PC DirectX only
Cakewalk's FX3 Soundstage is, in essence, a reverb, but that description hardly prepares you for the virtual room simulation that is its user interface. There are two main pages in the plug‑in window, Performers and Room. The Room page provides a floor plan with seven 'grab‑and‑draggable' wall junctions which you use to create a suitable set of walls for your room. If you want a simpler structure like a rectangular room, you simply place several walls in a straight line, and quite a variety of basic shapes can easily be constructed. The size of the room is determined using the Scale slider beneath the floor plan, so you can quickly create anything from a bathroom to a cathedral with the same basic shape — a second slider alters ceiling height. The associated Response section lets you choose your building materials by adjusting Absorption, Trapping, and High‑Frequency Damping.
Even more fascinating is the Microphones section. Apart from letting you drag and drop the stereo mic pair anywhere within your room, you can also rotate it, and change the angle between the mics (anywhere between 0 and 180 degrees). As if that's not enough, you can alter the separation anywhere between coincident (0 feet) and the longest stereo bar you've ever seen (100 feet!). Not content with this, FX3 also lets you choose the virtual mic's polar pattern from a choice of Omni, Cardioid, Super‑Cardioid, Hyper‑Cardioid, and Bi‑Directional (figure‑of‑eight).
The size of the room is determined using the Scale slider beneath the floor plan, so you can quickly create anything from a bathroom to a cathedral... a second slider alters ceiling height.
The Performers page takes the range of options even further, and allows you to view your room design in full 3D splendour — the trackball graphic lets you rotate the entire room so that you can view it from any angle, and you can also zoom in and out using two buttons. When the walls obscure your view of the interior you can remove them from the display. A static screenshot hardly does justice to the graphics — when I tried this out at the Frankfurt Musikmesse I soon drew a crowd! The main function of this page is to let you set up the position and equalisation for up to 20 performers. These act like virtual loudspeakers, so that you simulate a sound source at various desired positions within the room with respect to the stereo mic pair.
Each performer can have a different EQ, with Low Shelf, High Shelf, and Parametric Mid settings. There are two Modes: mono takes either a mono input or mixes a stereo one down to mono to provide a point source, while Stereo In nominates two performers to receive the Left and Right input signals. The idea is that you can set up an environment for an ensemble of players, and then by choosing each in turn add the reverb characteristics for that position in the room. By recording the reverb for each player in turn you could build up an extremely realistic simulation. You could also quickly set up the effect of a single player in different positions in the same room. This plug‑in provides a vast range of quality reverb effects.
The FX3 Soundstage interface may scream gimmick to some people, and I must admit that a few of the settings didn't do quite what I expected, but the range of effects is astonishing, and audio quality is on a par with the best of them. However, the beauty of this plug‑in is that not only do you learn more about acoustics, but you can also create some wonderful off‑the‑wall (excuse the pun) effects that are unobtainable elsewhere. If you want a stand‑alone quality reverb this is highly recommended, and at £139 also qualifies as a bargain! Martin Walker