Intensity

Eight Reasons Sound Designers Should Consider Intensity

Intensity is a plugin from a company one reviewer from Production Expert dubbed “the mad scientists at Zynaptiq” and, as anyone who knows Zynaptiq’s plugins will be able to attest, he’s not wrong, given that they have built a reputation for creating unconventional and ground-breaking software.

Although, at first glance, Intensity might seem to be a plugin better suited to the music mixing and mastering market and although its effect is certainly subtler than other plugins favored by sound designers, it can have a very powerful effect on your finished product and, I firmly believe is an invaluable tool for any sound designer. Since, at the time of writing this article, Intensity is currently on sale, now’s the perfect time to investigate.

What the Blurb Says

Here’s Intensity’s premise as outlined in the manual:

It makes use of techniques typically found in facial recognition algorithms to bring out a sound’s inherent detail, increase its perceived loudness and density, and add insane amounts of clarity. Also, it can make sounds sound more like themselves. And last, but not least, INTENSITY is an incredible tool for attaining maximum loudness and a beautifully aggressive tone. You can think of it like an infinite-band compressor that threshold-less-ly operates relative to the input, whose time constants are zero and which is controlled by an artificial intelligence at audio rate, making it possible to adjust the process with essentially just one knob. Well, except that this description would be completely inaccurate, as INTENSITY is absolutely NOT a compressor, and works in a completely different way. But you get an idea of what you might use it for, what it can do – what applications you might find for it.

A Very Brief Description

The plugin features an “Intensity” knob which increases how pronounced the effect is, i.e. it increases the amount by which the sound’s key elements are accentuated and its loudness is…well…intensified. There are also bias controls, which allow you to emphasize or de-emphasize the process relative to certain frequency ranges. You can create custom curves or use the presets provided. It’s important to note that it is calibrated to work on sources that are around 0 DBFS, so there are input and output gain controls to get things sitting where you want them. There is also a saturation limiter mode for the output gain stage if you want it.

The manual certainly makes very bold claims and, if you’re feeling a little skeptical as you read them, don’t worry, I did too. So let’s not only put them to the test, but also see why sound designers should be interested.

1. Everyone Likes it Louder

Having another tool for increasing loudness, especially perceived loudness, is certainly useful whatever area of audio you’re in. Intensity certainly increases perceived loudness, but, crucially, since it’s not like a traditional compressor and doesn’t have a threshold or time constants, it does so without all the pumping and breathing and other artifacts traditionally associated with driving a compressor hard.

Here’s an example using one of our glass impact sound effects. The first iteration is the dry sound, then with Intensity applied using the bias controls in such a way that the shape of the sound, its transient relative to the decay, is better preserved, then there are two examples showcasing all-out increasing loudness. These examples include use of the saturation limiter.

 

As you can see, this would be ideal for cinematic, in-your-face, sound design applications.

2. More Weight

As well as simply making sounds louder, Intensity can also give sounds more body, filling them out, changing their character, which is definitely part of a sound designer’s stock-in-trade.

This LFE sound is brought forward by Intensity using its saturation:

 

Even more interestingly, this small weir is turned into quite an impressive close perspective waterfall using just the intensity control:

 

Both of these results are achieved without any use of the bias controls
for fine-tuning.

3. More clarity and sparkle.

We’re promised more clarity from Intensity and there are plenty of circumstances in sound design where this is just what’s needed.

This first, subtler example, shows how a whoosh can be subtly enhanced using just the intensity knob:

 

This second example increases the sparkle to this atmospheric piece of music from our royalty-free music collection:

 

4. Making sounds sound more like themselves

Perhaps the boldest claim Intensity’s developers make is that it can make sounds sound more like themselves. I can definitely vouch for the truth of this claim and it is one of the things, I think, that makes it so useful to sound designers.

There have been several occasions when I have been designing sound effects and have applied Intensity to them, whereupon it brought out exactly what I was trying for. There were times when I thought I had made a perfectly satisfactory sound effect, only to try Intensity out on it to find that the initial sound still had a way to go and that Intensity had taken it the rest of the way.

I made the following musical accent by processing a ukulele with another of Zynaptiq’s plugins, Adaptiverb, and Shimmer by Valhalla and was rather pleased with it…until I applied Intensity. Not only does it bring out the sound’s sparkle and the angelic feel I was going for, it also seems to re-balance the mids in a more pleasing way. I certainly wouldn’t go back to the original. This is definitely a case where Intensity made a sound sound more as I intended.

 

6. Smoothing Sounds out

After I bought Intensity, I spent a while getting to grips with how it worked, trying to get a rough idea how it would respond in certain circumstances. It took me a while to get a feel for the plugin, but the experimentation was well worth it. Without it, I certainly wouldn’t have discovered the following application.

I made some recordings of an electric screw-driver, which sounded rather gritty, rather coarse. I found that applying Intensity smoothed out the sound.

I was messing around with the sound looking to make servo sounds for a robot. The best way I can describe what happened is that applying Intensity made the robot sound newer, in better working order by sanding its joints so to speak. What was particularly interesting to me was that Intensity achieved the same effect regardless of the pitch of the sound.

This example shows a very similar effect on a recording of a hedge trimmer. Note how the grinding sounds as it encounters twigs and things are less pronounced.

 

Using this effect, automation and parallel processing, it would be possible to make a robot’s function gradually deteriorate for example. Start with the version of a motor to which Intensity has been applied, then cross-fade in the gain-matched dry version so that it sounds as though the robot is becoming more ‘rackety’, as if its bearings are going. Mixed with electric sparks or whatever else you might like to flesh out the piece with, this would make for a very compelling piece of sound design.

7. Making pass-bys More Impressive

Most plugins’ potential is greatly increased when you factor in automation and Intensity is no exception. We’ve seen how Intensity can greatly increase the clarity and loudness of the audio it is fed, how much difference it can make. But making everything as loud as possible all the time kills contrast. Loudness is more impactful when juxtaposed with quietness. By automating the Intensity parameter so that the top and tail of a pass-by are unaffected, so that Intensity only acts on the mid-point, the passing object sounds as though it is moving faster. It sounds more powerful as this example using one of our roller coaster sounds demonstrates:

 

8. A change in perspective.

One characteristic Intensity can share with normal compressors is its tendency sometimes to exaggerate reverb. Occasionally, this can make things sound unnatural, which is why I would recommend, as with many plugins, ensuring your source material is as clean as possible before running it through Intensity to make its distinction between a sound’s broad brush-strokes and its detail as accurate as possible, but sometimes, judicious application of the plugin can make it seem as though the sound was recorded from a different perspective.

In this example, I recorded some chattery teeth in my bedroom, which hasn’t been acoustically treated. The wet version of the sound has been approximately gain matched so that the perceived loudness is roughly the same. The greater prominence of the room’s acoustics and the greater body the sound has because of Intensity’s other operations, makes it sound like a louder noise recorded further away. If required, the wet and dry examples of Intensity could perhaps be more closely EQ-matched by use of the bias controls and the wet-dry mix control:

 

Summary

I have found Intensity to be the seasoning that makes many a sound a much tastier treat. It saves a lot of time, achieving great results very quickly. Grab it by going here.

Small Print: Just in the interest of transparency, I wanted you all to know that Zynaptiq has not endorsed or requested this review, nor provided any intensive for me to write it. I purchased Intensity when it was released and think it’s great so wanted to share. Happy intensifying!

Justin Macleod is a sound designer based in the UK who runs SkyClad Sound. You can check out his sound effects here at zapsplat.com and follow him on Twitter @SkycladSound