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.

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.

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).

announcing Thrillseeker VBL – Vintage Broadcast Limiter

Bringing mojo back – Thrillseeker VBL is an emulation of a “vintage broadcast limiter” following the classic Variable-Mu design principles from the early 1950’s. They were used to prevent audio overshoots by managing sudden signals changes. From today’s perspective, and compared to brickwall limiters, they are rather slow and should be seen as more of a gain structure leveler, but they still are shining when it comes to perform gain riding in a very musical fashion – they have warmth and mojo written all over.

Thrillseeker VBL is a “modded” version, which not only has the classic gain reduction controls but also grants detailed access to the amount and appearance of harmonic tube amplifier distortion occurring in the analog tube circuit. Applied in subtle doses, this dials in that analog magic we often miss when working in the digital domain, but you can also overdrive the circuit to have more obvious but still musical sounding harmonic distortion (and according side-effects) for use as a creative effect.

On top, Thrillseeker VBL offers an incredibly authentic audio transformer simulation which not only models the typical low-end harmonic distortion but also all the frequency and load dependent subtleties occurring in a transformer coupled tube circuit, and which add up to that typical mojo we know from the analog classics. This would not have been possible with plain waveshaping techniques but has been realized with my innovative Stateful Saturation approach, making it possible to model circuits having a (short) sort of memory.

Release date is not yet confirmed but most probably will be in May this year.

what I’m currently working on – Vol. 9

Updates and a brand new release, basically. Since there is a minor issue with the latest TesslaPRO and Rescue versions concerning higher sample rate compatibility, I’m currently into bug-fixing and both will probably make it upfront the summer break. As the next major update you all voted FerricTDS to be the object of desire and I’m already sketching things on the drawing board but developments might not start before Q3.

I’m constantly extending and improving my Stateful Saturation approach and the next incarnation will bring authentic analog style distortion into VST land. It is basically a Variable-Mu based broadcast limiter design from the early days but which is modded to have detailed access to the amplifier distortion – it has warmth and mojo written all over! Patrick also joined in again and will perform his magic user interface artwork. An official announcement will appear very soon, so stay tuned.

Unfortunately, there are no news about 64bit support atm.

Related links:

distortion in transformer cores, N. Partridge, 1939

This is the first of a series of articles in which the question of amplitude distortion arising in the iron core of a transformer will be dealt with on a quantitative basis. Information on this subject is scarce and the design data given is the outcome of original research by the author.

Be aware that tis articles appeared in the The Wireless World magazine from around 1939 (!). I’ve found some decent scans here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Related

the evolution of the input transformer, 1926

“Bell Laboratories – The Evolution Of The Input Transformer By F.E. Field” – see whole series of scans at isithifi.blogspot.com.

Bootsy does Musikmesse 2011

Last year he missed the show but this year, Bootsy (Chief Technical Dude of Variety Of Sound) is sneaking around again (unrecognized) in one of the largest music equipment trade shows. Lets see which secrets he obtained by fraud this time 😉

Vertigo Sound

[Read more…]

transformer signal path distortions – part 1

transformer circuit symbol

Introduction

“Audio-frequency transformers are used mainly for matching impedances and transmitting audio frequencies. They also provide isolation from direct currents and present balanced impedances to lines or circuits.” (cited from Reference Data for Engineers: Radio, Electronics, Computers and Communications from Wendy Middleton, Mac E. Van Valkenburg)

In other words, they are most commonly used for two purposes: One is the isolation between two sections of an electric system which have different ground levels and another one is to change voltage levels (as is typical for tube circuits for example). [Read more…]