Mastering, the black art, is a process that takes a song and makes it sound as good as it possibly can across various playback devices in a multitude of formats. T-RackS 3 has an excellent reputation to build upon as a leader in DAW mastering and mixing tools with T-RackS already being a highly popular choice for DAW environments. T-RackS3 Standard Edition is the latest incarnation of the classic T-RackS modules, but how does it compare with previous versions? Is there a noticeable difference? Is it worth upgrading? As a first time buyer, is it still the number one choice in mastering / mixing software tools? What do you get for your money?
Performing The Review
I kept things simple and started with the stand alone version before progressing onto using it as a VST via a DAW. I also did a comparison with previous T-RackS modules that I had installed and with other VST processor modules from other manufacturers.
The PC I used for testing was 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 Standard Edition is available as either CD or digital download, and uses a Digital ID, authorization code, and a software serial number (on registration card in the boxed product or within an email if you download) in order to install and authorize the product. An installation wizard guides you through the process and there is an installation and authorization PDF file to help.
I had no problems with the installation itself and was able soon using the features of T-RackS.
When you first launch T-RackS 3 you will see the the first processor in the processor chain, a global preset, a range of useful meters and with the stand alone version a basic audio editor.
I used the same audio sources at 44.1kHz, 96kHz and 192kHz as test files. I created a new project and quickly loaded each audio file and applied the same standard presets to the same source audio and compared them one at a time. The results at all sampling frequencies were excellent. I tried a variety of different problem audio files to see how well they would clean up. Yet again the results were excellent, T-RackS Far outstripping other tools and a noticeable improvement on the previous version.
First impression was that the audio quality was a noticeable improvement on the previous versions, and the effects chain flexibility and metering were particularly good additions. Most of the interface is fairly intuitive.
I then tested a previously mastered recording and tried to improve it with T-Racks. I was really surprised at just how much extra T-RackS was able to squeeze out of that recording! I'm now thinking how much better my recordings are going to sound... one of those little moments that puts a big grin on your face.
T-Racks® 3 Standard Edition contains the 4 original T-RackS modules with the exception that they have been improved to achieve the same sound quality as the rest of T-RackS 3 signal chain. 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.
Classic T-RackS Compressor
Designed for mastering, the T-RackS classic tube stereo compressor / leveler re-creates the classic, warm, analog, hi-end vintage gear used in mastering applications. All in all a very flexible compressor.
Classic T-RackS Multi-band Limiter
Classic T-RackS Clipper
T-RackS Clipper is a soft-slipping signal processor that will remove all the peaks that keep the average level of a signal too low creating a warm, saturated sound. Peak clipping is often less noticeable than simple peak limiting and is commonly used in the mastering process.
Classic T-RackS Equalizer
- 4th order High-pass filter, from 16 Hz to 5.3 kHz
- Low shelving type filter, from 30 Hz to 200 Hz
- Low-mid peaking filter, from 33 Hz to 5.4 kHz, variable Q
- High-mid peaking filter, from 200 Hz to 17.5 kHz, variable Q
- High shelving filter, from 750 Hz to 8.5 kHz
- 4th order Low-pass filter, from 200 Hz to 18 kHz
Modular Mastering / Mixing
T-RackS3 Standard Edition provides a new, 12-processor slot audio chain. It's arranged in two rows each with 4 slots for parallel audio processing plus an additional 4 serial slots at the end of the chain. The central display can be toggled between displaying a single module or the audio chain as a whole.
Individually or all together you can switch modules on and off, 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. This made direct comparison very easy to do and the effectiveness of any changes to be clearly assessed.
T-RackS 3 Standard Edition comes with a good range of global and module presets that simplify a great number of mastering tasks. T-RackS 3 provides both global signal chain presets and individual model presets which means it is quick to put and overall signal chain in place, or to create your own based on the module presets. In addition to T-RackS 3 presets, if you own a previous version, presets from previous T-RackS will work in T-RackS 3. As a registered User you can download a T-RackS preset converter from the User Area on the IK Multimedia website.
The presets themselves, both global signal chain and individual modules, offer not only mastering settings but effects settings too.
Creating Your Own
I had no problems creating and saving projects, or creating and saving presets although it did take a little investigation to save a preset the first time. Editing the processor settings is accomplished either using a knob on the interface or by clicking on the displayed number you could enter a precise value.
