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.

compressor aficionados (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…]

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.

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

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poll results and some confusion

votes

Last week I had asked about some feedback through the polls here. The results on the polls about samplerates and SSE1 support where unsurprisingly straight forward and so I skip those here.

More confusing to me was the result to the other poll in which I’ve asked: “If NastyCS would be extended to be a complete pre-amp/channelstrip emu, which features would be a must-have?”.

A cumulated 31% of all votes went to saturation/distortion type of things (Tape  (12%), Tube (10%), Pre-Amp (9%)) and afterwards there is showing up a 8% demand for transient shaping – why do you expect such things in a channelstrip that much? I would have had expected to see sophisticated compression options to be on top of the list but this just appears in 7% of the total votes.

TesslaPRO revealed

TesslaPro

TesslaPRO

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‘BootEQ mkII’ released

As of now the “BootEQ mkII” musical EQ and pre-amp simulator is released under freeware license and a copy is ready to download for you. Release info and download locations are maintained in the sticky “latest versions / downloads” post. Please read and accept the enduser license agreement before downloading and installing.

Requirements: SSE compatible PC, VST host running at 44,1 or 48kHz samplerate.

Download here.

‘BootEQ mkII’ – LF shaping

BootEQ mkII

BootEQ mkII - new LF controls

[Read more…]

‘BootEQ mkII’ – preview and release info

[Read more…]

modelling pre-amp goodness

pre-amp

I’m just thinking loud here about pre-amps and all their different sounds and how they contribute to todays recordings and overall production aesthetics.

There are actually two types of such devices in general which are coming to my mind. On the one side there are the more unobtrusive ones which are adding almost nothing to the sound but just tighten and focusing the lowend a little bit or enhancing slightly the mid range in a good way. The other ones (mostly tube/valve types) are tending to saturate and distort the incoming signal if driven with higher input gain which may contribute to the desired sound in some cases while in others not. [Read more…]