Tag Archive for: Transient Shaper

Transient Designer Part 2

Transient Designer Story Part 2/2

In the previous Episode of my Transient Designer Story, I wrote about the ups and downs and how i came to the idea to develop the Transient Designer Technology. Gave you some insights on my work. Also i wrote about the development of my first Compressor – The DynaMaxx. If you haven’t read the first Part yet, please click >here.

(translated from the original german article)

Flash of inspiration: difference – the crucial idea

I’m not exactly sure when, where and how I picked up the topic “difference”. But I think I remember reading about a trick in an issue of the Keyboards Magazine to use some kind of exciter for samples with the EPS 16+ sampler. One sunny day I got the ultimate inspiration flash. The next day I had another lucky circumstance. My boss, Hermann Gier, with whom I was sitting in the same office, was going on a business trip for two days. Now I was finally able to build my new idea on a real lab board.

Transient Designer Story | Ruben's Lab Board for Development
Ruben Tilgner’s Playground
Transient Designer Story | Ruben Tilgner's Lab Board
Ruben Tilgner's Lab Board | Detail

I then applied this difference theory to the envelopes of my compressor. And instead of just one circuit I had two in parallel. These had different time constants. I chose different attack times but the same release time. I added a differential amplifier – and all of a sudden the scales fell from my eyes and ears: Because I could suddenly see the transients of the signal! With very soft transients both envelopes were equal and hardly formed a difference, with fast signals this could be recognized and put into a VCA. 

The brilliant aspect of this was that no threshold was necessary since the difference worked independently of the input level. Next! Another genius idea popped into my mind. The control voltage could now be positive or negative, which meant that the VCA would amplify or attenuate. The transients could now be amplified as well as attenuated! I thought that was genius.

I finished my new circuit in a single day. Afterward, I asked myself, what if these envelopes had the same attack but different release times?

So the next day – new luck. I built up exactly this part of the circuit the next day and it worked at first attempt. So now I could control the sustain! I was out of my mind because I could achieve an amazing effect with just two knobs. I couldn’t get the grin off my face. 

Day three – Return of the Boss. On the third day, Hermann came back from his business trip and I presented him my new invention. He was immediately enthusiastic and wanted me to implement the product quickly. But…  

Codeword.Yellow Kick Man!

Endless days in the dark with the envelopes – the fine-tuning

So, my boss liked my invention and now wanted the product to be finished as soon as possible. After the first euphoria, I was disillusioned during a simple test with a drum loop. When I started it, the first beat was the loop, mostly the bass drum was very loud, but the further beats were quieter.

Looking for the reason I found it very quickly. At the beginning of the loop, the difference was simply much bigger than with the following ones. I had a simple analog oscilloscope at hand with which I now tried to observe the generated envelopes. 

To achieve exactly this, I had to adjust the time-scale on my oscilloscope so slowly that only a low shining dot moved across the screen. Under bright sunshine, I completely darkened the room and saw that this dot glowed a little bit and I could roughly see the control voltage. It took me about three months to optimize my circuit for the different signal types. With every small change of the circuit, I repeatedly fed all sounds through the circuit to check if the respective changes had disadvantages. It was like a microsurgical operation or finding the famous needle in a haystack. 


Just to briefly explain the problem. A normal compressor usually has five controls and my circuitry is four times as complex and that is easy to explain. Because it contained several time constants and also internal thresholds, which all had to be perfectly tuned to each other. I could have given the user ten knobs per channel, but this reduction to only two knobs became the key success and stands for perfect usability. I was even able to fit four channels into one unit. And then?

The next challenge!

I wasn’t really satisfied with the overall sound, because especially with a stronger use of attack the whole signal sounded a bit too hard and very unpleasant. To solve this I put a low pass filter behind the VCA and replaced the missing highs with a coil filter again. Exactly with that, the sound became much more pleasant and softer again. To present the overall idea to a selected audience, we made some prototypes which, as usual at that time, consisted of self-etched circuit boards and were then drilled by ourselves. Ronald Prent was one of the first who worked with these prototypes. He immediately became a big fan of this new concept. Yellow Kick Man aka Transient Designer was born.

Handmade Prototype of the Transient Designer
Kick Man | Handmade Prototype of the Transient Designer (Lo-Res Photo)

What is it? Is it a compressor or a noise gate?

