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Airwindows releases Desk v2.0

Airwindows

Airwindows has released a new version of Desk that takes the original 'Desk' plug-ins to a new level. It costs $49.99.

Desk 2.0 is a Universal Binary AU plug-in for Mac OS X to turn your DAW into a real mixing desk. It goes on every channel, every buss, every output- everywhere- and turns digital math into very clean console sound. +18db headroom. Anti-aliased since 2.0.

The Overdrive control is what you'd think it is, but Airwindows style - articulate and fluid beyond what most software can do, thanks to the very latest generation of anti-aliasing algorithms. Push it to see what the tone is, then dial it back to use as a subtle enhancement. There is no 'clip point' to it, it's one continuous curve whatever the setting, so don't go too saturated by mistake expecting to hear a clipping edge appear- it won't.

The Hi Choke control is unique to Desk2. Go ahead and push it, but you'll be happiest if you keep this one subtle too. It breaks up in a really unusual way that might be good on snares, but it too is best used as a subtle tone shaper- as the original Desk plugins used it. It's just that now you can abuse it if you wanted.

Power Sag has two controls, Power Sag and Frequency. You can crank Power Sag to the max to hear where it's hitting, but then back it off to add dimension and articulation to your sounds in many interesting ways. It basically acts like an analog power supply crapping out, but over a range broader than you'd ever see in real analog gear. Very low values give the SSL haze, very high values do things to the bass. Experimenting is the key here, and you can always keep it extreme if you hit on something that really works.

How and why it works (by Airwindows)

Very few things in real life, whether acoustic or electrical, are really mathematically perfect. Air compresses, circuits distort, everything becomes nonlinear- yet DAWs, even ones as nice as Logic, remain entirely linear. That's great to build on, but it compels people to throw all sorts of tape emulations etc. at the problem.

Desk takes both signal level and slew rate and makes them non-linear. You could say it warps the reality of your DAW! But unlike tape and distortion effects, Desk is not designed to distort at 0 db. Its headroom is a solid 18 db or so above zero, like a real console- and it isn't meant to sound great when run into blatant distortion, any more than real consoles do. (Hit a buss hard if you really want the sound of stressed hardware.)

Instead, Desk builds on the lessons learned by the popular freebie Channel, setting up a non-linearity that is super gentle. If you don't have really good monitoring, you might not hear any effect from just one copy of Desk in the signal path- nor should you- this isn't about dirt, it's about clarity and reality.

Bear in mind, however, that there was a successor to Desk - Console, and if you have neither, you should be looking at that first. When Console came out, all Desk users got it as an update - that's how much Console does what I meant to do with Desk in the first place. I would've retired Desk, but there were people really getting their sound using it in conjunction with BussColors, and the thing about Console is it tries to touch the sound even less than Desk does while expanding the soundfield - so there can still be use for Desk, for instance to place on auxes to make them sound like you're running through more wire, or to darken particular channels in a special way. It might also see use with audiophiles. Console can't be used by audiophiles because it cannot be run in mastering or playback- you have to have access to all the tracks to make it work properly.

Desk does not supply its own safety limiter or clipper - again, its headroom is something like 18 db over DAW output clipping (thanks to Logic's floating point busses). If you need to hit the output buss in such a way that it overdrives, you can use ShortBuss for a fatter sound (the output should place Desk before ShortBuss) or 3DClip for a cleaner, harder sound - or indeed any other saturation or limiter plugin you like. Bear in mind that ShortBuss and 3DClip don't apply the slew non-linearity that Desk applies, so you still need a Desk instance in there first to get the full effect.

Desk comes with three versions:

  1. The original Desk, which is the lowest CPU hit (still lots more than Console though).
  2. TransDesk which adds a particular sort of transistory zing that goes well with BussColors Rock.
  3. TubeDesk which is actually a bit airier and behaves like it's got a tube power supply with a certain amount of 'rectifier sag'.

The 2.0 version added a new kind of anti-aliasing which is uniquely suited to Desk: I worked out a way to run anti-aliasing ONLY on the distortion parts of the sound and leave the clear original part of the signal totally untouched. With Desk, that's almost everything - so the saturation/slew Desk produces is already a tiny, tiny amount of beneficial 'math warping'. The anti-aliasing takes only that warping, and alters it in such a way as to give stronger tone and deeper soundstage, and combines that with the untouched clean signal, giving the benefits of anti-aliased overdrive with a clean component that is not run through conversions.

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