Formats: Mac RTAS, VST & Audio Units; PC RTAS & VST
Since analogue EQ is generally considered to be the reference in terms of sonic results, many software EQs attempt to recreate that type of character, and as a side-effect they tend to mimic the specifications, controls, and sometimes even the look of analogue hardware EQs. With Eqium, Elemental Audio have thrown that particular rule-book a considerable distance away, showing a refreshing propensity to think outside of the box. As a result, Eqium offers the user a possibly unparalleled degree of freedom.
For a start, Eqium lets you stack as many EQ filters as you wish, provided you have enough CPU power available. Each one of these filters can be parametric, low or high shelf (two types), low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, notch, harmonic 4 or harmonic 8. The latter two may need further explanation: they are parametric filters that are applied automatically not only to a fundamental, but also to its even harmonics, odd harmonics or both, with up to eight instances of the filter in total. The gain scale between the chosen fundamental (centre frequency) and its harmonics can be constant, increasing or decreasing. Since harmonics are often vital to the timbre of an instrument, these filters are excellent for lifting an individual instrument out of a full mix, provided of course that its pitch does not vary too much. It certainly works well for instance on a repetitive bass note, enhancing its presence in a more natural fashion than could be achieved with a simple parametric EQ.
Another nice touch is that, for each active filter, the stereo version of Eqium lets you apply different settings to the left and right channels. This makes a lot of sense when working with stereo tracks, especially full mixes that feature different instruments on either side. Furthermore, this stereo functionality is cleverly implemented: it only takes one mouse-click to group or ungroup the left and right sides of a filter, and the filter graph uses three colours to help visualise the left (blue), right (red) and combined (purple) filter curves.
Eqium allows you to edit filter settings by dragging 'handles' in the graph, or using cursors and arrows below it. If you use the graph handles, modifer keys allow you to restrict changes to the gain or centre frequency only. The Handlers are used to assign controllers in your host to the filters of your choice. Since you can use any number of filters simultaneously, an effective filter-management system is crucial to easy operation and this is provided as well. The filters can be ordered in the Created Filters area at the bottom left according to their identifier number, L and/or R channel assignment, centre frequency, gain setting, type or associated Handler. While the ergonomic features are too numerous to list comprehensively here, I must also mention the two 'workspaces' (edit buffers) that permit easy A/B comparisons, along with the solo function that allows the effect of a single filter to be monitored at any time.
As I suggested at the beginning of this review, Eqium offers a lot of freedom, and the cost of that freedom is immediacy. It's not that Eqium is any more difficult to use than it has to be, considering the extent of its abilities. In fact it is very well thought-out and could hardly be easier to approach. But this is not just a 'plug-and-go' equaliser. You will probably need to read the manual, or at least part of it, to get the full benefit of its features. While the manual in question is comprehensive and very well written, anyone seriously involved in music production and sound engineering expects to be able to use an EQ instantly, so the question is, is it worth it? Having tested Eqium on a number of tracks and compared it to a few of its competitors, I found that it held up very well sonically to other software EQs in the same price bracket, while offering more possibilities. When it comes to applying the final tweaks to a finished track, it could easily become your first choice... although Elemental Audio would probably like you to use their Firium mastering EQ for that. Since Eqium only uses CPU power according to the number of filters you activate and is available in mono and stereo, multiple instances can also be used for flexible channel EQ'ing. In short, it may be all that you need. And since a demo version is available, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Personally, I would not want to be without it.
Firium is a specialised stereo mastering EQ that uses Finite Impulse Response filters (FIR — hence its name, I gather), also known as linear-phase filters, and a clever graphical interface to deliver transparent equalisation with extremely precise control. Indeed, since filters of this type introduce a noticeable processing delay, they tend to be used in mastering plug-ins rather than channel plug-ins. If you decide to use Firum for an individual stereo pair of channels anyway, you will find a useful delay indication in the main display (this is invaluable if your host does not have automatic plug-in delay compensation). I tested Firium in the Soundscape Editor v4.0 and in Cubase SX 2.0, and the delay was reported as 3072 samples at 44.1kHz and 6144 samples at 96kHz in both programs, on a 1GHz Pentium III PC. The claimed benefit of FIR filters is that the audio does not suffer degradation through phase shift, and indeed Firium is extremely transparent and 'respectful' of the source material. It does not flatter by superimposing its own character on the audio, but nor does it introduce unpredictable artifacts alongside the correction that you apply.
Operationally, Firium is reminiscent of a graphic equaliser, in that you can draw a curve in the graph using 50 'control points' that span the frequency range. However, the facilities on offer far exceed those of a traditional graphic EQ. The curve can be shaped in a number of ways. Clicking above or below a control point will cause it to jump to the clicked position. The whole curve can also be drawn freehand by dragging the mouse in the graph. Finer adjustments can then be made by dragging individual control points, or by using the automatic Smooth function, which can be applied repeatedly if necessary. When the mouse pointer is directly on a control point, a circle appears around it to indicate 'coupling mode', in which dragging that control point will also move its neighbours according to a Gaussian (smooth) or geometric (more 'pointy') curve. The degree of coupling can be adjusted. Finally, in 'dynamic mode', the selected (circled) control point is dragged up or down to adjust the gain for the corresponding frequency, while dragging the mouse pointer horizontally will expand or narrow the filter. Further editing can be applied globally: the whole curve can be moved along the gain or frequency axis by using cursors, scaled, or inverted. Two buttons also allow you to move along the history of changes you have made.
