Ridin’ the dynamic range

Dynamics processing is one of the most important techniques in the audio engineer’s bag of tricks. Compressors, limiters, expanders and gates are examples of these tools and they come in a wide variety of types and functions both as hardware and plugins. Let’s take a look at how these techniques can be useful to your music-making, whether you are a player or a producer.

The use of dynamic processing started in the early days of radio broadcasting. Engineers sought a way to include both softer sounds of actors whispering to louder sounds of signing or audiences clapping in the same broadcast. To do that they needed something to even out an audio signal – reduce the loud parts and amplify the soft parts. This was the birth of audio compression.

Since then, the ways in which you can process the dynamic range of your audio material has turned into a science and art form itself, but the basic premises can be boiled down to these basic terms:

Dynamic range – this is the difference in amplitude between the loudest and average volume in your audio material. Dynamic processing is all about processing that range: decrease it, increase it, or use it as a trigger for other processing.

Threshold – the threshold value is the point at which a processor is set to start working.

Ratio – this is the ratio in level between the original and processed signal after the threshold level is reached. As seen in the diagram, a ratio of 3:1 means that if the input signal is 3 dB above the threshold level, it will be reduced to 1 dB. This means the gain reduction will be 2 dB.

Attack and release: Attack is the time it takes for a compressor to reduce the gain after the input signal reaches the threshold level. Release is the opposite: once the input signal drops below the threshold level, how long will it take for the gain reduction to return to normal.

There’s more of course: RME vs Peak, Soft vs, Hard knee, Make-up gain, look-ahead and much more. But we’ll save all that for another day.

There are several main types of dynamics processors that you will come across in a wide range of applications: in guitar amplifiers and stomp boxes, as rack-mounted audio processors, in your audio mixer in your DAW or as audio plugins for use with your DAW.

The main types of processors can usually be divided as follows:

Compressors – the most common form of dynamic processor is used to reduce peaks in audio signals. The practical applications are almost limitless: to bring out nuance in vocal performances, create long, sustaining guitar tones, control transients in a drum recording. The list could go on forever.

Expanders – An expander does the opposite of what a compressor does: increasing loud sounds and decreasing softer signals. This is also useful in transient shaping but perhaps mostly used in noise gates when you want the background noise removed completely.

Limiters – this is a special type of compressor that’s used to stop any signal from reaching over the threshold limit. Practical applications include everything from background music in public spaces to protecting your studio speakers. It’s also a very important tool during mixdown.

Many dynamics processors can do several or all of the tasks mentioned above, and sometimes in combination with other techniques that open up new possibilities for music-makers, producers and engineers.

Blue Cat Audio’s dynamics toolbox.

Unsurprisingly maybe, Blue Cat Audio offers a comprehensive set of dynamic processing plugins that are useful at any stage of audio recording and production. And by amazing coincidence, they are on sale until August 10th. Save 23% Here’s a brief introduction:

Blue Cat’s Dynamics
Blue Cat’s Dynamics is a full-featured dynamics processor: it can be used as a compressor, limiter, gate, expander, waveshaper or all at once! The dynamics response of the plug-in can be tweaked with a unique two-thresholds system, and provides detailed visual feedback about its behavior.
Price: (-23%) 129 EUR 99 EUR or (-23%) $129 $99 (tax incl.)

Learn more: Blue Cat’s Dynamics

Blue Cat’s Gain Suite
This freeware plug-in suite is a series of gain utilities which let you control the volume of one or several audio tracks simultaneously, in real-time.
Price: Free!

Learn more: Blue Cat’s Gain Suite

Blue Cat’s MB-5 Dynamix
Blue Cat’s MB-5 Dynamix is an extremely powerful all-in-one multiband dynamics processor: it can be used as a multiband compressor, limiter, gate, expander, waveshaper or all combined at once, on any part of the spectrum.
Price: (-33%) 149 EUR 99 EUR or (-33%) $149 $99 (tax incl.)

