IK Multimedia T-Racks CS – Mixing in the shell
I bought the original IK Multimedia T-Racks when it first came out way back in the computer dark ages, circa 1998, so it’s a nostalgic tour to use the latest CS version, and indeed what a joy it is to behold!
If you have had any experience with the earlier title, you might be mistaken for thinking T-Racks is purely a mastering plugin – oh, how times have changed.
Installation is fairly smooth, though you will need to update the Authorization Manager, and if you plan on using MP3s in the stand-alone version install QuickTime. If you own IK Multimedia’s ARC System 2 software the installer gives you the option to update it to work with the newer version of T-Racks CS.
The new CS version is similar to Propellerheads Reason, in that you obtain the core platform and load it up with modules from an online store. I really like this system, keeps everything all nice and compatible, plus you can pick and choose what works best for your requirements. I’m going to start right off the bat by saying though if you’re anything like me (a knuckle-dragging studio geek), you’ll get halfway through reading the page-long explanation on how it all works and just yell at the screen ‘just take my money already, sheesh!’
In a nutshell; you buy credits to use in the Custom Shop store, each costing about 50 NZ cents. Modules cost between 50 and 150 credits each, or you can buy bundles containing the essentials for between 150-300 credits. You get ‘Jam Points’ for every US dollar you spend (about 3 credits). Jam Points can be used to give you up to %50 further discounts on future purchases, but it’s a scaling system, so the more you have the more you save. And then there are ‘Bonus Points’ – for each product, you own of IK, you get a 3% extra discount off a purchase.
It’s not so bad now that I write it all out and read it, but at the time I was a little perplexed on how it worked. They have a note at the bottom of their webpage saying ‘The Point is, the more you buy, the more you own, the more you earn, the more you get.’ – and that sums it up well.
To buy out everything lock stock and barrel, you need about $1200 NZD or so, but the best value ‘The Grand’ pack cost 299 credits, or $600 odd NZD which is defiantly the one to go for, it has pretty much everything you need. If you can spring for the reverbs too, your life will be complete.
Started in 1996 in a small town in Italy called Modena, IK Multimedia is now operating in 7 countries around the world. IK is most known for their apps and accessories for USB, Apple IOS devices and, of course, sporting the Ferrari red logo.
T-Racks CS is designed to be a complete in-the-box design, a sort of jack-of-all-trades plugin – something other plugin developers have never really expanded upon for some reason. Stupid really because its bloody brilliant
T-Racks CS creates a virtual studio rack that is not only incredibly high quality but intuitive, something I’m sure most sound engineers will appreciate. It really does make total sense once you get to grips with the basic architecture of the plugin.
For a start, you get the basic T-Rack CS shell for free, which includes the Classic EQ (which was part of the original T-Racks mastering plugin of olde) and the metering module, an excellent collection of track monitoring gadgets – including a peak, perceived loudness, RMS, phase, correlation and audio spectrum meters. You can further preview global presets that drop white noise every 20 seconds or so, or opt to trial individual modules for 14 days before you need to throw some credits and buy them.
Looking at the Classic EQ that comes for free, it’s a great big bright yellow beastie. Initially it’s not so apparent how the controls work, though with some experimenting it doesn’t take too long to sort it out. The high and low cuts are simple dials, the Low and Hi bands each have a dial directly under them for the frequency you are controlling, and the Low Mid and Hi Mid each have the same, with an extra dial for the Q width (surrounded in a yellow outline to connect them I didn’t initially notice). It all makes sense once you’ve had 5 minutes with it.
This is the general approach you go through on all of the T-Racks CS modules – spend about 5 minutes playing and twiddling stuff, everything will eventually make sense. Out of the box all of the modules are wildly different from each other – from a design point they emulate the original hardware, though from a user point you’re in for a steep learning curve if you’re not familiar with the workings of the various studio hardware counterparts they copy.
