PSPaudioware.com's VintageWarmer ($149) is a plug-in emulation of an analog multiband compressor. It is available in VST and DXi formats for the PC as well as VST and MOTU Audio System formats for the Macintosh. All PSPaudioware products are distributed through download from the company's Web site, and you can also purchase a backup CD-ROM of a title for $9.90 plus shipping charges. In addition, demonstrations are available at the Web site.
VintageWarmer is equally at home in tracking and finalizing applications. It offers single and multiband compression, brickwall limiting, and saturation effects typical of analog tape recorders. Performance (the number of instances you can use at one time) depends on your system and host. Minimum requirements call for a Pentium II or G3/300 MHz, and on my G3/300 MHz, I had no trouble running four instances of VintageWarmer on four separate soft synths.
The key to understanding VintageWarmer lies in its two operating modes: Single-Band and Multiband. Both modes begin with a signal-level control (called Drive) with a range of ±24 dB. In Single-Band mode, the entire signal is first passed through high- and low-shelving filters and then compressed. That is typically the mode you use for tracking operations and is the mode employed in the factory tracking presets (the last 12 of 29) supplied with VintageWarmer. In Multiband mode, the signal is first split by parallel low-, medium, and high-band filters, each containing its own compressor. The mixed output is then passed through a hard-knee limiter. You generally use Multiband mode for mixing and finalizing applications, and it's in use in the first 17 presets.
Three MP3 files that are available on the EM Web site illustrate both uses. The first file, Cold, is a short 4-track mix without processing. The second one, WarmTracks, applies single-band warming to each of the four tracks. The last file, Finalize, applies multiband warming as well as limiting to the WarmTracks mix.
VintageWarmer offers a complete set of front-panel controls for managing all EQ, compression, and limiting parameters. Some control functions change with the mode — for example, the High and Low Freq knobs set the shelving frequencies in Single-Band mode but set the crossover frequencies in Multiband mode. To reduce control-panel clutter, VintageWarmer has a back panel (accessed by clicking on the VintageWarmer logo on the front panel) with controls for functions that are used less frequently. In a nice touch, the Fine Adjust control can be used to restrict the ranges of critical front-panel controls down to 12.5 percent of normal. Range reduction is especially useful for tweaking the factory presets without destroying their intended function. Back-panel settings are saved with presets, but the factory presets all have Fine Adjust set to 100 percent, so flip around back before tweaking them.
Meter, Meter on the Wall
PSPaudioware has taken particular care in designing its analog-style meters, which are switchable between VU and pseudo peak-meter (PPM) format. The meters are available in a separate package, Vintage Meters, as a free download from the company's Web site.
VU metering is an averaging process that has a standardized “integration” time of 300 ms. However, you can adjust the integration time on VintageWarmer's back panel from 30 to 3,000 ms. The 0 VU reference level can also be adjusted from 0 to -24 dBFS. (The professional standard is -14 dBFS.) PPM differs from digital peak metering by incorporating a short attack and release envelope. Typical attack and release times are 10 ms and 1,000 ms, respectively. Back-panel controls are also provided for these settings, and true digital peak metering can be achieved by setting the attack time to 0 ms.
VintageWarmer's meters include overload LEDs. These count the number of consecutive samples at maximum level (0 dB); they light up on a count of three (the count can be adjusted on the back panel). Once lit, the LEDs slowly fade but remain a dark red until you click on them to reset them.
The meters can be inserted at three positions in the signal path, as selected by the Pre/G.R./Post switch at the top of the control panel. The Pre position displays the levels after equalization. G.R. (Gain Reduction) shows the gain or reduction resulting from VintageWarmer processing, with the rest position being 0 dB in that case. Post shows the levels at VintageWarmer's output.
VintageWarmer is effective and easy to use. I was always able to find a factory preset that came close to the sound I was reaching for, and it was easy to tweak the rest of the way. I quickly became addicted to it for punching up tracks and finalizing a mix. The manual is clear and covers all the VintageWarmer functions, although you won't find any extended EQ and compression tutorials there.