Every so often, a product comes along that makes waves: something conversationally unpopular, yet garnering begrudging respect from professionals. Antares seems to be the company that supplies us with this type of tool exclusively. Look at the editorial rants about another product they came up with: Autotune. Amazing. Technologically amazing, heavily debated, hated, loved and everything in between. Here is another one from this house of dark wizardry : The AVOX vocal toolkit.
This is yet another chunk of software that will drive purists (whatever that means this week) crazy, and will be embraced by others. I think this software bundle is pretty incredible. The bundle consists of five plug-ins; DUO, CHOIR, PUNCH, SYBIL, and THROAT.
Antares supplied me with the Native version of this stuff, which was annoying because I couldn’t go nuts on our HD3 rig and put CHOIR on every single channel, just to listen on anything and everything. Instead, I had to act like an adult and simply try these plug-ins on a few vocals at first. Totally fun. The best one isn’t even the freaky “THROAT” plug that kind of made me feel gross looking at the not-so-cute graphic of a human esophagus. . . . My favorite is by far the CHOIR plug in. Want one backing vocal to sound like 16? Use this and tweak away at the pitch tracking of those “16 people” singing along and even the timing of the “choir.” Pretty amazing, and simple to use. CHOIR worked remarkably well on a couple of violin tracks (courtesy of my bandmate, Carla Kihlstedt) as well.
Working on an amazing song by the band Illumina, I found the DUO plug-in to be just what I needed for the dense arrangements, and super intricate voicings we were working with. When I had a great main vocal take, I could simply duplicate it and keep the intensity intact — but with the wide sonics and overall “gleam” I was looking for in this context.
I only messed with SYBIL a little bit, the de-esser plug. I have a few other de-essers, including hardware tube and solid-state units that I use all the time. I also have other plug-ins that I find to be simple, intuitive, and work just fine. SYBIL is good and, if you don’t have any other de-esser available, will work quite well. Nothing exciting, it just works.
The PUNCH plug-in is kind of neat, but for someone that uses a console to mix, and has a good selection of compressors and other goodies . . . well, it kind of just does what I would do anyway with a main vocal: Make it sit well, give it “impact” and presence, and help to make the overall sonic delivery meet the emotional content right where it “gets you” most. Again, with a strictly “in the box” situation, this plug may help you achieve this.
The THROAT plug-in was the one that really seemed like it was going to be the coolest plug in the bundle. I opened it up on a vocal . . . and . . . it’s not really that amazing. The gross graphic made me laugh, the sounds seemed kind of fun, but not that cool. If you taped some cute pictures from a medical journal of a human esophagus to a good parametric EQ and maybe a resonant LPF, you could do about the same thing this plug-in does. It’s really neato as a weirdo EQ though, especially for guitar. I found it most useful in this application. Ignoring the “serving suggestions” and putting this cool filter/EQ/something-or-other plug-in on a variety of tracks, the guitar seemed to benefit most.
Overall, this is a really weird, but really cool bundle of stuff from a company that seems hell bent on pushing the limits of good taste, technology, good sounds, and cool ideas for the art of recording. It’s totally worth checking out these plug-ins, especially if you work primarily “in the box.”