Learn more: Blue Cat’s MB-5 Dynamix

Blue Cat’s MB-7 Mixer
Blue Cat’s MB-7 Mixer is a unique plug-in that splits the signal into several frequency bands and lets you re-mix and process them as if they were separate tracks: change levels, apply panning, add built-in effects, or even third party VST plug-ins.
Price: (-23%) 129 EUR 99 EUR or (-23%) $129 $99 (tax incl.)

Learn more: Blue Cat’s MB-7 Mixer

Blue Cat’s Protector
“A brickwall for your master buss.” – Blue Cat’s Protector is a 0 dB stereo brickwall limiter with adjustable dynamics response. It will typically find its place on the master bus of your DAW to protect your audio output from overshooting and thereby saving your mixes, your speakers and your ears.
Price: (-37%) 79 EUR 49 EUR or (-37%) $79 $49 (tax incl.)

Learn more: Blue Cat’s Protector

Blue Cat’s Energy Pack
Dynamics Under Control” – Want to bring energy and dynamics to your tracks? This bundle provides a complete solution for wideband, multi-band and side chain dynamics processing and monitoring.
Price: (-20%) 399 EUR 319 EUR or (-20%) $399 $319 (tax incl.)

Learn more: Blue Cat’s Energy Pack

MB-7 Mixer: the box of audio magic

Multiband processing with your favorite VST/AU plugins

Multiband processing opens up a new world of possibilities for creative producers. Traditionally, this has been a technique used by mastering engineers to glue a mix together with purpose-built tools for multiband compression, or to control the stereo width of a complete mix with multiband techniques.

If you are new to multiband processing, the idea is this: rathen than applying your processing to the entire signal, you split it up in frequency bands and treat each frequency range separately. As mentioned above, this is a common practice in mastering, when applying compression and stereo processing to separate bands can bring out punch and clarity better than treating the whole mix to the same processing. 

The spectrogram display in MB-7 Mixer showing the signal split into four frequency bands.

But mastering isn’t the only place where multiband processing is useful. Today, it’s become one of the many tools available to producers and sound designers. For example, a rich and clear lead guitar sound may get a little compression and reverb in the high ranges, some extra distortion in the high mids and compression in the lower bands.

With the MB-7 Mixer, the multiband world is open for any type of processing you can think of. MB-7 Mixer is a flexible mixing tool that will split a signal into separate frequency bands and then process each band with your desired audio effects. It includes 30 high-quality effects, but perhaps best of all: you can load your favorite VST/AU plugins into any of the MB-7 effect slots. Yes! All your plugins just became multiband effects!

MB-7 mixer handles up to seven parallel frequency bands. Each comes with pre and post fader effect slots as well as standard mixer controls such as level, pan and stereo width. For more advanced mix projects, several instances of MB-7 can be linked together for easy level management across multiple tracks and with advanced MIDI and automation capabilities it can be used for advanced sidechain processing. 

MB-7 Mixer is an incredible box of magic that offers up new insights and ideas each time you use it. Whether you need multiband tools for mastering or mixdown duties or if you are simply looking for a creative audio processor, give MB-7 Mixer a try.

MB-7 Mixer is on sale until August 10, 2020. Get it for $99 only – 25% off!


Delay – from tape to Late Replies

Delay is perhaps one of the most well-known and often or even over-used effects in music production. Since the early days of rock’n roll recordings in the 50s, tape delay was an important part of the sound: the slapback guitars, the beefed-up vocals. Creative use of tape delay would follow in the 60s with pioneering artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. About that time, delay also got easier to handle when Philips brought out the Bucket Brigade Device (BBD) chip that could delay a signal electronically, making bulky and fragile tape machines redundant.

The 70s and 80s saw heavy use of delay in music production. From the Lee Scratch Perry’s dub experiments in Jamaica to the guitar the delay-rich guitar landscapes of U2’s The Edge and countless other artists relied on delay in tape, analog or digital shape. Delay was here to stay.

Today, the options are endless. Delay can be found as vintage units, recreations, stompboxes and of course VST plugins or AU plugins. So what is left to do? Is there anything that hasn’t been tried yet? When we set out to design the delay plugin Late Replies, it turned out there were plenty of ideas left to try out.

