ThrillseekerXTC mkII released

ThrillseekerXTC – bringing mojo back

ThrillseekerXTC mkII is a psychoacoustic audio exciter based on a parallel dynamic equalizer circuit. It takes our hearing sensitivity into account especially regarding the perception of audio transients, tonality and loudness.

The mkII version now introduces:
• Plugin operating level calibration for better gainstaging and output volume compensated processing.
• A reworked DRIVE/MOJO stage featuring full bandwidth signal saturation and a strong
focus on perceived depth and dimension. It provides all those subtle qualities we typically associate with the high-end analog outboard gear.
• Special attention has been taken to the mid frequency range by introducing signal compression which improves mid-range coherence and presence.
• Relevant parts of the plugin are running at higher internal sampling frequencies to minimize aliasing artifacts.

Available for Windows VST in 32 and 64bit as freeware. Download your copy here.

Getting the most out of the SPL Tube Vitalizer

In this article I’m going to share some analysis insights but also proposing an easy to follow 3-step approach for finding the sweet spot while processing any kind of material with this device.

Preparing for winter season: room heating with style

So, having now a Tube Vitalizer here on my desk (at least for some time), I was surprised about the lack of usable online reviews and background information. One just finds the usual YT quality stuff which might be entertaining in the best case but also spreads misinformation ever so often. To save those influencers honor it must be said that the Vitalizer concept is really not that easy to grasp and its quirky user experience makes it not easier. The manual itself is a mixed bag since it contains some useful hints and graphs on the one hand but lots of marketing blurb obscuring things on the other. Time to clean up the mess a little bit.

What it actually does

While easily slotted into the “audio exciter” bucket, some more words are needed to describe what it actually does. Technically speaking, the Vitalizer is basically a parallel dynamic equalizer with an actual EQ curve behaviour which aims to mimic equal loudness contours as specified in ISO226. Rather simplified, it can be seen as a high and low frequency shelving EQ to dial in a basic “smile” EQ curve but one which takes hearing related (psychoacoustic) loudness effects into account. It does this also by generating curves differently based on signal levels, hence the term “dynamic EQ”. And wait, it also adds harmonic content galore.

Taming the beast

To obtain an equal loudness contour the main equalizers center frequency must be properly set depending on the tonal balance of the actual source material. This center frequency can be dialed in somewhere between 1k and 20kHz by adjusting the Hi-Mid Freq knob which defines a cross-over point: while frequencies below that point gets attenuated, the higher frequencies gets boosted. However, this attenuation is already a signal level dependent effect. Opposed to that, the LF EQ itself (which actually is not a shelving but a bell type curve) has a fixed frequency tuned to 50Hz and just the desired boost amount needs to be dialed in. The LF curve characteristic can be further altered (Bass soft/tight) which basically thickens or thins out the below 100Hz area. Finally, this EQ path can be compressed now with the Bass Comp option.

A typical EQ curve created by the Vitalizer

On top of the main EQ path, the Tube Vitalizer offers an additional HF boost and compression option which both can be dialed in to complement the LF behaviour in a very similar fashion but in the high frequency department. Internally, both are in a parallel configuration and mixed back into a dry signal path. The according Process Level knob can be seen as a kind of dry/wet option but only for main the EQ part. The upper HF part is mixed back in separately by the Intensity dial.

Gain-Staging is key

For the EQ section as a whole, the Drive knob is the ticket for proper gain-staging. If compression can be dialed in properly for both compressors (as indicated by the blue flashing lights) input gain is in the right ballpark. One might expect to hear actual compression going on but it appears to be a rather gentle leveling effect.

Gain-staging for the output stage has to be concerned separately which might become an issue if the tube stage is activated and operates in shunt limiting mode. Now you have to take care about proper input levels since the Attenuators for both output channels are operating after the limiter and not beforehand.

