I know I did this backwards. SPL TwinTube is the latest release from SPL and I reviewed it before the others. Anyway, here’s my opinions on the EQ Rangers and the Transient Designer.

In common

Let’s talk a little about what the four have in common before we dive into the separate plug-ins.

The manual for both plug-ins are well written and describes each feature. It’s not that you’re likely to need it, the controls are very simple to understand. A plus goes out for the various tips in the manuals as for how and when to use the plug-ins (and the funny “don’t use Transient Designer for mastering!”).

Another thing all SPL plug-ins have in common is the settings system. Basically you have four setting slots that you can use. You’re probably familiar with A/B settings. Well, this is somewhat the same thing times 2. Dirk shows it in the video above by the way.

I haven’t tried the hardware equivalent to the Rangers, only the Transient Designer, so I asked SPL if they could supply me with some files comparing the hard and the soft. Dirk Ulrich, the man behind the software emulations, answered me. He’s obviously proud of his achievements, and while he couldn’t supply me with any files he did say this:

They phase out the hardware for about 90% I´d say. Small background noise stayed, but that´s even between 2 different analog models of the same type.

Not bad…

Transient Designer

The first of the plug-ins I used was the Transient Designer (from here on known as “the Tranny”). I have used the hardware, which must be considered a classic and close to a studio standard. Unfortunately I don’t have one myself so I couldn’t make any direct comparisons.

So what exactly is a transient designer and on what kind of material will you use it? Basically it can emphasize or de-emphasize the attack or sustain of material. The effect is by far most apparent on percussive material, where you can basically remove anything but the actual hit, or do the opposite, almost remove the hit and keep the sustain (the ‘ringing out’). You can of course set it to everything in between.

It’s not only for percussive material. It can be interesting on electric guitar (especially picked, clean). The Tranny works well on electric bass too. For bass, I like distinctively picked notes (I usually prefer fingerpicked, but picks work for some things) while still keeping the bottom. In other words, I like to hear the bass play actual notes instead of a growling noise. The Tranny was certainly capable of helping to achieve this and I think it might get quite some work in this field in the future.

But lets forget these first personal experiences and descriptions and cut to the chase! Why would you spend your hard earned dollars on this particular transient designer when you can download Flux BitterSweet II for free? Of course I had to put them up against each other. To give you as good answer as I can, I recorded some clips with different settings.

Grab the zip here.

Inside the zip you’ll find four very short clips, but load them into your DAW and you can loop them.

  • The ‘bitter-flux’ clip is like the ‘attack-spl’ clip.
  • The ‘sweet-flux’ clip is like the ‘sust-spl’ clip.

I didn’t really try to match them perfectly. I just recorded how each acts during higher attack- (or ‘bitter’ in fluxish) and sustain settings (a.k.a. ‘sweet’). The files are normalized.

Before my testing I thought Flux would eat the SPL. I knew the power of the hardware, and despite SPL claims they’re very close, we reside in plug-in land right now. Here a different set of rules apply, and Flux simply kick ass when it comes to clean dynamics. This turned out to be wrong. For more attack I couldn’t really care less about which to pick really. They both do that job well in my opinion, even if I prefer SPL in these particular clips. When it came down to sustain however, the Tranny showed what it was made of. In the files I’ve uploaded the sustain is only halfway to max and it sounds great. BitterSweet II is almost maximum and is not doing as much sustain anyway. Even at max I couldn’t get it to do as much as the Tranny at halfway max. What’s worse, at max BitterSweet II actually started to sound grainy to my ears. The Transient Designer is in other words a clear winner.

But let’s put some perspective to this. In BitterSweet II’s defense I’ll add that it features more control than the SPL, such as timing settings. I left it at default when I recorded these files. I did however play around a little with it later to see if I could get around that grainy feeling, and while it helped, it still didn’t sound as good to my ears. Also, we’re talking fairly extreme sustain settings on a drum loop here. Using more moderate settings on, say a snare drum, is a whole other thing.

With that I’ll conclude that I prefer the Transient Designer. The question is, is it worth to shell out the money for it? That’s up to you and you’re economy.

