Revisiting Sonnox Inflator
Sonnox is well respected for its sonically superior plugins. There are a few I use regularly - mainly the Oxford Limiter and SuprEsser DS - both for podcast editing as well as music production. But there is another great Sonnox plugin which has been around for as long as I remember and which I've seriously underestimated - the Oxford Inflator - and until December 5th, you can nab this smart bit of kit for 75% off. Here's why I think that's worth considering... In todays climate of 'everything louder than everything else' there's a limit to how far you can go with this quest before science literally stops you in your tracks. There's much debate about whether the quest for 'loudness' is damaging the production of real dynamic music, but like everything that is consumed, we have little choice but to pander to market forces or be left on the sidelines. In these times of short attention spans and beat-oriented hooks, your work needs every edge it can possibly gain to reach an audience. Loudness is, therefore, a combination of perception and level. While the objective is to grab the listener's attention, I think it's the combination of volume and dynamics which is important, not to mention the quality of the music itself. I remember a decade ago buying a Skrillex CD and marvelling at how big and dynamic it sounded, but noticing how the meters sat at the same position pretty much throughout every song. Perception?
Three In One
I've used Inflator for ages on the mix bus, but I only recently put it on an individual channel - and that was kind of by accident. Inflator is one of those plugins that does multiple things and represents amazing value for money: The obvious is that of a saturation loudness enhancer, but it's also extremely good at creating depth within a mix, and by that I don't just mean more low end EQ; I'm talking about the perception of distance that a particular instrument or voice is away from you. The third thing it does extremely well is increase the harmonic density of a sound or instrument, making it seem larger or more aggressive. All of this is achieved through the clever introduction of harmonic distortion and, if you drive the input, that leads to saturation. The Inflator is neither a compressor nor a limiter, so you won't get any of the pumping effects associated with compression. And although there are many tape saturation and harmonic distortion FX plugins, none does such a smooth and refined job across the board for such a small investment as the Oxford Inflator. In fact, having rediscovered it, I find myself making the difficult decision of what not to put it on. Traditionally, I just used it on the master bus when the mix just needed that something extra to bring it forward and help it gel together. But I have since used it on vocals to bring them to the forefront; across a drum buss; on a bass; and on acoustic and electric guitars. I even used it to enhance harmonica and saxophone, with quite dazzling results. The following description of the Inflator's control interface refers to the legacy version, and gives you an overview of what everything does, and the type and nature of the resulting sound. The interface comprises four sliders and three buttons. The first button is the clip which, when engaged, clips the signal at the digital maximum. With the clip button left out, the plugin is able to process information above the digital maximum, giving you a different flavour of saturation, more reminiscent of analogue tape than that of the digitally clipped signal which is more like the clipping of a high end analogue to digital converter. Both these effects seem to suit percussive instruments like drums and guitars, but in reality, there wasn't very much that didn't sound more alive and transparent - especially when it came to samples and virtual instrumentation. You may find that driving the input and reducing the output actually gives you the clear perception of a louder signal, but the meter for that channel will clearly show you that the signal is lower than it was before processing through Inflator.
Curve & Effect
The Effect fader is where you add harmonic distortion to your source signal, and the Curve fader alters the nature of the harmonic content added. As you increase the Curve, it sounds very much like the scope and range of the added distortion is increased. Some have described it as being brighter as you increase the curve from zero and darker as you decrease from zero, but to me it sounds like the curve is controlling the range of the harmonic content as it seems to increase the density of just as many low end frequencies as it does high. You're really looking at how much harmonic content you want to introduce (Effect) and the density of the harmonic content (Curve). The Band Split button allows for three-band processing; it improves the separation between instruments, and reduces intermodulation. This was particularly noticeable across mixes when dealing with EDM, bass drops, and hip hop but was also noticeable on individual instrument sounds such as synth pads. In every case, sonics are pleasing - and it can be very easy to get carried away, so make sure you use your ears. When it comes to the mix, I pretty much use the Oxford Inflator together with the Oxford Limiter, although they are not active until I'm happy with the rest of my work.
"Inflator is great at creating depth in a mix."