While we all enjoy playing with photo-realistic plug-in versions of classic gear, I think all of us realise that using a picture of a Fairchild might not be the most complete exploration of what computers can do for audio. In spite of all of the lovingly modelled 1176s, there is plenty of innovation in plug in design. From “impossible” plug-ins which do something previously unachievable, to examples of excellent design, where companies mange to identify and address something lacking in the design of currently available processors. Here are some examples of plug-ins which offer something genuinely new, either in what they achieve or how they achieve it.
1. Sonnox - Fraunhofer Pro-Codec
When I first saw this, like so many of the best ideas, I wondered why no-one had thought of this before? We take being able to AB between settings on an EQ or compressor for granted, why not mp3 encoding? So obvious (once someone has actually thought of it of course!).
2. SoundRadix - Surfer EQ
Synth filters have had keyboard tracking forever, anyone who has ever swept a resonant filter will have heard how the harmonics come and go and how many gaps there are between the harmonics. You wouldn’t usually use a static filter on a synth so why always use static EQ on other sources? This plug-in passed the best test for a new idea, it made me wonder why no-one had done it before?
3. iZotope RX
I’m not really the best qualified to comment on this, I defer to “Mr RX” Mike Thornton. However you don’t need to be Mike to recognise that if a plug-in becomes a verb then it has achieved something special. Mike Wabro’s amazing work isolating the dialogue from the music on Brief Encounter is just one example of how much can be achieved using this software.
4. McDSP - AE400
I have used de-essers and multi-band compressors to create dynamic EQ for years. When I first came across the AE400 I got it straight away. Dynamic EQ and multi-band compression are two sides of the same coin and AE400 is flexible enough for EQ duties through to compression and everything inbetween. I’m pretty sure you could mix using just this, a high pass filter and some reverb, its that good.
5. Zynaptiq - Unveil
I’ve grown up with clear rules about what is and isn’t possible, there were things about an audio signal you could change but there were also things you couldn’t. The fact that you can always put more reverb on but you can’t take it off again was one of these rules. Unveil is one of those “impossible” processors which is making us look at these rules again. This is the stuff digital is good at and its great to see some companies putting as much effort into rewriting the rulebook as others are trying to get digital to recreate analogue.
This list is far from exhaustive. There are some honourable mentions like the phase adjustment plug-ins from the likes of SoundRadix and SSL, Waves vocal and bass rider plug-ins are great examples of a fresh take on an old problem. The EQ band sorting in the Eosis EQ struck me as a great touch and even simple things like the audiosuite loudness analyser bundled with the Avid Pro Limiter are welcome examples of simple solutions to existing problems, things which actually help me.
I’m sure I’ve missed some equally worthy plug-ins. What would you have included?