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.

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).

TDR VOS SlickEQ and SlickEQ GE have been updated to version 1.1.0

Binaries/installers for SlickEQ standard can be downloaded from here:
http://www.tokyodawn.net/tdr-vos-slickeq/

The binaries for the GE edition are now available in the customer area at tokyodawn.net.

This minor update fixes several little bugs, greatly reduces general CPU consumption and even adds a new “ECO” processing mode.

SlickEQ_German

1.1.0 Minor update content

  • New “Eco” processing mode with almost zero latency
  • Reduced overall CPU usage
  • Stepped frequency/gain knobs activated by ctrl+drag or right mouse button drag
  • Increased user presets slots count
  • Minor UI adjustments
  • Various minor improvements

tips&tricks with SlickEQ

SlickEQrouting

Note: Some of the tips rely on features from the GE version.

Mixing against HP/LP combo

A good generic practice when EQing several tracks in a mix is too start by dialing in HP/LP combinations by an  appropriate level and then do further EQing/mixing against those settings. Also using the tilt filter is a good idea to apply very first and rough tonal corrections and then working out the details afterwards with the three EQs.

Preserving low-end energy when high-pass filtering

A cool trick to preserve some low-end energy when high-pass filtering is applied is to boost the low-end while using the EQ-SAT feature. As you can see in the routing diagram the HPF comes after the main EQs and EQ-SAT. This way, harmonic overtones are generated based on the fundamentals before the HPF is applied.

Decoupling the low-end

The low-end EQ features a “Phi” option switch which allows to decouple the low-end by an allpass filter network. The crossover can be freely adjusted with the normal frequency control in this band while the gain control does not have any effect in this mode. This may work great for that mellow bass drums just as an example but in other cases it might loose some definition as a trade-off.

Compare different settings

SlickEQ contains two effect settings slots, A and B. Use them in combination with the automatic output gain control to AB test different settings. Within the plugin you can move settings between A and B but also copy&paste is there to freely copy settings between different plug-in instances. Also, undo/redo comes in handy here.

Adjusting precise values

The gain/frequency displays can also be used to enter specific values and also shortcuts are accepted, e.g. “5k” can be entered to set a value to 5000. And did you know that SlickEQ has mouse-wheel support?

 

 

out now: SlickEQ “Gentleman’s Edition”

SlickEQ_German

Key specs and features

  • Modern user interface with outstanding usability and ergonomics
  • Carefully designed 64bit “delta” multi-rate structure
  • Three semi-parametric filter bands, each with two shape options
  • Five distinct EQ models: American, British, German, Soviet and Japanese
  • Low band offers an optional phase-lag able to delay low frequencies relative to higher frequencies
  • High pass filter with optional “Bump” mode
  • Low pass filter with two different slopes (6dB/Oct and 12dB/Oct)
  • Parametric Tilt filter with optional “V” mode.
  • Six output stages: Linear, Silky, Mellow, Deep, Excited and Toasted
  • Advanced saturation algorithms by VoS (“Stateful saturation”)
  • Highly effective loudness compensated auto gain control
  • Stereo, mono and sum/difference (mid/side) processing options
  • Frequency magnitude plot
  • Tool-bar with undo/redo, A/B, advanced preset management and more

SlickEQ is a collaborative project by Variety of Sound (Herbert Goldberg) and Tokyo Dawn Labs (Vladislav Goncharov and Fabien Schivre). For more details, please refer to the official product page: http://www.tokyodawn.net/tdr-vos-slickeq-ge/

Related

TDR VOS SlickEQ – video review

Read the whole story at modernmixing.com.

 

SlickEQ – some more release info

Just a couple of days ago we introduced the upcoming release of SlickEQ and lots of questions raised already. So, here is what Fabien already committed about it in a public forum:

  • Win/Mac, AU/VST2/VST3 (+AAX planned and in process), x32/x64
  • No linux builds planned, sorry.
  • The name is “TDR VOS Slick EQ” and it will be available for free.
  • Release is a matter of days. Maybe a week or two.

As of today I just want to add: With the introduction of TDR VOS SlickEQ, quite a number of amazing and previously unheard DSP algorithms will see the light of day – including (but not limited to) several Stateful Saturation algorithms running within an audio signal path entirely upsampled to a constant high sample rate for maximum precision.

Expect smoothness, best-in-class.

Related links:

compressor aficionados (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…]

tips & tricks with ThrillseekerVBL

The Sweet Spot

The plug-in includes a preset called “LA Sweet-Spot” and one can safely use this setting on almost everything just to add a little more mojo. Just drive the unit with a proper “IN GAIN” amount so that the overall compression and distortion fits to the source.

Increased Stereo Imaging

If ThrillseekerVBL is used on stereo program material, I would recommend to use the TRAFO option to have the most prominent stereo imaging effects. Also, if there is just a little gain reduction amount applied, I would prefer the “DUAL M” option opposed to “STEREO” linking. And I would always use the “DUAL M” option on sources like vocal groups, panned rhythm guitars and stuff.

VBL as a Mastering EQ

One common mastering trick to open up a rather flat/dull track is to dial in a slight but broad 5kHz boost with an analog tube equalizer. Due to the tube circuit also higher order harmonics are generated and the whole stereo image opens up.

This can be replicated perfectly with ThrillseekerVBL: Move the “BRILLIANCE” screw to its top most position and set the “AMP” knob to 0.68. If distortion is too much now, just back it off by dialing in some compression and/or lowering the input gain.

If the EQ effect amount is too much, simply use the “DRY:WET” option. Also make sure that the trafo is in and prepare yourself for pure awesomeness.

Some Shorties

  • Avoid pumping: Dial in some more “EMPHASIS”.
  • More HF focus: Turn the “BIAS” screw clock-wise.
  • Upward compression style: Dial in some dry signal amounts (just a little).

compressor aficionados (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…]