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Review: Zynaptiq Unmix::Drums

April 15, 2016

Zynaptiq Unmix::Drums (a plug-in available in AU, VST 2.4, RTAS, and AAX formats) can dramatically boost or attenuate drums in a baked mix. But that’s not all. Its frequency-dependent processing allows you to goose some drums while cutting others.

AT THE CONTROLS

The plug-in’s GUI offers two algorithms: Smooth generally sounds less processed but also offers less separation between drums and other sounds; Punchy provides better separation and sounds more snappy, but it’s more prone to producing artifacts. Activating the M/S switch causes hard-panned drums to be processed equally (producing more stable imaging), whereas bypassing it treats drums in left and right channels separately and is less likely to cause pumping or processing of nondrum sounds. Note that this M/S mode can’t be used to process mid and side channels separately.

When the Level Compensation button is activated, the plug-in’s output level is raised or lowered to compensate for a change in drum levels. You can also activate the built-in limiter (which follows the plug-in’s output-gain control) to keep boosted drums from clipping the plug-in’s output.

The GUI provides three alternate views: Main, Fine-Tune, and Curves. All three views offer the following controls: Drum Level adjusts the amount of boost or attenuation of drums; Threshold determines how “drum-like” component sounds must be in order to be processed; and Release adjusts how long drum levels are boosted or attenuated after the respective processing is triggered.

The Fine-Tune view adds several more controls. Lowering the Detection Density slider makes the processing more selective (for example, filtering out pitched components when boosting drums). Max Cut limits the maximum amount of attenuation. Raising the Bass Synth slider progressively adds sample-accurate, re-synthesized subharmonic frequencies between 20 and 200 Hz. At low settings, the Attack control directs processing toward sounds with a fast attack and high bandwidth; high settings process more low frequencies and non-drum sounds. The Unmix Feather control essentially adjusts how much of the “baby” the processing will allow to be potentially thrown out with the “bathwater” around detection thresholds; for example, using a low Unmix Feather setting when attenuating drums will cut fewer drum sounds in order to avoid also lowering non-drum sounds.

Fig. 2. The Curves view allows breakpoint editing for Threshold, Drum Level, and Release controls on an XY plot, shaping powerful frequency-dependent processing.
The Curves view provides adjustable breakpoints along three curves in an XY display that plots frequency vs. relative amplitude (see Figure 2). Editing the three curves allows you to offset the respective values of the Threshold, Drum Level, and Release controls’ parameters at specific frequencies. For example, you can lower the threshold for a bass frequency band to make processing include more drum hits—without affecting cymbals. Not sure your breakpoint editing improved results? Simply toggle a curve on and off to alternately hear and bypass its effect.

You can click on other buttons in the Curves view to snap a node to zero (to null a pre-existing offset from nominal value), solo a frequency band around a node with a bandpass filter, clear a breakpoint curve, copy a curve for one parameter and paste it to another parameter’s curve, invert a curve, and double or halve the amplitude of a curve, respectively. The XY display also illustrates the levels of detected drums and non-drum sounds, and the plug-in’s output signal, using different colors below their associated curves. That said, in my tests the curve for detected drums rarely—and never for kick drum hits—showed on the display.

All of the main parameters can be controlled by MIDI by mapping each control to a specific MIDI Channel and CC, and defining its parameter range and response curve. The GUI also includes pop-up help balloons, presets to use as starting points for specific applications, and the usual preset-management functions.

DRUMMING SOMETHING UP (AND DOWN)

I was amazed at how transparently I could boost or lower drums on full mixes. Attaining superb results took some tweaking; nobody ever said doing the impossible would be easy! When boosting, I had to lower the Attack and Detection Density controls a bit to avoid also boosting vocals. Lowering breakpoints for the Threshold curve—and boosting those for the Drum Level curve—between 3 and 5 kHz goosed stick strikes on snare drum hits. I avoided similar adjustments at higher frequencies to preclude also enhancing vocal sibilance.

The Bass Synth processing sounded smooth and musical with judicious use, causing no distortion or time-domain problems; raising the control only ten percent added all the sub-bass energy I needed on a mix that had a weak bottom. I wished its high cut-off was lower than 200 Hz, however, as any more than very spare use tended to blur the mix slightly.

Unmix::Drums can’t completely remove drums from a mix, but it can reduce their levels dramatically. This came in really handy on a restoration project that required me to extract a lead vocal from a mix. Using very low Drum Level, Threshold, and Release settings, and cranking Max Cut all the way, I could reduce the drums’ levels in the mix over 90 percent. I then used other software to isolate the mid-channel and winnow bass guitar from the mix.

I wished Unmix::Drums provided Undo and Redo functions and alternate workspaces. But these are niggles when you consider how Unmix::Drums pulls off the virtually impossible with grace. Costing only $189, Unmix::Drums is a powerful tool for mixing, mastering, and restoration work. Highly recommended!

STRENGTHS

Uniquely powerful. Transparent full-mix processing (if carefully set up). Editable breakpoints allow frequency-dependent processing. High-quality sub-harmonic synthesis. Built-in limiter. Low price.

LIMITATIONS

Curve for detected drums often doesn’t show in GUI. Bass Synth cut-off is a bit high. No Undo or Redo. No A and B workspaces.

$189
zynaptiq.com

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