Recording Magazine 05/2011
Paul Vnuk Jr.: "Niveau son on est dans le rayon haute-fidélité ultra transparente; Il donne du contrôle sans altérer le son. C'est incroyable à quel point on peut être subtil. C'est le genre de compresseur où on sait pas exactement ce qu'il fait jusqu'à ce qu'on le 'bypass'....on réalise alors qu'il fait beaucoup, de belle façon, sans se faire remarquer."
> Continuer...

Delamar 05/2011
Mario Lämmerhirt: "Je peux recommander l'alpha compressor à n'importe qui chercherait une boite à outil dynamique 'invisible' ou à épicer un peu un mix. L'alpha est un très bon choix pour l'étape finale en mastering, du fait précisément de sa transparence de son. On obtient un outil très versatile pour modifier la dynamique d'un morceau sans en changer du tout le timbre."
> Continuer...

Guitar Lounge 03/2011
Ludvig Nylund: "De tous les compresseurs que j'ai essayé jusqu'à maintenant, c'est l'un des plus flexibles sans pour autant avoir un GUI trop compliqué. Obtenir un bon résultat est simple, et sans doute dû à sa transparence. Un bouton nous permettra même d'ajouter un peu de couleur si on le souhaite."
> Continuer...

Beat 03/2010
Vera Schuhmacher: "elysia a réussi à créer une émulation de toute première classe de leur plus gros compresseur. Comme sa version analogique, ce plugin permet d'obtenir des résultats convaincants dans nombres d'applications. Outre un son remarquablement clair et transparent,  c'est sa flexibilité, sa versatilité, et la facilité d'utilisation de l'interface qui marquent. Une vraie référence!"
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Buenasideas 02/2011
Andreas Eberhardt: "Je mets au rebus la quasi totalité de mes autres plugins de compression! Avec l'alpha compressor, elysia a créé un plugin tellement bon avec un impact CPU tellement faible que je n'en reviens toujours pas. Que ce soit sur des pistes séparées ou en mastering: L'alpha compressor convainc. C'est dingue qu'un plugin puisse être aussi bon."
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DV Magazine 02/2011
Daniel Sherratt: "C'est clairement impossible de trouver la faille dans ces plugins tant les models comptent déjà parmi les meilleurs du marché. Il y a  évidemment aujourd'hui surabondance de compresseurs en plugin, mais niveau versatilité ils se tiennent vraiment à un niveau différent des écuries de 'clones' vintage. Ca fait plaisir de voir sortir quelque chose d'aussi novateur."
> Continuer...

Everythingrecording 12/2010
Bryan Adams: "J'ai même pas besoin de résumer ce banc d'essai. Les fichiers audio parlent d'eux mêmes. Ce plugin réussit-il à agir comme sa version analogique? Mon opinion est que oui!"
> Continuer...

The elysia alpha compressor

by Alexander Mann (Germany) – February 2011

elysia have released their mastering compressor flagship, the alpha, into the native computer world. The press release instantly brought the “Do I really need another compressor plugin on my computer” question to my mind. There certainly is a trend that more and more hobby and semi-pro productions are completely shifted into the box. Computer capacities rise on a constant level, becoming more affordable at the same time. So maybe it is just obvious to implement the final process of mastering into the DAW world, too.

Approaching the topic
The elysia alpha is certainly not the first tool focusing on mastering applications. On the contrary, the diversity of mastering tools available seems to be quite broad. In many cases, they can be looked upon as a cheaper alternative for more expensive mastering studios and analog outboard gear.

However, one should avoid certain mistakes in order to achieve good results: DAWs tend to inflict sonic changes during summing. Just think about the straining discussions on this topic of “the sound of summing” going on in in many forums. On top of this, bouncing the same mix in the same DAW several times can create different results including unwanted side effects, for example concerning the depth of the mix. What else could be the reason for so many discussions based on the differences between analog and digital summing?

For this reason, I am of the opinion that inserting a mastering plugin into the summing channel of a DAW is not very useful. The result can be changed too easily, and the mix which has been created with so much effort can sound differently than originally intended. In my experience, it is better to bounce the mix first and then apply the final processing, which is usually the way a professional mastering studio would work like, too. Of course one could also bounce and process the instruments and the vocals separately and then glue it all together in a final step, but this is up to decide for everybody by themselves.

