Performance Shoot Out: Complete Processing Suites


Recording and mixing vocals is a dynamic balance between Art and Science.  Nowadays, the audio software market is flooded with all sorts of vocal processors, so we’ll test a few out and see how they stack up against each other.

Here’s a snippet of a song I’m currently working on.  We’ll use the lead vocal from the first verse as our test subject.

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If you’re not familiar with a Complete Processing Suite, think of one-stop shopping, you have everything you need right there.  A Processing Suite is an all-in-one plug-in (or set of plug-ins) that is supposed to give you everything you need to get a particular job done.  A good example is Izotope’s Nectar vocal suite.  Nectar gives you an EQ, Compressor, Gate, Reverb, Saturator, Delay, and more – all in one plug-in.  Whether you use all or some of the effects is up to you

Other suites we’ll look at are IK Multimedia’s T-racks Suite, the VX1 vocal plug-in from Waves’ Tony Maserati Collection, and we’ll even use Logic Pro’s collection of processors to see how they fair.

Note: This experiment is somewhat subjective because not all of these suites have the same exact processors and related settings.  Nonetheless, we can still get a solid idea as to the sound they’re capable of producing.

Take a listen to an acapella of the vocal cut without any software processing.  It was recorded using a Universal Audio LA-610 preamplifier and Neumann TLM-49 microphone.  The LA-610 preamp also has an optical compressor onboard, so I used some mild compression on the incoming signal.

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 As you can see, we’ve got a warm, natural recording to work with.

T-Racks Mixing Suite

Lets start by processing this vocal with IK Multimedia’s T-Racks Suite.  I’ve owned T-Racks for three or four years now and still like it.  It comes with an Equalizer, Tube Compressor, Multiband limiter, and Clipper.  In terms of sound, it’s not always the brightest, but if you’re looking for that vintage warmth and tube saturation then T-Racks is right up your ally.

Take a listen to my vocal sample after being processed with IK’s T-Racks.

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T-Racks 3 (the standard addition) will cost you $200.  This might sound like a lot of money if you’re on a limited budget, but T-Racks is capable of working with more than just vocals.

VX1 Vocal Enhancer

Next, we’ll put the VX1 plug-in from the Tony Maserati Collection to work.  This processor is much more simple in terms of function and is strictly geared toward vocals.

The idea behind this plug-in is to enhance your vocal recording.  It’s available in Waves online store for $75.

Take a listen to my vocal sample after being processed with the VX1.

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Logic Pro’s Stock Processors

Most DAW’s have an extensive collection of audio processors.  Technically, you could consider that collection a suite in itself, so it was only right that we included Logic Pro’s stock processors in the mix.

I used Logic’s single-band compressor, Channel EQ, and the Multipressor to polish off my vocal mix.

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Nectar from Izotope

As mentioned before, Nectar is a complete processing suite dedicated entirely to vocals. You can download the demo for free and it’s fully operational for ten days.

One of the cool things about Nectar is the library of presets it comes with.  It has a wide range of vocal presets to accommodate many genres of music. Many of the presets are just so-so, but there are a few gems that make the $250 price tag worth considering.

It also comes with a Pitch corrector, Breath Control Gate, and De-esser.  The De-esser works decently, but the Breath Control Gate is useless in my opinion.

Take a listen to my vocal sample after being processed with Nectar.

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Summary

Processing suites are becoming more and more popular in the software world.  The suites covered in this article are but a few of the many available.  Some are worth the money, while others are not.

Personally, I thought that the vocal example using Logic’s processors was the most natural and transparent.  The T-Racks Suite had the warmest sound, and for this hip-hop vocal I probably favored the Nectar results the best.

Here are all of the examples consolidated together, so you can easily compare them.

Vox without any software processing:

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Vox processed with T-Racks Suite:

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Vox processed with Maserati VX1:

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Vox processed with Logic Pro:

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Vox processed with Nectar:

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Decide for yourself, which results you like.  There isn’t any right or wrong answer.  If anything, you should notice that Logic’s stock processors did pretty well against 3rd party competition.  Don’t sweat it if you can’t afford all of these so-called ‘high-end’ processors.  Your DAW is capable of delivering good results if you know how to use it properly.

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