Soundways Core Production Bundle Review

By | one month ago
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Overview:

While many producers first focus on purchasing EQ’s, Compressors, and other effect plugins to expand the basic capabilities of their DAW, many of these investments will be for nought if room correction and monitoring issues aren’t dealt with first; after all, the best EQ plugin on the market isn’t all that useful in a room with problematic resonances or with monitors that are hyping one part of the frequency spectrum.  Accurate monitoring is the most important factor to address in any studio, and over the past several years, we’ve seen a handful of new plugin companies aim to tackle the issues encountered in many non-professional mixing environments.

Soundways, a new plugin company, aims to do exactly this with their Reveal plugin, which seeks to clarify the most critical areas of a mix for the human ear and help producers and engineers make better mixing decisions, regardless of their monitoring setup.  In this review, we’ll put the Reveal plug-in (as well as their Core Production Bundle) through its paces to see if it can deliver on its promise of faster, more reliable, and more accurate mixing.

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Setup & First Impressions

Setup for the Core Production Bundle is among the easiest we’ve found in the plugin world, with a generous 14-day fully functional trial and simple authorization. Plugins come in AU, VST, and AAX formats, and in our usage the plugins were both intuitive and relatively CPU friendly.

The Core Production Bundle, which is built around the Reveal plugin, includes two other plugins which aim to help you deliver accurate mixes faster; LowLeveler, which assists with balancing bass levels in the mix, and AFMonitor, which tracks the duration of your mixing session to warn you when you’re likely to be in a state of ear fatigue and prone to making less accurate mix decisions.

Features

Although the Core Production Bundle is comprised of three plugins, Reveal is the main focus of our review and of the Soundways production workflow. Put simply, Reveal is designed to reveal the portions of a mix that the human ear is most sensitive to, and which are the most important when making mixing/sound design decisions. By helping producers and engineers to hear mix problems in their studio by simulating many real world listening conditions, Reveal aims to expand the usefulness and accuracy of your monitors.

Many high end studios - even the largest commercial facilities - still have a pair of trusty Yamaha NS-10’s sitting on their mixing console due to their legendary status with engineers. Although the NS-10’s are not the most high-fidelity monitors ever made, they are extremely useful for their focus on and unflattering presentation of a mix’s midrange content: if your mix is anything less than stellar in this critical region, the NS-10’s will let you know rather quickly. Reveal is essentially a plugin version of NS-10 monitors; most of its monitoring modes focus your ear on this same critical midrange region, allowing producers who either can’t find or can’t afford a pair of NS-10’s to experience this engineering rite of passage.

Opening the Reveal plugin in your DAW of choice, you’ll first notice two rows of buttons; the top row, which has three large buttons, is used to listen to the core frequencies which the human ear is most sensitive to. The second row offers 6 speaker/monitoring simulations, ranging from mobile device playback (simulating what your track will sound like coming out of iPhone speakers) to vehicle analysis, which aims to approximate the “car test” that’s become so critical to delivering a good mix, especially for Hip Hop and EDM engineers. This is a critical part of mixing, and one that often goes overlooked by aspiring producers and engineers; a great mix is not one that only sounds great in your studio. A great mix should sound good everywhere, from festival stages to car systems to iPhone earbuds.

In practice, we found the Reveal plugin to be, well, quite revealing - and useful. We’ve got a pair of KRK VXT 8’s here in the DJBooth studio, and while we love their overall punch, response, and output levels, they are a bit bass heavy and certainly not the most midrange-forward monitors we’ve ever heard. Reveal’s main ‘Critical Listening’ mode did a stellar job of focusing my ear on the midrange of a recent production, making both sound selection and mixing decisions easier and quicker. I was a bit skeptical that Reveal’s Critical mode would do anything more advanced than a multi band compressor set to solo the mid range of my mix would (something I’ve been doing for years to emulate what this plugin does), but I think there is more going on here than mere HPF/LPF filtering.

I also found Reveal’s other modes, particularly ‘FM Radio’ and ‘Mobile Device’ to be very useful as well. Mobile devices in particular can be very unforgiving of overly busy mixes and frequency masking, and Reveal’s mobile simulation helped remind me that less is always more when doing a final mix down.

LowLeveler is an interesting concept which essentially separates the mixing of bass fundamentals from bass harmonics, allowing you to really understand exactly how much bass is needed in your mix (hint: often less than you think, particularly if you’re monitoring in a less than ideal environment). While it would seem that LowLeveler might only be useful for perfecting the low end of a mix, cleaning up the low end often means your entire track becomes cleaner, more present, and is able to be pushed harder into a final limiter with less distortion and sound degradation. AFMonitor is a cool tool as well, and it’s reminders of when you need to take a break are a welcome addition to our studio.

Conclusion / Recommended For

While we couldn’t find any real flaws with the Core Production Bundle in operation, the one issue here is likely to be the price; at $250, this bundle is a serious investment for the average home studio or project studio, especially given the declining prices we’re seeing across most of the plugin market. While I certainly feel the Core bundle is worth $250 and will reap dividends for those who purchase it, I do think many of the producers who could benefit from this plugin the most - those working in home studios with less than ideal monitoring - may not fully grasp how much this can help them and may opt to purchase more flashy effects like analog modeled EQ’s and Compressors. For those who do take the plunge, we do think you’ll find the investment to be well worth it. 9/10.

Pros

  • Extremely helpful in simulating different real world listening environments in your studio.
  • Can be supremely useful in studios with less than ideal monitoring and room acoustics.
  • Like getting a pair of NS-10’s for $250

Cons

  • While useful, $250 price may be too steep for some.
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