Review – MTransient from Meldaproduction
MTransient is a new transient designer plugin from Meldaproduction. It does exactly what it claims to do and then some; it’s easy to use and CPU-friendly. Carry on.
by David Townsend, July 2014
MTransient is a new transient designer plugin from Meldaproduction.
Here’s the short version for those of you who already know all about transient designers: it does exactly what it claims to do and then some; it’s easy to use and CPU-friendly. Carry on.
For those who maybe aren’t so clear on what a transient designer does or why you need one, read on…
What’s a Transient Designer?
A transient designer, also known as a “transient shaper” or “envelope shaper”, is a dynamics processor that detects and reacts to the attack portion of a sound event. It’s most often used on percussive sounds such as individual drums and hand percussion, but it can also be used with any sound that has a fast attack, even such non-obvious things as vocals and acoustic guitars.
Transient designers fall within the dynamic processor family along with compressors, limiters and gates, insofar as their primary action is automatic amplitude adjustments. But unlike compressors, limiters and gates, transient shapers respond to rise times rather than absolute levels.
In a nutshell, what a transient designer does is figure out where the attack part ends and the sustain part begins, and then lets you boost or lower each of those portions of the waveform independently. Take a look at the following bass drum hit, shown before and after using MTransient to add 4 dB to the attack portion of the waveform:
There are two distinct parts of the kick drum waveform: the initial rapid rise from the beater hitting the skin (attack), followed by the ringing sustain from the drum’s resonance. By boosting the attack we’ve essentially changed the beater-to-shell ratio.
Granted, we could have accomplished the same result via mike placement – but only if a) we’re recording acoustic drums and b) we’re the ones making the recording. If you’re working with samples or someone else’s recording, then a transient designer is the only way to achieve this.
Boosting attack tends to bring instruments forward in the mix, since in an acoustic environment the high-frequency components in the transients are the first to be absorbed by the room. The farther away the sound source, the more transients are lost to absorption. We therefore unconsciously associate weak transients with greater distances, and strong transients as being up close.
Not Just for Boosting Attack
Sometimes, we may want to soften rather than exaggerate the attack of an instrument. In that case, just turn the attack gain down, or conversely, turn the sustain portion up. This can radically change the character of a drum, sometimes making it sound as though it’s being hit by mallets rather than sticks. And, as noted above, softening the attack also helps to place an instrument farther back in the mix.
Interesting effects can be obtained by adjusting the sustain portion. Lowering the sustain is equivalent to raising the attack, except that it doesn’t increase peak levels like raising the attack does. Raising the sustain phase while either leaving the attack alone or attenuating it causes percussive hits to sound stretched-out, boomy or ethereal. Sometimes it can result in serious fattening, especially on kicks and toms.
Here are some examples of boosting the sustain portion of a kick drum hit:
The leftmost image is the original kick. The middle image shows the effect of boosting sustain. The right-hand image shows the most dramatic envelope change, where we’ve both lowered the attack and boosted sustain, resulting in a softer, more drawn-out kick sound.
Lowering sustain can be helpful for reducing room ambience when drums or other instruments have been recorded in an excessively-reverberant space. It can also perform a similar function to a gate for reducing microphone bleed on multi-miked acoustic drums.
And Not Just for Drums
Transient designers aren’t limited to use on percussion instruments – that’s just the most obvious application. Put one on a plucked instrument to increase or soften its plucky-ness. Turn a piano into a soft-attack, other-worldly instrument or into a piercing piano-harpsichord hybrid. I’ve even used them on a vocal track where the hard consonants such as “T” and “K” were too forward.
You can even put a transient shaper on a full mix to enhance the snappiness of all instruments (oh, but please be careful if you do this!).
Obtaining Documentation for MTransient
No user manual is installed with the MTransient plugin. Instead, the documentation is available for download in PDF format from the Meldaproduction website, as are the manuals for all of the company’s products. The MTransient user manual is available here.
