriate 'All Bands' button up or down, making global changes much easier. Setting up is also greatly aided by the ability to listen to each band in isolation. There's also a good set of presets, including multi-band compression for vocals, guitar, bass and mastering (with some mild expansion for high bass frequencies), de-essing, reduction of background noise and noise gating. Overall, Multi Dynamics is an extremely versatile plug-in that can perform wonders after a little practice. Not all such offerings provide multi-band expansion, and I found this useful in transparently removing ambience from drum tracks.
As its name suggests, Final Plug is a peak limiter intended for use at the end of the signal chain, complete with bit-depth reduction and noise-shaped dithering. The idea is to look ahead in the waveform (1.5ms in this case) and rapidly duck any peaks exceeding the threshold value so that the overall level can be raised in as transparent a manner as possible.
Setting up Final Plug is easy: you just dial in a ceiling value above which the treated signal will never rise and a Release time, then drag the blue arrows indicating Threshold value down to achieve the required level increase. As long as the Attenuation meter only shows occasional flashes, I found I could normally raise the overall level by 3 to 6 dB in a totally transparent manner on most tracks, while increasing it further produced obvious but not necessarily undesirable pumping effects. The Truncate/Dither section is also straightforward, with a choice of final bit depth and a Shape for the dithering noise, which is displayed in a graphic window. Final Plug provides a wider selection of noise shapes than most pre-mastering plug-ins, with nine choices at 44.1kHz and two at 96kHz, although I doubt that you'll be able to hear the difference in most recordings.
Overall, although it only contains five plug-ins, Wave Arts' Power Suite provides a huge range of audio treatments including up to 10 bands of EQ, single-band compression, gating, multi-band compression and expansion, de-essing, stereo width enhancement, reverb, peak limiting, volume maximising, bit reduction and dithering. This makes the bundle excellent value at about £270, especially as each plug-in provides audio quality that's well up to professional standards, while being easy to use and doing its job with the minimum of CPU overhead. Martin Walker
Power Suite $499.95; Wave Surround $99.95; other individual plug-ins $149.95.