Featured Legendary Audio I.C.E. by diogo_c
*Developer: Legendary Audio
*Formats: AAX/AU/VST2 32/64-bit for Mac/Windows
*Price: $289 MSRP (15% off when requesting a trial)
*Demo: Fully-functional for 14 days
The Scope: From the partnership of Legendary Audio and digital pioneers at Sonic Studio comes I.C.E., a very different plug-in with a bold proposition. A little bit of context first: Legendary Audio was started by veteran mastering engineer Billy Stull and none other than Rupert Neve to develop the Masterpiece Analog Mastering System, and I.C.E. brings Billy’s latest efforts on digital processing. I.C.E. is an acronym for “In Case of Emergency” and that serves as a great description of its purpose. The premise here is that nowadays we deal with all sorts of “bad” qualities that affect our audio - to quote Legendary Audio’s website, I.C.E. works on “distortion, hot spots, over-modulation, sibilance, resonant bass and guitar frequencies, Overload, embedded digital harshness, clipping, vocal distortion, out-of-control cymbals, a generally unpleasant overall tone”. In practice, it is a special dynamic EQ that works like no other equalizer I’ve ever tried, and I have tried many as most of you probably have.
In order to have a peek at what it does in terms of equalization I’ve loaded it on VST Analyzer, and in terms of frequency response it shows something similar to a progressive Q design i.e. the bandwidth gets more and more narrow as you pull the inject parameter further. The bandwidth can get really thin/notch-esque once you set a small range, and it can go all the way down to a -50 dB cut. There’s also a couple of small bumps around the target area as noted on the images below:
Besides this regular operating mode I.C.E. also offers a “boost” mode that reverses the process, altering the response to boost the signal but this time there’s no narrowing of the bandwidth and the curve applied remains broad even at higher settings.
There’s obviously more than this happening behind the scenes and the graphs above only paints part of the picture, and also a static one. ICE responds differently depending on the signal and it’s pretty much a “program-dependent” tool in the broadest sense, as pointed out in this other review. It’s worth mentioning that there are no hard rules on how and when you should use it, the audio doesn’t have to be necessarily damaged - I.C.E. can be a good re-balancer of nicely produced recordings that may need a little change to fit a certain context.
Sound quality: I.C.E. is disturbingly good sounding, and I say “disturbingly” because I’m not really totally sure about its inner workings, so it’s hard for me to feel totally at ease with it, that might change over time but at least in this initial period I’m kind of shocked. No matter what I.C.E. is doing under the hood, it’s definitely doing good things when it clicks with the program material. I found it to be really good to rebalance the character of a mix on a mastering session or a group of instruments on a mixing scenario, and it’s also good on rescuing problematic individual tracks. It won’t replace your restoration suite, that needs to be said as it might be viewed as a “distortion reducer”, which it is in some ways, but it's tackling problems with an approach that’s different from something like the iZotope’s RX for example. I’d say that I.C.E. is more on the “musical” side and there’s kind of an esoteric edge to it, so it might work well in tandem with a set of more “technical” tools (such as RX to use the same example).
Ease of use: Despite the mystic nature of its processing, I.C.E. is a rather straightforward and intuitive to use plug-in. Insert on your desired track, set the range and pull the band down or type the inject value and that’s it. There are also four slots for quick recall, which is handy for accessing go-to settings to deal with common situations or to compare a few settings and decide which one fits best with the program material in hand. It will take some time until you get used to what it does and make the best out of it, no matter how much of Billy’s excellent posts you read or how many videos you watch. Speaking of documentation, I’d really appreciate if everything posted on Legendary Audio’s Facebook group (I.C.E. Users Group) was also posted outside of the social network’s domain - not everyone is keen on that sort of thing so it would be good to have it posted at Legendary Audio’s website, which features a couple of good video tutorials and a good user manual. Having everything at a single place would be a better solution in my opinion, but in case you’re okay with Facebook I strongly suggest you to read Billy’s posts. It’s very “practical” advice without overly complicated technical explanations and they don’t overlap a lot with the user manual. Nevertheless, operating I.C.E. is intuitive enough for you to simply open the plug-in and achieve good results. Perhaps the biggest challenge here is not to overdo things and get carried away with heavy-handed changes.
Features: I.C.E.’s feature set is concise and works well - most importantly, it successfully fulfills its purpose. One initial observation that I’d like to make is that as good as the gain compensation is I do miss regular input/output trims. An input meter and a some sort of real-time frequency analysis wouldn’t hurt either and a good RTA would be useful to spot resonances at a glance. The “monitor” function is definitely helpful in identifying problematic areas, but I honestly used it way less than I initially thought, so maybe having a visual reference would be good to complement the spotting process. Those are minor features that I’d like to see but not having them doesn’t take much away from the plug-in as a whole. However, I’d really love to have at least an extra band of processing. The fact that it’s single band hurts the workflow a bit when you’re dealing with some sonic disaster where many areas of the program material are problematic - I ended up having a few instances of I.C.E. running to tackle some situations, and going from one window to the other doesn’t help any workflow. Nevertheless, it’s not a problem if you have to run multiple instances because In terms of computing performance ICE does quite well, it’s really light and it’s also zero-latency, which is never a bad thing.
Bang for buck: Perhaps one of the hardest plug-ins to evaluate, given how exotic it is and how subjective these things can be. It’s impossible not to resort the “try the demo” mantra but ultimately that’s the most honest thing that can be said about this one. Needless to say that there are no such things as “silver bullets” when it comes to audio engineering, so even though I.C.E. can work some miracles it’s not guaranteed to work at all times and under all sorts of different situations. It’s a powerful tool that I’d put alongside Paul Frindle’s Dynamic Spectrum Mapper in terms of how dramatic it is, but that goes both ways and it’s up for each one to decide whether or not they have a use for it. Nevertheless, I.C.E. might succeed on those situations where your regular tools failed, I’m not sure if I can replicate its results with my other plug-ins and even if I could it wouldn’t be as elegant. At its current asking price I.C.E. is not exactly affordable, but also not prohibitively expensive - and fortunately there’s a full-functional demo that lasts two weeks, which should be enough for a good tryout. (Tip-There’s currently a 15% discount link with the 14 day free trial)
Recommended for: Mixing and mastering looking for a totally different tool to deal with problematic recordings.
Sound eerily good and can save tracks that were otherwise doomed
Straightforward and intuitive to operate
Very light on system resources
Only offers a single band of processing per instance
Click below for full-resolution screenshots.