CTC-1 Pro Console Shaper Plug-in for Studio One by Presonus
Studio One is breaking ice again by being the first DAW to integrate a console shaper deeply into its system, bringing an analog mixing desk experience into the digital world.
by Alex Arsov, Mar. 2017
A Revolution in a Zoo
I’ve been expecting this for years, and I’m not sure why no-one has tried to integrate anything similar into any other DAW before. A while ago, when I was visiting my friend – one of the best mixing engineers and producers in our country – I asked him what the secret of his sound was. He surprised me with a question: “You know which is my favorite effect?” I said: “Yes, distortion.” (He had mentioned that on several occasions.) “So, basically, I slightly distort every sound through my hardware mixing console. It adds an analog distortion, which is so pleasant, giving that special character to almost every sound. That’s why I’m still using that old mixing console.” I instantly thought, this is something that every DAW should have. Lately I got hold of CTC-1 from Presonus and I’m sure that similar plugins will become a standard part of every DAW sooner or later. Until then, Presonus is the first in the field.
What Is It All About?
CTC-1 is totally integrated inside Studio One, so you can’t use it on any other DAW. Although there have been a number of plug-ins that emulate console bus and summation behavior in the last few years (examples: third party add-ons from the likes of Slate and Waves, DAW enhancements from Cakewalk), this one is different. All those others are implemented as insert plug-ins. CTC-1 is directly integrated into the software bus/mixer processing. So, there are some similarities with console emulation plug-ins, but CTC-1 is not the same thing as plug-in implementations.
It works through bus channels and on the main output (not on all, just the ones you select). It is not a standard insert plug-in because Studio One has added an option on all buses and output channels to insert the so-called Mix effects that are inserted into a separate slot in the insert rack. All effects inserted in the Mix slot are processed on all channels that are connected to this particular bus. So, when you put an instance of CTC-1 onto any bus, it affects every channel separately inside the bus and not directly the bus itself.
CTC-1 emulates three different mixing consoles. First is the Classic British console, which adds a bit more weight to the bottom end, then the Vintage Tube console with a slightly boosted mid-range, and finally the Custom Analog console, where the Presonus team took the best parts from both consoles and made their own. At first I chose only one for the whole song, presuming that old mixing engineers also worked with just one, real console but somehow I didn’t like the end result, as there were no big distinguishing characteristics between guitars, bass, drums and vocals. So, I decided to try an “idiot approach”, using different consoles on various bus channels, and was somewhat more pleased with result.
I added Classic British on drums, trying the same on bass, but I found that although it gives a more rounded low end on bass it suddenly loses definition on small speakers. So I tried Custom Analog, since it more or less leaves the signal as it is, just adding its magic. Then I processed guitars and synths with Vintage Tube and used Classic Analog on vocals. A few tweaks on all three consoles and I got my starting points for the whole project. I was never good on details, specially on those that only some selected gurus can hear, but the end result was noticeable better. CTC-1 adds bite to all songs. Guitars, drums and all instruments sound snappier. In rock production guitars suddenly start barking. CTC-1 finally gives me an answer as to why all big studio guitars and drums are so much more vivid and aggressive in some way. Not a million miles of difference, but still noticeable enough to hear how everything gets some additional drive. When I asked for this one I was afraid to ask myself what if this would be another one of those things that draws a smile on an experts face, explaining what a big difference they hear while stupid ignorant me hears nothing. Not that I hear much difference on separate instruments, obviously I’m a bit deaf in that field, but there is a significant difference that can be heard on groups of instruments, as for the whole mix. I just tried not to overdo it with the controllers, since adding too much can make the whole mix sound even worse than it was before.
All three consoles share a similar number of controllers. First in line is a Drive section, with a big knob for adding drive / analog distortion to the signal, with two additional switches, the first one for turning Drive on or off and second one for boost, adding an additional 18 dB to the input stage, overheating the signal if the input signal is too low to be affected. CTC-1 works on the same principle as all real analog consoles – the hotter the signal, the more distorted it will be. So, being far away from 0 dB will not give you much distortion. The next one in the row is a Noise button with on/off switch and Noise gate switch. Noise on just a few tracks can sound quite subtle, but having noise on 40 or even 60 tracks could also be quite subtle until the break or any quiet part arrives – that’s the moment when you figure out what this Gate button is for.
Next is a Crosstalk option, a clever programmed device that offers the same behavior experienced with analog consoles, adding bleeding to other tracks depending on the horizontal track position in editor. The closer the track in a row to other tracks the more bleeding you will get into those other tracks. Ideal for drum tracks and, in my experience, also vocal tracks, especially if you have plenty of background vocals.
There is also a Character button that emphasizes the general character of chosen console, maximizing the characteristics of the console.
Finally there is a Master level knob along with Channel / Bus gain compensation. CTC-1 by default takes care that the general level on a bus channel will not be changed, same goes for all channels inside the group. Those knobs are there to tame the compensation and level variations to your taste.
I’m not an expert with an ultra skilled ear, but you’d be really deaf and dead to not hear the difference. It adds this special something to the sound, beefing it up, making it more vivid and adding that “something” that’s lacking from your well balanced mixes. I saw some presentation clips on Youtube and can confirm that on a bad mix even the gods can’t make a difference, so don’t expect that from CTC-1. But if it happens that you beefed your mix up to the maximum level and it still doesn’t have that extra bit of mojo, then CTC-1 can help, as WD-40 would do to your old bike. As I wrote at the beginning, this is something that every DAW should have. Studio One did it again, being the first one to integrate an analog console into a digital DAW. A perfect match – and maybe a perfect time for my dear friend to sell his magical analog console and change his DAW. Maybe it doesn’t look like anything special at first sight, but with CTC-1, Studio One made one of the biggest steps of any DAW in the last few years. A plug-in that is far more than just that. Virtual reality that’s becoming less and less virtual.
Any Room For Improvements?
Of course. Crosstalk also picks some other tracks from other buses and also from the muted tracks, so this is something that deserves at least an option to control. As far as I know, this is something that is also present in a real consoles, but sometimes too much reality is almost like, er… too much reality. I would rather see some additional Crosstalk option increasing bleeding from upper channels toward the bottom ones (for drums, of course). After all, we are still in the virtual domain, so nothing should be impossible. Also, it would be nice to use it as a post fader, affecting the affected signal, ones that are already processed by plug-ins and not just the dry signal. After all, all my guitars are recorded dry, being blessed with amps internally, after the CTC-1. OK, it is just a 1.0 version, so I presume some of those issues will be sorted even before this article will see the light of day. Until then, enjoy the revolution.
More info on the Presonus site. http://www.presonus.com/press/press-releases/CTC-1
You can get CTC-1 for $99 USD – a bargain for three analog consoles.