Voxengo Soniformer by Sound-Guy
Soniformer Spectral Dynamics Plug-in by Voxengo
Voxengo is the brand name for Aleksey Vaneev who has created some extremely useful free measurement plug-ins such as SPAN and the Correlometer previously reviewed in these pages (OK, these video screens). However Voxengo also has a great range of audio processors that haven’t been reviewed here, and as I just wrote a few days ago, that is about to change.
If you haven’t discovered (and used) Voxengo tools, you are missing some truly exceptional audio processors. They include equalizer plug-ins, dynamics processors, harmonic enhancement units, saturation FX, reverbs, spatial imaging, and mastering plug-ins. Aleksey has developed unique algorithms that provide excellent audio quality and some unique processing capabilities.
I’ve used Soniformer for years and it is the most flexible multiband dynamics processor I have. And it goes beyond dynamics processing with stereo imaging control via panning and mid-sides adjustment as a function of frequency. It is intended for mastering, but can be useful on tracks and buses at times. While the recently reviewed TEOTE is an excellent Automatic Spectral Balancer plug-in, Soniformer provides more detailed adjustments, but requires manual settings of threshold, ratio, attack and release times for every frequency band (of which there are 32 fixed bands). However, since all these settings can be made graphically, it is relatively fast to set up any complex array of compression and expansion across the 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency range.
What Does it Do?
Soniformer is a spectral mastering dynamics plugin that can process stereo, mid-side, and up to 5.1 channels. It has two spectral displays, with the main large screen showing the signal level distribution across frequency of either the input signal or the output signal, or the correlation coefficient or left-right balance across the frequency range. It also has a plot of the control level across all 32 bands for threshold, ratio, range, attack and release times. The smaller upper plot shows gain reduction or increase over frequency in real time.
Downward Compression and Upward Expansion - --------- Channel Balance and Correlation Displays
What makes Soniformer so powerful is that it can act like a wideband compressor, a wideband expander, or even a gate, that responds to all frequencies the same, or act like a multiband compressor/expander with adjustable threshold, ratio, range, attack and release times for each of the 32 frequency bands. Initially the control line for each parameter is a flat line which affects all frequencies the same and can be pulled up or down to adjust the parameters, yielding a wideband processor. Any control line can be simply tilted by grabbing one end or the other to create threshold, ratio, range, attack and release times that increase or decrease linearly with frequency, or clicking on a control line can create additional control points to set almost any shape desired to create complex control over dynamics versus frequency. And you can also vary effects like panning, gain and mid-sides balance across the frequency spectrum. This provides an amazing range of control both dynamically and spatially.
A really useful feature is that ratio can be set from 12:1 (compression) up to 1:12 (expansion) and anywhere between. And since this can be varied over the frequency range, one area of the spectrum like bass, say below 100 Hz, can be compressed to reduce level variation in a kick or bass guitar while another range, such as 500 Hz to 1,500 Hz can be expanded to increase dynamics of a snare drum, rhythm guitar or other instrument. Very handy on a full mix.
And not only can Soniformer supply normal downward compression and upward expansion, but it can create upward compression and downward expansion. What does this mean? A downward compressor reduces gain when the signal is higher than the threshold. This is the classic compression mode. An upward compressor raises the gain when the signal falls below the threshold, making quieter sounds louder which can add noise if not correctly applied. Downward expansion reduces the gain below the threshold, making quiet sounds even quieter which is similar to a gate and can expand the dynamic range of the audio signal. Upward expansion increases the gain of an audio signal above the threshold, making loud sounds even louder. This also extends the dynamic range of the audio signal but can quickly lead to overloading the output. Which is where the Range control comes in handy since it limits the maximum boost or reduction to a fixed amount (although the amount can be varied over the audio frequency range).
Note the Downward/Gate Mode switch actually flips compression to expansion and expansion to compression, and I’ve always thought of it as an “Invert/Gate Mode” switch. I’ve shown the four possibilities in the chart below where you can see that compression (ratios greater than 1:1) is normally downward compression and turning on the Downward/Gate Mode switches it to downward expansion, which is like a sophisticated noise gate. When ratios less than 1:1 are used you normally get upward expansion and turning on the Downward/Gate Mode switch changes it to upward compression. Note that compression reduces the overall dynamic range of the audio and expansion increases it. And of course, Soniformer can do all this with varying control over the entire frequency range.
Four Dynamics Modes of Soniformer
Other controls are the RMS Mode which changes the measurement of signal level (for comparison with the threshold setting) from using peak (instantaneous) to RMS signal power which provides a more relaxed response than the peak level mode. There is an Inv(ert) switch that inverts any displayed control curve which can be handy if you want to hear how how an inverted response sounds with given material. There is a Copy To switch which will copy the displayed control curve of one parameter to any other parameter. And there are two slope controls, In Slope and Out Slope that affect the displayed spectrum slope, but do not affect the sound at all. This is handy to align the spectrum display with the general spectral slope of the music being processed, which typically varies from -3 dB/oct to -6 dB/oct, to make it easier see effects on the overall tonal balance.
Graphics and Settings
Voxengo plug-ins have a standardized “look” which some people have said looks “dated”. To me they look fine and functional and I’m glad to see consistency over the different units and over the years. Some plug-ins I use take a skeuomorphic approach, looking like the classic hardware they emulate. This is not always a bad thing, but taken as a whole, digital skeuomorphism leads to inconsistency across applications, making use less intuitive than it could be. When a processor is an original design there is really no need to make it look like a 50 year old compressor, complete with front panel scrapes and chipped paint! Sound quality and usability are what really count.
Every Voxengo plug-in shares a very similar Information and Settings window to set up the look and scale of the GUI, including a selection of user interface color schemes, default auto-oversampling level, minimum or linear oversampling mode, level meter response times and a number of other user parameters – even a UI Color Editor for those who must customize.
Available in 32-bit and 64-bit AAX, AU, VST, and VST3 plug-in formats, for macOS and Windows computers. I used REAPER and Studio One for testing in a PC Audio Labs Rok Box PC (Windows 7 64 Bit, 4-Core Intel i7-4770K, 3.5 GHz, and 16 GB RAM). One instance of Soniformer used only about 4 MB of RAM, a very small footprint. REAPER’s Performance Meter and Windows Task Manager indicated the CPU requirements at about 0.5% to 4%, depending primarily on oversampling level. Latency is 11 msec which is fine in a tool designed for mastering and mixing duties.
I found THD measured from less than 0.005% for mild mastering settings to 0.03% for aggressive settings. Extreme settings (very short attack and release times) could push this above 0.2%, but this is caused by the compression process itself, especially with very short attack and release times, and is often the aim in using compression to add color to sounds.
Soniformer is extremely capable for mastering duties, on a mix bus, or even on individual tracks. It not only provides dynamic control, but can supply EQ, and mid-sides control and left-right balance, both as a function of frequency – check out the free trial version.
Extremely flexible audio dynamics processing system with 32 independent frequency bands.
Excellent audio quality with low distortion.
Very useful displays including analog-style spectrum analyzer, gain reduction over frequency meter, channel correlation over frequency and left-right balance over frequency.
Includes stereo and multi-channel processing up to 5 channels.
64-bit floating point processing with up to 8x oversampling.
Includes preset manager, undo/redo history, A/B comparisons and contextual hint messages.
Selectable color schemes.
Supports all sample rates.
Free trial available.
Not anything I can complain about in Soniformer itself, but the user manual is still on the lean side and could use more details and examples. There is a separate manual available (Primary User Manual) that covers all the global settings that is useful when first trying any Voxengo processors.