Tube stage limiting: input (red) vs output (blue)

Which directly leads us to the additional harmonic content created by this device. First of all, there is always additional harmonic content created by this device, no matter what. One might expect the device to not show any such content with the solid state output stage but it actually does. The tube output stage just increases that content but signal level dependent of course and 2nd order harmonics are always part of that content. A serious additional amount of harmonics gets added as soon as the HF filter gets engaged by dialing in Intensity (and LC Filter mode activated!) but this sounds always very smooth and natural in the top end, surprisingly.

Delicious content

Also impressive is the low noisefloor for both output stage modes, tube and solid state. The first one introduces pretty strong channel crosstalk, though.

Workflow – Finding the sweet spot in 3 easy steps

Initial condition:

  • Drive, Bass, Bass Comp and Intensity set to 0
  • Device is properly gain-staged

1. Set Process to 5 and now find the best fit for Hi-Mid Freq for the given source material. For already mixed 2bus stuff you can narrow it down to 2-3kHz most likely.

2. Dial in Bass (either left or right depending on source and taste) and some compression accordingly.

3. Only then dial in some further HF content via Intensity and some compression accordingly. Adjust HF Freq so it basically fits the source/taste.

Workflow – Tweaking just one knob

My good old buddy Bootsy told me this trick which works surprisingly well.

Initial condition:

  • Left most position: Bass
  • Right most position: Bass Comp, High Comp, High Freq
  • 12-o-clock position: Drive, Intensity
  • Hi-Mid-Freq set to 2.5kHz

Now, just dial in some (few) Process Level to taste.

He also recommends to drive the input to some extend (VU hitting the red zone) using the Tube stage in limiter mode while always engaging LC Filter mode for HF.

What loudspeakers and audio transformers do have in common

Or: WTF is “group delay”?

Imagine a group of people visiting an exhibition having a guided tour. One might expect that the group reaches the exhibitions exit as a whole but in reality there might be a part of that group just lagging behind a little bit actually (e.g. just taking their time).

Speaking in terms of frequency response within audio systems now, this sort of delay is refered to as “group delay”, measured in seconds. And if parts of the frequency range do not reach a listeners ear within the very same time this group delay is being refered to as not being constant anymore.

A flat frequency response does not tell anything about this phenomena and group delay must always be measured separately. Just for reference, delays above 1-4ms (depending on the actual frequency) can actually be perceived by human hearing.

This always turned out to be a real issue in loudspeaker design in general because certain audio events can not perceived as a single event in time anymore but are spread across a certain window of time. The root cause for this anomaly typically lies in electrical components like frequency splitters, amplifiers or filter circuits in general but also physical loudspeaker construction patterns like bass reflex ports or transmission line designs.

Especially the latter ones actually do change the group delay for the lower frequency department very prominently which can be seen as a design flaw but on the other hand lots of hifi enthusiast actually do like this low end behaviour which is able to deliver a very round and full bass experience even within a quite small speaker design. In such cases, one can measure more than 20ms group delay within the frequency content below 100Hz and I’ve seen plots from real designs featuring 70ms at 40Hz which is huge.

Such speaker designs should be avoided in mixing or mastering situation where precision and accuracy is required. It’s also one of the reasons why we can still find single driver speaker designs as primary or additional monitoring options in the studios around the world. They have a constant group delay by design and do not mess around with some frequency parts while just leaving some others intact.

As mentioned before, also several analog circuit designs are able to distort the constant group delay and we can see very typical low end group delay shifts within audio transformer coupled circuit designs. Interestingly, even mastering engineers are utilizing such devices – whether to be found in a compressor, EQ or tape machine – in their analog mastering chain.

The renaissance of the Baxandall EQs

Already in 1950, Peter Baxandall designed an analog tone correction circuit which found its way into some million consumer audio devices later on. Today, it is simply referred to as a Baxandall EQ.

What the f*ck is a Baxandall EQ?

Beside its appearance in numerous guitar amplifiers and effects, it made a very prominent reincarnation in the pro audio gear world in 2010 with the Dangerous Music Bax EQ. The concept shines with its very broad curves and gentle slopes which are all about transparancy and so it came to no surprise that this made it into lots of mastering rigs right away.

