IK Multimedia take home-studio mastering to the MAX — and beyond!
Software-based DIY audio mastering is now an accepted necessity for most independent musicians. IK Multimedia's T‑RackS is one of the more long-standing options for the task. Paul White reviewed the original version way back in SOS February 2000 issue, while more recent versions have been covered in the April 2009 and May 2013 issues, with consistently positive conclusions. It has now arrived at version 5, with four interesting new modules added, a stylish redesign of the stand-alone interface, improvements to the underlying audio engine, more comprehensive 'broadcast-ready' metering tools and options for album-style mastering with a montage view for sequencing tracks. The latter includes export options such as Disc Description Protocol (DDP) image for replication purposes.
T‑RackS started life as a stand-alone application, offering a modest, but well-featured, suite of processors comprising mastering-style EQ, compression and multiband limiting. The feature list has expanded considerably since then, and all the individual processing options are now available as separate plug-ins for use within any suitable Windows or OS X host. The latest iteration of the software continues the multi-format approach, with VST2, VST3, AU and AAX plug-in versions included alongside the stand-alone program.
T‑RackS 5 comes in four flavours. The free T‑RackS Custom Shop includes the Classic EQ module and an in-app store where you can buy further processing options individually, while the paid-for T‑RackS 5, T‑RackS 5 Deluxe and T‑RackS 5 MAX come with bundles of nine, 22 and 38 processors respectively. There is a substantial discount on the MAX version for existing IK Multimedia customers, and the in-app store is available in all versions, so you're not limited to the tools bundled with the standard or Deluxe versions. For the purposes of this review, I had access to the MAX version.
The stand-alone interface has had a significant makeover for T‑RackS 5. Beneath the topmost menu/control strip, the default layout splits the resizeable windows into six panels. On the left are the preset browser and clip list. The former offers presets for both full signal chains and individual processors. The latter is where you load and sequence your individual audio files. Each clip can have its own processing chain.
Top right is the metering panel, which offers peak, RMS, LUFS and dynamic range readings, customisable for different musical and broadcast applications. Bottom right is the processor browser, from where you can drag and drop processors into the larger, lower-central panel that, by default, shows the processor signal-chain for the current audio clip. You can also reorder the signal chain and create parallel processing pathways. Each chain can contain up to 16 processors, the last of which is always the new Master Match even if it is not active. Finally, the panel top centre shows the interface for the currently selected processor.
The signal chain panel can also be toggled to a waveform view, with a Snapshots function allowing up to eight different settings configurations for your processing chain to be switched automatically along the waveform timeline. The menu bar also includes four slots that can hold different signal-chain configurations for each audio clip, making it easy to explore...
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