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  • #46
    First of all, thanks Jim for checking out the Gate calibration issue. I knew my ears were telling me something different from my eyes!

    We've pretty covered everything about the Drumstrip except for the routing option, which is similar to other SSL modules. The attached image shows the "Process Order" section of the module, where you can arbitrarily move any module to the left or right in the chain. You just click on the module, it becomes highlighted in yellow, and you move it using the << and buttons.

    So...let's draw some conclusions. First off, I find this a very useful module. That usefulness is mitigated somewhat by your being able to get a more basic version of the LMC for free, and that the Channel Strip module already includes a Gate (albeit without the same degree of control over threshold) as well as EQ. However, the Transient Shaper has no equivalent in the Duende processing arsenal, and (in typical SSL fashion, I might add!) the HF and LF Enhancers have their own special mojo that the Channel Strip EQ doesn't duplicate.

    Being a big fan of parallel processing with drums, I also like the Dry/Wet controls on the LMC and the overall output. Being able to change the Process Order is also very handy.

    My "wish list" is limited to two things: Fixing the Gate calibrations, but it seems SSL is already on that, and having time constant controls on the LMC which would do things: 1) allow it to act more like a standard compressor, a feature that Drumstrip lacks; and 2) minimize distortion on low-frequency material. And while I'm in wish list mode, I'd like to see two buttons on the output: Limiter on/off that traps peaks, and Saturation on/off that would add more of a clipping effect with peaks. Of course you could have a plug-in after Drumstrip that did these things, but it would be convenient to have these features on Drumstrip itself.

    Overall, though, I have to say that you can indeed make drums sound better with Drumstrip...and that's what it's all about, right?

    Next, let's take a look at the X-EQ, and follow that up with the amazing X-Comp.
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    • #47
      Thanks Craig :-) I'll make sure the developers see your comments.

      For anyone want ing to stay abreast of the latest V3 progress check our blog www.solidstatelogic.wordpress.com
      Jim@SSL
      Head of Workstation Partner Products Business
      Oxford, UK

      Check the SSL XLogic blog at www.solidstatelogic.wordpress.com


      An honest poster

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      • #48
        Does the world really need another equalizer plug-in? Let's find out.

        X-EQ is a 10-band, non linear-phase EQ. The ten bands are highpass, low shelf, six bands of parametric EQ, high shelf, and lowpass. Of course we'll get into details shortly, but let's take an overview first.

        The X-EQ's main claim to fame, aside from eschewing linear-phase response, is that there are five different curves for the highpass and lowpass filters and nine different curves for the midrange. Referring to the first attached image, selecting a band causes a drop-down menu to appear toward the upper right (circled in red for clarity); this is where you make your selection.

        The overall philosophy reminds me a bit of the Liquid Mix hardware, which allows for multiple equalizer responses. In the case of the Duende Mini, some emulate specific analog responses, while others have responses that could be done only through digital technology. I'm not surprised that SSL has decided X-EQ should have a "character" - that seems to be a common theme here amongst all the plug-ins.

        As appropriate for different functions, Gain, Frequency, and Q controls appear. There's also input metering, output metering, on-off switches for each band, and standard load/save/compare functions.

        You can also enable a post-EQ spectrum analysis display (second attached image) which makes it easy to see "rogue resonances" and the like right after loading it, rather than listening carefully for them to get "in the ballpark." You'll also see one of the nine possible parametric responses being selected.
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        • #49
          Let's listen to how the choice of the midrange "bell" affects the sound. The sonic character depends on two main factors: Whether the EQ is boosting or cutting, and the amount of boost or cut. I tried to think of the most obvious way to show this, and decided that the constant hiss of white noise would highlight any differences the best. As you can imagine, the same kind of "character" will be impressed upon instruments.

          Duende's documentation is very helpful in this respect, giving full descriptions and charts of the various responses, and indicating the goal of the emulation.

          The first audio example plays three sections back-to-back, with a slight silence in between: White noise boosted around 2kHz with the Proportional 1 bell, then the same thing with the Proportional 2 bell, and finally, the same thing with the Proportional 3 bell. You won't hear much difference between 1 and 2, but you will definitely hear a difference with 3.

          The second audio example again plays three sections back-to-back, but this time white noise is cut around 2kHz with the Proportional 1 bell, then with the Proportional 2 bell, and finally, with the Proportional 3 bell. This time you'll almost certainly hear the difference between 1 and 2, but you will definitely hear a difference with 3.

          The third audio example plays four sections back-to-back using the classic curve (standard and asymmetrical). The first is standard cut, the second is asymmetrical cut; the difference is obvious. The third is standard boost, and the fourth is asymmetrical boost. You'll hardly hear any difference at all.
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          • #50
            For the five different highpass and lowpass filter responses, I thought showing the curves themselves would be useful because the main difference is the steepness of the response dropoff; see the five attached screen shots. These show the highpass response; the lowpass response is simply the reverse.

