Acustica Audio have steadfastly adhered to their remit of providing genuine hardware topologies in software formats thus making ‘hardware’ available to all and at cringingly competitive prices. Their approach of using dynamic convolution to recreate hardware processors is both novel and potently effective, offering the user a wide range of genuinely comparable software equivalents. They have achieved this level of realism through a detailed and intensive sampling protocol which entails running sine sweeps, also known as impulses, through mouth watering hardware processors at various levels with snapshots at various instances. The resulting responses are then convolved to provide an eerily accurate representation of the hardware being multisampled. This form of advanced dynamic convolution has resulted in very accurate modelling of the time-dependent behaviour of non-linear analogue circuit components. The proprietary Volterra Series non-linear convolution technology, as Acustica like to call the ever evolving protocol, has taken leaps and bounds in recent years and the result is the mouth watering line of Acqua products and one product that best exemplifies Acustica’s ideology is Gold 2.

Billed as ‘the one-stop-shop solution for any lover of the sound of legendary vintage British consoles’ Gold takes the user on a journey through the various incarnations of the much loved and legendary British classic topology – that of Neve!

Anyone who has even the remotest smattering of hardware processor knowledge will recognise the brand name Neve. Synonymous with a big and coloured sound Neve has been responsible for some of the great classics of our time and the brand still dominates most genres, and no company has captured the Neve sound and essence better than Acustica Audio with the release of their latest Acqua plugin Gold 2.

GOLD 2 consists of 6 different eqs, 2 compressors, 9 solid-state preamp emulations and 6 tube preamp emulations, a detailed and flexible routing control section (matrix). However, this count increases when you take into account the number of permutations available via the routing matrix across all the modules.

The modules are listed as follows:

  • GOLD2 (Channel-strip incorporating all modules and routing matrix)
  • 2 rack EQ with selectable models identical to those in the standalone EQ plug-in
    • Compressor section with the same 8052 and 8054 models and controls
    • 7 different preamp options
  • GOLD2 PRE (standalone preamps module)
  • GOLD2 EQ (Equalizer standalone module);
  • GOLD2 COMP (standalone compressor module)

Each plug-in has a Standard version and an alternative ZL version which operates at zero latency –which comes at a cost, notably, cpu processor load.

The simple description above belies what is under the hood of this impressive plugin. Let me lift the hood and share with you the various Neve colours on offer and to do that truthfully I need to list the various modules that were painstakingly and lovingly sampled!

Make a cup of coffee, sit down and prepare yourself:

• 8066 EQ: Neve 1066
• 8112 EQ: Neve 33122
• 8093 EQ: EMI – Neve 1093 (shelf filters only, Neve 1081 with Marinair
transformers)
• 8193 EQ: EMI – Neve 1093 (Bell/peak mode, Neve 1081 with Marinair
transformers)
• 8077 EQ: Rare Neve 1077 – Mid frequency bands are duplicated.
• H073 EQ: Homebrew 1073 clone – a rare and uniquely powerful eq.
• 8052 Compressor: Neve 2252
• 8054 Compressor: Neve 2254
• A variety of tube preamps, including a Neve 9001
• A variety of Neve EQ/console/microphone preamps.

Gold 2 is an improvement on the original Gold in that it uses the latest Core 13 technology with the improvements listed below:

  • Upgraded SASM™ (Symmetric & Asymmetric Saturation Modeling) high-performance saturation algorithm
  • Introduction of a new post-production sample de-noising technology for cleaner deconvolved impulses called STT™ (Super Transient Technology)
  • Full compatibility with Client/Server architecture integrated by default in Acqua plugins
  • Engine optimization thanks to a new highly efficient algorithm. This innovative technique is applied to all the deconvolved impulses for further de-noising and subsequent elimination of any incorrect low-level behaviour (including the so-called “echo bug”)

Now that we have the specifications out of the way we can enjoy the ‘colour’ of Gold 2.

The manual includes detailed installation instructions and once the software has been installed using the elegant and simple Aquarius* you will be confronted with two versions of the plugin: Gold 2 and Gold 2 ZL. ZL denotes zero latency and is very useful if you are tracking or want a lower CPU load. In the event the full channel strip is not required Acustica Audio have cleverly broken down the modules into separate plugins. The pre, eq and compressor are provided as standalone modules along with respective ZL versions.

The manual is something of a thesis with detailed explanations on how the various modules are activated and how they work in relation to the overall topology of the plugin. The presentation of the manual harks back to the golden days of bound literature and this in itself speaks volumes about how the company perceive their products. But don’t think for one minute that this is all about pretty pictures and italic text.  For the tech purists like me the manual affords a wealth of useful information in the form of graphs and tables.

