Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Kotelnikov – Gentleman’s Edition by Sound-Guy
Tokyo Dawn Labs Kotelnikov GE
Back with a look at another great product from Tokyo Dawn Records & Labs (TDR), a compressor with several unique features. The Kotelnikov is not a new product, but version 1.5.0 is the latest update from TDR, and includes some useful new features. I noticed the Kotelnikov has never been reviewed in Gearslutz before, so for those of you who haven’t tried it, here is what I found.
The Ultimate Compressor?
Kotelnikov has all the usual compressor features such as peak and rms detection, high pass filtering on the internal side-chain detector, external side-chain input, and of course threshold, ratio (1:1 to 7:1), attack (20 microseconds to 250 milliseconds) and release settings (10 milliseconds to 2 seconds). And it has a lot more. For one thing, it has a unique mode of using peak and rms detection together at the same time, and the ability to set peak and rms releases separately. RMS (root mean square) provides a type of average response while peak detection can generate a very fast response to short transients. TDR have managed to combine these responses to create dynamic control in a very musical way.
Kotelnikov with RMS and Peak controls, here with the meter displaying total gain through the compressor.
Another unique feature is frequency dependent ratio (FDR) control. This is very different from the common high pass filter on the side-chain that is used to prevent ‘pumping’ from low frequency sounds like kick drums. Kotelnikov has such a filter, with control of both the frequency (25-500 Hz) and filter slope (0 to 18 dB/octave). But the FDR mode actually enables shaping the range of compression ratios, from 1:1 up to 7:1, as a function of frequency, using both bell curves and shelves, as well as an equal loudness curve. The results are somewhat like a dynamic EQ (such as TDR’s Nova) but the approach and results are different. I found this feature to provide excellent tonal shaping, very different from normal EQ in that a frequency will only be reduced when its level exceeds the threshold value. In a mix, a kick drum may be set to have little or no compression so it drives through the mix while a range of mid to high frequencies are strongly controlled. Or if the kick is overpowering, it may be controlled with more compression while the remainder of frequencies are allowed to pass with little or no compression. On single instrument tracks the FDR can shape tones in ways that static EQ cannot.
Frequency Dependent Ratio Edit opens a control panel with frequency and shaping adjustments, here with meter set to show gain reduction only.
Is it Better or Just Louder?
As you know, louder always sounds ‘better’ (unless it’s above the threshold of pain!) and using a compressor with make-up gain can result in a louder output than the input level, which may fool you into thinking an improvement has been made. Kotelnikov includes a built-in equal loudness detection and correction mode so that a comparison can be made with no loudness bias. Very good to have.
Compressors by their nature create distortion since they ‘squash’ the incoming signal, and a ‘perfect’ compressor creates only odd harmonics due to the symmetrical ‘squashing’. Kotelnikov can add even harmonics, which are generally more ‘musical’, using the ‘Yin’ and ‘Yang’ control - Yin affects low to low-mid frequencies and Yang affect high-mid to high frequencies. This effect is very subtle, but useful to have.
Kotelnikov can also provide ‘time distortion’ of the compression using the ‘Inertia’ button, with low frequencies reacting slower and high frequencies reacting faster. And for more fun, there is an inverse inertia mode that creates an upward compression technique. This type of compression boosts low and mid signal levels while ignoring high level signals, rather than reducing the higher level sounds.
Version 1.5.0 is a free update for owners of the paid GE version (and reasonably priced if you don’t have the GE edition). New functions include a Limit Control on gain reduction, a new operating mode, Live, which is optimized for low latency, an Advanced Stereo Linking mode for improved stereo behavior (which also provides a lower CPU load), and a GUI sizing feature to have the image shown at 100%, 125% or 150% of normal.
How Low Can You Go?
The new low latency ‘Live’ mode adds no latency - with REAPER a track recorded through Kotelnikov with PDC (Plugin Delay Compensation) turned off resulted in sample accurate alignment with the source track. All the other modes, from Eco to Insane show 184 samples of delay (at 44.1 kHz sample rate) or about 4 msec, which is a modest delay itself. But with a very low system buffer setting such as 32 samples, the Live mode will add no extra latency.
