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Review : IK Multimedia T-RackS 3 Deluxe
The new setup allows for 8 processors to be placed in series and another 4 in parallel and any slot can hold any processor, so if you wanted 12 instances of the classic compressor then that's not a problem. Settings can be saved and recalled for an individual processor or the chain as a whole. Similarly you can switch between viewing the controls for an individual processor or diagram of the chain as a whole.
The addition of a waveform view is useful and the metering has also received some much needed attention with separate bar graphs for Peak & RMS levels, a phase correlation indicator, stereo scope and spectrum analyzer. There's also a 'Perceived Loudness' meter with genre dependent reference marks.
A real bonus when working with multiple tracks is the ability to batch process a collection of stereo mixes either with the same processing chain or a different chain on each mix. T-RackS also supports the import and export of formats including Wav, Aiff, sd2, Apple Caf and Flac at resolutions up to 64Bit. The 48kHz sample rate limit has also been lifted so even 192 kHz material and can be worked with.
The T-RackS interface has received a radical overhaul for version 3, introducing a new modular processing chain, waveform view, as well as improved and expanding metering. The option to load and work with multiple audio files is also a real bonus, making consistent album mastering much easier
However, one fairly major omission from the new UI design, and that is the option to drag and drop processors between slots to reorder the processing chain. If one was to get picky it would also have been nice to see some other processors such as an Exciter make it into the collection and to have some basic waveform editing beyond the fade-in fade-out. And if T-RackS really wanted to be a true all-in-one mastering solution the option to burn Red Book Audio CDs and produce DDPi files would make a true all-in-one mastering solution.
The New Processors:
For many the 5 new processors will be the most exciting development in T-RackS 3 Deluxe. They include a reproduction of the Fairchild 670 compressor, a Vintage EQ  designed as a Pultec EQP-1A clone, an Opto compressor, Linear Phase Equalizer and mult-algorithm Brickwall limiter. The old models have also had a bit of a refresh, gaining extra controls. For example the Classic Compressor now has a sidechain high-pass filter. Combined T-RackS allows for processing from the transparent to the characterful. Significantly most modules offer both independent left/right or middle / sides processing giving T-RackS some serious flexibility, so you can add some extra top end to just the sides or tighten up the centre of the mix with some extra compression.
There is no denying that the T-RackS processors sound great. especially in their over-sampling / linear phase modes where they are extremely transparent, injecting character where desired but retaining the clarity of the original mix. Of course T-RackS can only ever be as good as the engineer, D/A convertors, monitors and monitoring environment allow, but if you've got those covered there's no reason why you can't produce very professional results. Just like mastering in general, T-RackS isn't a magic bullet that will instantly turn any mix into a release-quality production. But if your basic mix is good then T-RackS is perfect for adding that final polish.
Mixing with T-RackS
IK Multimedia describe T-Racks 3 as a 'High-End Mastering & Mixing Suite', this is because you can now open T-Racks as a plug-in in your DAW of choice such as Logic, giving you access to all the of processors in your mix. Rather than seeing an individual unit such as the Vintage EQ or Channel Clipper in your plug-in list you just pick T-RackS which then loads in its entirety in a plug-in window and works much the same as in stand-alone mode. This makes sense when using T-RackS on the master output for overall mix processing or across a sub-mix, but seems a bit overkill when all you want is a single processor, especially as the metering section also loads with each instance. Unless you have infinite computing resources at your disposal you're going to want to use T-RackS sparingly in your mix.
The Verdict:

At just over £300 for a single user license it isn't exactly cheap, putting it on a par with Logic Studio, but it does offer good value for money. The 'Standard' version, which retails at £120 offers all the same functionality, but looses the new processors. Undoubtedly T-RackS 3 deluxe is a significant development on what went before and is well worth the upgrade for existing users. It can produce very credible results in the right hands and when partnered with a suitable wave editor, but it's utility for mixing is limited by IK Multimedia's approach to DAW integration. T-RackS is ideal for engineers who are serious about attempting their own mastering but can't afford to go down the hardware route, and for them the option to also use t-Racks within the mixing environment will be welcome bonus.
Update: May 2009
Well it looks like someone at IK Multimedia was listening because just a few months on and they've pushed out a free update that addresses my principal gripe with this software. Version 3.1 enables each processor to be used individually as plug-ins in 3rd-party applications that support VST, AU or RTAS formats. No longer do you effectively have to load the whole of T-RackS just to use a single processor. This update really does transform T-RackS from a great standalone mastering solution with limited mix utility to a great standalone mastering solution and high quality mix plug-in bundle that I can see myself using at some point in every project.
Although you can't update from within the application itself, the process is pretty straightforward and quick, downloading and running and installer from the IK Multimedia website. With the update in place open your sequencer of choice, in my case Logic, and the new plugins will be automatically detected and added to your collection.
And you can also now purchase the processors as individual plug-in for £74.99 each plus VAT. For me the standout units that would be great additions to any engineer's sonic arsenal are the ‘Classic Clipper’, ‘Opto Compressor’ and ‘Classic Compressor’.
Up to now the T-RackS update schedule has been somewhat slow, lets hope that this is a sign of things to come. I'd personally love to see some more processors added to the pot, perhaps a harmonic exciter or multi-band compressor?
For those who aren't familiar with the previous incarnations of IK Multimedia's T-RackS it started life in 1999 as a stand-alone software mastering solution including a compressor (with stereo width adjuster), EQ, multi-band limiter and soft-clip output stage. Modeled on tube processing the idea was to allow project studio engineers to impart some analogue character into their computer productions. Fast-forward to 2002 and T-RackS 24 gained much needed 24Bit file support. Since then although IK Multimedia has released plug-in versions of the various processors for the stand-alone T-RackS has stood unchanged. However, it's fair to say that version 3 is a pretty significant development on the original product, introducing five new processors and bringing some major enhancements to the user interface.
I have found the original T-RackS to be an invaluable tool for quick mix sweetening or even processing individual samples, but despite it's great sound the limited routing options and somewhat limited visual feedback prevented it from being a true stand-alone mastering solution. But with version 3 there's a sense that IK Multimedia's software designers have really looked at the mastering process and attempted to provide a tool that fulfill all but the most demanding mastering tasks.
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