NYCompressor review – AU compressor added to DDMF’s iOS app lineup

Download from iTunes App StoreA little while ago, I posted reviews of the  6144 EQEnvelope Reverb and Nolimits iOS audio effects/processor apps from DDMF and developer Christian Siedschlag. All of these are very capable audio processors in their own right but, given the desire from many iOS musicians to see the AU plugin format really take hold, the fact that they are also available as AU plugins only is also of considerable interest.

6144 EQ is a AU-only format equaliser plugin whose inspiration was the highly regarded Neve 5033 hardware EQ processor. Envelope Reverb is perhaps less directly related to a specific bit of original hardware but it provides a very good algorithmic reverb effect. No Limits provides a very smooth sounding limiter app that’s great for use on a drum buss or master bus or for using in a mastering signal chain. All of these apps worked very smoothly for me when used within AU hosts such as Cubasis and AUM.

Anyway, DDMF have launched a further iOS AU audio processor app a week or so ago; NYCompressor. This is a further port from DDMF from their desktop plugin collection (it is around €34 on the desktop). It requires iOS9.3 or later, a suitable AU host, is universal and a 32MB download. The iOS app version is priced at just UK£8.99/US$8.99 which, if it is as good as the desktop version – and offers the same boutique/classic analog-style compression sound – could be money well spent given just how important compression is to the average music production.

NYCompressor – a boutique ‘analog hardware’ vibe from DDMF.

What’s in the box?

The compressor can work in mono or 2-channel mode. The latter offer independent L/R compression or a mid-side option. Ratios of up to 10:1 are supported along with hard or soft knee compression curves. If your host supports it (er….  and most iOS AU hosts do not as yet), then the compressor also provides side-chain inputs with key signal filtering also an option. This is perhaps something for the future under iOS but I guess it will come at some stage.

However, perhaps the most useful feature – and the one that gives the app its name – is the option for parallel compression. This ‘New York’ compression technique is designed to let you to blend together a ‘dry’ version of your audio alongside a compressed version. On old-school analog mixers this involved setting up a separate buss track that was passed through the compressor and sending to that buss from your ‘dry’ track (like sending to a reverb effect). However, used in this way, the compressor was often driven very, very hard and then this over-compressed signal blended with the dry signal as a means of raising the overall volume level of the track in quieter sections but without squashing the louder peaks (these are still heard clearly via the dry track). You decrease the dynamic range of the track (compress the dynamic range) but by raising the lower level signal rather than squashing the louder parts…..  It’s a very different end result but can work really well of some audio signals.

The AU format means you can run multiple instances of the plugin within a suitable host.

Anyway, NYCompressor does away with the need for all the faffing about with a buss track and a send because, like many software effects today, it includes a wet/dry control so you can simply blend the dry and compressed signals to taste using that; much easier :-) And, of course, the AU format means you can also run multiple instances of the app within a single project…..

Eye the UI

As with some of the other DDMF iOS apps, the UI is very much in the ‘retro hardware’ style and I think that’s a fair reflection of what’s being aimed for in terms of sound also. Two large VU meters dominate and, by default, show input and output levels but the right one can be toggled to show the amount of gain reduction if preferred. This would be my choice….  I like to be able to see just how much (or how little) I’m taking off the top of my louder audio sections…. You can also toggle on/off a soft knee option (so the compressor comes in more smoothly around the threshold level set) and a bypass button is also included.

Underneath the VU meters, the bulk of the retro knobs are fairly typical of a decent compressor so you get Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release and (make up) Gain. These give plenty of control and the ratio knob allows a maximum of 10:1 so you can get pretty squashy….  if you require any more and perhaps you need to go for DDMFs NoLimits instead to control your dynamics?

My only technical glitch were some rather wacky graphics within Audiobus…..

The only ‘extra’ knob in this section is the Wet control and, as you might expect, this allows you to set the wet/dry balance so blending the compressed signal with the uncompressed one. Note that, as far as I can tell, the Wet control comes after the VU meter so the gain reduction or output level that you see displayed there only really reflects what’s going on with the ‘wet’ element of the signal chain.

