what is a “box tone”?

“Box tone” is a term that is often used to describe the characteristic sound of a particular piece of audio equipment, particularly when it comes to classic analog effects devices such as equalizers and compressors.

The box tone of an effect is often described as the unique timbre or tonal coloration that the device imparts on the audio signal as it passes through it. This can be due to a variety of factors, including the type and quality of the components used in the device, the design of the circuitry, and the way the device processes the signal.

Some audio engineers and producers may seek out specific box tones for their recordings and mixes, as they can add character and depth to the sound. Others may prefer a more neutral or transparent sound, in which case they may choose equipment that has a more subtle or less noticeable box tone.

It’s important to note that the term “box tone” is often used informally and can be somewhat subjective, as different people may have different opinions on what constitutes a distinctive or desirable box tone.

the beauty of opto-electrical compression – volume 2

When I was looking for a sophisticated stereo compressor for the outboard studio rack a year ago, I was surprised to see how many of the more interesting models now use opto-electric compression technology. Whether transparent or coloring, tube or solid-state amplifiers, transformer or transformerless, even two-channel layouts in mid/side encoding: far advanced compared to all the classic mono replicas.

Optical compressors are usually characterized by their distinct program-dependent compression behavior, mainly based on a physical memory effect in the detector itself. Other subtle nuances are found across the frequency spectrum that affect timing and curve characteristics, creating a complexity that cannot be reduced to simple two-stage controlled release curves, and which is the beauty of opto-electrical compression in its entirety.

Significant audio signal colorations, however, are shaped not by the gain reduction circuitry but by the make-up gain amplifier, whether it is tube or solid-state. Here, the audio transformer also plays an important role in polishing the transients and creating a cohesive sound.

ThrillseekerLA was designed from the beginning in 2012 as a modern stereo compressor with exciting sound coloring possibilities. It is a compressor with authentic opto-electric control behavior in feed-forward circuit topology.

The upcoming mkII update is a technical redesign dedicated solely to improving the sound. It delivers a unique box tone with thrilling bass and elegant top end void of any harshness in the mids. The compression not only glues everything together effortlessly, but also enhances the stereo image by adding depth and dimension.

The release is scheduled for mid-December.

bringing mojo back – volume 2

ThrillseekerVBL is an emulation of a vintage broadcast limiter design that follows the classic Variable-Mu design principles from the early 1950s. These tube-based devices were initially used to prevent audio overloads in broadcast transmission by managing sudden level changes in the audio signal. From today’s perspective, and compared to digital dynamic processors, they appear to be rather slow and can be considered more of a gain structure leveler. However, they still shine when it comes to gain riding in a very musical way – they’ve written warmth and mojo all over it.

ThrillseekerVBL is a modded version that not only features basic gain control, but also gives detailed access to both compression behavior and the characteristic of tube circuit saturation effects. Used in subtle doses, this provides the analog magic we so often miss when working in the digital domain while overdriving the circuit achieves much more drastic musical textures as a creative effect.

ThrillseekerVBL offers an incredibly authentic audio transformer simulation that models not only the typical low-frequency harmonic distortion, but also all the frequency- and load-dependent subtleties that occur in a transformer-coupled tube circuit and that contribute to the typical mojo we know and love from the analog classics.

new in version 2

Conceptually, the mkII version has been refined in that the peak limiting itself is no longer the main task but versatile and musically expressive gain control as well as a thrilling saturation experience. The saturation is now an integral part of the compression and is perfectly suited for processing transient-rich material. Both compression and saturation can be individually activated and controlled.

The circuit-related frequency loss in the highs has been almost eliminated and the brilliance control – originally intended just for compensation – can now also perform exciter-like tasks. The bias control has been extended to shape the harmonic spectrum in much greater detail by allowing the contribution of second order harmonics as well as the adjustment of the saturation behavior in the transient area of the signals. The transformer circuit has also been technically revised not only to resolve all the subtleties realistically but also to reproduce an overall tighter sound image.

ThrillseekerVBL has become a real tonebox, able to reproduce a wide range of tonalities. It provides access to the attack and release behavior and all compression controls can also affect the saturation of the signal, even when the compression function is turned off. This allows specific textures of signal saturation to be realized. As with the good old outboard devices, the desired sound colorations can be achieved just by controlling the working range. And if too much of a good thing is used, the DRY/WET control simply shifts down a gear.

To further improve the user experience some additional UI elements have been added giving more visual feedback. Although oversampling has been added, the actual cpu load was significantly reduced thanks to efficient algorithms and assembler code optimizations.

ThrillseekerVBL mkII will be released October 14th for Windows VST in 32 and 64bit as freeware.

TesslaPRO mkIII released

the magic is where the transient happens

The Tessla audio plugin series once started as a reminiscence to classic transformer based circuit designs of the 50s and 60s but without just being a clone stuck in the past. The PRO version has been made for mixing and mastering engineers working in the digital domain but always missing that extra vibe delivered by some highend analog devices.

TesslaPRO brings back the subtle artifacts from the analog right into the digital domain. It sligthly colors the sound, polishes transients and creates depth and dimension in the stereo field to get that cohesive sound we’re after. All the analog goodness in subtle doses: It’s a mixing effect intended to be used here and there, wherever the mix demands it.

The mkIII version is a technical redesign, further refined to capture all those sonic details while reducing audible distortions at the same time. It further blurs the line between compression and saturation and also takes aural perception based effects into account.

