I’m pretty sure T-Racks was one of the first pieces of audio software I ever bought; I remember putting it on every project I had and just clicking through the presets without a clue about what was happening, because all sorts of settings were changing at the same time. Since then, the format has expanded to allow individual modules to be used with or without the T-Racks rack, and the original eq, compression and limiting options have been joined by a wide-range of multiband processors, hardware emulations, meters and additional new modules that in some cases supplement or supersede those originals.
T-Racks can be used as a standalone application or as a plugin. Standalone T-Racks allows us load audio files and to create and edit chains of processors from global or module presets or by selecting individual plugins from a list. There is also an Assembly view where we can assemble/trim/fade/gap and export tracks as a “master” session with track names, artists, album and date tags, as well as ISRC and EAN/UPC codes. Snapshots of processing chains can be saved and applied as required along the session timeline; detailed metering and loudness information are available, and if we use IK Multimedia’s ARC (room correction software) in our monitoring chain, we can select or bypass it here too. Tucked away at the top of the window is an equal gain button that allows us to hear our processing chain without level changes, to help eliminate the effect where we tend to hear louder=better.
The plugin version of the rack is a bit simpler: we don’t need the Assembly view because track assembly is done in the DAW, ARC is enabled/disabled directly from its insert slot, and I couldn’t see any way to select metering from within the rack, although it is available as a separate plugin. Otherwise we have the same area to assemble and adjust our plugins, with up to sixteen slots available for series and/or parallel patching, plus an optional final Master Match processor, and if we don’t want to use the rack we can simply drop individual plugins into slots in our DAW channels and busses.
Some of the original T-Racks processors must now be getting on for twenty years old, and modules such as the Classic Eq, Linear Phase Eq and Brickwall Limiter might be considered to be superseded by newer units like EQual and the Stealth Limiter, but they all still work, and I still use the old Classic Clipper and Multiband Limiter; the Opto Compressor was and is a lovely gentle compressor, and the later 1176 and LA2A compressors and the De-Esser and Quad Image are go-to units for me. Tape Echo is a characterful delay (oddly, there has never been a “modern” delay module), Saturator X is a deceptively comprehensive and good sounding tape/tube/transistor/transformer saturation tool, and the API, Neve, SSL, Faichild, Pultec and other emulations and the newer Stealth Limiter all get used here on a regular basis.
So what’s brand-new in T-Racks 5? There is a new clean-graphic style (sadly now without the classic T-Rex pun logo), VST3 support, a new 32 bit/192 kHz audio engine with an improved internal re-sampling process, upgraded metering, and four new processor models:
One Mastering Processor, which is included in all of the paid versions, combines compression, limiting, transient control, eq, low-end enhancer, stereo width and harmonic enhancement in a single module. It’s probably not for the Mastering Purist, but it works really well when you need a bit of final tweaking to a completed mix or something like a drum-buss without getting bogged-down in lots of extra decision making, and it seems to do a lot more under the covers than the fairly simple set of controls would suggest.
Master Match, also included in all paid versions, is automatically set as the final processor in the rack (position is fixed, you can turn it off), and allows us to nudge both the eq and dynamic levels of our track towards the sound of one or more reference tracks or style presets. I do have a few other plugins that match eq, which I occasionally use for matching tracks recorded in different places or at different times, but I like how Master Match works: it’s simple to load references, and having both level and spectral match controls works well to select how far to process to get a natural sound. Master Match incorporates a limiter to stop overs from being introduced by its processing, but in a DAW (like Cubase) that requires a plugin to handle dither (as against dithering as an ingtegral part of the export process), we’ll need to insert a separate plugin after the rack – the standalone rack has this built-in as a project property.
Dyna-Mu Compressor is based on a “well known” Vari-Mu tube compressor; it has a sort of “like a record” hi-fi sound and I’ve noticed that it’s starting to creep onto my mix-buss quite a lot recently.
EQual Eq combines ten bands of individually selectable SSL, Neve, API, tube, passive and other modelled eq curves with a modern interface with both minimum and linear phase modes, and seems to make a fair few other eq plugins (including some of the T-Racks ones) a bit obsolete.
Metering is a strong point with TR5: the standalone and plugin racks include comprehensive loudness monitoring, plus metering for average and peak levels (both mid/side and left-right), phase correlation, stereo image, real time frequency analysis and a spectrograph display, available as a fly-out window (standalone) or separate plugin.
There are a couple of workflow things that I’ll mention. Firstly, none of the compressors allow side-chaining; this probably dates back to the original idea that T-Racks is a “mastering” package, but it’s now far, far beyond that, and side-chaining really should be there today! Also missing, and again, common by modern standards even if not present on original hardware models, are mix controls to allow in-the-plugin parallel processing. On the plus side, the VST3 standard allows for re-sizing plugin interfaces which not many products seem to implement – T-Racks 5 does, and it’s brilliant, and both standalone and plugin versions have undo/redo and an excellent 4-slot snapshot tool.
Even as I listed some of my most-used modules, I was thinking , “oh, I should mention the Reverbs, or the Mic Room, or the Master Eq 432 or ……… The bottom line is that the range is massive. Options range from downloading the free T-Racks CS (Custom Shop) model which includes just the Classic EQ and basic metering, through the standard T-Racks 5 bundle with 9 processors, Deluxe with 22, or Max (reviewed here) with 38, and additional modules can be auditioned and bought from the online Custom Shop.
Modern DAWs tend to have very good plugins, and sometimes the sane side of my brain tries to tell me that I really don’t need another very slightly different eq or compressor, but T-Racks provides a lot of both “colour” (emulations, character modules) and “tech” (Quad series, Stealth, EQual, Metering), options and sometimes it’s just inspiring to have another brush to paint with. Do be careful, if you suffer with any form of collector’s urges as it can end-up being a bit of an expensive obsession to collect the lot as individual modules, but IK Multimedia offers various purchasing options including redeemable points, occasional group-buys (buy one get several free) and discounts and sales, and as I’m writing this there are offers on the IK Multimedia website (http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/cat-view.php?C=family-t-racks) that make the bundles, especially MAX, an absolute bargain for new users!