Multi-channel processing plugins are 2016's big thing. As more and more consumers get home cinema setups, and more made for TV content is getting screened in cinemas, being able to quickly generate multi-channel content has become far more important.
Mike Thornton's article about this release piqued my interest. DTS have long been the other big name in Surround sound, producing their own alternative surround sound codecs and delivery techniques since the nineties. It has been interesting to watch DTS' evolution, both as a home consumer, and as a post production professional. The technology they've developed has always been innovative, but also careful to ensure compatibility.
The algorithms in the Waves DTS Neural™ Collection are not reverse engineered, skirting around patents and adapting well known techniques. They are based on DTS' own written from the ground up techniques, as installed on thousands if not millions of home cinema setups, cinemas, computers and even mobile devices.
So it was with reasonably high expectations that I tried out this plugin collection.
This is where I hit my first little niggle. In most upmixers, when you place them as an insert on a stereo channel, the plugin automatically modifies the output configuration of the path, to suit the upmix. So if you insert a 2.0 to 7.1 upmixer on a stereo path, it'll change the output to 7.1.
With Avid DownMixer (and most other downmixer plugins), if you insert a 7.1 to 2.0 downmixer on a 7.1 path, they will modify the output to 2.0, meaning it can be routed direct to the stereo bus master, and also have other stereo inserts placed after the downmixer in the chain, such as dynamics.
With the Waves DTS Neural™ Downmixer plugins you have to pick up the 2.0 output (or the 5.1 output if you're using a 7.1 to 5.1 downmixer) from the sub-busses of the 7.1 output and bring them back in as an aux input. This means that any plugins you want to insert after the downmixer on the same path have to be multi-channel (rare) or multi-mono (not phase or process coherent).
It's a small thing, but it can make an awfully big difference, especially if you have a busy Pro Tools session, and perhaps aren't using Pro Tools 12HD, with its unlimted internal busses.
This problem manifests itself in a more important way when you use the downmixer as an Audiosuite plugin. More on this later.
Then we come to my next tiny niggle. The input and output meters are arranged in the SMPTE layout - L, R, C, Lf, Lss, Rss, Lsr, Rsr, whereas Pro Tools' internal layout, and that displayed on the Pro Tools metering, is L, C, R, Lss, Rss, Lsr, Rsr, Lf. Again, it's a tiny thing, but it can lead to confusion, which when you're dealing with a 7.1 mix, isn't a great thing.
But How Does It Sound?
DTS have a strong following among musicians, who have long considered its algorithms more music friendly than the competition. I kept this in mind, but also compatibility, when doing these comparisons.
The Waves DTS Neural™ Surround collection consists of three parts -
- DTS Neural™ Mono2Stereo - AAX64
- DTS Neural™ Surround UpMix - AAX64
- DTS Neural™ Surround DownMix - AAX64 & Audiosuite
These all do pretty much what they say on the tin. I'm not going to repeat the user manual verbatim, but here's my first impressions of each component.
DTS Neural™ Mono2Stereo - AAX64
I took the Mono DME delivery from a trailer I recently mixed, and inserted the Mono2Stereo plugin on each stem. I then fed the "stereo" outputs from each stem to a master stereo bus, and put Izotope Insight on this to measure the stereo width.
I was very pleasantly surprised. It doesn't sound as artificial as other mono-to-stereo plugins I've heard before, and Insight showed that it retained a reasonable amount of mono compatibility (in fact never slipping in to cancellation territory)
DTS Neural™ Surround UpMix - AAX64
This comes in three variants -
- 2.0 to 5.1
- 2.0 to 7.1
- 5.1 to 7.1
There aren't Audiosuite versions of the upmixers for some reason.
Mind you, once I heard it in action, I was completely blown away.
DTS seem to believe in a hard centre, with minimal divergence, and this matches my personal preference. Despite this, there is amazing depth and a real feeling of being encapsulated in the sound, like you're in an acoustic bubble. The bass management is also stupendous - sleeve flappingly low, solid, kicking bass. No boom, just punch. After punch. After punch.
