Most SOS readers will be familiar with the concept of ducking, whereby a compressor has its side-chain fed from a control source forcing the signal passing through the compressor to duck in level whenever the control source signal is present. We hear this every day when DJs talk all over our favourite records, forcing the music to dip in level to make way for their scintillating chat.
Peak Rider 2 also controls the output level of a track by an amount based on a side-chain input (which may either be external or an equalised version of the main input), but it offers a number of different processing modes, the option of full-band or three-way split-band processing and a master mix control for setting up parallel processing effects. It is able to match the volume envelope of one signal to another — or to subtract the volume envelope of one signal from another. It can also be used as an expander, or to EQ a signal without changing its dynamics.
How Peak Rider reacts to a side-chain input is determined by the Mode switch, which offers the choice of Exact, Noboost, Duck, Expand and EQ functions. If Internal is used as a side-chain source, a set of filter/EQ controls can be used to modify the side-chain input so that level of the main input is matched to that of the filtered side-chain, allowing for frequency-selective compression, such as de-essing. There’s also the option of feeding the side-chain input from a sine tone or from filtered noise, the latter being useful if you want to make the signal being processed ride at a fairly constant level. As with a compressor, there are Attack and Decay time controls (and you get three sets if operating in split-band mode) with a third control labelled Trans, which changes the shape of the decay curve. Decay and Trans work together to finesse the decay character of the gain change envelope.
In Exact mode, the plug-in attempts to adjust the level of the input signal, both upwards and downwards, to match the envelope of the side-chain input, within a gain range limited by the Range control. Noboost mode, as its name implies, is an attenuation-only version of the same idea. Duck mode does as expected: as the side-chain envelope level approaches that of the main input, gain reduction is applied progressively up to the maximum set by the Gain control. The Range knob is disabled in this mode as it is not needed.
Expand Mode can be very useful in drying overly ambient sounds, for adding impact to transients or simply for reducing the level of spill or noise. Here the input signal level is, in essence, multiplied by the side-chain signal’s envelope. To set this up, it is necessary to adjust the Sensitivity control until the meter ring around the knob reaches the top centre bar on the loudest peaks. Finally, EQ mode is a clever idea which, in effect, allows you to change the tone of a sound without accidentally altering its dynamics. An equaliser with up to 12 bands is applied to the main signal, but the unprocessed signal is sent to the side-chain.
Global controls include a wet/dry Mix control for parallel processing, though this can cause phase issues around the crossover points in multiband mode, L-R or M-S stereo processing and a choice of Peak, RMS or Smooth detection characteristic. The Smooth setting takes a longer view, averaging the levels over what seems to be a few seconds, but this also introduces more latency so is only really suitable in mixing situations.
It takes a while to get your head around all the options, but what can be achieved is worth the effort, as this plug-in covers a lot of dynamic processing ground. Drums can be expanded in multiband mode to achieve a drier, tighter sound with far fewer giveaway artifacts than you’d hear in single-band mode. The filters can be used to pull back or push forward specific drums in a kit, or the tonality of the overall kit can be changed by configuring Peak Rider as a three-band compressor where each band has its own level control. Conventional compression, expansion or ducking can easily be achieved, and the band-split option invariably results in a more natural-sounding outcome. If you want something less natural, that’s there too: feed in a drum kit and extract only a radically EQ’d snare, for example. And it doesn’t stop with drums by any means.
To make best use of the plug-in you need to have a decent understanding of dynamic processors in general, both single and multiband, as well as the imagination to think of new ways of applying it; although the manual tells you what all the controls do, it could benefit from a few more hints and tips on what you can actually achieve using the different modes. All in all, though, there’s no doubt that this is an extremely powerful plug-in that’s designed to stay with you for the long haul rather than offering instant gratification.