The SPL Vitalizer has been around for quite a number of years. My first experience of it was with the stereo Vitalizer model which quickly became a part of my mixing chain. Unfortunately it ended up being sold which, as with most of the stuff I’ve sold, I really regretted.
So it was with some interest that I found out that SPL had introduced the Vitalizer in plugin form. The plugin is available in all common plugin formats – VST2/3, Audio Units, AAX Native, TDM, RTAS and Venue 32 and thankfully is available in both 32 and 64 bit. This is not the cheapest of plugins, retailing at around $250, but when Plugin Alliance had a $100 special it became a no-brainer purchase.
The Vitalizer effect can be very subtle but when used correctly/sparingly can really liven up a mix. With some material it’s almost like lifting a curtain from the speakers such is the improvement in detail and separation. As with most effects the Vitalizer can be over used, particularly in a poor monitoring environment where the Vitalizer is used to compensate for deficiencies in the signal flow rather than the intended use of enhancing the audio signal.
My old Vitaziler was characterised by having very few controls and the ones it did have made noticeable changes to the sound. The MK2-T has a lot more in the way of controls and fine tuning. The controls are grouped together with the grouping indicated by lines under the controls. The naming of some of the controls was not immediately apparent – e.g. LC-EQ – so I broke with tradition and opened the manual. The manual isn’t very long but gives information on each control in a well written way. By the way the LC-EQ is named after the hardware version’s high frequency filter, which is based on a passive coil filter. Suppose that makes sense to some people.
Whilst looks are not the be all and end all they are important in terms of usability. Although the graphics are nice I find the controls a little small and hard to make out from a distance. I wish plug in designers would offer the ability to either resize a plugin or have different sizing options. This complaint is not unique to this plugin – the original Korg Polysix plugin was abysmal in that respect.
The controls can be moved via a mousewheel or two fingered scroll on a trackpad. For the latter I found that controls did not increment smoothly but when using the click scroll worked perfectly.
Controls in detail
- Drive – this controls sets the level at which the filters operate. Too low and the filters effect will be barely noticeable to non-existent, too high and all subtlety goes out of the window.
- Bass – turning the control to the left gives a rounder, warmer sound and to the right a tighter percussive sound. Personally I like the soft settings.
- Compression – the compression setting only works on the low level processed signal and leaves everything else untouched. A blue LED indicates gain reduction.
- Mid-Hi Tune – this sets the frequency above which the signal is amplified, below this the signal is attenuated. However this is not a simple EQ and can be used in conjunction with the other controls.
- Process – probably the most important control. This sets the level of the processed Bass and Mid-Hi Tune signal and also reduces the level of the frequencies below the Mid-Hi Tone cutoff.
- LC-EQ – this emulates the original coil filter EQ.
- Intensity – The LC-EQ works with two different signal paths: the original signal and the processed signal, both of which are mixed together at the output. Intensity adjusts the amount of LC-EQ effect mixed with the original signal, i.e. the intensity of the effect
- Stereo expander – this effect widens the stereo image.
- Output – sets the output level. SPL state that the Vitalizer tends to increase the signal level so use this control to bring it back down.
- Active – this little button acts as a bypass control.
- Recall buttons – up to four different settings can be stored in the A,B,C,D buttons. However if a preset is chosen then that always defaults to setting A. You have to manually adjust the setup and then click another settings button. This could be a bit clearer and should have the option to use a preset on each setting.
Whilst there is a lot more functionality then my original Vitalizer it is still one of those boxes where you can just plug it in and start tweaking. There are a number of presets built in covering both overall mixes and individual instruments. Whilst it can be used on individual tracks I find the best use is on the mix bus. Using it on both individual tracks and the overall mix can sound over processed and start to get a little harsh.
When first switching the effect in you may be hard pushed to hear the ‘wow factor’ that you were expecting. Wait…. Set up a 30 second loop of the track and listen with the effect in for one cycle then switch it off. It’s like someone has put cotton wool in your ears. It’s certainly one of those effects that can be hardly noticeable until it’s removed.
The stereo expander is a great addition and really does open up the mix. This is one application that could be used on a drum track as an alternative to a mid/side processor. However leave the other settings fairly neutral. As with the other effects use it sparingly – going over a setting of 14 is not recommended and I find the sweet spot at around a setting of 8 to 10.
As with most other effects the Vitalizer can be over used. However used correctly it adds something special that I can’t get from other plugins and sounds eerily similar to my much loved hardware version. If it’s on sale then just grab it, if not then I still suggest buying it.
SPL Vitalizer MK2-T Plugin rrp $249. https://plugin-alliance.com