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PC Recording.com - DB-Audioware Effects Review

Manufacturer: DB-Audioware
Author: Dave Brown
Product: Effects Suite - Deesser, Multiband Limiter, Tempo Delay, Mastering Limiter, and Dynamics Processor
Price: $99.00 for the suite. Individual price $39.00, Delay is free.

An ongoing debate in the DAW world centers on the sonic quality and ease of use issues surrounding plugin "virtual" effects vs. external hardware based devices. The main knock against plugins has primarily been that CPU cycle consumption and and a "digital sound" that is harsher. The main knock against hardware based units is price and expandability. DirectX based effects plugins have become plentiful and are quite inexpensive, particularly when compared to their hardware counterparts. Many of the devices claim to have been "modeled" after analog devices based on studies of circuitry and real sound tests. Dave Brown has created a suite of DirectX plugin effects modules that are a great mix of elegance and functionality - - working well in the DAW environment and looking good to boot. This review is of the DB AudioWare DirectX Effects suite.

I received a set via download from the www.db-audioware.com site. Installation was a matter of clicking on the self-installing download and watching it go. The download provides for a 21 day unlimited use of the plugins. I received my registration codes from DB-Audio and right-clicked in the body of each plugin and registered each unit. All told, after the download, this took about five minutes to install. I checked in Samplitude 2496, n-Track Studio, Cakewalk, and found that the programs were recognizable in each program as a DirectX plugin.

Manual

The package contains a very helpful manual, in HTML format, on how to use the effects. There is information about the functions, keyboard shortcuts, and general explanations of some processing issues such as dither, compression and limiting. In addition, each effect has a schematic diagram such as the one for the multiband limiter seen below.



 
Dynamics Processor

The Dynamic Processor (dB-D) is a compressor and expander with brickwall limiter. The compressor/expander functions do not work simultaneously. It features a side-chain function for special applications such as voiceovers (ducking) and synchronized gating. Opening the dB-D reveals a clear and understandable interface that contains all the necessary controls for setting compression levels. The graph displays the compression or expansion curves (input level in the horizontal axis and output level in the vertical axis). On the left is a slider for auto gain settings. The blue meter to the immediate left of the graph displays the level of compression applied. The VU meters to the right of the compression graph display input and output levels. Lastly, on the far right is the brickwall setting slider - - an independent final stage limiter, which prevents the final output from exceeding its value set on the brickwall slider. On the bottom left are buttons for sidechain settings both Send and Receive. Across the bottom is a set of five buttons, below each a window for numeric display of the settings. The buttons set Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Delay, and Knee levels for the compressor.

The interface is easy to understand and provides ample feedback information to changes made by the user. The dB-D comes with a set of presets that are quite useful and can be accessed by clicking on the pulldown menu or right-clicking in the body of the window.

I loaded up Samplitude 2496 and loaded some previously recorded material - - mainly acoustic guitar, vocals and synthesizer. I applied the compressor to the guitar and initially employed the presets. I found that the presets were quite good for their stated purpose. I was able to make adjustments by using the mouse and fine adjustments by pressing the "shift" key while using the mouse.

An interesting feature is the gain slider function. Compression decreases the top-end volume of your audio. The gain slider compensates this loss of volume either manually or in auto mode. When in auto mode, dB-D will automatically set the gain slider to compensate for the current compression settings. In the manual mode you make your own adjustments. Another cool feature is the side chain function that allows the user to control the compression or expansion of another track with one track. For instance, the function allows for ducking - - radio style voiceovers where the introduction of the voice automatically reduces the underlying mix volume, which returns when the voice stops. The manual describes this as a virtual patch cable.

I detected no noise introduced by the plugin itself and no digital harshness. This processor worked very well as a compressor, sounding as good as anything I have heard with a smooth linear sound. The controls are easy to understand and use, providing the ability to make very fine adjustments to the amount and type of compression used to process a signal. High marks here.

Tempo Delay:

The Tempo Delay is a stereo tool for setting delays and echoes. It features a similarly easy to understand interface. At the top is a pulldown menu for selecting a set of very useable presets. If you do not find what you want there, user-definable settings can be made by using the controls on the interface. These include left-side knobs for BPM, Units and Wet/Dry ratio, each with a numerical display window immediately beneath it. Next, each stereo channel has a set of controls - - three sliders for delay, feedback and level, then three knobs for low-pass filter, high-pass filter and panning. Again, each of these controls has an associated numerical number display. With these settings the speed, depth, mix and frequency of the delay can be independently set for each channel simply by moving the slider or knob as needed.

I played with a number of the settings and found that there were some pretty cool things one could do with this effect. These ranged from very subtle (pseudo room) to quite artificial-sounding (sparkle). Each of these settings have a place in particular recordings.

The BPM feature provided the ability to precisely set the rhythmic feel of the effect. Independent panning, high-pass/low-pass filters for each channel provides flexibility in how you want the effect to process the signal.

Delay can add richness and character to a recording - - if carefully employed. Depending on how you set it, this delay is only as noticeable as you want it to be. Very subtle hints of delay to add fullness to a signal are possible as are very noticeable levels of delay. As in the other DB processors, this one did not add its own noise to the mix. High marks here and its free!

