Test Drive: Music Production Toolkit for Pro Tools LE

The ratio is a stepped control which goes from 2:1 up to ‘Smack!’, which is hard limiting. Unfortunately the attack and release controls are simply numbered from 0 to 10 rather than being calibrated in milliseconds. It looks more retro that way, but it’s not as informative.

Smack! LE features three different types of compression. The Normal, Warm and Opto settings emulate different hardware compressors, and the differences between them are more apparent as you crank Smack! harder. Normal and Warm modes are based on an FET circuit, the difference being that Warm mode’s release time changes a bit with changes in the audio. It also seemed to have slower attack times than did Normal mode. In Opto mode the attack and release controls are grayed out, and you’re restricted to the fixed, slow time constants. Adjusting the Input level in Opto had a marked effect on the apparent Threshold level, right up to clipping.

The Distortion control switches in three different flavors of harmonic distortion, again attempting to incorporate some of that vintage feel. The effect is pretty subtle on most sources, but it can add a pleasant tubey roughness that works as an effect. The Side-Chain EQ control is not an EQ at all, but increases the compressor’s sensitivity to mid- or high-frequencies, which according to the manual helps eliminates pops and thumps. In use, it seemed to simply engage a different compression curve, yielding a much more in-your-face sound when set to its highest level.

Smack! LE certainly has a color, but to my ear it’s a pleasant one for voiceover. It’s definitely an improvement over the sterile Dynamics III plug-in, which is in turn an improvement over Dynamics II. But I like Smack! LE best when it’s sitting across the stereo buss, adding a bit of grit (or warmth, if you must) to the final mix. It also works nicely in series with Dynamics III (do put Smack! LE after Dynamics III) for a seriously compressed VO track that will cut through an elementary school... if you’re into that sort of thing.

However, it’s not a fast compressor — the minimum attack time appears to be about 100 milliseconds, in Normal Mode. If you need fast, Smack! LE ain’t for you. But if you like a little gentle grit, try it out. By the way, Digidesign sells Smack! LE separately for $395, and it runs about $370 on the street.

SPACED OUT

When Digidesign bought Trillium Labs about a year ago, they found themselves in possession of a convolution reverb called TL Space. The Native Edition included with Music Production Toolkit runs as a conventional RTAS host-powered plug-in. There are many other convolution reverbs available today, but TL Space Native Edition is easy to use and offers a reasonable amount of control.

tlspace

TL Space correctly labels the first portion of the impulse response as “early reflections” and gives you controls for these as well as separate controls for the reverb tail. While not as comprehensive as the controls on Audio Ease’s Altiverb, for example, they do give you as much shaping of the impulse response as you’ll need. Both elements of the reverb can be panned independently, if you’re using a stereo-out configuration. The Length slider tells TL Space how much of the start of the impulse response should be considered early reflections, and the Size parameter sets the apparent dimensions of this space up or down.

The other controls are grouped in two pages under the headings Reverb and Decay. Parameters in the former list include a two-band EQ, stereo Width and an interesting Reverse slider. The default setting for this bad boy is Off, and its other positions are calibrated in beats per minute, the idea being that you can create a reverse reverb that syncs to whatever tempo you set in your Session. Of course you can simply set it to whatever sounds good as well. The Decay page lets you divide the impulse response into low, mid and high-frequency bands at crossover points that you like, then adjust the decay time of each band independently. There’s also a global decay time parameter, and you can set the relative levels of dry and wet signals, and the balance of early and late reflections. Both elements of the reverb can also be pre-delayed by user-definable amounts. The main display can then be set to show either a waveform view of the IR, with the early-reflections portion highlighted in a lighter color, or a nifty image of the space that was sampled.

All of the above assumes that you like fooling with the controls affecting an impulse response, but let’s face it — I’d rather call up a preset and listen, and if it wasn’t right then call up another. In TL Space, just clicking on the double arrow at the top right of the screen opens up the program’s browser, where impulse responses are categorized using folders. Double-clicking on an impulse file loads it, or you can use the dedicated Load button at the top of the list. The Edit button brings up a pop-up menu allowing you to import audio files and IR libraries in all common formats. This all works fine, but the first entry is “Download TL Space IR Package.” It brought up my browser, and an error page. I navigated Digi’s site until I found Downloads for plug-ins, and was then able to manually download and install the extra packages. Make sure you’re on broadband — there’s quite a lot of large impulse response files there.

The impulse responses are what makes or breaks a convolution reverb, since they are essentially the presets. TL Space’s library is pretty good, especially when you add in the extra files from Digi’s website. The library features a good collection of reasonable rooms and halls, along with post-production sounds including cars and outdoors, plus some amazing special effects (almost 300 MB of them!). I’m still looking for a place to use the “Dopamine Withdrawl” IR, but I’m sure an opportunity will present itself. Soon.

There is one unique feature to TL Space — it supports up to 10 snapshots. Each of these includes an impulse response plus all of the control settings, and you can switch between snapshots on the fly. Furthermore, snapshot switching can be automated, making it possible to step through up to 10 different reverbs within one Session from a single instance of TL Space. Since convolution reverb is a CPU-intensive process, this means more bang for the CPU buck. But let’s not kid ourselves here, because one instance of TL Space with a long IR file ran my CPU meter up from maybe 5% to 20-25%. You’ll need a tough computer to handle two or more instances of this baby.

All things considered, TL Space Native Edition is a fine example of a good-sounding convo reverb, and adds significant value to the Music Production Toolkit. Again, Digidesign sells TL Space Native Edition by itself for $495, so the $500 for the Music Production Toolkit now contains $900 worth of plug-ins.

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