The main goal when mixing is to make a vocal sit properly in the music so it doesn't sound overprocessed. That requires a person to have years of experience and the proper tools. Antares's new Avox 1.0.2 suite of plug-ins is a worthy contribution to the ever-expanding toolbox available to engineers seeking that perfect vocal track.
Installing Avox was easy and painless. The only slight drag was the authorization procedure, which requires you to have an Internet connection. But authorization uses an included iLok key, or dongle, and if your workstation isn't online, you can move the dongle to a computer that is. Avox runs for ten days without authorization, so you're not out of business in the meantime. Including the iLok and a printed manual are very nice touches.
I installed the AU, VST, and RTAS plug-ins, which require Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later, on my 2 GHz dual-G5 Power Mac. I used Digidesign Pro Tools LE 7, MOTU Digital Performer 4.6, and I3 Software DSP-Quattro 2 as hosts. The plug-ins worked flawlessly in each of those applications, and even with more than a dozen instances of the various plug-ins, I never ran out of processing power. I did not test Avox on a PC, but RTAS and VST versions are included for Windows as well.
The flagship Avox plug-in is a throat modeler, appropriately called Throat (see Fig. 1). It is designed to allow you to alter the characteristics of a singer's vocal tract virtually. Changing the formants and the spectral qualities of a sound is not new; what makes this plug-in unusual is how it goes about doing that. There are controls relating to five points along a vocal tract, from vocal cords to lips.
FIG. 1: Throat gives you the power to alter your singer''s physique.
There are controls for widening and lengthening each of the five areas, as well as for globally widening and lengthening the entire tract, adding breathiness to a performance, and altering the glottal waveform (the sound produced by the vocal cords). From a synthesist's standpoint, the glottal waveform is the waveform generator of a synthesizer, the throat width and length controls are the filters, and the breathiness is the noise generator. Avox even provides a graphical representation of the vocal tract at the top of the plug-in.
When I first applied Throat to some vocal performances, scrolling through its 42 included presets and playing with various parameters, it seemed a cool special effect but not particularly useful for producing natural-sounding vocals. After reading the manual, though, with the Throat section guiding me through setting the parameters for ultimate control, I began to see its power to subtly manipulate vocal tracks. However, I was aware of the processing even when used subtly on a lead vocal, and I would probably use Throat only on a background vocal or on a double of the original (see Web Clip 1).
Throat shines as a tonal modification tool for instruments. When pushed beyond the realistic voice settings, it gave me some surprisingly useful definition on an otherwise flat bass track, lent some borderline auto-wah qualities to a lead guitar, and made a rich alto saxophone sound like a child's toy. Moving the five dots (see Fig. 1) around on their two axes (one for width and one for length) will entertain you for hours, and most hosts will allow you to automate the axes and the other parameters.
More Is More
The four additional plug-ins in the bundle are more-standard treatments for vocals. They include a doubler called Duo (see Web Clip 2), a multiplier called Choir (see Fig. 2 and Web Clips 3 and 4), a compressor/limiter called Punch (see Fig. 3 and Web Clip 5), and a de-esser called Sybil. Duo and Choir are somewhat similar. Although Antares intends them primarily as inserts, I preferred to use them as postfader send effects. Duo has separate faders for the original and doubled signals, whereas Choir's output is wet only.
FIG. 2: Choir can add interesting spatial effects to a track.
Duo gives a nice automatic double-tracking (ADT) style delay, but it also adds 3,200 samples of latency. When working in Pro Tools LE, one of the few digital audio sequencers that don't have automatic latency compensation, I allowed the latency to serve as a pronounced slapback effect.
Choir requires a clean mono signal. If you feed it a track that has bleed from other instruments, Choir fritzes out, trying to track the pitch of the unwanted material. Furthermore, because Choir creates tightly spaced multiple copies of the source material, untamed plosives and other vocal noises can become accentuated. In short, take care with the source material.
FIG. 3: Punch can produce extreme effects and should be used with caution.
Choir is designed to create a large-ensemble sound from a few individual vocal tracks that have been processed separately. While it never sounded exactly like a room full of voices to me, I did enjoy using it for processing yelled gang vocals, as an alternative to reverb to give some air to a dry snare track, and as a crazy special effect on alto sax.
Sybil and Punch
De-essers are my passion, and so it was exciting to try out a new one. I use de-essers to get the harshness out of guitars, hi-hats, and saxes; to tame the high end on reverb sends; and, naturally, to control the sibilance on vocals. Unfortunately, Sybil's sidechain implementation comes up short in two ways: the only EQ option is a highpass filter, and there is no way to monitor the sidechain. If those things aren't issues for you, then Sybil will probably meet your de-essing needs. Sybil does add 882 samples of latency, so you'll need a digital audio sequencer that has automatic latency compensation.
Punch has only three controls: Gain, Impact, and Ceiling. Gain sounds like a simple fattening when used in the lower range, and a pleasant tube distortion when pushed. Impact gives you heavy compression and limiting, and works best in moderation. Ceiling prevents overloading the output stage. Punch sounded excellent on vocals, saxophone, snare drum, bass, and guitar. The only issue I have with this plug-in is one that I have with the entire Avox suite: the meters are only mildly useful because they are low in resolution and lack decibel markings.
The standout in the Avox suite for me is Punch, which is well worth its weight in code and is available on its own for $149. Throat is the most unusual offering in Avox, and the rest of the bundle is solid and fairly priced.
Eli Crews often gets punchy at New, Improved Recording, his studio in Oakland, California. He can be contacted through his Web site atwww.newimprovedrecording.com.
Avox bundle $599
PROS: USB iLok key included with packaged bundle. Good printed manual. Unusual special effects are easy to achieve. Punch sounds great on a variety of sources.
CONS: Metering is vague and choppy. No wet/dry mix controls on Throat and Choir. Sybil's sidechain has only highpass filtering and no independent monitoring.
GUIDE TO EM METERS
5 = Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology
4 = Clearly above average; very desirable
3 = Good; meets expectations
2 = Somewhat disappointing but usable
1 = Unacceptably flawed
On a scale of 1 to 5
EASE OF USE...4
Antares Audio Technologies