Software Roundup: The Best Transient Shaping Plugins on the Market

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When Sound Performance Labs introduced its revolutionary dynamics processor, Transient Designer, in the late 90s, it created a whole new class of audio effects.

This groundbreaking new design employed what SPL would call its “Differential Envelope Technology” to adjust the relative levels of the attack and sustain of a sound, completely independent of their input level.

With only two controls—“Attack” and “Sustain”—the original hardware Transient Designer enabled audio professionals to dramatically change the envelope and “shape” of their source material without having to consider the complex interplay between threshold, attack, release or knee controls on a compressor. This device, which has seen several iterations over the years, undoubtedly paved the way for the plethora of transient-shaping tools we see today.

The original hardware Transient Designer from SPL offered simple, intuitive control over an entirely new category of processing.

Some software developers have followed in SPL’s footsteps by trying to employ the simplest design possible. Others have gone through the trouble of designing the most comprehensive transient shaping tools you can imagine, adding flexibility and taking advantage of the power provided by the digital processors of today.

In the hopes of making it easier for you to navigate the now-vast world of transient modification, we’ve gathered the most popular and powerful transient shapers on the market for a detailed round-up.

While there is no “best” or “worst” approach among these options, there are certainly an array of opportunities (and tasteful limitations) inspired by both of these competing philosophies.

SPL Transient Designer Plus by Plugin Alliance

The SPL Transient Designer Plus from Plugin Alliance.

Based on the original SPL design, this plugin features the familiar controls found on its hardware predecessor.

“Attack” allows you to amplify or attenuate the attack of a signal by up to 15dB, while “Sustain” allows your to amplify or attenuate the sustain of a signal by up to 24dB. “Output Gain” can reduce the output signal by as much as to -20dB, or boost the output signal by up to +6dB.

In addition to these standard controls, Plugin Alliance has introduced several exciting new features:

First, there is now an optional “soft clipper” to help minimize digital overs. Included with this is an LED-style gain reduction meter to display up to 14dB of soft clipping.

But note that because this is not a peak-stopping limiter, digital overs are still possible! Make sure to monitor the output of this plug-in.

Second, SPL has introduced a “Parallel Mix” knob. With fully variable control from 100% dry to 100% wet, this knob lets you find the perfect blend. I know that for myself, this feature proved to be a major bonus. No longer needing to create a separate track to blend in extreme attack or sustain has made my sessions smaller and my smile larger.

Third, a “Side Chain Filter” can now prevent parts of a signal from being processed. Perhaps you have a drum loop that is near perfect but the kick just isn’t providing enough transient: Use the “SC SOLO” function to hone in on the kick’s fundamental and then add some attack.

The only significant limitation with the sidechain filter function is that it does not offer control over the filter type or width. Essentially it’s a fixed-Q bandpass.

Side-chain advancements don’t stop there though: The new “SC EXT” option allows external signals to affect the behavior of the attack and sustain parameters.

Softube TransientShaper

Softube’s Transient Shaper plugin.

Softube’s take on transient shaping should have longtime SPL users feeling right at home.

Some of the terms here are different, but the concepts are the same. Substituting “Attack” for “Punch” the attack of a signal can be modified by up to +/-20 dB. But this Transient Shaper also adds some new controls:

Timing adjustments are available via the “Punch Type” control which allows a range of selections from “Slow” to “Fast.” Unfortunately, this parameter doesn’t display any real world time values, so let your ears alone be the guide. The “Sustain” control also provides up to +/-20 dB of variability but doesn’t include any timing adjustments.

Multiband control over transients is also available and is flexible and easy to use. The “Punch” and “Sustain” processors can each be applied in “Wide” mode ( covering the entire bandwidth), “Hi mode” (high frequencies only), and “Lo” mode (affecting low frequencies only). The “Crossover” control determines the frequency at which the signal gets split into the “Hi” and “Lo” bands, with variable control from 100 Hz to 4000 Hz. This plugin is limited to just the two bands.

A comprehensive readout of how much transient modification is going on across both bands is displayed via the “Gain Change” meter. Separate readings from -/+ 20 dB are available for both “Hi” and “Lo” bands. Output levels can be monitored via the Output Level meter, and the included “Clip LED” indicates if the output is clipping.

Finally, “Level” controls the output volume by allowing you to attenuate by as much as -48dB or increasing the signal by up to +12 dB. There is also an optional soft clipper which, when engaged, kicks in when 0 dB output is reached. Note that “Level” controls the volume before hitting the soft clipper and that the Output Level meter will show volume after the soft clipper.

iZotope Neutron

iZotope Neutron’s Transient Shaper module.

Neutron is actually a multi-processing channel strip suite, but I’m including it in this roundup for its its powerful “TransientShaper” module.

While wide-band processing is the default here, multi-band capabilities include two crossovers, allowing for up to three separate bands of transient shaping.

Each of these bands has both a Solo and Bypass control, allowing you to So isolate each band to hear exactly how it’s being affected, or to deactivates the band’s processing while preserving the crossover position.

Note that bypassing a band in this way is not the same as deactivating the associated crossovers. The audio remains split into multiple bands until you disable each crossover by clicking on its associated number.

Each band has a few controls: “Attack” and “Sustain” provide an increase or decrease of up to +/- 15dB. In between are three “Contour” options—Sharp, Medium, and Smooth—that allow you to tweak response of the transient shaper in each band.

“Sharp” uses the fastest release time, making it the best option for short and staccato material such as percussion. “Medium” offers a transparent and linear release envelope so it tends to work well on the majority of source material. “Smooth” has the slowest envelope, making it the best option for sustained signals.

There are also three global algorithms: Precise, Balanced, and Loose. “Precise” has the fastest recovery time and is most accurate and responsive when adding or removing attack. “Balanced” is the middle ground, employing a fairly quick attack and medium release time. “Loose” has the slowest release, making it best for adding large amounts of sustain. A fully variable, global mix control is also included to blend processed audio internally.

A novel and useful visual aid is provided through “Gain Adjustment Trace”—a scrolling meter that displays the incoming signal’s waveform with a superimposed curve that illustrates any gain adjustments happening in real time.

And, when Neutron is loaded in a 5.1 or 7.1 surround-sound configuration a LFE bypass is included to ensure that audio in the LFE channel is passed through unprocessed with the correct latency compensation.

Waves Trans-X

Waves Trans-X Multi

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  • Seems that you forget to mention the elysia nvelope

  • Justin C.

    That’s true! We should add a mention. That’s a great one. We have a recent full review of it here: https://www.sonicscoop.com/2016/02/11/new-plugin-review-nvelope-from-elysia-and-plugin-alliance/

  • Drew Alec

    Should also add Boz Digital Labs Transgressor as something new to the table…

  • Dwayne P.

    A real “Next Gen” transient plugin is Molecular-Bytes’s AtomicTransient! This one can work with time-overlapping drums or smoothly change transients on polyphonic instruments. Really awesome…