PLUG-IN REVIEW: NOVELTECH VOCAL ENHANCER
Noveltech Vocal Enhancer
Plugin Alliance’s latest offering is the Noveltech Vocal Enhancer – collaborating again with Noveltech, a Finnish development company. The secret ingredient in the Vocal Enhancer’s make-up is called an Intelligent Adaptive Filter (IAF) which promises to take all the hard work out of identifying and selecting the characteristics in a recording that can be enhanced. The GUI allows the user to focus on a specific frequency range between High and Low cut-off filters, and the Vocal Enhancer then works its algorithmic magic to draw out the more “pleasing” characteristics of the signal. The IAF analyses both the frequency and dynamic content in the material to find these favorable sounds.
The two primary settings are the Focus Frequency and Enhancement knobs. Because the Focus Frequency affects dynamics as well Noveltech decided not have this setting display the precise frequency it’s focusing on – apparently with all the processing going on under the hood this becomes an inexact science. Of course, you can hear it (and see it affecting the FFT display). The Enhancement control determines how much effect is applied.
The IAF could be always crunching the entire frequency spectrum above 1kHz; you can think of the Focus control as more of a Q setting that literally focuses the plug-in, however you can exclude as much of the signal as you want using the high and low filters. You can narrow it down to a very small field and Resonance settings on these filters can soften the transition lines.
The metering is self-explanatory, as is the automatic gain control you can use. The software gives you a half-dozen presets that can’t be changed – you can’t store your own inside the plug-in GUI either. You’ll have to use your DAW host’s preset system. A Store button only dumps the current settings into the B side of A/B buttons to let you compare further tweaking with the last good results.
Okay, enough of all this knob-and-button, and GUI stuff – does it actually work?
More to the point, you should ask will the Vocal Enhancer do what you expect it to do? If you’re hoping for a plug-in that can convert a cruddy, dodgy SM58-clone vocal into Neumann brilliance at the flick of a virtual switch, you’ve got the wrong idea. The Vocal Enhancer is a unique effect of its own, a final polish, not a “fix a bad recording” plug-in (although it’ll always help). You can draw comparisons with other plug-ins that add air and presence to material, and the Vocal Enhancer does this very well. It brings in a brightness and clarity, sometimes revealing aspects of the recording you didn’t know were there.
Just don’t get too carried away.
This was a problem I struck immediately. For the review I was using what I consider quite a good vocal recording. After dialing in some nice Vocal Enhancer and listening only a short while, when I bypassed the plug-in for comparison my original material really sounded dull and awful – which I know it’s not. Now I know why Plugin Alliance used terms like pleasing, pleasant and favorable to describe the added character that Vocal Enhancer produces, because you soon come to miss it when it’s turned off. Straight away, I could envisage users falling into a trap of applying Vocal Enhancer to everything until your mix got bright enough to light up a football field. It can add extra sizzle to guitars, keyboards, overheads… anything really. Unless you’re deliberately looking for extreme results as an effect, when adding Vocal Enhancer it needs to be used sparingly and with constant monitoring to ensure against over-use.
One thing lacking was any kind of processing below 1kHz. That’s as far as the low-end filter will go. Plenty of otherwise-good vocal recordings have been spoiled by poor microphone choice or vocal technique, resulting in missing some bottom-end presence. As a vocal enhancer effect it’d be great to have a parameter to enhance bass, too.
So while the Vocal Enhancer isn’t a repair tool, it definitely delivers on what it’s really designed to do – and that’s allow a vocal or instrument track to feature in a mix without a lengthy and volatile plug-in chain needed for providing an edge. The Vocal Enhancer will do it all alone and with a minimum of fuss. The GUI isn’t difficult to get your head around.
It comes in all plug-in flavours and you can try it for yourself for 14 days or watch some good demo videos at www.plugin-alliance.com Price is $199.00.