Thursday, September 30, 2010

The FG-X Virtual Mastering Processor - A Love Story

As a mixer I find myself an unwilling participant in the "loudness wars". I have been mixing since the late 70's and have spent most of those years being hesitant to even add more than a touch of compression to my mix buss. But as the times have changed and my work has moved more into the pop and urban world I've found myself having to make my mixes more competitive on the radio. My clients also have an expectation of the mixes having a certain loudness as they're checking their reference mixes. No amount of explaining to them that it will be louder after mastering makes any difference - they want it loud now! And I've come to accept that for most of my clients the mixes DO need to be loud. So I've started to incorporate more heavy handed limiting into my mixing process from the get go so that I can control the final results better. But so often I'm fighting against the limiter and it's shredding harsh sound. And I've been frustrated with the lack of flexibility of most of the limiter/compressors I've tried. How can I get my mixes loud with out destroying the detail and dynamics I've slaved to bring out?

Enter the Slate Digital - FG-X Virtual Mastering Processor. You will not believe this thing! The first time I tried it out I had the the same feeling I had the first time I tried out a Distressor or my Orange amp which was - "I'm going to use this everyday"! I thought that it sounded like my mix, but louder. And I was just trying out the presets! There is a 'constant gain monitoring' button which by-passes the auto gain function of the plugin and matches the plugins output gain to the gain before the plugin signal. This allows you to turn the plugin off and on with out affecting the volume, thus a enabling you to objectively hear what it is doing to your mix. That right there is what really sold me on the FG-X. It really preserves my mix while making it louder and punchier (remember to turn the 'constant gain monitoring' button back off of course).

There is a slider called ITP, which stands for "Intelligent Transient Preservation", which is the algorithm at the heart of this beast. It goes from a 'smooth' setting to a 'hard' setting. It is analyzing the incoming signal and making adjustments to how it is going to do it's thing to the signal. Which is what's very different about this plugin, it's not a static process. I can't explain all the technical details about how it works, but just be assured that moving that slider up and down allows you to fine tune the process. I find that I end up with it closer to the smooth side.

The metering is pretty awesome too. It's very easy to see what's going on with large VU style and bar graph meters.

I have always felt better about buying gear that had lots of knobs. My thinking has been that I'm getting more functionality for the price out of a piece of gear. Take my Avalon 737sp for instance - it has 16 knobs and 14 buttons. At $2,250 that works out to $140.62 per knob. However my Germanium, which goes for $1,138.50, and only has 2 knobs comes to $569.25 per knob (ok... different kinds of pre's, and I do like the Germanium, but I like to have options). Well the FG-X has plenty of knobs and buttons. 9 knobs and 15 buttons to be precise. That's $33.33per knob, not counting the buttons!!!! What a deal!

There is so much more I could write about the FG-X, but I really think you should head over to the website and download the demo and see for yourself. There is so much flexibility available that you will be able to get whatever you need. This is a must have for any in the box mixer or mastering engineer.