When Steinberg announced the plug-in versions of the Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5033 EQ (Tape Op #57) and 5043 Compressor (#59), I jumped at the chance to try them. These plug-ins are based on Yamaha’s Virtual Circuit Modeling technology. VCM utilizes carefully tweaked, digital reproductions of all the individual components in an analog circuit to model how they function together and interact with each other — even as they enter saturation and non-linearity.
The 5033 EQ is a five-band affair, with two continuously-variable filters and three fully-parametric bands. Adjoining bands overlap frequencies, and each band can be turned off. (Or you can bypass the whole shebang.) There is also a trim knob. A large graphical interface occupies the top half of the software panel, and you can make changes directly to the EQ there rather than with the knobs.
After product registration, I opened several projects I was mixing and substituted the 5033 for the EQ on all channels. I have been using Sonar X1’s ProChannel lately, and its EQ section is very good. The Portico EQ sounded as good but was much easier to use. The Portico’s virtual knobs are bigger, as is the graphical interface. Yes, Virginia, I know we are supposed to use our ears, but double-checking a visual readout is nice too. On each of the test projects, it was quick to match or exceed the sonic sculpting I had done with the ProChannel EQ.
Then I compared the 5033 EQ plug-in to the RND Portico II hardware (www.tapeop.com/reviews). Trying to match the Portico software and hardware both visually and aurally showed me that Steinberg has done a good job. My Portico II channel-strip uses the same circuit topology as the hardware 5033 (but includes only two parametric bands and has switchable but fixed filter points). It was easy to match settings. Whether a gentle, wide enhancement or judicious cut or boost notch, the software sounded about as good as the hardware. You can slather on generous amounts of boost with none of the funky phase problems or harshness one hears in some software — or hardware. The EQ sounds natural and lets you make changes without worrying about the process or “is this too much?”
Would I prefer to use the hardware? Sure. Would I like to (or could I) pay for all of it? No. The Portico 5033 EQ plug-in did a credible job at less than 1/3 the price of the hardware (and it’s limited in track-count only by computing power). I would be happy to use it on most tracks, saving my hardware Portico II for vocal, bass, or other critical tracks.
The 5043 Compressor plug-in is even better. On several tracks, I had set up compressors in series — the old slow/fast or fast/slow trick. Once I started inserting the 5043, I found I usually didn’t need that second compressor instance to hold the signal right where I wanted it. Ergonomically, like its EQ sibling, the 5043 has just what you need and nothing else to distract you from making quick and correct adjustments. Everything is big and laid out as one expects. It sounded great — better than my usual assortment of software compressors. On vocals as a channel insert, or on the guitar or master bus, it went about its job smoothing dynamics without any problems or overt coloration. Against the hardware Portico II compressor, it tracked the same settings fairly closely (although it was difficult to match the continuous hardware control settings to the small but still discrete steps of the software by ear).
What matters in the end is that I liked the mixes I did with the RND Portico plug-ins better than mixes of the same songs using my other software EQs and compressors — whether the VST 3 and VST 2.4 compatible hosts are supported on Windows, and VST 3 and AU on Mac OS X. 64-bit versions of Vista, Windows 7, and Mac OS X are natively supported. A USB-eLicenser is required but not included. ($499 MSRP each, $799 bundled together; www.steinberg.net)
–Alan Tubbs, www.bnoir-film.com
For reasons that aren’t entirely logical, I find it easier to spend money on hardware than on software. Likewise, sexy products that excel at enhancement and color can often seem more exciting...