If you have installed the plugin, either after purchase or as a demo, you can also download the documentation via a shortcut on the plugin itself. Click on the “home” icon in the upper-right and select “Download PDF Documentation”.
As with most Meldaproduction products, MTransient has an Easy Mode as well as a more advanced Edit Mode. When you first bring the plugin up, it’ll be in Easy Mode by default, and that’s a good place to start experimenting.
In this mode, the number of controls is reduced and some broad presets are listed. For most Meldaproduction plugins, Easy Mode doesn’t really do it for me. I usually prefer the more advanced Edit Mode because I want to see all the knobs. MTransient is the exception to that rule, because it’s such a simple plugin that I can usually get the effect I want in Easy Mode.
Along the left-hand side of the Easy screen, there are five easy-mode presets (not to be confused with the normal presets; easy-mode presets are hard-coded and cannot be modified). The first one, “Processor”, is a good one for a quick test and some instant gratification. Note that when you click on a preset, the knobs to the right change to suit the chosen preset.
As with most other Meldaproduction plugins, the concept behind the Easy screen is that each knob is tied to one of four multi-parameter controls. In other words, each knob can control more than one parameter simultaneously. In this particular preset, however, each of the four Easy Mode knobs is linked to a single parameter.
If you switch over to the Edit screen, you’ll see these four multi-parameter controls across the bottom – those correlate directly to the four knobs on the easy screen. If you re-order these controls, their new order will also be reflected in the Easy Mode representation. You cannot, however, create your own Easy Mode presets.
The “Process” Preset Controls
“Attack” applies a boost or reduction to just the attack phase of the incoming signal. In the image at the top of this article, you can see where I’ve added 4 db of boost to the kick drum’s attack. What this sounds like depends on the initial nature of the kick’s unaffected envelope. In some cases, it will dramatically increase the “clicky-ness” if there is already a strong beater component to the waveform. If the raw kick does not have a strong attack already, it’ll just make a bigger boom at the start.
“Output gain” is a simple gain control for the plugin’s final output. Reducing the output level may be necessary when you’re boosting the attack, in order to keep peak levels under control. This does not necessarily mean the volume will be perceptually quieter, especially if harmonic distortion is added. You can also boost the output after reducing the attack amplitude, just like using make-up gain with a compressor.
“Saturation” introduces a small amount of odd-harmonic distortion, which can have a fattening effect on some instruments but may be inappropriate for others. It works well for kicks, toms and snares. This is not a replacement for your favorite distortion plugin, as the amount of added distortion is low even at the 100% setting. It does add some nice coloration, though, even at subtle settings. For drums, I like to crank the saturation up to 70% or more.
“Resolution” affects the precision of the attack detection mechanism, as well as the width of the attack window. The default value will work fine 99% of the time, so don’t worry about this setting until you’ve run out of other knobs to fiddle with.
To get an idea of the range of applications for this plugin, also try each of the four other Easy Mode presets:
- “Shaper” gives you access to an otherwise-hidden parameter that changes the shape of the envelope used for the attack-to-sustain transition. Negative values for the “Shape” parameter result in a gentler transition, positive values make the transition more abrupt.
- “Compressor” applies compression to the effected waveform. If no level changes are applied to attack or sustain, this turns the plugin into a simple compressor.
- “Pumping” produces some interesting effects, even for genres that don’t usually employ pumping compression – experiment with drums, hand percussion and synth leads.
- The “Detector” preset applies no boost, but sets the plugin’s output to send only the detected transients. Weird, huh? Well, there are actually applications for that, as we’ll see below.
The Edit View
The Easy Mode is a great introduction to MTransient, and you may be perfectly content to stay in that view. But if you want to explore the full range of this plugin’s capabilities, you’ll want to click on the Edit button and switch to the Edit (advanced) View.
Most of these controls should be more or less self-explanatory. We’ve already talked about the Attack parameter, which applies amplification to the attack phase. The Sustain slider does the same for the rest of the waveform. Saturation controls the amount of harmonic distortion.