Gold 2 is cleverly thought out with attention given to the routing matrix. Traditional hardware channel strips worked in a linear and left to right mode with the pre residing in the first slot followed by filtering and equalisation and then topped off with compression and limiting. However, Acustica give us the flexibility of customising the strip to suit the mix project’s requirements and they do so with with a mouth watering gold knob that switches between the various routings on offer. I know it sounds silly but for us producers the visual aspect of a plugin is as important as its function and performance and Acustica never fail in this department. This level of versatility allows the user to chain modules in a pre determined manner, affording huge scope for both mixing and sound design chores. Each module is offered with various topologies that are available at the flick of a switch and when you factor in the extensive routing options on offer you can see, quite quickly, why this plugin is more than just a single function dynamic tool.

For my tests I used one RnB vocal line, one Hip Hop drum beat and a busy EDM take with staccato synth builds so as to afford me a wide range of frequencies and responses to test with. Additionally, these particular choices allowed me to test for short static transients versus longer sustained evolving transients – how a compressor detects and captures peak transients is as important as its overall behaviour. Each take was run through the various topologies on offer and the results, on the whole, were as I expected. However, it is always difficult to test against early Neve topologies in that each release version had a variation to design and featured components. To take a working example: the Neve 2254 compressor combined an ‘active gain‑control’ section with classic Neve modular discrete Class A design gain stages and transformer-coupled circuits. This afforded the user the classic Neve sound. However, each revision altered the colour ever so slightly and to the purists the ‘correct’ version had to be used to ‘best represent’ the Neve sound. What ‘that version’ is is still in debate. With this in mind you can appreciate how hard it is to exact a colour to the original. Acustica have made a bold attempt at sampling the Neve colour across the various topologies, and they have done so admirably. Ultimately, this is all that matters to the end user – the fact that the major Neve colours are represented in a single product that houses all the major topologies that are easily and instantly accessible.

Using the 2 compressor designs – the 2252 and 2254 I knew pretty much what to expect in terms of processing the Hip Hop drum beat. The 2252 suffered from its original design as it was Neve’s first diode-bridge compressor and employed germanium transistors in the output amplifier. This resulted in high levels of distortion. Although it contributed greatly to the 1960’s rock sound it was on the whole ignored by the broadcasting industry which was the market Neve aimed for. The 2254, however, is a different kettle of fish and the design I used for most of the testing. The smoothness and depth were instantly obvious with no enharmonic colouration. The distortions, as expected, were both harmonic and manageable. The vocal take also benefited from the smooth and fluid compression that the 2254 and 2252 offer and the processes added a certain texture that is evident when using these particular topologies from Neve. Busy transient rich material like the synth staccatos I tested suffered a little from lack of peak detection but that is expected as the 2 stage dynamic feed-back design of the 2254 affords a smoother and more musical result. However, this was not a showstopper as the plethora of Neve topologies on offer meant I had access to all manner of dynamic tools to shape and hone the takes and this more than compensated for any design compromises.

The Neve eqs are a joy to use and Acustica have come extremely close to capturing the Neve flavour across the various modules. I didn’t test for time constraint processes, or phase anomalies, as I would expect those to be in line with Acustica’s stringent sampling protocols, and if I had to be honest the tests would be conjure up wildly variable results as, once again, we would have to take into account the various versions of each module that populated the hardware markets of yesteryear. The smoothness of colour denoted across the various eq modules sounded, to my ears, a very close match to the originals. Neve eqs are very musical and the differences between module topologies are night and day to the purist and I had a great deal of fun playing with the various eqs on offer and the whole experience had me harking back to the glory days of expensive temperamental hardware albeit affordable and controlled.

Gold 2 met all my expectations and the variety of audio material I used to test the beast stood all manner of bludgeoning tasks. The real power of this plugin rears its head when you start to combine processes using the routing matrix. A simple switch from one topology to another sprung a different colour in my face and that is all you can ask for from a product that claims to have captured the Neve sound.

I cannot stress how good Gold 2 is. Sure, it might be a little quirky in its routing behaviour but that is its strength and to be honest the results would outweigh any anal reservations about the viability of the colours bearing in mind the sheer volume of versions available on each topology.

Acustica Audio have captured the essence of the Neve sound and presented it as an elegant and versatile solution in Gold 2.

Buy it!

*Aquarius is a brand new assistant application by Acustica Audio which offers a quick and easy way to download, install, update and authorize your products.

Samplecraze and Acustica Audio have joined forces to bring you a great discount package.

Click here for more info!

iZotope Neutron Elements – $129

As with all my existing and future reviews I will only be reviewing what I use and in practice and I will keep all reviews as working reviews and not an epic encyclopedia of opinions. I will leave that to the magazines and e-zine sites.

This month I am going to go on and on and on about iZotope’s Neutron Elements, a wonderful all in one solution to all things that need clever algorithmic analysis and processing.

