Music Tech: Hands-on with Zynaptiq Unveil
Zynaptiq’s Unveil plugin promises to take reverb off already recorded tracks. I test their claims in a real-world studio environment.
Author’s note: I do not review stuff immediately when I get it. I spend time with it, try it on real projects that I’m working on, and generally see how it works when used at the sharp end of production. That’s why my reviews are called “Hands-on” and why they will usually appear months after a product is released, not right away.
Also don’t expect a walk-through of how to use it — that’s what the manual is for. I’m here to tell you what results you will get when you do use it. Because ultimately it’s results that count! :-)
So, here’s the thing: I worked at Steinberg way back in the day when we first invented the VST system. And I remember being massively impressed when the Art Director, Frank Simmerlein, showed me his User Interface designs for the very first VST plugins — because they looked and acted similar to hardware equivalents. That seems kind of obvious in hindsight, but it was a huge breakthrough at the time.
Fast forward 20+ years and we have literally thousands of VST plugins attempting to emulate not just the look of every individual piece of hardware there ever was, but also the internal components as well. And y’know, that’s pretty cool and all, but really… is that how far we’ve come in a couple of decades? We have these incredibly powerful computers, can’t we get some plugins that do more than just emulate hardware boxes?
Enter Zynaptiq. These plugins don’t emulate anything, either in look or function. I saw them demo-ed a while back and they confused the hell out of me — but in a good way. So I picked a few of them up and set to trying them out in the studio.
Ok, first up: Zynaptiq Unveil. This purports to do something that shouldn’t even be possible: take ambiance off a track after it’s been recorded and mixed! It apparently does this via some really clever Artificial Intelligence-style processing that can listen to the track and figure out what’s reverb and what’s not, and change the levels between them. I hope it’s more intelligent than me, because at first glance I had zero idea what those knobs were for (Localize? Refract?).
On the other hand I do like the User Interface style a lot. Those “ball” style knobs are look odd, but they are actually kind of great when using a mouse. That’s a small thing, but it already shows the extra level of thought that Zynaptiq are putting into their stuff.
But now let’s get this on to some projects and see if it works the way it’s supposed to…
My first project using this was an independent movie audio track. This was… challenging, to say the least. The main scene was a long dialog between two characters sitting in a kitchen, with the audio recorded via camera phone (yes, really!) over various takes and in various different positions in the room, mainly quite a way from the actors. To add to the that, the audio was recorded at far too low a level in general. This meant a lot of different interlocking problems:
- audio at varying levels throughout the piece
- background noise from various kitchen appliances intruding into the track
- early reflections and reverb from the kitchen walls and ceiling obscuring the dialog clarity
I had worked a whole morning trying to clean this track up with a combination of several different plugins like gates, compressers, noise reduction, de-essers, you name it. I needed compression to even out the volume differences, but that just added even more noise to the thing. To use a technical engineering term: it sounded like shit. So in desperation I thought to myself “I wonder if that Unveil plugin could help?”
I stuck it on the track and in 10 seconds my prayers were answered. Not only was the extraneous ambiance gone, so was pretty much everything else except the dialog, which was now crystal clear and completely intelligible. All I needed to do was apply a little bit of compression to the newly-clean dialog to even it out a bit, and job done.
When I played it back to the movie director he was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe how good it was. Thank you gentlemen from Zynaptiq! You enabled me to achieve in minutes what otherwise could have taken days — or even have been completely impossible. Impressive start.
Remastering an alternative rock single from the 80s. Like everything else in the 80s, it was covered in reverb which was seriously impacting my ability to sweeten up the individual sounds — everything I did just made it smear even more. Out came Unveil again…
Unveil has some good music and mastering based presets that enable all sorts of things, like just generally cleaning up the excessive reverb a bit, to really bringing drums out in front of the music. Since this song really needed some extra punch to it, I started with one of the latter presets. And wow! Suddenly the track was banging. It didn’t take all the reverb off, but allowed me to adjust it so that I could take off just enough so that it sounded like it had been made yesterday instead of 30 years ago. After that it was relatively easy to apply my usual mastering tools to get it just the way it needed to be. So far, this Unveil thing is running 2 for 2.
Only negative thing so far: the presets are hidden behind a little tiny triangle icon on the top left of the plugin window — not obvious at all. Yeah I know it’s considered kind of uncool to be using presets, but let’s get real here, 99% of pro engineers are going to be reaching for presets straight away, and tweak from there. Time is money. So at least make your preset selector easier to find.
Live concert performance recorded on a camera phone. Yeah, camera phone audio again — and this time in a large venue with massively long reverb. The performance was great, and the actual audio wasn’t that bad considering — except for that looooonnnngggggg reverb obscuring everything. By this point I knew to just reach for Unveil straight away, and I wasn’t disappointed. Again it took just a few seconds to clean it up into something much more listenable. I ended putting a little bit of the reverb back because it sounded too much like a studio recording!
This is a seriously 5/5 product. If you are just sitting at home writing songs you don’t need it. But if you are doing any kind of serious audio mastering or post work, or even just fixing your band’s live videos for YouTube, this thing is a must-have. It’s a genius tool that does what it says on the tin, and then some. Honestly, even after reading the manual twice and using it over the past couple of months, I still don’t feel like I know how it actually works, because this thing is a pretty much a mysterious black box, but I don’t really care how it works as long as it does work — and it does work extremely well!