This is part of my new series of gear reviews called: Gear Reviews For Humans
- Installation – The Ilock made the install a bit buggy, but nothing a few four letter words couldn’t fix.
- Reliability – I had a few instances where the plugins would not load in a mix. In one situation I ditched the SPL plugin and fired up a different plugins because it was a “crucial session” type of thing where I didn’t have time to troubleshoot. Other than that, reliability was excellent. The Ilock is a pain in the ass. I don’t care if it’s the “standard” security method for high end plugins. I deducted a point because the Ilock is expensive and it is sometimes buggy.
- Usability – Any mammal can work the EQ Ranger plugins. It’s your basic graphic EQ. The SPL Transient Designer plugin is even easier. You have two knobs that are clearly labeled “Attack” and “Sustain”. These things are fairly nice to the CPU. While they probably aren’t as CPU friendly as the stock Cubase compressor or EQ, they used quite a bit less CPU power than I expected for high end plugins.
- Sound – The Transient Designer is a must-have tool for anyone doing rock drums! I’d be lost without it. A client commented that I had nailed the Dr. Feelgood sound (he’s not picky) on a particular recording using Superior Drummer 2.0. I would not have been able to do it without the Transient Designer. It does something that compressors can’t quite do. You can do some really crazy stuff with it on other instruments as well.
The Ranger EQ series sounds great. It never sounds harsh even when using max boost. Most importantly, it lets me mix with the creative side of my brain! I’ll never make fun of graphic EQ again (except in the live sound world har har). The voicings of the various Rangers (Vox Ranger, Bass Ranger, and Full Ranger) are pretty much exactly where they need to be. I do feel the names are misleading because I LOVED the Bass Ranger on drums. I used the Vox Ranger on saxaphone with great results, etc.
- Cost – SPL Transient Designer – $350 (street). Ranger EQ Series: Volume 1 – $350 (street)
- Overall Value – A person could limp by without the Transient Designer if they had to, but it’s MIGHTY nice having that plugin around. MIGHTY NICE! With the right compressors you could come fairly close, I guess, but the Transient Designer is now my go to plugin for parallel compression. You can count on finding two instances of the Transient Designer on all my drum mixes from now until enternity. The Ranger EQ Series is good. Damn good! There are many EQ options out there and at this price it’s not going to win any bang-for-the-buck awards. However, it does provide quite a bang.
The SPL plugins use Ilock protection. As with all (supposedly) increased security there is a loss of liberty. I was new to the Ilock game. That stupid thing cost me $40. Oh well. I first installed the Ilock on my home computer and installed the SPL plugins on my home PC which I use with Cubase LE (exclusively for making sure stuff works before moving it over to my non-internet) recording computer.
On my home computer, the installation was a breeze. I already had the Ilock working fine on my home computer, when Cubase LE loaded, it asked me if I wanted to authorize the plugins. I said “yes” and that was the end of that.
On my recording computer, I plugged in the Ilock, plugged in my flash drive to snag my plugins, and the installation process began. Apparently, when I tossed my USB flash drive into slot #2 it disabled the Ilock. Not knowing for sure if the Ilock was working correctly or not, I restarted my computer and fired up Cubase SX3. I was told that no Ilock could be found and so the SPL plugins weren’t loaded.
I moved my Ilock to a different USB card (I have an additional USB 1.1 card because there is a chipset conflict with Cubase SX3′s dongle and my motherboards USB 2.0 ports). Immediately, the Ilock was recognized and the drivers were installed. When I fired up Cubase SX3, there was no mention of any authorization and no plugins to be found. I opened up Devices > Plugin Information and as I figured, Cubase knew they were there but couldn’t load them.
When I clicked on the check to tell Cubase to try loading them again and restarted Cubase SX3, I was asked for authorization and installation went smoothly as it should have.
I guess this isn’t exactly a flaw on SPL’s part other than the fact that Ilock adds just one more thing in the chain to go wrong. GOOOOOODDD! With that said, most high end plugins use this damn Ilock thing for better or worse and that is just the way it is. Whaddya Gonnado?
SPL Ranger Series Volume 1
First and foremost, all 3 of these are graphic EQ plugins which give you different frequencies to play with. I have to admit that I feel a bit of snobbery towards the graphic EQ plugins. I generally viewed them as what the car audio idiot with his hat on sideways would use. (Switch to Mighty Mouse voice) I, WITH MY SUPERIOR AUDIO POWERS, USE THE PARAMETRIC EQ FOR EVERYTHING! (End of Mighty Mouse voice).
With that said, I’m aware of the fact that API makes a graphic EQ, API 560, and there must be SOME reason for that. Mr. Thumpboy certainly doesn’t have an API EQ in his dope ass ride.
Graphic EQ and Parametric EQ: Totally Different Animals
The SPL Ranger Series taught me a little something about audio life. Graphic EQ and Parametric EQ are totally different creatures! They both have their place in audio land. In the future, even if I’m not using the SPL Ranger series, I’ll certainly be using some graphic EQ. I recommend anyone who isn’t using a graphic EQ to pick up one immediately.
So why the change in opinion? Why do I like Graphic EQ? I’ll tell you why! I don’t have to think when I’m using a Graphic EQ. The intense process in my brains that tries to pinpoint the frequency of whatever it is I’m hearing isn’t used. I simply grab a fader and move it. Done. The part of me that puts brain power into the amount of cut and bandwidth is also eliminated. I feel like I’m playing with a guitar amp more than an EQ.
For example, when I open up the Oxford Parametric EQ (which I like A LOT!), every time I immediately tighten my abs. I know I’m about to get hit. I have to think a little extra when using that plugin. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just the cost of the added control that parametric EQ gives. The only problem is you miss out on the possible benefits of Keanu-Reeves style mixing. Sometimes it’s nice going through life with a brain the size of a walnut and mixing is no exception.
