Formats: Mac VST & MAS, PC VST
TC Works were in at the start of the software plug-in explosion; I reviewed their original Native Reverb way back in SOS March 1998, and the entire Native Bundle version 2 in SOS July 1999. The latest version comprises a reverb, compressor/de-esser, limiter, graphic EQ and parametric EQ (all of which were featured in the original), plus a completely new filter. To make the most of my space here I'll concentrate on the differences and new features.
The Compressor/De-esser (previously named DeX) has had its familiar Attack, Release, Threshold and Ratio controls supplemented by more unusual ones like Soft Knee Width, which varies the transition from hard to smooth, and Hold Time, which delays the start of the release phase to emulate a range of compressor designs. You can also set up ducking effects using up to two additional SideChainer plug-ins.
The Limiter is ideal for maximising the level of recordings in a transparent manner, just like Waves' L1 and L2Ultramaximisers. Both Limiter and Compressor/De-esser sound to my ears almost identical to the version 2.0 plug-ins; both also have exactly the same CPU overhead as before, and neither exhibits any latency.
Graphic EQ offers either seven, 14 or 28 bands, and a 'draw your own curve' graphic window makes it very easy to use, while Parametric EQ provides up to seven bands of parametric, low shelf, high shelf and notch filtering, plus a handy joystick to add overall loudness/air contributions to your current response. Both EQs sound noticeably more open and natural to my ears than their version 2.0 counterparts, particularly at extreme settings. Both also use slightly more CPU than before, but this is largely academic since they each took between 1 and 2 percent of my Pentium III 1GHz processor, and I'm pleased that TC Works have concentrated on improving the sound rather than being tempted to shave off CPU cycles.
The two EQs and Compresssor/De-esser also provide on/off buttons and 'magic eye' indicators for the optional Soft Sat algorithm. This contributes subtle amounts of odd-harmonic distortion to add some 'analogue warmth' to the sound, and works extremely well.
TC Works have made even more extensive improvements to their Native Reverb Plus, with an enhanced algorithmic engine featuring additional parameters, and a significantly upgraded user interface. The Shape control has the same Round, Curved and Square options, but the Size parameter now sits more sensibly alongside, to adjust the scaling of these initial reflections, as well as the graphic image size. The Diffuse control determines the density of wall reflections as before, while Color adjusts high and low-frequency damping and EQ with one handy grabbable control, but has two new sliders alongside labelled Lo and Hi Factor. These provide significant extra control over reverb quality, and unless my ears deceive me they offer far more than simple EQ, sounding as if they are placed in some sort of feedback connection that allows the quality of the reverb tail to change over time.
TC have incorporated many of the remaining controls into a graphic time/amplitude display akin to those found on their more upmarket products. This lets you control the level and start time of early reflections, and the level, start time, and decay time of the reverb tail, all by clicking and dragging your mouse. This makes it far easier to understand what's going on, and I'm surprised TC Works didn't use a similar approach with the I/O transfer characteristic of their compressor.
You can still get the version 2 sound by setting the Factor controls to their mid positions, but the version 3 reverb tails do seem more transparent, and I certainly didn't mind the overhead increasing from 3.4 to 4.2 percent on my PC. Moreover, the new controls allow far more versatile results ranging from the usual rooms, halls, and arenas to special effects such as Crispy Sizzler and Ice. However, TC's native reverbs can't use the same amount of DSP as their higher-end DSP-assisted siblings, and like its predecessor, Native Reverb Plus can exhibit a slight metallic coloration, particularly on long reverb tails. Nevertheless, it's a fine reverb for the price, far more versatile than before, and only available as part of this bundle.
Filtrator is totally new, and is essentially a filter with LFO and envelope-follower modulation, followed by an overdrive section. The filter can be set to high-pass or low-pass operation, with 12, 18 or 24 dB/octave slope and a variable resonant peak at the cutoff point, all set by a couple of switches and a graphic filter response window. The fun starts once you modulate the filter frequency. The envelope follower has Attack, Hold and Decay controls, while the LFO offers sine, sawtooth, square and random (sample & hold) waveforms, and can be synchronised to MIDI Clock when using a suitable VST-compatible host application.
The central Modulation Display is a 'fish-eye' oscilloscope that displays the combined mod waveform, controlled via two sliders around its periphery that let you add variable amounts of the two mod sources in either positive or negative directions. Normally the In Phase switch applies an identical effect to both stereo channels, but disengaging it reverses the modulation phase of one channel to dramatic effect as the filters sweep in opposite directions.
Once you start to push up the Drive control in the Amplifier section you run first into mild saturation and then hard clipping. This is due to odd-harmonic distortion as used in the Soft Sat algorithm, which is once again provided as a more subtle option, while the Damp control rolls off the upper harmonics if you want a rounder and smoother result. The display is completed by input and output gain controls and a pair of novel LED level meters.
As you might expect, once you combine all the facilities at your disposal you can get some fascinating effects ranging from synchronised sweeping filters, through growls and roars, swirling grunge and self-oscillation, to R2D2 impersonations. I'd have liked a wet/dry mix control to let some of the original signal through, but perhaps you can't have everything.
In addition to whatever preset facilities are provided by the host application, all the Native Bundle plug-ins now offer additional dedicated load/save options that save discrete files for each preset, and let you sort them into nested category folders, rather like you can with Waves plug-ins. This is potentially very useful, but unlike the Waves implementation, ends up being most confusing, since the new nested version 3 preset name isn't displayed after you select it, but the old version 2 presets are still available for compatibility reasons via the host application, which often displays the name of the one currently selected. So, if you do see a name displayed, it's only valid if you've chosen it via the host application, while you'll never know which version 3 preset you chose. Just as confusing is that most version 2 presets don't appear in the version 3 list.
TC Works' Native Bundle has always had a good reputation, and version 3 will only enhance that. If you purchased version 2 after July 1st 2002 you can get a free update to the new version, but I suspect its various improvements will also encourage more longstanding users to upgrade as well, especially at only $39. I suspect plenty of new users will also be tempted by Filtrator after downloading the free demo version, and for around £50 each these plug-ins are good value for money. Niggles apart, this is an impressive collection overall, and I expect it to do well.
£299 including VAT; upgrade from any other Native Bundle version $39; upgrade from Native Reverb, Native Essentials, or Steinberg bundle $199.
At the Frankfurt Musikmesse, TF Pro were showing Boomedia's Studio Weapons plug-in pack. This contains no fewer than 17 plug-ins: 10 instruments and seven effects. The instruments include bass and lead synths, an x0x-style drum box, a sample-based percussion instrument and a multi-faceted 'groovestation', while the effects cover delays, modulation effects and filters. Studio Weapons should be in shops by the time you read this, and will cost £129 including VAT.
New Born Music have released a monophonic Windows synth plug-in called Grenade, which combines subtractive and FM synthesis and features waveshaping distortion and built-in chorus effect. The full version costs a modest $17.95.
The MultiVSTShell wrapper for running VST plug-ins within Digidesign's Pro Tools (see March's Pro Tools Notes) has been updated to include the missing MSP Pi file and fix a few minor gremlins. Author Roger Carruthers suggests that the single-instrument Minishell may actually be more useful, as it has a much lower CPU load, and also points out that you don't need to open the DSP Status window to get it working (as was stated in Pro Tools Notes) — you can simply click the DSP On/off button.