The big speculation during the premiere at Prolight + Sound 1998

The Transient Designer, that’s how my finished product was officially named, was first presented to the public at the ProLight + Sound fair in Frankfurt / Germany in spring 1998 and I still remember the many questioning faces of the audience. The most asked question on our booth was: Is this a compressor? A Noise Gate? What is that? 

Transient Designer (2 Channels) invented and developed by Ruben Tilgner, CEO of elysia
(Photo: Transient Designer © SPL Electronics GmbH)
Transient Designer 4, invented and developed by Ruben Tilgner, CEO of elysia
(Photo: Transient Designer 4  © SPL Electronics GmbH)

So I gave interested fair visitors some headphones to check out the product. After a few seconds of listening, the majority of our booth visitors were amazed and enthusiastic about what was possible with this new Transient Designer. So it was a new kind of audio processor that didn’t exist before and I knew that I had created something beautiful and new. In this context, I have to say that I always find it very interesting to experience and enjoy the reactions of potential customers and it always gives me back proof that the long work on the development of a product can always be worthwhile. At premieres like this, I simply enjoy the audience’s reactions and get goosebumps. Definitely deep and emotional memories that are worth looking back on.

Thanks to the positive feedback, also from the international press, as well as the numerous positive reviews, the Transient Designer rapidly became popular and entered national and international studios in no time. 

“The Transient Designer has already earned an entry in the ‘Golden Book’ of renowned studio equipment classics. The intelligent implementation of a simple idea combined with equally simple operation offers truly enormous and sometimes astounding design possibilities. (…) However, such a specific possibility to influence the transient structure of audio signals did not exist before the Transient Designer. Especially in sample-based productions, this FX dynamics processor proves to be a real elixir of life, but also in the world of production with real instruments, there are numerous possibilities of use (see ‘Listening’). So unreserved praise to the manufacturer for this development and a recommendation to you to take a closer look at this extraordinary dynamics processor…”

Studio Magazin | Germany 1999
Ruben Tilgner at a Gig of the Band Muse (FOH).
(Foto: Me in Cologne at a Muse Gig / FOH)

The simple operation with only two controllers and four channels was one of the reasons why the TD4 – Transient Designer became a successful cash cow. The four channels were, of course, predestined for editing a drum kit. Furthermore, the bang for bucks value was pretty good too.





The Envelope Conqueror V2.0 – nvelope from elysia

Next Generation Transient Shaper

In 2006 I co-founded the company elysia. Took it upon myself to develop many new and high-quality products according to my own taste and experiences. 

Since I already had the necessary expertise in the development of compressors through DynaMaxx, I decided to develop another compressor. I started with the alpha compressor, it should be a mastering compressor with very special functions. Nowadays It is still our flagship and has become a modern classic in the audio world. Some years later, around 2012, I had the idea to develop a new and extended version of the Transient Designer. With all the experience I had now, especially in the design of discrete Class-A circuits, I was able to improve this idea fundamentally. Especially in finished mixes, the original circuit does not react as reliable as you would expect. 

The detection of transients was not always working perfectly. Also, there are too large fluctuations in generated amplitudes. So I decided to develop the circuit again from scratch. 

nvelope – Development Board

As a special feature, I planned filters with which you can specify the starting frequencies for the attack and a final frequency for the sustain. My basic idea was quite simple: transients always have something to do with fast and high frequencies and long release times of instruments have always something to do with lower frequencies.

Since the two filter bands can widely overlap I had to develop a special bandpass that ensures that the frequency response always remains linear. With my discrete design and my own VCAs, the sound was much punchier and clearer, which again is a real improvement. Due to this multiband concept, the editing sounds more natural now and less like a Noise Gate. 

Especially shortening the sustain only in the bass range works much better now. Nevertheless, the nvelope can be operated in the so-called full-range mode, which is similar to the original Transient Designer. 

If you don’t need transient processing in a mix, you can also use the EQ mode. So three possibilities in one product! Which turned out to be a real advantage.

Transient Designer – The PlugIns in the digital World

At the peak of the DAW – Mayhem, the Transmod from Sony Oxford was one of the first plug-ins that were based on my idea and exactly my circuitry. Based on the original hardware, Brainworx then developed the corresponding plug-ins for SPL and elysia, which sounds really great – but analog remains analog.

Most big DAWs now include a Transient Designer/Transient Shaper Tools. Several software manufacturers have also adopted the idea of the Transient Designer. Besides, the technology can be found as a processing tool in many drum sample players. I can only recommend everyone to test the hardware nvelope and you will see and hear by yourself that it is still the benchmark in Transient Shaping.