Late Replies is an advanced delay plugin with a few unique tricks on its repertoire. The video above by Andrei Martinez Agras highlights one of the coolest features in Late Replies: the ability to host separate effect chains for each delay repetition! Think of it as a multi-tap delay with a separate effect rack for each tap. Late Replies comes with a large selection of effects to pick from, but perhaps coolest of all: you can use any VST/AU effect too!

Check out the video and give Late Replies a try today!

The Problem With Headphones And How To Fix It!

All audio professionals and musicians know it: listening to music on headphones sounds unnatural and causes ear fatigue, whereas the same experience with speakers or when listening to instruments directly in a room does not have the same problems.

Why? And how can this be fixed? That’s the questions we propose to answer in this article. Continue reading

Built-In Plug-Ins: What’s Included?

As you’re probably aware, Blue Cat’s PatchWork, MB-7 Mixer, Late Replies and Axiom are able to load third-party plug-ins. But did you know that they also all come with many built-in Blue Cat Audio effects and utility plug-ins? There’s so many of them that they’re almost hard to keep track of. So here’s a walkthrough of what you get. First—why do we call them “built-in”? Because if you get them as part of these “host-in-the-host” style plug-ins, they can only be used inside of those plug-ins. Which is of course what you would probably do anyway. All of the built-in plug-ins include the standard features that all Blue Cat Audio plug-ins have: they come loaded with presets, support MIDI learn and MIDI program change, Many of them also include tone maps support.

So let’s take a look at what it is you get! Continue reading

5 Reasons To Use PatchWork

Blue Cat Audio’s PatchWork is a plug-in in which you can load up to 64 other plug-ins. How is that useful? Here are five reasons.

1. Easy management and recall of your template plug-in chains
Many mix engineers find they often reuse specific combinations of plug-ins for similar sound sources. For example one template plug-in chain for bass guitar, one for vocals, and another for the master bus. PatchWork makes it easy to manage and recall these plug-in chains—just save a preset and quickly recall it at any time. You can combine any VST, VST3 or AU plug-ins, from any brand.

2. Quickly switch between different plug-ins or plug-in chains
PatchWork allows you to create eight parallel plug-in chains. So for example, you can create one PatchWork preset for bass guitar. In that preset, you add one plug-in chain for picked rock bass, one for present finger-style playing, one for fat reggae bass, one for slapping … and then you simply switch between them depending on the track you’re working on.

In a similar way, you can of course also use PatchWork to make side-by-side comparisons between individual plug-ins. Which compressor plug-in is really the best choice for this particular track? Add your candidates to PatchWork and quickly switch back and forth between them.

3. Create simple or complex plug-in chains with the effects in series or in parallel
PatchWork makes it easy for you to get creative. Not only can you add eight plug-in chains, but you can also run them in parallel and set their relative levels.

4. Combine synths and instruments to create new exciting sounds
This also works with synths and instruments. With PatchWork Synth (included in the purchase), you can add synths and instruments and create entirely new sounds and textures by combining them. Of course, you play them all simultaneously from a single MIDI keyboard or controller.

5. Use identical plug-in chains and settings across different DAWs
Saving your effects or instrument chains in PatchWork as opposed to in your DAW means you can open those plug-in chains independent of the DAW. So if you switch between DAWs depending on your clients’ or collaborators’ preference, or work in different studios, you can always take your PatchWork presets with you and recall them in any DAW.

Excited yet? Go ahead and try out the free demo of PatchWork now.

AcouFiend: The Reviews Are In!

Our guitar amp feedback simulator AcouFiend has been out for a few weeks, and the YouTubers are taking notice. Check out some of the video walkthroughs and reviews that have been posted so far.

“The bottom line is—AcouFiend works!”

”Thumbs up from me to Blue Cat Audio! It sounds natural, it’s easy to use – I can’t say enough good things about it.”
— RealHomeRecording.com

”It sounds very, very good. Perfect!”
— Mad Steex Production

Get the free AcouFiend trial now! There’s a 25% off introductory offer that ends Monday March 30, 2020.

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