Multiband Limiter:

The Multiband Limiter (dB-M) is a flexible dynamics plugin that allows the user to maximize loudness, make advanced EQ adjustments and tune dynamics. Employing two crossover filters, dB-M splits your audio into low, mid, and high frequency bands. Each band is then independently processed through its own lookahead limiter. When opening the dB-M the user is greeted with an elegant yet simple interface. The presets are found in the pulldown menu at the top. Low-pass and high-pass global settings are next. Beneath these is the graphical interface that displays meters to monitor playback signals. To the right is another set of meters for overall input and output levels. Beneath each of the three columns for low, mid and high frequencies are a set of controls. These include for each, a Solo button, Limit, Decay and Boost knobs. Each of these has a numerical display window.

This tool is particularly effective in fixing problem instruments or frequencies in a mix. The user can precisely set the frequency to be modified, how much decay to add to it and the amount of boost or reduction. The dB-M differs from typical limiters because it can limit each low/mid/high audio band independently. That way if one of your musicians gets too loud, on bass for instance, the mids and highs are left alone. By isolating the frequencies occupied by the musician you can compensate without affecting the other tracks.

The dB-M can be used as a 3-band EQ via high-shelving, low-shelving and paragraphic mid bands. I do not believe however that it replaces a quality parametric EQ. Nonetheless, because it is a limiter the frequency you boost will not force the overall level above 0dB.

The learning curve for this device was bit higher than the others but ultimately it was easy to use. Of all the tools here, the dB-M is the most versatile and useful for a home-studio application. It allows for quite precise control over the audio signal without introducing too much of itself into the signal.

 

 

 

 

Mastering Limiter:

The dB-L is a traditional limiter designed to control or boost the overall loudness of your mix and to prepare your audio for final burning to CD. Featuring a simple interface, there are LED meters in the graphics window for In and Out signals and a final LED off to the right. Beneath these are three knobs for gain, release and output. Next to these are buttons for choosing attack levels (soft or hard) and dither types (standard and noise shaping). According to the online manual, the dB-L uses an intelligent lookahead limiter to transparently boost the loudness of your mix. dB-L can also be used as a straightforward brickwall limiter - - to be placed at the end of the effects chain. As result, there is a guarantee that your final mix level will not clip no matter what you did before it reached the limiter.

 

 

 

A nice feature is that the limiter provides a dithering option that will improve the quality of your final audio mix when converting from 20-bit/24-bit/32-bit to 16-bit/44.1kHz. The limiter does introduce some latency into the signal path - - according to the manual 3ms of hard attack and 20ms for soft, adjustments to your audio should be made accordingly. Based on my experience this seemed about right. For more on dithering please read my article as to why this is a good feature to have and to use.

I found the dB-L to be easy to use, sounded great and it was reassuring to know that it was there protecting against clipping.

 

 

 

 

 

Deesser:

The last component in the effects suite is the Deesser. The dB-S can be employed as a device to remove unwanted sibilance ("sss" and "shhhh" sounds) and noise from a recording. With the detect function, (a selective narrowband filter), the user can find the sibilant sounds in a track. Then the user can use a 3-mode compressor to remove the sibilant frequencies from the vocal. Two knobs provide the adjustments and a window display shows the frequency. Monitoring is provided via window displays that provide visual feedback for the levels. The user can be very precise in locating the offending frequency. The deesser provides an useful set of presets that are a good place to start on a project with fine tuning settings with the knobs. However, since each person and microphone sounds different it is very likely that additional adjustments need to be made.

Wideband mode reduces ALL frequencies equally - in other words, this is like a dynamic volume control. When the detect circuit hears sibilance, the reduce circuit dips the volume of the vocal. Narrowband mode reduces only a band of frequencies (as shown by the blue reduce graph). This mode offers fine control over the precise amount and type of de-essing, while leaving the lows & highs of the vocal or mix intact. This mode is excellent for de-essing a stereo mix. Lowpass mode reduces all frequencies above the reduce freq (as shown on the blue graph). This mode generally provides the most transparent and pleasing de-essing effect for the majority of vocals.

I purposefully introduced some vocal sibilance into a recording and tested it with this plugin. The dB-S works in two stages. First, I tuned the detect circuit to pick up the sibilant portion the vocal - - the goal being to get the red detect meter registering a high signal only during the sibilant passages. Second, I chose the type and amount of de-essing (low-pass).

I was able to detect the introduced sibilance and using the low-pass mode was able to remove the sibilance quite effectively. Of course, the best thing is prevention (use a pop-screen and watch your consonants) but the deesser is very handy to have when needed. Nonetheless, things come up in a recording where the need for a deesser becomes critical. This particularly true if you are recording for clients, some of whom may not always be as careful as you might with regard to sibilance in a vocal track. In this instance, the deesser can come in very handy.

Conclusion:

I was very pleased with the ease of use of all of these effects, the manual was very helpful and clearly written, and the effects worked well. The dB-D (compressor) and the dB-M (multi-band limiter) stood out in particular. The dB-D was very flexible and precise and depending on your settings provided seamless compression of the mix. The dB-M provides a host of functions that can make your mix sound better - - the ability to set the range of frequencies in three bands makes this very useful.

Overall, I was pleased with the sonic quality of these plugins - - with no discernible digital "harshness" unless I forced it in the mix. I, for one, like to preserve as much of the original signal during processing. I take pains to ensure that the original recording is clear, full and as noise free as possible. My goal is always to have little need for processing after the recording is done. As expected, things come up that virtually always require some tweaking. These tools are a great addition to any studio needing to make these adjustments. At $39.00 per unit each is a bargain in its own right. The suite at $99.00 is a steal.