FIG. 1: Uniquel-izer gives you control over how many bands and what types of filters you want to use.
A lot of companies attach the word pro to the names of their products in an attempt to hype them. In the case of Roger Nichols Digital's Pro Bundle, no hype is necessary — these are professional plug-ins in every way. The bundle is not cheap, and some of the plug-ins take a while to learn. But they all offer a deep level of functionality and excellent sound, are fully automatable, and come with presets from Roger Nichols himself.
The Pro Bundle plug-ins were all formerly released by Elemental Audio. Roger Nichols Digital reached an agreement with Elemental Audio last year to distribute these plug-ins and develop new ones together (the recently released Detailer is one example).
The four plug-ins in the bundle are Uniquel-izer (formerly Equim), an all-around EQ; Frequal-izer (formerly Firium), a linear-phase mastering EQ; Dynam-izer (formerly NeoDynium), a very flexible dynamics plug-in; and Finis (formerly Finalis), a brickwall limiter. The bundle is available in a number of native formats, including AU, VST, and RTAS for the Mac and VST for Windows. The plug-ins are also available separately.
One of the real go-to plug-ins in the bundle is Uniquel-izer (see Fig. 1), an extremely customizable EQ. You can configure it with as many or as few bands as you want, and choose from a large range of filter types, including parametric, low and high shelving (two types each), lowpass, highpass, bandpass, harmonic, and notch. If you set up Uniquel-izer to use only the bands that you need, you can keep CPU usage low, enabling instantiation on numerous channels.
As with all the plug-ins in the bundle, user controls abound. On a stereo instantiation of Uniquel-izer, you can split a band into left and right components and treat each side separately. The plug also lets you solo any filter that you're using to hear its effect, and separately control the left and right outputs. You can customize the main frequency display and even zoom in on it.
Uniquel-izer's wide array of filters gives it a Swiss Army knife functionality. From parametric and shelving EQ for typical channel adjustments to more-specialized applications like notch filtering, Uniquel-izer can do it, and it always sounds really good.
I was particularly enamored of its harmonic filters, which accentuate or cut fundamentals and odd and even harmonics. According to Roger Nichols Digital, the harmonic filters can be used for enhancing bottom end. I found them useful for tuning drum sounds to match the key of a song, and as a sound-design tool.
The presets range from channel EQ setups to hum removal and telephone EQs. If you're looking for a flexible and excellent-sounding EQ that you can use in a range of situations, Uniquel-izer is a great choice.
Frequal-izer is a linear-phase mastering EQ and, as such, uses Finite Impulse Response (FIR) filters for its processing. These filters make it less susceptible to phase shift than a conventional equalizer and therefore more transparent. The trade-off is that Frequal-izer (like any linear-phase EQ) is also more CPU intensive and may cause latency in your system. RND recommends it mainly as a mastering EQ.
FIG. 2: You can set Frequal-izer''s 50 EQ bands by dragging them or just by drawing in a curve with your mouse.
Frequal-izer's greatest strength is its extremely flexible user interface. It offers 50 frequency control points (see Fig. 2) that can be graphically adjusted with the flick of your mouse. It also has a real-time frequency readout that appears in the same window, letting you quickly see the spectrum of your source material.
To make adjustments, you can grab and drag individual points or simply draw in the graph with your mouse pointer and the control points will follow in the shape that you drew. It's really easy to use and gives you pinpoint control. You can't choose from different filter types, but you can draw in whatever types of curves you want.
Frequal-izer allows you to save 50 “States” in each instance of the plug-in. Each State is like a separate preset with its own curve. You can even use your sequencer's automation to switch between States (like scene automation), which gives you additional control.
Even if you don't save any States, you can step back and look at the various edits you made in Frequal-izer since you instantiated the plug-in. These are retained even after you've closed your audio file for the song. And Frequal-izer, along with the other plug-ins in this bundle, offers an A/B work space so you can easily compare two different settings.
Like the other plug-ins in the bundle, Frequal-izer can be opened as either a mono or stereo version, although for the most part you'd be using the latter. With a stereo instantiation, you have the option to address each side individually, which can be very useful for homing in on a particular element. I used this feature on a stereo mix file to lower the level of a shaker that was panned to one side. Being able to process either side also allows you to accentuate elements that are panned to one side or another, which can effectively heighten the stereo image of the source track.
Frequal-izer's match EQ function is turned on with a switch on the front of the plug-in. Once it's activated, you first have to let Frequal-izer learn the frequency response of the source (the file whose frequency response you want to copy). When analyzing the source, Frequal-izer provides what's termed a Confidence Rating for the success of its analysis. The wider the band you see around the frequency display, the lower the Confidence Rating. You can improve the Confidence Rating by playing back only a small portion of the audio file for analysis, rather than letting it run too long. The more drastically a source file changes, the less likely you'll get a successful result.
Once you've analyzed your source, you save the setting, and then open up another instance of Frequal-izer on the target track. After you recall the source curve, you set the plug-in to analyze and learn the target file. Once it has it learned, it automatically kicks in the matching EQ curve.
I tried Frequal-izer's match EQ on a number of sources, including full mixes, vocals, bass, and drums. I was never totally satisfied with the results. I tried the match EQ that comes with Apple Logic Pro on the same sources and generally got better results. But in its primary role as a mastering EQ, Frequal-izer offers awesome control and transparent sound.
