Analog Sound In The Box

 

Modern digital tools are a god sent gift to the producer/engineer. You can edit, EQ, save and recall with ease and 100% precision but there is something about analog that we miss in the box. That euphonic, enjoyable, easy to mix sound, the depth the 3Dness and many other qualities we are all fond of. Maybe all these sound like marketing gibberish but are certainly not. But what is essentially missing in the box? Our opinion is that the big difference comes from the way analog is made and its limitations and instabilities.

A signal in A DAW goes through from input to output unaffected. In the analog world a signal to go through let’s say a console has to pass through the whole circuitry. In its way finds preamps, transformers, faders, pots, cabling, various headrooms, imperfections, picks up noise and changes its phase and tonal balance. Also every channel of a console and every hardware unit even the same model from the same manufacturer differ from each other. Maybe sounds complicated but can be done in the box choosing the right tools and techniques to add imperfections on various stages of the signal chain. For example slight variations from left to right on an EQ, same thing on compression and using emulations that come as close to analog as possible from preamps, to EQs, tapes and compressors.

There are various offerings and ways to emulate hardware but to our ears the offerings from Acustica Audio and generally their approach and technology seem to come the closest possible. Nothing will ever 100% replace the real hardware and it will always have the edge but why not have a respectable in the box alternative. Acustica’s technology is based on Vectorial Volterra Kernels and many other patents and custom techniques they implement to improve and optimise response, quality and usability.

To simplify things their technology is something like a highly advanced dynamic convolution. Think of a convolution reverb but now instead of a room or hall you have the response of an analog circuit. To capture the hardware they pass impulses and sweeps through the gear at different settings and levels resulting in a response library that contains all possible tunings. With that approach you get an exact image of the hardware from in to out and not an approximation of the circuit and its response. The downside is that you need computational power to implement all that, latency is high and also the captured kernels/impulse responses take a lot of hard drive space. Does it worth it? We think yes but you can check for yourself as they offer generous 30 day trials.

Let’s see some of Acustica’s Acqua plugins in detail:

AZURE

Our master bus main stay these days when it comes to EQing. It is a collaboration between Analog In The Box a company that specialises in capturing hardware with Acustica’s technology and mastering engineer Zino Mikorey. It captures a hand-made passive tube EQ and also the preamp/tonality of the hardware and Zino’s high end chain. Sounds transparent but three dimensional and has a wide sweet spot. Captures every little detail of the hardware and offers the preamp, HP/LP filters and four bands of EQing that can be stereo linked, unlinked or work in mid side. Has a “sounds like a record” tone from the get go and becomes one with the sound without sounding over processed even on extreme settings.

TAUPE

This is Acustica’s tape offering. It includes 21 analog and digital tape machines into 40 finely tuned programs, 3 EQs, a compresor and a limiter. Taupe is very detailed and one of the most realistic tape emulations to our ears. Has all the characteristics of a real tape such as the distortion and compression and using the input you can go from clean to pushed. Among the 40 programs and the various machine, tape and setup combinations you will surely find one that fits your material perfectly. Combine that with the smooth EQ and the versatile compressor/limiter you can achieve a wide range of tones. It includes separate plugins for the whole strip, the tape, the EQs and compressor/limiter. We cannot miss but comment on the great interface and the various nostalgic references on it that make the use more fun.

CREAM

This one is based on various iconic pieces of hand-built British hardware between the 50’s and 70’s. It is one of the biggest offerings from Acustica as it contains the line, mic and tube preamps from various channels of the console, all the accompanying EQs, the magic EQ/exciter band and two compressors. It has a strong vintage character and unique tone quality that does not disappoint considering the legendary hardware it emulates. It comes as a complete channel strip but also offers separate plugins for the preamps, EQs and compressors. Sounds 3D, driving, exciting and works wonders as a de-digitalizer. If your track sounds dull, clean and digital Cream is your best friend!

EL REY

This is a special one. Not only because it is an emulation of one of the finest and most musical tube compressors but also because of the people that worked on it. It is a collaboration between Acustica Audio, Studio DMI and Greg Wells and includes presets from some of the best sound engineers. The plugin is fine tuned with a velvety sound and the compression action is very smooth even at extreme settings. Has a certain richness and fullness in the low end without becoming blurry or muddy and the rest of the spectrum gains a certain clarity and quality even passing through the plugin. Works wonders on many sources and the combination between how hard you hit the input and the level of gain reduction can give various tone combinations. A real gem in the box!

VIRIDIAN

Based on a similar concept as Cream, Viridian is based on various iconic solid state units from the 60’s and 70’s. It includes 6 types of preamps, 3 compressor models and 3 EQs. Among them are a very rare german console with a special tuby sound and also a powerful modern reissue of a FET compressor. Has a beefy but driving sound, lifts beautifully the low end and pushes the mid and top to the front. In the EQ section the bands interact with each other which is an integral part of the design of the original unit and also the compressors are some of the best Acustica has made so far. As previously it also includes separate plugins for the whole strip, preamps, EQs and compressors.