Thursday, February 21, 2013

Xils-Lab Le Masque Delay (1.5) Review – Futuristic Digital Delay


Reviewer’s Log: stardate 19.02.2013

Delivering the quality that one expects from Xils-Lab, and perhaps exceeding those expectations, the recently upgraded Le Masque Delay 1.5 docks itself into your DAW with the grandiose entry of the Starship Enterprise NCC-1701-C. To celebrate the momentous occasion, Xils-Lab are making Le Masque Delay 1.5 available until February 28th, 2013, for only 44€25 ($58). The MSRP will be 59€ ($77) after that stardate. *Wincing at my own flayed attempt to use kool Star-trek-ian terminology.*

By Xils-Lab’s admission:

Le Masque Delay inherits the renowned XILS-lab filters and all the experience accumulated from the making of Virtual Analog synthesizers and audio effects. But, Le Masque Delay can also perform like a regular Delay

Some droids may put Le Masque Delay into the “weird, dude, I don’t know how to work it” category, but remain at your station! I have some relevant logistics data that will keep your attention transfixed for the next few continuum. By the end of this reviewer’s report, you may even engage the internet transporter (known as a web browser) to transport you to the Xils-Lab coordinates for a worry-free cyber transaction.


Why worry-free? No dongles. No C/R challenges. You authorize Le Masque Delay with a personalized license code received via email. The email arrives shortly following the purchase transaction.

To say that Le Masque Delay is an innovative new concept is an understatement. Beware! This review is involved. Those who suffer from A-D-D may need to  . . . . huh? What? Hey! Look over there.

Trekkies will appreciate the style of creative writing that this article is written in. Non-trekkies may not. No, wait! Only Moms, wives and girlfriends fail to appreciate classic sci-fi. "You aren’t a ‘girl’ are you, MR. Worf?!"




Visuals:

Whoa! Man, there’s a lot to look at across Le Masque’s three switchable panels. However, you needn’t be startled. Especially for those whom are familiar with the myriad of knobs on a typical synth, this will all seem familiar to you in no time. If you aren’t a Vulcan synth technician, it may appear to be a little overwhelming at first. “My God, Jim! I’m a musician, not a synth programmer.” Do not fear! The good Lord willing, you’ll have a handle on it in no time. Besides, Resistance is . . . . oh, never mind. *wink

 
The plugin’s interface shares the blue/grey theme of its other Xils-Lab plugin consortium. This blue/grey color scheme, and design, lends itself to being unobtrusive and easily focused upon. The visuals are not without a certain degree of eye-pleasing style, but it seems to me that the emphasis by Xils-Lab is placed on functionality and work-flow; in contrast to the now-common practice of visually emulating vintage audio components with photo-realism. In this case, the interface design is entirely appropriate. This is most definitely NOT an emulated Electro-Harmonix bucket-brigade echo stomp box.

The GUI’s dimensions are 788px wide by 508px high. All button labels are clearly visible in white, 12pt. anti-aliased text. The spacing between each element is comfortable and each graphical element is easily seen. The symmetrically arranged button knobs are smoothly adjustable. Holding down the ‘shift’ key while moving any knob allows for fine, granular adjustments. Each virtual knob is haloed with a bright, ‘neon-blue’ indicator ring that gives the user immediate visual cues of each knob’s current setting.

Le Masque Delay ships with an large factory preset library (over 120 presets). The presets are well-organized in six distinct categories. These are readily accessible from a graphite-colored toolbar along the top of plugin’s shell. Again, the menuing system is nicely contrasted with white, anti-aliased serif text against the dark background. No eye-squinting required.

The main panel, “GRID”, is easy to work with. To set a ‘mask zone’ you merely click & drag. To remove a mask zone, you simply right-click on it. Masks are displayed in the same bright, neon-blue color as the knob rings. The GRID itself can be configured to ¼ time, 1/8th time, 1/12th, and 1/16th intervals.

Sound Quality:

Surreal, my good web friend, surreal. The actual sound quality of this plugin is tremendous. Xils-Lab have obviously included the lush, warm, ‘analog-esque’ quality that their perennial VA synths are famous for. It does not suffer from any discernable audio aliasing or unwanted audio artefacting. Nevertheless, its prime directive is to produce utterly modernistic sounds; so how can one claim that it only sounds “good”?

