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TRackS 24 2.0 9/10

Strictly speaking Tracks is not a plugin since it is a standalone application. I suspect that the next version will probably appear as a plugin which can be accessed from other audio programmes. Installing it is very simple. It does involve e-mailing IK (the company behind Tracks) and then receiving an unlock code, to stop piracy. The interface is non-standard and is designed to resemble a real hardware setup, you even get valves at the top of the screen which light up, whilst music is being played! What you get is a tube compressor, an EQ, a multiband limiter and a preamp. Tracks can handle both 24 bit and 16 bit sound files. You simply load them up and you can hear the effects you apply in realtime (ie. without waiting for them to be rendered). Once you are happy with the results Tracks will write a WAV file (with mastering effects) ready to be burnt to CD. My 600 MHz P3 is more than quick enough to run Tracks, without any dropouts due to lack of CPU power or memory.

It is supposed to emulate a valve amp of old. Nowadays analogue valve based amps are still being made but they are very expensive. I can't compare the two, since I've never heard a real valve amp! However, what I can say, is that Tracks succeeds in creating a warm sound for all your songs, which is difficult to conjure up using digital only machines. There are about 30 preset files, for you to try out. You do get good results it takes time, and a bit of trial and error to get the perfect sound to master your mixes - don't expect this to be some automatic programme.

I think Tracks will be very successful as a mastering tool, far cheaper than any similar hardware - after all everyone making music requires a good mastering setup to give a pro finish to their music, regardless of whether it is classical, pop or dance. It is quick and easy to use. At last we can combine the ease of making music in the digital domain with the warmth of an analogue system.