Design Dilemma

January 16, 2011

Mr Oktalski (my graphic designer) is a very smart guy. So I tend to take it very seriously when he makes an observation.

He’s been working his way through the controls, of which there are many, and posed the question: which hardware compressors will this model well (i.e. indistinguishably from the hardware). Immediately I can list a few classics that have influenced the DSP design that I can foresee no problems with emulating. Fun list of presets.

But this wasn’t the focus.

The original idea for this compressor was to create “the ultimate compressor” – something you could insert on any track, and have the flexibility to always get the job done without resort to another compressor.

As you’re aware, most compressors have about five controls; maybe a sidechain EQ, and occasionally a “processing mode” option, or a few other character tweaks. This compressor has tonnes of extra controls to allow you to configure it to your exact taste. You know- changing the effect it has on transients, that kind of thing.

I think you all largely know where I come from with dynamics; you probably remember I did Forte; I was, shall we say, “heavily involved in” the design of the Liquid stuff; I built TBK3; and brought the Sonalksis 315 from Mk1 to Mk2. All fairly modern designs.

So now I’m left with a dilemma which is this:
I hadn’t originally intended this compressor to turn into a replacement for all the modelling compressors out there, but Krzys pointed out that with all this technology, it might be a wasted opportunity not to do that.
Which is a design dilemma, because right now, it’s a fucking fantastic unit for a mixing/tracking/mastering engineer who wants a fantastic compressor/limiter/expander/gate whatever for a track… but the focus is very much on getting the job done, rather than being able to swap in SPECIFIC bits of kit.

Opto characteristics; check. Feedback behaviour (which can actually be modelled surprisingly well with a feed-forward design, the maths reveals); check. All kinds of oddities that one finds in an analogue model (knee types, over-easy, unusual transient shaping, bandwidth limits, sidechain biases, weird hystheretic behaviour, etc); check.
Certainly you’d need to know which controls to tweak to get these behaviours to come out, and that’s very much my job in the preset design stage… but perhaps a list of specific pieces of kit would make for a more useful preset list than task-focussed presets?

… and if I do go down that route, how far do I go? I can add in special modes for modelling things like overdamped feedback designs (some very obscure bits of kit ‘wobble’ when they attack. It’s weird but fun), really odd release behaviour (autorelease catches a lot of this in practice, but I could go deep into it).

EQuality was something of a free ride for me in terms of replacing hardware, because (neglecting distortion, which is fairly easy with EQs that aren’t being driven absurdly hard) all hardware EQs basically follow the same rules. In fact the maths forces them to, which is why you can get EQuality to sound like any random EQ you fancy.

Compressors aren’t so well-defined, nor so constrained mathematically.

So now I’m left wondering where the line is. Do people want another (better) Liquid Compressor? Or do people want a fast, efficient workflow tool, that gives them “just enough” control to make sure they can always get the job done?

I can add options all day long; I really can. I kinda like it even. But I’m painfully aware that every control I add makes someone’s life a little bit worse, because there’s more clutter that has to be on screen. Even with the smartest UI design (which Krzys will do, because he’s an evil genius) if the controls are there, you can’t escape them.

Advice please people :)

TL;DR: New compressor: Every compressor ever, or every problem solved?

11 Responses to “Design Dilemma”

  1. Of course we want all the above

    How about initially having to select a ‘mode’ from a choice of < 8 (this would be like a preset group) and displaying the usual controls < 12 if you need more.. flip to the back for the full gory details… You could then have presets for each mode..

    This would allow you to have an efficient workflow, but at the same time would allow you to dig in deep if you need to tweak something..

  2. Hi Dave

    I chimed in last time about the naming of EQuality. Any ideas for names for this plug in yet? I’m loving EQuality and this new plug is as good as sold as far as I’m concerned ;)

    How about:

    “Complete”
    “The Impressor”
    “Dynamite”
    “Compressive”
    “Complicity”
    “Complexity”
    “Comprehensive”
    “Compassion”

    As for Controls / Interface. The complexity should be behind the scenes and the presets should help us learn how the advanced controls work and relate to different compressor topologies. I think you need 3 tiers of controls with the third “advanced” tier being hideable, something along the lines of:

    Main “simple” controls: Threshold, ratio, attack, release and make up gain

    Secondary controls: Knee, Sidechain, Channel Linking, Hold, Dry /Wet etc

    Advanced controls: release shapes, knee shapes, sidechain eq/bias, transient shaping etc etc.

