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Sound On Sound Review of Flux Plug-ins
Solera, the flagship of the Flux plug-in range, represents a different approach to dynamics processing, far removed from the traditional 'three knob' dynamics device Flux say they have primarily designed it for mastering and remastering applications. Solera has four dynamics processors built into the one interface - a compressor, expander, de-compressor and de-expander - as well as side-chain EQ and M/S processing...
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FLUX is a French company that specializes in high-quality audio processing tools. Solera is the company’s flagship dynamics tool. And there is a reason for the name; it comes from solerais, which is a wine-blending technique used to ensure consistent flavor from year to year. That the manufacturer put this much thought into the name of a plug-in is a hint at the level of effort that went into the design and coding.
I normally don’t like to go into detailed features in my reviews, but Solera is a different kind of title, and it deserves a closer inspection. Under the hood, it is actually four different detectors and envelope generators that operate simultaneously in parallel. Re-read that sentence and let it sink in. There is a compressor, de-compressor, expander, and de-expander. Each title can be independently enabled or bypassed. You can also load two different configurations, calling one A and one B, and transition between them (even back and forth) while your track plays back! Standard controls like threshold, ratio, and knee are present and fully adjustable. However, there are even more features that keep Solera from being just another every-control-available compressor plug-in.First, metering uses RMS values instead of dBFS, which is more in line with how humans perceive loudness. Second, FLUX has spent considerable effort to create an adaptive release algorithm. The actual particulars are proprietary, but this control varies the release over time in a frequency dependent manner. Termed Angel’s Share, this parameter helps restore top-end and space where other compressors begin to sound pinched, confined, or overdone. (There is also an Auto Release function for users who prefer less tweaking.) The Hysteresis parameter allows compressing and de-compressing independently of the sound level. It can be mixed with the standard compression scheme. Next, you can insert a signal delay in the path to create an instant (meaning zero) attack time—talk about brick-wall limiting. Finally, there is a wet/dry mix feature that allows you to blend processed material with the unprocessed source.
So, we know it is pretty to look at and has immense flexibility, but how does it sound? Well, it depends how you use it, and I mean this as a complement. In mastering situations where a gentle touch is required, Solera can be one of the most transparent digital compressors you have ever used. At the same time, you can abuse the attack, knee, and ratio to make it sound horrible—just like most high-end audio hardware. For example, I was able to use a gentle 1.5 to 1 ratio for a classical piece, and it was virtually undetectable save for the loudest passages. It was almost as if Solera was not in the signal chain until the moment it was needed. While we expect this kind of performance from every plug-in, the truth is few deliver that kind of transparency. Just instantiating most compressors, even with parameters set to zero, tends to affect the sound. Not with Solera. Likewise, it's possible to use foolishly-fast release times to create hyper-pumping.
My favorite feature of Solera is the sidechain, which is called the Detector Equalizer in the GUI. There are many times when you need different compression based upon frequency. By using the solo function, you can focus on the exact "audio window" that is fed to the compressor. If that isn’t enough, you can choose filter type, gain, and Q-factor to further affect the frequency of the sidechain. This makes tasks like de-essing or taming overbearing hi-hats much more manageable. I was able to shape the sidechain to be more sensitive to these problem areas while leaving the rest of the signal untouched. Additional tweaking of the Angel’s Share control made the processing less evident—which is exactly my goal. This proves to be a better solution than applying an equalizer to the entire mix. After all, the problem sources should be attenuated only when they reach a certain point versus a full-time reduction.
FLUX also has the Pure series, which is based on Solera. Available as a bundle and separately are Compressor, Expander, DCompressor, DExpander, and Limiter. Each offers the features of one Solera component (and thus saves on CPU and screen space, as well). I’ve found myself addicted to Pure Limiter and can testify that it retains the clarity and transparency of its parent.
FLUX Solera is pleasing to the eyes and ears. It provides both flexibility and transparency and stands as one of the best dynamics processors I have encountered in a digital format. I strongly encourage readers to try the downloadable demo. In the meantime, I’m off to start using Epure, the equalizer companion to Solera! FLUX is Mac and PC compatible (AU, VST, RTAS).
Garrett Haines for Tape Op