As a bit of fun on the team we’ve challenged one another to this; you get to keep all the plug-ins supplied with you DAW but then you only get to keep one more plug-in. It can’t be a suite of plug-ins and it can’t be an external application. It also can’t be plug-ins that come bundled with certain subscription plans, so for Pro Tools users we have removed anything other than the plug-ins that come with the native version of Pro Tools.
I think that, like many of the team I’m more than happy with almost all the tools and goodies we get included with even the most basic version of Pro Tools. EQIII is more than serviceable as a basic tone shaping EQ. I even don’t mind D-Verb for my reverb as for the sort of music I generally work on is all quite rough and ready and no one is going to notice a slightly sloshy reverb tail in a rock band mix. Where I do find the basic tool set lacking is a good tone shaping compressor. Something that can, where needed impart some character and really go to town on transient shaping and if if the need takes me, get down and dirty on the tone. This is why the plug-in I would keep is the amazing Empirical Labs Arousor, which in all but name, is a software recreation of the legend that is the Empirical Labs Distressor.
The Empirical Labs Arousor
The Arousor is every bit as great as the hardware it is based on. I can get heavy guitars to sound fat. Banks of distorted guitars to sound thick and glued together and kick and snare drum just come to life in a rock track when you hit them hard. It’s also amazing when you really want to pull a room sound together. The Arouser can make even the smallest drum room sound epic and thunderous. And then there is all the new stuff which Dave and the team at Empirical Labs crammed into the plug-in which is not available on the hardware.
The new Attack Modification control allows you to chance the curve of attack of the compressor, making it easier to get more bite out of the material you are feeding it with. This works really well on drums, especially toms where you want to keep the body of the sound but promote the initial transient where the stick hits the head.
The other new feature I really love is the Soft Clipping section. Which allows you to really add some grit in the form of lovely 3rd order distortion. Meaning even the cleanest of guitar parts can be warmed up in a very natural way without it actually sounding like it’s distorted unless you really want to go to town and even then the saturation is not over the top. It sounds natural.
I think you can tell I like this plug-in for two reasons. 1, It’s a very useful, great sounding compressor. It sounds like I expect a Distressor to sound and 2, The Arousor is also a great tone shaper and saturation unit, so I’m kind of getting 2 bites of the cherry from one plug-in. I really hope that’s not cheating.
Check out our review of the Arousor by Mixer and Producer Greg Wurth. Greg dives into some of my favourite features of the Arousor including the Soft Clipping and Saturation setting.
What Empirical Labs Say About The Arousor
It’s been 20 years since Empirical Labs released its first compressor, The Distressor. From those early days on, Empirical Labs has been bombarded with requests for a great compressor plugin for those working in the box… and it had to be one with the creamy sound and ease-of-use of our own award winning hardware compressors. We are sure you will find the 20-year wait worth it!
For many years, processing speed, sample rates and copy protection were limiting. Things have changed. Digital Technology can now come very close to having all the wonderful non-linearity and “warts” of the best analog gear. We say “close” because most of Empirical Labs’ analog gear will pass 150KHz easily, and that is something that is impossible with current digital technology. But hey, who hears above 20KHz? ::Spock Eyebrow Raise:: But it is difficult getting everything right up to that 20KHz, especially at sample rates of 48KHz and below.
As this plug-in does all kinds of non-linear stuff, we had to employ a variety of techniques to minimize common digital artifacts found in almost all digital compressors/limiters etc. Unfortunately, these techniques are costly as far as processing, and one has to streamline certain DSP processes for less CPU load without sacrificing any audio quality. Ironically, sometimes stuff that is hard in Analog is easy in Digital, and sometimes stuff that is hard (or impossible) in Digital is easy in Analog.