Hardware And Software Reviews
Suite For Many Platforms:
WAVES Ltd. Native Power Pack
Read G. Burgan
Waves' Native Power Pack (NPP) is a suite of plug-in utilities designed for use with various digital audio platforms including Cubase VST, Pro Tools 4.0, Sound Forge, Deck II, SoundEdit 16, Studio Vision, WaveLab and CakeWalk.. I tested NPP for Sound Forge 4.0b under Windows 95.
Up until now, most Sound Forge plug-in's have required that you "build" a preview by selecting your parameters and then waiting while the plug-in module creates a preview of a selected portion of your sound wave. It works, but takes time. All of the NPP plug-in's run in real time. This alone singles out these plug-in's as significantly increasing the quality of the finished product while decreasing the time required to achieve it. Look for more Sound Forge plug-in's to operate this way in the near future.
Real time previews can require a lot of processing power and memory, but I had no difficulty using any of the NPP utilities on either my Pentium-100 with 16 megs of ram or my Pentium-166 with 32 megs of ram.
For me, the jewel in the crown of this suite of software programs is TrueVerb. There are a number of decent hardware and software reverberation programs available, but I have almost never found any that I could truly say sounded like the reverb in a real life environment.
TrueVerb lets you create your own virtual room. It does this by dividing the reverb process into two parts: 1. The early reflections that you hear almost immediately and 2. The conventional long term reflections that are a combination of all of the reflected sounds dying out over a period of time.
It's the early reflections that give a room it's character. TrueVerb lets you create a room that has one, two, three or four dimensions. It then let's you adjust the cubic volume of the room in meters (I wish they would come up with a version that defined the room in cubic feet!). Then you can set the listening distance from the source to the listener.
Having done that, you can also adjust the reflectivity of the room's surface by controlling the dampening and the frequency absorption characteristics of the room. All of this is for the short term reverberation that determines the room's character.
In addition, there are separate parameter settings for the conventional long term reverberations. You have the option of keeping the short term and long term reverberation parameters locked in sync, or of adjusting them independently. Keeping them in sync uses the program's preset parameters to insure that the sound most closely emulates a real life environment for the room you have created. Unsyncing them lets you create any combination of reverberation that you like. TrueVerb comes with a number of presets to get you started.
How does it sound? Unlike any other reverb software or hardware program I've used. Frankly, it took a while to get used to. But the bottom line is that it is capable of producing reverberation that is remarkably similar to that in real world environments. I really like what I hear and have already used it on several CD projects.
It is particularly good at taking monaural program material and producing a realistic stereo sound. Listening on headphones, the results were uncanny. I felt much like I did in the 1970's when listening to the binaural dramas produced for NPR by the Center For Audio Experimentation in Madison, Wisconsin. Doing an A/B test, the sound goes from dead flat monaural to sounding as if I am now in an actual room with the performers. Awesome.
Second in my choice of favorite NPP plug-in's is the S1-StereoImager. The stereoImager is designed to be used ONLY with sound files that have a genuine stereo content. Yet I found it most useful with monaural files. More on this in a moment.
The StereoImager is a clever plug-in that is designed to adjust the center imaging of your sound file, without adversely affecting the overall balance. If your soloist is a bit left or right, you can move him or her over until they're centered. And it does this beautifully and easily. In addition, StereoImager also allows you to adjust the width of the image.
Here's where I found it useful in working with a monaural sound file. On an ordinary monaural sound file, it will have no effect at all. But if you take a monaural sound file that has been processed by TrueVerb and run it through the StereoImager, you can create a simulated stereo file that is as wide as you could ever desire. The wonder is that it is all very natural sounding and is absolutely mono compatible.
Most methods of producing stereo from mono create severe frequency cancellation problems when you listen to them monaurally. Not if you create a stereo sound file using TrueVerb and the StereoImager together. For me, these two utilities are worth the price of the entire package.
Running close behind these two utilities is the Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer. The Q10 provides ten individual equalizer bands. Most hardware parametric equalizers have one low shelf and one high shelf control. The Q10 provides an impressive choice of paremetric, low shelf, high shelf, low pass and high pass functions on ANY of the ten equalizer bands. This provides almost unprecedented versatility.
Each of the bands is adjustable over a plus or minus 18 dB range. You can adjust the parameters by simply clicking on the appropriate mark on the on-screen graph, or you can adjust the individual gain, frequency mid-point and Q width by manually entering the numerical numbers or by placing your mouse pointer on the appropriate numerical box and dragging the pointer up or down to increase or decrease the parameters.
You can strap the equalizer so that each setting affects both channels equally, or you can unstrap the equalizer and assign each band to a different channel resulting in separate equalization settings for the right and left channels. And you can also link several or all bands together so that you can then move them all in unison with your mouse pointer.
Like all of the NPP plug-in's, you can hear the changes in real time as you adjust the parameters. I found it very helpful for creating special equalization curves for older sixteen inch transcriptions. In fact I now record the transcriptions without any equalization and create the appropriate curve on the computer using the Q10. This is a great utility.
The other three plug-in's included in the NPP package are the C1-Compressor, the C-1Gate and the L1-Ultramazimizer. I've already reviewed the L1-Ultramaximizer, so I won't say anything further about it here except that it continues to be one of the best means of finishing a digital audio project, providing consistent output levels and lowering low level digital noise through its proprietary dithering algorithms.
The C-1 Gate and Compressor each perform well. They are easy to adjust and provide anything from soft to hard processing. Both the Gate and Compressor provide solid results. In the NPP package for other platforms, there is a provision to tie the Compressor and Gate plug-in's together so that adjusting the parameters on one will adjust the parameters on the other. I wish that this feature was also included in the Sound Forge version and hope it will be in the future.
Another plus for the NPP package is the extensive documentation. Not written documentation, for that is sparse. But if you take the time to print out the accompanying on-line documentation, you will have a virtual working library of information providing both theory and practical instruction. It runs in excess of 100 8 1/2 x 11 pages when printed but I recommend taking the time to print it out and put it in a binder for reference.
All in all the NPP software contains well designed, useful and innovative plug-ins that will greatly add to your digital audio productivity and creativity. NPP has a retail price of $600 but I've seen it discounted for as low as $399.
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Read Burgan is a free lance writer and a former public radio station manager who can be reached at (906) 296-0652 or through e-mail at email@example.com.