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LiquidSonics Roadmap And The Apple Silicon Transition

By 11th October 2020 October 12th, 2020 No Comments

Over the last few weeks I have been receiving a steady increase in emails asking about plans for the Apple Silicon transition and the state of play for the older LiquidSonics products available in store, so I would like to share some thoughts.

Apple Silicon

The move Apple is making to transition from Intel CPUs to processors of their own design presents some challenges for many of us in the audio industry. It is a complex ecosystem of devices, hosts, and plug-ins with numerous interdependencies. All of these will eventually need to be ported to work natively on the new hardware, some will work for a period of time under emulation, and some will be sunset to make way for newer technologies and products.

Some parts of the ecosystem will be ready quickly, and others will take a bit more time.

All LiquidSonics products require significant changes to their DSP routines to accommodate the transition, and some require a comprehensive re-write due to their use of deprecated underlying technology. Like many in the industry I have been anticipating this for years with some degree of anxiety of the unknown, but finally we have been shown the lay of the land and can plan for the future.

The outline for a move away from Intel dependencies has been planned in my mind for some time, so following Apple’s announcement I downed tools on other projects and started work on this the very next day when the the tools became available to developers. I am pleased to report things are progressing well.

So far preliminary builds of Seventh Heaven, Illusion, Cinematic Rooms, Reverberate 3 and Lustrous Plates are all working on the Apple DTK (Developer Transition Kit), albeit without any protection, and without very much real-world testing in native DAWs, and some optimisation work is still needed. Fortunately I do have one DAW available to test native builds in and am pushing that as hard as I can. Although we developers are not allowed to share any performance related information with you, I think it is permissible to say that I am encouraged by the performance of the plug-ins on the preview hardware.

Many of the LiquidSonics plug-ins use complex convolution routines that require multi-threaded real-time critical processing to ensure good performance. This requires careful tuning to ensure they are working well under heavy system load across a wide selection of DAWs. These are complex plug-ins. It is important to test changes like this in a wide selection of hosts (Cubase, Logic, Pro Tools, etc) before concluding that the work has been successfully completed, so I must wait for the right tools to become available to me.

I have taken the decision, somewhat reluctantly but pragmatically, to accept that the LiquidSonics plug-ins will not be first out of the gate with native Apple Silicon support on day one despite starting work on this very early on. It is extremely unlikely a wide selection of DAW applications will be available to test them in naively on or before release, and I expect some parts of the full build chain will not be ready for some time.

I plan to issue free updates supporting Apple Silicon for all versions of Seventh Heaven, Lustrous Plates, Cinematic Rooms, Reverberate 3 and Illusion as soon as I feel they have been sufficiently tested in a wide selection of native DAWs.

I will also be keeping an eye on the performance of plug-ins and DAWs in Rosetta 2. If work is needed to support that I will accommodate some degree of change if it is offering a good return on investment of time (taking into account it is not likely to be around forever like its predecessor).

Product Roadmap

I would like to discuss the future for some of the older LiquidSonics products.

Reverberate

Reverberate was the first LiquidSonics product, and it still plays an important role in the lineup because so many of you have bulging libraries of third party impulse responses. I am happy to admit it was showing its age though and had wanted to comprehensively update it for years – I am very pleased with the recently released update to Reverberate 3. All of the versions of Reverberate available before this were originally built in the VST 2.4 SDK, and even the AAX version of Reverberate 2 uses the VSTGUI 3.6 SDK for graphics. All products released from 2017 and on use Juce, and with that comes high DPI support, VST 3 capability, and many other benefits.

It became increasingly difficult to build prior versions of Reverberate with modern tools because of the older SDKs it uses. Unfortunately it will never be possible to provide an Apple Silicon build of Reverberate 2, Reverberate Core or Filtrate without fundamental re-writes (either in Juce, or newer versions of the VST SDKs). It is time to move on, and for some of these products the sun is setting.

