PSP Audio Ware Plug-ins
Poland has hardly been known as the go to place for cutting-edge DAW technology. In some ways that accounts for the wonder of a new bundle of DirectX and VST plug-ins from a company called Professional Sound Products. PSP has not so much broken the mold as they have completely ignored it! The result is two sets of very powerful audio processing tools und
erneath an unorthodox interface.These Audio Ware processors, as they're called, are available in both PC and Mac varieties online from the company's website (www.pspaudioware.com). The first one, Stereo Pack, is a collection of four plug-ins that deal with stereophony. It includes a stereo waveform and phase correlation scope and a stereo simulation algorithm. This bundle will set you back a whopping $24!
The second one, MixPack, includes two plug-ins that work in the dynamics and circuit emulation domains, along with a pair of tone shaping processors. These four can be purchased as a bundle for $100 or individually for $30 each. The extremely low prices don't reflect the quality-this bundle is a winner at any price.
PSP Stereo Pack
First up in the Stereo Pack bundle is PseudoStereo. This plug-in uses comb filters to break the signal into right and left components, a stereoizing concept long used by Waves in their PS22.
The top of the plug-in's dialog is given over to a simple phase correlation meter, which is a stroke of genius. These types of processors can destroy your mono compatibility more quickly and easily than just about anything, and this meter will tell you when you're straying into dangerous waters.
To work it, you start with a Depth control that lets you dial in the amount of stereo separation. You can set the base frequency for the comb filters; the lower the base frequency the greater the effect, but also the greater the time differential between the left and right channels. At the lowest settings a distinct delay is apparent-not usually what you want.
Then an Emphasis slider boosts higher frequencies as the slider is manipulated to the left. The benefit of this is that the algorithm doesn't work as hard on the lower frequencies, resulting in more centered bass response in the stereo spectrum.
This effect can be made to sound very natural, and I was amazed at how well it works. Among other things, it does an excellent job of converting mono samples and loops to stereo. I used it on a kick drum, of all things, to make it sound more like it was being picked up from the room and overhead mics.
The StereoController plug-in is described as a tool to correct all kinds of stereo errors. You get control over stereo width, overall gain, balance, stability, and centering of the image. Again the plug-ins has the ever-useful phase correlation meter along with a right/left balance meter.
StereoController's first slider controls the width. You can increase the stereo spread to reach out beyond the apparent boundaries of you sound field-but again this comes at the expense of mono compatibility.
Since stereo processing can affect the level-and also just for convenience-there's also a volume slider with a ą12 dB range. The next group of sliders all affect the left/right balance, starting with a simple pan pot. For a more subtle effect on the stereo image, the Stability control lets you tweak the L/R balance without shifting the center image. The Center slider does the opposite, letting you tweak the center image without effecting the L/R balance. Finally, you can swap the left and right channels with a toggle.
This tool would be particularly useful for assembling a project with audio from multiple sources, for example if you're putting together an album of individual songs. It's a mastering processor that can adjust level and imaging discrepancies veyr subtly.
Like PseudoStereo, the Enhancer uses comb filtering to widen the apparent stereo image. It works very much like PseudoStereo, with controls for Depth, Emphasis, and Base Frequency. There are some interesting differences, though.
The difference is that the Depth and Emphasis control have different effects in each of three different modes that optimize the plug-in for the amount of stereo information present in the audio. Mode One is for a file that needs only subtle tweaks to its spatial content; Mode Two can be used to stereoize a mono signal; and Mode Three is somewhere between the two.
As long as you keep your eye on the meter to ensure mono compatibility, great results are possible with minimal side effects.
The final plug-in in the bundle, StereoAnalyzer, is handy: a fast and accurate set of level meters paired with a stereo oscilloscope. If you don't know how to use an oscilloscope to determine the phase correctness of a stereo signal, a very good primer on the topic with visuals is included in the help file.
This scope has a couple of neat features, my favorite being the ability to set the amplification of the image to respond automatically to the level of the incoming signal. You can also set the scope to Hold mode, in which it traces and holds the image until you clear the display-a very practical function that can freeze an electron bunch trace to provide a history of the audio. The image is small but sharp and the resolution is detailed.
The input level meters have both peak and average displays, and they can be switched between displaying L/R and stereo/mono differential. There's a peak hold feature with a numerical indicator. This is a great little application that now lives at the end of my master section inserts.
I was just wrapping up the mix of a CD project with Steinberg's Nuendo when I started testing the plug-ins in the MixPack. They were so good that I was forced to re-mix the whole CD using them.
However, I must mention that the manuals for some of the components in this bundle don't include enough information about what they're doing and how you might use them effectively. Having said that, the presets (which are grouped by instrument and application) do help you through the learning process.
A couple more points about the MixPack bundle. First, its default settings boost the levels considerably. And second, the multi meters common to this bundle take a little while to figure out. They're usually showing you input, output, and gain change simultaneously, so they're thorough but somewhat busy.
