Vienna Suite Pro High-Precision Stereo and Surround Audio Plug-Ins: Processing for the Orchestral World

October 4 2017, 06:00
A software development from the famous Austrian company Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL), Vienna Suite Pro includes a collection of 14 64-bit high-precision plug-ins for a variety of audio-processing tasks — from dynamics and filter processing plug-ins to analysis plug-ins. This is a review of these essential audio tools for individual track processing and mixing or for the final mastering process, supporting from stereo up to 12.2 surround formats.

The Vienna Suite was created by the famous Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL) purposely for use with its orchestral libraries. Of course, it doesn’t have to be reduced to that role and we’ve tried it with other material, mainly orchestral, but not from VSL. I have been a user of the Vienna Suite since it first appeared. It always pleased me because of its clear sound, clean interface, and ease of use. If there ever was a prize for what a true modern plug-in suite should be, Vienna Suite would certainly be a good candidate. Therefore, I immediately contacted VSL as soon as it launched Vienna Suite Pro. As I expected, VS Pro is a 2.0 version of the old Vienna Suite. Some plug-ins have been merged (the EQs and the reverbs), others have been refined, and some more have been added, to make the bundle more attractive and comprehensive.

All in all, the new version of the Vienna Bundle Pro may be of great added value for any user of the Vienna Symphonic orchestral libraries, and that said, also to any user of orchestral libraries. It comes with plenty of presets specifically designed for the different instruments and sections of the symphonic orchestra, sometimes identified with the names of specific VSL libraries. In spite of having been designed with those in mind, I found them good starting points to use in real situations with different libraries and also with real orchestral recordings.
Analyzer Pro is one of the “utilities” included in the bundle. The Analyzer in the previous bundle was one of the more revered plug-ins of the suite because of its comprehensive set of tools and clean interface. The Analyzer Pro refines the approach.

What’s in the Bundle?
VSL streamlined its suite to make it more suitable to current trends. That doesn’t mean it assumed any compromise in terms of sound, although some concessions have been made in terms of the graphical user interface (GUI). In fact, the graphics in the Pro versions seem more in the vein of the current “flat” trend, so recently debated, mainly because of Windows 10. But although the GUIs became “flatter,” they are still polished and became scalable and high-resolution (retina ready). The GUI is now vector-based, which allows for extreme resizes (from 75% to 200%). The contextual help—that used to appear in small yellow labels when we drag the mouse over the control—is now displayed in the bottom of the GUI window.

The entire suite is now also surround ready, which is understandable if we think that VSL libraries are among the most used tools among composers, especially screen soundtrack composers. Some plug-ins also gained a common feature called Group Section, allowing us to assign the available channels (which, in a surround environment production, can go up to eight) to different groups, which can be processed differently. So, it’s like having eight processors in one. This is one of the most important innovations in this Pro version of the package.

On the other hand, VSL merged things that could be redundant and created other plug-ins that may be suitable, especially in surround environments. That’s how the two reverbs are now just one, and the two equalizers are now also just one. The Equalizer and the Multiband Compressor/Limiter also went through a big remaking, significantly expanding their processing capacity.

The new plug-ins are basically “utilities,” like the Loudness Meter, Matrix Mixer, Surround Balance, and Surround Pan. These are added to several other utilities that were already present in the previous Suite (e.g., the Analyzer and the Goniometer), which may be a sign of the extreme care and concern VSL has for what may become the final result of our mix. So, has anything else changed under the hood? That’s what we are going to find out. 
Compressors and EQs are the basis of any basic set of processing tools. With some refinements, both remained in the current version of the suite, and for a good reason: With a clean approach to processing and great respect for the sonic material, these are ideal for orchestral works.

An Approach That Respects the Original Sound
When I reviewed the “old” Vienna Suite, years ago, I admired the approach followed by VSL with a big respect for the sound “as is.” The processors can be characterized among the most transparent that I have had the opportunity to try. Some might not favor this, but from my perspective, a suite like this one is always welcome, even if we sometimes wish for something with more “color” or more presence. It’s easy to understand why transparency is the key word here — if we think that the people who created these tools are the creators of libraries that intend to recreate the sound and the language of the symphonic orchestra, with all its richness, diversity and nuances. In fact, the processors feature many presets directly addressed to instruments and ensembles present in the different VSL libraries. I found that they sounded very well, even with other libraries. The presets revealed that they were well thought-out for the particular sounds for which they were intended, even with different orchestral libraries, and how important user actions are to the final sound. Of course, it is with the VSL original libraries, which I also tried, that they really shine.

I privileged the compressor, the equalizer, and the limiter in the channels, with some occasional use of the Imager and the Exciter, just to hear what they were able to do (in good or in bad ways). I created extra busses to try the Hybrid Reverb and the Multiband Pro, and I used the analysis plug-ins (e.g., Analyzer, Goniometer and Loudness Pro), and the Master Channel, together with another instance of the Limiter, just as a measure of caution. I also applied the analysis tools to some of the tracks, as these are helpful (something I already knew from the previous suite).
The EQ was deeply revised, with more bands and several filter types, but the sonic approach, remained and the presets are basically the same.

