T-RackS 3 Deluxe is the flagship mastering product from IK Multimedia. Billed as a considerable improvement on the previous version of T-RackS, T-RackS 3 claims improved metering, plus upgraded modules from T-RackS 2, and offers 5 new high-end signal processing modules. So What exactly does the deluxe version offer, and is it a worthwhile investment for your hard earned money when compared with the T-RackS 3 Standard Edition?
Performing The Review
A couple of months ago I reviewed T-RackS 3 Standard Edition for Songstuff. As the basic interface, much of the functionality and the classic modules found in the standard edition are also used in the deluxe edition I would point readers to the review of T-RackS 3 Standard Edition for information on installation, the basic interface and the classic modules while in this review I will focus on the new modules.
I began the review using the stand alone version before progressing onto using it as a VST via Sonar. I decided to work on mastering one of my tracks and see what I could really do with the deluxe modules.
The PC I used for testing was a DELL Inspirion 9300 laptop with 2 gig RAM running Windows XP, with a EMU 1616M sound card and displayed at 1920 x 1200 resolution.
T-Racks® 3 Deluxe Edition contains five brand new processors plus the upgraded version of each of the four original T-RackS modules also included in the Standard Edition. All module processors and metering are available as individual plug-ins for use from within your DAW and for use within the stand alone T-RackS 3.
The five new modules include two modules modeled on specific analog gear, the Fairchild 670 valve compressor / limiter and the Pultec EQP-1A valve equalizer, and a generic model of an analog based optical compressor. The final two processors introduce digital limiting and sympathetic EQ algorithm based digital processing nicely complimenting and making up for the control limitations of the three analog models.
Vintage Tube Compressor / Limiter model 670
Based on the famed Fairchild 670 compressor / limiter. The Fairchild 670 uses two independent limiters to act on either the left and right channels or to act on the lateral and vertical (sum and difference) components of the two stereo channels. The rich, warm sound that you get from a 670 is down to the tubes and the transformers unique to this unit. It is ideal for anything from individual instruments to use as a stereo bus processor.
The 670 module was developed by IK Multimedia based on months of analysis to capture in detail the sonic performance of the original unit and it includes an accurate representation of each control. IK used their DSM™ (Dynamic Saturation Modeling) technology and developed a method called SCC™ (Sonic Character Cloning) resulting in an impressively authentic sound. The 670 works as a Stereo or Lateral/Vertical (MS) processor.
I used the 670 on individual tracks and on mixes and generally I was happy with the results. Sound wise it was pretty convincing. Here IK have taken a purist approach, without aiming to improve upon the original. As a result any issues I did have were similar to those I would have found using the original unit. While that is a good thing in many ways, perhaps some improvements upon the 670 control interface would have made this an even more useful unit.
Vintage Tube Program Equalizer
Based on one of the best program EQs, the highly desirable Pultec EQP-1A. The module gives warm, rounded and quite authentic sound. Hardly a precision processor the EQP-1A uses push-pull technology to create an EQ shelf, and what it does, it does well. Yet again the Vintage Tube Program Equalizer works as a Stereo or MS processor.
Optical analog compression based processing module recreating the characteristic sensitivity of an opto compressor. As with the real device it's pretty hard to induce distortion. Unlike cheaper opto compressors the IK Opto Compressor offers attack time and release time controls and the fatter, warmer sound of tube based output stage. Tube based opto compressors tend to be pretty expensive so a decent software model is very welcome. They are inherently soft-knee so you get a very natural sound, however for just that reason they aren't entirely suited to use with drums or other sounds with fast transients and overshoot is fairly common. Sounds like arpeggiated guitar can often lead to a pumping effect with opto compressors, however with the IK Opto Compressor both attack and release controls are provided which does give the engineer some degree of control. Opto compressors can be quite tricky to set up but the range of basic presets provided by IK is very handy. The Opto Compressor module works as both a stereo or MS processor.
Intelligent, Multi-Algorithm Brickwall Limiter
Digital based multi-algorithm brickwall limiter. Easy to use and does what the name implies in a pretty transparent way. Specific algorithms can be selected from the nine peak management algorithms to better match the limiting style according to the program type. The algorithms range from an undistorted limiting algorithm through various levels of clipping and limiting more suited to commercial mixes where sonic accuracy is not a critical factor in comparison to the overall track loudness. It also includes a "D/A Distortion Protection" feature that, when used with this processor at the end of the chain, will monitor for and correct points in your audio that distortion could be caused during the digital to analog conversion process on playback. Nice.