I put Trevor Horn's masterpiece - the album version of "Welcome To The Pleasure Dome", though the 2.0 to 7.1 upmixer, and instantly a huge beaming smile took over my face. I lost a good thirty minutes just sat, jaw dropped, rewinding over sections repeatedly, comparing the DTS output to other 7.1 upmixers. The upmix is engaging and enveloping. When the "Hooo Haaa"s come in on the chorus, or when the Hammond drops into the lower registers, or those floor toms kick in, everything simply shakes, and the music seems to take on a whole new dynamic range.
I've no idea what they're doing, but whatever it is, they're doing it bloody well. I haven't heard such depth on this track since hearing it off a Linn Sondek, through a Linn preamp, straight into a pair of ATC SCM100A's. Just incredible.
In terms of downmix compatibility, we'll take a look at that in the next section.
DTS Neural™ Surround DownMix - AAX64
This also comes in three variants -
- 7.1 to 5.1
- 7.1 to 2.0
- 5.1 to 2.0
At first it may seem that all downmixers do much the same thing. However, the DTS algorithm is really clever. Have a look at what happened when I downmixed a 5.1 BLITS tone sequence to 2.0 LtRt, then upmixed it back to 5.1 -
The top track is the original 5.1 BLITS tone sequence, the middle track is the LtRt downmix, and the bottom track is the upmix of the LtRt. You can see that the bottom track is an incredibly close recreation of the original, complete with stereo surrounds. This is really impressive.
I thought to myself, can it be this clever on 7.1? So I tried it -
The top clip is the 7.1 original, the bottom is the result of downmixing from 7.1 to LtRt and upmixing that LtRt back up to 7.1
The result is reasonably close to INCREDIBLE. I never imagined anyone would be able to get a reasonably accurate 7.1 out of a stereo pair.
DTS Neural™ Surround DownMix - AudioSuite
The AudioSuite version of the Downmixer has the same three variants.
This is where we start hitting the problems with the audio routing and meter display that I mentioned earlier, head on.
This shows the DTS Neural 5.1 to 2.0 Audiosuite Downmixer in preview mode. There's something really strange going on with the metering, both in the main plugin window, and in the preview output meters by the bypass button. This is all to do with the difference between Pro tools' track layout and the SMPTE layout that the plugin is expecting.
It seems to work it out when you hit Render though -
However, it gives this result -
I get four channels of silence. I then have to split this 5.1 into Mono, drag the Left and Right tracks onto a stereo track, then consolidate it, just to be able to export a stereo interleaved WAV.
This is way too much workflow, consuming lots of un-necessary disk space, and way too easy to accidentally get wrong. It'd be easier if it could just output to a stereo interleaved file in the clip list.
At $499, this may seem like one of the more expensive plugins that Waves do. It is actually seven plugins, which makes it better value for money. And because it's a collection of plugins, it stacks up well, value for money wise against other Surround collections.
And then you've got the famous DTS sound. I'd almost forgotten how good their gear sounds.
I'd say that if you're doing a lot of 5.1 and 7.1 work, you could do an awful lot worse than look at the Waves DTS Neural™ Surround Collection.
New Waves Broadcast And Surround Suite
Waves have created a new bundle called the Broadcast and Surround Suite and included 18 broadcast and surround related plugins into one collection including the DTS Neural Surround Collection. You will also find the entire 360 Bundle as well as the NS1 and WNS denoising plug-ins and their UM225/226 upmixing plugins. Finally they have included their Dorrough and WLM Plus metering plugins as well as the LoAir plugin. The Waves Broadcast and Surround Suite is priced at $2499.
Note that the only bundle that the new DTS Neural Surround Collection is included in is the Broadcast and Surround Suite. Mercury bundle owners will not find the DTS Neural Surround Collection plugins added to your account.