Design Dilemma

Mr Oktalski (my graphic designer) is a very smart guy. So I tend to take it very seriously when he makes an observation.

He’s been working his way through the controls, of which there are many, and posed the question: which hardware compressors will this model well (i.e. indistinguishably from the hardware). Immediately I can list a few classics that have influenced the DSP design that I can foresee no problems with emulating. Fun list of presets.

But this wasn’t the focus.

The original idea for this compressor was to create “the ultimate compressor” – something you could insert on any track, and have the flexibility to always get the job done without resort to another compressor.

As you’re aware, most compressors have about five controls; maybe a sidechain EQ, and occasionally a “processing mode” option, or a few other character tweaks. This compressor has tonnes of extra controls to allow you to configure it to your exact taste. You know- changing the effect it has on transients, that kind of thing.

I think you all largely know where I come from with dynamics; you probably remember I did Forte; I was, shall we say, “heavily involved in” the design of the Liquid stuff; I built TBK3; and brought the Sonalksis 315 from Mk1 to Mk2. All fairly modern designs.

So now I’m left with a dilemma which is this:
I hadn’t originally intended this compressor to turn into a replacement for all the modelling compressors out there, but Krzys pointed out that with all this technology, it might be a wasted opportunity not to do that.
Which is a design dilemma, because right now, it’s a fucking fantastic unit for a mixing/tracking/mastering engineer who wants a fantastic compressor/limiter/expander/gate whatever for a track… but the focus is very much on getting the job done, rather than being able to swap in SPECIFIC bits of kit.

Opto characteristics; check. Feedback behaviour (which can actually be modelled surprisingly well with a feed-forward design, the maths reveals); check. All kinds of oddities that one finds in an analogue model (knee types, over-easy, unusual transient shaping, bandwidth limits, sidechain biases, weird hystheretic behaviour, etc); check.
Certainly you’d need to know which controls to tweak to get these behaviours to come out, and that’s very much my job in the preset design stage… but perhaps a list of specific pieces of kit would make for a more useful preset list than task-focussed presets?

… and if I do go down that route, how far do I go? I can add in special modes for modelling things like overdamped feedback designs (some very obscure bits of kit ‘wobble’ when they attack. It’s weird but fun), really odd release behaviour (autorelease catches a lot of this in practice, but I could go deep into it).

EQuality was something of a free ride for me in terms of replacing hardware, because (neglecting distortion, which is fairly easy with EQs that aren’t being driven absurdly hard) all hardware EQs basically follow the same rules. In fact the maths forces them to, which is why you can get EQuality to sound like any random EQ you fancy.

Compressors aren’t so well-defined, nor so constrained mathematically.

So now I’m left wondering where the line is. Do people want another (better) Liquid Compressor? Or do people want a fast, efficient workflow tool, that gives them “just enough” control to make sure they can always get the job done?

I can add options all day long; I really can. I kinda like it even. But I’m painfully aware that every control I add makes someone’s life a little bit worse, because there’s more clutter that has to be on screen. Even with the smartest UI design (which Krzys will do, because he’s an evil genius) if the controls are there, you can’t escape them.

Advice please people 🙂

TL;DR: New compressor: Every compressor ever, or every problem solved?

The compressor…

…is coming along very nicely.

Before I start rambling about that, here’s the updates from me: TL;DR: I went to Ibiza, made some plugins, came back, moved to Brighton (UK), got v1.10 of EQuality out, and hid out and did a lot of work on the compressor.

So, let’s talk about dynamics. Today, the compressor got nicknamed “The Dynamics Laboratory”. Let me explain why…

But first things first, it’s a single-band compressor. There’s plenty of time for multi-band and such, but this is not that time.
I’m entirely sure you’ll find this plugin to be enough of an improvement on whatever compressors you’re using that you’ll be very excited indeed. Reasons why it’s cool:

-) There’s a 3-band sidechain EQ, and it allows you to mix noise in to the sidechain signal. It also supports external sidechains, naturally.
-) There’s a graph, that helps you see what you’re doing, without needing to learn how to read it or anything, it just makes actual sense (that took three months to figure out how to build. *gasp*).
-) There’s a HPF and LPF in the signal path, plus a LPF on the dry feed, and a wet/dry ratio (so you can mix uncompressed bass in, or use it for parallel compression).
-) The sidechain mixes are completely configurable. If you want the Mid to compress the Side, you go right ahead. I approve. That’s a great idea.
-) There’s a built-in gate/expander. Because you deserve one. And bringing up the noise floor with inverse expansion is just great.
-) The controls don’t have needlessly restricted ranges. If you want to make it sound distorted, you can. If you want to make it smooth as silk, no problem.
-) You can configure the compressor topology; you can configure the character of the compressor entirely. With presets too, if you like.
-) You can reshape the dynamics curves.

I’m just going to let that one sit there for a bit.

I mean, it’s not like this compressor allows you to fine-tune how the compressor reshapes your transients.

OH WAIT, it is.

Also, did anyone spot the point before? About changing the compressor’s character? Wonder if that’s as flexible as something like Liquid Mix… Oh, wait, it’s MORE flexible than Liquid Mix? It contains a full taxonomy of compressor topologies and you can just dial your way through? (10 points if you spotted that tweet) So, I could, say, set up a compressor… and then see how a few different bits of kit would sound doing the same job? And THEN fine-tune the transient shaping?

-) Two different styles of compressor knee.
-) Hystheresis AND Hold, for maximal smoothness.
-) Analogue and Digital VCA smoothing models; vintage or superclean.


Ok, so, I’m getting a bit excited about it. You’ll have to forgive me, it’s just that I’ve never heard a compressor that allows you to do that before, and it’s really exciting. It’s like a whole new world of dynamics.

We’re working on the UI at the moment; the idea is that you open it up, and there’s the standard controls, and a big graph.
If you want to go deeper, you can expand the plugin window to view a few extra controls (…currently 73…).
We’re still working on laying things out to be shiny and quick, but you know we will. 🙂

Lots of late nights, but the DSP is basically there now. There will probably be a handful of tweaks (like coalescing the s/c listen and channel-solo controls, that kinda stuff) yet to come, and if anyone suggests anything life-changing, it’ll go in.
I’m hoping to get it to beta this month, which isn’t /impossible/. Will post screenshots…

So, readers, this is going to be the ultimate single-band mixing/tracking compressor. I’ve listed a few of the features… what else does it need…? GO!