The Live mode not only provides zero latency, but also uses the least CPU power of any Kotelnikov operating mode. In my test system (PC Audio Labs Windows 7 machine with 3.5 GHz Intel i7-4770k CPU) Live mode used about 0.35% of my CPU resources. Eco mode ran about 0.5%, Precise about 0.7% and Insane pushed up to 1.2% - these are all with the new Advanced Stereo Linking mode on. I wondered if this meant the Live mode quality suffers, but I certainly can’t complain about the fidelity in any mode, and comparing Live to Insane (by subtracting one audio track from the other) found a very small difference, in fact, much less difference than an mp3 at 256 kHz is from an original WAV file. And the Live mode does not lose detail like an mp3. It yields a slightly different waveform from the other modes, which, since this is a compressor, is not really a problem!
The external input for the side-chain worked fine in both REAPER and in Studio One 4.0. Side-chain control is often used for ducking one track controlled by another, like ducking the bass track briefly when the kick drum hits, but another really powerful use of a side-chain is to add a filter path before the side-chain input, run the same signal to the compressor input and to the filtered side-chain input, and use the filter to isolate more than just the usual bass frequencies. If you use a filter with a linear roll-off of 3 dB per octave, you can emulate the API Thrust mode found in their (expensive) hardware compressors! And with Kotelnikov, you’ll have even more control over dynamic performance than the API!
The free version works well as a compressor, but lacks a number of features I find essential (your expectations may vary!). The free version lacks an external side-chain input, the inertia timing mode, the Yin/Yang modes, the frequency dependent ratio function (FDR), the gain reduction limit control, the equal loudness function, the advanced quality modes of “Insane” and “Live”, and the new “advanced” stereo linking mode. Still a useful compressor, but missing what makes Kotelnikov unique.
I tried Kotelnikov on a range of sounds, both single tracks with drums, bass, and vocals, and on full mixes of rock and classical music. I was looking for (and listening for) both how well it could control level variations and how the results sounded. There are a number of presets included, and you can save any of your settings as a named preset. I found the included presets illuminating, and while not always hitting the sweet spot they helped see and hear how some features work.
On full mixes the results were excellent. On a classical album with a loudness range (LRA in ITU-R BS 1770 terms) exceeding 20 LU I was able to reduce the range to as low as 10 LU. On the other hand, dynamic range (PLR in BS 1770 terms) can be reduced, maintained or even increased over the original value, depending on settings. You generally want PLR to be in the range of 8 to 16 LU, but LRA will depend on the musical material. Why would you want to reduce the loudness range? Too great a loudness range can make it difficult to hear soft passages when listening in a less than ideal environment. And in mastering an album you might need to adjust LRA for consistency between songs.
On drums I found the included presets showed off what is possible, and varying the settings, using the FDR mode, even using the Delta output mode (where you hear the real-time difference between the source and the compressed audio) all created some amazing sounds. Likewise, guitar and bass could be controlled smoothly, and the FDR mode used to sculpt the tones over a wide range. Vocals were also easily controlled, and the FDR mode can even provide a de-essing process.
TDR Kotelnikov is a very flexible and powerful compressor capable of transparently leveling individual tracks and full mixes, controlling dynamic range, and providing a wealth of creative tonal effects. Not your father’s compressor by any means!
Relatively low CPU use and zero latency in the new Live mode.
Advanced Stereo Linking mode provides improved stereo imaging and a relatively low CPU load.
Unique peak with rms detection mode, and separate peak and rms release times.
Unique Frequency Dependent Ratio control can yield selective control of compression levels and provide excellent tonal shaping.
Equal Loudness Bypass mode prevents loudness bias in comparing original and compressed signals.
Advanced features like Yin & Yang and Inertia provide even more sound enhancements.
Includes external side-chain input, excellent for ducking and advanced side-chain filtering.
Preset function with a selection of instructive examples, that can also save any set of parameters you devise.
Can provide excellent transparent control of levels and dynamics, yet can also modify tones in many ways.
Very reasonable price.
Moderate to high CPU use, especially in Insane mode on older systems. But no one really needs the Insane mode!
Not a simple compressor to use although the presets can help understand what various settings can do - using the basic features is relatively easy, but diving deep into the advanced functions will likely challenge (and educate) most users. This is the reason for dropping a star in Ease of Use, but for me personally this is a solid five star processor!
TDR Kotelnikov – Gentleman's Edition | Tokyo Dawn Records
Price: €40 (the free demo version has significant limitations).