Todd Urban Interview
Part 2:"There's one person that I would like to do a record with now, and that's Sade..."
In the second part of the interview with Al Schmitt we will once again return to the times when there was no digital. We will also talk about today's music, full of compression and lack of dynamics. We will talk about his path to the Grammy Awards, the art of catching the "right moment" in the studio, we will also meet those who unfortunately are no longer among us.... Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis and the king, Elvis Presley....
If you read the first part of this interview (link here), you will surely know how unusual the mood was created during this conversation. When you have the opportunity to have a moment of contact with a man with such an amazing life, when you have the opportunity to listen about so many wonderful moments that shaped the music... in the air something extraordinary is produced... spoken words turn into images and when the author of these words is Al Schmitt, these images are additionally filled with music, which awakened by the memories of Al starts to play, tearing down barriers between you...
This is an extraordinary moment, which will certainly not be repeated in the same form ever again... Perhaps that's why I've been looking for words to the introduction of this and the first part of this interview for so long...
For many, he is the best translator between the inspiration of the musician and what moves us later when we approach the speakers... Ladies and gentlemen, for the second and I hope not the last time, Al Schmitt....
Adrian Lucas Witaszczyk: Todd, let's move into software territory. Let's talk about plugins....
Todd Urban: Okay, great!
The first thing that always comes to my mind when it comes to Softube is clean, detailed open and a little bit more modern sound character, more Hi FI, than other developers. Besides, Softube are always associated with stability and good optimization of CPU resources. What would you say if I asked, what in your opinion Softube has to offer to new potential customers? Why take an interest in Softube plugins and bet on them?
Yeah, the component level modeling that Softube does is really detailed and special. Is not only going to sound more like the hardware, but it will also feel more like the hardware. If you've never touched the hardware and you use a Softube emulation of something like, let's say, a Tube-Tech and then you go try the hardware of this Tube-Tech, you should feel very familiar to how far you turn the knob and exactly what to expect sonically. There are a lot of plugins on the market that may look like a hardware, you know, the GUI may visually look like it, but the sound is not going to be the same. And so we take the extra steps to really make the product as close to the hardware as possible. And that's really the difference.
If you want to go buy 100 plugins that just look like colorful plugins, of course, you can, but we feel that you're better off getting three or five plugins that you really need for your toolbox and learn to use them well, just like you would learn a real piece of hardware.
Oh yes, I must admit that this is a very good approach, which in the long run gives not only a better mood, but also which is probably the most important thing, much better results when it comes to the quality of your mixes. Besides, I know what you're talking about, because recently I had the pleasure of testing several hardware
devices and comparing them to Softube stuff and the effects of these comparisons can really be surprising.
Anyway, they will soon be available. So both you and everyone reading this interview will be able to listen to the tests themselves.
Returning to the questions....
I don't know how about you Todd, but I have the impression that Softube plugins stand the test of time very well. While on the VST plugin market there are many companies whose plugins are quickly outclassed by the competition in terms of sound quality, Softube plugins despite the passage of time are still just as useful and still sounds great and fresh. Is this an element that you have developed or is it just good coding and knowledge?
I think it's good coding and knowledge. But I think that when we release a plugin, we really take the time to make sure it's as authentic as possible. And that usually means we're not only doing our testing and internal testing, but then sending it back to the manufacturer of the hardware, you know, sending it back to Tube-Tech or sending it back to Summit Audio or whoever else. And then letting them decide can they hear a difference or can they feel a difference. And if they say they can, then we go back and, well, maybe not start over, but we adjust until we can figure out what is missing. And I think that's why you find that these
plugins can last while other companies may be putting out let's say 30 plugins a year and we put out five or something.
We take a little extra time to make sure that it's going to last forever.
There's one more thing. We want our users to feel that if they make a purchase, they can use that for forever. I mean, that this plugin will be theirs to using and keep and it's not that they have to pay to update. They don't have to do this.
For instance, if you don't have the Tube Tech Mk2, the original Tube Tech products, like for example the CL1B compressor,
it's still an excellent product and there's nothing that's not amazing about it, but the new one has better graphics as graphic technology changes, and as Tube-Tech provided a different unit and we were able to remodel it. We found a few things that we wanted to adjust, so there's a slight sonic difference too, but there's no reason you can't still use the original one that's been on tons of albums.