Reverberate 3 also falls in to line with all LiquidSonics releases since 2017 and move to licensing via iLok (cloud, USB and local host activation). I am aware people will have a variety of feelings about that, some that enjoy the convenience of iLok licensing and have been asking for it for years will be delighted, and some that prefer other licensing approaches will be less enthusiastic but I do hope the non-USB options will be suitable for many and it does at least provide better ways to accommodate license resale and dual activations.

Filtrate

Filtrate was originally conceived when I could not find a good and reasonably priced linear phase equaliser that had parametric controls, but the plug-in landscape has evolved dramatically since then. As with Reverberate, I can see it is in need of a comprehensive update.

I always prefer to focus my time in areas where I can provide something that moves the state of the art forwards, and to be absolutely truthful, I cannot envisage an update that would put the leaders of the field (Pro-Q 3, Infinity EQ, and so on) in the shade. At best, I would be following a well trodden path. After much thought I have decided it is time to sunset this product to allow me more time to focus on new endeavours. It has been removed from sale, and is unlikely to be updated in future.

Reverberate Core

Reverberate Core finds itself in a challenging position. When it was released there was simply no zero-latency low-CPU consumption convolution tool available in the market. That has changed – many DAWs include a basic convolution plug-in and there is much more competition at the low end than there used to be.

It lacks the lead features of Reverberate 2 which give that product a unique place in the market. To move those over to Core would need a comprehensive re-write and would blur the lines between the standard and core versions. Given it lacks its original purpose, the product’s segmentation now feels outdated. For that reason, I intend to step away from this lower end segment of the convolution market that is well served elsewhere so this has also been removed from sale.

I understand that there are a large number of Reverberate Core users that could be disappointed with the move, but I hope to provide a reasonably financially appealing upgrade path to Reverberate 3 if they would like to move over to the new version in due course.

Reverberate LEĀ 

Originally released in support of charitable causes, again the situation around this product has evolved. Since LiquidSonics has grown and become financially more successful it is clear there are better ways to support charitable causes than a donation-ware product in this way. Reverberate LE is the oldest LiquidSonics product still available, and as it only supports 32-bit, is it largely not a useful tool for working musicians today so has been sunset.

32-Bit Support

Around the time of macOS Catalina’s introduction it became more difficult to distribute 32-bit binaries due to notarisation, and early in 2020 it became impossible without a separate installer for macOS. Other libraries and build chain components that are used in LiquidSonics products are beginning to end 32-bit support as well, so as the plug-ins are updated in the usual course of business all 32-bit support is gradually being dropped. It will eventually disappear from the lineup entirely.

Availability of Sunset Products and Final 32-Bit Versions

You may download the last versions of all discontinued products and the most recent version of in-service plug-ins with a 32-bit build from the discontinued downloads page. Although these will not be supported, I will ensure they are still accessible for those with the means and desire to use them for the foreseeable future.

macOS Big Sur (and beyond)

All LiquidSonics products have been tested under the beta versions of macOS Big Sur. Although the state of play has been somewhat fluid throughout the beta period we have found all current products are performing well on the most recent beta versions although further testing will be required when the final version is available.

I anticipate that in a future release of macOS the Audio Units for Filtrate and Reverberate 1, 2 and Core will cease to operate as they require the deprecated Carbon Component Manager (the VST2 / AAX builds will be unaffected by this). Although there were signs that this would be removed during the Big Sur beta it appears to have at least another year of life left in it before Apple moves on from that AU technology entirely.

In Conclusion

It is an exciting time for the Mac, and I am keen to see what Apple does with their new technology which they presumably could not achieve before. It will be good to embrace the changes as quickly as we all can. For better or for worse, changes that Apple make such as forcing a withdrawal from 32-bit eventually tend to drag the Windows platform in the same direction.

For anybody peering into what may seem an uncertain future for the industry, and those that may be wondering what the changes mean for LiquidSonics, I hope you have found this post helpful.