Arboretum's latest Hyperprism suite of effects and processors offers no less than 29 modules, at an average price of less than £10 each. JANET HARNIMAN COOK gets plugged in.
The Arboretum Hyperprism suite of professional sound design tools has been a favourite of audio engineers in the film, broadcast, games and music recording industries since 1995, when Hyperprism made its debut as a plug‑in for the Mac‑based Digidesign ProTools TDM system. Hyperprism was used in the soundtrack recording of motion pictures including The Fifth Element, Contact, Pulp Fiction, Speed, Apollo 13 and The Flintstones, and features on recent album projects by recording artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Duran Duran, White Zombie and Public Enemy.
Hyperprism is now available for Windows 95 Pentium PCs as well as Macs, and is the latest megastar to join the DirectX audio plug‑in firmament which, over the last few months, has witnessed the appearance of stunning studio‑quality software from major developers including Waves, Steinberg, Sonic Foundry, Opcode, TC Works and Power Technology.
The Hyperprism Plug‑in Pack comprises 29(!) audio processing modules. These not only cover most essential studio processing requirements, but are also capable of exotic routines more typically encountered in the realms of sound design and synthesis. Audio data is processed with 32‑bit floating‑point internal precision, to ensure pristine sound quality.
The PC version — Hyperprism DX — was used for this review. It conforms to the MS DirectX audio plug‑in standard and features a real‑time preview function so that parameter changes can be auditioned as you make them. Like all DirectX audio plug‑ins, Hyperprism DX requires a compatible host program, and Cubase VST 3.553, Cakewalk Pro Audio 7, Sound Forge 4.0d, WaveLab 2.0 and Cool Edit Pro 1.1 were used to run Hyperprism for this review.
Inside the Hyperprism box are the software license agreement, the user registration card, and a dual‑platform CD‑ROM that contains the Hyperprism installation files, a collection of audio files for tutorial use, utilities and demos for the Mac, and the on‑line manual. The last is in HTML format, and can be viewed using a web browser such as Navigator or Internet Explorer. Technical support is available free of charge to all registered owners (email your query to firstname.lastname@example.org), and telephone support is available directly from Arboretum Systems or through their UK distributor Unity Audio. If you have access to the Internet you can download, free of charge, fully‑working versions of the Hyperprism Ring Modulator, Echo and Vibrato plug‑ins from the Arboretum Systems website.
What's Up Doc?
I'm not a fan of on‑line manuals, and when faced with learning large applications I would much prefer a printed version. The on‑line Hyperprism manual is mercifully short, covering the installation routine and the details of the various parameter functions that control each Hyperprism processor, and providing a few simple tutorials using wave files included on the CD‑ROM. Experienced users should experience little difficulty in learning the various Hyperprism DX routines, and even newcomers should fare well, thanks to extensive Windows Help and the fact that most modules contain a selection of factory presets.
Installation went without a hitch: the Hyperprism modules duly appeared in the DirectX menus of the different host applications, and no compatibility problems were encountered. Windows 95 users may find the Hyperprism DX workspace a tad stark and utilitarian — no psychedelic plasma level meters or sexy 3D graphic modelling here! — but the interface is uncluttered and easy to negotiate, although I would prefer a layout that made better use of space, as the Hyperprism DX interface occupies about 40% of the total screen area on my PC.
The appearance of the Hyperprism DX modules varies slightly depending on the host application that is used; the interface consists of the distinctive Blue Window gesture‑orientated control panel, the output level faders (+/‑18dB), the Preview, Process and Preset buttons, and the horizontal parameter faders, which feature user‑definable range scaling, to enable more accurate targeting of parameter hot‑spots than can be achieved using the default range settings. I was slightly surprised by the absence of level metering, but this is not a huge problem, as you can use the meters provided by your host application.
The Blue Window
Depending on the module being used, the Hyperprism Blue Window may feature up to six different processing parameters that will react in unison whenever the Blue Window icon is dragged around the blue play zone. Arboretum describe this as their gestural interface environment, and each parameter under Blue Window control may be assigned to respond to either horizontal or vertical pointer movement, with parameter changes reflected by the automatic repositioning of the associated parameter faders. I found the Blue Window control surface efficient and fun to use — it provides a quick way of exploring the sonic capabilities of each processor and, if used experimentally, yields a wealth of creative opportunities for real‑time audio manipulation. It is in the area of real‑time manipulation that the Blue Window environment shows its true potential. Although Macintosh versions of Hyperprism allow you to record Blue Window movements as a sequence, this will sadly not be possible on the PC until a native version of Hyperprism DX for Cubase VST PC becomes available. Of course, this does not prevent you from recording the Blue Window changes as you make them in Preview mode, either to a new audio file on the PC if you have multi‑channel audio capability, or to an external recorder such as DAT or ADAT.
I found the Blue Window control surface efficient and fun to use — it provides a quick way of exploring the sonic capabilities of each processor.
Hyperprism DX offers four types of filter: High‑pass, Low‑pass, Band‑pass and Band‑reject. A high‑pass filter has a definable cut‑off frequency below which frequencies are attenuated, while those above this point pass through the filter unaffected; the steepness of the filter slope is defined by the level of attenuation or boost per octave that is applied at the cut‑off frequency: a 6dB/octave slope will result in a gentle roll‑off, whereas a 90dB/octave slope results in a steep 'brick wall' effect. A common application for high‑pass filtering would be the removal of unwanted low‑frequency components such as bass rumble. Low‑pass filters work in the same way, but spectral elements above the defined cut‑off frequency are rejected while those below remain unchanged, so low‑pass filtering may be used to remove hiss and other spurious high‑frequency sounds. Rather than having a single cut‑off point, like high‑pass and low‑pass filters, a band‑pass filter has a definable frequency range that can be boosted or attenuated, and signals outside of this bandwidth pass through the filter unchanged; a band‑reject filter acts in the opposite way — the defined bandwidth is excluded from the filtering process. The Hyperprism filters feature variable Q and smoothing, and are useful for a variety of basic studio equalisation functions but, sadly, more complex multi‑band processing is at present beyond the scope of Hyperprism.
Delay And Reverb
Three delay processors — Single, Multi and Echo — are available in Hyperprism. The first is a simple single repeat with a maximum two‑second delay time; Multi provides a three‑element delay with user‑defined times of up to two seconds for the first two repeats and the third delay time determined by the sum of the two; Echo is identical to Single Delay, but with the addition of a feedback parameter. This produces a richer, fatter multiple‑delay texture by mixing a proportion of the output signal with the incoming audio.
The Hyperprism manual makes great claims for the Hyperverb — and with justification, for Hyperverb is one of the clearest, most natural sounding reverbs I've ever heard, and although both the simpler Hall and Medium Room reverb algorithms sound very good, the acoustic ambience created by Hyperverb really is quite remarkable in its realism.
Six Hyperverb parameters (pre‑delay, diffusion, brightness, early/late reflections balance, reverb time (decay) and master wet/dry mix) can be assigned to Blue Window control, and in addition the room size and early reflection characteristics can be adjusted.
Hyperprism DX features eight modulation processors, as follows:
Phaser: This produces a good range of effects, including a sweet, whispering phase shift that I found similar in character to that produced by vintage guitar devices. It features variable delay (0‑2000mS), depth, feedback and base frequency (which defines the frequency at which processing starts).
Flanger: The Flanger works by adding an LFO‑controlled variable delay to the input signal and mixing this with the incoming audio to produce a comb‑filter effect; you can control the speed, depth, feedback and mix to produce a wide range of sounds, from gentle, animated filter sweeps to more intrusive, resonant effects. In my opinion, this is one of the best plug‑in flangers on the market, and it reminded me of the lush comb filtering I used to get from my vintage Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress foot pedal — albeit without the noise and distortion!
Chorus: The Hyperprism Chorus is capable of producing lush textures when used on voices and with pad sounds, but the lack of presets makes it difficult to assess its full capabilities.
Hyperverb is one of the clearest, most natural sounding reverbs I've ever heard.
Tremolo & Vibrato: These effects are created by applying, respectively, amplitude or pitch modulation to the input signal. Both processors perform well, and may be used, for example, to add expression to keyboard lead lines and string pads.
Ring Modulator: This is an oddball effect that is typically enharmonic and metallic in texture. The input signal acts as a carrier, which is modulated by a second signal to generate a composite signal made up from the sum and difference of the carrier signal and the modulator. If the carrier signal is 200Hz and the modulator is 50Hz, for example, the composite output signal will be a mix of signals at 250Hz and 150Hz. The Ring Modulator is great for creating special effects such as robot voices, and can produce spectacular results when used to process drum and percussion tracks.
Frequency Shifter: Similar effects to the Ring Modulator can be obtained with the Frequency Shifter, which maintains the harmonic series as it moves along the spectrum. The lowest frequency in the original sound still corresponds to the lowest frequency in the new sound and no new low sidebands are created, as with the Ring Modulator.
Vocoder: The Hyperprism Vocoder is a little unusual in the way it works: to prepare material for processing, you must first create a stereo audio file with the carrier signal in one channel and the modulator signal in the other. The Vocoder analyses the modulator signal and applies imitative 26‑band filtering to the carrier signal; adjusting the modulator parameter allow the carrier and modulator roles of each channel to be reversed. This processor is very musical and is capable of producing pristine‑quality classic vocoder sounds.