As described above, on a compressor, wet/dry balance allows you to either be more subtle about your compression or, if you want, you can simulate the whole New York compression approach with a high compression ratio/low threshold and blending the dry and compressed signals to taste. This allows you to still hear (in part) the uncompressed peaks in your source audio and, by adjusting the wet amount, blending in a super-compressed element….  and as you increate the wet amount, you add more and more of the compressed signal in….  Because it is compressed, it starts off quieter than the uncompressed sound with lower ‘wet’ levels and, volume wise, is most noticeable when the uncompressed signal is also quieter.

The end result is that the quieter sections of the audio get made a little louder and, as you wind up the wet control, that effect is enhanced….  but while still preserving things like the transients of drum hits as these are still heard via the dry signal. OK, so there is not quite the same flexibility that you get in doing this the ‘old-school’ way via a buss (you can, for example, add some overdrive to the compressor on a buss to get some nice extra grit to the sound) but it is a heck of a lot easier to set up.

A side (-chain) issue

NYCompressor offers a couple of other headline feature.The first of these is that it features a side-chain input. In the world of hardware and desktop software compressors, where side-chains are very common, this allows you to control the compression on one track (say on a bass guitar) based upon the volume of another (say the kick drum). In this drum based example, the approach might be useful as you could use this arrangement to reduce the volume of the bass whenever the kick drum hits, thus ensuring that your kick drum always punches through in the mix. There are, of course, lots of other potential applications for side-chain inputs….

The inclusion of the side-chain feature here is great and simply reflects DDMF porting over the same feature from the desktop version. There is, however, a bit of a fly in the iOS ointment; in order to use it, your iOS host for NYCompressor needs to support side-chain audio routing and, frankly, not many iOS DAW/sequencers currently do provide this feature. For example, it’s not part of the Cubasis spec and AUM, even with its useful audio buss options, doesn’t allow this kind of audio routing. Auria Pro has side-chain options within the PSP plugins that are part of the app’s overall spec but, unfortunately (unless I’ve missed something), doesn’t seem to offer side-chain support to other 3rd party plugin apps.

Compared to the Cubasis stock compressor, the differences in sound were perhaps subtle…. but NYCompressor does perhaps deliver a little more analog warmth when pushed a little harder?

This is all a bit chicken and egg because the DAW/sequencer developers might only start to offer this when a few 3rd party apps exist that have side-chain inputs….  and….  well, you get the idea. Incidentally, this is an option that really only arrived in the desktop music production world fairly late in the day….  iOS will catch up but, for now, this is perhaps a feature for the future in NYCompressor.

It takes two

The other interesting – if perhaps more specialist – option the app provides is a separate two-channel mode. This is toggled on via the ‘2 chan’ button located to the bottom-right (when the app is in single channel mode). While the ‘1 chan’ mode can be used for both mono and stereo operation, if you feed the app with a stereo signal, the same compression settings are applied across both channels. In 2 channel mode, this opens up a second set of independent controls so you can adjust the compression of left/right side of the stereo image independently if you wish.

Its possible to think of certain circumstances when this might be useful. For example, if you have a group buss or a sub-mix for your various guitars and want to stop a loud guitar panned hard right from compressing a software guitar panned hard left, then this option would allow you to adjust the setting accordingly. Of course, it might simply have been better (easier?) to have sorted out the compression of the two guitars before you pre-mixed then to a stem or sent them to a buss…  but that’s a different issue….  and doesn’t stop this being a useful option to have available.

The 2 channel mode can be used for L/R or mid-side processor.

Perhaps more interesting is that the 2 chan mode also allows you to toggle to a mid-side compression option. For a stereo sound source, this means you can set up different compression setting for the material panned to the centre and the material panned to the sides. Again, you might do this with a sub-mix/buss but it might also be a useful option during mastering as it could allow you to manipulate the stereo balance in some useful ways…..  perhaps using the compressor to change the emphasis in the mix between the centre and sides of the stereo image. Yes, you would want to keep this subtle but, again, it’s a useful option to have around.

I heart NY

So much for the technical stuff; how does NYCompressor operate in practice and what does it sound like?  Well, side-chain aside (and that’s not DDMFs fault), the app performed pretty well for me during my own testing on an large format 1st gen iPad Pro and using the latest version of iOS. I tested within Cubasis, AUM, Audiobus and Auria Pro….  and the only real issue I faced were some rather squashed graphics within the AU window of Audiobus. Otherwise, all was good and, given just how commonly you need compression within an average mix, the multiple instances offered by the AU format is a distinct positive. The app does work as a stand-alone processor also if you have a need for that in some circumstances.