The shell has eight insert slots. The first four slots can accept two modules each; these will then work in parallel before being summed through the final four series slots. While you can load modules independently by themselves in your DAW, practical benefits of using the shell include not only its metering, parallel routing and ability to save processor combinations, but the fact that the master bypass button bypasses all the plug-ins in one go, so you can do a true A/B comparison without having to bypass plug-ins individually. You also get the excellent snapshot ABCD selection, allowing you to makeup variations and compare each.[divider]A brief note on how the parallel system works[/divider]
THE SIGNAL COMING INTO THE PLUGIN IS SPLIT ALLOWING YOU TO APPLY EFFECTS TO EACH ‘SPLIT’ INDIVIDUALLY – BUT DON’T THINK OF IT AS LEFT AND RIGHT. THE CLASSIC USE OF PARALLEL PROCESSING IS IN THE FAMOUS ‘NY COMPRESSION’ (OVER)USED TO DEATH ON DRUMS. ONE SIDE IS HEAVILY COMPRESSED WHILE THE OTHER IS UNAFFECTED, GIVING YOU THAT BIG WALL OF DRUMS SOUND AND CLARITY OF THE ORIGINAL AUDIO BLENDED TOGETHER. ANOTHER USE IS FOR M/S STYLE MIXING, WHERE ONE SIDE IS M (MIDDLE), THE OTHER IS S (SIDE). SO THE M SIDE IS ALL THE MIDDLE BASS, MAINLY THE MONO PART OF THE SIGNAL. YOU CAN EQ AND COMPRESS THAT SEPARATELY FROM THE S, WHICH IS GENERALLY THE REALLY WIDE STEREO ELEMENT OF THE AUDIO. IT’S OFTEN A TECHNIQUE USED BY MASTERING GUYS, NOT OFTEN SEEN IN TRACKING STUDIOS. ANOTHER GOOD USE OF PARALLEL PROCESSING IS RUNNING REVERB OR DELAYS. INSTEAD OF INSERTING THE EFFECT INTO THE CHAIN AS YOU NORMALLY WOULD, THEN USING THE MIX TO BLEND THE AMOUNT OF EFFECT YOU WANT, YOU CAN PUT IT ON A SEPARATE SPLIT – WHICH IS EXACTLY THE SAME, HOWEVER NOW YOU CAN PLACE A EQ OR COMPRESSOR AFTER THE EFFECT TO FURTHER PROCESS JUST THE EFFECTED SPLIT ONLY, USING THE OUTPUT LEVEL OF THE EQ OR COMP TO CONTROL BLEND – TRICKY, EH.
After just a brief few moments of clicking around in T-RackS CS I started to get the hang of it, and so I immediately pulled up some recent recordings I was working on and started turning knobs.
SOUND QUALITY-WISE, THIS REALLY IS A STUDIO ENGINEERS WET DREAM. I’VE BEEN GIGGLING LIKE A LITTLE SCHOOLGIRL SINCE IT’S INSTALLATION.
After using some of the main modules for a few days it’s not hard to work out they’re good…damn good. While I don’t have the real-deal hardware counterparts to compare to, I do however have some UAD alternatives – which from all accounts are the next best thing. I used the EQP-1A and the White 2A next to UAD’s Pultec and LA2A and straight up – I can’t tell the difference. So I’m going to say quality-wise, T-Racks CS is right on the money. In some areas T-Racks CS absolutely blows UAD out of the water, for instance, the reverbs are outstanding. There are four to choose from, which is totally silly as you NEED all four, seriously they’re amazing. The CSR Hall reverb is simply outstanding, and insanely customisable.
VALUE FOR MONEY, NOTHING TOUCHES T-RACKS CS. FOR STARTERS THERE’S THE SONTEC MES432C MASTERING EQ – THATS A $12K PIECE OF HARDWARE RIGHT THERE. ALSO AVAILABLE ARE FAIRCHILD 670 COMP (PROBABLY $50K IF YOU CAN FIND ONE), BEFORE MENTIONED PULTEC EQP-1A EQ, 1176 AND LA2A CLONES, NEVE COMPRESSOR, VINTAGE AND MODERN SSL CHANNEL STRIPS…JUST TO WET YOUR APPETITE. IT SUPPORTS 64BIT, AND ALL THE AUDIO IS OVERSAMPLED TO AVOID ALIASING DISTORTION. THE NORMAL LINEUP OF VST, RTAS AND AUDIO UNIT OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE.
I was expecting this to be fairly taxing on my PC, but really it wasn’t so bad. On an 18-track band mix with T-Racks CS on every track and the master BUS, I was pushing about 16% resources (Intel i7 920 with 12gig RAM), though the loading time for the project was longer. I’m sure if you go nuts and really load up the shell you will see your CPU run out of puff pretty quickly, however, it didn’t look to me like it needed any more processing power to run than if I used similar VST plugins from other developers.
T-RackS still feels like it is more focused on final track mastering than tracking, however over time they will undoubtedly add more modules to the custom shop. Ideally, you would use T-Racks CS in conjunction with IK Multimedia’s excellent ARC System 2 hardware if you were mastering it. Of course, you can run T-Racks CS as a stand-alone software without a DAW too, which is a better way to master your tracks, free from the DAW and allowing T-Racks all the available power of your PC. While I love the shell approach of T-Racks CS, it doesn’t limit you to advanced routing, if that’s something you would normally like to do. Of course, you can load each module separately in your DAW, so no biggie.
The sound quality and flexibility of T-Racks CS are excellent. You really do get a fantastic toolkit of usable and recognizable effects for use in any situation. Great metering, nifty A/B and snapshot buttons – and the people over at IK Multimedia are really decent folk and nice to deal with, which I think is important too. If you’re used to big long lists of plugins on each of your tracks, the T-Racks CS shell concept will probably be a breath of fresh air, it certainly is for me. It’s a shame you can’t somehow route your existing VST effect into the chain. If you want to use other VST effects in your chain you have to not use the T-Racks shell, opting to load each module in stand-alone mode – kinda defeating the purpose of using T-Racks.