EQ Rangers Vol.1

The EQ Rangers are, like both the Transient Designer and the TwinTube, based on SPL hardware. They’re part of SPL’s modular system, called RackPack, Before we go into details of the sound, the Ranger EQ’s need a little more explanation.

While most EQ’s are intended for use on almost anything (save perhaps specific “mastering EQ’s” and such) the Rangers were designed for specific purposes. In this bundle we find a Bass Ranger, a Vox Ranger and a Full Ranger. The Full Ranger is intended for just about anything, the others for bass sounds and vocals (and not guitar amps) respectively. Of course you don’t have to give a flying fuck about this, and I certainly don’t, but guess what? The Bass Ranger will work better on bass material (and kicks serious ass on drums if you like it boomy and big).

The thing that makes the Bass Ranger, the Vox Ranger and the Full Ranger different from each other are the frequencies these bands operate on. There is an advantage to this, since the characteristics we find on a bass guitar is perhaps not located at the same frequencies as those we want to boost or cut on a vocal track. Of course, should we decide to use a more modern graphical EQ we could set any damn frequency we please. That aside, I still like these kind of EQ’s.

The Rangers are old school graphical EQ’s similar to my old stereo which I really like. I was glad when URS first decided to put an API of this kind on the market, but now we have an SPL as well. There simply isn’t a better way to tweak a software EQ than to flip the faders and realize that your control surface is pretty much the same thing as the picture on the screen. I love it! Since the Rangers are 8-bands each and you don’t have to worry about Q settings, frequency and other regulars, all the interesting settings are actually mapped to eight first faders. I imagine this will make many control surface owners happy, since eight is for some reason a standard minimum.

Let’s talk about sound. I hate talking about sound when it comes to EQ’s, but I suppose that’s what you’re interested about really. The first thing that springs to mind is “musical”. You know, that old word people used to use to describe EQ’s with slim-to-none settings in the olden days. I guess this means I like the Q and frequency settings SPL have bestowed upon us through the Rangers.

There’s also something that makes me want to push the faders all the way. This might seem like an odd thing to say, but sometimes I don’t really like to use plug-ins at maximum, or even higher settings. I suppose this also have something to do with the Q and frequency settings, or how the Q evolves when raising the levels. I don’t really care about the theory behind it, I just like it. There’s another reason for why you want to push these a little extra. The first notches on the sliders boosts or cut much less than the notches at the end of the sliders. It fooled me a little at first, but I don’t think it’s a bad design.

The sound is, if anything, clean. It seems to me that you get out what you put in in the first place. Personally I find the Bass Ranger most useful of the three, but they’re all worth trying. I definitely think all the Rangers act a little different than any other software EQ I’ve used. I’m still not sure if it’s me being fooled by the sliders, if they have odd evolving Q settings, or what’s going on.

Is it a stay or a go? I’m not sure yet. I usually prefer a little more grit in the mix personally. Regardless how it turns out for me, this is a great EQ bundle if you don’t have many EQ’s. It really gives you some musical essentials. It’s also a great bundle for beginners that might think it’s hard to find the right frequencies or haven’t grasped the entire concept of EQ’s yet. Of course these statements shouldn’t scare the pro’s away. I wouldn’t say “this is the bundle you need!”, but I will say that if you’re in the market for new EQ’s you really should have these on your evaluation list, especially if you’re looking for something clean.

Conclusion

There’s no question about it. The Transient Designer is the best transient tool I’ve heard in the software world. It will cost you, but it will be a step up from the freebies. The question you must ask yourself is if that step is important enough for you to pay up for. The Ranger EQ’s are more for people with a specific taste, and they have much stiffer competition as new EQ’s are released all the time. Still, I’m not afraid to say that they don’t really act like any other software EQ I have tried. I’m a sucker for these kind of graphical EQ’s and the way they map to the control surface. It’s just a very quick way to work. The Ranger EQ’s is pretty much a complete set of EQ’s for mixing, especially if you want clean.

Finally I’d like to add that SPL is definitely a company to keep an eye on. I wonder when we’ll see the DynaMaxx…?

Don’t miss the interview with Dirk of SPL.