13 January 2014

Home Studio: Blue Cat's plugins


While crossgrading to PT 11 and missing some of my key metering and analysis plugins, I've found Blue Cat's metering and analysis plugins as firm candidates to fill that gap.
After trying their Meter Pro and Freq. Analyst Pro plugins, I've decided to download their demo versions of all plugins included in their Master Cat's plugins bunde.

This blog entry is all about my impressions after trying such plugins, under Pro Tools 11.

Blue Cat's Meter Pro

To be honest, it takes a while to be used to Blue Cat's user interface. They usually have more knobs and buttons as you could expect but, in 5 minutes, I felt comfortable with this plugin.
The more cryptic aspect was the Crest meter. Since I didn't know for sure what that meter was measuring, I pushed the help button (the one with the question mark) and... oh... oh... oh... the PDF user's manual popped up on the screen (great!).

That Crest meter is just measuring the Dynamic Range, that is, the difference between average and peak measurements. Great.

Once, understood what is behind this meter, I was absolutelly satisfied with this plugin.
It covers any kind of metering system, including the typical (and used-to) K-System meters (K-20, K-14 and K-12) and, I love that kind of cloud events that easily leave you to see how the RMS and Peak RMS are moving in your mix. Really, very good and informative information.
Same cloud system is used for Crest (Dynamic Range), which is really helpful. Click on the image for a full-size pic.

To me, this is a nice combination of the TT Dynamic Range Meter and the meter section of the Inspector XL. I'm only missing rest of analysis tools included in Inspector XL and the Mono button of the TT Dynamic Range. Related to the dynamics / volume / loudness meter, Blue Cat's blended TT Dynamic Range metter and Inspector XL meter and, even improved those.

While I can save some money, I am using Blue Cat's Meter Pro demo version (which goes in bypass mode from time to time but, allows me to get the sense of loudness and Dynamic Range of my mixes, anyway).

Blue Cat's Freq. Analyst Pro

Well, here it cames most of the rest of analysis tools I was missing, respect of Inspector XL plugin.
While in Inspector XL everything was integrated under a single view, where you had all needed information (Stereo image, correlation, stereo balance, frequency analysis -FFE, 1/3 octaves, frequency loudness- and, even oversampling metering!), you can cover all that with three Blue Cat's plugins.

This particular Blue Cat's plugin gives you all info related to frequency analysis. It leaves you to focus on RMS or peaks for both channels, each separatelly or everything together.

It has a 2D and a 3D display. Ok the 3D is just a nice display enhancement but, adds no real value to the information displayed in traditiional 2D mode. The really exciting part is the one that allows you what to display at any time. I'm missing the 1/3 octave display of Inspector XL but, to be honest, this was the less used of all meters.

Overall, the plugin is a very good analysis tool. The pity is that you have to pay it appart of their Meter Pro and, we have still a pending plugin to cover every Inspector XL meter.

Blue Cat's StereoScope

This is the third Blue Cat's tool that completes the range of meters included with Inspector XL.
Here we have the representation of the the stereo image, in an unusual but practical way and, the phase correlation and stereo balance typical meters.

With those three tools, all the metering tools available in Inspector XL and, the metering info from TT Dynamic Range meter are on your hands (except for that Mono button of the TT Dynamic Range meter and, the 1/3 Octave analysis from Inspector XL).

But parameters to set up the wanted accuracy and thresholds of metering are adjustable, while in the mentioned plugins, it was not possible.
Because of such a personalization level for each plugin, I can understand why they are being delivered as three independent plugins. Each one is just doing a certain task but, all them are doing it in a very good way.

BlueCat's Dynamics

As in the case of Sonnox Dynamics plugin, BlueCat is offering a single plugin that covers most of Dynamics tasks.

It can be a bit cryptic to understand at a first glance but you have there full control on your dynamics.
The input section has a gain control that you can use to provide some gain to the input material before applying any dynamic tool.
A side-chain section allows you to filter the mid band of frequencies that will be affected by the dynamics tools (the side-chain section of Sonnox is more complete, in this case).

The filter on section allows you to remove any unwanted low and high end frequencies from both, unaltered signal and compressed signal (two shelves filters).

The Stereo section allows you to work with linked channels, independent channels of M/S.

Mode section allows you to work with any range of behaviour between a typical compressor and a fast-reaction Opto-compressor and, any mix between focus into peaks or RMS values.

The cryptic Low Curve corresponds to a Gate and allows you to filter those events which loudness is under a certain gain level.

The High Curve corresponds to a typical compressor effect and, allows you to clearly define threshold, knew spot and type, among compression levels.

The Gain section, when working in auto-gain mode, pushes the mix really hot and, reacts to the envelope of the input material with accuracy.

In the Output section, we have the possibility to engage a Brickwall limiter, to push the output (once post-processed) with an additional (clean) gain and (this is really exciting), to determine the amount of unprocessed and processed signals that are blend in the output.
This blender knob allows you for parallel compression, which works really natural.

This is a very good and transparent dynamics processor, without any doubt.
It has some thing that I cannot find in Sonnox Dynamics but, Sonnox has other things (as the Warm or the more complex EQ section) that I cannot find here.
Not exclusive, both are good tools for the proper case.

In the master channel, I made some comparisons by using the IK Multimedia OptoCompressor, the Blue Cat's Dynamics S, Sonnox Dynamics, and the Avid Dynamics III.
I loved the results of all, except the Avid one.

