As a fan of all things FabFilter, I jumped at the chance to check out Pro-DS, a new de-esser plug-in that claims both intelligent and transparent de-essing as well as high-frequency limiting. As luck would have it, I had just tracked arguably the most sibilant vocal performance of 2012, so Pro-DS would be tested mightily.
Two features of Pro-DS jumped out at me immediately: a linear-phase split-band mode, and a look-ahead capable of up to 15 ms. I assumed those two features in tandem would provide a new level of transparency, and did they ever. I first tried Pro-DS on a typical vocal track, and the results were as advertised. I then tried it on the aforementioned overly sibilant vocal take, and Pro-DS handled it admirably. While the sibilance wasn't corrected to the point of sounding natural (I would never expect it to be), Pro-DS made the performance listenable while simultaneously preserving the sonic integrity of the entire high end, something that non-linear de- essers can't really claim. If this were the extent of the plug-in's features, I'd still recommend picking it up, as the de-essing is really superb. However, there's more to this plug-in that really makes it stand out from the pack.
Switch Pro-DS to Allround detection mode, and you've got yourself a high- frequency limiter with adjustable stereo-linking as well as mid-only or side-only processing (these features apply to the de-esser as well). Did the drummer hit his cymbals twice as loud as his drums? Well Pro-DS is going to save your hearing while simultaneously keeping the center of your stereo image intact. Did your client bring you a poorly mixed backing track? Get ready to limit those high-hats that are 10 dB louder than everything else. Tack on up to four times liner-phase oversampling, and you've got yourself some pristine processing.
My single complaint is that given how comprehensive and powerful Pro-DS is, there is no adjustable release. Obviously, the detection algorithm with its program-dependent timings does its job really well, but I'd love to be able to change the release time when being more heavy-handed than usual. In the same way that iZotope and Sonnox give you seemingly infinite tweaking capabilities with their plug-ins, it'd be nice to be able to move beyond the default settings as the situation dictates, as not all sessions are created equal. Make no mistake though - Pro-DS does a terrific job regardless.
I had high expectations for Pro-DS, and it didn't let me down. Aside from conquering sibilant vocals (including what I've deemed "Sibapocalypse 2012") and taming harsh audio across the board, I can see broadcast editors and mixers absolutely loving this plug-in. And just to rub it in, FabFilter has priced Pro-DS at $189, a very reasonable price considering what you're getting.