Leapwing Audio Al Schmitt by Sound-Guy
Leapwing Al Schmitt from Leapwing Audio
Leapwing Audio creates plug-ins that don’t try to look analog or try to emulate what analog processing can accomplish. Up to now all their processors have been aimed at specific tasks such as stereo imaging (CenterOne and StageOne), bass enhancement (RootOne) and dynamics control (DynOne) but they just introduced a “celebrity” processor, and the engineer for whom it is named and designed is none other than Al Schmitt. If you don’t know of Al you’re likely very new to audio engineering. Al has been working professionally for over 70 years – that’s not a typo – and he has recorded or mixed almost everyone from Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, Ray Charles and Natalie Cole to Steely Dan, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Hot Tuna, and Toto. He has a minimalist approach to FX which has worked out well since has so far garnered 23 Grammys and recorded/mixed over 160 gold and platinum albums.
Composite view of all six profiles – you won’t find this view in the actual plug-in, but will see larger views of each profile as you use it.
What is It?
Leapwing Al Schmitt is a multi-processor “signature” plug-in based on the workflow and audio processing equipment that Al Schmitt has used for many years. There are six different “profiles” (bass, brass, piano, strings vocal, and mix bus) that have been optimized for these specific sound types. They include the gear and settings that Al likes to use, such as outboard EQ and compressors, and also live echo chambers that many professional studios have. Since Al has used echo chambers since before electronic reverberation gear was invented, he refers to any reverb type as echo, and the gear modeled here may include both physical echo chambers and artificial reverb units for any echo choice.
Each profile includes several controls, numbering from two to eight, and they provide unique combinations of equipment and settings. For example, there are three choices of Echo type in four of the profiles (Brass, Piano, Strings and Vocal) but they are all differently tuned, each optimized for the instrument category – for example Echo A for piano is different than Echo A for brass, etc.. The same thing applies to other parameters like compression and EQ. Increasing any setting may result in some complex interactions, as well as affecting saturation characteristics, which are also different for each profile, and runs from almost unmeasurable to very colorful. Brass, Mix, Piano and Strings produce very low harmonics while Vocal and Bass can really crank it up, albeit with “high quality” distortion! The level of distortion is affected mainly by the input signal level and for a given input signal can be increased by increasing the IN level control. The output level can be adjusted for gain staging needs with the OUT control, and both the input signal level (after any IN adjustment) and the output signal level are shown with an integrated level meter (K-weighted loudness in LUFS) with a 4-second peak bar.
The Mix profile with moderate compression (note dark sound waves outside gold sound waves and the gold dots left of each compression setting).
There are some clever graphics indications with “sound waves” emanating from the instrument graphic, larger for louder, and if compression is active, the outer sound wave bands are dark, and the number of dark bands indicates approximate gain reduction at half a dB per line. There are also gold dots to the left of each compression control that light up as gain reduction increases. The compression controls actually affect both threshold and ratio in complicated ways, again simulating Al’s use. Note in the Mix profile above there are Low, Mid and High level controls which provide make-up gain for each of the bands, and the little paperclip is a link switch to link the three compression bands. This link maintains relative settings so that if one band is set to 10 units lower than the others, it will stay that way as levels are changed.
Vocal Preset with about 2 dB of gain reduction, some low frequency roll off, high frequency boost and a little echo type A.
The Vocal profile is especially fine, with excellent compression and echo characteristics. I tried adding it to vocal tracks in several old projects and was amazed at the improvement.
Presets and Automation
There are 13 factory presets in addition to the Default setting, and you can “roll your own” and save them. There are also automation inputs for every adjustable parameter, but these are “shared” so that instead of over two dozen automation lanes with, for example, a unique one for Piano echo A and another for Strings echo A, the automation controls simply echo A, echo B, echo C, etc. and the preset being used determines which echo emulation is being used. This makes perfect sense because you are not going to be switching profiles during recording or playback using automation (and in fact you can’t change the preset using automation). I found automation to work fine and parameters such as compression and level can be changed on-the-fly with no glitches of pops. There is also an A/B compare switch to instantly compare two set of settings.
Who is It For?
The intent of Leapwing Al Schmitt is to provide fine enhancement of tracks (or a mix) with minimum fuss and maximum quality. It works well when your material is recorded and mixed with good quality. It will not help if your tracks are already distorted in a bad way, poorly EQ'd, or cursed with a high level of noise. It is not intended to teach mixing techniques or to fix a poor mix.
How Does It Do?
I found results were excellent on decent tracks, with echo quality outstanding, especially the Vocal Preset, smooth results with compression which is quite subtle in most cases (crushed audio is not in the picture here), and very smooth EQ (in the Body or Sub boost and Air boost controls) with no harshness added (of course screaming guitars with 40% harmonic distortion will still be screaming guitars with lots of distortion). Note that by driving the input levels hard, compression can provide high gain reduction, but I never heard obvious pumping or crunching. Leapwing Al Schmitt really provides a pleasing ambiance and helps “glue” a mix together, even when a few instances are used on individual tracks.
I used REAPER and Studio One for testing in a PC Audio Labs Rok Box PC (4-Core Intel i7-4770K, 3.5 GHz, and 16 GB RAM). To estimate CPU load I used REAPER’s Performance Meter: Leapwing Al Schmitt can have a lot going on under the hood depending on the profile being used with the lightest load of 0.3% for Brass, most using 1.1% to 1.4% and Mix hitting 2%. Latency also varies greatly with Mix using 2,128 samples, Bass, Piano and Vocal using 80 samples, and Brass and Strings at zero samples! There is a bypass switch that completely bypasses all processing except latency which is maintained so you can compare with/without processing with no time jumps (although you may need to adjust the OUT level to prevent loudness bias).
Very fine results, quickly, on many types of tracks or mixes. Although there are only five instrument types (plus the Mix profile) available, you can experiment with other sounds. I found Brass, for example, works very nicely on sax, flute, and blues harp, and I used Vocal and Bass on several different instruments with fine results.
Leapwing Al Schmitt is best used for “polishing” a mix after any needed corrective processes (such as de-essing, notes fixes, surgical EQ, and noise removal), so unless you start with a very clean set of tracks, it is not the only audio processing you need, but used to add the finishing touch to a mix, it can provide that glue that makes a mix sound great.
Unique set of processing tools created with Al Schmitt’s assistance to capture his workflow.
Provides fast results with few controls to adjust.
Instrument profiles provide low latency for tracking use.
Excellent audio quality with very musical results that enhance good mixes.
Sample rates supported up to 384kHz (DXD).
Continuously variable GUI size from small (about 400 x 500 pixels) to as large as fits your screen, and with Retina support.
Limited set of profiles although I found good flexibility in applying some profiles to other instruments.
Moderately high cpu usage on some profiles, but not more than other complex plug-ins.
64 bit only if you are still using a 32 bit platform!