            Also, note that there are some sonic differences, so the next post compares the Critical, Butterworth, and Chebychev responses.
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            • #51
              This audio example plays white noise through the Classic, Butterworth, and Chebychev responses (the rolloffs get progressively steeper). The Butterworth has some resonance, while the Chebychev is very close to a brickwall type of response.
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              • #52
                Okay! NAMM is over, the videos are edited, and the NAMM edition of the Harmony Central Confidential newsletter is put to bed and will ship in a few days...so I get to return to Pro Reviews!

                The remaining Duende module to check out is the X-Comp Compressor. At first glance, you might think "Just what the world needs, another compressor" - particularly because the channel strip includes dynamics control. But, once again, SSL has put a different twist on matters.

                Instead of modeling a particular compressor, the X-Comp is designed to cover a wide range of compression scenarios, from transparent to raw/overdriven (like the Listen Mic Compressor). It also has "semi-side-chaining" (i.e., it doesn't accept an external signal, but applies filtering to the input signal), making it easy to add frequency-dependent parallel compression.

                Before getting into the details, here's an overview. Referring to the attached image, we can dispense with the input and output metering as it's similar to the other SSL modules. Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, and Knee work as expected. The "I/O Diff" is a type of meter (amplitude histogram) that shows how often signals hit particular amplitude levels, while the GR History shows the current amount of gain reduction as well as the gain reduction history for the past second.

                Where X-Comp really differs is how it handles gain reduction on peaks, which is what the Max GR control is all about, and the way that you can apply frequency-selective compression through the LF and HF Bleed controls, so let's concentrate on these two features.
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                • #53
                  This is one of the most interesting elements of the X-Comp, as it allows emulating some of the compression characteristics associated with optical/vintage compressors. With some of these, dynamic peak control happened only up to a certain level, past which point the circuitry kind of gave up and let more transients through. The end result is that because these don't clamp down on the signal so hard, the sound has more "life" due to retaining some of the percussive transients.

                  X-Comp quantifies this and goes one step further by allowing you to tailor the response. Think of the way traditional compression works: Higher amplitude signals are compressed the most and lower amplitude ones, the least. So by definition, peaks can receive massive amounts of compression compared to the lower-level program material. Max GR sets a limit to the amount of compression, and ranges from 20 to 60dB.

                  For an illustration of how this affects the signal, look at the first attached image. This shows Max GR set to 20dB, and as the Threshold is low, it wouldn't take much for signals to be compressed by 20dB. Now check out the Compression Law curve, which shows Max GR in action. Up to the threshold (pink dot) the compression acts as expected. However, there's a second threshold (blue dot) and this is where the Max GR starts having an effect. Note that as the input amplitude increases along the bottom of the graph, the output starts increasing more linearly, as if compression wasn't being applied. Increasing Max GR pushes the curve more toward normal compression.

                  In the second attached image, the threshold is higher. This gives less room for Max GR to have an effect, as reflected in the Compression Law curve. Note that in this case, we've also made the knee sharper.
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                  • #54
                    Now let's hear how Max GR and Bleed effect the sound with some audio examples.

                    I've taken a tom beat from the Discrete Drums library and added a lot of compression. The first audio example plays the sound with standard gain reduction - in other words, it works like a traditional compressor. The first attached image is a screenshot that shows the settings used to get this sound.

                    The second audio example plays the sound with gain reduction set to a maximum of 20dB, which gives the transients a bit more "breathing room" because they aren't compressed by as much as they would be otherwise. The second attached image is a screenshot that again shows the settings used to get this sound, but note that the only difference is the setting of the Max GR control; as you can see, this also changes the shape of the compression law curve.
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                    • #55
                      Now for one more example - let's show what bleed does. The audio example is the same as the one with minimal Gain Reduction (20dB), but with some HF Bleed added. This means the highs bypass the compression process somewhat.

                      The attached image is a screen shot that shows the settings used to get this sound. The main difference you'll see is in the HF Bleed Curve.
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                      • #56
                        Well...we've covered a lot, starting with the Channel Strip plug-in that's included with Duende, and several optional plug-ins - Bus Compressor, Drumstrip, Vocalstrip, X-EQ, and X-Comp. Along the way, we even checked out the freebie LMC-1 from SSL.

                        The Mini-Duende hardware is currently going for a street price of $699. Referring to the SSL web store, the 16-to-32 channel update is $399., and the optional plug-ins cost as follows:

                        X-EQ $375
                        X-Comp $295
                        Vocalstrip $399
                        Drumstrip $275
                        Bus Compressor $370

                        The whole collection will cost you a shade over $1,800, which isn't exactly cheap - although they do cost less than hardware processors, or dragging an SSL console into your studio . A mitigating factor is that the channel strip included with Duende does a lot, making the X-EQ, X-Comp, and Bus Compressor more of a luxury than a necessity. And of course, because Duende is hardware, it doesn't load your CPU.