    Perhaps you could have a drop down menu of compressor “models” on the main simple interface that actually modifies the advanced controls under the hood. This would be cool for creating user presets where you could learn what advanced controls deliver the release character you like from one model and then tweak the attack or knee that you like from another model.

  3. Wow. So I’ve been keeping the name under wraps, but you just guessed it. That’s kinda scary. It’s called Compassion. :)
    (It was originally going to be called Dynamite, but then someone released a plugin called dynamite. And then Adam / AudioDamage suggested Compassion, and he was right. :) )

    I saw a draft of the UI today, and basically there’s a big graph, and the simple controls. It’s ace.
    You can open a panel and it gives you access to the advanced controls. That’s all still being figured out

    There will indeed by a “models” menu (probably called Character or somesuch) which will allow you to tweak the advanced stuff with one click ;)

  4. Hi Dave,

    compassion, nice on :)

    It’s possible to make the display switchable like Equalty’s?
    Sometimes I only trust my ears, at other times only my eyes you know) ;)

    I think the possibilty to have the advanced controls opened as standard would be nice.

    I think to implement a “models” parameter with relation to hardware models is a good idea because it’s general knowledge what to expect, so it’s fast!

    What do you think about a colour ring or led ring around the knobs (main and advanced) that stands for the possible or most common parameter range within a special compressor type? (swichtable of course)..as a little helper..so if you couldn’t get the job done within a paramter set you better use another model/character ? just thinking loud …. :)

    all the best..

  5. Hey Dave,

    I think that yes, main “page” on the GUI should be the usual suspects :
    – Threshold
    – Ratio
    – Attack
    – Release
    – Makeup

    And the “Advanced” controls must be on a second “page” as for the compressor character : like transient shaping, knee, opto/feedback/feedforward modes, hystheresis, saturation and so on, it would be cool to have presets like : SSL 4000, Neve 33609, API 2500, Manley Vari-Mu and so on.

    That said, I really like the concept of the McDSP 6030 Ultimate Compressor plugin.

    If you could model major compressors like the ones listed, that would make it the best compressor plugin ever !

    That’s how I see it.

  6. Why not create the ultimate “design any compressor you want” type of thing? Have simple basic settings like Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, Knee and then an advanced panel which is completely hidden and only meant for power users.

    Then people with the patience and skills could use the advanced panel, which has a huge array of parameters, to model whatever they want.. they could then share the presets online for other users. Heck, you could even have a built in “double preset” system where the advanced panel has it’s own presets.. you could call them “models”. People could then share models with other users. The plugin would of course ship with a few standard preset models of basic designs (opto, vca ff, vca fb, vari-mu etc). You can even have one or two additional meta-controls on the front panel that can be assigned to a specific range of one or more advanced parameters.

    The GUI should make it absolutely clear that the basic controls is what most people should be touching and that the advanced controls are there for serious tweakers to explore.

    Think of it like a hardware unit with a lot of trim pots inside on the pcb. The serious enthusiast could tweak a lot of constants, curves, resistances and what-not while the layman would mainly use the preset settings and load up other people’s tweaks.

    Cheers!
    bManic

  7. .. duh, just read the earlier blog posts. What I suggested is exactly what you already considered.

    Great minds, eh? :)

  8. Just wanted to chime in saying things that have already been said…but none the less: I think making reference to existing hardware is a great selling point. It allows you to start somewhere familiar. But then on top of that, allowing you to take these starting references to places that hardware couldn’t is fantastic. Often times I’ve enjoyed the character of a certain piece of hardware, but just wished it had another release time or just a bit fast attack…etc. Of course, workflow has to be fast. So I guess that means: any interdependency of advanced parameters needs to automatic with respect to the chosen “starting model”. No one wants to have to jump between rms window and attack settings for (a simple) example to achieve an existing familiar behaviour. However having access to these parameters is amazing when they need to be tweaked. Can’t wait to see how this pans out.

  9. Any chance you could make it multi-band too? I can see a lot of interest from post-production folks. For noise reduction a great 6-band multi-expander would be fantastic! Something to replace McDSP ML4000, Waves C4, WNS and perhaps Cedar too! Mastering engineers would also love you! Would it be possible to make it selectably wide-band/multi-band?
    Keep up the great work!
    Thanks.

  10. Nope. Compassion is a wideband processor.
    I’ve plans for some multiband processors in future; designing a multiband processor is a completely different process to designing a wideband device.

  11. Pssst, Dave! I need this compressor……know! Is there something like a beta release schedule?

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