These two MP3s demonstrate the effects of the Detailer plug-in on a full mix. Due to the limited MP3 fidelity, we recommend you listen through your best headphones to pick up the differences.
As the first plug-in completely conceived and designed by Roger Nichols Digital, Detailer offers subtle to over-the-top treatments of dynamics for one's mixes. Nichols, a highly respected engineer with a long history in the audio industry, honed the algorithms in Detailer for more than 15 years and first employed them in a stand-alone box before deciding to jump into the plug-in world. It elegantly combines Nichols' “detailing” voodoo on the front end with a 3-band limiter on the back. I tested it within BIAS Peak Pro 5.2 on an Apple MacBook Pro with 2 GB of RAM. If you're on a G4 machine running at least OS 10.3 Panther, or a Pentium III machine running XP, you should be fine.
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
Although tons of musicians use mastering plug-ins to prep their mixes at home, I've never been a huge fan of putting mastering tools in the hands of home recordists. I won't rehash the pros and cons; most of you know how excessive dynamics processing can rob the life from a mix. This risk wasn't lost on Detailer's designers, who tagged on a compression editorial to the manual that basically recommends getting familiar with the consequences of overdoing it.
That said, Detailer's default settings are a good launching point, offering subtle EQ shading (with enhanced stereo spread) prior to the limiter kicking in. Even as I gradually cranked up settings, the plug-in remained pretty forgiving before the soundstage began to flatten. In other words, there's a lot of room to play with here. That is due in part to the unusual way audio is shifted over by 2 bits at the input to provide additional headroom as you move through the limiter. In fact, the input and output meters are scaled to +8 dB to reflect this added range. Displaying both peak and RMS levels, as well as peak hold points and absolute headroom, the metering on Detailer provides an excellent gauge of how much work you can do before clipping sets in. The meters are essential in helping you retain dynamics while maximizing levels.
On the left side of the plug-in window, the Detail section features two pairs of left/right horizontal sliders addressing the mid- and high-frequency content. (Low frequencies aren't considered part of the “details.”) While you can independently boost or cut each channel, settings for each pair will usually stay the same. Below the sliders is a display section where blue and red lines illustrate the activity of Detail on the left and right channels. At lower settings, the lines group in the center. As you raise the level of the sliders, the lines begin to spread out, so you get a visual take of Detail's activity in a broader stereo spectrum. (You rely on your ears in the end, but I liked the graphic gauge of activity in the workspace.) The default setting mentioned above has all sliders in the Detail section set to 3, where there is slight coloration in the mids and highs. Below that, the effect is minimal. Raising the sliders from around 4 to the top of 11, the mix becomes increasingly diffuse. In practice, my most pleasing results were in the range of 3 to 6, where I got a desired increased separation in the high mids.
Detailer features adjustable crossover frequencies for the low-to-mid (L-M) and mid-to-high (M-H) sections that feed into the Detail section prior to heading for the limiter. The default crossover points of 127 Hz and 2,950 Hz are good starting points, but you can tweak, for example, to let either pair of sliders address specific high-to-mid frequencies. When messing with these settings, I frequently returned to the factory settings.
Three dithering types are available in Detailer, and final bit depths can be set to 16-, 18-, 20-, 22- or 24-bit. Like most plug-ins, you can A/B settings you arrive at in a session, or load presets.
TO THE LIMIT
On the right-hand side of the plug-in display are two stacked meters: a Band Level meter and Limiter Attenuation meter. The first gives you a visual on the musical content as it's split into three bands. Each of the bands can be individually boosted or cut by ±10 dB within three Bias windows, and an overall Drive slider can add a maximum of 6 dB as you head into the limiter. Within the limiter, there are three Knee adjustments (down to -6 dB) for each of the bands, so you can independently set how hard or soft the limiting will be — which is very useful. You also get a range of Release times from 2 ms to 2 seconds.
Detailer was a pleasant surprise for me. I was able to carefully improve midrange definition without changing the feel of the song. I never felt I was losing control of the mix, even while pushing it hard. Does that mean I would master all my projects by myself with this? Maybe not, but I certainly could arrive at templates that I could A/B with a mastering engineer for certain songs. Even if you don't use it for a final master, it may help you get much closer to the sound you want.
ROGER NICHOLS DIGITAL
DETAILER > $349
Pros: Can effectively improve the mid-range definition of songs. Can be used subtly or extremely. Adds a 3-band limiter to the back end. Helpful default starting point. Good documentation.
Cons: It may make you unjustly confident in your mastering skills.
Mac: OS 10.3.9 or later; VST, RTAS or Audio Units host software
PC: Windows XP; VST or RTAS host software