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

BootEQ mkIII released

BootEQ mkIII – a musical sounding Preamp/EQ

BootEQ mkIII is a musical sounding mixing EQ and pre-amplifier simulation. With its
four parametric and independent EQ bands it offers special selected and musical
sounding asymmetric and proportional EQ curves capable of reproducing several
‘classic’ EQ curves and tones accordingly.

It provides further audio coloration capabilities utilizing pre-amplifier harmonic distortion as well as tube and transformer-style signal saturation. Within its mkIII incarnation, the Preamp itself contains an opto-style compression circuit providing a very distinct and consistent harmonic distortion profile over a wide range of input levels, all based now on a true stateful saturation model.

Also the EQ curve slopes has been revised, plugin calibration takes place for better gain-staging and metering and the plugin offers zero latency processing now.

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

TesslaSE mkII released

TesslaSE mkII – All the analog goodness in subtle doses

TesslaSE never meant to be a distortion box but rather focused on bringing all those subtle saturation and widening (side-) effects from the analog right into the digital domain. It sligthly colors the sound, polishes transients and creates depth and dimension in the stereo field. All the analog goodness in subtle doses. It’s a mixing effect intended to be used here and there where the mix demands it. It offers a low CPU profile and (almost) zero latency.

With it’s 2021 remake, TesslaSE mkII sticks to exactly that by just polishing whats already there. The internal gainstaging has been reworked so that everything appears gain compensated to the outside and is dead-easy to operate within a slick, modernized user interface. Also the transformer/tube cicuit modeling got some updates to appear more detailed and vibrant, while all non-linear algorithms got oversampled for additional aliasing supression.

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

The TesslaSE Remake

There were so many requests to revive the old and rusty TesslaSE which I’ve once moved already into the legacy folder. In this article I’m going to talk a little bit about the history of the plugin and its upcoming remake.

The original TesslaSE audio plugin was one of my first DSP designs aiming at a convincing analog signal path emulation and it was created already 15 years ago! In its release info it stated to “model pleasant sounding ‘electric effects’ coming from transformer coupled tube circuits in a digital controlled fashion” which basically refers to adding harmonic content and some subtle saturation as well as spatial effects to the incoming audio. In contrast to static waveshaping approaches quite common to that time, those effects were already inherently frequency dependent and managed within a mid/side matrix underneath.

(Later on, this approach emerged into a true stateful saturation framework capable of modeling not only memoryless circuits and the TesslaPro version took advantage of audio transient management as well.)

This design was also utilized to supress unwanted aliasing artifacts since flawless oversampling was still computational expensive to that time. And offering zero latency on top, TesslaSE always had a clear focus on being applied over the entire mixing stage, providing all those analog signal path subtleties here and there. All later revisions also sticked to the very same concept.

With the 2021 remake, TesslaSE mkII won’t change that as well but just polishing whats already there. The internal gainstaging has been reworked so that everything appears gain compensated to the outside and is dead-easy to operate within a slick, modernized user interface. Also the transformer/tube cicuit modeling got some updates now to appear more detailed and vibrant, while all non-linear algorithms got oversampled for additional aliasing supression.

On my very own, I really enjoy the elegant sound of the update now!

TesslaSE mkII will be released by end of November for PC/VST under a freeware license.

interview series (9) – D.W. Fearn

Doug, when and how did you arrived in the music business?

I have had an interest in electronics ever since I was a kid growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. I built a crystal radio  receiver when I was 8 and my first audio amplifier (tubes, of course) when I was 10. I passed the test for an amateur radio license when I was 12 and that experience of communicating using Morse code was excellent training for  learning to hear. I built a lot of my own radio equipment, and experimented with my own designs.

The high school I attended had an FM broadcast station. Most of the sports and musical events were broadcast, and I learned about recording orchestras, marching bands, choirs, and plays. Friends asked me to record their bands, which was my first experience working with non-classical music.

Another major factor was that my father was a French horn player in the Philadelphia Orchestra. As a kid, I would attend concerts, rehearsals, and sometimes recording sessions and broadcasts. I learned a lot about acoustics by walking around the Academy of Music in Philadelphia during rehearsals.

It would seem logical that my musical exposure and my interest in electronics would combine to make the career in pro audio I have had for over 40 years now.

I was a studio owner for many years before starting the D.W. Fearn manufacturing business, which started in 1993. [Read more…]

interview series (6) – Christopher Dion

Christopher Dion

Chris, you are the man behind the Canada-based Quantum-Music studio. What was your journey towards this venture?

My father (Alain Dion) was an internationally renown live sound engineer and technical producer (Nat King Cole, Sting, Celine Dion, Cirque du Soleil, and many locally-famous artists). Therefore, I grew up in an environment where high fidelity audio was the standard. My father hated everything that sounded less than perfect. Unconsciously, he trained my ears. I owe him a lot for that. Nowadays, every time we see each other, we spend much of our time talking about which compressors, consoles and techniques. [Read more…]

interview series (5) – Dave Hill

Dave, some of your Cranesong devices are already legend – how did that affair once started?

Before I started Crane Song I had been designing the Summit Audio Gear through and including the DCL-200, plus some gear that did not get finished. I was teaching electronics at a 2 year technology school at the start of the Summit thing and also was part owner of a small studio that had a 1” 8 track, and Ampex MM1000. The studio grew into what is Inland Sea Recording owned by me, which is a for commercial room with a lot of nice microphones and other gear.  It now serves as a design environment and has a number of customers that help keep it going.  Developing in a real studio environment helps make sure that what you are working on works correctly and sounds good.  When doing a session if one needs to mess with the gear it questions the design, but if you can turn a knob and it makes some thing sound good, it tells you something about the design. [Read more…]