Virtual Mix Rack – Unless you’ve been living in an analog cave (which sounds pretty cool now that you think about it), you’ve heard of the Virtual Mix Rack. Stephen Slate, (a friend of mine known as the “Criss Angel of Pro Audio”) excitedly announced the VMR a year ago and the recording community jumped to its feet in anticipation. The day is finally upon us. The Virtual Mix Rack is here, and we’re taking a look under the hood to see if it’s worth the wait.
Virtual Mix Rack strives for what other software developers try to achieve, but unfortunately don’t: a modular set of plugins. No, these plugins cannot be installed without using a “wrap” to the fact. It may seem a little redundant, but when you see exactly what can be done inside the rap, you’ll see why Slate chose this setup.
Virtual Mix Rack
We saw the beginning of this approach in Slides Virtual Bus Compressors (review here) when we got the VBC Rack option to connect three compressors together. Being able to chain or listen to all compressors in one window was very useful, so the concept went a bit further. VMR includes all common plug-in variants such as: AAX32/64, VST2 & 3, AU and 32Bit RTAS and also makes better use of onboard processing to use more instructions on more tracks. Obviously this is necessary for a plugin that runs more plugins in it.
Virtual Mix Rack
The Virtual Mix Rack uses a 500 series rack that can hold up to 8 “modules”. Currently there are 5 different modules, but future expansion is coming for many different mixing, effects and mastering tools. The style of the 500 series allows for a fantastic combination of modules that can be used in classic and unconventional ways. The cards have an individual function for each module, A/B comparison, presets for each module, as well as a “global” racket. A great thing about A/B comparison is that you can customize your modules and compare the results between the two to choose the best fit. Modules can also be cloned from clone to clone on the host by holding down the “alt” key while moving them in the desired direction. A lot of detail has gone into decorating this rack, right down to the virtual module covers that keep your virtual dust away when not in use. When using a plugin with switchable modules, automation can seem like a daunting task, but rap keeps it internal by providing a letter and number system for each module. Parameters can be found by clicking on the letter above each module on the rack and module. Depending on your host, the parameters will be alphanumeric or really simple names. If you want to display a custom racket for each loaded instance, this can be selected under the default dropdown menu when selecting star. Finally, on top of the wall is a small volume tube that allows linear or rotary knob control. This icon initially fooled us because it looked like a bulky wardrobe decoration.
The board itself is fine, but without the modules you have a well designed box that you can fit in. The Virtual Mix Rect modules shine and the guys at Slate Digital have released some classics.
These modules are painstakingly created by the “master of almost everything” Fabrice Gabriel (the master behind AirEQ). Part of the reason VMR wasn’t released earlier has to do with his and Steven Slate’s perfectionist nature. Like everything Slate Digital puts out, it wants to be as close to reality as possible. Every little nuance of every bit of hardware being modeled was considered and somehow 1s and 0s were magically modeled to behave in the same nonlinear way as their analog counterparts. In addition, Slate has added its own twist to make it even more useful in digital writing. After the analog and virtual dust settled, we were presented with a 4-model version of the device and a Frankenstein tour of Slate’s brain. On the modeled side we have the FG-N, FG-S, FG-401 and FG-116. These plugins are derived from classic pieces of studio gear that have stood the test of time and are on every engineer’s wish list. The last (and free) module is Revival, which is an audio amplifier plugin for low and high frequencies.
The FG-N is based on the Neve 1073 channel strip. Although it only comes with a 3-band EQ, the FG-N has added an additional mid band similar to the Neve 1081 EQ. On top of the 4-band EQ, you get a line amp stage, and you can also push the EQ to distort. A drive button has been added to compensate for the input volume. Another great addition is the elimination of knobs, giving you complete control over what frequency or volume setting you want. The EQ definitely puts some emphasis on the low end, while the high end is also very silky smooth. What I missed was the option to change the low shelf to a ring filter, but other than that, EQ is pretty much the word used to describe the original.
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The FG-S SSL is based on a console channel EQ. It is quite simple and similar to the hardware version. We’ve all used the digital version of this EQ, and it looks great. This unit has a less “sterile” sound than you get with others. This plugin definitely has a feel.
The FG-401 is based on a VCA compressor on an SSL console with a few tricks added. You are given the option to add a transformer under compression to add oomph to the track, as well as 2 circuit paths. The switches are probably the most subtle of the changes, but Slate says the first circuit is more aggressive, while the second is a bit more open and lets the low frequencies come through. One of the big additions to both compressors is the mixing tube, which allows you to quickly add compression volume without installing a sidechain bus.
The FG-116 is Slate’s version of the 1176 FET compressor, of course, with the same mixer knob as the FG-401. While the original Nuke has lost all of its buttons, it has some nice options to complement the device, such as pressing the attack button and bypassing dynamic mode entirely. This allows you to deploy and stage the modeled converter. Another neat trick that most 1176-style plug-ins lack is switching between the input and output switches to change the inputs by connecting the two connections. They say it takes the longest time to make this unit.
Finally, we have Revival, a brand new (and free) mod that adds heat and grit to your tracks. This two-knob module packs a lot of mojo and is a quick fix for a track that lacks low end or high character. Although they are very easy to remove, you can easily use this in all your tracks. I see this plugin as a way to make up for Slate’s years of waiting, and it certainly makes up for it.
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All VMRs are everything they describe. It’s great to be able to create preset channel strips and A/B content from a single window. It also adds more space to your DAW plugins by including the 4 custom plugins. VMR is also quite conservative with its DSP usage. I was able to release VMR to many more plugins than I expected in one session.
You can really tell with so much detail that each instance of a module’s “clothing” changes (all you have to do is open your DAW to check for what we know.) Plugins definitely have their own feel, which is hard to do in a saturated market with analog device emulations (yes, I see the fines). A plugin that I’ll get to later makes it possible to connect them.
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