Pro Audio DSP — Dynamic Spectrum Mapper
Over the years Paul Frindle and Paul Ryder the head honchos at Pro Audio DSP has been at the forefront of some of the greatest innovations in digital plug-ins including the previously reviewed Sonnox Inflater.
So one dark and lonely night, trawling through GearSlutz, I came across a thread introducing the Dynamic Spectrum mapper, a new breed of “smart” Compressor/Limiter. With an almost infinite number of potential uses in mixing and mastering popping into my head, I just had to give it a go.
I have learnt from experience that, when it comes to audio gear, it is best not to pay too much attention to your first impressions, not only because your first impressions tend to be visual, but also the fact that initially your own ears are very partial to what you are used to! In this case it was the former that could have fooled me, it has to be said that, for such a forward thinking and innovative plug-in, the GUI is both clumsy looking and outdated.
But boy am I glad that I didn’t trust that initial judgment. This plug-in is indeed the “tour de force” I’d come to expect from the designers.
My first test of the Dynamic Spectrum Mapper was using it as a form of combined “EQ” (even though it isn’t actually EQ’ing anything)/compressor to control unwanted frequency “bulges” that mastering plug-ins such as compressors/clippers/limiters (and indeed the Sonnox Inflater) often produce.
This was done by capturing the EQ’d mix before hitting the other processing (compressors, inflater and clipper), and then using the Dynamic Spectrum mapper after those processes to almost “reset” the spectral balance after it had gone through this processing.
Hallelujah! I had the results I’d been looking for from a multi-band compressor and/or smart EQ that had thus far been so elusive. The biggest difference here is that smart EQ’s had the tendency to make music that was badly mixed sound “thin and brittle”, and that pushing a multi-band limiter too hard made the music sound uninteresting and/or flat. That is not too say that you cannot get great results from either but Dynamic Spectrum Mapper worked flawlessly first time, in half the time and without the aforementioned negatives.
It has to be mentioned at this point that I was very careful not to over compress the program material before coming into the plug-in, as it is very easy to forget that you are actually adding another level of compression, rather than EQ. In fact, it is probably best to consider the Dynamic Spectrum mapper to be much like a Multi-band compressor with a mass of invisible bands to play with.
The next test was to start using it on individual tracks, and where better to start than where DSM is supposed to work best: on lead vocals. If the technical information provided is to be believed, it can be used not only as a leveller, but also as an easy and transparent de-esser and a mic technique correction unit. So was it up to scratch in these applications? Another resounding yes is the short answer. Not only was the particularly “essy” vocal I was working on significantly correct without the classic speech impediment sounding artefacts, but it was also able to level out the audio without even needing a second instance of DSM.
Like with any plug-in, you have to be able to use it right, and with a tool as powerful as DSM, it is very easy to overcook and negatively affect your audio. The most dangerous thing about DSM is that it actually is the most subtle sounding compressor I have ever used. Huh? What? Surely if it is subtle sounding, it is hard to overuse? Actually I’d have to argue that. Because of its subtleness, it is very easy to keep pushing it past the point where you need it when your ears become accustomed to it, because you are used to having to hear a compressor working to get the benefits you need. This means that, when mastering, it is more important than ever to properly reference against commercially released material and also bypass the plug-in intermittently.
DSM is now right up there with my favourite and most used plug-ins. However that doesn’t mean that it is without potential improvement. I just want to outline a few possible upgrades to be considered in future updates, and what better way to do this than with a trust bullet pointed list?
• A more detailed and flexible analysis meter. The current versions meter has a very small display, and it actually shows very little of the low-mid end information, which I find to be the most critical to “de-muddy” when mastering amateur mixes
• A multiple insert based cumulative “average” function to make the best compression algorithm across a whole album
• It may sound stupid, but a nicer looking GUI would brighten my day a little!
Overall DSM is now my go to digital compression plug-in, and further experimentation is going to be done to compare its limiting functions to both PSP Xenon and FabFilter Pro-L.
Plug in Rating [9/10]
Dynamic Spectrum Mapper is available here:
PRICE = £200