Boz Digital Labs +10DB Review
2014 is a great year to be a DAW owner. New plugins of all sorts keep coming fast and furious (and so do audio plugin reviews.) Some are hardware emulations, some are hybrids using existing technology to enhance older paradigms, while some are completely new and unique. And the prices are lower than ever. Enter multi platinum producer David Bendeth and Boz Digital Labs; one of the crop of great new up-and-coming plug-in developers. They have just released a new plug-in called +10DB (the DB stands for David Bendeth), a faithful recreation of the rare and sought after Compex Vocal Stressor.
This unit has a unique sonic signature and vibe to it; and has not already been emulated to death by every other plug-in developer. And no, it is not just another hardware channel strip emulation. With the absence of physical hardware restraints, Bendeth and Boz Digital Labs have gone beyond simple imitation. The plug-in comes in three flavours. Dynamics section only, Equaliser only, or the bundle that combines them together into a single channel strip. Here I’ll take a look at the bundle version.
Boz Digital Labs +10DB Review
+10DB – The Equaliser
The equaliser section contains four bands, but they are not set up the way we are used to using multiband EQs. The filters run in parallel rather in series. This affects how the bands interact with each other in interesting ways. Each band has a traditional db knob for adjusting amount, and a frequency knob to dial in the desired area of the frequency spectrum. But there is a unique three position switch in the middle of each band. They can be set to either dip, which is an attenuation mode for rolling back on the frequencies dialled in, peak, which is the boost mode to enhance the dialled in frequencies, and 0, which is a bypass mode.
You need to actually boost the dB knob when set to Dip in order to cut the level, which initially seemed counter intuitive to me. But I got used to it very quickly. The four bands all have overlapping ranges, so you can work the old “Pultec” trick of simultaneously boosting and cutting the same frequencies. The equaliser can run either before or after the dynamics section, or as a side chain input to it. When run in side chain mode, the dynamics processor applies its gain reduction to the dry (unequalised) signal. So this is great, for example, on a drum bus. You could dip the low frequencies and put it in side chain mode. The compressor will then be sensitive in the area of the kick drum, while compressing the drum bus evenly without pumping during each kick drum hit.
+10DB – Dynamics Section
This section offers a wide range of sonic personality. To start with there is an input knob, separate from the threshold control, that is useful for really driving the compressor. By feeding more level in, you can smash it hard, and then use the Dry knob to dial in the amount of unprocessed signal you want blended with the compressed signal. Like most FET style compressors, this is designed for a fast attack response time. The attack switch has three positions, .25 ms, 2.5 ms, and 25 ms. The release knob is continuous, with a wider range for recovery time. The ratio knob is stepped, at values of 1:1, 2:1, 3:1, 5:1, 10:1, and 20:1.
The Gate/Expander section is very smooth sounding. When set to Expander mode the level drops off more gradually as the signal gets quieter than it does in Gate mode. Both of course have their uses. You might wonder what the use of a 1:1 compressor ratio is. It is actually very useful in this plug-in. It allows you to bypass the compressor while still being able to use the Gate/Expander section. Combine this with some EQ side chained into the dynamics section, and you’ve got a very powerful Gate/Expander control. The Limiter is a simple on/off switch, accompanied by a red light that engages whenever it is triggered, so you know how hard you are pushing the ceiling.
The +10DB In Action
Enough description, let’s hear what this puppy sounds like! In this first example I placed it on a kick drum track. I used two bands of the EQ in pre mode, one set to boost at around 80hz, the other to cut at around 250hz. I drove the input gain in the dynamics section and used the slowest attack available so as to let the initial transients through. I set the release at about 3 ms, drove the threshold for a good 8-10 dB of gain reduction. I used a modest 3:1 ratio, as I wanted a relatively natural type of sound. I also enabled gate mode to filter out the snare drum leakage, and did not dial in any of the unprocessed signal.
Here’s the audio example.
I put it to work next on a snare drum track. I used one band of EQ to dip at about 450 hz, and another to boost just a few dB at about 5-6 khz to add some crispness. The Expander was used very effectively to minimize bleed form the rest of the kit without risk of truncating any of the quieter snare hits. For the compressor, I used the slowest attack again, but this used a much longer release time. I drove the input and threshold hard for a heavy 16 dB of gain reduction. The result is a big fat solid sounding snare!
I put another instance of +10DB on the drum buss and used the EQ in side chain mode this time, in order to “protect” the upper end of the frequency spectrum from triggering the compressor to aggressively. I wanted to make sure the snap of the snare and the hi-hat accents weren’t lost. I drove the compressor hard, between 16 – 20 dB of gain reduction at a 5:1 ratio. This was anything but transparent sounding! But dialing in the dry signal to about 60% allowed me to get the smack of the compressor without sacrificing the actual body of the drum mix. The result is a full on solid “in your face” kick and snare combined with a nice tight overall drum kit blend.
I loaded in the “room” preset on my drum room mics track and started tweaking. I adjusted some of the frequencies in the EQ section and set it to post mode. Placing it after the compressor, I was able to preserves a nice “smile” EQ curve, on top of the compressed sound. It sounds huge, making my very mediocre sounding room sound like a million dollar hall!
Finally, here is the +10DB plug-in at work on a lead vocal (thanks to Montreal singer Nancy lane for the vocal track). The ability to side chain the EQ into the compressor makes it ideal as a de-esser. In this example I used it for more run of the mill processing. I tightened up the frequency response by dipping some lows and low mids, and added a gentle boost in the highs. For compression I used the quickest attack value, combined with about 12 dB of gain reduction at a 5:1 setting. Some gentle expansion helped reduce the breaths without making it sound unnatural.
+10DB – Conclusion
This plug-in feels great to use. Once you understand how the dip mode works in the EQ section, it’s very intuitive. Metering and preset handling are thorough. The ten custom presets designed by David Bendeth for drums and vocals are a great starting point to get you up to speed quickly with what this plug-in can do. A nice touch is that the presets are platform agnostic. So presets saved in one plug-in format are easily transferable to another. Even between Windows and OS X! Since the developers are not bound by the limits of analog hardware, I would personally like to see the ability to route the individual EQ bands to side chain mode in future versions. It would also be nice to mute the individual EQ bands, especially if they are able to be routed independently. But you can hear for yourself in these examples that +10DB really does have a lot to offer. The ability to side chain the EQ opens a world of possibilities from de-essing vocals, to frequency dependant gating and expansion, to controlling compressor response. Let’s hope 2015 continues to bring many many more excellent plug-ins like the +10DD from Boz Digital Labs!
32/64-bit Mac VST2, VST3, AU, RTAS, AAX Native (32-bit only)
32/64-bit Windows VST2, VST3, RTAS, AAX Native (32-bit only)
More info:Boz Digital Labs