Review – Crafter’s Pack from Blue Cat Audio Part 3
Blue Cat’s Crafter’s Pack has a wide assortment of useful tools. Here we wrap up our coverage with three analytical tools and a signal router of MIDI and automation.
by David Baer, Jan. 2017
This is our final installment in our trilogy of reviews of the Blue Cat Crafter’s Pack bundle. All items in the bundle are available individually. The three analysis tools being reviewed here are also available in the Blue Cat Multi bundle. Virtually all formats are supported, both 32 and 64-bit. The Crafter’s Pack lists for $399 USD and the Multi bundle for $149 USD. Sales are not uncommon, so discounts can be had with patience.
The three analysis plug-ins examined here all have an important capability in common. Multiple instances can be inserted in a DAW project and they can access each other’s data and activity. FreqAnalyst Multi (and hereafter I’m going to drop Multi from the product names for sake of brevity) does two things: it’s a conventional (although quite excellent) real-time spectrum display and a spectrum difference display. Let’s focus on the first mode for the moment.
When first launching an instance of FreqAnalyst, we see a routing panel into which we can select one or more desired inputs, assign those inputs to lanes for the display curve (which also gives us a color) and provide names for the lanes. I must point out that the name assignment capability isn’t working flawlessly in Cubase 8 and 8.5. It does work flawlessly in several other hosts I tested it under. Hopefully by the time you read this the problem will have been resolved for Cubase, but this is something you should check in a demo download before purchase if you are a Cubase user.
One or more of four types of inputs can be selected: left channel, right channel, channels average and channels max. Then for each of these four choices, you can request to see the real-time curve, a peak curve (ballistics controlled via knobs under the graph area) and an average curve. You can ask for as many of these as you’d like, but each takes up a lane, of which there are sixteen.
Having made your input/lane selections you are presented with the panel shown immediately above. You will see all the curves from all the instances. In this example, there are four DAW tracks being displayed, all of them are stereo averages of instant response. The curve names can be hidden if they get in the way.
But we’re not done with the features. In the Curves subpanel, we see check boxes that allow any of the active lanes to be hidden. To the right of the lane names we see columns buttons A thru D. When one of these is clicked, a snapshot of the corresponding curve at that instant is saved a slot associated with the letter. Below this is a section labeled Memory Slots. Select any of the check boxes and the saved curve will be displayed in the main display area.
All in all, this is an enormously powerful and flexible tool. Once you learn to “drive it”, and the learning curve is not all that steep, you will be in control with very little effort. If you are like me, you will also wonder how you ever lived without just a splendid tool.
I won’t go into much detail about the control buttons on the top and on the bottom of the main panel. To summarize, controls on the top control display attributes (three screen sizes are available), image freeze, which of the two types of display (spectrum, spectrum differences of both), etc. On the bottom are some other controls for screen behavior, etc. Conveniently, one may make changes to these and automatically have all other instances so configured. The documentation is quite adequate and explains all completely.
Of all the analysis tools being covered here, the FreqAnalyst in spectrum mode is probably the one that typical audio engineers will be by far using most frequently. The other FreqAnalyst mode is the difference mode, seen above. On the right is a subpanel labeled Comparison Curves. Here we select any two lanes to be compared and we get a display of their differences. Memory slots are available here as well and the display control works the same as that described earlier.
By the way, Blue Cat does have a free non-multi version of this plug-in on offer. It has none of the multi-signal capabilities of FreqAnalyst Multi, as might be expected. So, if you like what you see here but aren’t ready to commit the purchase funds, check out the free lite version (at the URL found at the end of this article).
The Oscilloscope plug-in is more or less that. It shows one or more waveforms either scrolling or retriggering rather like a conventional oscilloscope display. The first mode is called “flow” and the latter “trigger”. In flow mode, the signal shoots across the display fairly rapidly. The Freeze button on top becomes your very good friend here. Here’s what the screen looks like in flow mode.
The screen shot above shows just one signal, but like FreqAnalyst, up to sixteen signals can be combined. And like FreqAnalyst, four slots are available for saving a display instant. In capturing a signal in flow mode, having the screen resolution zoomed fully out is more or less mandatory. However, once frozen, the signal can be examined in as much detail as need using the zooming display functionality.
There are several situations in which a tool like this can be of value. First, it’s superb for analyzing phase problems between two signals, allowing very precise time deltas to be determined. I think another common use would be when employing a transient shaper plug-in. Oscilloscope in flow mode can show just what the transient shaper is actually doing to the signal.