It's a very useable piece of gear. In experimenting with the individual modules I found that they were realistic and the quality was exceptional.
Standalone mode provides access to snapshot automation, basic audio editing features. 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.
Standalone mode also includes extremely high quality sampling rate conversion when writing 44.1 kHz CD files, no matter what sampling rate you start with.
Using with a DAW
Within your DAW both T-RackS 3 and each of the component modules is available as a separate plug in. Included in the help file are instructions on how to load T-RackS into the main DAW applications.
Using the DAW of course allows you take advantage of the automation interface which is extensive and highly configurable. The problem here is that T-RackS allows so many parameters to be automated that most sequencers cannot support them all... so T-RackS allows you to assign the T-RackS parameter to be controlled by a specific DAW parameter.
The interface is eye catching and is clear and easy to use. Very little is driven through the top window menu, instead the focus is on useable buttons, knobs and displays within the main window. Everything is accessible through the graphics interface. There is a lot to get used to, but once you do... it's all there.
During the reviewing process I found the meters very useful and informative. T-RackS 3 introduces a new high quality, high precision, complete metering section. Accurate, complete and truly useful metering. The fact that you can keep a visual check on so many aspects of the audio simultaneously with such detailed information is liberating.
The metering presents lots of useful information in an easy to read format. You get a precision three-scale Peak meter with accurate sample indicators and real digital "Over" indicator, a Real Perceived Loudness meter showing the REAL loudness that will be perceived on your masters by listeners. Comparing any recording with your own works using this meter you will immediately see what to do in terms of loudness management in order to capture that sound. You also get a phase scope, with options to match the style and indication you're used to, a phase correlation indicator, a spectrum analyzer with Peak, RMS and Averaging indicators, an RMS meter and loudness and RMS metering "optimal" zones' indication, selectable by genre and style. Cool idea. I like that.
Building on 10 years of analog modeling experience Sonic Character Cloning (SCC™) was developed by IK Multimedia to clone the actual behavior of analog processors right down to the finest detail providing an accurate reproduction of all the tonal characteristics of the processor.
SCC™ technology uses a new analysis method, developed by IK Multimedia, to integrate the quirks and nuances of vintage gear and turn it into a mathematical algorithm that models the complex variables involved to get an exact "clone" of the original.
IK Multimedia claims that SCC™ is produces results that are indistinguishable from the originals, even to the professionally trained ear, however the models in the Standard Edition are based on a generic analog devices so I cannot comment on the level of accuracy. What I can say is that the modules in the Standard Edition are high quality processor modules that will still greatly benefit your recordings, and they do sound authentically analog.
Expansion / Upgrade Path
If you like what you hear (which you will) you can always upgrade to T-RackS3 Deluxe Edition to get 5 addition modules or buy individual T-RackS 3 processor modules to add on to the Standard Edition.
The 5 new modules, available both in the Deluxe edition and to buy individually are:
- The Vintage Tube Compressor/Limiter model 670 based on the Fairchild 670.
- The Vintage Tube Program Equalizer based on the Pultec EQP-1A.
- The Opto compressor providing optical compression.
- An Intelligent, multi-algorithm Brickwall limiter
- A High precision, high definition Linear Phase Equalizer
While most things are pretty self-explanatory to an experienced sound engineer, beginners may well get frustrated at the lack of help system integration meaning that they have to load a pdf and go back and forward between that and T-RackS. Similar to Amplitube a more integrated help system would have been convenient. Still, the help pdf is useful with lots of detail, pictures and clear explanations.
The Mastering Tips section of the help pdf explains some basics, and although the model tips expand upon that it is disappointing that there were no tips for the classic modules... in other words the module tips provided do not cover T-RackS Standard Edition.
Overall I'm very impressed. High quality audio processing, flexible signal chain, useful and clear metering... you really can't go wrong here. T-RackS3 Standard Edition is great value for money considering just how much it will improve your recordings.
Is it worth upgrading if you have a previous version? Simple answer - yes. There is a noticeable difference with the previous version of T-RackSand I think it is safe to say that T-RackS 3 will be a big hit with existing users and new users alike. All in a great package from IK in this most demanding of areas, a vital addition to your recording studio, and something that I will be using for mastering from now on.
For more information and to purchase T-RackS 3 Standard edition visit www.ikmultimedia.com/.
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