In terms of sound… well, perhaps the answer to that question is a more subtle one? I’ve commented below here on the blog about the ’boutique’ plugin market on the desktop. The stock EQ and compression options offered with most lower-end desktop DAW/sequencers do a decent job but tend to be a bit vanilla in terms of sound. That’s not a bad thing and, often, you want something that just does its job with a minimum of fuss or colouration.

However, one of the things that made some classic hardware EQs or compressors so popular was that, in doing their ‘job’, they also added a certain character to the sound. That might have been some tonal or harmonic content….  ‘analog warmth’ perhaps? And, of course, plugin developers on the desktop (for example, Waves Audio) have attempted to replicate that ‘character in software emulations of that classic hardware (just like amp modelling software aims to capture the tone of classic guitar amps). Do they succeed? Well, that’s a good question…..  and the answer is perhaps a qualified ‘yes’…..  and perhaps depends upon how hard you push the software and just how big a part those emulations are in your overall sound.

So does NYCompressor also bring some of that boutique vintage hardware vibe to your sound? Well, a quick comparison between the stock Cubasis compressor and NYCompressor replicated my own experience for making similar comparisons on the desktop. For routine compression duties, where the compressor is being used in a fairly gentle fashion and auditioned on a single track, I’m not sure many folks would really be able to play ‘spot the difference’ with any certainty. For this kind of task, perhaps the key issue would be whether NYCompressor offers you a better control set to work with than your alternatives….   and some DAW stick compressors can be a bit limited in this regard.

NYCompressor sounded great on drums or, as shown here within Cubasis, on vocals.

However, where I think these boutique ‘vintage’ emulations do sometimes score is when the compression is pushed a little harder. If the code behind the emulation has properly modelled the way those old-school analog components responded, then maybe you get just a touch more sympathetic response from the plugin – and a touch of that analog magic? – as you drive it a bit harder. Does NYCompressor offer that? I think it does….  but as with the original hardware, the differences can be quite subtle when we are talking about a single source.

Of course, if you like that subtle difference….  and then multiply it up across all the tracks in your mix….  then maybe the overall effect (sum of the parts) is a mix that is, overall, just that bit more cohesive and ‘analog’ sounding? There might be other ways to achieve this in the software world but applying multiple instances of NYCompressor at those key points in your mix is one way to – little by little – work towards that vibe. No, it’s not a magic ‘phat and analog’ button….  indeed, it’s more like that subtle spice you might add to a complex bit of cooking…. but getting a great mix is generally about the sum of getting lots of small decisions right rather than simply pushing up the faders and then searching for a single plugin instance that makes your mix sound ‘finished’. That sort of magic bullet doesn’t really exist…..

Anyway, the bottom line here is that NYCompressor is a great addition to your compression options. It’s perhaps not an essential purchase for everyone but it offers a cool vintage vibe, a classic set of compression controls, good metering and copes with almost any typical compression task. The New York style compression options is great to have and, from a technical perspective, the AU format a big plus. Better than other compressor apps? That’s a subjective call….   and also one where the answer may vary depending upon the task in hand…. but is certainly sounds good on almost any type of audio material.

In summary

I’ve enjoyed all DDMF’s iOS ports so far so let’s hope that others might follow. If you haven’t checked out the original reviews of either 6144 EQEnvelope Reverb or NoLimits then do so….   all are very good and well worth a look. Otherwise, NYCompressor is a solid performer, brings the benefits of some analog-style sonics, easy parallel compression and the convenience of the AU plugin format. There is little not to like and, if you like to experiment with your compression options, this is a tool well worth having in the bag. Hit the App Store download button to find out more.

NYCompressor

Download from iTunes App Store


The video below is based on the desktop versions of DDMF’s plugins…  but worth a look as the basic operation is the same under iOS.

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    Comments

    1. Luis Silva says:

      Expensive. For this price you have a complete pack of good audio effects from Steinberg to Cubasis.

      • Hi Luis…. maybe…. maybe not…. I guess it depends on a number of personal things about your recording habits, workflows and attitudes….. The Steinberg FX packs in Cubasis are great and excellent value for money…. but if you are happy to keep hunting for different stuff (including compressors) to give yourself more options and some processors with some sonic character as well as a functional role, then apps from the likes of DDMF are certainly worth giving a spin….. Best wishes, John

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