And it also had a reason that already in 2011 I did an authentic 1:1 emulation of the very same curves within the Baxter EQ plugin but just adding a dual channel M/S layout to better fit the mastering duties. For maximum accuracy and transparancy it already featured oversampling and double-precision filter calculations to that time and it is still one of my personal all time favourite EQs.

BaxterEQ

During the last 10 years quite a number of devices emerged each showing its very own interpretation of the Baxandall EQ whether thats in hard or software and this was highly anticipated especially in the mastering domain.

A highly deserved revival aka renaissance.

When comparing units be aware that the frequency labeling is not standardized and different frequencies might be declared while giving you same/similar curves. More plots and infos can be found here (german language).

[CLOSED] VoS plugins 64bit public beta 1

Update 07/16/21: The beta has been closed. Stay tuned for upcoming info and releases. For the time being, the beta package remains available in the download section. Thanks to all here for contributing!!!

Until around mid July you can grab here the VoS plugin 64bit public beta package. Included are epicVerb, BaxterEQ, preFIX, NastyDLAmkII, NastyVCS and DensityMkIII in both 32 and 64 bit, VST 2 and 3 for Windows PC.

Please be careful using them since they are beta. They might crash, generate loud noises and things like that. Also do not use them in real productions since parameters and settings might change until release and break compatibility.

To report issues just create a comment right to this post and please include detailed information about the issue, which plugin is actually affected and in which host and version.

42 Audio Illusions & Phenomena

In a comprehensive series of five YouTube videos, Casey Connor provided an awesome overview and demonstration of 42 (!) different psychoacoustic effects. Watching and hearing (headphones required) not only is so much entertaining and educational but also provides some deep insights why we all do not hear in the exact same way. Relevant for all of us in the audio domain whether it is sound design, mixing, mastering or development. Highly recommended!

Survey: Which software sampler are you using and why?

sustaining trends in audio land, 2021 edition

Now, after spending some time on digging a little bit more deeper into the current offerings and market situation in audio production I just wanted to briefly outline some of my personal summaries regarding sustaining trends but maybe outline also some new things I do see on the horizon.

The mobile audio evolution

To me this indeed looks like an ongoing trend for years now which simply does not stop. On the one hand we can see the whole software and especially the App market continuing and increasing in all areas and platforms: notebooks, tablets, smartphones and their respective eco systems accordingly. Where Ableton once started in providing an almost complete mobile music production approach in literally just a bag, Bitwig and others followed and now Apps are everywhere allowing any kind of recording and music or media production on the go. Apples recent move with the M1 SOC (System on Chip) approach fits perfectly into this trend by increasing the mobility even further in terms of power, size and efficiency. Others will follow this path for sure. Also we can see traditional music gear manufacturers going more and more into compact and battery powered solutions as well, such as the Korg Volca series or the Roland boutique thingies, just to name the two.

The retro cult continues

Companies like Behringer will continue to spit out analog HW clones like there is no tomorrow. Whether thats synthesizer reissues or blatant plain copies of vintage mixing outboard or modeled software – you’ll find everything and in almost all shades of quality and price. And I think this is a really good thing to have such a variety to choose from and also this will lead to some serious price drops in the overpriced used gear market in that area.

Modular madness

I don’t think this is part of the overall retro trend but a niche on its very own. In any case the modular synthesis thing is still gaining more and more momentum. There is a sheer amount of hardware options to choose from and meanwhile also quite a lot of audio interfaces and controller solutions are offering not only Midi but also CV support. Even in software land one can put his/her virtual hands on something modular. All in all, this looks and sounds like real fun and a great opportunity to spend a lot of time on (and money).

Look mom no computer

All those neat outboard DAW-less setups shown on YT: Some hardware samplers and grooveboxes here, some fancy retro synths there and fx stomp boxes all over the place. Well, “Look mom no computer” is of course absolutely wrong here because half of that stuff has tiny little digital displays and computers underneath you have to tinker with. Personally, I would prefer some neat “one knob, one job” analog interfaces plus a real full-blown DAW any day. However, definately a sustaining trend and a good thing.

