Being a designer of both hardware and plugins for Pro Tools, I find that I need to balance doing research and design testing during a project and make it sound good for the client. A recent project with a new client turned out to be interesting. First, I asked if they could do the lead vocal live with the rhythm track, we tried it and it worked a good amount of the time. It makes better music when the parts are played together and is more fun for everyone. The fun comes across in the recording. When it comes to mixing one does not want to lose the excitement and feeling that is captured in the recording.
At Crane Song, our company and studio in Superior, Wisconsin, we’ve developed three unique Plug-Ins for sale on Avid Marketplace to enhance your mix, recreate desirable analog character and solve some common sonic problems. Phoenix II, Peacock and RA stand on their own as powerful AAX tools for your mix, and also work great when they’re used together. I also developed the HEAT module, now included in all Pro Tools subscriptions, used everywhere to add analog warmth and color to your tracks. HEAT is now also available at 60% off the regular price if you want to just own it forever.
I’m going to recap the basics of each plug-in and walk through an example of how all three can cooperate to add analog warmth, create desired effects and get rid of the artifacts we don’t need or want.
Phoenix II is the go-to solution for Tape-Analog emulation, bringing our widely recognized expertise in analog electronics and tape recording to Pro Tools and VENUE, countless users rely on Phoenix II to smooth out harsh digital artifacts. The Plug-In offers five flavors of emulation of analog tape machines, RA is a flexible AAX Plug-In used to modify harmonic content, do soft clipping and bring out detail in your audio content. Peacock emulates the sound of a vinyl record and can enrich the bottom of a recording and fatten the vocal in isolation or in a mix. All are available for AAX DSP and AAX Native, so whether you’re a Pro Tools | First user or a professional working with Pro Tools | HDX or VENUE | S6L, you’re good to go.
So, let’s look at a real-world example. By using harmonic manipulation, you can change a sound in a very desirable way which cannot be done using an eq. along. Harmonic manipulation can reduce the need for compression and equalization. Suppose we have a stereo track that is a bit on the harsh side, lacks fullness and detail. This is a common problem that many mix and mastering engineers face. By using a little of each plug-in one can go a long way towards solving the sonic problems of the track and, at the same time, creating a newly fat and full sound in ways that can’t be achieved using EQ and Dynamics plug-ins on their own. First adding Phoenix II will smooth out harshness and fatten the sound. If you follow this with RA and use the low-level control you will bring out detail in the track, this works by bringing up the low-level part of the track and not smashing the peaks down. Besides increasing detail, the average level of the material will increase. It will be louder, and you will not have applied compression or peak limiting. Using the EVEN harmonic controls, you can add some second harmonic if desired and do some soft clipping with the PEAK controls.
Enter Peacock, which you can now add to the chain and experiment with the EVEN HARRMONIC and PEAK controls. While you’re working with Peacock you can use the “elliptical or sabetha” preset as a starting place. The bottom of the vocal range will fill out and become smoother and fatter. Depending on the desired sound and the source material increasing the COLOR setting, driving the HARMONIC control harder and the DYNAMIC control softer will result in a very fat and full sound. Vinyl has massive amounts of second harmonic content which is part of what Peacock does. The DITHER function can be used by itself to dither to 16 bit. It has the spectrum of vinyl surface noise. It also modulates internal settings with in the plug-in. Peacock can create a sense that projects that were tracked separately sound more like they were played together.
I analog sum when I mix, but I do use plug-ins; Phoenix, RA and Peacock, the Crane Song plug-ins, Massenburg’s EQ, and HEAT. A question I receive a lot is how do I replace HEAT with Phoenix or which one is better. Well, one does not replace the other, they are different sounds, they work differently, and they also work very well together
When engineers want to color or make the sound more real or interesting, they need to take care not to destroy dynamics and transits. It is also important to use coloring devices on each track, this is more like the real analog world, it works better than just a plug-in on the output bus. If you think of the all analog days, using a console and then due to the variations in components no two channels were exactly the same and then you would add external gear for eq, compression, and so on, because the outboard gear gave you a different sound
To start with I use HEAT on almost all of the tracks, (there is a bypass for each track) and then add the other plug-ins to individual tracks for variation. A good starting place for HEAT is with the DRIVE 2 clicks clockwise and TONE 1 click clockwise. The end result is a rich and full recording. I then add Phoenix or one of the other plug-ins to the desired tracks. This gives you a way to have different colors on each track and you end up with a more complex, bigger and real sound.
I have made a mix of a song, two versions, one with HEAT and one without. to provide an example at cranesong.com. Check it out, then use these tools on their own or in combination, experiment and enjoy!