When my colleague Neil Mclellan informed me that he'd be flying out to L.A. to mix the new Adam Freeland album, which features Tommy Lee on drums and members of The Distillers, Devo, Pixies, NIN, etc., he told me he'd be working "in the box"-without an SSL desk that he prefers for mixing. So I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to set up Neil with a Duende Mini and a Chameleon Labs 7720 compressor. The 7720, an affordable outboard compressor that features an SSL-like character, didn't work out for Neil; it didn't "warm up the bottom end" like an SSL bus compressor does, and the particular unit that was sent to him had problems with sidechain bleeding into the main audio path. But the Duende Mini, a compact version of the standard Duende plug-in processor that Neil reviewed previously (Tape Op #58), was crucial for Neil's sound sculpting.
In his review of the standard Duende, Neil gushed about Duende's Stereo Bus Compressor plug-in, and he called it a "solid 10 out of 10" for sound and authenticity. He also spoke highly of Duende's standard channel-strip EQ and Dynamics plug-in. But he criticized Duende for stability problems with v1 software. So I was curious to know how Neil would fare with Duende v2 software and the new add-on plug-ins Drumstrip, X-EQ, and X-Comp.
The morning following his return from L.A. after the first round of mixing, Neil played a few of the songs for me in our NYC studio. Some of the sounds I was hearing were incredible in terms of sheer impact. I asked him how the Duende Mini contributed to these sounds. -AH
I placed Drumstrip across all the drum tracks-independently on each channel-and really sculpted both the frequency and transient content. The HF and LF Enhancers are amazingly tunable, like highly accurate EQ if you like, but for adding harmonics without having to add volume. The Transient Shaper is like a "drive" function you can drive the shit out of. But it only works on the attacks, and you can control them or you can make them bigger-you can actually add more attack to your drums. It's wicked! There's also a wicked listen-mic simulation, but with more controls than the actual listen-mic compressor on the E-series console. I fell in love with Drumstrip. Now I've got as much thwack as I want. Just wicked. Also, you can change the processing order of the various sections, but mostly I used the default order: Gate, Transient Shaper, then HF and LF Enhancers. You can invert the Transient Shaper, and it's really wicked. And there's even a dry/wet mix right in the plug-in-no fiddling with buses or sends or any of that to work in parallel. Really highly versatile. The obvious question is, how does it compare to Sonnox TransMod? Drumship isn't as harsh, and to my ears, it's much moreversatileandusable. Ireallyjustfellinlovewithit.
IputX-EQacrossthemixbus. It'sbadass.Iactuallyused one of the presets to get me going as my starting point for the mix bus, then tweaked from there. The controls are just wonderful to tweak-really to the point of moving things by a fraction of a dB-and beautiful to work with the mouse, which is certainly not the case with a lot of competing plug-ins. I didn't feel like anything was jumpy-very smooth control, in a plug-in no less! Having 10-band parametric EQ of this caliber and ease-of-use just rocks. I've not heard a software EQ this good. It's like a hardware GML in terms of that high-quality control and such gorgeous sound.
IusedX-Compafewtimes. Thebleed-throughfeatureis an interesting way to look at frequency-dependent, parallel compression. You can tune it to process a certain range, while everything else "bleeds" right past the compressor. And the graphicsarequitelovelyandinformativetoo. There'saknob to control your maximum gain reduction; it lets you control how much transients get compressed, so bigger ones don't sound unnaturally squashed. But honestly, I didn't really use X-Comp that much. In a mixdown situation, it was a bit much for me to learn. I tried it on a couple things, but I didn't spend the time on it, because I needed something to rock out of the box, and the rest of the Duende suite was doing it for me.
I also used the bog-standard SSL EQ and Dynamics Channel on everything. I loved the compression on individual tracks, and the EQ gives you that harshness, if you really want that thwack, in the way that a real E-series console does. Very quick to get a great sound on it. I used the Peak button on the compression just to hit the peaks more. No complaints. The Stereo Bus compressor-I've got no changes in opinion from my previous review. If anything, it sounds a bit better in v2, or maybe that's just my ears being happy to be reacquainted with an old friend. It's really like the real thing. It blew my head off, just as last time.
But even with v2 software, Duende was a bit flakey on reliability with Pro Tools 7.4. For me, it was not any better than v1. Everything would drop out or glitch across all the channels of the Pro Tools session. Sometimes it would stop functioning and make a crazy sound-geh gah guh geh. I lost 30 minutes a day; I had to restart Pro Tools six or seven times per day. And believe me Andy, I had nothing else on the FireWire bus-no external drives nor other processors. It was an HD3 rig with a 192 I/O. If I disabled and re-enabled the plug-in without restarting, it would come back unglitched, but the automatic delay compensation would be all willy-nilly. Is this an SSL or Digidesign problem? I don't know, but it was certainly a problem.
Nonetheless, the sound was so good-I loved it loved it loved it-I weathered through the storms. I mixed ten songs (each with about 70 tracks) in twelve days. Apart from the reliability issue, which did my head in, the sound kept me going. If it had been average, I would have binned it. A combination of TransMod and Sonnox EQ and Inflator might have gotten me to the same place, but it wouldn't have sounded as good. Drumstrip is in a world of its own; it's not so often a plug-in comes along that you feel you need to buy right away. If I bought a Duende, I would definitely buy Drumstrip, X-EQ, and Stereo Bus Compressor as add-ons, as well as the processor-power upgrade. As a system, Duende Mini is 10/10 for sonics and 5/10 for reliability.
(Duende Mini $995 MSRP, Drumstrip $399, X-EQ $599, X-Comp $499, Stereo Bus Compressor $399, DSP Upgrade $399; www.solid-state-logic.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.