Focusrite Red Plugin Review
Classic compressor and EQ make their plugin debut
The Focusrite Red range of studio outboard gear has been used in top studios the world over for decades. Introduced in 1994, the entire range, clad in its distinctive red casing, found favour with the professionals on account of its super-high clarity and versatility, pure and simple. It set out to do a limited number of things, but do them the best they could possibly be done. Now, 21 years later, two of the Red range’s most used variants, the Red 2 EQ and Red 3 compressor, have found their way into the digital realm thanks to new plugin versions.
The new plugins remain faithful to their hardware counterparts with the sonic qualities and benefits meticulously modelled off the originals, and both feature that same recognisable red brushed steel finish. They favour clarity and ease of use over tonnes of unwanted and unneeded knobs to tweak, and after using them for a couple of sessions you can see how they would quite easily become your go-to tools come mix-time.
Best of all? These two leading edge tools are free when you buy and register any Focusrite Scarlett or Saffire audio interfaces. To put that into some context, the original hardware gear would cost thousands, and the plugins on their own would easily run to the hundreds. Hundreds of pounds worth of plugin excellence in return for a couple of quick mouse clicks. Can’t say fairer than that.
So how exactly would you use them? Compression and EQ are two of the most highly used, most important and most crucial components of a recorded signal. It could be said however that they’re also two of the most misunderstood, or misused, to those who haven’t learned how to incorporate them effectively. What they do is effectively smooth over rough edges in a mix, leaving it in a more rounded, professional state.
Compression is used, in a broad sense, to manage and react to changes in volume in a given sound. A simple analogy is to compare it to the role of a silent, automated recording engineer gently ‘riding’ the faders on the mixing desk in order to keep volume levels roughly in line with one another. Say, for example, your recorded guitar part jumps up and down slightly in volume throughout a part. It may be that your picking attack grew more aggressive as you neared the end of the take, or you settled in to a groove and it naturally became less expressive. A good compressor here will monitor and normalise the volume levels so the end result is more consistent.
EQ is more a tool for shaping the sound and the frequencies in which it lies on the spectrum. We know that a bass guitar will naturally sit lower on the register than a regular six-string, so a good mix engineer will sculpt certain higher frequencies away from the bass signal to allow the guitar more room to sit there without clashing with the bass. Likewise, by using the high pass filter on the guitar signal, you know errant lower frequencies from the guitar will be removed (or at least tamed) to everything can contribute to an overall mix sound, as opposed fighting to be heard among the noise.
If you’re new to these kind of effects, or if you’re looking to upgrade and improve your DAW plugin arsenal, it is well worth considering the Focusrite Scarlett and Saffire range of interfaces. Not only because they’re great in their own right, but also now with the added bonus of being able to include these classic homages to a genuine industry-leader for free.