The key features of Neutron Elements are:

  • Track Assistant – iZotope’s clever analyse and compensatory tool.
  • Track identification – Neutron Elements identifies the type of ‘instrument’ being used and applies compensatory profiles at a click.
  • EQ Learn – Neutron Elements listens to incoming audio and applies, yet again, clever compensation.
  • Four powerful single band processors : EQ, Compressor, Exciter and Transient Shaper – a modular approach to processing.
  • Over 200 presets for you to start from or use as is.
  • Linear and Minimum Phase topologies that help to further shape your sounds.
  • Mode selection tools based on type of instrument and sound.
  • Choice of interesting Responses for EQs.
  • Fully Configurable.
  • Fully automated.

Neutron Elements (NE) is a honed down version of iZotope’s Neutron but is still an extremely powerful tool offering the user countless configurations of dynamic tools. Brimming with instrument specific presets Neutron Elements presents the user with excellent starting templates to hone and edit to taste. Neutron Elements, follows the channel-strip concept and features four modules and Track Assistant on top! But beneath the simple GUI lies a wealth of quality processors.

The beauty of the modular approach is that the order of dynamics can be changed by grabbing any module and moving it before or after another module. This means you are not restricted to using a fixed modular approach. Eq before compression? Sure, why not? Eq after compression? Sure, why not? The ability to chop and change the order of dynamics is as potent as the processors provided.

Track Assistant

Track Assistant is an interesting tool and can be compared to all analysis and compensatory processes in that it will analyse the incoming audio and make working suggestions as to how to sonically improve the results. This is not new technology and has been in use by many companies for many years. In fact, I would go as far as saying that HarBal reigns supreme here and not only is it a better mastering and processing tool it is also far more intuitive than Neutron. Whereas Neutron Elements suggests a single solution to each profile HarBal goes further and offers a combination of suggestions all based on simple physics as opposed to subjective opinions of producers and their preset profiles. That is not to say Neutron Elements does not offer powerful ‘suggestive’ options as to what to use and how to use it. You could, in effect, just use Track Assistant and be done with your audio….but I suggest you go a little further and switch off this feature and work with the truly wonderful features that reside in this powerful software.

When dealing with audio we are invariably concerned with cleaning, shaping and dynamic control. NE provides all the necessary tools to achieve these goals. An equaliser sits in prime spot, and rightly so, as we need to band pass and clean redundant frequencies at both the channel and master bus stages. However, if you don’t fancy an eq at the start of the chain, it is as easy as clicking on the module and dragging it where you do want it to sit. In the event that you only want to filter and not clean then NE gives us the very useful Vintage response, in addition to the existing Shelf and Baxandall modes (there are times when pre-ringing is exactly what we want). The eq bands are not fixed and all have Q controls. Additionally iZotope have throw in a Learn function. This, when selected, will analyse the incoming audio and suggest where the frequency nodes should sit. After that it is just a matter of cut and boost. Clever and useful.

Compressor

Next up, we have a very useful compressor that can be used in parallel mode and is as easy to use as possible. The compressor works using two Modes: Digital and Vintage. Think of Digital as uncoloured and Vintage as coloured.

Level Detection Mode

These three buttons, RMS, Peak, and True, allow you to adjust which level detection mode the Compressor uses, as follows:

  • Peak enables Neutron’s detection circuit to look at peak levels of the incoming signal. In general, this setting is useful when you are trying to even out sudden transients in your music.
  • RMS enables Neutron to look at the average level of the incoming signal. RMS detection is useful when you are trying to increase the overall volume level without changing the character of the sound.
  • True mode behaves much like RMS mode, but with some key advantages. Unlike RMS, True mode produces even levels across all frequencies. Additionally, True mode will not produce the aliasing or artifacts that RMS detection can cause (a signal-dependent behavior that is true of any RMS-based compressor, not just Neutron).

VU Meters

In Vintage mode, the gain reduction meter uses a VU meter. The decision to use VU or standard Peak metering is down to the user. I love using VU meters at the channel stage as it allows me to visually detect how well the audio is moving along: is it dynamic or not? That needle bouncing up and down is all I need to feel good about the sound. Of course, I am simplifying this serious subject but because I have covered metering and headroom extensively in my video tutorials I feel I can make that remark without a heavy comeback. Again, and as always, determine what you need the metering for and adjust to those requirements.

Side-chain Filter

This allows you to audition the filtered side-chain signal only, so that you may hear the same audio input that’s triggering the compressor. Click the icon to the right of Side-chain filter (just below the spectrum view) to engage it. I firmly believe that almost all dynamic processors should have a side-chain function. We have moved on from exclusive amplitude detection and need to refine our triggers better and side-chaining allows for that.

