Could this plug‑in meet all your vocal‑polishing needs?
IK’s Joe Chiccarelli Vocal Strip can be used as a regular Mac/Windows DAW plug‑in or be hosted in their TRackS software, and it aims to deliver both the sound of the gear and the routing Joe uses for vocal processing.
Three compressors are connected in parallel with the dry signal, and there’s a de‑esser, a 20‑250 Hz high‑pass filter, a three‑band EQ, saturation, and echo and reverb effects. Large input and output faders make it easy to put the signal in the sweet spot and a tri‑colour LED acts as a basic level meter. There are some great presets, but this plug‑in cannot know how loud your original vocal was recorded, so if the gain reduction meters don’t move when you select a preset, first try turning up the input fader or use your DAW’s clip/channel gain before this plug‑in.
The de‑esser is very simple to operate, with an Amount control and a choice of two ess frequencies (6.4 or 7.6 kHz). The signal then flows into the parallel compression section, each compressor having a gain reduction meter and clip warning LED. Each compressor is set up using just an Amount control, but this is linked internally to multiple parameters and each compressor is different. Designated Main, Retro and Heavy, the first is based on a UREI 1176, the next on a Fairchild 670 and the third a UA 176, and each has an output level control and mute button, to adjust and help gauge their contribution to the parallel mix.
The EQ section, with Body, Air and Presence controls, can be switched to pre/post‑compression. Presence is another multi‑parameter macro control, and in the lower half of its range it applies a mid cut, while the upper half applies a mid boost. Air works on the high frequencies, while Body affects the lows and low mids.
Though each compressor is controlled using just an Amount control, this is internally linked to multiple parameters and each compressor is different.
Beneath the EQ, a simple vocal effects section has a Reverb control for adjusting the amount of added effect. Buttons A and B select the reverb type (Plate or Chamber). Size adjusts the decay, while Mod adds two adjustable pitch variations. The Echo control, another macro, simultaneously adjusts the delay effect level and the delay feedback. Again there are two types on offer, in this case Tape or Ping‑pong. Time sets the delay time, and a tempo‑sync facility offers a choice of values.
The master section includes a distortion section with Drive and Colour controls, the Dry/Wet control, and the output fader with its ‘traffic light’ LED meter. The reverb and delay effects come after the Dry/Wet control, so apply to the whole signal.
It takes a while to get used to how the compressors influence the overall sound and I recommend exploring the excellent presets to see how things are best set up. For my tests, I mainly used female vocals. The example I chose first needed more definition to help it cut through the mix, and several presets helped push it to the front, adding solidity and definition. Joe Chiccarelli’s CV includes many high‑profile rock acts, and this processing chain really helps lift vocals over a backing of heavy guitars. The Drive section, used sparingly, can add thickness to a voice that lacks weight and can also be pushed harder if you need a more obvious effect. I was also impressed by some of the treatments aimed at backing vocals, which lend voices an airy quality that helps them sit behind a main vocal without becoming ‘lost’. The EQ section is quick, easy and useful, since its bands are already tuned to key aspects of the human voice.
The reverbs and delays perform their functions without fuss, while managing to feel appropriate for most vocal styles — and if you prefer something different you can always dial them back and lean on your other plug‑ins.
I’m not always a big fan of do‑it‑all plug‑ins; generally, I’ll choose specific plug‑ins for each task. But I have to say that IK have succeeded in distilling Joe’s approach into an incredibly intuitive plug‑in that’s capable of excellent results across a range of vocal styles, from pop ballads to heavy rock. Its price means it won’t be an impulse purchase, but you get plenty for your money and there’s a free demo. Definitely worth checking out.
An easy to use and versatile vocal processing strip, with EQ, parallel compression, saturation, and reverb and delay effects.