The first plug-in in this bundle, MixSaturator, emulates various circuits, signal paths, and recording medium characteristics. It contains several algorithms that mimic the sound of tube circuits, analog tape recorders, and in a taking coals to Newcastle kind of twist, digital circuits. The idea is to recreate the sound of those devices at what are considered to be their sweet spots (except for the digital emulator, of course).
There's a choice of three types of tubes and three types of analog tape. You can push the circuit by increasing the drive to the device, a very convincing effect with completely controllable artifacts. It's possible to shape sounds form subtle tube or tape warmth to fuzzy analog distortion; this is as close as I've heard any plug-in come to a true vintage sound.
As an added bonus, MixSaturator has a pair of circuits that shape the harmonic content in the bass and treble frequencies. When the Bass toggle is pushed in, you can add an adjustable amount of "warmth" centered around a desired frequency. This is stunningly satisfying. The effect is much like pushing up frequencies with a vintage Pultec or Lang equalizer. The tone never loses focus or pushes out of its space in the over all spectrum.
The Treble function is a little bit more complicated. Again you pick the center frequency, but then the algorithm then compresses that frequency and you boost or cut it in the mix. You can enhance the sound of your emulation in the higher frequencies without adding additional distortion. Awesome! I used this extensively on vocals and basses on the above-mentioned CD.
MixPressor is a vintage analog compressor emulation, and it's every bit as good as the MixSaturator at mimicking the characteristics of the good old stuff. The compressor combines soft knee characteristics with a wide range of parameter controls to produce some of the tightest and musically satisfying compressors I've ever worked with.
As with a lot of vintage compressors ,there are no settings for compression ratio; instead, a single slider allows you to dial in more or less. You can change the shape of the slope with a similar control, and there are controls for attack, release, hold, and make-up gain.
According to the manual, the Hold control affects the characteristics of bass signals in the circuit. And indeed, the Bass preset sets the hold to a high position, but the effect is noticeable but subtle unless the hold time is pushed up quite far.
There's also a sidechain circuit in MixPressor that uses a smooth bell curve filter. This works wonderfully as a very discrete de-esser, and in fact that's exactly how it got employed on the CD re-mix (I used it on a female voice recorded through a tube mic).
Rounding off this lush feature set is an end of chain limiter that imparts a warm sound when the threshold is met. It can also be set to a Saturate mode that adds sharp and noticeable distortion at the threshold.
The MixPressor is very adept at sounding just like a UREI 1176, which is how I used it most of the time. It doesn't have to sound like an 1176 but it sure is great that it can.
MixBass is an unusual plug-in. On the surface, MixBass is a compressor optimized for low frequencies. Combined with the compressor is a harmonics generator that can dial in massive amounts of extended low frequency. As with the bass enhance feature of MixSaturator, the hyped frequencies don't spill out of their boundaries or lose focus. This plug-in has the same limiter at the end of the chain that MixPressor has.
This plug-in is simple to use, and the presets are very well written. Although capable of some bowel loosening and (in the case of a car's windows) shattering bass enhancement, this plug-in can beef up the bottom end of entire mixes and individual tracks very subtly. I like it a lot!
MixTreble is the latest edition to the MixPack. It's divided into four sections that can be toggled in and out of the entire chain separately.
First up is the Hiss Remover section, which uses a dynamically controlled low-pass filter that reacts to program material and attenuates high frequencies when they aren't masked by other program material. MixTreble gives you more control over the settings than other plug-ins like it.
You set the processor's threshold, and you can control the amount of attenuation and the speed at which the filter kicks in. It can be a bit tricky to set the Hiss Remover up depending on the nature of the transients of the sound being filtered, but good results can be had if you're patient.
Next comes the plug-in's Transients section. Its purpose is to breathe life back into a file that's either been overcompressed or lost its high-end sparkle. It uses a compander optimized for mid to high frequencies.
You can control the slope of the filter, the ratio of the compander, the amount of process that gets dialed in. Sometimes dialing in lots of transients impvoves the dynamics but makes the sound overly bright, so it's possible to dampen the high frequency content-a fairly subtle but good thing in moderation.
Rather than using comb filtering to enhance stereo like the StereoPack plug-ins, the Enhancer section has a complicated XY-MS-XY matrix and a highpass filter. Again, you control the filter slope and the amount of enhancement. This effect certainly widens the stereo perspective, and it sounds different from the versions in the StereoPack.
Finally, the Harmonics section is used to generate odd and even harmonics to improve clarity and definition in the exciter tradition. A wide bell-type filter process the signal and feeds a harmonics generator. While I haven't found an application for the previously discussed Enhancer section, I like what the Harmonics section does enough to have used it on quite a few sources. It was particularly useful for augmenting the growl and buzz in a rather lifeless and overly compressed upright bass track.
Both of these bundles are pretty tough to beat at any price, yet they certainly offer a lot for very little money. Check them out.