Now to the deeper stuff: Firum always operates in one of 50 'states', which could be superficially described as EQ programs. You can move from state to state by using the cursor at the top of the Firum window and, of course, all edits made in a particular state are memorised. The big news is that using states allows you to morph between EQ curves. You could for instance create a state 1 EQ curve and a state 33 EQ curve, move to the State Overview mode, use the automatic Fill function to create intermediary EQ curves for states 2 to 32, then automate the movement of the State cursor to move gradually between states. The EQ states can be also be managed (copied or swapped) in State Overview mode, where they are presented as 50 curve diagrams. Note that while the History function keeps track of all the curve changes produced by moving between states, moving the History cursor does not change the current State. It took some experimentation to make sure of that, since I did not find confirmation in the otherwise very helpful manual.
Just like Eqium, Firium allows separate treatment of the left and right channels and uses different colours to display both curves simultaneously. In this respect Firium is even more flexible than Eqium: the channels can respond completely independently, they can be locked such that the left and right curves are identical and edits are applied to both, or they can be linked in Strong mode (where the overall curves may be different but new edits to a control point in either curve are also applied to the corresponding control point of the other curve) or in Weak mode, where control point edits for either curve are applied relatively to the corresponding control point of the other curve.
Firium also features a Match EQ ripping facility. This function analyses the spectral content of two different segments of audio and automatically defines an EQ curve which can then be applied to the 'target' segment so that it matches the frequency response of the 'source' segment.
Firum offers so much that I cannot cover everything here. I have focused on the essentials, but rest assured that all the ergonomic features you would expect are implemented, including two edit buffers (A and B) and visualisation of the left and right input and output signals. Overall, Firium is a fantastically flexible mixing tool. It provides excellent results, all the facilities you are likely to need and some that you probably won't need very often. Personally I would rarely use EQ matching, but this may be useful on occasions, for instance to tame excessive differences between successive tracks of an album, or to close the sonic gap between takes by the same performer recorded on different days or in different places. Most importantly, the overall sonic performance of the EQ is extremely good. I found that I could impose a rather large amount of correction without it being obvious, which is always a good sign. Adding 'air' to a track was particularly straightforward and pleasing, and generally, after appropriate adjustment, bypassing Firium caused the material to sound disappointing. At $129, Firium represents excellent value for money. At $169, the Firium/Eqium bundle has no equivalent that I am aware of. A demo version of Firium is available, so you can listen to it, get to grips with its interface and explore its numerous possibilities before deciding whether you want to part with your money. And while you're at it, have a look at the free Inspector analysis plug-in! Vincent Chenais
Eqium and Firium $129 each; Firium/Eqium bundle $169.
Formats: Mac & PC Powercore
Though the TC Powercore platform now comes with the Tubifex guitar amp modelling system as standard, TC30 is somewhat more specialised and is entirely dedicated to creating an accurate representation of that British classic guitar amplifier, the Vox AC30. We looked into the background of this rather unusual plug-in back in the May 2004 issue of Sound On Sound, where designer Stefan Moeller explained that he wanted to recreate exactly the sound of the Vox AC30 combined with Brian May's treble booster so that he could get that magical Queen guitar sound.
The operation of this plug-in is very simple as there are very few controls — the tremolo and top-cut tone control of the original have not been included. The treble booster, which was designed after studying circuits of the analogue original, has an additional three-way 'character' switch for Original, Crunch or Clean, while the Peak switch sets the resonant centre frequency to 0.5kHz, 1kHz, 2kHz or 4kHz to suit the guitar being used. Overdrive is set using the amp's Trim gain control (in conjunction with the treble booster settings) where a four-section LED meter monitors the input level and warns of clipping. You can even choose whether the speakers should 'move' or not as you play! TC's no-latency mode is supported by the plug-in, at the expense of increased CPU overhead, and there's also an oversampling mode for even better sonic fidelity that eats more heavily into the Powercore card's resources.
So far then, this looks disarmingly simple, but the real surprise is how good it sounds. It may not have many tonal tricks, but it responds beautifully to playing intensity and it captures that magical class-A guitar amp feel perfectly. I used to own two original Vox AC30s and I wasn't all that impressed with them, as to get a good sound, you had to turn them up so loud that everyone left! With this little plug-in, you can get that classic sound at any volume and it really works, especially if you have a Fender Strat, as it captures those hollow 'on the edge of distortion' tones marvellously well. Jimi Hendrix may have used a Marshall stack, but you can get 'that sound' very easily using TC30, providing you have the playing moves to go with it.
Having played with TC30 for a while, I think it is fair to say that it is strongest when dealing with bluesy tones, jangly clean tones or vintage pop sounds. It's a shame that the top boost channel and tremolo of the original haven't been included, but perhaps that's something for a future update? With the treble booster on full thrust, the Brian May sound is uncannily accurate, but again you have to be able to play like the man to sound like him, so my tests were quite limited in this respect! However, I hear Brian has a Powercore and a copy of TC30 himself now, so if you're reading this Brian, please let us know what you make of it. Paul White
252.63 Euros including VAT.
TC Electronic UK +44 (0)800 917 8926.