Leapwing Audio Joe Chiccarelli Signature Plugin by Sound-Guy
Joe Chiccarelli Signature Plugin from Leapwing Audio
Leapwing Audio have added a new signature plug-in to their roster – this one based on the methods and equipment that Joe Chiccarelli uses in his Sunset Sound Studio room in Hollywood California, just a few miles from where I grew up and made my first home recordings on mono magnetic tape. This is Leapwing’s second signature plug-in – the first was made with the late, great Al Schmitt.
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What Is This One Like?
Leapwing Joe Chiccarelli is a multi-processor “signature” plug-in based on the workflow and audio processing equipment that Joe Chiccarelli has used for years with artists such as Beck, U2, Tori Amos, Elton John, Frank Zappa, The White Stripes, Morrissey, Julieta Venegas, and Alanis Morrisette, winning ten Grammy/Latin Grammy awards along the way. Like the Al Schmitt plug-in, Leapwing has not tried to make a user interface that looks like analogue gear – or even like “gear”. It has a functional interface with both an Instrument profile selection widow above the main control section and a preset window at the top right of the main window. Instrument profiles available are kick, snare, toms, drum overhead, drum room, DI bass, bass amp, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric piano, and lead vocal.
In the centre is a graphic representing the chosen instrument along with an assortment of controls that varies with different instruments. Each of these instruments has from two to five factory presets that set specific values for EQ, compression, reverb, etc. And of course you can tweak the available settings as you wish and save as your own presets. Presets include all possible settings of an instrument as well as the Input and Output levels since increased input levels can affect saturation. Both the input level (after any IN adjustment) and the output level are shown with an integrated level bar-meter (K-weighted loudness in LUFS) with a 4-second peak bar.
Each instrument profile includes several controls, numbering from one ten band EQ plus four dynamics and saturation controls (Kick drum) to twelve EQ, dynamics, saturation and reverb controls (Lead Vocal). And many of these controls are not just simple single processor adjustments – there can be multiple processes going on “under the hood” that provide unique combinations of equipment and settings. The same “processor” when used with different instruments will vary. For example there are three choices of Reverb type in six of the profiles (Snare, Bass DI, Bass Amp,Electric Guitar, Electric Piano, and Vocal) but they are all differently tuned, even using different reverb units, each optimized for the specific instrument. The same thing applies to other processes like compression and EQ. Changing any setting can result in some complex interactions. Again, this is like Leapwing Al Schmitt, but unlike Schmitt who was a minimalist when mixing, Chiccarelli uses a lot of gear, some configured in complex ways.
Chiccarelli often uses compressors operating in parallel rather than in series, two or even three of them. This is not as common a practice as a series configuration, although you may be familiar with parallel compression where a compressor is run in parallel with the dry signal. This procedure is used in several of the instrument profiles although you can’t see exactly what is going on. The positive thing about this approach is you don’t need to know the details and can quickly obtain good results. The less positive thing is you can’t see the details of the individual settings, so it does not provide a real learning experience if that is what you seek.
BTW, Chiccarelli uses a lot of classic gear such as the Pultec EQP-1A and API 550 EQs, Universal Audio 1176, LA2A, LA3A, and Neve 33609 compressors and Neve 1073 and API console preamps – and many of these are used in various combinations when you adjust a single control. Leapwing worked with Joe to capture the effects of these configurations and the range of variation possible with these processors.
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. . . . . . . Four of the Instruments available – Kick drum is one of the simplest while Lead Vocal and Snare are the most complex.
Presets and Automation
When you select an instrument profile, all the controls are set up with default settings for a good starting place. You can select more specific settings using one of the presets and of course you can tweak any of the available controls to fine tune the results for your tracks. There are 38 factory presets and you can “roll your own” and save them. There are also automation inputs for every adjustable parameter, 31 of them, and these are “shared” so that instead of many dozens of automation lanes, for example, with a unique lane for Lead Vocal reverb A and another for Electric Guitar Reverb A, the automation lanes are simply Reverb A, Reverb B, Reverb C, etc., and the instrument selected determines which reverb type is used. This makes perfect sense because you are not going to be switching profiles during recording or playback using automation (and in fact you cannot use automation to change the preset). I found automation to work fine and parameters such as compression, drive, and reverb level can be changed on-the-fly with no glitches or pops.