The “Resolution” parameter is one setting whose significance is not immediately obvious. This sets the interval between examining sample values in order to determine whether the rate of change is fast enough to qualify as part of the transient phase.
If resolution is set to a longer value, then the portion of the waveform that’s treated as part of the attack phase will be stretched, perhaps into what’s really the start of the sustain phase. For percussion sounds that have a very short attack phase (e.g. a triangle) it may be necessary to shorten the resolution value. However, I’ve found that in actual practice the 20 ms default almost always works fine on almost any source material.
Here’s a novel application for a transient designer with long Resolution times: removing hard consonants from a vocal. Why would you want to do that? Well, whenever you have unison or harmony overdubs, it’ll be the consonants that have to be precisely lined up in order to make them sound in-sync. It’ll be the consonants that get reinforced to the point of being too loud. When you’re layering tracks for thickness, only the main vocal needs to carry the hard consonants — there is no thickening benefit from three voices making a “K” sound together. So throw on a transient shaper and reduce the attacks for all but the primary/lead vocal.
The “Output” slider in the Advanced section allows you choose between outputting the normal effected signal, just the transients in isolation, or just the non-transient portion of the signal.
Most of the time, you’ll leave this parameter at its default “Normal” setting. If, however, you want to check on how well it’s detecting transients, switch over to “Transients” mode and you’ll be able to hear just that portion of the signal that the plugin has determined to be transients. You can use this information to fine-tune the Resolution and Detector Mode settings.
Here’s a fun application for the Transients output mode: use it as a sidechain source to drive a compressor or gate on another track. This opens up all kinds of creative and surgical possibilities such as ducking the bass just during the attack phase of the kick drum.
Another interesting possibility is separating the attack and sustain portions into different tracks and affecting them individually. Clone the track and insert MTransient on both tracks. Set one for “Transients” mode and the other for “Difference” mode with a negative attack. Imagine a snare hit in which the initial crack of the stick hitting the skin is panned left while the resonance and snare sound is panned right. Or adding reverb or delay to the sustain while leaving the attack dry, or vice versa.
Channel linking is adjustable from 100% (fully-linked) to 0% (unlinked) and anything in between. There are actually two transient shapers in this plugin, one for the left channel and another for the right. As is usually also the case for stereo dynamics processors, the left and right sidechain signals are normally summed before being applied to the VCA. This causes any dynamic changes to be applied equally to both left and right sides, preventing the stereo image from shifting as a result of level changes to just one side or the other.
This can, however, have unwanted side-effects on some wide-panned material. If you are applying MTransient to, say, a drum bus, you may want to try unlinking the dynamics. This can prevent a narrowing of the stereo field, and sometimes gives the drum mix a wider sound.
The Detector Mode parameter lets you choose between three algorithms for detecting transients. The default mode is “Accurate”. It’s the best one for detecting low-level transients, but it comes at the expense of slightly more CPU overhead.
In practice, the detector mode doesn’t dramatically change the effected sound, so you can just think of the three detector modes as three levels of CPU efficiency. “Approximated” is lighter-weight and “Hybrid” is in between “Accurate” and “Approximated”. The plugin is quite efficient, though, so you’ll probably just leave it at the default setting.
The “Level independent” option, which is turned on by default, tells the plugin to treat all transients equally, regardless of their original amplitude. If turned off, louder signals get stronger treatment than do quieter signals. You can think of it as a type of expansion, because louder parts get louder.
This can be a nice effect for very dynamic tracks that have soft passages that you don’t want a lot of attack boost on. More often than not, though, I leave this option enabled. (Note that this does not affect saturation, which is always level-dependent.)
Like other Meldaproduction products, MTransient features excellent metering. There are bar-type meters that show RMS and peak levels for input and output, an oscilloscope, and a “Width” meter. The entire meter panel is floatable, meaning it can be detached from the main form and moved to another part of the screen.
