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Slate Digital FG-X Virtual Mastering Console

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Slate Digital FG-X Virtual Mastering Console As the name says, FG-X is a mastering engineer's workstation with everything you need to master your song's recording. An entire set of mastering tools is wrapped up in a single Native (VST, AU, RTAS, Mac/PC) plug-in.

FG-X is designed to work on your stereo mixing bus while you build a mix or "after the fact" on completed and possibly already compressed stereo mix files. The detailed manual is tutorial in its presentation style of this powerful and advanced tool--you'll have no worries if the mastering process has always been, up till now, a mystery to you.

One feature that'll help you appraise the great results you'll get with this plug-in is Constant Gain Monitoring. Essentially it automatically offsets the monitoring level by the same amount of gain you're adding to make it loud. This avoids the level hype that limiting always brings about--it always sounds better louder especially after a long day in the studio; but is the quality of the recording, performance and mix still retained? By listening at the same volume and switching FG-X in and out, making your tweaks, you can more accurately judge the changes in sound quality without the euphoric level jump.

I installed FG-X into my Pro Tools HD 3 Accel rig here at my Tones 4 $ Studios and went about comparing it to my usual mastering chain of a compressor followed by a peak limiter. Like a mastering engineer, I use a compressor to increase the average loudness and for the way it colors and builds the low frequencies. The limiter I use makes it loud yet legal. (no overs and inner sample peaks)

The Slate Digital FG-X Virtual Mastering Console has three modules. The FG Comp is a compressor/leveler with attack, release and ratio controls but has no output level knob. It's for increasing average volume while peak level control happens in the FG Level module. The FG Level module uses a complex algorithm to analyze and limit peaks individually so as to minimally affect their impact, punch and dynamics when increasing overall level with the module's Gain control.

Finally, there is the very precise metering module. There are both peak reading LED trees and VU meters with a choice of three different setups of ballistics, reference level and operating ranges.

Each of the modules feature 3-D GUIs with backlit controls and switches and, when any module is bypass, it goes dark. I liked that all the controls are large and easy to adjust by mouse plus you can directly type values in small text boxes. All good!

Sonically I immediately liked FG-X because, just like a seasoned pro mastering engineer, I have the ability to enhance mixes in very specific and artistic ways. I tried varying the Intelligent Transient Preservation™ slider that changes the saturation characteristics of the FG Level processor from a harder quality to a smoother sound--or anywhere in between. This is an excellent and subtle tool.

ITP, like most of the parameters, can be automated for continuous and smooth changes during a song. This would adapt the processor's algorithm to different song dynamics with just a single parameter's automation.

The FG Level module also has the Lo Punch and Detail transient controls. Lo Punch makes low frequency track elements "poke" more. I found this amazing for causing the bass guitar to sound as if each note was "framed" in clarity and not just brighter.

Likewise, Detail does a similar aural enhancement to the upper mids and high frequencies. It makes the mix sound brighter and weightier but not EQ'd. Both these controls are adjusted after you've arrived at your max level. I found, after listening for a while, that a little of these "spices" go a long way. In general, I wouldn't go beyond straight up at 12-noon on these knobs. If you do, you should go back and fix your mix dude!

Also in FG Level is the Dynamic Perception control and it sounds like a turbo-boosted ITP--i.e. not as subtle. Dynamic Perception makes the overall mix and especially the drums and percussive instruments spikier. Again a little works well on mixes that need it. I liked it in small amounts and this feature would make FG-X a good drum bus processor.

For you own personalization, FG-X neatly stores your preferences for each of the three modules within built-in pop up menus that are saved locally but used globally. When you call up the plug, specific details like metering choices, compressor threshold range, down dither bit depth, max ceiling level, transient processing details and much more are implemented as you have previously saved them.

Back in the studio, I went with a smooth ITP setting for a polished and finished sound for an R&B ballad. I was comparing my mix with a current R&B hit and using FG-X helps to fill in the level gaps between my un mastered mix and a professionally mastered mix--straight comparison is difficult.

For a '60's 'Flower-Power' inspired Rock track with loads of guitars and reverb, I went with a harder ITP setting. This song could take a lot more compression and limiting as part of its retro sound. I can say that I was able to make this particular track as loud or louder than my usual chain by using only FG-X.

In general, as I work FG-X into my mixing process, all my mixes are as loud as I'm use to making them but they have less of the deleterious and squashed artifacts I hear on so many of today's records.

As a famous mastering engineer once said: "It's not how loud you make it, it's how you make it loud." Respect your music and your listeners, make it loud but do it in the best-sounding way with a powerful tool called the Slate Digital FG-X Virtual Mastering Console. FG-X sells for $249 and is available at www.slatedigital.com. Download the demo at: www.drumclassroom.net/demos/.



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