Obviously, the alpha is a digital version of the classic established hardware compressor by elysia. The plugin is pretty advanced and more sophisticated than one might expect from a software emulation. In cooperation with Brainworx, the developer team has analyzed each section of the original and transferred this into the digital realm. The result of these efforts is not only the alpha master plugin with a user interface identical to the hardware, but also second included version called alpha mix.

Specifications and requirements
The alpha supports the popular formats AU, VST and RTAS on PCs and Macs. TDM and VENUE are not available yet, but will become part of the package in the near future. The license is protected by the iLok system, so there are no tedious registering processes or update problems. The bundle can be tested without any restrictions for two weeks, which is nice for potential users, as they can check if they are interested in the right thing without financial drawbacks.

The system requirements seem to be very low: the CPU power on both platforms should at least be 1 GHz, and the memory requirement is 256 MB. These specs can be met by a smartphone these days... Like it is always the case, a machine with much better specs is highly recommended. elysia employs 4x oversampling on 44,1 kHz project sample rate, 2x oversampling on 96 kHz and no oversampling from 192 kHz on. Especially older computers can be facing quite some CPU load even in 44,1 kHz projects, especially when multiple instances are being used. Production reality shows that the alpha is a full-grown plugin with a corresponding CPU consumption.

At first sight, the alpha mix is a classic compressor plugin, but it has several surprises up its sleeve. It has all standard compression features like threshold, attack, release, ratio, make up gain and mix. The semi automation for attack and release controller have also become some kind of standard, which is a nice circumstance especially for untrained users. Like on the master version, the meter is pretty minimalistic and only shows the gain reduction. Additional switchable meters for input and side chain level would be desirable extras.

The alpha mix works in mono and in stereo mode with a link function available for stereo operation. In terms of sound, the alpha performs very musical while compacting things unobtrusively. Brute effects are hard to achieve, but these are not really part of the initial idea anyway. However, there is a Warm switch available for generating more special sound characteristics by creating a well-rounded compact feeling. Especially bass and vocal signals profit from this feature nicely – they seem to come closer and gain in a nice, homogenous warmth.

I'd like to point out the side chain feature of the alpha as a special and outstanding function. It offers a comfortable filter section with a separate bell filter for adjusting the center frequency and a gain controller which can be set to a high or a low pass filter with everything in between at a mellow rate of 6 dB per octave. This gives you the option to control the side chain signal fast and efficiently. However, a side chain listen function is not available. But with a certain experience this function is a real benefit.

With the Feed Forward switch you can decide if the compressor should tap its side chain signal from before or after the actual compression section, and this has a significant influence on the ratio parameter. In Feedback mode, the sidechain signal is taken from behind the compressor section, and this results in a clean and subtle type of compression. Complex stereo tracks like drums can be made more compact without intrusive losses in dynamics. The counterpart to this is the Feed Forward mode that taps its side chain signal in front of the compressor section. Now the compressor reacts much stronger and with more aggression to it. This could be compared to a Urei 1176, but without copying the specific sound characteristics of this classic compressor. Drums become very punchy and smashing in this mode, bass signals become massive and aggressive.

The mix controller finally unleashes the beast from its chain. With it, you can enjoy continuos parallel compression without the need to set up complicated routings and additional plugin instances: The unprocessed original signal is blended with the processed one. Parallel compression is an old trick for reducing the dynamics of drums while retaining punch and a vivid feeling. The combination of all the features mentioned lets you achieve astounding and impressive results with just one single plugin. Playing around with the alpha is pure fun, and even though it is on the more complex side, the alpha mix remains quite easy to use.

This is definitively a compressor for any situation, as it can go from neutral and subtle to very obvious without problems. By the way, there are no factory presets available. But I don't really consider this to be a drawback, as the multiple possibilities of this plugin require some experimentation and trusting ones own ears anyway.

At first sight, the alpha master seems to offer the same functions as the alpha mix – of course in stereo, as we can expect from a mastering plugin. Accordingly, the alpha master lets you process the left and right channel independently from each other or simultaneously. In terms of its looks, the alpha master is an exact replica of the original hardware, including a separate gain reduction meter for each channel. The workflow and the sound characteristics basically match those of the “smaller brother” alpha mix. The basic features and options are set up identically, but there are certain extensions available as well.

