Sonimus TuCo by Sound-Guy
Price: US $74 (there is a free demo version with limitations: No optimizations: more CPU consumption. No A/B and Stereo Mode controls. No Automations: you can't save the settings. No Audio Render in offline mode).
If you haven’t yet found Sonimus’ wonderful EQ’s and console emulations, you must check them out. Reviews of SonEQ Pro, Sweetone, and Burnley 73 EQ’s and the excellent Britson and Satson consoles are already here on Gearslutz. But their newest creation, TuCo, is a different beast. TuCo is Sonimus’ first dynamics processor and is based on the variable-mu tube compressor designs of the late 1950’s.
TuCo has a familiar, though minimal set of compressor controls, with some different nomenclature: the input level control (effectively the inverse of threshold) is called Amount, while Release and Output level controls are called just that. There are no attack or ratio controls labeled as such, but there is a Mode switch to provide some control of these parameters. This switch sets combinations of attack times and compression ratios, but not fixed times or specific ratios -- the actual ratios and the attack speed depend on several factors including input level, the Amount setting, and the Mode setting! There are two compressor modes yielding ratios from under 2:1 up to about 4:1 and two limiter modes providing ratios up to about 10:1. This may sound a bit disconcerting to engineers wanting a ratio of 3.7:1 with an attack setting of 12.2 milliseconds, but there are plenty of compressors that you can use for that. But none I know of that sound as fine as TuCo!
Within the four modes, two provide slow attack and two provide fast attack times, with actual times being dependent on the Amount setting and program level, as are the compression ratios. In the “slow” mode attack varies from about 15 msec up to 200 msec, and in “fast” mode, from under 5 msec to about 50 msec. Release times are mainly affected by the Release control and are as short as 50 msec at a 0 setting, up to approximately 1-1/2 seconds at 10.
TuCo also has a Drive knob that can provide some wonderful ‘tube’ saturation. I say wonderful, but it can be varied depending on both the incoming signal level and the Drive setting, from very subtle to very crunchy and ‘buzzy’. While low levels of distortion yield slight ‘fattening’ of a sound, the higher levels can be usefully applied to instruments like guitars and percussion to help cut through a mix.
TuCo has the now common Mix control for parallel processing, always good to have within a plug-in since it eliminates the possibility of phase problems. And TuCo includes a side-chain high pass filter (10 Hz to 350 Hz) to reduce low frequency 'pumping', but it does not provide an external side-chain input. This might be considered a missing feature, but TuCo is not a ‘surgical’ compressor I’d use for ducking purposes, so I find the lack of an external control is not a major issue for me.
The 'analog' meter movement is very smooth and nicely damped. Right-clicking on the meter allows you to display gain reduction, input, or output levels.
There is also an A/B switch to allow quickly comparing two sets of adjustments, and as with most plug-ins, there is a built in preset system. Of course, when used in a DAW project, TuCo will remember all its settings as does any well-behaved plugin!
As some other compressor emulations, TuCo has a Mono mode (combines left and right channels and processes the resulting mono signal) and a Dual Mono mode that applies ‘two’ compressors to left and right channels independently. When using this latter mode, there is no way to set the two channels at different ratios or attack/release settings, so use in a mid-sides configuration (after converting L/R to M/S with a tool such as Voxengo’s MSED) limits how you can use it for mid-sides processing. Of course, you can use two instances of TuCo and route mid/side signals appropriately, but this can be tedious depending on your DAW. As for cpu resources, TuCo requires very little, and an instance of TuCo on my DAW uses under 0.07% of my processing capacity. Very efficient programming!
While these two ‘mono’ modes are found in several compressor emulations, TuCo provides two unique detector schemes, a “Vintage” mode and a “Modern” mode. ‘Vintage’ sums both channels for signal detection, and if only one channel has a level change, up or down, the gain reduction will adjust in both channels. This is is similar to the classic Fairchild 660/670 detector design.
‘Modern’ mode analyzes each channel separately and applies a scheme so that the louder channel controls gain reduction. If only one channel drops in level, there is no gain change, but if one channel increases, both channel gains will be decreased. As a result, these two stereo detector modes yield different results with dynamic sources, providing more flexibility than most compressors I have used.
TuCo also has an Automatic Makeup Gain mode that simplifies level control when changing the Amount dial. Without AMG enabled, the output level can drop 20 dB or more as Amount (essentially inverse threshold control) is increased from minimum to maximum. With AMG the output will hold within a dB over the full settings of Amount. This is a very useful feature.
How it Sounds:
In short, beautiful! Even without the ‘tubeyness’ of Sonimus’ expert emulation skills, the action of the gain reduction in TuCo is excellent for many instruments, as well as for complete mixes. In fact, in comparing Tuco with a dozen other compressor emulations I have, some costing twice or more TuCo's price, I preferred its control and overall sound for most material. On instruments like guitar and bass, it can even out levels while nicely maintaining dynamics of initial string plucks. It also works very well on drums and percussion. And TuCo is excellent on vocals.
But the big surprise for me was how superbly TuCo works on a full mix. I needed to remaster a recording of some Beethoven symphonic works, where the levels from one passage to another sometimes varied 20 to 30 dB, a bit much for comfortable listening in an automobile. I had tried all the ‘major’ compressor emulations I have (including a few LA2A models that I would expect could handle the task) and TuCo blew them all away, reducing the medium/long term variation in loudness by 10 to 15 dB while maintaining dynamics. I’d say it’s a better ‘leveling amp’ than any models of classic leveling amps I have in my studio.
- Low CPU use - 15 instances use just 1 percent of CPU resources on my 3.5 gHz quad core i7, so you can use it on tracks, buses, and/or the master track.
- Zero Latency - You can track using TuCo in real time.
- Wonderful Sound!
- Reasonable Price - US $74.
- No External Sidechain - you can’t use TuCo for ducking purposes, but that is not it’s intent.
- Only One Set of Controls in Dual Mono Mode - one instance of TuCo may not be suitable for mid-sides processing (but you can easily use two!)
TuCo is an excellent sounding and effective compressor that, with its program dependent gain reduction action, always yields very musical results. I now use it in almost every project, often with a little help from its “tube” drive. It is the best compressor emulation I have in my studio for a full mix, and it also provides ‘glue’ for a mix as good as any plugins I have heard.
TuCo is not a “one stop shop”. It is not the only compressor you’ll ever need, but for musically compressing tracks or mixes, and adding a little tube sound, TuCo excels in sound and performance.