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Sonnox Oxford Drum Gate review at ProTools Expert

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ProTools Expert's Verdict: Oxford Drum Gate understands when you’re trying to achieve and just gets it done.

“Does anyone even use gates anymore”? was the question I was asked recently, It stopped me in my tracks as I certainly do, I knew why the question was being asked, so many people meticulously edit drum hits out on the timeline of their DAWs, but I for one certainly favour Expander/Gates over tools like Strip Silence in Pro Tools or manual editing.

I do however understand the reasons why some people take the editing route, If you have spill which is significant enough to require control, the loudest elements of that spill is probably going to be loud enough to open the gate unless you are prepared to raise the threshold so high that the gate is too tight and is killing the sound of the wanted drum hits.

Use of filters in the side chain and externally keying related mics from one another can help but because expander/gates differentiate between sounds purely in terms of how loud they are. You can end up wasting a huge amount of time trying to create a useful difference in level between sounds which differ completely in timbre but don’t differ enough in terms of level. Basically expander/gates are blindly obedient but ultimately stupid - they might be fast but they aren’t clever.

AI Learning

Sonnox’s new Oxford Drum Gate is an intelligent gate which understands the difference between a kick drum, a snare and a tom. Instead of just hearing, it actively listens and so can create results which wouldn’t be possible with a conventional, level based process.

As a gate, it goes further than its predecessors. As well as its unique detection features it offers variable release both across the frequency spectrum and in response to different intensities of hit. It offers a content-aware drum leveller which can be used to manipulate the dynamic range of performances without the artefacts introduced by purely level based dynamics processing and it can be used to capture MIDI from audio recordings for enhancement or replacement with virtual instruments or samples.

Introducing Oxford Drum Gate

In the first of four videos see this innovative new plug-in demonstrated. In this video, with help from Gareth Young at Cube Recording in Cornwall UK I demonstrate the issue Drum Gate seeks to solve.

As we can see, using a level-based gate with a fixed release usually involves a compromise between having a high enough threshold to exclude the loudest elements of the spill and a short enough release to exclude the next hit. Using Drum Gate the results are immediately useable even with the attenuation set to -80dB for a full gate effect.

Setting Up Oxford Drum Gate

In the second video we see how little setup is required on well-captured material but to illustrate the point that Drum Gate isn’t purely level-based, in spite of the kick drum being far louder in the kick mic than the minimal snare spill (as it should be) if the detection mode is switched to snare, Drum Gate is capable of passing the snare hits and gating out the far louder kick. We also investigate the decay tab where different parts of the frequency spectrum can have different release times and release time can vary between harder and softer hits.

Teaching Oxford Drum Gate

So far the examples have been using well-recorded material with minimal spill but to really show what Drum Gate is capable of in the third video I use drum gate to separate out the kick, snare and toms from a recording made with a single mic. Because of this challenging material Drum Gate missed some hits but using the Learn Unmatched and Remove Matched function is easy to “teach” Drum Gate which errant hits to either include or exclude. I also touch on the leveller which offers detailed, content-aware control over dynamics without the audible side effects of compression.

While, as you would expect, the results are a little roomy the fact that Drum Gate can differentiate between and separate out kicks from snares from toms on a mic from which they are all roughly equal in level is impressive and is something which absolutely couldn’t be done using a conventional, level-based gate. The sound isn’t impressive on its own but in the next video, I use this as a basis from which to generate MIDI triggers.

MIDI Triggers From Oxford Drum Gate

In this last video I use the single mic recording to capture MIDI and use that to replace the original kicks, snares and toms. Because of the triggers being generated from a single track I wouldn’t have been able to generate discrete triggers for the floor and rack toms which in this case are both on the same track. I could have captured MIDI for both toms and manually edited them out to individual MIDI notes for each tom bun in this case I captured from the multitrack.

There is much more to Drum Gate but even from this quick demonstration, it is clear that it offers the speed and convenience of an expander gate when used with ideal material even when used with less the ideal material. Conventional gates would be great if you didn’t spend 90% of your time setting up for the 10% of the hits which won’t play nice. Drum Gate understands when you’re trying to achieve and just gets it done.

Original Source: ProTools Expert

Try before you buy

Download Oxford Drum Gate trial version for free!

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