Closing words

In conclusion, I have to say:

Yes, the Transient Designer has become a true classic and revolutionized the audio industry both analog and digital. These are the facts of which I am of course very proud of. But also that I’m still the only one that developed the only two analog hardware versions on the market. This proofs me how complex my circuit is and it takes a lot of knowledge and experience to create something like this in the analog domain.

As this idea has spread to many plug-ins – the transient designer and transient shaper have become a standard in audio processing. 

In the future, this will surely gain more importance. Thanks to the Loudness Normalization there’s even more headroom available again to let nice transients be sounded in the mixes.

So my number 1 billboard hit became a product with which I could make the audio world a bit more beautiful, better and even more creative. Even this has not brought me a Ferrari – I’m not really sad about it. What do you think? Leave a comment or your personal experience. I would be happy to discuss, exchange or philosophize with you.

I am curious.

Thank you very much for your interest.

Yours truly, Ruben Tilgner

Transient Designer

The invention of the Transient Designer | Transient Shaper Technology

My Invention of the Transient Designer – On my trails of transients and my personal adventure with envelopes – but suddenly one of the most revolutionary ideas of the 90s was born, even without me realizing it.

Part 1 /2

(translated from the German Blog article)

Many of you may not even know that I invented one of the most influential and revolutionary audio processors of the late ’90s, the Transient Designer. I was young and really didn’t need much money, I was more looking for one specific sound. You’re probably wondering how this came, what I had in mind, and heck, what does Michael Jackson have to do with all of this?

With this blogpost, I will take you on a personal journey into my bloomy past and i will tell you how I unwittingly became the inventor of one technology. This technology became a standard in every DAW and continues to be used in countless sample libraries and until today. Today known as an award-winning technology.

The musical needs

It all started when I, as a passionate musician and professional radio and television engineer with ambitions for analog technology, got a job as a developer for SPL Audio in Niederkrüchten / Germany in 1995. At that time I just left my band as a keyboard player and started to build my first home studio in my bedroom – of course with the idea to get rich with my music and sell millions of records. You all know that! Don’t you? 

I equipped my home studio with a sampler from Ensoniq, the EPS 16+, a Kawai K4 Synth, a Roland D70 and a Kurzweil K2000. As common in the nineties, I connected my collection of fine Soundgenerators via MIDI to an Atari 1040 ST with the good old Cubase installed.

Besides, I had an old fashioned analog mixer and my speakers so that I could work creatively in my home studio. With this setup, I started to compose my own songs, work on my sounds and tweaked knobs all night long to create sequences to get the best out of my Instruments. At that time my outboard equipment, unfortunately, was quite poor and I could only dream of buying a compressor.

The perfect change: Creative Fridays in the company

During my time working for SPL Audio, I was frequently asked to work in the production where I was responsible for the technical and acoustic testing routines of their Products. This was a kind of first quality control. A very frustrating fact was, that I sometimes was asked to do stupid and idiotic tasks for weeks. These task were really time-consuming and exhausting and most of the time no brains really were worn out. So I decided to use Fridays to give my creativity full scope.

During the morning I had the idea for a product. This idea I wanted to realize in the afternoon. There were cardboard, which was commonly used to safely stack several products. For me, that cardboard served as paper for sketching my circuit schematics, that I thought of. On Friday noon I took all my full enthusiasm and armed myself with soldering tools.

When I was in a good mood, I developed and build a completely new product from old circuit boards and housings on just only one Friday afternoon. In a very Frankenstein-like Way and with my vision: The most important thing was that the product has to be crazy and it should generate sounds and create noises. One circumstance turned out to be quite cool. Since there were always defects in some front panels, housings, and circuit boards during production, these parts no longer could be used for assembly and I was able to recycle those parts sustainably and creatively.

Vitalizing Circuits

For my own vitalization, I often took the circuit board of the Vitalizer and created something completely different. A surfboard? Nah, not really! The nice fact about these circuit boards was that I could already use a pre-build infrastructure. There were Power supplies, audio jacks, potentiometers and switches that were already implemented for the front panel.

Thankfully, I had a reasonable quantity of OP amps on hand and even with the LM13700, a type of a VCA. What a hell of luck. On the back of the circuit board, I soldered my new connections with several cables and cable bridges that created all the new functions that I wanted.  