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. . . . . . . Preset window open for Electric Bass
One Word of Caution
I found that increasing many of the settings increases the output level (loudness) significantly, leading to loudness bias as you crank up a setting, or if you use the A/B comparison function without adjusting for it. In fact, there is about a 7 dB volume boost for any instrument profile with all its settings set to minimum value. With extreme changes in settings I measured increases as great as 24 dB which is not just loudness bias, but could blast you out of your seat if you started at 85 dB SPL and A/B’d it to 109 dB SPL! Hopefully most A/B comparisons are made between similar values of settings, but do always be careful.
You can compensate for this loudness bias in A/B comparisons using the Output level control and a slick feature also found in other Leapwing processors – clicking the output level meter area while holding down the Alt key will change the readings to delta mode which is very handy for tweaking the output level control to match output to input levels, and also to match output levels in A and B comparisons. It would be better if loudness bias were automatically adjusted, but at least you can use this delta-mode to objectively measure and adjust loudness.
How Does It Sound?
The intent of Leapwing Joe Chiccarelli is to provide enhancement of tracks or buses with minimum fuss and maximum quality. It does this well when your source material is recorded with good quality. It will not help if your tracks are already distorted (in a bad way!), or cursed with a high level of noise. But it is very flexible and can be a great help polishing your sounds.
I used REAPER and Studio One for testing in a PC Audio Labs Rok Box PC (4-Core Intel i7-4770K, 3.5 GHz, and 16 GB RAM). To estimate CPU load I used REAPER’s Performance Meter and the Windows Task Manager: Leapwing Joe Chiccarelli has a lot going on under the hood depending on the instrument profile being used, and the lightest CPU load I saw was 0.6% and the highest was a rather hefty 3.2%. Latency is a low 1.6 msec (80 samples at 44.1 k and 48 k; 160 samples at 88.2 k and 96 k). There is a bypass switch that completely bypasses all processing, but you will need to adjust the OUT level to prevent loudness bias.
Fine results, quickly, on many types of tracks and buses. The eleven instrument types, the presets and additional controls cover most any situation. Leapwing Joe Chiccarelli is best used for enhancing a mix after any needed corrective processes (such as de-essing, surgical EQ, and noise removal), so unless you start with a very clean set of tracks, it is not the only audio processor you may need. Used to add the finishing touch to a mix, JC Leapwing Joe Chiccarelli can provide the glue that makes a mix sound great. It can also eat up your computer’s processing power if you try too many instances at once – and if your computer can’t handle the load, a big project might require committing some tracks to audio before completing the mix, but that’s not always a bad approach!
Unique set of processing tools created with Joe Chiccarelli’s assistance to capture his workflow – and Joe himself has approved the results.
Provides fast results with few controls to adjust – and with most instrument profiles there are a lot of extra adjustments possible for fine tuning.
Provides low latency for tracking use (1.6 msec, less time than it takes sound to travel from your near-field monitors to your ears).
Excellent audio quality with very musical results that enhance good mixes.
Sample rates supported up to 384kHz (DXD).
Continuously variable GUI size from small (about 525x400 pixels) to as large as fits your screen, and with Retina support.
Fully functional trial version available to use for 30 days.
High CPU usage on some profiles, but not more than the combined processing load of the equivalent group of EQ, compressors, and reverbs it emulates.
No auto-loudness compensation and some settings create significant loudness changes.
Not a learning tool if you are looking for instruction on how to apply EQ, dynamics, and other processors to your projects (but it is not intended to be so).
Rather dark GUI that might be an issue for some lower quality monitors, but is easy on the eyes.
64 bit only if you are still using a 32 bit platform!