VirSyn Bark

Basing an EQ/compressor plug-in on the human auditory system might sound like madness, but it's worked for VirSyn

VirSyn has a habit of producing useful plug-ins with a slightly esoteric twist. For its latest endeavour, Bark, it's gone for a linear-phase multi-band dynamic filter.

The twist, though, is that the bands used are designed to match the so-called 'critical frequencies' of human hearing.

The plug-in takes its name from the Bark scale, a psychoacoustic measurement system proposed by Eberhard Zicker, who named it after the renowned German physicist Heinrich Barkhausen.

The scale has 24 bands (or Barks), which represent the first 24 critical bands of human hearing. In essence, these are the overlapping band-pass or 'auditory' filters present in our hearing system.

So why is this significant? Well, the bands themselves affect our ability to distinguish different pitches. In simple terms, two sounds falling within the same critical band can create a 'masking' effect, whereby one signal seriously affects our perception of the other. If they fall into different critical bands, this doesn't happen.

Furthermore, this aural phenomenon greatly affects our concepts of musical pitch, particularly the detection of both consonance and dissonance.

That's the science, but what does it mean in practice?

Overview

To be honest, Bark couldn't be much simpler. The centre frequencies of the 27 bands range from 50Hz to 17.5kHz, and graphic EQ-style tweaking of the levels of each is carried out from the main display.

However, this being a dynamic EQ, there are also 27 bands of compression, with the main section in the middle governing overall settings via four familiar knobs: Threshold, Ratio, Attack and Release. There are also tabs for each of these parameters, so it's possible to make per-band changes with the vertical sliders.

The AutoGain feature is handy, applying make-up gain on a band-by-band basis to match the corresponding reduction. There's a limiter on the output too, which is standard fare but useful, given the potential 40dB of output gain.

Finally, like all good dynamics processors, you can link or unlink the left and right channels. But as Bark is capable of multi-channel processing with fully flexible linking, it could hold its own in the world of surround mixing, too.

One significant aspect of the plug-in's design is that the filters have quite sharp profiles, and when taking into account the non-colouring linear-phase design, we were expecting Bark to be more 'function' than 'funk'. But the +24/-48dB gain range per band, combined with the easy-access interface, meant that we were happily mangling our sounds right from the off. The results can be somewhat bombastic, but a good equaliser or compressor always delivers when placed under strain, and Bark definitely falls into that category.

If you push the EQ levels right up, though, the sharpness of the filters becomes obvious, with a sort of 'ringing' timbre that could be put to good creative use. VirSyn's use of the Bark scale means that the frequencies are set in stone, though, and you could find this annoying.

Visually, Bark is right on the money, with each slider on the interface doubling as a meter, showing the signal level (orange), gain reduction (red) and gain increase (green), with manual boosts or cuts indicated, too. On the downside, the display isn't the largest, although there is a Fine mode that zooms the resolution to +/-12dB.

Summary

Thanks to VirSyn's 'scientific' design ethos, we were expecting Bark to be polite, but it's the opposite. That's not to say it's incapable of subtlety - it just lends itself to bold, creative applications. This is an interesting addition to VirSyn's effects range, and it's well worth taking the demo for a spin if you've got a Syncrosoft dongle.

Hear what Bark can do to drums, piano and strings:

MusicRadar Rating

4 / 5 stars
Pros

Effects go from subtle to dramatic. Easy-to-grasp GUI, with good metering. Offers EQ and compression. Surround-ready.

Cons

A specialist effect. Fixed frequency bands. Pokey display.

Verdict

An unusual effect, and one that's not to be confused with your average multi-band compressor.

Country of Origin

Germany

Description

The multiband filter BARK takes the approach to match the reception characteristic of the final destination of all sound: the ear. The ear behaves as if it contains a bank of filters, each filter passing frequencies within the critical band. Two tones separated by more than a critical bandwidth are received by the ear independently. For this reason BARK contains a filter bank with 27 bandpass filters matching the critical bandwidth.

Additional Requirements

Syncrosoft key; VST/RTAS/AU Host

OS Requirements

Apple Mac OS 10.4.4 or later Microsoft Windows XP

Platform

Mac or PC

Processor Type Required

Intel Mac Pentium 4 Power Mac G4 or higher

Review Policy
All MusicRadar's reviews are by independent product specialists, who are not aligned to any gear manufacturer or retailer. Our experts also write for renowned magazines such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Computer Music, Future Music and Rhythm. All are part of Future PLC, the biggest publisher of music making magazines in the world.

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