THE LOW DOWN
PSP’s FAT processing gives the updated version gobs more room to do internal calculations. The tradeoff: One instance of VW2 with FAT enabled requires more than double the CPU power of two FAT-free instances. Still, it makes a huge difference: Flip the FAT switch and it sounds like someone lifted a veil from the audio — highs are much smoother and the overall soundstage seems to have more front to back depth. Drums have a very convincing “2" at 15 ips” feel to them — there’s a more controlled “thwack” to the snare, and the kicks punch right to the gut. At times I was reminded of the Empirical Labs Fatso tape emulation. And this is a good thing.
Be careful, though: The “warmth” feature is easy to overdo. Like the ear-candy days of aural exciters, it’s tempting to slap an instance of VW2 on every track. But by the time the mix makes it to your mastering engineer, the buildup of this processing can sound more like crud than warmth, so those who use many instances should monitor the drive and saturation settings, and apply sparingly.
VW2 is more than a “color generator” — there are some real flexible, useful features inside this thing, so just choosing a preset and adjusting the gain or output fails to tap its full potential. For example, there’s a switch for single-band or multi-band operation. In “Single Band” mode, the processor functions across the full frequency range, providing tape simulation effects combined with shelving equalization. In “Multi Band” mode, the processor acts as a three-band, soft-knee limiter with pre-limiter level adjustment and hard limiting for the combined output.
However, the GUI doesn’t change for Multi Band, which may confuse some users. Some controls change duty in Multi Band mode; specifically, the High Freq knob normally sets the high-shelving equalization frequency, but in Multi Band mode, this knob sets the high band’s crossover frequency. Similarly, the Low Freq knob sets the low band crossover frequency in Multi Band mode instead of the low shelving equalization frequency.
There are also powerful metering functions. Real-life VU meters have to fight inertia and gravity to move the needle, causing a delay (typically about 300ms) from the time a sound hits the meter to when the needle can actually ramp up to display the level. However, VW2 allows adjusting the meters’ ballistic response. Additionally, the meters’ reference level can be adjusted to improve their ability to track peaks. This is incredibly useful, as “real” VU meters have a fixed reference of a -14dB value relative to peak value. While they help evaluate average or sustained responses, they can fail miserably as peak detectors.
Fortunately, VW2 allows peak program metering (PPM). This mode has adjustable attack and release integration times, just like the VU meters, with default values of 10ms integration time and 1,000ms return time to emulate most real-world PPMs. Users can adjust to taste. PPM meters are pseudo peak meters and show the level value very close to digital peak values, but tend to be more practical than digital peak meters themselves. This feature is great on individual tracks where setting the attack to 0ms gives a perfect digital peak meter.
Fans of the original VintageWarmer will find that VW2 sounds even better, making the nominal upgrade fee almost a no-brainer. And even if you aren’t into saturation plug-ins, the compressor and limiter stand on their own as solid applications. Add the metering and tweak-ability of other parameters, and it looks like PSP has regained its crown among vintage emulation plug-ins.