Since the Blue Cat's can behave as a regular compressor, as well as an optocompressor and, everything in between (there is a blender knob that allows you to select the mix of both behaviors!), it can sound quite well the same as the IKM optocompressor but, less coloring (at 100% Opto).
But, the setting at noon (50% VCA-Opto) with 50% Peak - RMS compression works really nice, with a sligth touch of color.

I don't like the auto-gain mode but, love the 2 stages oversampling control.
Overall, a very good compressor, with great dynamics controls, very intuitive, very useful.

That possibility to blend the effects of an VCA and an Opto compressor is unique in my Dynamics plugins. In the case of IKM you can select several different compressors and, for some, you can even select a different mode or algorithm. Same for Sonnox Dynamics, where you can choose a normal, classic or linear mode. But, in Blue Cat's you can blend the amount of the VCA or Opto effect, what gives you new possibilities.
The IKM Opto doesn't allows you to select a knee and, the Sonnox allows you to define knees as steps of -5dB (-5, -10, -15 and -20dB). The Blue Cat's one allows you to define the exact knee.

With all three you can achieve nice results, and very similar, in fact. Maybe the IKM is just a pinch warmer (if you don't use Sonnox Warm stage).

Blue Cat's Parametr'EQ

Ah, just a 7 bands EQ, right?.

Whatch out!. Nice EQ plugin here!.

It can seem just a typical 7-bands EQ, as the one coming with PT 11 or, the Sonnox EQ plugin but, while the Sonnox EQ plugin has 4 o 5 different EQ modes, this plugin has a lot of nuances.

The key feature is under those little windows named "Non Linear" and "Comp Dist". By changing the ratios on those windows, you have EQ filters that behave very differently, from transparent non linear EQ to colored EQs with phase distortion.
You can choose your color with perfect accuracy and, results are easily heared.
Very recommended EQ plugin, for every task except, maybe, dramatic cuts or de-essing.

Blue Cat's Liny EQ

Well, I didn't tried this plugin. I've forgot to download and install it.
But, if it is able to enhance the Parameter's plugin with Non Linear at 100%, I bet it would be a very good pluging for mastering tasks.

But, to be honest, I cannot say anything about it. Nothing good, nothing bad.

BlueCat Multiband MB-5 processor

Multi-band compressor lovers can go mad with this 5-bands compressor. While most of multi-band compressors are limited to 4-bands, BlueCat's one can work with up to 5 bands and, the most interesting is that you can easily change the crossover areas for each band, as well as any kind of dynamics parameters that you would find in their Dynamics plugin.

Demo version allows me to play with just three bands but, control level over each band is impressive.
Once more, that blender knob in the master section is an awesome tool to make this multi-band processor to enhance the mix doing a parallel compression.

BlueCat Protector

That's theoretically a Brickwall Limiter.

But, while Sonnox Limiter, Massey 2007 Limiter or IK Multimed Brickwall Limiter are intuitive and easy to use (ceil clearly means ceil, max. output level means max. output level), this BlueCat Protector isn't so intuitive.
And, if you look to Avid's Master Meter plugin, the Protector isn't completely protecting your output, since it's generating overasampling events that will translate to clipping events in some players.

To be honest, none of the Limiters mentioned are protecting you 100% but, I clearly prefer the easy to understand interface that other breakwall limiters offer.
What's this trend to change the very well known buttons / knobs / functions?.
This helps to who?.

I'm missing also the dithering controls of the Sonnox Limiter, that are really usefull to check you compression levels before bounce the mix to a lower resolution format.

Not really excited with this BlueCat's plugin, to be honest.


I am very happy to have been discovered Blue Cat Audio. They seem to be doing a great job for a reasonable price.

All plugins are awesome but, I liked specially their Meter Pro, which is now my to-go meter (finally, I can say good bye to Inspector XL and TT Range Meter). I love that kind of density clouds that allow you to see where your RMS and Peaks sit the most, even more interesting than to see the bars go up and down.

To complement the Meter Pro, the  StereoScope is a good plugin. I would prefer some alternative ways to present the Stereo density, as the typical views you can find in most of this kind of plugins but, this is just my personal taste. And I would prefer this plugin to be integrated together with the Meter Pro, to have just an slot busy in the master inserts.

As a final complement to the metering section, the Freq. Analyst gives you loudness by frequency, in several ways but, as the previous one, I would love to have it integrated in the Meter Pro plugin, to have all the info ready at a glance and, to save slots in the master bus.

I am gratefully impressed with their Dynamics plugin. Compared to Sonnox and IK Multimedia plugins, Blue Cat is offering more control and possibilities, with a very intuitive use. The special features that allow you to blend two types of compression: VCA and Opto, that Blender knob that allows you to decide which amount of the unprocessed signal (dry) is in the mix and, the possibility to blend compression based in RMS, Peaks or both, are very impressive and very well welcome.

Their Parmetriq EQ is made in the same way, allowing you to choose between non linear and compensated distortion, with anything in between, making the EQ as colored as you wanted.

Their 5-Multiband and Linear EQ are a plus for mastering tasks but, those are the ones with less use in my case.

Probably, the only plugin that I didn't liked is their Protector. For brickwall limiting tasks, nothing else like Sonnox Limiter, IMHO.

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