A Definitive List of Bleeding Edge Software
Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if you couldn’t make music on computers or there were no software plugins? I mean… Really wondered? A lot of engineers act as though they despise digital and all that it stands for and, they’ll explain it to you with great detail whilst bathed in the eerie light from an open Pro Tools session as a stack of HDX processors blink away in the darkness. The world is changing though, and it’s changing fast. Computers are getting exponentially more powerful. In fact, Moore’s Law (which originated about the time my Mum was watching the premier of Superfly) states that the number of transistors on an affordable CPU will double every two years. This still holds true to this day and is not expected to slow
any time soon. Computers, software and plugins are here to stay and we want to celebrate the freedom they bring to the music making process. We are here to eulogize plugins, the kind of plugins that are impractical or impossible to create in tube-festooned steel boxes so, starting today, APN is sending a clear message to all software developers. Please – push the boundaries, please keep using the limitless vista of future zeroes and ones to improve our lives. Never forget to wow us in the blurry eared hours of an early morning production session with your Outside-the-Box thinking. We at APN live for this stuff so here follows an evolving and constantly updating list of all the essential, digital voodoo that you should know about.
The new Evo.Channel from Audio Bonviveurs, Flux with input from famed French producer / engineer Yves Jaget is a breath of very fresh air. Rather than produce a replica of a vintage channel strip Flux decided to create a classy Swiss Army knife that will quickly become indispensable (if our 24 hours are anything to go by…) Featuring switchable Gain/Drive, Multi capable Phase correction, Compressor, EQ, DeEsser, Expander and a Transient/Sustain designer. The GUI is beautifully organized with great starting presets and a starting menu that puts you in the correct ballpark for anything from Drums to Instruments, Vocals and Mix Busses.
One of the things we love about Evo.Channel is the ability to add different drum kit pieces or instruments to a GROUP and then get everything in phase with a simple slider. A very musical way of doing something that could otherwise bore you out of your creativity. We also love what Flux call the ‘Touch’ system – a multi-faceted module that can be frequency-focused to De-Ess, Expand and to control Transients. It’s really a useful and somewhat off the wall solution. De-Essing is excellent and very natural sounding and of course, it’s great to have all these essential utilities in one place. Evo.Channel is the new standard for fast, flexible and modern.
“Evo.Channel is the new standard for fast, flexible and modern.”
All Flux:: plugins require Mac OS X 10.10 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only
We’ll cut to the chase here. The new Powair from SoundRadix is already in our top most used plugins list. It’s skill set is pervasive and we have no doubt it will become your GoTo compressor before you even realise it. You see, as well as being a compressor it’s also a dual-stage, K-weighted loudness leveler and a limiter. This means that you can dynamically shape up a mix with the kind of speed and accuracy you often find yourself dreaming about. We also love the very effective ‘Punch’ slider which gives you control over the transient portion of the attack stage without messing with your peak levels. The most talked about strength of Powair is the ‘Adaptive Compression’ algorithm which just adds to the intelligent, ‘Out of the Box’ nature of the plugin, keeping your Groups and Busses tight and right without ruining the dynamics.
“Powair will become your GoTo compressor before you even realize it…”
All SoundRadix plugins require Mac OS X 10.6 or newer or Windows 7 (32 or 64-bit), version 7 and above
NB: Windows users should have graphics card supporting OpenGL 2.1
OS X and Win Plugins will work in 32 or 64-bit DAW
Softube Heartbeat Drum Machine
If elegant solutions won trophies then Softube would be the annoying college Jock who’s parents cram their ghastly, glass fronted veneer cabinets with the evidence. There are few names in software that are just… trustworthy but it seems whenever the Linköping Mafia release a new product everybody holds their breath in expectation. Interestingly though, when HeartBeat first appeared there was barely a ripple heard across the internet but this brilliant, FX packed drum synth has slowly become a go-to for many producers. One of the main reasons for this – aside from the exemplary sounds, is workflow. Everything is self contained with Heartbeat – including the incredible FX. It lures you into sound design but it doesn’t allow you to deviate for too long. With two kick engines, two snare engines and two percussion engines as well as Hi Hat and Cymbal engines you are pretty much covered with HeartBeat. The Kick modules are based on the 909 and 808 and, considering the simplicity of the controls it’s amazing how deeply you can manipulate the sounds. Throw in the excellent Valley People Dynamite Dynamics
processor, an awesome filter echo, the simply excellent algo reverb TSAR-1D and an auto layering module that allows you to create and randomize drum fills by routing your chosen lanes to it and you have a very accessible package for creating pop and dance drums – as well as an incredibly good sound design tool. We spent a whole day just creating unique drum samples by processing the Heartbeat’s outputs (HeartBeat has multi-out capability, by the way). It has to be said – the longer you use HeartBeat, the more hooked you become by yet another elegant, Softube solution.
“…considering the simplicity of the controls it’s amazing how deeply you can manipulate the sounds.”
What is Gobbler?
