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Nouveux Vintage - Focusrite's Liquid Mix
Using today's technology to emulate yesterday's sounds

By Jurek Ugarow

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We have a great appetite for digitizing our environment. In many circumstances the result has been an improvement over the superceded process. The early embrace of digital audio, however, while it brought many benefits such as ease of use, repeatability, freedom from unwanted noise, clicks and pops, also brought to many a sterile and sometimes brittle experience.
Despite these early shortcomings, improvements in the technology and the music industry's very rapid move to exclusive digital production, meant that many of the older dedicated processors, such as compressors and equalizers, became obsolete. Recording desks were mothballed and outboard hardware sold off at pennies on the dollar.

But the human ear is very, very sensitive. After the initail excitement of clean and repeatable audio wore off, many professionals began to ask if the wholesale move from what we now consider "classic" products, designed by the likes of Neve, API, Quad Eight and others, was in the best interest of the highest aspirations of many involved in audio.

In response to this, the last decade has seen an renewed interest in these vintage pieces, with a multitude of boutique audio manufactures developing clones of the original units or scouring around for the originals themselves, upgrading and cleaning them for resale. But as usual, the interest has served to push up prices of these units, putting them out of reach of many.

And so, digitizing comes to the rescue, as we come full circle and manufacturers rush to design plug-ins that try to emulate the old classics. These early attemps at plug-ins, where DSP was at a premium, executed the process in perhaps a few dozen computer instructions at most. While the plug-ins sounded like EQ, the ears of many were not satisfied. Other attempts utilize "modeling," a process whereby each component of a circuit is digitally described and the subsequent interactions of the componets hopefully providing a closer approximation of the original analog circuit.

This later method was a great improvement and was also relatively DSP efficient. However, the best method, but one that is totally "low-DSP" intolerant, is Dynamic Convolution. In this process an actual hardware compressor or equalizer is sampled at multiple settings, with each sample being linked to the hardware control settings. This provides a true representation of the actual analog circuit while still allowing for absolute repeatability.

Focusrite's first foray into this territory was the "Liquid Channel" a channel strip that featured a preamp and a collection of sampled vintage compressors and equalizers. While modestly successful, the unit was still a stand-alone processor, relatively expensive because of the analog front-end and still out of the reach of many. But one of the great benefits of repackaging existing technology is the subsequent reduction of costs.

Liquid Mix from Focusrite takes the very same compressors and equalizers found in the earlier product and provides thirty-two channels of dynamics and EQ, housed in an elegent desktop control surface, connected to the computer via FireWire. The unit utilizes its own DSP for the processing and has very little impact on the host computer's CPU. The physical metering, rotary controls and buttons on the hardware help to provide a tactile experience.

Each one of the thirty-two mono plug-ins can be a different compressor and hybrid EQ, chosen from a list of forty compressors and twenty EQs representing both vintage and modern "classic" analog processors. Each channel appears as, and acts exactly like a plug-in with the controls of each compressor and EQ identical to those of the originals. However, if the "FREE" button is active then the compressor emulation will have all possible available controls with full ranges accessible for use.

The user can also build their own EQs using all of the available seven slots on a single Liquid Mix channel. For example, the high-pass filter can be taken from a Focusrite 430 MKII emulation for band one, the low-mid parametric from a Neve emulation for band two, a mid-band from an API emulation for band three and so on until band seven. Plus, this can be done for every one of the thirty-two channels.

The Liquid Mix appears and functions as a VST and AU, as well as an RTAS compatible plug-in, although for use with Pro Tools, a VST wrapper is required. The system will work with all audio recording platforms on Mac OS X that support these formats. A Windows version is slated for later in the year.

But on top of all these great features, some of the best news is the price at which Focusrite has managed to bring this system to the market. With a projected MRSP of $799.99, the unit is well within the reach of even the most modest home studio, while delivering the benefits of "classic" analog audio in a compact digital form.

All of our audio will surely benefit.

We are currently accepting orders for Liquid Mix on the B&H website.
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