Six methods of stereo manipulation are featured in Hyperprism:
Pan & Auto Pan shift the sound across the stereo field, Pan simply placing the sound in a fixed position while Auto Pan employs an LFO envelope to dynamically shift the stereo position of the sound during playback.
Quasi Stereo imparts stereo qualities to a mono signal using complementary comb‑filtering techniques.
More Stereo extends the perceived boundaries of the stereo image beyond the left and right speakers, creating an enhanced sense of space.
M+S Matrix provides virtual M‑S decoding facilities, and Blue Window controllers can be used to tweak the apparent width of the stereo image.
Stereo Dynamics claims to dynamically locate the input signal front to back in the stereo field, as well as left to right, but I confess to being unconvinced — perhaps the process is too subtle for my ears!
Hyperprism includes easy to use Noise gate and Compressor modules, plus a rather good Limiter. These effects exhibit the same high processing quality as the rest of the suite and although not possessing the same versatility and power as, for instance, the Waves C1+, they nonetheless perform the simpler studio dynamic processing tasks well enough.
Two modules complete the set. The Pitch Changer adjusts the frequency of the input by plus or minus 200% (+1 octave) and, like many of the Hyperprism processors, provides tremendous scope for effects designers. The same goes for the Sonic Decimator, which degrades the input signal by simulating the effect of reducing the bit‑rate of the audio sample, complete with a reduction in bandwidth and dynamic range, and an increase in noise and digital distortion. Tomorrow's Retro today, anyone?
The new modules available in v1.5 of Hyperprism DX (which also corrects a couple of bugs from v1.0) are a valuable bonus — especially the Hyperverb and the Vocoder — and the new factory presets and Windows Help are also very welcome. However, this pack faces fierce competition in the PC audio plug‑in market, not only from processing bundles such as Waves Native Power Pack, Power Technology DSP Effects and Sonic Foundry XFX 1 and XFX 2, but also from the high standard of onboard processing available in host applications such as Cubase VST, WaveLab and Sound Forge. Time‑stretching, multi‑band equalisation and frequency‑conscious dynamic processing are conspicuous by their absence, but despite this, Hyperprism DX 1.5 is unarguably the most versatile DirectX bundle currently available, and makes the ideal complement to the processing facilities provided by the Waves Native Power Pack.
To sum up, Hyperprism DX is a true professional quality plug‑in suite that can be safely recommended. It should soon become an industry standard in PC‑based audio production facilities involved in mastering, broadcast and film post production, multimedia, game design and music recording.
Hyperprism DX is a Windows 95 native application and is not compatible with earlier versions of the MS Windows operating system. To run it you will need a DirectX compatible host application and a Pentium PC equipped with an Intel 166 MMX (or better) processor, at least 32Mb RAM and a fast EIDE, UDMA or SCSI hard drive.
The reference PC used for this review is an Intel Pentium 233MMX with SuperMicro ATX motherboard, 512k pipeline burst cache, 64Mb SDRAM, 4Mb Virge DX PCI graphics card, running 1080 x 868 x 64k colours on a 17‑inch monitor, with Creamware TripleBoard & Turtle Beach Fiji audio cards, Adaptec 2940 PCI SCSI card, Fujitsu EIDE & UDMA AV hard drives, and a Logitec Marble optical trackball (very cool for Blue Window control).
Hyperprism DX In Brief
- 4 Filters: Band‑pass, Band‑reject, High‑pass, Low‑pass.
- 8 Modulation processors: Phaser, Flanger, Chorus, Tremolo, Vibrato, Ring Modulation, Vocoder, Frequency Shifter.
- 3 Delays: Single, Multi, Echo.
- 3 Reverbs: Hyperverb, Medium Room, Hall.
- Stereo Manipulation: Pan, Auto Pan, Quasi Stereo, Stereo Dynamics, More Stereo, M+S Matrix.
- Dynamics: Noise gate, Compressor, Limiter.
- Miscellaneous processes: Pitch Shift, Sonic Decimator.
Hyperprism For Mac
The Hyperprism Plug‑in Pack also includes three versions specifically for Macintosh computers:
- Hyperprism MMP is for Power Macintosh Premiere‑format programs.
- Hyperprism DAS is for Digidesign Audiosuite.
- Hyperprism VST runs with Cubase VST.
Hyperprism is also available in TDM format for Digidesign Pro Tools systems.
- Great sound.
- Good value.
- Huge weirdness potential.
- Innovative Blue Window control surface.
- Excellent Hyperverb reverb module.
- No native support for Cubase VST PC or Windows NT.
- Interface could be more compact.
- No multi‑band EQ or time‑stretching.
This suite provides a solid core of 29 professional‑quality audio processors, and offers tremendous scope for experimental sound design. Highly recommended.