It’s amazing to think that, not so long ago, the ability to automate fader levels and mutes on a hardware mixer represented state-of-the-art technology. The arrival of the software DAW changed all that, and now we can automate pretty much any parameter we like. That’s good news, of course, but all this flexibility doesn’t necessarily make the production process any quicker.
Thankfully, a number of forward-thinking plugin designers have coupled that conceptual approach with some analysis- based number crunching, and developed smart, ‘intelligent’ tools that go beyond basic tone and dynamics shaping. These processors can’t mix our tracks for us, but they can provide assistance and feedback, and improve efficiency, by helping us get things right. What’s more, by demonstrating what’s possible, they can also help us to expand our knowledge and understanding.
In this round-up of such plugins, we’re going to spread the net pretty wide, but what all of these processors have in common is that they’re smarter than the average plugin.
1. Soundtheory Gullfoss
Gullfoss is an intelligent EQ that uses signal analysis and real-time adjustment to improve the clarity of your audio signals. Traditional EQ parameters are replaced by five controls that allow you to enhance masked elements, control dominant ones and then finesse the results.
It’s about as close as you’ll get to a ‘click and forget’ EQ, and a wonderful time saving tool.
2. iZotope Neutron 2
Neutron 2 is a quality modular channel strip plugin that’s been supercharged with a bunch of intelligent mixing tools. These include auto settings based on track analysis, plus visual tools that address mix balance, EQ masking and frequency content. Much of this is linked via inter-plugin communication.
An excellent, multifaceted plugin for the serious mixer.
3. Waves Vocal Rider
If you tend to do a lot of vocal heavy production, writing level rides can be a time-consuming process. Vocal Rider is a smart, labour saving plugin that does the job for you. Its simple controls, sensible layout and slick-looking interface make it a joy to use, and you can write its output back as DAW automation for further tweaking if required.
4. Oeksound Soothe
Oeksound’s two plugins - Spiff and Soothe - epitomise the new generation of smart processors, applying analysis to commonplace tasks, and thereby making them simpler and quicker.
If we have to choose one, it’s got to be Soothe. Yes, it’s expensive, but the removal of nasty frequencies and resonances is a big part of the mixing process, and this plugin makes it pretty effortless.
5. SoundRadix Auto Align
If you work with live recordings, re-aligning elements to make them punchy and cohesive is a big task.
Auto Align removes much of the hard work. Using an internal bussing system, it creates time offsets and phase inversions on the target tracks, and can even be used in a serial configuration to create more complex offsets.
6. Sonible smart:eQ+
Sonible’s smart engine powers this hybrid EQ, which offers standard EQing alongside analysis-based filter curves.
The latter help to resolve unpleasant resonances while boosting the more desirable ones, and can easily be reset to allow the audio to be reanalysed if required. Meanwhile, regular EQ bands can be incorporated to fine-tune the results.
7. iZotope Ozone 8
iZotope’s second entry in our list earns its place through its sheer breadth of options, and although many of them are aimed at those on a mastering tip, features such as Master Assistant, Tonal Balance, Spectral Shaping and Track Reference provide big helping hands whatever the task. Be sure to check out the different versions for their tiered feature sets.
8. MasteringTheMix Reference
Reference is a track comparison tool that combines track referencing with analysis. Neat features include automatic track levelling and alignment, but it’s the dynamic and spectral analysis that take things to the next level.
This is a plugin that will save you time, and is very much a ‘best in class’ processor.
9. Softube Drawmer S73
There are plenty of black box-style ‘minimalist’ plugins out there that condense complex chains under the hood.
The Drawmer S73 Intelligent Mastering Processor is one of the best, offering up a broad range of effects from ten carefully selected style presets. It’s well suited to submixes and master chain duties, and the ‘point and shoot’ simplicity is refreshing.
10. SynchroArts VocALign
Although all DAWs now include time adjustment features, Synchro Arts’ VocALign remains a firm favourite for vocals and monophonic instruments. Available at three price points up to the feature-rich Revoice Pro 3, if you really want to get the job done quickly, this is the plugin you need in your locker.