TL;DW: PeaksOnly is a transformative mix check tool.
So I’m posting this super late, it’s a real all-nighter. Why?
Because this plugin exploded into my awareness pretty much just today and kicked everything else aside, demanding to be made right away and posted immediately. Not only that, I had someone email asking nicely if I could make a plugin that did for them what a busted subwoofer used to do for them: give some kind of cue if there’s excessive lows happening that’ll cause problems later.
All I could do was say ‘stay tuned’ and keep on working into the night to bring this one to light. (well, dark. It’s nearly 2 AM)
PeaksOnly is a mix check, like SubsOnly and SlewOnly before it, or Silhouette and other even stranger plugins. You pretty much need to not master through this one :D it totally wrecks the sound. BUT, it telegraphs information you might never have had, makes it more obvious than it’s ever been before.
Here’s how it works. PeaksOnly runs a little pile of allpass filters, but rather than just make them nice-sounding, it expands and expands and expands them, each time phase-rotating things a little more. It turns transient attacks of any kind into a little colorful wash, a flag of energy that stays at roughly the same level, but gets smeared out across time in a way you’d never normally hear.
Why does this matter? Because you wouldn’t hear it. Especially if you’re trying to work on headphones, brief sharp transients can become almost totally invisible, especially if they’re being peak-limited or get blended in with other sounds. That stuff can make your mix come alive, but how do you balance it? And if you’re on headphones, forget it: some peaks are just too brief, and unless you have a strangely powerful sense of energy levels that are normally invisible, there will be no managing the stuff that you simply can’t hear, the spiky intense sparks of audio like you get from passionate performances or tricks like using compression to spike up attack transients.
But with PeaksOnly, everything stays at exactly the same frequency balance (a trick of allpasses, especially mine which are prime-number spaced) but the bursts of energy, no matter how brief, get transformed into recognizable signals. If you’re short on transient impact, you’ll notice it. If you’re over-squashing attacks, you’ll end up with audio porridge. But if you’ve got a powerful, kicking, lively mix… every detail of it will be laid bare, turned into a sort of pantomime that exposes every transient at every frequency. Whether it’s how loud to make that snare or hi-hat, or how much sub-kick you can get away with, it’s all exposed. PeaksOnly is particularly fond of taking excess subsonic peaks and distorting ’em: you’ll never pack too much into the subs again.
It also tries to keep you at a sane loudness level (suitable for sending to mastering, if you really think you need to loudenate). Strangely, if you feed ‘mastered’ loud stuff into PeaksOnly and tolerate the distortion, it still reveals everything: there’s a difference between good ‘too loud’ and bad ‘too loud’, and PeaksOnly exposes that too. Anything out of balance, even in loudness land, will stick out.
I’ll be finding ways to further use this, but as always, you don’t have to wait. PeaksOnly (note the lack of controls! Remove or bypass it when you’re done checking) is there for you now. And now I’m gonna post it and go collapse into bed, ‘cos this has been a good day at the office :)
Patreon is how I do this. I don’t know anyone else who could’ve invented this one: it’s weird, sounds ugly, and yet it might be the best plugin you ever found. If you think so, please join my Patreon. If you do, you get to listen to my private little Evergreens podcast, a Fair Use exploration of how classic records got their sound (and how you can too). And FYI: I’ve checked some of the classic stuff on PeaksOnly. Unsurprisingly, the Evergreens just sound awesome on this mix check tool (that stuff wasn’t done using modern mix techniques: they had to balance the peak energies back in those days, and it shows). You can join me for that Podcast, if you’re a patron.