When Sony Oxford released the OXF-R3 in the 1990s, it was one of the most ambitious digital consoles ever. It featured programs so advanced that the company had to fabricate custom DSP chips to run the effects. Years later, Sonnox is making the original Sony Oxford effects (as well as some new ones) available for you and me. I recently started using a copy of Oxford Limiter. After several weeks of daily use, I am impressed by the flexibility, power, and fidelity of this top-notch limiter.
I tested the native VST version inside Sequoia on a Windows XP machine. Sonnox also makes Pro Tools HD and PowerCore versions that run on OS X or Windows. At first pass, Oxford Limiter looks like any other digital plug-in. There is an input gain, a maximum out, and dithering options. But there are also several features that make this a unique title.
Following the signal flow, the first section is the input stage, which provides +/-18 dB of gain adjustment. From here, the signal moves to the pre-process section, where attack, release, and knee values can be tweaked. Finally, the signal is routed to the output stage. Here, users can control output level and choose multiple dither depths and types, as well as adjust a value called Enhance. Enhance uses sample-value limiting to add impact to your audio without increasing the maximum peak value.
In use, the features on this limiter are more than marketing hype. Working on the new release for Centipede Eest, engineer Joshua Tanzer and I were able to increase vocal definition, lead-guitar articulation, and mix density through a judicial use of the enhancement feature. We were particularly pleased with the way the Enhance control can increase perceived loudness without the nasty artifacts and digital "crunchies" you get when you push other limiters too hard. Enhance also helped on a rap release for Boaz, where I was able to bring up the vocals without messing with the underlying beat.
Another well-designed feature is the knee control, which allows hard or soft knee compression as well as any setting in between. Being able to adjust the knee along a variable range is very useful. After all, the human ear is often the best arbiter of what is the most neutral-sounding compression. I like having the ability to tweak as the material requires.
Oxford Limiter is one of the only limiters (along with those found in some of the TC Electronic System 6000 programs) capable of determining if a signal will cause overshoots and clipping during playback. Many consumer-grade converters, such as those found in most home and car CD players, can be clipped by several adjacent full-scale samples. The lesser DACs clip when they reconstruct the information, causing glitches, clicks, and other offensive sounds. The Sonnox limiter can be set for Recon mode, to warn you if your material falls into this category. This provides you the opportunity to lower various gain-stage elements to avoid these problems.
As someone who has been critical of digital compression algorithms, it takes a lot to impress me. But Oxford Limiter is outstanding and has replaced Waves L2 as my go-to plug-in limiter. Its ability to increase loudness with minimal cost to program dynamics is unrivaled in the plug-in market. Add in the variable knee, pre-processing, and dithering features, and this is a killer title. Plus, you don't have to buy a full OXF-R3 to get one! ($385 MSRP, also available in various bundles; www.sonnoxplugins.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.