MANUFACTURER: Audio Ease
PRODUCT: Speakerphone 2
PRICE: $495 (upgrade $149)
Let’s be honest: There is so much competition for your professional dollars that it’s often hard to choose who or what gets your attention. The market is over-saturated with plug-ins vying for your attention. Get prepared for the exception.
As the name implies, Speakerphone 2 was designed as a speaker simulation plug-in. However, what makes this product so unique is the folks at Audio Ease painstakingly ran audio directly through every original hardware unit, capturing its true characteristics. From tube radios, smart phones & landlines, megaphones, and speaker cabinets & amps, to vintage mic-modeling, and vinyl simulation, Speakerphone has them all. Even toy robots!
If that were all Speakerphone could do, it would be well worth the price of admission. Ironically, though, that is just the beginning. You can also customize where the audio is coming from, how the physical environment would affect the waveforms, and even insert ambience loops over the source sound pre and post effect! In addition, it includes built-in compressors, limiters, bit-degradation, high-quality convolution IR reverbs, delays, and other unique modulation effects to further ‘futz’ your sound. Ten individual units per plug-in can be instantiated based on needs.
According to Audio Ease, Speakerphone has become the standard for ‘futzing’ in post production. That is, the ability to imply a sound is being broadcast through a specific type of speaker. While it is not uncommon for mixers to attempt to create these scenarios using traditional gear, what makes Speakerphone exceptional is in the quality of the result, accuracy of the sound, and ease in which to attain that result.
Installation was quick and effortless. The plug-in supports 64-bit architectures, is available for both Mac and Windows, and is compatible with most major DAWs, including Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Logic and Cubase. Other than the need for an iLok2, the specs are quite lenient. They even make a 32-bit version available for those using older equipment. Just make sure to verify compatibility prior to purchase.
Upon initial launch, Speakerphone’s GUI appeared a bit intimidating. In essence, it was hard to know what to do first. However, once I previewed a short video available on Audio Ease’s Website, introducing navigation tips and key features, I was good to go.
Within a session, Speakerphone can be inserted into a signal chain or auxed. It does not function as a standalone program. Since some features generate random results, such as dropouts from GSM connections, wind noise interference on cell calls, or electrical clicks on walkie-talkies, I found it best to print the audio to another track within the session and then edit out the desired effect. For more static settings, inserting worked perfect.
In this review I utilized the plug-in for three scenarios. First, I needed a bullhorn effect for an announcer at a local baseball game. Dialing that in literally took seconds. Additionally, however, I was able to place that sound in an external environment similar to the locale. Within minutes, it even allowed me to layer in sampled crowd noise.
My second need was for a two-part cell phone ring while being removed from a coat pocket. Because Speakerphone allows the placement of audio within objects, I was able to mimic the coat by placing the sound within a half-closed suitcase and tweaked the EQ to taste. Finally, I had to place audio from a telephone receiver about 10 feet down a hall lined with wood and tile surfaces. With Speakerphone, I was able to effortlessly attain this complicated task with stellar results.
Among the many strengths of Speakerphone is CPU efficiency. While many other manufacturers create unique style “all-in-one” plug-ins, I’ve found that they are often resource hogs. As a result, they become nearly unusable. With Speakerphone however, I actually tried to intentionally crash my system by opening several very large sessions already loaded with plug-ins and purposely insert multiple instances of Speakerphone within the signal-flow. The sessions included upwards of 300 tracks, over 90 EQs, 65-plus dynamics processors, and 20 or so timed-based units. After inserting five heavily-utilized versions, although there was a slight delay when launching, the plug-in performed perfect in all cases, with a minimal CPU hit.
Another strength is its versatility. Don’t be fooled. This is not a one-trick pony. It does what it does quite well. However, the brilliance of this plug-in is what’s below the surface. Basically, the potential beyond the literal. Those doing sound design understand that it is key to convince the audience that what they are hearing is believable. What the actual audio is, or how it was created is ultimately irrelevant. As long as the audience is ‘sold,’ it’s a success. This opens the door for sound effects creators, sound designers in animation, including those involved with audio for video games, to also reap endless rewards from this plug-in. Since these genres foundationally begin with zero production audio, everything must be created from scratch. Speakerphones’ ability to generate and influence sound by utilizing its abstract characteristics allows the user to go beyond the presets, and craft audio fitting for inanimate objects as well as make-believe worlds. If you can think it, it can do it.
Lastly is value. Because I found myself not having to launch multitudes of other plug-ins, not having to create numerous custom send configurations, or dial-in complex automation sequences, the initial cost pays for itself many times over.
I will not pretend to imply that the $499 price tag is insignificant. In fact many core DAWs dwell in that range. So having to consider a single plug-in for that cost might seem daunting. In this case, however, Speakerphone is an exception. There is simply nothing like it around. If you are a commercial post facility involved with the production of sound effects, sound design, and mixing for all genres of television and film, including animation or game sound, Speakerphone by Audio Ease is mandatory. Order now!
Mike Swittel is a Grammy Award-winning mixer/producer. He can be reached via his Website: www.mikeswittel.com.