The holes on the front panel were already punched and I always needed to consider useful features and functions for all of them. Even though I only needed four potentiometers for my new project, I needed to come up with something useful. So I uses all the left holes creatively. If I needed an additional switch I could easily add it using the drill. 

On Friday evenings a good schoolmate was already waiting for me with some of his spray cans. I went to his house with beer and my new product in my bag. Finally, I had to paint the front panel of my newly created baby. I had to use exactly the paint from his leftovers and i was limited. With a permanent marker, I labeled the front panel afterward.

That way I created a whole bunch of crazy and creative self-made products for my home studio. Filter boxes with LFO’s, AutoPaner, Gates, Bass Drum Generators just to name a few.

Invention of the Transient Designer: Ruben Tilgner's Developments
Ruben’s Rack with handmade processors
Invention of the Transient Designer: Ruben Tilgners Funk Maschine
The Funk-Maschine
The developments of Ruben Tilgner
Ruben’s Rack closeup

The Transient Whisperer | Transient Shaping – My first Idea.

There I was working with my collection of self-made audio processors in my home studio. As a bedroom producer continuing to refine the sounds of my self-composed songs. I felt in love with an album in 1991 from Michael Jackson called Dangerous. I terms of the sound I found it pretty amazing. Especially the punchy drum sounds that smacked over my speakers were extraordinary to me. At that time I knew that I had to recreate this sound for my own songs in my home studio. But how?


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Michael Jackson | Dangerous
Urgent Requirement

With my equipment, I couldn’t get that sound. At that time the all-knowing internet was still learning – Google and Youtube couldn’t help me either. I didn’t had a compressor at that time. My philosophy, then as today: “What I don’t have, I will build myself”. At the same time, I had the first idea of the predecessor of the Transient Designer – the Transient Equalizer. As I was already experienced in creating new products in a Frankenstein-style. I developed the first prototype of the so called Transient Equalizer.

The Transient Equalizer

The Transient Eqalizer by Ruben Tilgner

The basic principle of this product was similar to that of a noise gate with a threshold control. This also triggered an envelope like in a synthesizer. Additionally, I spend this prototype a decay to control the decay time. As I already mentioned several times, I had to accommodate eight useful potentiometers to give the front panel a neat face. And so I had the idea to implement a noise generator. I could mix this noise generator together with a bandpass into the VCA. I used the last potentiometers for a mix control and a distortion stage for the effect signal. It turned out that this was perfect for polishing up lame and nasty snare drums from my sampler. With this prototype I could already make very crazy sounds but…

Unfortunately, it turned out that this threshold trigger was not always perfect and I had to optimize it. The following scenario happened: If my signal was too quiet, no envelope was triggered and if my snare fills were too fast, no new ones could be triggered. Many noise gates still have exactly this problem today. Have you ever noticed it? I soon found out that exactly this circuit was not suitable for everything and unfortunately did not work very reliable.

Master of the envelopes – finally, my first compressor!

So there I stood in front of my pile of broken glass, which caused me sleepless nights. Envelopes, dynamics and the dream of my own compressor. All the time I invested in this project I simply forgot to continue working on my “Number 1” album production. How am I supposed to get into the Billboard charts? But… not without this particular sound! Suddenly a ray of hope and intuition: A voice telling me forcefully: “A compressor, Ruben! A compressor!”. In 1996 I finally developed my first own compressor called DynaMaxx.

The Challenge

A real challenge for me was to develop a compressor with only one single knob. To realize it, I worked very intensively on the subject on how I can transform the AC voltage into a control signal for a VCA. Especially the rectifier and the time constants were a big challenge. For this purpose I used countless signals from my Kurzweil K2000 to get a compression result that was as discreet as possible. The endless adjustment of the time constants then brought control behavior which worked very well on many types of signals. The DynaMaxx was already a feedforward compressor at that time. I was able to realize a de-compressor and additionally an intelligent noise gate.

My first compressor became a real success! Quickly, it was used in many studios and was also appreciated in Live Environment because it delivered fast and good results. 

DynaMaxx Compressor from SPL
(Foto: DynaMaxx © SPL Electronics GmbH)

It was exactly through this development that I gained real expertise on the sidechain of a compressor. Did I perhaps now conquer the envelopes? More to come in the second part of my personal Transient Designer Story.

In the meantime please have a closer look into our nvelope.

Please feel free to share, comment and discuss with me.

Yours truly, Ruben