I found the trigger mode to be a little more difficult to properly control. Above you see a repeating waveform being displayed, zoomed in so that one cycle is visible. So, what we see is reminiscent of an electronic oscilloscope, the kind often on an electronics lab table. I rather think that for most situations in which I needed this sort of capability I would opt to use Melda Productions freebie MOscilloscope. On the other hand, viewing single cycle waveform shapes isn’t something most audio engineers need to do all that often. The primary use, utilizing flow mode, is where Oscilloscope shines, especially in its capacity as a multi-signal analysis tool.
Oscilloscope has one other use: it can display an XY phase-scope picture (also known as a Lissajous plot). In the screenshot above, we see a single cycle wave with complementary EQ in left and right channels. In general, this kind of display is useful in visually ascertaining mono compatibility. A distribution of dots close to the diagonal from lower left to upper right is phase coherent and will reduce to mono with little signal loss. Lots of dots in the upper left or lower right quadrant signify a likely problem.
The last analysis tool on offer is the StereoScope. It basically displays signal strength across the stereo panorama in the same way that FreqAnalyst displays frequency spectrum. In the screenshot below we see the same four channels used in the FreqAnalyst examples, this time displayed by StereoScope in its main mode. Once again, we have multiple signals from multiple tracks available for concurrent display, and we have memory slots for saving pictures of an instant in time.
StereoScope has a difference mode that’s very similar to that in FreqAnalyst. Up to four pairs of signals can be selected and their differences will be displayed. Below is a screenshot of StereoScope operating in that mode.
So, there you have it, three excellent tools for audio analytics. Of them, I find FreqAnalyst to be absolutely indispensable. While I have several other spectrum display tools, including free ones from Voxengo and Melda Productions, FreqAnalyst has become my go-to plug-in, even if I only need to view a single signal and don’t require the multi-signal display/comparison capabilities. I prefer the precision of the display and the overall look and feel to all the others.
Oscilloscope is also invaluable when you need its capability, but that need is much less frequent than a need for a good frequency analysis tool, at least in my own way of working. Of the three, StereoScope is probably the least routinely needed – but that’s for my activities. Obviously, your mileage may vary.
Remote Control is the last item in the Crafter’s Pack and I’m going to cover it only very superficially. I had some usage issues that could not be resolved by publication deadline – I could not get Remote Control to do what I wanted it to do. I’m making no judgements since the problems were likely self-induced and thus the blame is probably not attributable to Blue Cat.
Remote Control is a control signal monitoring and manipulation utility, the control signals being either MIDI, user input via mouse, or host DAW automation. A diagram from the documentation below shows the inputs and outputs. I could never figure out how the automation output was supposed to work, but all the other signal types should be easily understood.
Three versions are available offering 16, 32 and 64 control channels. A collection of skins governs whether the control channels are used for monitoring or control transformations. The screenshot below shows some of both types.
I will leave the reader who’s interested to explore this further on the Blue Cat web site. There are a considerable variety of screenshots for your perusal that can give you an idea of the possibilities.
I suspect the most immediate use of Remote Control would be using it to transform and alter MIDI CC messages. As a Cubase user, my preference would be to use Cubase’s MIDI input transform capability to accomplish this. However, non-Cubase users may not have that option and Remote Control might be just what’s needed to get that job done.
In addition to being found in the Crafter’s Pack bundle, Remote Control can be purchased individually and lists for $59 USD.
Is Crafter’s Pack for You?
In one way, the Crafter’s Pack is an odd assortment of tools. Their purpose is highly diverse … all over the map really. But there are some fabulous tools to be found therein. The Patchwork mini-host is especially valuable. Now that I’ve had experience using it … well, “If you wanted me to give it up, you’d have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands”, as the saying goes. The MB-7 Mixer is a notably useful tool as well. I have also become quite reliant on FreqAnalyst, having now spent some time with it. And there are other gems as well.
Plug’n’Script is certainly unique. It may not be something most producers would feel a need for, but for the serious computer-music hobbyist, it might provide much satisfaction. If Blue Cat delivers on improved UI design capabilities, as has been hinted might be forthcoming, be prepared to see a host of Plug’n’Script applications hitting the freebie sites to all of our benefit.
I find it difficult to believe that there’s anyone who would not want to possess at least a few of the tools in the Crafter’s Pack bundle. The only question will be: are there enough in the bundle that you’d use to make the bundle price attractive, or would going the route of individual purchases make more sense? Naturally, you’re going to have to answer that one yourself.
For more information, visit the Blue Cat web site: