Dither is definitely a boring mathematical process that to all but the most jobs-worth mastering engineers is “just done”. Sonalksis have tried to to make this process and display it in a way that musicians will understand and ultimately find easy to use. Have Sonalksis succeeded? Just a one word answer will suffice here: “yes”.
To anyone that doesn’t know what dithering is I will try and give you a very much broken down and simplified explanation as after all this is a product review. Dithering is the process of adding a little noise to a signal to make the mathematics of the audio signal more accurate when you are reducing the quality of a mastered file (bigger file size) to be CD compatible (smaller file size).
Dithering is most often used as the very last plug-in used on any mastering chain. Yes even after the hard limiter (although many limiters have a dithering algorithm built in). Every other dithering plug-in I have experienced is either a simple unchangeable plug-in that only has a control for your output bit depth (for CD quality this is 16 bit) or it also has a noise shaping algorithm option. These algorithm options are usually confusing by being simply being called something vague and un-inspiring like: “noise shaping algorithm one”.
What Sonalksis have done is given you four customisable options each with a sensible and purposeful name (why didn’t anyone think of this before?). Here is a breakdown of these four controls:
- Quantisation: This is the output resolution you require to dither to. A CD is 16 bit.
- Application: Although dithering is 90% of the time used at the end of a mastering chain it is also used every time resolution (quality) is lost. Switch to tracking when there is further processing applied to the signal after the dithering process
- Noise Shaping: The noise shaping algorithms are named: Acoustic, Electronic and Hybrid. Your aim when selecting a noise shaping algorithm is that the noise added is as in-audible and un-intrusive as possible, sounds simple doesn’t it? Except this noise is so subtle that most people won’t hear it and that the noise is hidden in areas of our hearing spectrum that is less sensitive (aka extremely high frequencies). This means that you are less likely to hear the noise on even nearfield monitors and I am guessing that firstname.lastname@example.org do not have access to a large concert venue system to play their masters back on. Sonalskis have taken the guesswork out of selecting the right noise shaping algorithm by giving you a simple selection paramater of whether your music is acoustic (real instruments), electronic (loops,synths and samples), or a mix of both (hybrid) and the noise that consequently will be added is less audible to those applications.
- Character: The character switch also further optimises the quality of the dithering algorithm by allowing you to select whether you audio is Dynamic (contains lot of varying volume levels such as an orchestra) or Compressed (a typical rock/pop song). Don’t ask me what changes this makes to the process and it isn’t really explained in the operational manual, “it just works”.
I really do not have anything negative to say regarding this plug-in. No not even one. The only thing stopping me giving this plug in a 10/10 rating is that fact I know that some people reading this would be questioning whether paying €159.99 for a plug-in that is barely audible on all but the best systems is worthwhile. Especially when dithers are bundled with most sequencers these days. My answer is that anyone serious about mastering their audio for the mass market in mind should seriously consider investing in this plug-in.
Plug-in Rating [9/10]
Sonalksis Ultimate-D is available here:
PRICE – € 159.99 Or bundled with their mastering suite