PSPaudioware''s Xenon offers a range of mastering tools, including K-System metering, a 2-stage limiter, and word-length reduction. It supports 64-bit processing and files with up to 192 kHz sampling rates.
Xenon 1.0 (Mac/Win)
PSPaudioware's Xenon mastering plug-in ($249) includes essentials such as a 2-stage limiter, an integrated leveling amp, absolute intersample peak distortion prevention, and word-length reduction (requantization) with three noise-shaping options. Also on hand are K-System metering, 64-bit processing, and support for files with up to 192 kHz sampling rates. The plug-in runs under AU (Mac only), VST, and RTAS hosts; I tested the VST version on a dual-Xeon workstation running Magix Sequoia 10 and Steinberg Nuendo 4.
Xenon uses the ubiquitous iLok system for copy protection. Registering Xenon at PSPaudioware's site was straightforward, and the iLok authorization was ready to download in about 2 hours.
It's easy to get the hang of Xenon when you realize that its first stage of limiting provides most of the gain reduction that will take place. The input and transient controls determine the initial threshold of limiting, much like an analog limiter would. Xenon's second stage uses look-ahead-based brickwall envelope detectors to eliminate the possibility of digital overs. Next in line is a switchable option to enable the envelope detector to prevent intersample peak distortion in the digital-to-analog converters that will ultimately play back the material. This feature works by monitoring the digital sample values and preventing multiple full-scale samples from occurring.
Reminiscent of some popular legacy analog devices, Xenon includes a leveling amplifier that is really nice for adjusting the macrodynamics of the material being mastered. In effect, this is a final gain-reduction stage with a very slow time constant that prevents the limiter from “pumping” as it recovers from a loud section.
Mastering engineer Bob Katz developed the K-System of metering, which is a multiformat display that shows true RMS and peak levels as well as crest factor simultaneously. Once you get the hang of it, the system helps you understand the concept of loudness in a more concrete way. The K-System also allows for three metering variants/scales based on commonly accepted monitoring levels, which are calibrated to broadcast (12 dB), CD production (14 dB), and film production (20 dB). Speaking of calibration, Xenon includes an onboard pink-noise generator that makes setting up levels relatively quick and easy.
Although Xenon is mainly intended for use in the mastering stage, I also found it very useful in other applications. It can do amazing things to an ambient drum track that would normally require some specialized hardware. For example, I'm a fan of the sound of radical limiting, especially when combined with trashy-sounding sources, and Xenon allowed me to quickly and effectively dial that effect in. The included leveling stage keeps the sound constant without the annoying pumping that's often the hallmark of extreme processing. Xenon let me produce a polished and dynamic sound faster and more easily than some other mastering-oriented plug-ins I've used.
I did find that it took a little while to get used to the K-System metering. Once I did, however, I was left feeling that conventional metering leaves quite a bit to be desired. Whether due to the 64-bit internal processing or just the overall software design, Xenon was free from digital-sounding artifacts, such as a perceived loss of depth or stereo image quality. Though it is possible to make sources sound flat and lifeless (yet still loud), even fairly aggressive processing can yield a natural-sounding result. My kind of plug-in!
Xenon delivers the goods when it comes to mastering-quality limiting at a very low cost. Superb sonics, a nicely designed interface, excellent value, and groundbreaking metering combine to make Xenon an easy product to recommend. Prospective purchasers who already have an iLok should take note that PSPaudioware offers a fully functional 14-day demo on its Web site.
Value (1 through 5): 5