|Francis Preve |
A new company out of Poland called PSP (Professional Sound Products) is creating something of a stir with their ultra-affordable pro-quality audio plug-ins for VST-compatible sequencers. Though their products are distributed as shareware, there's nothing amateurish or awkward about them ? PSP is putting out some surprisingly good audio software.
One of their latest offerings is a bundle of mastering and psycho-acoustic tools called the MixPack. Consisting of four plug-ins (MixBass, MixSaturator, MixPressor, and MixTreble) the bundle is targeting producers looking to add vintage analog and tube qualities to their digital arsenal. No small task to be sure, as there are several major corporate players seeking to stake out the same territory. But the MixPack has a few surprises up its sleeve that are definitely worth a closer look.
Documentation is strictly electronic, in Adobe Acrobat format. While I would have preferred a paper manual, the documentation is nicely indexed and easy to use, covering all aspects of the bundle.
MixBass. Dance music producers and DJs are going to love this plug, which consists of a chain of bass enhancement tools that add finely tuned low-end oomph to everything but the thinnest high frequency source material. First in the chain is a crossover adjustment control that allows tuning of the range of bass frequencies to be effected. This is followed by a psychoacoustic compression utility that reins in any excessively boomy artifacts. From there, additional bass harmonics (both odd and even) can be added to further emphasize bass response. Finally, there's a soft clipping tool that can either enhance the perceived volume of the signal or add a bit of overdrive. The only thing missing is a solo control for monitoring the processed low end, but this isn't a huge deal, unless you like to use the enhanced bass sound by itself in a mix.
I applied this tool to everything from drum loops to bass synth to old '70s disco tracks (which are often a bit thin compared to today's club mixes). With 21 presets to choose from, each tailored to a specific application such as bass guitar, full ensemble mixes, and so on, the MixBass rocked the house with style aplenty.
MixSaturator. As a digital aficionado, I'm always getting into debates with my analog cronies about the pros and cons of each medium. Next time some tube-head starts throwing me shade, I'm going to whip out the MixSaturator and show 'em who's boss!
With seven saturation emulations (three valve, three tape, one digital), this plug-in covers a surprising amount of ground. Along with continuously variable drive amount, there are discrete sections for both bass and treble processing.
The 31 presets range from virtual pre-amps to mastering tools to hot valve emulations and then some. It's even possible to get some wonderfully crunchy overdrive effects. Few (if any) analog emulation plug-ins offer this level of flexibility and accuracy, and I suspect it will be a while before the rest of the pack catches up with this processor. If it's warmth, harmonics and subtle compression that's missing in your tracks, MixSaturator just might save the day.
MixPressor. As vintage compression goes, the MixPressor is a nice little plug-in. It's not transparent, but that's really not the point. For this type of emulation, color is everything. The first thing many users will notice is the conspicuous absence of both threshold and ratio controls, as these have been replaced with a single compression amount parameter. More familiar dynamics controls like attack, hold, and release times are retained, and there's a frequency-adjustable sidechain for de-essing effects. The 37 factory presets are extremely well thought-out and cover a wide range of applications. MixPressor proved especially useful on guitar, bass, and vocal tracks, adding a touch of color along with the expected dynamic adjustment. I even liked the results I got from more active signals like drum loops and certain mixes ? reminiscent of a cross between a Urei LA4 and an old Drawmer.
MixTreble. Exciter algorithms don't come much more flexible than this. The signal chain begins with a hiss remover, which, unlike a lot of lowpass filtering noise removal tools, is remarkably transparent even at fairly strong settings. This is followed by a stereo field enhancement algorithm. While the effect of the enhancement is subtle, it definitely adds a touch of space to completed mixes without screwing with the phase too much. Summing tracks to mono only caused a slight dip in overall level without changing the timbre. Nice.
The "Harmonics" module functions much like an Aphex Aural Exciter, adding a touch of tunable harmonic distortion to the high-frequency content. A little goes a long way with this feature, but careful tweaking resulted in some really shimmery effects on full mixes and individual instruments. As with the other plug-ins, the chain is topped off with a saturation circuit for soft-clipping purposes. Overall, the MixTreble was a joy to work with, adding gloss and shine in all the right ways.
Color me very impressed. The MixPack is fantastic for adjusting dynamics and tonal color in ways that standard-issue EQs and dynamics tools can't touch.
MixSaturator and MixBass's accurate tape and valve qualities make them more than worth the $100 price of admission alone. The MixTreble plug, with its Aphex-ish quality, is fantastic for any instrument that's getting lost in a mix, and the MixPressor is flexible and warm, suitable for a wide range of compression applications. As an added bonus, each of these effects is available a la carte for $30. A total bargain.
Pros: Top-notch analog tape/tube emulation. Excellent documentation. Lots of parameters available for adjusting timbre of each effect. Respectable price/performance ratio.
Cons: Documentation in electronic form only.
Multimedia technologist Francis Preve has worked with Orbital, Utah Saints, Salt-n-Pepa, Information Society, and Claire Voyant. He recently mastered Haujobb's newest album release, Polarity.