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TC Works PowerCore v1.5

DSP Effects Card [Mac/PC] By Paul White
Published March 2002

TC Works' Master X3 multi-band mastering dynamics processor.TC Works' Master X3 multi-band mastering dynamics processor.

TC's DSP-powered effects board has been upgraded, and now includes a much more impressive plug-in bundle.

TC's PowerCore PCI card enables high-quality DSP-powered plug-ins to be accessed and controlled within a VST or MAS environment. Mac-only when I first reviewed it in SOS June 2001, it has now been updated to include PC support, a more efficient interface with lower CPU loading, multiple card support and more bundled plug-ins to augment the existing MegaVerb, Chorus/Delay and EQSat. The new TC Vintage CL is a general-purpose compressor/limiter, of which the card will run up to 24 at once, while TC VoiceStrip offers compression, de-essing, vocal EQ, low-cut filter and gate. The compression has a switchable 'vintage sound' mode and Soft Sat, which goes some way towards emulating tube/tape warmth. Better still, those buying PowerCore before March 2002 get TC's Master X3 multi-band mastering dynamics processor (above) thrown in: using the same algorithms as TC's Finalizer processors, this offers compression, expansion, limiting and dithering for bit-rate reduction. What's more, as an incentive to register your PowerCore, TC are offering the TC PowerCore 01 monosynth, modelled on the Roland SH101, for free download.

Testing

The main complaint most users had against PowerCore in its original incarnation was that fully loaded, it could eat up between a third and half of a typical computer's processing power, even though its raison d'être is to take the load away from your CPU! I was, therefore, pleased to see that with my 450MHz Mac G4, running eight stereo reverbs on eight audio tracks in version 1.5 placed less than a 10 percent load on my machine according to the Audio Performance meters in Logic Audio. The quality of the plug-ins is impressive, especially the reverb, which compares well with the mid-priced TC hardware units, while Master X is a very real incentive to buy before March: in combination with EQSat it provides the key functionality of a Finalizer. I'm also glad to see Vintage CL included — it sounds smooth and has the benefit of a limiter that can be used at the same time as the compressor — while VoiceStrip shares the same intuitive interface and is a cracking good plug-in for polishing vocals.

Summing Up

The original PowerCore was worthwhile just for its ability to offer high-end reverb. In its new form, it eats far less CPU resources, and comes with a full suite of plug-ins which cover all the key areas of recording and mixing. PC support opens up the potential market enormously and a number of third-party plug-in announcements are expected soon. PowerCore is now a genuine alternative to upgrading your computer, and it could be argued that it still provides more plug-in power than even the most powerful native systems along with possibly the best in-computer reverb around.

PowerCore And Latency

Some PowerCore users have been concerned about the latency it introduces into a computer system; and while this hasn't changed, explaining what occurs may help users get the best out of it. The latency of PowerCore is directly related to the buffer size set up in the host program, so if you have a buffer of 512 samples, then PowerCore will introduce that amount of latency (10.6 milliseconds at 48kHz) for each plug-in that's connected in series. However, if you were to put one plug-in into each of several audio tracks, the delay would still only be 512 samples — you only get cumulative latency when stacking up several PowerCore plug-ins in one audio track. In most cases you can get by with a much smaller buffer size, and if you're only using PowerCore plug-ins, you can often get down to a 128mS buffer for up to 10 plug-ins and sometimes as low as 64mS for up to five.

Most, but not all, modern sequencer programs provide automatic plug-in delay compensation, in which case you only have to consider latency when overdubbing. Those who used PowerCore in other applications that don't include delay compensation, however, found that their tracks were delayed by different amounts when mixing, depending on how many PowerCore plug-ins they were using. For people using such software, PowerCore now comes with a TC Compensator plug-in, which runs on the host computer rather than the card. This automatically reads the buffer size and then offers delay in increments of that buffer size, enabling the user to line up non-PowerCore audio tracks with the PowerCore tracks by routing them through TC Compensators, set as insert plug-ins with the requisite settings.

Pros

  • Very cost-effective when you consider the number of bundled plug-ins.
  • Places little load on the host CPU.
  • Includes very high-quality reverb.
  • Works with any Mac or PC program that supports VST or MAS plug-ins.

Cons

  • Limited third-party commitment as yet.
  • Introduces one buffer size of additional latency.

Summary

PowerCore provides a very attractive alternative to buying a state-of-the-art computer.

information

£999 including VAT.

TC Electronic UK +44 (0)800 917 8926.

www.tcelectronic.com

Published March 2002