High Precision, High Definition Linear Phase Equalizer
Good for when you don't want any obvious EQ treatments and a high level of control, the Linear Phase Equalizer is a digital processing unit giving you exactly that. The module provides 6 identical bands where each band can be set as a high pass, low shelving, peaking, high shelving or low pass filter, and can span the entire spectrum range.
Linear phase mode is fairly heavy on processing increasing the processing latency, but it can be switched off if it is not needed.
One strange thing I noticed when using the Equalizer modules was that the shape of the EQ curve was only updated once play was pressed . The cut off point markers moved on the module screen showing where the cut off point was and the degree of cut or boost applied but the actual curve itself would remain unchanged. True, changing EQ settings almost always occurs during playback, however when initially setting up using information from a spectrum analysis it would have been nice to see the curve updated. Maybe that is just me.
- Classic T-RackS Compressor
- Classic T-RackS Multi-band Limiter
- Classic T-RackS Clipper
- Classic T-RackS Equalizer
The classic modules are included in both the Deluxe and Standard Editions. For details please see our T-RackS 3 Standard Edition review.
As with the T-RackS 3 Standard Edition, the T-RackS 3 Deluxe Edition provides a new, twelve-processor slot audio chain with a limited control available of the processor chain matrix via the overview window. You get two rows, each with four slots for parallel audio processing, plus an additional four serial slots at the end of the chain. You can switch modules on and off, individually or all at the same time, allowing for a straightforward a/b comparison on the monitored audio. A volume matching "compare" function allows comparison between the processed sound and the original. Buttons A to D allow you to quickly switch between complete processing set ups. A nice feature but yet again prone to glitches and other audio anomalies. A good range of useful metering is also provided.
T-RackS 3 Deluxe Edition comes with an additional set of presets on top of those presets included in the standard edition. Weirdly I found some of these less impressive in terms of making an out-the-box improvement to a track in comparison to the standard edition presets.
Standalone mode provides access to snapshot automation, very basic audio editing features. I found the audio editor a bit awkward and pretty limiting in some ways. Snapshot automation allows you to set up to 9 different snapshots that you can use at any point in the time line of a song. You can load multiple audio files, preview them with all-independent settings and then processes all of the files with a single click, which is handy when you want to process an entire album with the same mastering treatment.
Within your DAW both T-RackS 3 and each of the component modules are available as separate plug ins. Included in the help file are detailed instructions on how to load T-RackS into the main DAW applications.
There are no audio editing or snapshot modes available when you use T-RackS 3 as a plug-in. Using the DAW allows you to use the automation interface which is extensive and configurable. T-RackS 3 allows you to assign up to sixteen T-RackS parameters to be controlled by a specific DAW parameter.
Expansion / Upgrade Path
If you want to build upon T-RackS 3 Deluxe Edition, you can add on the ARC System as a plug-in, launched using a dedicated button on the T-RackS 3 interface. The ARC System is an acoustic correction system, developed with specialists in the area of sound equalization, Audyssey, for the purpose of correcting distortion caused by room acoustics.
Overall I'm impressed with the sound quality and the range of treatments you can apply. High quality audio processing, flexible signal chain, useful and clear metering... There were however a few frustrations in stand-alone mode and my preference would be to use it as a plug-in.
Where I think T-RackS 3 Deluxe Edition really scores against the competition is in the fact that it is a well balanced mastering suite, combining several very useful, quality processors. The deluxe version in particular provides a breadth of quality processors each with distinctive characteristics, allowing even more variety and subtlety to be achieved in the mastering process.
Is it worth the extra money to get the modules not included within the Standard Edition? Well the modules are certainly useful additions adding more flexibility on top of the standard version, at least in terms of the actual processing available. The new modules do introduce a further degree of control but then the price difference is quite large (more than double the price of the standard edition at the time of publication) and that for me is the main draw back. Despite that it is still certainly worthy of serious consideration and it would be a welcome addition to many studios.
T-Racks® 3 Deluxe Edition is available as either CD or digital download.
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