Gobbler is a pro-plugin market place where you can rent plugins or bundles of plugins but, the Gobbler helper app is something you will use to download, organize and update your Softube plugins. It’s a conduit between your computer and the cloud. To set up a Gobbler account please look here
All Softube software requires a Free Gobbler Account. To set up for your new Softube plugins please go here
What is iLok
ILok provide an easy to use licensing interface that works for everyone. We recommend to license to your computer if you only work from one location. You are not required to purchase a USB iLok key to use Softube plug-ins. You do, however, need an iLok account. An iLok account will be created automatically for you when setting up your Softube/Gobbler account, alternatively to demo or buy Softube (or other iLok compatible plugins and apps) you can go to the link provided here
What is an iLok Key?
An iLok 3 key is optional but in APN’s opinion, the smartest way to license any iLok compatible software, allowing you to bring your plugin setup files and load them on any computer in any studio. Just plug in the USB key and have your essential plugins and apps instantly licensed and working. This is a real time-saver for working pro’s who don’t want to spend hours licensing multiple different plugins. Purchase here
The eiosis e² DeEsser was created by that most famous of algorithmic Auteurs, Fabrice Gabriel. The e² is an interesting and handsome package with a
slick GUI that includes a unique Spectrogram window which can be folded away after use. e² DeEsser also includes some very useful starter presets that will
keep you focussed in a crowded mix session, allowing you to tweak later. However, the e² differs from your average sibilant crusher with a unique control set.
First lets look at that spectrogram. As you run the vocal you’ll see it mainly appear as a blue wash. Wherever you see Amber columns that’s an area of sibilance and it’s defined within that column with harmonics displayed in white. Control wise you have ‘Sensitivity’ and ‘Amount’. Sensitivity is basically a Threshold control whilst amount allows you to dialin the level of de-essing you require at the user definable frequency. The ‘Auto’ Knob is a new thing too – it automatically quells sibilant resonances as you dial it in whilst
“The e² really is a milestone in de-essing technology and is probably the most natural sounding de-esser you can buy.”
the ‘Smooth’ control adds saturation to gloss out the sound. In use the e² simply spoils you with user friendly detail touches like the red line that is controlled by your EQ movements in the secondary display but intersects the spectrogram to let you dial in you frequencies to perfection as well as the ability to EQ the voice component seperately to the Sibilant one. The e² really is a milestone in de-essing technology and is probably the most natural sounding de-esser you can buy. Highly recommended.
D16 Group Tekturon
D16 Group’s Tekturon is a sweet multitap-delay plugin that utilises 16 independent delay lines which are accessible via the plugin’s Delay Matrix. Not nearly as complex as it sounds, the delay matrix itself consists of a number of adjustable values per delay line. To start delay time can be set as any multiple of the time grid, then we have the familiar feedback control, filter settings as well as stereo panorama and spread. There are also easy-access mute buttons on the attractive GUI to quickly customize a quirky sound – these are also midi-learnable. Approaching the classic delay/multi-tap effect like a step sequencer was a stroke of genius, as you can see all individual bounces as separate steps
with the delay time controlled from one place as a time grid / time resolution. The second level of control involves the global parameters which affect all delay lines at once. This includes Time grid – The delay between subsequent taps and base delay time for all 16 feedback loops, an optional sync to host tempo control, Feedback expressed as an overall base value, the ubiquitous swing or ‘shuffle’ function and a master filter. There’s really not a whole lot else to say about Tekturon apart from the fact that it works perfectly, has a great tag-based browser like all the other new D16 gear and a lot of work was put in on the plugin to achieve a very low level of digital aliasing.
“Approaching the classic delay/multi-tap effect like a step sequencer was a stroke of genius…”
The reason that this article exists is due to a handful of plugins that literally floored the editorial team here at APN Towers. Soothe is one of them. Touted by Helsinki based Oeksound as a ‘dynamic resonance suppressor’ Soothe works best on mid and high frequencies. It’s original purpose was as a dedicated vocal processor so it’s no surprise that it’s so effective in dealing with nasty peaks in the 3-10kHz range. The main idea with soothe is to present the user with a slick and useable GUI where you can essentially tab through the frequencies adjustment values in the numeric readout on the left whilst never losing sight of the visual elements on the right. Like the Sonible plugs, Soothe is constantly analyzing the incoming audio signal. The Soothe engine considers the information and and uses frequency-based dynamic
reduction to calm down honks and screeches in your material – the clever part is it does it without blunting or burying the surrounding frequency areas. We love the Delta switch which allows you to hear what’s being removed. This is more useful than you would think and really helps in nailing the top frequency offenders. Something else that you might think is weird but made perfect sense to us was the
“Soothe is so good that in many cases it can negate the need for any reductive notching on an instrument or vocal track.”
fact that you pull the frequency points on the GUI in an upwards motion to see the corresponding reduction in the spectrograph when applying your resonance reduction. Soothe is so good that in many cases it can negate the need for any reductive notching on an instrument or vocal track. Oeksound mention that the plugin is great on guitar and double bass tracks as well as electric guitar and guitar but it’s also extremely effective on busses and full mixes – especially if you have filtered a group of instruments and you have some nasty ringing in the blend. There are high quality and oversampling settings available for mix down but we found they were way to juicy for mix playback, even on our beastly Mac. Soothe represents a whole new legion of problem solving tools and is clearly at the forefront in a brave new era of digital tools.