                        Normally I'd say just pass on the plug-ins that your setup already duplicates, but actually, the whole point of Duende is to supply that "SSL sound." Duende is not a "me-too" product; every plug-in has some kind of unexpected twist, and there's a definite sonic characteristic. So while you might have, say, a compressor in your DAW, it won't have the same characteristics as X-Comp.

                        To help those who are considering getting into Duende, I've tried to include a bunch of representative audio examples. I hope you find them helpful, but if you have any requests for the sound of specific applications, no promises I'll do it but I'll try my best.

                        So how does Duende compare to Universal Audio's UAD-2 and TC Electtonic PowerCore, which are the primary competitors? Keep reading....
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                        • #57
                          I recently compared the three hardware helpers in this review for EQ magazine. Here are my conclusions about their sound and character:

                          This is of course subjective—generalizations are risky, and as the old saying goes, “comparisons are odious.” However, having worked with and used all three extensively, I feel there are some differentiating characteristics.

                          TC PowerCore has a precise, clean sound: It’s what I reach for when I want to process a signal with as much transparency as possible. Of course, there are exceptions; for example, you can use tube emulators to “dirtify” the sound. But even these have a certain precision.

                          UA’s specialty is really nailing the sound of vintage analog gear. I’m not sure how they do it, but if you got laid off from your job and had to put your classic compressors and EQs on eBay, the UAD-2 will take away the pain. I know some very picky engineers who also feel that UA has the analog thing down.

                          Duende makes no secret of the fact that it’s all about adding SSL’s special “character”—and if you like that character, then Duende is the ticket to getting it. This isn’t to say you can’t get some fairly neutral sounds, but that’s not what separates Duende from the pack.


                          I still think that's a pretty reasonable summary, and there's no question that Duende delivers a distinctive - and popular - sound.

                          The hardware aspect has its pluses and minuses: On the minus side, the FireWire bus probably won't last forever, and you need to bounce through Duende in real time - no fast bounce allowed. On the other hand you can run a predictable number of instances without using CPU, thus leaving it free for demanding task such as software synhts; and if you change platforms, just plug into the new platform's FireWire port and keep going.
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                          • #58
                            It's worth asking whether external hardware boxes represent an idea whose time has come and gone, thanks to increasingly powerful computers and more plug-ins being bundled with host programs. Let's address each point separately.

                            As to computers, I've been using card- or bus-based hardware expanders for over 10 years, and even though computers keep getting more powerful, programs and algorithms keep getting more complex. It's always great to be able to call up a bunch of sophisticated processors and not see the CPU consumption meter move. Furthermore, increasingly powerful computers can mean compatibility issues, and in that respect, the "brains are in the box" with Duende, which is a big help.

                            It's also clear that SSL doesn't see hardware as a dead end. They've released Version 3 software, which expands the standard number of channels to 32 (with optional-at-extra-cost upgrades to go to 64 or 128), and makes several other improvements. However, system requirements are stiffer: Power PC Macs, those running Mac OS X 4.x, or any computer that's not multi-core need not apply. I haven't checked out the Version 3 software yet as it's very new, but once I've had a chance to experience what it does, I'll add some supplementary notes to this thread.

                            So, do you really need the plug-ins if you have a host that's already "fully loaded"? That depends. Host plug-ins are generally fairly "safe," both sonically in the sense that they provide "bread and butter" functions, and in terms of CPU consumptions. The Duende plug-ins are more adventurous, and I would think that if they were native instead of hardware, they'd make a lot of demands on your CPU.

                            In terms of other options, Waves offers an SSL 4000-based native bundle (no hardware required) for about $750 street - not much more than the Duende Mini package. However, the Waves SSL 4000 Collection models the Solid State Logic SL 4000 series consoles, while Duende's plug-ins are taken from the Solid State Logic C200 digital production console. As a result, the characters are quite different, although they're both SSL.

                            The bottom line is Duende brings the SSL sound, as approved and designed by SSL, into a desktop environment for far less than any other hardware alternative. It's been a real pleasure to use in the studio, because the software is versatile enough to do the expected and the unexpected - that's true even of the channel strip that comes with Duende.
                            N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                            • #59
                              And that pretty much wraps things up - I think there's really nothing much left to cover! As with other pro reviews, this one will be kept open for a while - particularly because there's a new version of software out, as you might want to add some comments of your own. And of course, if you have particular questions, or if you want to know something we haven't covered here, chime in!
                              N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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