Audio generally is a very intuitive field when it comes to using FX processors. Need some ambiance? Add a reverb and tweak. How about delay? No problem! Even compressors, which are often horribly abused, can still be tweaked by ear if you know what to listen for. However, what if compression got more complicated? Ever find one of those pieces of gear that makes you scratch your head trying to figure out how to use it? If not, be prepared for the newest offering from Variety of Sound, the SlickHDR.
Ever see those super-sharp and vibrant images that pop off the screen? Of course you have, they are everywhere! Well many of these images are a result of High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing. Wouldn't it be nice to make our audio pop in the same way? Well the SlickHDR is a unique plugin that attempts to mimic the effects of HDR processing in the audio world. Plus it is free!
The SlickHDR attempts to mimic the effects of HDR by using compression. Why compression? Well, because HDR processing is nothing more than some really fancy contrast controls. In the audio world reducing contrast is like using a compressor and adding contrast is like using an expander. Simple!
However, before you jump to conclusions about compression remember that this is not normal compression. For those of you really interested in how the plugin functions, I recommend reading two posts (here and here). For now though, what we are ultimately concerned with is how to use it!
Controlling HDR Audio
As mentioned earlier, SlickHDR is just a big compressor at the end the day. In fact, it is actually three compressors set up in a network (along with some saturation thrown in). Changing one control can effect another, which can make using SlickHDR very confusing very quickly!
So before we get to taming this beast, we need to know what controls we have to work with:
- P1, P2, P3. These are the three compressors. P1 is the quickest compressor and acts on transient details. P2 is the slowest and reacts to more overall changes. Finally, P3 is somewhere in the middle and used to blend with the others. Remember this is not a multi-band compressor!
- Drive. Each of these knobs control how much level each compressor sees. More level means more effect and vice versa.
- Release. A normal compressor control! Just like in a regular compressor the release knobs control the release times of the various compressors so you can dial in the sound.
- Tone. This control is designed to help dial a general sonic signature for the plugin. However, none of the options are very drastic.
- Details. Similar to the tone control, these options are used to help dial in the character of the SlickHDR.
- Trim and Power. In order to prevent distortion from too much gain with the Drive knobs we have the Trim to dial back the whole plugin. The power of course is used to A/B back and forth with the original sound.
This is not very typical for a compressor, is it? But we have a much better idea of what everything does, and how to go about starting to play with it. So with that in mind...
Making the Most of SlickHDR
SlickHDR shines best on sources that have a fair bit of dynamic range. That does not mean it needs to be sweeping up and down all the time. Even some subtle ambiance, pick noise, or sound of the stick captured softly in the background can be brought forward.
SlickHDR also is very beneficial on complex sources, such as the master channel, drum buss, vox buss, etc. For our example we have chosen straight ahead rock track and applied the SlickHDR to the master channel. Keep in mind that every example is peak matched with the original so you can hear how the SlickHDR is effecting the source.
- Start by loading the plugin and finding a loud passage. If the whole piece is collectively loud, then find a dense section that might have a lot going on.
- Go to P1 and increase the Drive until the meter begins to slightly peak into the yellow.
- You will notice that P2 and P3 will change as well. Next move onto P2 and P3 and adjust the Drive knob either up or down until you have a similar result, mostly green with the occasional peak into the yellow.
- Go to the Trim knob and reduce or boost the gain until you peak match the original (no plugin) with the effect version.
The big trick to keep in mind is this, P1 Drive feeds all the compressors, P2 Drive balances P1 and P2 (it will lower P1 slightly while boosting P2), and P3 acts independent except for master control by P1. A little confusing? Yes, but it will go a long way to maximizing your use of the SlickHDR.
- With the basic setup in place, determine how frequent notes are played in your source.
- For slow-moving sources, setting P2 and P3 Releases slower will smooth out the notes. Setting P2's and P3's release faster will put less emphasis on the sustain.
- For fast-moving sources, do the opposite. A slow P2 and P3 will smear the notes more where as a faster option will maintain more clarity.
- Always make sure to balance P2 and P3 appropriately. P3 should not be slower than P2 since it is used to balance against P1 and P2.
Playing with Tone
- Adjusting the tone and details can have an impact on the compressors above. Always be sure to double check P1, P2, and P3 after finalizing adjustments below.
- Start by choosing a desired tone scheme. Warm for less high end emphasis, Bright for more high end emphasis, and Natural for no emphasis or de-emphasis.
- Adjusting the Low details up will place a bigger emphasis on the low end (subtly), and the same for the Hi details. For a more obvious effect, match the Bright, Natural, and Warm choice with the corresponding Low and Hi Details.
As you can see, SlickHDR is not your typical compressor. It likes to move around and adjust itself as you make other adjustments, so keep checking back on previous controls after you change another.
For those of you who may not hear the effect, keep in mind it is subtle! At best, you may notice a 2-4dB boost in RMS as far as volume goes. However, instead listen for subtle details that all of a sudden work their way forward. Also listen for stereo imaging improvements. It may not get louder but it will still sound bigger.
Good luck and happy processing!