Article about effects and sounds. Published in AtariMagasinet #2, 2000 (swedish magazine). Translated into english by the author.

Effects and sounds, part 2

In the last issue, I never had the time to write an article, due to some business trips for my work - and I recently came home after a marvellous vacation in Thailand, so it's kind of hard to collect my thoughts about other things at this moment - but I'll give it a try and write something about a very useful studio unit that should absolutely be in every musician's collection of rack units... This article will be somewhat of a separate follow-up to my previous effects article, since this baby deserves some space of it's own.

The company Behringer
It's rather interesting to think about how Uli Behringer started his company 10 years ago, as he started by building his own units since the available ones were too expensive and not really worth their price in his eyes. He started building units for his schoolmates for a very low cost and has a company with over 1000 employees today - talk about development...
The issue with the price is something that's really important for Behringer and I can't help thinking of an old Atari slogan from teh goos old days: "Power without the price". I have to admit that one or two units I've used in the past really haven't been completely pleasing, but the ones that have been released during the latest years really deserve praise!

Behringer Ultramizer Pro
Which superlatives will they find out the next time? Soon they'll be used up: Ultra, Super, Extra, Mega, Pro etc. In this name, there is a combination of two.
Well, Behringer have an excuse, since they have a whole series of units named Ultra- and many of their latest models have names ending with Pro, to point out that they're new and improved models of units that have been around before - but most of all, these units really do deserve those names, which might seem a little too much. Many people still believe that great studio units have to cost an arm and a leg, but luckilym that's not the case with Behringer.

I've used a Behringer Ultracurve for some time now - it's a digital equalizer that's absolutely wonderful to work with. Well - there's not much more to say about it since it simply does what it's supposed to do and noting else, with it's 31-band graphic eq and 3-band parametric (which also can be used as automatic feedback killers). Maybe there will be time to go deeper into the Ultracurve later, but I'll leave it alone for now, since I feel more like writing about one of my new aquaintances - the Ultramizer Pro.

24-bit digital 2-band loudness maximizer, compressor, limiter, enhancer, denoiser and 3D-surround... - all at the same time!
Wow - that's a mouthful! What does it mean?
Well - it's a unit that works as a dynamics compressor, but not just any compressor since it parts the music into 2 bands which are compressed independently, which gives the unit a better control over the output. In normal compressors, you can get an unpleasant effect when the bass drum hammers on, the rest of the music is affected by it and all of the music gets compressed according to the power of the bass drum - that is, also the sensitive vocals and the harmony bearing instruments. Since the highest energy is found in the low frequencies (bass guitar/synth and bass drum), you can gain a lot by separating this from the more tonal contents of the music - so here's two frequency bands to play with, but that's not all. You can also decide at which frequency the split should be made at, in 31 steps between 20Hz and 20kHz - but in the two extremes, the unit works as a normal full-band compressor instead - if you by any chance would prefer that.

The compressor part works somewhat strange if you're used to working with compressors, since you won't find all the usual controls. I don't thinks that's a disadvantage and I also think that non-technicians have a better chance of getting it right - but the first time I was about to make adjustments, I was wondering where they had hidden Threshold, Ratio etc...
Something I should mention as an drawback, is that you can't set the parameters for the two bands individually, but what can you expect for a unit that costs just above SEK2000? They have to make some compromises to be able to keep the price that low. Oe more thing to mention, is that the unit I tested was one of the first - and it had a latency of 35ms (which is much too noticeable to work with in my opinion), but that was quickly fixed by exchanging a PROM to the new version which is mounted in all new units and gives a latency of around 15ms. This latency thing probably needs a quick explanation; it's a delay between the input and the output - and it's necessary because without any latency, the DSP simply wouldn't have a chance to do something about the original signal... A latency of 10ms and lower can't be detected by the human brain according to Behringer's support, so at 15ms - they're very close to that and I must add that the unit is very nice to work with after the new PROM was mounted :)

The Ultramizer uses the incoming signal to set some parameters automatically - but those parameters are also partly influenced by how the manually adjustable controls are set. Behringer calls this "Interactive" treatment and it actually works surprisingly well.

"Density" has a close relative in "Compression Ratio" on a normal compressor. You decide how compact the dynamics should become. "Speed" shouldn't be confused with "Attack" and "Release" on a normal compressor, since it's a parameter that decides the reaction speed for both the compressor, limiter and gain at the output. With a slow setting, you get a milder effect for those moments when the compression should be "inaudible", while a fast setting gives a harder effect and increases the risk for pumping effects. Fianlly there's "Range", which tells the unit how many dB's the original signal may be amplified if it's below the setting of the Limiter - a function that's impossible without digital treatment...

With the Limiter function, you simply say what's the maximum level that mustn't be above. If you set it to -1dB, it stays at -1dB during the peaks - and if you've set a high value on the unit's Range parameter, you can get a very high amplification of the original. This is something you can hear every day at radio ststions, where they constantly compress way too much - but in reasonable amounts, it's a very useful function.

Exciter or Enhancer (whatever you prefer to call it), adds brilliance to the sound without amplifying the noise the way an eq would have. There are two parameters, Process - which decides how much the effects should influence the original, and Tune - which determines the lowest frequency that's handled by the exciter (4-11kHz).
Super bass is the low frequency cousin to the exciter and it adds firmness and depth to the bass frequencies. The same controls as with the Exciter are available, with the obvious difference that the Tune controls sets the highest frequency that's handled by the Super Bass function (50-150Hz).
3D surround enhances the stereo width and is a very nice effect in low doses.

The DeNoiser in this unit works in two different ways, which are controlled by two parameters; Threshold, which sets the level where a noisegate is activated and quiets the output - and Sensitivity, which is a control for how sensitive a dynamic lowpass filter should be. This filter is, apart from the noisegate, active while the music plays and it filters out noise from the signal by detecting the content of the music, filtering high frequencies (where most of the noise is located). If you have music with much high frequency content, the filter is completely or very much open, so all of the musical content gets through - while the filter becomes more active when there's mostly bass contents or more sparingly played music - just when you need a noise filter the most.

On the display, you can see the input signal, as well as how much compression is used and a numeric display where all settings are made by the "jog-wheel".

50 program slots for saving your own settings and 20 of those are filled with factory presets, which you can learn a lot from - and which can be replaced with your own presets. All the effects I've described can be used simultaneously or in any combination - and this kind of effec tis always fun since you don't have to listen to the noise that's added by all analog units.
With it's balanced in/outputs, 20-bits A/D-D/A converters, 46 (sic!) kHz sample frequency and 24-bit DSP, it should be sufficient for most people. Those who need 24-bit converters or digital digital in/out, have to look at the Ultramizer's big brother, the Ultra-Dyne Pro instead - which besides Ultramizer's functions have a tube simulator and gives more possibilities to fine-tune to a greater extent and easy ways to set the - are you sitting down? - 6-band (!!! Look at any competition and compare !!!) compressor part.

The Ultramizer is in short: Very good! A real gem would also be a way of putting it. With it's addition to the sound image and it's possibilities to make dramatic enancements of the music density, it can find a home whether it's at concerts, pro studios, rehearsing studio och home studio. But why should you be satisfied with only one when they're so cheap and do such good work?
If you need even more frequency bands and full control, there's Ultra-Dyne which I mentioned above (costs about SEK5500), but I'm pretty sure that most people will manage nicely with the Ultramizer for SEK 2215...

Have a nice day - we'll see each other soon again,
Claes Holmerup

Oh - where to buy the effect?
Do you really need to ask? ;) (only for nordic customers so far...)