Canadian Musician - September/October 2017 - Page 23

ROAD TEST Plugin Alliance 100% AAX DSP Plugin Bundle By Ryan McCambridge W hen I owned my first Digidesign Pro Tools|24 MIX system, the idea of running software compressors, EQs, and reverbs was a near miracle. The term “plugin” was barely a part of our vernacular. That was over a decade-and-a-half ago, and in that time, the rise in native systems has well surpassed that of hardware DSP systems. This democratized plugins, allowing the formats to compete, given that com- puters could now power these plugins without the help of additional proprietary processing. In 2010, Avid, who’d bought Digidesign and the Pro Tools platform, in- troduced its AAX plugin format. Like its preceding TDM/RTAS, it had two versions: AAX DSP and AAX Native. AAX updated the TDM/RTAS 24-bit fixed-point processing to a 32-bit floating-point processing environment. This gave more fidelity and headroom and ensured that both the DSP and Native versions of a plugin were identical, which was long debated with TDM/RTAS. A year-and-a-half later, Avid introduced Pro Tools 11, which was 64-bit and marked the end of the TDM/RTAS format. So, within a short span of time in development terms, plugin manufacturers were asked to service these new plugin formats, something that was unachiev- able by many. This only further decreased the supply and demand of AAX DSP plugins, even though HDX still remains the choice of most profes- sionals – especially those operating in commercial facilities. With this as the backdrop, you can understand the elation over the release of Plugin Alliance’s 100% AAX DSP Bundle. It was like an oasis in a desert. Granted, there were always great plugin manufacturers like McDSP, Sonnox, and Dave Hill Designs keeping us sustained, but the diminishing choice was a difficult adjustment for many. Some of Plugin Alliance’s members, like Brainworx, Elysia, and Softube, had been devel- oping for the AAX DSP platform, but the 100% AAX DSP Bundle marks the culmination of all of their efforts in a generous package. In Use The companies that make up Plugin Alliance have always complemented each other well: the precision and diversity of Brainworx; the innovation of ProAudioDSP; the colouration of Acme, Noveltech, and Vertigo; and the emulations of iconic hardware from Elysia, Maag Audio, SPL, and Millennia. The 100% AAX DSP Bundle houses 50 plugins to discover, which run the gamut from clean and surgical, all the way to colourful and gritty. The plugins provide all the necessary tools to mix in a modern workflow. Specifically, the bundle is comprised of compressors, limiters, M/S widening, channel strips, guitar amps and pedals, filters, and EQs. There are no reverbs or delays, but otherwise, I can’t imagine users feeling underserviced. For me, there are a few highlights, though. Brainworx bx_digital V3 is an exceptional EQ and its features are unparalleled, especially in applica- tions where clarity is important. In terms of innovation, the ProAudioDSP DSM V2 takes the lead. It uses “FFT analysis to accurately capture both the frequency-domain and level characteristics” of a signal, which completely rethinks how compression is approached. The result is remarkably W W W. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N . CO M transparent. The SPL Transient Designer Plus is a studio favourite that first defined, and subsequently set the benchmark for, transient shaping. Then there’s the newly-released Black Box Analog Design HG-2, an emulation of the hardware colouration box loved by so many A-list mixers. There are many other highlights in 100% AAX DSP Bundle, and for multiplatform producers, it also includes AAX Native, AudioUnit, and VST versions of all of the plugins, which is helpful when switching systems. As far as I’m concerned, the only potential strike against the 100% AAX DSP Bundle is justifying the cost: $3,659 USD, discounted from the $8,583 total cost of the plugins. At a 57 per cent discount, it’s a great value, and Plugin Alliance does provide a payment plan that will let cus- tomers pay it off over 12 months, interest free. Also, should you already own any of the bundled plugins, the price of the bundle will be further discounted by the MSRP of each of the plugins you own. I commend Plugin Alliance for being so fair; however, as with any bundle, you have to love enough of the plugins for it to be worth it. This is an audio toolbox that will undoubtedly help your productions and mixes and it really does stand as the “largest collection of AAX DSP production tools on the market,” as their marketing touts. But