T-RackS 3 is a suite of high-quality digital and analog-modelled VST/AU/RTAS Dynamics and EQ processors, for mixing and mastering. T-RackS can also be used outside of your DAW as a standalone mastering application. Version 3.5.1 is the latest at the time of this review.
T-RackS Standard comes with the 4 ‘classic’ processors and metering suite as individual plugins also available within the T-Racks Shell or standalone.
T-Racks Deluxe has all the same functionality but adds a few more processors for a total of 9 including two analog modelled devices, the Fairchild Limiter and Pultec Tube Equalizer.
Each of the processors are also available for $99 each. The two newest additions to the T-RackS family – Black 76 Limiting Amplifier (modelled after Urei 1176), and White 2A Leveling Amplifier (Modelled after Urei LA2A Tube compressor/limiter), are only available as add-on purchases.
The decision to offer the individual processors was based on user feedback and common use. When T-RackS 3 was first released it was considered a mastering plugin, but users started liking the effects for mixing as well. Splitting up the system outside of the T-RackS Shell has made things much more convenient.
The T-RackS 3 Shell
The Shell contains all the processors – up to 12 can be loaded in any order, series and parallel. You can load and save presets for individual modules or globally. The shell also contains the full metering module with Peak, Perceived loudness, Phase, correlation and frequency spectrum metering. Each of these can be adjusted to suit the user. The Shell contains four buttons to AB(CD) 4 complete effect chains along with a “copy to” button. Lastly, at the top-right the compare button allows you to compare your processing to the volume adjustable source.
The standalone version adds several more features to the shell. Below the metering section is the playlist. You can drop in all your files to process, or reference. Changing tracks in the playlist will start a new empty chain with all settings saved for all previous tracks. There is a waveform display so you can trim in, and out points and fades. The waveform display is also where you can use snapshot automation for the processing chain.
The final notable feature in Standalone mode is ARC integration. ARC is a room compensation system sold separately
Basically, running T-RackS 3 outside of the DAW let’s you load any number of stereo audio files, process them and export to new files including sample rate, bit depth conversion with dithering.
One of the benefits of working in standalone mode is the semi-closed system without access to your hundreds of other VST plugins. You can focus on using the excellent tools available in T-RackS.
Mastering with T-RackS Singles
On the other hand, I already have a pretty good mastering workflow and template in REAPER. One of the things I’ve been doing lately is parallel MS compression which pumps up the RMS level, solidifies the centre channel and widens the overall image. I can do this with the parallel chain but I like having my reference tracks, source track, processed track and parallel effects layer out on faders in front of me. This is beyond the ability of T-RackS shell or standalone.
Another trick is to do band-specific upward compression. Kind of like splitting up a multi-band compressor to separate tracks for each range. By using the linear phase EQ (and latency compensation on in the DAW) you avoid the nasty phase shift you’d normally get trying to blend a band-passed signal in with the full-range source.
5 of the 9 processors allow linked stereo, dual mono, and Mid-Side operation which opens up some creative possibilities without the hassle of encoding and decoding manually MS or splitting the tracks to dual mono manually.
All the single plugins could be successfully wrapped and used with Automap and my Nocturn Keyboard. There are probably too many parameters in the EQ’s to use automap but all the dynamics modules work great with some hands-on controls.
One feature I’d really like is a sidechain input for all the compressors, or at least an internal sidechain filter like the Classic Compressor.
T-RackS Mastering Strategy
The chain I usually start with is Linear Phase EQ, Vintage 670 (Fairchild), Vintage Tube EQ, Classic Clipper, Brickwall Limiter.
The Linear EQ is for corrections, 670 is for glue or widening if required, Tube EQ for wide tone shaping. The Clipper and Brickwall Limiter work together to get things loud. I find setting these up first, then jumping back to the corrective EQ to be a good strategy.
I’m going to deviate from the review for a second to applaud IK Multimedia for dramatically improving their authorization process. The new Authorization Manager makes online activation very simple now. I’ve heard complaints and fumbled my way through the old method many times and it was confusing. Now, effortless. Thanks IK!
This is Awesome
The effects are easy to use, map well to controllers and sound great.
In the deluxe package you get both clean (opto and classic) compressors, and the colourful Fairchild model. You also get two clean EQ’s (classic and linear) and the vibey vintage Pultec model.
The Clipper module is excellent to push up your master levels but it’s also great in the mix where you don’t want to hear a change dynamics or tone but just want to set a ceiling for the track. Kick and snare is where I’m often using the Clipper, the hard knew can sharpen the attack and make it cut through the mix and soft knee is very transparent.
I don’t often need a linear phase EQ but when I do, I want something good. The T-RackS Linear EQ is great, so much better than the very expensive Waves ones I’ve used.
All the knobs smoothly respond to mousewheel.
There are a few areas where I see IK could stand to improve T-RackS, small things but I think they’re worth saying.
In the chain view of T-RackS Shell, an easy way to rearrange modules, such as drag & drop, would be nice.
Sidechain inputs (or at least HPF sidechain) for all the compressor modules
Button to open the user guide. There are no tool tips explaining what the various functions do and the manual is actually saved somewhere you won’t find it.
Install the documentation to the IK Multimedia/T-RackS folder in My Documents along with the presets instead of hidden in the Mac library documentation folder.
Adjustable graph scale for EQ modules. 40dB of gain is far more than you’d ever need in mastering. I’d like an option to limit the graph to +/- 6 and 12dB.
The Future of T-RackS
I’m interested to see where IK Multimedia takes T-RackS next. The Black 76 and White 2A compressor/limiters are not devices typically found in mastering but are essential rock mixing tools. I’d like to see more classic hardware like the Distressor, Massive Passive, and if we’re going with mixing tools, a Roland Space Echo and EMT Plate.
I’d also like to see IK’s take on console and tape simulations which yes, are the thing everyone is doing, but certainly essential mixing and mastering tools.
I have no insider info and I don’t want to start any rumours but I would not be surprised to see a couple new additions to T-Racks in 2012.
Learning T-RackSI only skimmed through the manual but I did watch the great Groove3 tutorial hosted by Michael Costa on mastering with T-Racks, and it’s actually a great general mastering primer. It’s currently on sale for $10. Check that out here: Mastering With T-Racks
Also available is The Official Guide to T-RackS by Bobby Owsinski. If you’re looking to go beyond the manual and want an in-depth, plain english explanation of the effects and WHY you’d use them, check it out: Mixing and Mastering with IK Multimedia T-RackS – The Official Guide
T-Racks 3 Deluxe is an awesome bundle of audio effects for mixing and mastering. At the current promotional price, especially for upgrades, it’s a fantastic deal. The software is a few years old now but still holds up well vs the competition and is still being updated. There is currently a promotion and group buy for T-Racks 3 Deluxe, click here for more details.