The Dynamic One
Probably the most unusual and initially baffling plug-in in the bundle is Dynam-izer. RND calls it a “graphic, multi-regional, dynamics processor.” It's similar to a multiband compressor except that instead of setting up separate compression zones based on frequency, you do it based on amplitude. This allows you to compress or expand dynamically different elements in a source track to differing degrees.
As with all the plug-ins in the bundle, the documentation for Dynam-izer is excellent. Nevertheless, it still took me a couple of readings through the manual, a long talk with Reinhold Probst at Roger Nichols Digital, and a lot of experimenting to really get my head around the concept of this plug-in. The reason it's called a “-graphic” dynamics processor is that the user interface is designed so you can see and control, in graphic form, both the range (in terms of amplitude) of the audio and its range after compression.
FIG. 3: By glancing at Dynam-izer''s center section, you can see the ranges of the compression zones on the left and their range after processing on the right. The vertical strips on the right with the white, gray, and orange in them make up the Cloud Meter.
Using its Advanced mode (which, ironically, I found easier to use than Simple mode), you can control, for each band, the dynamic range within which it will compress or expand (shown on the left side of the graphic display) and the dynamic range that will result (shown on the right; see Fig. 3).
Like Uniquel-izer, Dynam-izer is extremely user configurable. You can have complex multizone setups (with up to four zones) or just have one zone and use Dynam-izer like a conventional compressor plug-in. Each zone has its own threshold, ratio, attack, and release controls, which correspond to movements you make in the graphic sliders.
Using more than two zones can get complicated; I didn't have a lot of success coming up with usable settings that employed more than two. However, I'm sure that the more I use Dynam-izer, the more likely I'll be to try using additional zones.
Near the center of the plug-in, the Input Audio Meter helps you scope out where the various amplitude levels are of the different elements in your audio so that you can set the boundaries of a compression zone. Sometimes, though, you need more information than that simple meter can give you. For those occasions, a vertical display on the right called the Cloud Meter shows the audio energy at various levels with puffs of white, gray, and orange. Once you've sussed out the amplitude range of a particular element (or elements), you can then set Dynam-izer to either compress or expand only that range.
Dynam-izer also has a sidechain input with lots of options, a look-ahead function, and a built-in limiter with Fast, Medium, and Slow settings. Clicking on the Auto button on the far right of the output meters turns on the Auto setting, which maintains your output level as you add compression.
A number of useful Roger Nichols presets are included with Dynam-izer. I particularly liked the mastering presets, which really made my mixes come to life.
What's intriguing about Dynam-izer is that it gives you a unique canvas upon which to create imaginative dynamics effects — including ones that combine compression and expansion on the same source. This is definitely a tweaker's plug-in; the better you understand its functionality, and the better you can recognize where the various elements fall dynamically in your source track, the more you'll be able to get out of it.
The final plug-in in the bundle is Finis (see Fig. 4), a brickwall limiter. While its main use is for mastering, it's also quite handy for pumping up individual tracks. Like the rest of the plug-ins in the bundle, it comes in both mono and stereo versions.
The controls on Finis are relatively straightforward, and I was able to quickly dial up useful settings. You set the Ceiling (maximum value), Release time, and the Reaction parameter. Reaction is a pretty subtle variable, which the manual describes as governing the “aggressiveness” with which the limiter reacts to audio that is at or near the Ceiling level. As with all limiters, the parameter on Finis that most dramatically affects the final result is the input level. The harder you hit it, the more squashed the result. Finis offers a choice of three different limiting algorithms: one optimized for heavy limiting, one for moderate limiting, and one for light limiting.
FIG. 4: Finis is a brickwall limiter that features the Crest Factor Meter, which lets you easily gauge the effect of the limiter on your material''s dynamic range.
Using Finis, I was able to quickly boost levels without making my source sound overly compressed (see Web Clip 1). I found it to be quite transparent at nonextreme settings.
One of the pitfalls of limiters is that they can easily be overused, which results in the song's dynamic range being reduced to unmusically low levels. To help guard against this, Finis offers the Crest Factor Meter, which essentially measures the difference between the peak and RMS values in your audio, giving you a good indication of its dynamic range.
Once you get used to reading the meter (it's not hard), you can see at a glance how much you're increasing the average loudness of your program material (compared with the input level), and how the limiting you're applying is affecting the dynamic range.
Between its transparent sound and the utility of the Crest Factor Meter, I'm sold on Finis. It's become the limiter that I turn to first.
Bundle of Joy
Overall, I was very impressed with all the plug-ins in Pro Bundle. They're creatively designed, offer a ton of features, and have excellent sound and thorough documentation. The price is a bit on the high side (buying the bundle does offer significant savings when compared with purchasing all the plug-ins individually), but you do get a lot for your money. If you're serious about audio, you'll love this bundle.
Mike Levine is an EM senior editor.
ROGER NICHOLS DIGITAL
individual plug-ins $249 each
FEATURES5EASE OF USE3QUALITY OF SOUNDS4VALUE3
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: All plug-ins are extremely flexible, well thought out, and excellent sounding. Crest Factor Meter on Finis helps prevent overcompression. Frequal-izer very easy to adjust. Excellent documentation. Dynam-izer provides unique dynamics control. Harmonic filters on Uniquel-izer very musical.
CONS: Dynam-izer has complex user interface. Match EQ on Frequal-izer a bit disappointing. Relatively pricey.
Roger Nichols Digital