I found that when I fired up the SPL EQ Ranger plugins I just tried to make “stuff” sound good. It was faster and more fun. I especially liked using them on high gain electric guitars, which as you may know, is not an instrument I like to EQ. I felt like when I was using the EQ Rangers Series that I was enhancing stuff as opposed to feeling like I’m reducing problems as I usually do with parametric EQ. I liked the fact that frequencies and bandwidth were fixed. Either the EQ was going to work or it wasn’t. I liked approaching EQ with such a disposable mindset.
I’m not a guy who gets too wound up about this EQ sounding better than that EQ stuff. The few times I’ve really been blown away by an EQ, I’ve been able to match the results using freebie stuff after the fact. For me, most of the time the differences have been found in the ergonomics of the plugin which influenced me to do this or do that.
With that said, there is something that just sounds pleasant with these plugins. I don’t know what it is and I can’t describe it in words, so I’m not going to. (Maybe it’s because I got them for free!) I just want to say that these plugins sound good to my ear. I didn’t do any hardcore A/Bing. I didn’t use scientific testing. I just liked using them.
Each of the different plugins in the series has it’s own set of frequencies. The Bass Ranger EQ, The Vox Ranger EQ, and the Full Ranger EQ all give different frequencies to tweak. I didn’t get too deep into how one Ranger compares to the other Ranger. However, I do have to say that when I was in need of creative tweaking of just about any track, the EQ Ranger Series was fantastic. I really enjoyed using these plugins!
Sparqee (Robo Forum Member) and I were discussing the role of EQ on the forum the other day and we both pretty much agreed that what makes an EQ really stand out is it’s ability for to solve the problems you hear quickly. I found that the Vox Ranger tested very highly with this criteria.
The Ranger Names
Don’t get too caught up by their respective names. I know that attaching instructions to a product’s title increases sales (How else can one explain the popularity of the Boss Metal Zone?). I thought the Bass Ranger was excellent on drums. It seem to hit the sweet spots just like it did on Bass. I used the Vox Ranger on a saxophone with excellent results. Maybe that’s just my need to break the rules! Look out, cops! I’m on the rampage!
Graphic EQ Limitations
I don’t consider graphic EQ to be all that great at hardcore problem solving. I had a bass guitar that would explode every time a “B” (7th fret, E string) was struck. The Ranger series is not going to fix this. That’s a job for a much more precise kind of tool. Overall, I consider The Ranger series to be the kind of buddy you get drunk with and try to pick up chicks. The Ranger Series is not going to debate the merits of a capitalist society with you. I switched to the Oxford parametric EQ for that, used a super tight Q of 16 and cut an extremely thin sliver out at the frequencies that were leaping out on the B note. Problem solved. Maybe the Oxford and I can sit down and discuss Existentialism.
SPL Transient Designer
The SPL Transient Designer plugin is good for 3 things: Increasing attack, increasing sustain, and kicking ass. That’s it. (My step dad always said I was only good for 3 things, too, but they were decidedly more negative! Oh well!)
I come from rock drum land. I want to hear a BUNCH of extra crack when I’m sending a snare to aux send for parallel compression. Nothing I’ve ever used is as good at overemphasizing this attack than the SPL Transient Designer. Still to this day the free Kjaehrus Classic Compressor is still my second favorite. In rock drum land, I also want an additional fader/bus with tons of sustain added. I want a fader to bring up the explosion sound as needed. This is one of the most important secrets to mixing rock drums. My typical tool for the job is the URS 1980 compressor. It is very good for this. The Transient Designer is better…most of the time. The Transient Designer added a hint of chaos to the sound which is awesome some times and not-so-awesome other times.
Attack Slipping Through
I’m not sure if it was glitch or what, but I noticed that when I really cooked the Sustain knob sometimes the attack would increase dramatically too. I never really figured out how or why this would happen, but it was obvious during certain snare rolls when certain snares would randomly leap out. I’m not sure if I was just using too aggressively or what but I ended up adding a limiter after the SPL Transient Designer to catch these. Big deal!
Great With Sample Layering
I’ve gotten into this sample layering business quite a bit with drums lately. My clients are eating it up. I’ve found that I can only take the sustain increase so far until all the bleed gets unmanageable. However, when I’m using sample layering and there is no bleed, I can go balls-deep hog wild. I think this is where the SPL Transient Designer really shines. When you can just rip a track in half leaving little more than dried blood and something that resembles old pizza you can get some POWERFUL drum tracks. The kids love it!
The Transient Designer can be fun when used on “wrong” instruments too. Putting this thing on bass is fun. You can emphasize the attack. You can completely kill the attack in an obtrusive, disgusting way if you choose to overuse it. Good! The best way to tell how good a plugin is is to see how bad it sounds when you abuse it. The SPL Transient Designer definitely passes the abuse test with flying colors. If you can’t turn up a plugin all the way and see the client get mad and quiet for at least 5 minutes as you pretend to like the sound, the plugin needs to be trashed. You can EASILY piss off the clients with this thing.
Of course, all this pissoffability (I’m calling Webster right now. That should be in the dictionary!) isn’t going to work at excessive levels in a mix, but when used with “tasteful” discretion it’s the mega secret to monstrous mixes. At least, this is how I rationalize the ridiculous nature of my mixing style.
These plugins are obviously in the high end market. They sound that way. They are priced that way. The Transient Designer is a must for anyone doing modern rock / metal drums. It’s just that damn good! The Ranger EQ Series is an excellent set of graphic EQ plugins. If you’ve got the $350 and nothing better to do with your time, why not? Get ‘em!