Specs and Need-To-Know: Format: VST for XP/Vista/Win7 machines; VST, AU and RTAS for OSX 10.4 or higher
Delivery: Web-based download or boxed
Copy Protection: ViennaKey (Syncrosoft USB dongle)
Documentation: PDF Format
License: Can use up to three licenses at one time
Price: 445 Euros for the download, $695 for the boxed version
More From: Vienna Symphonic Library, www.vsl.co.at; distributed in USA by Ilio, www.ilio.com.
Now, on to the review!
The Vienna Symphonic Library folks seem to be expanding their horizons (no pun intended aiming at their Horizon sample series). Not only do they offer some of the largest sample libraries in the world, now they have an effects suite called Vienna Suite. Vienna Suite consists of nine individual plug-ins; Analyzer, Compressor, Convolution Reverb, Equalizer, Master Equalizer, Exciter, Limiter, Multiband Limiter, and Power Pan. Let's take a gander over each aptly named plug-in in their Version 1.1 guise, in alphabetical order.
I found Vienna's 120-band analog modeled spectrum analyzer to be visually slick, and a very handy tool to have. Peak hold, multiple reaction speeds of the analyzer, frequency-to-note correlation, displaying the loudest frequency in the mix as a note wherever the cursor happens to be floating; all this makes it to be one of the best and friendliest analyzers I've used on a DAW. Very well done.
While I've worked with many terrible algorithmic reverbs over the years, convolution reverbs are hard to get really 'wrong'. Since convolution relies on some type of pre-recorded audio being fed into it, the results are typically as good as the pre-recorded source material. That being said, the limited selection that is provided with this plug-in does sound fantastic. The Szeged Cathedral preset was particularly inspiring.
While pretty much the whole Suite is light on the CPU, this one is the exception. Depending on the length of the reverb, and the setting for the resampling parameter, I could easily hit 100% CPU on my aging AMD 3800+ X2 dual core machine. Dropping i t down to a lower resample level of 1.00 brought the CPU to a more reasonable 15-20% usage. Those with new Intel i7 Nehalem processor systems should be able to get a lot more bang out of this plug-in. CPU load aside, it's an easy plug-in to get around and the results sounded great.
Vienna's Compressor is well laid out, easy to use, and gives great visual real-time feedback of what's going on with the audio. The controls cover the usual gamut with a few nice extras; attack, release, audio threshold, ratio, and output level as one would expect, along with an opto emulation, Fat mode (tape-like distortion), automatic Makeup gain, and the often asked for, but rarely delivered, internal sidechain ability.
Aurally, I found it to be one smooth operator on about everything I threw at it. Think 'transparency' more than 'color' when it comes to this fine compressor. As I ran the gamut of presets and tried them with orchestral instruments, I was extremely pleased on how well it brought out the detail of each instrument, without sounding unnatural. Two thumbs up here.
Equalizer and Master Equalizer
The Equalizer is a no-nonsense 64-bit, 7-band eq; 5 fully adjustable bands with Q (bandwidth) for each band and gain control, along with a separate high- and low-cut filter with 12/24/36/48 dB curves.
Not only did this eq sound good, it's one of the few equalizer plug-ins I've used that has been preloaded with a significant amount of very useful presets, most notably the "resonance presets". These instrument-named presets are dialed in to the typical problem resonance frequencies the instrument in question has. Since each eq band can be turned on or off at will, it's quick and easy to tune out the problem frequencies in the mix for that instrument. Add on top of that the 120-band analyzer from the Analyzer plug-in that can be activated at will (pre or post eq selectable), and we have one pleasurable eq experience.
The Master Equalizer is just the Equalizer with a few additional features; two more shelving eq bands (one at either end), three filter types for the five fully adjustable bands, 4x oversampling capabilities, and a larger frequency range from 15 Hz to 30,000 Hz. Supposedly this has higher CPU demand, but in practice I noticed no appreciable differences on my machine.
The Exciter is a straight-forward selectable low bandpass exciter with limited features. Color, Frequency, Drive and Amount are the only four parameters available. I am not someone who typically likes to use exciters, and Vienna's Exciter didn't do much to change my mind. On orchestral sounds, using just a smidgen on the mix did add a pleasurable bit of sweetening; anything more added a harsh hissing type flavor to the mix that wasn't so pleasant to my ears. Using it on more 'electronic' music, it just emphasized why I don't like exciters. Your mileage may vary.
Limiter and MultiBand Limiter
The Limiter is a fairly straightforward limiter with 64-bit floating point resolution that offers controls for threshold, release time with an automatic release control feature, and Ceiling for setting a maximum output level. It also offers a real-time display that shows a graphical representation of the waveform going through it as well as it draws out the attenuation of the limiter as a continuous line so you can see how fast or slow it's reacting to the audio. A very neat feature indeed.
Since my thoughts are the same for the results on the Multiband Limiter, let's mention it here. The MultiBand limiter is a four-band frequency limiter (fully adjustable-any one of the bands can be bypassed at any time) that offers threshold, gain, attack and release controls for each band, and a brick-wall feature that can be toggled on or off.
I really like to push all limiters to the limits (ahem) to see how well they hold up at extreme settings, and here I was very impressed. Extreme bass thump still held together with aggressive electro/metal mixes even when a non-limited signal would have clipped the 0 dBFS master fader by several dB.
As expected, less aggressive material held up just as well. For example, using the bass clarinet preset on a bass clarinet for the MultiBand brought added clarity and definition to the sound in a very natural, pleasing way. The Limiter even held up quite well on full mixes, which was impressive. Overall, both the Limiter and MultiBand plug-ins are excellent, giving you a choice to use the right tool for the right job.
The Power Pan is one of the most useful tools to help with placement of orchestral instruments in your mix. Do you really need those stereo "in the center" recorded double basses moved to the right in the mix like they're "supposed" to be in a full orchestral mock up? Simply "place" them with the plug-in. As with the rest of the collection, the results sounded natural and did an excellent job. Awesome!
Purpose-built quality effects, set up to make mixing and mastering for orchestral arrangements a much easier task, are always welcome in my book... and these aren't limited to orchestral mixes either, as I found out during my review. The CPU hit is light on almost everything, the screens are visually pleasing and easy to read, and with the package price working out to something like 75 dollars per plug-in for such high-quality effects, it's hard to go wrong. Highly recommended.
Devon Brent (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a musician, recording engineer, and murderer of audio PCs, living and working in Jacksonville, FL.