At Work
All of the plug-ins mentioned earlier were used in productions with a considerable number of tracks. Yet, the CPU load was still low, giving me the confidence for more ambitious work. The compressor, at least at a first look, didn’t change much. I tried the old and the new with similar parameters, and the results were pretty similar. The presets appear to be the same, too, except that the final gain (Make Up) is usually reduced by as much as -6 dB in the Pro version. I didn’t find a reason for this, since, in my tests, the overall gain of the two seems almost identical. As a matter of fact, the Pro version is even able to achieve a bigger gain reduction. With the Make Up at the same value, the final gain after the Compressor Pro is still a little lower than the one with the previous versions. Other than that, in terms of sonic color, they seem very similar.

The equalizer is a totally different beast, and it underwent a big revision for this edition. VSL added up to eight bands and seven filter types. That’s why we no longer have a Master Equalizer—the current one is powerful enough to take the role, if needed. And it does more with less. With the current power available in the computers, I could run many more instances in the mix tracks. As mentioned, the EQ preserves the transparency, yet is much more versatile. We can sculpt the sound with high precision, and get it exactly where we want.

I only did a small comparison with the previous edition, using it in just a couple of tracks with simple parameters and four bands (the old Equalizer “only” goes up to five). All in all, I ended up with the impression that the new EQ enables a somewhat better presence and definition. Yet, the main quality of the tool, the one that I appreciated the most, is still there—the transparency. Faithfulness to the sound remains the main characteristic, as it does throughout the entire package.
The Hybrid Reverb fused together the two reverbs present in the previous package. While it sounds good and performs well, we would like to have (way) more impulses.

The “Bigger” Tools
The new Equalizer is one of the “bigger” tools in this suite, together with the Multiband compressor/limiter and the Hybrid Reverb. VSL also created the fabulous MultiImpulse Response (MIR) technology for those seeking more sophisticated convolution tools, but this Hybrid Reverb does a good job in the creation of the right ambiance for the sound.

I tried the Multiband center/left (C/L) and the Hybrid Reverb with some of the more complex projects on which I’m currently working. The reverb, in particular, was crucial to my intentions for particular ambiances. Maybe I’m spoiled by the huge amount available in Altiverb, but I think VSL could expand the number of impulse responses. To be fair, we now have much more than was available in the previous version, even with the Convolution Reverb and the Hybrid Reverb combined. However, many of the files are of the same room, only from a different position (marked as L, C, R, for example, which means they are ready for surround use). This is because of the different architecture of the convolution engine in Hybrid Reverb Pro. 

In the end, we are limited to just a few environments. Certainly, it is true that the plug-in is “hybrid,” which means we can still create ambiances with the algorithmic part. Therefore, we can do more than we could with just a convolution only reverb. But, in my opinion, the relatively small number of impulses is something VSL needs to address. Still, this hybrid reverb enabled me to achieve good results with a combination of the two engines.

The Multiband is simultaneously simple and powerful. We don’t have a fixed number of bands. What we have is a line for the threshold and another for the gain, where we can create “nodes” and move those nodes to the value we want. Besides this, we have just a few more parameters—overall threshold (which simultaneously adjusts all the values defined in the curve), Attack, Release, Spread, and the final Gain. We also have some more specialized controls that define whether the amount of compression affects other tracks in the same group (for surround), extent to which the channel compression will be globally linked and the compression strengthened. Usually, the first of these two last parameters is set at zero and the strength at 100%. Working with this was a total breeze.
The Goniometer looks good, is very responsive. Now it can be resized until it’s really huge!
One of the “new” utilities included in this package was a pleasant surprise. In a classical approach, it’s not usual to mess with the stereo signal. However, this Imager Pro is really powerful and allows users to do much more than we would recommend.
The Vienna Limiter Pro is impressive. It can go really loud and remain clean. And it can be a lifesaver.

The “Utilities”
Why did I put the utilities in quotes? Well, because the utilities are sometimes neglected. Yet, the ones presented in this suite are really deserving of their utility classification. The old Analyzer was praised because of its simplicity and precision. The Goniometer is also precise and responsive. This new edition introduces a few more, including two dedicated to surround work. In total, we have seven plug-ins in the suite that we can classify as “utilities”—Analyzer, Goniometer, Powerpan (these existed in the previous version), Imager, Loudness, Matrix Mixer, the Surround Pan, and Surround Balance.

The Analyzer Pro takes advantage of the new Group Section to allow the definition of up to eight groups. Each group has its own analyzer graph, and we can have all of them displayed simultaneously, if we want. By default, all channels are assigned to Group 1. It also has two modes—Analog and Digital. The difference between them lies in the way they analyze the audio, with the digital based in Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) with the weighting filter, and the analog in a Analog Reference Pitch (and, we suppose, analog filters).