Oh, the CL1B is one of my all time favorite Softube plugin and one of my favorite plugin compressors. It's amazing in many ways, it's also really time resistant. You know what I'm talking about, there's this term....
I know what you mean, long lasting!
Yeah your plugins never goes old. And that's fascinating! For example, the Summit Audio Grand Channel bundle.
Both the TLA-100A compressor and the EQF-100 equalizer have practically not aged. Many mixer engineers, youtubers, reviewers and regular users declare that they keep coming back to them and more and more often prefer them to the newer and more modern channel strips released recently. Do you feel like you've made a perfect product with the Summit Audio Grand Channel?
I think so! We wanted to combine the EQ section and the Compressor section to get a better workflow. Of course, you could also use the products separately, so you don't have to use it together. But the workflow of the whole channel together just works nicely. Besides, as you know, the Summit Channel Strip has been optimized for Console 1.
Both devices on which we based the channel strip are two well known products. The TLA 100 is kind of one of the top optical compressors out there. We find a lot of people use it on vocals and the EQ is a very different type of EQ. It sounds different from other equalizers from our offer, with the rest, not only from our offer. It also has a different feel in terms of the way it interacts from one band to the next. It's very smooth and it does something really special with sound. So I don't think there's sonically anything we would change there. It captures the hardware and if something works, then why change it?
And there's nothing to change that we see. You know, we don't see anything there that we need to improve necessarily.
If you were to look at the Summit EQF-100 equalizer from the perspective of an ordinary user....
How close is it to the hardware? And do you think it's important for such a unique plugin to be faithful to the hardware? You know, sometimes happens that while working on a modeling an analog unit you get a sound that becomes a class for itself. Do you think this is what happened to both Summit plugins?
Well, we always think that the plugin should sound exactly like the hardware. Otherwise we will not put the product on the market because that's what we feel is the biggest pride in what we do. So, in order to keep that integrity and in order to keep that quality we will always make it as close to the hardware as could ever be possible. That's the case and I really think it's super important, because, if I am using Softube plugins for, let's say, five years, and then I go into a studio and they have
the hardware TLA 100 and I would adjust the parameters and get a different sound than the one I'm perfectly used to in those five years of using the plugin, I would feel that something really isn't right. And that's not the field. That's not the interaction we want. And that doesn't help anybody. It doesn't help the hardware and it doesn't help us nor doesn't help the person using the product. It should feel that there's a bloodline, the same DNA, from us as software to Summit Audio as hardware to the person who uses it. We should all be working together to make one experience so that everybody benefits.
You said that in Softube when emulating existing hardware you always try to get as close as possible to the original unit. So what are your biggest problems in this respect? saturation, non linearities? true behaviour and dynamics of the device?
Oh, everything! Each of these things is a big challenge! Sometimes when you adjust something on hardware that is supposed to be just a simple tool, let's say, a makeup gain, it's supposed to just add clean volume or clean gain, right? But, sometimes it could affect other parameters because of the way the hardware is wired. And we make sure that we capture all the details so that it responds just like the hardware. We're always making sure that we're not just looking at how the signal flows through, you know, just beginning and then to the end, but we're also taking a look at how every single knob interacts. So, you know,
some companies will take a look at just running a sine wave through and just seeing what comes out the end. We're taking a look at what happens when you go through the high filter and then what happens if you adjust the filter and the mid band at
the same time. Does it adjust what happens on the low end or the high end? You know, how does the circuit interact together.
It's a different approach to the way people model compared to Softube.
So, sometimes we look at every single component and then we get to the end and we look at that and it's like, well, that actually affects the input or it affects the threshold or it affects the EQ band or something. And then we have to go back and see and figure out why it is this way and understand that. But we always make sure it models faithfully the original hardware.
No matter how hard the work is!
What about saturation and non-linearities?
Softube is known for modeling saturation, which is another word for distortion. That's something that the developers spend a lot of time on. But nonlinearities basically mean anything that's not just your direct sound. And that's what I'm talking about from the idea of making sure that when you have one filter or one frequency band adjusted, you know, how does it affect another band. Sometimes it's not just measuring that one band on its own, but it's looking at everything along the way.
