PCRECORDING.COM - T-RackS Review: Retail $299.00.
Available at www.T-RackS.com.
So you have finished recording your tracks, tweaked the effects, crossed your cross-over fades, soloed your best guitar, and tracked your drums down to a stereo .wav file. You are ready for burning to a CD right? Well, you are concerned because there is still a bit of digital harshness in the recording and you want to make sure that your signal is as full as possible to take advantage of all the fidelity the CD standard of 16-bit/44.1kHz can offer. You are equally concerned however to avoid digital clipping thus ruining your mix. What to do? A master mix with T-RackS mixing software is a very good solution.
What is T-RackS you ask? T-RackS is a software suite of three critical components for a great master mix: A 6-band Parametric EQ, a Compressor and a Limiter. T-RackS is not "real-time" effects plugin. It is exclusively a mastering software suite. All other processing, reverb, stereo imaging, flanging, etc. must have already been done to your file. (T-RackS does suggest however that you let it do any necessary dithering, limiting and expanding). T-RackS is intended to be the last processing device you use before finalizing your master mix. Therefore, the file to be processed must be a 16-bit .wav file for PCs or a 16-bit AIFF file for the MAC. The default sample rate is 44.1kHz, but T-RackS will also support 22-48kHz rates as well.
How does it work? I will quote from their manual.
"The working principles of T-RackS algorithms are based on the circuit schematics of real analog hardware devices, and our proprietary filter design theory. We started looking at the schematics of some top-notch analog vintage circuits. A mathematical model of each circuit was studied and then converted into a DSP algorithm. In addition, we decided that T-RackS should use floating point calculations for the most accurate analog signal simulation."
The minimum system requirements for T-RackS are Pentium 200MMX, Windows 9x, NT4.0 or 5.0, 32 meg RAM, and a high-quality soundcard. Suggested requirements are a Pentium II 266 and 64 meg of RAM. My system is a Pentium II 300, 64 RAM, Win 98 and a variety of high-end soundcards.
I received a full-retail copy of T-RackS from the distributor. It included a helpful manual, a dongle hardware key that plugged into the parallel port and a CD containing the program. Installation was extremely smooth, straightforward and easy to understand. I was up and running within minutes.
The first thing I noticed was how attractive and intuitive the GUI was for T-RackS. I felt instantly comfortable, as if I was back in my analog days of recording. The GUI color scheme is very rich and its functionality matches it appearance. The knobs, buttons and switches are very easy to use and understand. Please see the screenshot below to see what I mean.
You start by simply clicking on the open button and locating the file through the standard file menu options. The name of the file will appear in the window on T-RackS. You can adjust as necessary buffer sizes to preserve a smooth playback. T-RackS features marker capability to that you can easily jump to any point in the song that you have marked such as chorus, verse, refrain, etc. Then simply click on the Play button in the transport section to get started. All functions are by default off so you must choose which component to use by turning it on.
T-RackS equalizer consists of a six-band stereo parametric EQ. Switch it on by clicking on the toggle switch and an LED lights up letting you know it is functioning. The six bands are from left to right on the GUI:
The frequency control knobs are lined up on top and the gain control knobs are lined up below. The frequency changes are displayed in the numeric display window and in a graphical scope-screen. As adjustments are made to your sound, you see and hear the changes and can narrow the adjustment down with great precision. The Hi/LoQ switches control the band width of the knobs. The sequence in which the EQ processes the signal is controlled by the patch button. Position 1 puts the EQ is first in the audio chain, relative to the compressor. Conversely, position 2 put it after the compressor. The limiter is always last of the three.
I found the EQ to be very easy to work with. This is in part because the numeric display and the graphical scope-screen give real visual feedback that verified what my ears were hearing. Narrowing down the range of a specific problem frequency is accomplished by combining the effects of the filters to isolate the offending frequency. You can easily ascertain what T-RackS has done by employing the on/off switch to do A/B comparisons.
The frequency sweep and response was very smooth, not grainy like other digital EQs I have used. This EQ works very well, sounds great and emulates the interface, functionality and sound of high-end analog EQ gear.