It can sound vast and aurally provocative. It can sound krazy weird (in a very likeable way). Le Masque innovatively warp-speeds beyond traditional delay plugins to a sonic stratosphere that besets all but the most musically adventurous. To say that it sounds “good” would be a grave injustice to the programming ingenuity powering this mind-melding software appliance.

Stereo Width & Dimension:

Le Masque Delay is not your Grand Dad’s vintage tape echo unit. Ensign, this is a stereo-field energizer of stellar proportions. The plugin features independent feedback, time, pan and level controls for both the left and right sides of the stereo spectrum. The degree of perceived spatial placement is eks-ten-zzive. Anything from subtle, controlled effect, to outright aural disturbance is possible just a few mouse clicks n’ turns away.

You can manipulate the stereo spectrum of your processed sound as extreme as your imagination will take you. I suspect that you’d have to utilize a completely 3D or surround sound processor to give greater degrees of stereo delay effect. Giving a techno/house/trance junkie the Le Masque plugin may result in long-term euphonious addiction. (TIP: www.merriam-webster.com *grin)


   [PAUSE for INTERMISSION]   

Now then, I am presenting you with a choice at this juncture, Neo. You can choose to read only the next two paragraphs, in which I share my opinion and a brief overview. After which, you may then continue on your merry way. For those of stout heart and intestinal fortitude, with an earnest interest, you are cordially invited to read the complete, detailed, technical-schmenical digest.

Overview: This thing is massive! (No inference to any Native-Instruments product intended nor implied) Le Masque Delay is the secret Photon weapon of delay in any VST folder. From elegant, subtle echoes, or synth-like modulated delays, to extreme rhythmic resonance repeats, Le Masque Delay is capable of captivating the listener in wonderment.

Le Masque invokes creativity. For example: A user can apply unique delay processing on a common, simple drum loop, and inventively devise tones and beats that are an exciting fusion of oscillated synthesis and rhythmic furor.

Want to know the WHYs, WHEREFOREs, and what’s under the dilithium hood?

"As you were, Ensign. Please, continue along with me."

Effects & Features – GRID Panel:


Remember the ‘mask zones’ you read about earlier? This ‘masking’ is the exceptionally innovative feature that is unique to Le Masque Delay. These easily arranged mask zones facilitate the means of accurately specifying which part(s) of the source signal will be processed by the plugin. Only the the ‘masked zones’ of the GRID are processed by the Delay Unit; audio data outside of the ‘masks’ remains unchanged.

Q: Hey! Astro-boy, What’s a ‘MASK’?

A: “A Mask is a high-lighted segment of the grid where the input is entering the delay unit. It is defined between two ‘LOCATORS’, left and right respectively.”
Q: What’s a ‘LOCATOR’?
A: “Umdunnno. Maybe we can mind-meld with Mr. Oudin, the programming genius responsible for this nebula of “delay-dom” Seriously, stick n’ stay. I’ll tell ya later. Now hush! Pay attention, class.”

You can create up to 16 different Masks. When a single mask covers the entire GRID area, Le Masque Delay behaves like a Standard Delay. If you left-click anywhere in the 'GRID', a new mask, with a default length, will be created at that insertion point. You can always change the length of the mask later.

A real-world example of this feature would be to consider a drum loop. Let’s say that it’s a standard 120bpm 4/4 straight beat. If the engineer wanted to set up a delay (either with typical delay or creatively modulated) on the snare hits on the 4th measure of the loop only, he could create a ¼ GRID and ‘mask’ the 4th measure. The other three ‘unmasked’ measures would remain unaffected.

"Ahhh . . . the wonderful dawning of revelation is beginning to be realized by you now; isn’t it?"

The GRID can be synced to either your DAW, or to the plugin’s internal clock. You can set the internal clock in standard BPM measurements by clicking on the TEMPO field and keying in the desired value. The TEMPO field is located in the lower right corner of the GRID panel. Most users will find it easiest and most convenient to midi sync to the current project tempo in the DAW.

Effects & Features – LFO & ENVELOPE Panel:




This panel is divided into two sections: LFO and ENVELOPE. Beginning with the LFO section, we are presented with a ‘midi sync’ button. When engaged, the midi sync features locks the rate (speed) of the Low Frequency Oscillator to the DAW or host tempo. Below the ‘midi sync’ button is the ‘RATE’ knob. This parameter sets the rate (speed) of the LFO from 0 all the way up to 30hz (30 x per second).