Loudness war, quo vadis?

While it seems that LUFS finally made it and in fact has been successfully settled as a standard in the broadcast domain – in music production in general it has not. Todays audio mastering target levels are still insane and even some “engineers” continue to present converter clipping as the holy loudness grail to their YT followers. That really hurts. At least some of the big streaming sevices restricted target loudness levels to -14 or -16LUFS which gives a little hope.

ITB production finally took over

Now that even the last renowned mixing engineer has finally surrendered to the dark side in the box – at least for the recording and mixing part – the question remains, why this has taken so long. Was it for quality concerns? The time-to-market pressure to finally have total recall in all regards? Simple ignorance or fear? We might not be sure about the final answer but we do know that today almost everybody can run some media production tasks in a decent quality on his very own while having a low entrance barrier. And this is what I really would call the “game changer” of the last decade. Now, your skills are the limit.

Game of DAWs

There is really no trend in particular here other than the fact that we have the very same players on the board since a decade ago. Maybe Bitwig will aim for the crown from Ableton? It’s whole inherent synthesis and modulation integration make this comprehensive sequencer an instrunment on its very own and also it runs natively on Linux. All the other contenders improved step by step here and there but quite comparable. Maybe having build in mixing scenes and more convincing analog style summing is a thing which sticks a little bit out. So, on my own I wasn’t that much impressed about this very last episodes and now I’m looking forward to an upcoming but much more entertaining season, hopefully.

The pandemic impact

As we all know, the Covid impact on everything live performance related was and still is a sheer desaster. How this will evolve in the future is hard to predict but it is clear that there won’t be any back to normal any time soon if ever. That means this area must transform into the digital/virtual domain as well and most of the suppliers in exact this kind of areas are already the winners of the current situation.

Stay healthy!

 

Rebuilding my Studio

Everything is finished, it just has to be done
– Andreas Pflüger

So, since some 5 years or so I did not had the time and room to make any music at all but at the end I’ve missed it so much that I finally decided to restart all over again and finally rebuild my studio. During my very last attempts in creating music I got stuck somehow inbetween all those endless digital options and just looping stuff in Ableton on my laptop but never managed to get things finished anymore – some of you might know this kind of desease? Anyhow, I decided to setup a small studio production environment like I once had before those laptop times and where I was a little bit more productive, if memory serves me right.

Not a huge setup at all but a small desktop centric approach at home with some few but well selected outboard gear which not only inspires but also invites to perform, record and collaborate whole tracks in a fun way. Luckily, some outboard gear was carefully archived here in my basement but others I do not have anymore, e.g. a real mixing desk. But hey, there is so much cool stuff out there today to consider and to choose from!

Such new setup raises a lot of questions of course concerning workflow and where to better rely on ITB or OTB plus the usual digital versus analog considerations. This time it was clear for me to have best of both worlds right from the start. Gaining advantage from DAW based sequencing, mixing and mastering – speaking in terms of precision, affordability and total recall – but also the fun and hands-on experience just real outboard gear can give you and I’m not talking about cheap plastic controllers here (don’t get me started on that one).

For the DAW itself I just reactivated my rather aged PC based workstation which complained to need some hundred or so updates but then afterwards actually performed quite smoothly again. The whole installation is much more lean now and I did not included all that sh*tload of huge sample libraries just as an example. For the time being, I can live with its constraints and can focus on other and more important stuff now. Also, there won’t be a mixing desk anymore and I just added some more converters to my old but trusty RME card via ADAT. Nice to see the old standards still working flawless. Now the fun part begins: connecting all the stuff.

To be continued.

presets for TDR Nova GE

Nova

Below you’ll find two general purpose presets for the excellent TDR Nova GE PlugIn. If you did not tried it yet, check out the free “standard edition” over there at TDR. It’s based on Vlad’s Nova 67P freeware and Vlad and Fabien really did some magic with the Nova – a sort of Nova 67P reloaded. [Read more…]