Operating system: Minimum OS Windows XP with SP2, Mac OS X 10.4
Formats: VST, RTAS (Pro Tools TDM/LE 7.3 or higher), AU
Copy protection: Authorization code or iLok
Trial version: Time-limited to 14 days
Street price: $249, available from online store
Ah yes . . . the loudness wars. Everyone wants LOUD, and that’s easy to do; but loud and good is much tougher. Quality is up to the skill of the mastering engineer, and the willingness of the client to trade off a few dB of level for better dynamics. However, the tools you use are also crucial. That freeware maximizer/limiter you downloaded will work; just don’t expect a clean, transparent sound.
Which brings us to Xenon. I think PSP Audioware’s plug-ins are underrated, but the pros know: Engineers like Bob Katz, Bob Ludwig, and Bob Olhsson are among those who sing Xenon’s praises—and with good reason.
Xenon is a full-band (not multiband), dual-stage limiter plug-in with 64-bit internal processing that operates at sample rates up to 192kHz. The first stage applies gain reduction, but lets through transients based on the attack time. The second stage clamps the transients through brickwall limiting, but leaves the main signal alone. The result is a more natural, forgiving gain reduction process combined with strict transient limiting.
There are four main elements:
Detector. This offers various transient detection options, and the ability to either clip transients or use look-ahead to predict transients, with the latter lowering the gain for a smoother sound. You can also over sample the detector (very cool) to avoid intersample clipping.
Metering. Xenon incorporates Bob Katz’s K-System for metering. In a nutshell, Katz recommends using a consistent monitoring level; but he’s done something about it by devising a metering system that promotes using standardized levels, and shows a more connected relationship between loudness and headroom. (To get the full story on the K-System, go to www.digido.com/level-practicespart- 2-includes-the-k-system.html.) Xenon’s metering also estimates the real, post-converter level to avoid inter-sample clipping.
Leveler. This section does the squashing, and includes a minimal set of controls. The clever feature here is that for loud sections, Xenon reduces the gain somewhat before limiting the signal. This gives a more natural sound because Xenon isn’t squashing really loud signals, and also avoids the dreaded “too much limiting actually makes it sound quieter” problem.
Bit depth converter with noise shaping. As Xenon is intended for mastering, you can downshift a high-resolution signal’s word length for such tasks as creating a Red Book CD. Dithering is done via triangular noise generation, with three types of noise shaping.
Xenon does the hard work behind the scenes, so you don’t really have to work too hard to get a good sound. After setting the input level, you choose how gentle or tough you want the first limiting stage to be with the transients. An Input control lets you push the limiting harder for a more squashed sound, while the Link knob sets the independence of the two limiting stages, and the Leveler adjusts how much loud material is reduced before limiting is applied. Simple, but effective.
If you’re looking for a squashed “effect,” this probably isn’t the plug-in for you—you have to hit the input really hard to get obvious squashing. But if you value transparency and a loud sound without actually sounding squashed, Xenon does an exemplary job. And while designed for mastering, it’s excellent with individual tracks, particularly drums. If you want to win the loudness wars, this does the job—but without the bloodshed.
More from this Plug-Ins Roundup....