The ‘FILTER MOD’ control sets the LFO’s modulation value to either drop in pitch or increase by the desired amount. Beware! The amount of modulation can be extreme, man. “It’s totally sick; know what I’m sayin’?” When it’s centered, no modulation pour vous. Nadda. Nuttin'. Zilch.

Looking like a 1987 Atari console selector switch, the ‘RESET’ selector let’s the user specify which event the LFO will be triggered and reset by. There are three choices:

- Bar : The LFO will be reset at the beginning of each bar
- Locator: The LFO will be reset by the LEFT locator of each Mask (as viewed on the GRID panel)
- Free: The LFO is . . . well, ‘free’. Choose this option if you want dynamically changing modulations.

Finally, there is a set of five waveform buttons. These buttons select the LFO waveform (Triangle, Sawtooth, random, etc..) More than one waveform is selectable at a time, allowing you, the DAW’s science officer, to create some very sophisticated waveforms.

Into the ENVELOPE we go! Into the ENVELOPE we go!

"By now maybe you’re thinking you should have chosen the blue pill, Neo" . . .

Well, there’s a lot to cover here, folks. After all, I did put the warning clearly in the intermission. You could have continued on your merry way; but no! You jumped into the rabbit hole. *wink

ADSR [Defined as: Attack-Decay-Sustain-Release]

Le Masque’s ENVELOPE section gives the user control over modulation of the Filter’s Cut-Off frequency and/or the volume of the Delayed signal itself. (Not the source – only the delay)
You can adjust the depth of the modulation with the Filter Mod and/or Level Knobs. When the Filter Mod knob is centered, no modulation is applied. As with the LFO modulation control, turning the knob clockwise or anticlockwise will increase the depth of the modulation in downward or upward oscillation. The same applies to the Level Knob, excepting that this modulates the level of the delayed signal.

ADSR Knobs: These control the Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release time of the envelope. Please note that ADR are duration parameters, while Sustain is a level parameter.
The Loop Toggle: This toggles the envelope LOOP mode. When activated, the envelope is looping and only the A and D parameters are utilized. The length of the loop is given by the very simple equation: L = A + D.

The TRIGGER selector gives you the three TRIGGER-event choices:

Locator: The LEFT locator of each Knob will trigger the envelope.

Off: Would you believe, it turns it . . . off? No more trigger. None. Hey, fuhget about it! Modulations caused by the envelope (only the envelope) are cancelled without modifying the settings.

In: The envelope will be triggered by the level of incoming delay signal. Each time a signal is detected in the delay audio path it will trigger the envelope. (The threshold of the incoming signal triggering the ENVELOPE can be modified in the TIME & MOD panel)
"Speaking of which, join me on the TIME & MOD holodeck, Mr. Riker."


Effects & Features – TIME & MOD Panel:




It’s ironic. When I began to write this review, I felt that I ought to creatively write it with anecdotal comparisons to classic Sci-fi references. Now here, months later, (Well, truthfully a only few days later) we observe that the Le Masque Delay manual refers to this section of the plugin as the “Modulation Matrix”. Matrix . . . get it? Oh, nevermind. Let’s continue.

In a nutshell, or in keeping with our current Sci-fi theme, “in a capsule”, this section of the plugin’s GUI is where you can fine-tune the selection of parameters that are affected by the GRID ‘LOCATOR(s)’.

Q: Hey, Morpheus, what’s a ‘LOCATOR’?

A: “This is not 100% defined by Xils-Lab | Sometimes a ‘LOCATOR’ may be defined as either the right or the left marker of a "Mask". A ‘LOCATOR’ may also refer to the name of the "Mask" itself."
"I think it is better to keep the first definition : A Mask (the part of the grid where the input is entering the delay unit) is defined between two locators, left and right.

Got it? Good! Please repeat it back to me so I can understand it. Nah, just kidding. (Non, je plaisante.)

This section of the plugin’s GUI is also where a user can define which parameters are affected by the mod wheel, and by what degree.

The Le Masque manual explains it well.

In this panel you can specify the Modulation targets of sources like the Mod Wheel and the Grid Level Parameter. You can also specify all the parameters of the incoming threshold function, and the adaptive clock specifications.

This is where you specify the Mod Wheel and the Mask-Level parameters’ targets. Namely: Filter Cut-Off, Resonance, Drive, and LFO Rate. (NOTE: If you want to use a midi-controlled Mod Wheel for real time control of Le Masque’s parameters in your
DAW, you certainly can. There is a short tutorial at the end of the manual to help you set it up.)