The Goniometer Pro was optimized (according to VSL) and takes advantage of a much bigger display. It also gained a GLOW trailing feature to enable us to have a better idea of the signal evolution. The Powerpan Pro was also improved over the previous version, with tools to handle surround like a different speaker pair selector, and four tools for signal balancing, all available directly in the main window—Gain, Delay, Spectral, and Phase.

Imager Pro is one of the new tools. It is destined to enhance the stereo impression of a signal pair or to correct faulty stereo signals. Anyone who already worked with Waves PS22 will be immediately at home with this one. The working principle is basically the same. There are just a few, very effective controls. Loudness measures the perceived volume of the sound, working in a way similar to the human hearing. It provides indication of compliance with the EBU R-128 and other loudness standards, and it is also useful to help calibrate audio sources. Another welcome addition to the Pro package.

Matrix Mixer, the Surround Pan, and the Balance are three utilities designed with surround productions in mind. The first helps to solve problems like feeding of L/R channel content into the low-frequency effects (LFE) channel, solving phase problems of individual channels, enabling phase adjustment of a single channel in a surround setup, or even create pseudo-surround by sending phase-inverted L/R channels to the opposite side of the sound field.

Surround Pan Pro and Surround Balance Pro are exactly what their names imply. Of the two, perhaps the later will be of more utility, given the fact that the former is usually present in most digital audio workstation (DAW) software. However, Surround Pan Pro enables users to position a stereo source to any surround format, and this is not common.
In this picture, you can see one of the additions VSL did to the GUI—the Group Section (located in the extreme left side of the GUI). This may be helpful for those working in surround. With the Analyzer Pro, we can have a graphic analysis assigned to each Group and have all of them displayed at the same time (with different colors).
Another powerful and flexible tool with a different approach. Like all the other plug-ins in the suite, Multiband Pro also offers a Group Section, allowing linking the attenuation of channels into groups. Internally, it operates like a dynamic equalizer.

The Vienna Suite was already a favorite of mine. It is a well thought-out GUI and faithfulness to the audio is one of the characteristics that attracted me to it since the beginning. Sure, sometimes it’s useful to have colorful processors, but the market is full of such options, including some we reviewed. On the other hand, there aren’t that many fully transparent processing options. Vienna Suite Pro remains faithful to the principle of its predecessor package, while rounding the bundle with some useful additions. The GUI redesign is also welcome, since it now allows for much-needed window resizing and supporting higher resolutions in large-sized monitors.

All in all, this bundle is a must to work with orchestral libraries, soundtrack work, or any other kind of music with orchestra and large ensembles. For those working with surround formats, the package adds extra utilities, and well-thought-out additions without quality compromises. While this software package may look very pro oriented (and it is), it remains compatible with popular 32-bit applications, like Sound Forge Pro. This means that VSL provides a high-quality software-processing package for a wide user base, even if VSL usually targets the more demanding users. ax

Vienna Suite Pro—Sound Processing Plug-In Suite
Available in VST, VST3, AU, and AAX Native formats.
System Requirements:
• Windows 7/8/10 (latest Service Pack, 32/64-bit), Intel Core 2 Duo/ AMD Athlon 64 X2 (or better).
• Mac OS X 10.8 (latest update) or higher, Intel Core 2 Duo Uses eLicenser USB key and eLicenser Control Center activation software
Vienna Symphonic Library |

Software from Vienna

Vienna Symphonic Library is a research-driven music software and sample library developer based in Vienna, Austria. The company was founded by Herb Tucmandl in October 2000. Since then, more than 2 million samples of nearly every instrument of the symphonic orchestra, choir and more have been recorded and published. With over a terabyte of high-resolution sound, it is by far the largest sample database ever created by a single company.
The famous Vienna Konzerthaus (Great Hall).
Herb Tucmandl, the founder of the
Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL).
Using orchestral libraries such as the Vienna Symphonic Library, music professionals can accurately and authentically recreate orchestral pieces on their computers. This enables composers to produce not only a printed score, but also an audible and convincing rendering of their music. By rendering their orchestrations, composers can more easily influence producers, directors, publishers, and concert organizers to perform or record a new opus, without necessarily having to book expensive orchestras, concert halls, or recording studios for a demo. Furthermore, any changes of instrumentation, tempo, length, or key can be dealt with, quickly and easily. Even pieces that have until now been considered “unplayable” can be realized with this new technology.

The list of Vienna Symphonic Library users includes musicians, composers, arrangers, and studio owners on all continents. Well-known TV and film music composers such as Danny Elfman, A.R. Rahman, Alan Silvestri, Alexandre Desplat, and many others use their “Vienna Libraries” (as some like to call them) to create early versions of their movie scores. Increasingly, composers are also combining virtual orchestra sounds with live musicians in the final mix. TV series such as CSI, The Mentalist, and Dexter, and many commercials are almost exclusively created “inside the box.” Tight production schedules and limited budgets
usually don’t allow for recordings of real orchestras, so the sample-based recording isn’t just a mock-up, it’s the final cue.

This article was published in audioXpress, February 2017.
related items