During one of my Recording Workshops a few years ago, while I was talking about using an RTA (Real Time Analyzer) to check mixes, a student piped in that there was a free plug-in online. So we downloaded and activated Elemental Audio's Inspector plug-in, and damn if it wasn't a great little helper. Strapped across the mix buss or on a track being recorded, it gave us peak and average levels, spectrum analysis via the RTA, clipping count, and channel balance indication. All this was available in a small window and though helpful wasn't the most "scientific" way to examine audio. Now Elemental has introduced InspectorXL, a huge step up from the free version. Basically, the plug-in has been separated into three main windows, plus a combo version (Multimeter) similar to the style of the free one. The Spectrum Analyzer is an FFT analyzer, spectragram, and third- octave RTA, with an amazing amount of control for setting peak and average holds-super versatile for getting a picture on the frequency balance of a mix. The Level Meter display can be vertical or horizontal; it's big and includes peak and average levels, adjustable holds, and more. I use it while mixing off tape into Pro Tools or to check levels within Pro Tools. (Why doesn't PT have dB increments on the meters?) The Stereo Analyzer provides some functions I didn't quite get into using yet, such as a phase scope and an M/S meter. You can save many settings to use for future analysis, and there are variable alarm settings for overs and such. In use, I found this to be a great tool for examining my mixes. If you've never used an RTA before, start out by running commercial CD's that you know real well through the Spectrum Analyzer. Watch how the lows, mids, and highs sit on different songs and albums. Then check out your own mixes. You can do the same with the peak/average metering -you'll see how much closer the levels are to each other on a mastered CD than on an unmastered mix (usually!), and if one is doing mastering, this kind of metering is invaluable. Overall, InspectorXL is one of the most valuable plug-ins I've come across (I feel like I've barely touched the surface of what it can do with this review), and it's worth every penny. Check the website because InspectorXL was on special for $89 as I wrote this! It's compatible with VST and RTAS on both Mac and Windows, and AU on Mac. ($219 MSRP; www.elementalaudio.com) 

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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