The Width meter is a correlation meter. A correlation meter shows how similar the left and right channels are (otherwise known as “correlation”). The greater the difference (the lower the correlation), the wider your mix sounds. Changing the channel linking parameter can effect what you see in the Width meter.
The oscilloscope display (referred to in the documentation as a “time graph”) lets you visualize the effect that MTransient is having on your audio. It’s a scrolling display, so you’ll want to click on the Pause button to freeze it when you need to do a close examination. You can optionally display input, output and width on this graph.
Here’s a rundown on the other buttons in the meter panel:
A. Toggle between meters and oscilloscope
B. Freeze the display
C. Float the meter panel
D. Disable the meters
F. Hide the meter panel
G. (Hidden in this screenshot) oscilloscope options
Aliasing is sometimes an issue with saturators and distortion plugins, as the generated harmonics can exceed the highest legal frequency for whatever sample rate you’re using. But I’m happy to report that despite my best efforts I was not able to coerce MTransient into aliasing. And that was with oversampling turned off. If it makes you feel better, you can select 2x, 4x, or all the way up to 16x oversampling.
There is another option related to oversampling. Click on the main Settings button at the top of the UI and select “Settings” from the menu. There you will find a checkbox labeled “High-quality upsampling”, and you’ll see that it’s enabled by default. This does not enable or disable oversampling, but rather toggles between two upsampling algorithms. The “high quality” option employs linear-phase filters to counteract the small phase shifts that upsampling can incur. Turning the feature off saves some CPU overhead, and to my ears makes no audible difference.
What Distinguishes MTransient from Other Transient Designers?
All transient designers (see the list of similar products below) do essentially the same thing: detect transients and let you boost or cut them. What’s so special about this particular transient plugin?
Some product differences can be subtle, and mostly involve their ability to correctly identify transients of varying amplitude and to distinguish between the attack and sustain portions. According to the developer, MTransient features a new and superior detection algorithm, which at version 8.03 has also been implemented in his previous transient shaper product, MMultiTransient.
To be honest, I can’t claim to have done detailed testing of every similar product on the market, but I can report this much: MTransient does indeed do exactly what it claims, without artifacts, distortion or aliasing. (And I can also testify that this is not the case for every plugin out there that calls itself a transient designer!)
Another aspect that differentiates transient designers is the degree of control they offer. Some take a fully-automatic “trust me” approach that many users find appealing for simplicity’s sake. Only a few let you dial in precise parameters. MTransient strikes a nice balance in this regard, offering simplicity when you need it and tweakability for those who want it.
But if you really want to get in there and tweak it until you’ve made it your own, MTransient lets you completely customize the transfer function for applying attack gain. That feature is beyond the scope of this review, and beyond what most readers are willing to sit still for, so I’ll leave it to you to discover the transformation dialog on your own. (To get started, click on the “Attack transformation” button at the top of the Basic section.) Let’s just say that it’s a unique feature among transient-shaping plugins.
Like all Meldaproduction plugins, MTransient offers a resizable user interface. Odd as it may seem, this is still a remarkable feature in 2014.
MTransient, as with all of Meldaproduction’s products, is capable of using your video card’s processor to offload some of the graphical overhead for better performance. This feature is currently rare in the plugin world. It’s enabled by default, but can be turned off via the Settings menu if it’s incompatible with your video card, only a problem with certain older adapters.
MTransient is now part of Meldaproduction’s mastering, mixing and total bundles. If you have previously purchased any of these bundles, you’ll get MTransient free of charge. It’s a good justification for scoring one of the bundles if you can afford to – you’ll get any new plugins that become part of that bundle for free, forever.
Even if you can’t swing one of the bundles, buying any single plugin entitles you to free upgrades for life. It’s one of the reasons I like this company, along with 14-day unlimited demos and dongle-free copy protection. And of course, great sound.