The first thing you might notice is the Direct switch, which is very useful in stereo operation. Direct lets you solo or mute the unprocessed signal in each channel – and this is a very welcome feature when you are processing each individual channel separately from the other. On top of this, the alpha has some more special features which allow precise interventions which exceed the potentials of a standard compressor.

The first interesting section to stumble upon is the filter stage. A frequency controller lets you dial in a center frequency, and the corresponding cut/boost controller is responsible for cutting the bass frequencies while the treble range is boosted at the same time, or exactly the other way round. This is especially great to use when a mix sounds pretty sharp and could need some additional bottom end “boom” for compensation.

The transients and general transparence are preserved very well, but one should still use this feature with a little care. If you overdo it, the lower mid range can become somehow muddy. Boosting the treble can promote the transients and the brilliance of a mix nicely without becoming clangy. Here we have another means of the alpha to treat difficult material successfully or to apply some creative effects to your signals. In its extreme settings, the filter reacts similar to a shelving type. I found this to be especially interesting and useful when working with vocal mixes.

Of course, a limiter should be part of the party as well – the alpha includes this feature in a so called Soft Clip variant. This function does not save the user from clipping signals completely; it could be looked upon as further effect block. The limiter employs a rather soft characteristic while rounding transients as well as hard and fast peaks. This lets the user benefit from the classic warmth which analog productions are famous for. However, this limiter should not be misunderstood as some kind of “tape emulation”, although the process going on shows some similarities. The general idea is that peaks will not be treated by an audible cut, but they gain in some roundness and saturation instead.

The best way to understand the way this works is to process drums which become punchier without loosing their original bite. This feature needs to be used with a certain care as well, as applying too much of this limiter will result in audible distortion. The limiter works as an individual block which is independent from the threshold and gain settings of the compressor. With a little bit of practice, you can use the Soft Clip limiter as the final fine tune instance – the icing on the cake.

The full glory of the alpha does not unfold until its M/S matrix is activated. With it, you can compress the mid and side information of a stereo mix separately from each other or in link mode. The M/S technique splits the spacial information of the left and right stereo channel into a mid (adding left and right channel) and a side (subtracting right from left channel) information. The main advantage of this is the full mono compatibility which remains of importance even in the age of 5.1.

Once the M/S matrix of the alpha has been activated, both channels of the plugin act separately, as the left side now processes the mid signal and the right side is responsible for processing the side information. The link switch can be used to apply the same settings to both channels, but processing signals individually in unlinked mode is even more impressive.

Now the Direct switches can be used to mute one channel in order to listen to the other channel's information. The complete feature set including side chain, filters and limiters can be applied to each channel separately, which opens up a great variety of options. Especially “broad” mixes can be corrected very nicely. Also, putting some focus on the tracks usually placed in the middle (like the bass or lead voices) is easy to achieve. This works amazingly well, without destroying the original depth of the mix – although you could certainly do this as well if you wanted to.

And this leads us to the only drawback this feature might have: if you use inappropriate settings which are too extreme, you could cripple your mix with it. Anyway, especially vocal parts can profit from this feature fast and easily. The M/S mode is just perfect for that. Pads with a wide stereo spectrum and other stereo signals benefit nicely from the ability to embed them into the mix or make them stand out more. Generally speaking: The mixes become more compact and direct without loosing their spatial balance.

The alpha is a sonically neutral tool as it does not add any special kind of typical coloration. The user stays the captain all of the time, and he is always in the position to determine where he wants the sonic journey to go to.

elysia's cooperation with Brainworx has resulted in a good and versatile compressor which cuts a fine figure both in everyday and mastering applications. It clearly stands above the crowd of maximizer tools and proves to be a useful and reliable precision instrument. Because of its huge functional range, the alpha is certainly more aimed at advanced and professional users. elysia has included a well-written manual with detailed explanations to go with it.

The integrated M/S possibilities make the alpha a worthwhile addition for the plugin collections which are included with the usual DAWs. It certainly opens new horizons in terms of refining sound quality. It is not the cheapest plugin, but certainly not the most expensive of its kind as well. If you ask me, I think it is absolutely affordable. I am giving a clear buying recommendation for it.

Editor's Recommendation