Review: Focusrite Red Plug-in Suite

Rich Tozzoli tries out these new models of the company’s classic Red range of equalizers and compressors.

Loading the new Focusrite Red Plug-in Suite was like getting back in touch with a long-lost friend. Using them in a session made the memories even sweeter, especially since these updates have been completely rebuilt and recoded. 

Modelled after the famous Red range of hardware units, the Focusrite Red Plug-in Suite consists of the Red 2 equalizer (pictured) and Red 3 compressor; they are not available separately. The suite runs mono/stereo as VST, AU and AAX software on Mac OS 10.9 or higher and Windows 7 and 8.1.

The Red 2’s analogue circuitry was originally designed for Focusrite’s Forte console and used the ISA 215 EQ circuits. Like the hardware, the EQ software is comprised of three sections: Low and High Pass filter, Low Shelf and High Shelf, and Low Mid and High Mid parametric EQ in the centre. Also available is an Output VU meter and Gain knob (+/-18dB).

The centre section has the Low Mid and High Mid with Boost/Cut gain range of +/-16dB, fully variable Q and a sweepable frequency select knob. The Low Mid ranges from 40Hz to 1.2kHz and the High Mid ranges from 600Hz to 18kHz. The Low Shelf and High Shelf also feature Gain control (+/-16dB) and a frequency select knob. Low Shelf ranges from 33Hz to 270Hz and High Shelf ranges from 3.3kHz to 15kHz. The High and Low Pass filters are enabled when turning the knobs past their ‘off’ setting. The High Pass values run from 36Hz to 330Hz and the Low Pass ranges from 3.9kHz to 16kHz.

The Red 3 Compressor is based on a VCA design originating in the ISA 130 module. It’s a soft knee design, with limiting following compression. Controls include +/-18dB of input gain and a Ratio knob with a continuous range from 1.5:1 to infinity:1. There’s the usual Attack with Fast and Slow settings, Threshold ranging from -10 to -50dB and Release with settings from 0.1 to 4 seconds. The Auto Release button allows the release curve to be determined by the material on input, changing with the dynamics of the signal.

Red 3 also has two level meters: the Input/Output meter with relevant toggle switch on the left and the Gain Reduction meter on the right. Inside the I/O meter, the red needle displays the selected Threshold value, which is pretty cool. Make Up Gain gives you up to 40dB of extra gain when needed.

In Use

The Red 2 EQ is a breeze to use. If I were to describe it in one word, it would be ‘clean’. Its filters and curves are smooth as silk. Since I do a lot of cutting in my mixes, the High and Low pass let me quickly eliminate mud and harshness. On acoustic guitars, pushing up a touch of Hi-Shelf brings out just the right amount of pick and string noise – again, in a gentle way. I like the fact that if the shelf is too much, I can simply dial in something similar with the High Mids and sweep it around while widening or tightening the Q.

Since the EQ is so transparent, it sounds great in stereo on my master fader, dropping in some High Pass around 50Hz to tighten the bottom while pushing 16kHz to 18kHz with the Q in the middle between tight and wide.

Meanwhile, for Red 3, I would describe it as ‘smooth’. It does not step on your elements unless you want it to, and I immediately put it across a Steven Slate kick drum sample that had a lot of tick in it, whereas I wanted more of the mid and bottom. I was able to pull out the initial attack and leave in the beef in a very smooth way. Then I used Make Up Gain and Dry/Wet to dial it in just right, almost like I was using parallel compression.

I also like the Red 3 on bass, vocals and even acoustic guitar, but in a specific way. Normally, I don’t compress acoustic, unless I’m going for a tight, clean country sound. Like the tick on the kick, I was able to find the top of the sound where the pick resides, making it even and clean around the 10:1 ratio with Attack in the middle. I dialled it in until it was just a bit too much, then pulled back the Dry/Wet control until it sat perfectly in the mix. Once again, I made a preset and now have a great acoustic guitar compression setting.

I’m really glad I have the Red 2 and Red 3 back in my rig. They look great, sound great and are easy to use. Without a doubt, they help me make better-sounding mixes. The Red Plug-in Suite reminds me of what a treat it is when old friends drop in and bring something new to the table.

Rich Tozzoli is a producer, mixer, engineer and musician/composer for TV programmes such as Duck Dynasty, History Channel’s Pawn Stars, Harpo Studios’ 21-Day Meditation Challenge and more.