SPL Transient Designer ($200). The grand-daddy of transient shapers, this one’s a software emulation of the original hardware device of the same name that introduced the world to the concept of transient enhancement (and coined the phrase “transient designer”). Being based on a hardware design, it’s got a simpler user interface and fewer options, but it’s a longtime studio standard.
Stillwell Audio Transient Monster ($49, $25 for Reaper users).Like the SPL product, Transient Monster has a very simple UI, with just three controls: attack, sustain and output gain.
Native Instruments Transient Master ($119) follows the same simple UI design but adds a “smooth attack” button. This one’s also included in the company’s Komplete 9 bundle.
Schaack Audio Transient Shaper (€49) adds a fourth knob labeled “Drive”, which adds harmonic distortion comparable to MTransient’s Saturation knob.
G-Sonique Transient shaping system + ($16) is the least-expensive commercial transient designer I’ve found. It has “long” and “short” algorithms similar to MTransient’s “resolution” parameter.
Sound Magic Neo Transient (€49) offers a choice of level-independent or peak-dependent processing, comparable to MTransient’s level-independence option. Windows-only.
TransReckon from eaReckon is another brand-new entry (€59). It features sensitivity adjustments, a limiter, and a “listen” mode for hearing only the transients. A unique feature is the ability to configure sensitivity and length parameters separately for attack and sustain, making TransReckon especially useful for enhancing the sustain portion of drums.
Plug ‘N Mix Transcontrol ($49) is purportedly a clone of the PSP Transient Designer.
Voxengo TransGainer ($70) is a little different from the others, with unique features that let you dial in the detector more precisely, such as a transient threshold control and average time between transients. These let you help the plugin ignore false-positives when detecting transients, such as picking up hi-hat bleed on a snare mic.
Looking for a freebie? Transient from Sleepy-Time Records is Windows-only, but free. Although simple, it does offer some advanced features such as manual adjustment for envelope detection and channel unlinking.
Or maybe you seek a freebie that’s also the ultimate in simplicity. Try Bittersweet from Flux (free). It’s got one knob, labeled “Sweet” and “Bitter”, which sets attack gain. Turn it to the Sweet side to reduce attack, or to the Bitter side to increase attack. It also features a choice of fast, medium or slow algorithms, as well as an automatic gain that maintains peak signal level as you tweak the attack.
Another free transient shaper is the venerable Dominion from digitalfishphones. This one’s been around forever. It was my first introduction to the world of transient manipulation, so I have some nostalgia for it. It’s 32-bit only and not level-independent like most newer products, but with a little experimentation it can do quite well.
Waves Trans-X ($100) bundles both broadband and multi-band versions. A sensitivity control helps avoid false-triggers. Another nice feature is an indicator that tells you how much gain reduction is needed to avoid going over 0dB. You might need this, because Trans-X can add up to 18 dB to the attack. It does not, however, offer the ability to adjust sustain independently.
Multi-band Transient Shapers
Because this review pertains specifically to MTransient, a broadband transient shaper, I’ve made no mention of a related class of processors: multi-band transient shapers. These do the same thing, except that they split the signal into two or more frequency bands and treat each band separately, much like a multi-band compressor.
Meldaproduction is famous for making multi-band versions of just about everything, from compressors to tremolo and vibrato modulators. So of course there is a multi-band version of MTransient, too, called MMultiBandTransient ($66).
The primary benefit of multi-band transient shapers is being able to separate out individual instruments in a sub-mix such as a drum bus. It can also be useful for applying transient enhancement to a full mix.
If you’ve never experimented with transient shaping, I’d encourage you to give it a go. It can add snap and clarity to your drums, plus creative possibilities for just about any instrument that has an attack component. Try it on anything and everything and hear what happens. Just be aware that a little goes a long way.
At the time of this writing, MTransient is being offered at a reduced introductory price of just $25, so it’s a low-risk proposition. You can also enjoy a fully-functional demo of the plugin for 14 days with no limitations, noise bursts or dropouts.