Effects & Features – Menu Preset System:

The Le Masque Delay manual is quite thorough is most nearly all aspects. The manual explains the preset categories very well.

Insert Full Mask Sync: Intended to be used in Insert mode, One Single Mask which covers the entire Grid (i.e. behaves like a standard Delay), and the Delays are synced to the clock (internal or Midi).

Insert MultiMask Sync: Intended to be used in Insert mode, 2 to 8 Masks, and the Delays are synced to the clock (internal or Midi).

Bus Full Mask Sync: Similar to Insert Full Mask Sync, but intended to be use on a auxiliary Bus.

Bus MultiMask Sync: Similar to Insert MultiMask Sync, but intended to be use on a auxiliary Bus.

Fix Tempo: The Delay times are not synced to the Midi or Internal Clock, and they are prefixed with the BPM value suited. Delay might be a bit different from a quantize sync delay to add some groove, or have an offset between the left and right channel to make some phase effects, or have some stutter FX on one channel, etc. This bank is for those who think that quantized delays can be boring, and un-synced delays very creative.

FX and Experiment: Self-Explanatory: Welcome to the realm of S-boings, Resonators and huge Dub delays.
More Noteworthy Features:

This review would be incomplete without bringing well-deserved attention to Le Masque's new 'Dry/LOCK' feature. Dry/LOCK accords a user the ability to save the plugin's current wet/dry mix settings when saving a user preset.

Le Masque Delay makes use of on-board precision EQ filtering to perform delicate EQ tasks,
on the ‘wet’ signal (read: processed/delayed signal only). Such as: extracting the HighHats from a complete Drum loop, or the low mids tones from a guitar track. The filter section includes 6 knobs and a 5-position Selector knob. The selector is used to select a choice of Low Pass 12dB, LP 24dB, BandPass 6dB, BP 12dB, or High Pass. This section also apportions control over the Cut-Off point, the Resonance, and the Drive (saturation/distortion) of the Filter. (Please refer to the LFO & Envelope section of this manual for more details about them.)

CPU Consumption:


The plugin takes it easy on most nearly any up-to-date computer system. The CPU consumption of a single instance was only a paltry 0.7 percent draw. (Intel i7) This plugin is such a unique tool. It’s intended for those adventurous souls who want modernistic delay effects with style. For all its techno-topping grandeur, Le Masque particle-phases very nicely with our present-day, earthly computing devices.

:: PROS

-  Unique. Offers Delay effects typically associated only with synths.

-  Extensive Oscillation and modulation of the delayed signal.

-  Typical Delay configuration retains the rich, analog warmth that Xils-Lab’s high-end synths are famous for.

-  Excellent stereo imagery and perceived depth.

-  Attractive, user interface well-coded in Steinberg Free SDK.

-  A shipload of knobs, switches, and dials to control a plethora of parameters.

-  Prompt, professional product support.

-  Easily managed Serial Number activation. No dongles, call/response challenges, nor invasive piracy protection overhead.

-  32 & 64 bit for MAC(Intel) & PC


-  Moderately priced. Considering the excellent C++ programming, stable operation, and innovative design, you get a lot for the MSRP of 59€ ($77usd)

 
:: CONS

-  Fairly steep learning curve. The plugin is immense in its scope of delay features. Make sure you download
the owner's manual and refer to it regularly.

:: HONORABLE MENTION

Mr. Xavier Oudin is the programming genius behind this powerful, innovative plugin effect. Mr. Laurent Bourgeon is the creative and inventive force behind the idea (especially the Mask/Locators concept). Over the course of the past few months, my experience with these two fine gentleman has been pleasant and professional. Open, transparent communication and excellence in customer support is very high on Xils-Lab's list of priorities. I am grateful for the opportunity to have collaborated, in some small way, with this company.



Visit the website and find this, and lots more Xils-Lab goodies.
Xils-Lab Web Site

Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel music artist and minister. Charles had been a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.

Intellectual Copyright - 2013 - All rights Reserved. This review may not be copied or reproduced in whole, nor in part, without express written permission from the author.

2 comments:

  1. Hey Brother, the subscribe by e-mail is not working :) "The feed does not have subscriptions by email enabled"

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    1. Thanks for letting me know. It's corrected now.

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