FabFilter Pro-C 2 – The only compressor you’ll ever need?
I’m a purely in-the-box mixer and mostly work with recorded musicians, as opposed to electronic loops and samples. That being said, I prefer to use hardware emulation plugins for the color they add to the raw sound. The biggest issue with this approach is the need to use a different plugin for each compression task.
The Pro-C 2, with all its new bells and whistles, seems like it can handle anything you throw at it (or anything you throw it at). So I put it through its paces in an acoustic rock mix, which demands a cleaner sound anyway.
P.S. I’m assuming you’ve at least gone through the features list and know what this compressor has to offer.
It’s a beast, but it can be tamed!
The first thing that jumped right out at me were the two huge real-time graphs, depicting the knee and audio processing. I’m used to relying on my ears and these two flashy displays were really distracting. Luckily, there’s a very obvious “DISPLAY” button that quickly changed the interface from this:
There’re a lot of parameters for customizing the compression, especially on the side chain (mid/side compression anyone?). It’s intimidating, but there’s a great pop-up help hint system in place to describe each option in technical detail. It still requires some knowledge to understand the hints, but then again, this isn’t a plugin for beginners. The help hints can be turned off once you’ve figured out the parameters.
It definitely gives you a lot of power over audio, but you need to have a decent grasp of compression to use it right. If you’re one who relies on presets, you’re more likely to break your music. The presets in Pro-C 2 make extensive use of its impressive side-chain. While it demonstrates fine-tuning and customizability, the problem is that a side-chain is strictly audio dependant. What you get is presets akin to EQ – mostly useless. I don’t use presets, so it didn’t bother me. I did have to get used to crazy values like 0.005 attack and 100:1 ratio, though.
What I instantly liked about it!
Two words: “Audition Triggering”. It lets you hear only the part of the sound that’s triggering the compressor. Kind of like the real-time visual graph, except it’s audio based and lets you really fine-tune that threshold setting. This is the best thing to hit compression since side-chain processing! Speaking of which, it also allows for external side-chaining.
Another huge plus is mid/side processing. It may just be me, but I’ve never had a compressor with M/S capability, though I can definitely see the uses, especially in mastering. Taming an overly loud kick or vocal? Maybe the cymbals are just dominating? Speaking of mastering, we’re now coming to my favorite part – the styles.
They’re the whole reason I wanted to see exactly how many different tasks this one plugin could handle. So let’s see how well it did:
1. Bus Compression/Glue
The Pro-C 2 has a “bus” style setting. It does the job and keeps it clean. Nothing fancy, but just what you’d expect.
2. Drum Group Compression
This one was a bit of a challenge. I’m used to having some degree of saturation here, so I wanted to try that “pumping” style setting. It put extra emphasis on the kick and sort of thinned out the rest. I can see how this would be useful for EDM, but in a more rock context it wasn’t helping.
The bus setting was too subtle, so I decided to try the “punch” setting. After all, it’s what I was trying to get. Lo and behold! The drums were rockin’!
3. Bass Sustain
Since I liked the energy of the “punch” setting so much, I opted to use the same on the bass, but with different attack and release settings. Worked like a charm.
4. Guitar Fullness
It was mostly acoustic guitars that had too much string and not enough body. Punch isn’t what I wanted, so I went with a preset to see what they suggest. FabFilter chose “Opto” and it sounded nice with the usual attack and release settings.
5. Vocal Presence
This was a big one. I’m very skeptical when a manufacturer claims to have a “magic algorithm” to bring out the vocal. I decided to give it a shot anyway. It definitely brought out the vocal, without needing to stack compressors, but at the same time it introduced harshness. While it may help in harder music, it wasn’t working in this soft acoustic setting.
Instead, I went with the usual compressor stacking. After being taken aback by the harshness, I chose the “Clean” style… Wow, just…wow! Not only did the vocal come through, it was as clean as the day it was recorded. FabFilter really hit the nail on the head with this one!
6. Kick and Snare Attack
Nothing worse than a loose kick and ringy snare. Following the “Pumping” setting’s earlier failure, I remembered how it thinned out drums by putting emphasis on the kick. Why not? So I put a Pro-C 2 on each, set them to pumping, adjusted attack and release and it tightened up nicely. Gave the kick some nice attack and obscured the ring on the snare.
Normally I use an actual de-esser plugin, but I said I was going to put the Pro-C 2 through its paces and that’s what I’m doing. It has two de-esser presets and they work quite well. The problem is, if you try to set it up your own, there’s a drawback with the side-chain EQ – there is no band pass. Instead, you have a high-pass and low-pass filter with which you need to use to close in around the specific frequency where the “s” lives. It’s a hassle.
I didn’t get a chance to test it in mastering, but I did try out some of the functions for it. Specifically, M/S processing on compression is a godsend! It’s something the mastering engineers will be drooling over. Also, after putting it on the stereo bus, I thought I’d try the “Mastering” style, just to challenge the transparency claim.
It wins hands down. That slight change I made to give the mix glue and energy completely disappeared. I thought I accidently bypassed it. Transparency is definitely the word with the Pro-C 2 and I’m throwing it in the mastering chain as soon as I get a chance!
Anything you wish was done better?
The vocal style setting? Not really, that’s mission impossible since every vocal is radically different. Presets? I never use them. Honestly, there’s not really much I can think of that can be improved. Though if I had to nit-pick, here’s two points I can think of:
- The auto make-up gain doesn’t work so well. This is common for a lot of compressor plugins. For some reason the automatic function gets linked to the threshold value, instead of the average gain reduction.
- With all these styles available, it’s still a clean software compressor. They could have added an option to emulate certain popular hardware (like the harmonic saturation of an 1176).
- Add a band-pass in the side-chain to make it easier to zero in on a frequency.
Does it have a place in your plugin rack?
Without a doubt! It’s the ultimate multipurpose, feature-packed, clean sounding compressor plugin. Whatever you need, there’s a way the FabFilter Pro-C 2 can handle it. Seriously, it has so many ways of shaping audio that the only limit is your imagination and skill. If they added a menu for hardware emulation choice, I’d never need another compressor plugin as long as I live.
You can buy Pro-C 2 compressor plugin from PluginBoutique.com for €153.97 / $172.77, a price quite big, but believe me, worth it!
Buy Link: FabFilter Pro-C 2