Exciter

The Exciter comes next and it really does make an announcement. Offering 4 modes: Retro, Tape, Warm and Tube it sounds lovely but even more interesting is the fact that these modes/topologies can be automated. Morphing the modes has never been easier than grabbing the main control node and dragging it around the modes whilst recording the automation. It doesn’t end there, the Exciter also has a parallel feature. You can blend (dry/wet mix) the dry and wet signals for further colouring.

Pre-Emphasis Modes

These modes allow you to weight the saturation in or away from different areas of the frequency spectrum:

  • Full offers a gentle, low-mid frequency bump.
  • Defined offers a gentle, high-mid frequency bump.
  • Clear offers a gentle, low-mid frequency attenuation.

Post Filter

The high shelf icon overlaid on the spectrum view is a gentle shelving filter capable only of attenuation, to a maximum of -12 dB within a range of 1 kHz to 20 kHz. Drag the filter node to adjust the frequency and gain of the filter, which will be applied to the entire Wet signal, allowing you to further adjust any high frequencies that have been generated by the Exciter module.

I am a fan of Exciters and use them regularly for exciting reverbs, low end frequencies, vocals and so on. So long as filtering is applied post excitation you will never end up having a brash sound. I wish more people would explore the power of this process.

Transient Shaper

Finally, the Transient Shaper rears its head. Transient Shapers are the new craze. Whereas we used to use amplitude envelopes we now have dedicated transient shapers to further ‘shape’ the sound in a way a simple amplitude envelope cannot. However, if I had to be honest here, Transient Shapers (TS) are glorified envelopes with velocity curve functions. The TS in Neutron Elements offer 3 curve modes: Sharp, Medium and Smooth. That is more than enough to shape a whole channel and deliver the best response.

Gain Adjustment Trace

This view offers a scrolling meter that displays the incoming signal’s waveform with a superimposed curve that illustrates the amount of gain adjustment taking place in real time.

Paying close attention to the trace juxtaposed over the waveform, and how it illustrates the effect changing envelope modes can have on allowing audio to return to 0 dB of gain before the next transient, is an important tool when seeking to achieve maximum transparency.

Note: the scale can be adjusted on the left-hand side.

The Transient Shaper is more than a glorified envelope. It is actually a potent sound design tool and can be used to create new textures as opposed to simply adjusting the ADSR elements of an envelope.

Metering

Finally, the metering. I expect almost all developers nowadays to rpovide extensive metering options bearing in mind the mediums we have to cater for.

The following, from iZotope’s website, should help to clarify issues:

Meter Type

This allows you to switch Neutron Elements’ metering between a Peak+RMS combo meter and a Peak+Short-term loudness combo meter.

The combined Peak+RMS meter displays a lower bright bar representing the average level (RMS) and a higher dimmer bar representing peak level. There is also a moving line above the bar representing the most recent peak level or peak hold.

Detect True Peaks

By default the Input/Output meters will only indicate clipping which occurs within the digital domain. To accurately measure the signal that will result from digital to analog conversion, select “Detect True Peaks.”

Spectrum Type

This feature lets you select between four types of spectrums:

  • Linear: A continuous line connecting the calculated points of the spectrum.
  • 13 Octave: Splits the spectrum into bars with a width of 13 of an octave. Although the spectrum is split into discrete bands, this option can provide excellent resolution at lower frequencies.
  • Critical: Splits the spectrum into bands that correspond to how we hear, or more specifically how we differentiate between sounds of different frequencies. Each band represents sounds that are considered “similar” in frequency.
  • Full Octave: Splits the spectrum into bars with a width of one full octave.

Average Time

This feature averages the spectrum according to this setting. Higher average times can be useful for viewing the overall tonal balance of a mix, while shorter average times provide a more real-time display.

Show Peak Hold

This shows or hides the peak hold in the audio spectrum behind the EQ. Note this is different to the level meters.

Peak Hold Time

Peak hold time determines how long peaks are displayed after they are detected.

Choices include:

  • 5 ms
  • 250 ms
  • 500 ms
  • 1,000 ms
  • 5,000 ms
  • Infinite

Conclusion

Ultimately, a software is defined by its price versus feature sets and in this department Neutron Elements is a winner.

The feature set is pretty complete giving the user all the necessary tools, from start to finish, to fully optimise the sound/s.

There are alternatives available on the market but none are as simple and elegant as Neutron Elements. My personal favourite for all mastering chores  is HarBal but that is a far more detailed and thorough software and although user friendly it does require a learning curve.

Neutron Elements affords a simple and detailed all-in-one processing solution and is presented with a streamlined and classy GUI that makes it a joy to use. If you can afford the upgrade to Neutron Standard then don’t blink. The extra features are easily worth the upgrade price.

To me, the best recommendation I can give to any product is as follows:

I use it!