BBE Sonic Maximizer, by Virsonix

    A digital rebirth of a hardware phenomenon.

    BBE Sonic Maximizer is a tool you want to buy when you are serious about mastering your recordings. The plug in comes in a VST version for the Macintosh platform, and in a DirectX version for Windows platform. We tested the Macintosh version. The plug in was developed in cooperation with BBE, and is so to speak a digital rebirth of the hardware version of the Sonic Maximizer which is in use in many studios for many years now. BBE hardware has established a firm reputation, and the big challenge was to "translate" this reputation quality into the digital domain. This job was done by Virsonix, a young company in California (USA), that is in operation for just over a year now. To be honest, we at AudioMac.net had never heard of Virsonix, until a press release came in, announcing the Sonic Maximizer, which is their first product. We have a feeling that in a years time from now, the digital audio world will know the Virsonix name as a synonym for good mastering software quality. The reputation of the good old hardware version of Sonic Maximizer maybe will most probably help here somewhat, especially in the professional studio world.

    Easy of use.

    BBE Sonic Maximizer is very easy to use. Its user interface only contains three knobs: Lo Contour, Process and Output Level. It enables you to finetune your desired mastering results, and that's it. No more, no less. It's enough, but be aware: as is the case with most of these kind of plug ins, it is very easy to overdo and distort. Used with care and knowledge, you can achieve amazing results with this plug in. Vocals are lifted and dragged out of the background music crowd in such a way that lyrics become mucy more clear and understandable and the vocals are clearly in fronmt of the rest. A plucked guiter really pops like a fresh stroke of yellow paint in a painting. Base guitars get a warm an deep extra presence. And when used with the overall mastering preset, you will discover that your recordings are boosted to a professional sounding result with sparkling clarity and clear definition. Very good.

    Presets.

    You can use BBE Sonic Maximizer in (basically) two ways. The first one is as a module for mastering tasks. For this purpose there is a preset that does it's job very well. You can use this preset as a starting point for further finetuning, using the three knobs. The second way is bringing out individual tracks in complex recordings. For that purpose, BBE Sonic Maximizer has presets too: for guitar, piano, vocal, bass and drums. These presets are "tuned" upon the individual instruments, and on voice. The characteristics of these individual instruments are handled very well, and really boost individual tracks to a better level with more live presence in the overall image. Good.

    How does it work?

    Sonic Maximizer walks a different route than most of the other software maximizers, that mostly add extra harmonics to a signal to get a brighter and more lively sound. This method is far from bad, but -when not used with care- can lead quickly to an overimposed bright audio image. In certain cases this might be exactly what you want, in other productions it might become an irritating factor. Some audio engineers are convinced that this overdone brightness is the reason why these type of plug ins better not be be used for enhancing individual tracks. I do not agree here. In certain productions, this extreme clearance is exactly what you might need, and in those cases these plug ins are very well usable on individual tracks. But if you want to get rid of this irritation, choose a plug in like Sonic Maximizer that works in a total different way. It splits your audio signal into three bands, and then applies different amounts of delay to each, thus recreating the original relationships between phases like when in real live instruments are playing together. This method results in a detailed and bright live audio image. It is of course up to you which of both methods matches you mastering desires best. We like the Virsonix approach very much. Maybe it's a good idea to download the demo version from the Virsonix website, so you can judge for yourself. There are demo versions for both Mac and Windows. Link is provided at the end of this article.

    Mac versus Windows.

    Both versions of this plug in perform identically, though the used software carrier behind them are quite different. The quality of the VST engines are of non discussed good quality, and the same goes for the software that hides behind the DirectX technology. On the PC platform, the presets are handled by an API (Application Programming Interface) from Sonic Foundry. This means that the presets show up in all programs that support Sonic Foundry's DirectX technology. One big exception is the PC version of Cubase VST, where the party does not go on.

    Availability.

    BBE Sonic Master is only available by download. There is no hardware box, no CD, and no written manual. In these modern digital times not such a problem, though I am maybe a bit old fashioned and like to have a product box on the studio shelve, containing the software and a good written manual. We use this stuff mostly to answer questions from our readers, and then it is very handy to have original documentation at hand. In this case, we can very well live without it, as the user interface of Sonic Maximizer is not a big jigsaw puzzle anyway. Your feeling with or knowledge about mastering techniques will do the trick.

    Conclusion.

    BBE Sonic Maximizer is a straight forward, good quality plug in. It's technology enables you to add good quality live enhancement to recordings, thus being a very suitable tool for mastering. The splitting technique (described above) makes this plug in also very suitable for enhancing individual tracks. The predefined sets, that come with the software, will match a lot of situations, you can alter with the very well designed but yet simple interface. On our scale from 1 (very bad) to 10 (very good) we rate BBE Sonic Maximizer a 9.

    Full image.

    You can have a look at a full size image of the user interface here. It apprears in a seperate window, that you can close again to return to this review.

    Pricing and availability.

    Pricing and downloads are available on the producers website:
    http://www.virsonix.com/.

    More info on BBE can be found at http://www.bbesound.com.


    All reviews in AudioMac.net are written by Peter J. Bloemendaal. All rights reserved.

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    22-01-2002