Where to start when reviewing the Sonnox – Inflator is very difficult, as it is so impressively versatile it can be used to breathe life into a dull individual track, as a harmonic distortion bus plug-in that “fattens”, as an “analogue style” mix bus insert or in a multitude of mastering applications. It is a hybrid exciter/loudness enhancer/soft clipper/tube warmth plug in that is as shrouded in secrecy of how it works as it is lauded as the digital secret weapon for many a mastering engineer.
This is the part of the review where I compare it to other manufacturers plug ins, however there to my knowledge is no real direct like-for-like competitor to Inflator. The closest plug-ins in similarity are Soundtoys Decapitator, UAD’s Fatso (both compressors with harmonic distortion in the vain of Empircal labs Distressor hardware unit) and Waves Aural Exciter (adds harmonic excitement) but none of them are remotely close enough to draw direct comparisons.
I will review the Inflator where in my humble opinion it is best used, which is as a way to squeeze extra RMS out of a master without crushing it to death with a limiter. As any top mastering engineer will tell you the less you do with a hard limiter the better. You will find that with Inflator used correctly you will only ever have to get 1 or 2 dB of gain reduction on a hard limiter to reach a comparable commercial level (sometimes i’ve even not had to use a limiter). Used when mastering Inflator can easily get an extra 3dB of transparent RMS (average volume) out of your master without the squashing/pumping artifacts common of digital compression/limiting. Combine this with with a dedicated soft clipper after inflater you can potentially get even more. One other major plus point is that it also produces results used pre OR post hard limiter, yes that is right POST hard limiter.
Best of all it just sounds warm and “great”. The Inflator is not without some drawbacks, however these problems are easily solved and most of these negatives revolve around how easy it is to misuse and push too far.
I always feel the need to EQ the master both pre and post inflater as it responds best when the signal going in is as flat as possible. It also doesn’t seem to colour the sound as evenly across all frequency areas as you might like but a simple wide Q’d 1dB decibel dip here and there makes it sufficiently flat again.
The inflator isn’t a tool for the novice engineer to take lightly because it can result in a overly muddy mush far too simply. I don’t want to get bogged down with settings in a software review but don’t worry though for all you “n00bs” out there, coming soon there is a tutorial on this very website about how to use this tool effectively for mastering purposes.
Overall if you buy Inflator it will become one of your go to plug-ins in your mastering arsenal. You can really not buy a better sounding or as versatile a tool for increasing perceived loudness than Inflator (especially for its modest price for the amount of use you will get out of it).
What is best about Inflator is that used properly (and after a slight touch of EQ) it has virtually no other negative side-effects.
Plug-in Rating [9.5/10]
Sonnox Inflator is available here:
PRICE – £115.