Myth: These are “mastering-only” plugins.
Fact: You can use all the plugins individually on tracks, buses, everywhere, etc. Man, do I like ‘em…A TON! I was under the impression that I wouldn’t be able to use them as “normal” plugins, but in fact that’s exactly what they are.
With 99% of the plugins that I’ve used, they’ve all been super clean and attempting to be transparent. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with transparent if you don’t have a pulse, but I like color! I think this clean obsession is a MAJOR problem in home recording land. So many people are looking for clean, clean, and more clean. When I listen to my favorite recordings, I’m hearing character, character, and more character when I want it. The T-Racks plugins provide this character thing better than any plugins I’ve used to date.
What Do You Get?
T-Racks includes all the essential tools for the gig. Compressors, EQ, limiters, multi-band compressors, linear phase EQ, and even a cool metering plugin that displays peak level, RMS level, and phase. I’m too busy to rewrite their propaganda and features. You can read all that junk on the T-Racks 3 website.
All of the T-Racks 3 plugins have taken the non-modern (and dare I say “analog”) route in regard to their controls and intended sound. I mean that most plugins have 400 knobs and buttons that allow for all kinds of fancy tweaking. T-Racks 3 has went a more old school route to sonics and usability.
For example, the Classic Multiband Limiter has thresholds for 3 bands, level for 3 bands, and two different crossover points. When compared to a Waves C4 or equivalent with at least twice the knobs, at first you scratch your head. I did. I quickly found out that this particular plugin is not intended for microsurgery by any means. It doesn’t allow you to set ratios. Release time doesn’t go below 80ms. It’s clear this thing is saying, “I do what I do. If you don’t like it, too bad!” This sort of thing is consistent with high end vintagy tubey type gear and a welcome addition. This thing has A SOUND!
The Classic Compressor is similar. It’s attack time will not go any faster than 12ms. Why all plugins think they need to do all things for all people is beyond me. I LOVE the idea that a plugin is going to do it’s thing even if that means you can’t use it as a brickwall limiter. (T-Racks 3 has that covered on another plugin.) This slightly less flexibility approach gives more options for character!
The Program EQ 1A is the T-Racks version of a Pultec. For you new guys, a Pultec is a way old school EQ known for having massive, massive character. They rarely go for under $3,000. They have 2 bands. You pick a frequency and either you boost it or you cut it. The Program EQ 1A has taken the exact same format. From a features standpoint, the Pultec is a biplane in a world of B2 bombers and space stations. However, it does something right and is still insanely popular! So having 400 knobs on a plugin ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. T-Racks 3 clearly recognizes this.
CHARACTER! CHARACTER! CHARACTER! I really don’t want to use the “v” word (starts with v, ends with “intage”) because that word doesn’t mean anything to most of us. When you think of what a dirty ol’, expensive tube compressor is going to do to your tracks, that’s pretty much what they were going for with T-Racks 3 most of the time.
If you choose to push ‘em, the T-Racks plugins, will ooze out life and excitement. They have a way of taking boring tracks and adding something extra to them. They can make the audio more harmonically complex. (My best attempt at avoiding buzz words.) While I’m sure most of you aren’t dying to nail the Beatles sound, imagine your tracks you’ve recorded that sound a little “plain”. When you blend in a little “Beatlesness” to your snare, electric guitars, vox, or whatever it doesn’t end up sounding “Beatley”. It ends up sounding WAY more like your favorite records…even if they came out last year. The most modern sounding records are still using the good ol’ gear. They are just using it in different ways.
So for those of us who don’t have $100,000 to outfit our rooms with an arsenal of mega hardware, I think the T-Racks 3 deal offers some TREMENDOUS possibilities for the creatively inclined.
URS was my go to compressors when I wanted color. I don’t see myself using them so much anymore. The T-Racks compressors and limiters just take it a step further in terms of bold attitude. There are multiple stages you can intentionally overload the T-Racks compressors and limiters. I’ve found this to be absolutely pleasing when I’m in the mood for a little bit of extra something on a given track. Even their brickwall limiter gives you the option of being clean, saturated, and a few in between. I found this AWESOMELY useful!
Don’t get me wrong. When used cleanly, the T-Racks plugins ARE clean. They don’t sound distorted or crappy. They sound quite nice. However, my experience and mixing style suggests that pushing instruments just a hair is EXACTLY what separates a great mix from a boring one. (Okay, there are a FEW more factors than that, but you get the idea.) Needless to say, having the ability to switch between 3 different saturation modes on a brickwall limiter in addition to clean, clipping, and 4 advanced settings (to predict upcoming peaks) is exactly what I need. The ability to bring out the guns when I need it is extremely important to me!
Mastering In Home Recording Land
I have my philosophies on mastering and they seem to coincide much more with the guys who are actually making records than with the “compliance professionals”. It’s a long story…….
T-Racks is an exhaustive set of plugins that have a TON of character when you want them to. Can you process a mix with them? Sure! They provide an interesting set of tonal colors that is fun to have around! However, is there anything particularly special about them that makes them the ONLY tool for mastering? Not at all. If you are saying to yourself “Oh FINALLY! I can master now”, than you are going to be surprised when you get a collection of EQ and compressors/limiters.
The ability to chain multiple T-Racks 3 plugins within a single plug in instance is a huge help for those of you using audio recording software that doesn’t allow for a ton of plugins on the stereo bus.
T-Racks 3 doesn’t make any attempt to handle the dominant role of mastering. That is to turn a collection of EXCELLENT mixes into an album with a common tonality. I was really hoping they’d make concessions for this in some way. It appears that Cubase is still my favorite tool for this. So far, I’ve not found a better way to process mixes individually and skip back and forth from track to track to ensure tonality and volumes are consistent.
I’m currently using a Quad Core 2.33Ghz PC with 4GB of RAM on a highly optimized Windows XP SP3 install. I can use Waves plugins all day long. I can use a dozen guitar emulators without really thinking about it. I noticed that the T-Racks 3 plugins do use quite a bit more CPU power than other plugins I own. I actually had to pay a little attention to my CPU meter for the first time. So fair warning.
The T-Racks 3 series is an excellent set of plugins. The provide bold character that is clearly more in the old school arena. I think they are an excellent compliment to the Sonnox Oxford plugins which are quite a bit cleaner.
As for the “mastering” part, don’t sell yourself short. If you don’t toss the T-Racks Opto compressor on your drum bus, you aren’t living! The Fairchild wannabe is SWEET on vocals. If you want to toss this stuff on the 2bus too, have at it. However, this thing is way more than a “mastering” suite and you’ve still got to use your recording software to bounce back and forth for consistency setting.