The Compressor features adjustment knobs for attack time, release time, stereo enhancement, input level and a VU meter with a virtual needle. Welcome home! The attack time knob controls the speed of compression. Higher settings (more time before response) will result in transients getting through, and conversely, lower values (less time before response) respond more quickly stopping more transients from getting through. You can read the actual numeric value of the setting in the numeric screen. The release knob adjusts the speed with which the compressor recovers. Again, higher settings (more time) mean that the sound will return to normal slower resulting in a less noticeable compression effect. Conversely, lower settings (less time) will result in shorter recovery times and an overall louder file.
The compressor does not operate on a threshold basis. The amount of compression is determined by the strength of the input signal. The more input, the more compression. You can monitor the amount of compression by observing the VU meter where "0" means no compression and negative numbers indicate the compression levels. The compression, depending on your settings, can be very smooth, almost imperceptible or very sudden. The compressor added volume and depth to the signal without noticeable "tunneling" of the sound. Very nice. Again, you can do an A/B test with the bypass switch.
The limiter affects three bands (low, mid, and high) separately using a proprietary function to reduce signal peaks. No user access is allowed, however, release times and overload settings can be made by the user. The overload function affects the way the limiter reduces peaks where a lower value will give more frequent gain reduction and conversely a higher value will result in less gain reduction. A higher value that is too high may result in clipping (preferred or not). Lastly, the user can set the release time as well. This affects the signal in a way that is similar to the compressor. This component allowed for maximum volume of the track with control over clipping.
The final output controls allow the user to set hard/soft clipping, maximum output levels, and whether to use the permanent three tiered level meter or a sample accurate level meter. I suggest using the sample accurate meter to get maximum information about the levels.
T-RackS allows the user to preserve particular settings by using up to 8 "snapshot" functions that can be switched mid-stream while mastering. For instance, you can use one snapshot for a verse section and another for a chorus section.
I took several of my completed pieces and and ran them through T-RackS. I was able to isolate frequencies with the EQ easily and intuitively. I really liked being able to see the graphical screen and the numeric screen. This helped me verify what it was I was hearing. The various filters crossover to a degree on their respective frequencies. Therefore, it was quite easy to isolate particular frequencies for adjustment by combining their effects. I was able to readily hear the difference the EQ made by doing A/B tests. The boost entered by T-RackS was very linear and smooth. It sounded very clean, with no squared-off digital chop.
The Compressor was a joy to work with. I particularly liked that it did not work on a threshold basis. Compression levels are determined by input levels. As input levels increased, the compression levels correspondingly increased. Therefore, I was unable to detect any sudden "compression point" when the threshold was reached. It sounded very good.
By tweaking the limiter, I was able to get some incredibly full, loud tracks, at maximum values without clipping. With this device, you can literally fill-up every bit of fidelity you need to. I did not care to "clip" my signal too much, even though the program allows for it. In my opinion, clipping a signal never sounds good. Nevertheless, I can imagine there are users who would appreciate this feature more than me.
I would like to see slightly bigger transport controls or at least an option to expand them. I think the larger output meter should not cover any portion of the interface when activated. In addition, it was not clear to me if there are any keyboard shortcuts a user could employ. At least, none were mentioned in the manual. Lastly, in a digital world rapidly moving towards a 24-bit "standard", support for this bit rate might be wise. A user could then dither down the final master to do CD-quality burns or leave the truly hot 24-bit signal as is for other applications.
This conclusion is rather hard to write because as a reviewer I feel it is incumbent on me to assess things in an objective fashion. Nevertheless, this software suite feels so good, makes files sound phenomenal, and is so easy to use that I end up having difficulty finding any fault with it. I love it, it makes me feel good. This program accurately emulates classic analog gear both functionally and sonically. It is extremely easy to use and truly improves the sound of your file for mastering. The result is much more professional sounding than if you did not use it. I highly recommend it to DAW users and to those who are mixing down to tape but use a DAW mixdown.