So, with something like the Summit Audio TLA 100, Softube kind of took the hardware a little further. They modeled it perfectly, but then they also said, what if somebody wants to be able to drive this harder like you can in real life? You know, in plugin form it can be a little difficult to gain stage properly. So they actually give you a saturation knob on the TLA 100, which does not exist on the hardware but it's modeled after the actual hardware, after the saturation that comes from that compressor.
So, by giving you that knob, it lets you say, okay, do I want this to be kind of right where it should be when it's modeled perfectly? Do I want it to be a little cleaner? Or do I want to turn up the saturation? So that I can push it harder just like I would in real life if I fed a heavier signal into it.
I asked this because I have a feeling that Softube often tries to give something more. A kind of a hybrid, kind of a software reincarnation of the perfect reference device, you know what I mean? That was probably the case with the British Class A channel strip, where you used several different hardware units to create one particular channel strip, which you studied carefully to make sure your version would be the right one....
Oh Yeah, definitely! We have tested and used a few really great British devices and tried to get a kind of a perfect reference of that desired sound character. It was a separate pieces of classic British gate, EQ and compressor. And we kept true to the original. The only thing on the British Class A that changed from the original hardware is that we added an additional middle band. It's actually the same middle band, just twice. We offer this because on Console 1 we have two hardware knobs there. so why not give it to you? It just allows user to have more options, but it's still the same exact sound as the original hardware we modeled. In that process we used several units of the device to make sure that the sound is exactly as it should be.
You have used a similar approach when working on American Class A, which is also a hybrid, right?
Exactly! The same approach there. We took a deep look at the compressor we felt fit, the limiter we felt fit, and the EQ we felt fit. And we we gave those options to the users.
With the recently released, much-awaited native version of Chandler Limited plugin family, you have opted for an accurate software reproduction of the existing reference hardware models of iconic and beloved gear. How close did you get to the reference hardware? And where (if any) are the biggest differences?
Yeah, I actually have had the chance to A/B the hardware Germanium Compressor with our software version and I cannot tell the difference.
The Germanium is an unusual compressor because usually you have an input stage and output stage in your threshold and in your ratio. This one has a lot of interacting circuits, which honestly I don't even fully understand because I've never taken apart and looked at how it's wired. But it works in a very musical way where by turning one knob you affect every other part of the compressor. And it's not just in terms of what's getting compressed, but also how much distortion you're getting or how much feedback you're getting where it's kind of feeding back into the original circuit.
So you can get things like additional room sound on something like a drum overhead, which is very difficult to do with just a traditional compressor. This really lets you kind of get into the sound and make some unique sonic changes that go way beyond compression.
Oh now, I'm really curious if you'd say anything more about this compressor.... What amazed you most about it?
I think basically the biggest thing that amaze me is that you can play it like a musical instrument. It's not just the matter of setting the threshold and get gain reduction. You've got very different colors and curves you can select from which all add different harmonic content. Some will be a little bit lower in terms of frequency response. And then, from there you can
decide how much feedback you get, and it's almost like your makeup gain stage. That makeup gain is not clean makeup gain it's a very saturated makeup gain. So if all you did was add the germanium compressor into your circuit and put it at 1:1, you're going to get a lot of sonic benefits without even adding compression. The compression is almost like a secondary feature on it. It's just got such a unique sound that you just can't get with another compressor.
What about the Curve Bender? Did you manage to check it against the hardware?
I have not done that on my own. But I've heard examples where people print the tracks and they sound pretty spot on.
The biggest difference I think with the modeling, because it has gotten so close to the hardware, is whether or not you want to be able to touch a knob, because that's where the feel and the musicality comes in.
So the nice thing about the Curve Bender, Zener Limiter or the Germanium is that they can be loaded into Console 1 without
having to spend all that money which you would have to spend on hardware, instead, you could get a Console 1 in the plugin and get really, really similar experience and the sound is going to be there too. Besides, I don't have a ton of space in my studio. I would love to have a Curve Bender and some Germanium compressors, but I don't have the space here to put them so even if I had them I probably wouldn't be able to use them just due to space limitations.
One of the settings of the Germanium compressor is the so-called Zener Mode, so, why it's worth buying Zener when you bought Germanium before?