Review: Sound Radix Auto Align 2

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Review: Sound Radix Auto Align 2

Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Auto Align 2 Plugin | Sound Radix | RRP $199 USD

Producing, mixing and mastering music takes a lot of manual work. We’ve got hardware, software and plugins to handle the heavy lifting of treating audio via EQ and compression, before more exciting effects make way for larger than life depth, width and weight within an arrangement. For all of these tools to operate their best, though, the source tracks need to be sounding good. The Sound Radix Auto Align 2 plugin is the revised version of Sound Radix Auto Align that has been used as a massive timesaver for engineers and mixers across the globe. Multi-mic’d sources, particularly drums, have a lot of bleed between the mics due to the volume of the instrument and their proximity to each other, so the phase relationship between them all is really important to keep in mind. The ‘crack’ of your well-tuned snare won’t retain that impact once there’s 12 microphones, the speed of sound doing its part to ensure they don’t all arrive at the different mics at the same time, and smearing the attack of the sound. While it’s only a fraction of a second, the difference is enough to affect the phase relationship of your mics, even more so than those room mics at the back of the room.

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Drums aside, double tracking and layering has become an essential part of the contemporary sounds of the records we enjoy in the modern day— but it’s not always so simple to augment those sounds. Layered vocals, guitar and synths need to be perfectly locked in to achieve the effect of a larger-than-life performance, and while the imperfections between two takes play a part in smearing them into one huge sound, there’s a fine line. The Sound Radix Auto Align 2 plugin takes the manual work out of aligning your mics and it does so with inhuman accuracy.

Sound Radix Auto Align 2 is a new plugin from Sound Radix. You can set up Auto Align 2 on multiple tracks in your DAW, run the ‘Align’ function, and it will delay any signals required so all tracks line up with sample accuracy. The result is clearer definition of your source or sources, better stereo width and a more realistic depth to the sound. Auto Align 2 can be installed and used as AAX, Audio Unit, VST3, ARA2. Sound Radix have implemented Spectral Phase Optimization to process different frequencies of a track separately for the best results, and the plugin also uses Absolute Phase Optimization, ensuring wave forms are being reproduced by your speakers and converters the same way they were captured.

I had the plugin up and running in a matter of moments, from install to opening a session of raw multitracks in ProTools and adding Auto Align 2 to a track. Auto Align 2 requires at least two tracks to have the plugin inserted, in order for it to analyse and adjust the signal between them. As a start, I put Auto Align on just the kick drum tracks and ran the plugin – Auto Align 2 requires you to play the track for it to analyse in real time before it does its work. On immediate playback after analysis, the result was exceptional. Obviously there’s no ‘effect’ happening, but my kick sounded less muddy and woofy, the bottom end that I didn’t know I was losing because of the phase issues was more present, and the smack of the beater sounding like it physically existed in the stereo field with more clarity. I’d duplicated my tracks, both with and without Auto Align 2, to compare side by side and let me say— I’m glad I had the chance to try Auto Align before diving into this mix!

I dragged the plugin across the rest of my drum tracks and let the song play back again, Auto Align 2 analysing again before applying the delay. It was interesting seeing how much delay had to be applied to things like room and overhead mics, which makes sense, but also how closely aligned most of the spot mics were already, and yet they still felt smeared and unclear without the Auto Align software. I checked my raw, unprocessed tracks again and now Auto Align 2 helped my snare poked through with a ‘crack’ as well as more body, and cymbal harshness across the whole caused by frequencies building up slowly fell away. It’s important to state that all of this was within about 2 minutes, from opening the first instance of Auto Align, checking my work again unprocessed tracks and finally, now, deciding I can’t live without Auto Align 2.

Entertaining the idea that I might not need to spend the money right now, I decided to have a go at time aligning my tracks manually, a process I do regularly when mixing. ProTools has a ‘tab to transient’ feature, in a nutshell, this means you can use the ‘Tab’ key to automatically move your cursor to the start of the transient on the selected track. This is a tool that makes the most sense, and has treated me pretty well thus far for time alignment. The fault here is what ProTools defines as the ‘start’ of a transient, as well as what is a ‘transient’. You only need to find one transient per track to align them all to the same spot, but it still left me zoomed in further than I ever had, with track size at its largest and clicking around the start of the transients to make my edit. I shifted the tracks, admittedly taking a few more minutes than all of my Auto Align 2 alignment and checking.

Sound Radix Auto Align 2

All of this aside, my manual alignment just didn’t match up. A massive improvement over the raw tracks I’ll admit, but the Auto Align’d tracks were wider, with more depth and punchier than my manually aligned tracks. I could hear less separation and impact with manual adjustment, as well as the time I’d wasted. If time is money, Auto Align 2 will pay for itself within a few day’s work. Auto Align 2 is not simply shifting the entire track back and forth, it uses Spectral Phase Optimization to shift different frequencies differently, so that frequencies bouncing around the room at different speeds will all end up aligned, providing the best outcome across the board. Not content with leaving it there, Sound Radix uses Absolute Phase Optimization, correcting phase on a super focused level, meaning that soundwaves pushing air forward will push the speaker cone forward and vice versa. That concept alone is a lot for us to process, but not for Auto Align 2!

Get your entry in today to win the Auto-Align 2 Plugin from Sound Radix here!

Auto Align 2 is a revised version of a plugin that’s been used by some huge names, on mixes for even bigger names. It’s simple to install, use and even easier to hear the massive improvement from tracks with Auto Align 2 vs. tracks without. The phase relationship is a constant battle in recording and mixing, with a lot of manual tools at our disposal. Auto Align 2 takes the ‘manual’ out of the equation, with unparalleled results.

For more information, head to Sound Radix.