Sonible Smart:EQ live
Smart:EQ live is a new breed of ‘Adaptive’ Equalizer with it’s performance based in a highly complex, analysis algorithm that’s programmed to respond to minute musical changes, constantly adjusting the plugin’s equalization curves. Smart:EQ live
works in real time using processing modules that ‘can only work in the digital domain’. Sonible have programmed the Smart:EQ live to ‘interpret’ the audio that you run through it in a musical fashion – you pick an instrument type to get
“The unique part about Smart:EQ live is the continuous fashion in which it will adjust the frequency spectrum.”
an instant ballpark result and then fine tune the filter curves yourself. These profiles are available along the top of the plugin’s GUI and cover basic pop and rock instrumentation from guitars to vocals to all the different kit pieces in a drum set. The unique part about Smart:EQ live is the continuous fashion in which it will adjust the frequency spectrum. Using what Sonible term ‘adaption times’ you can set lows, mids and highs to respond slow, medium or fast. This means that you can use the frequency split to knock out honky resonances with a fast high response whilst
keeping the lows and mids slow and stable. This EQ is incredibly useful in the studio but is also available for Waves WSG and is highly tuned for live work thanks to nifty features like a threshold control that can prevent the bleed from a drummer playing in the background leaking in to the mic channel, causing inappropriate results. Smart:EQ live is one of APN’s top contenders for plugin of the year as it can literally help you create a perfectly balanced template for your mix in a very short time, allowing you to make more creative mix decisions. A brilliant appliance of solid, audio science.
Sonible’s Smart:EQ+ has been gaining quite a lot of popularity in recent months and it’s not difficult to see why. It features eight EQ bands including the requisite High and Low Pass filters, with bands two and seven doubling as low-shelf and high-shelf, respectively. The idea behind Smart:EQ+ is to tell the plugin what to do – allow it to learn the frequency bands of interest, as it were. To this end it features four magic wand icons across the central frequency bands that, when actuated will analyze your audio and adjust the detected audio in line with a highly complex set of algorithms. That process itself is fairly rapid and you see the
curve adjusting in real time as it processes the incoming audio. Once the wand has stopped flashing you are then able to crash the party, making further adjustments manually. Unusually, the minute adjustments in the
“A truly excellent and genuinely
EQ curve will remain relative as you make clumsier, more human adjustments. This way the end result remains consistent / relative with (or to) the original plugin generated adjustment. When dealing with resonances that can be created by boosting certain frequencies Smart:EQ+ will apply gain reduction in the adjacent frequency bands, nullifying potential problems. The big question is; “Does it work?” And the answer is absolutely. It works very very well especially in speech mode where it will cover up some EQ deficiencies very convincingly. A truly excellent and genuinely ground-breaking plugin.
SurferEQ is a ‘pitch-tracking equalizer’. It’s primary objective (it can be used as a traditional EQ as well) is to detect dominant frequency information and move the EQ curves that you create around the frequency spectrum, aping changes in the detected pitch. SurferEQ boosts and cuts the same harmonic strata wherever it is in that spectrum. SurferEQ works well with pretty much any melodic sound (including vocals) with the idea being that user pinpoints the natural overtones and harmonics, setting the plugin to ‘surf’ them therefore keeping a consistent character as different notes are actually played. Conversely you can flip the script and latch the EQ onto some nasty resonances (which have a tendency to move around the same way) and attenuate them on the melody or top line without flattening out your upper mids. SurferEQ features five, proportional-Q bands where you are presented with only four width settings, the clever part though, is that the shape of the cut or boost gets more severe the farther you increase (or decrease) the gain. SurferEQ is really well equipped with dedicated high and low pass filters and bands one and five being able to be used as shelves. The middle band can also be
used as a very unusual ‘harmonic filter’, offering cuts and boosts across the entire harmonic spectrum. Incredibly useful for subs that dip down to the 30Hz range being kinder on the ear in many circumstances than the traditional saturation method of generating those harmonics. SurferEQ is the perfect example of what can be achieved with real Out-of-the-Box thinking and honestly, if you see an application for this plugin there is not an alternative (one we’re aware of) that you could use instead. Pure genius.
“SurferEQ is the perfect example of what can be achieved with real Out-of-the-Box thinking…”
All SoundRadix plugins require Mac OS X 10.6 or newer or Windows 7 (32 or 64-bit), version 7 and above
NB: Windows users should have graphics card supporting OpenGL 2.1
OS X and Win Plugins will work in 32 or 64-bit DAW
Dmitry Sches Tantra
Dmitry Sches’ Tantra is a ruggedly handsome, rhythmic multi-fx plugin that features a plethora of vital effects such as Tremolo; filters; delay; distortion; bit crusher; flanger; glitcher and reverb – combining them with eight, multi mode modulators that generate what become very complex, thirty two step, rhythmic envelopes; all of which can be synced or run free flowing; all with adjustable curves. Not to say it isn’t all really clever (because it is) but, things get extremely interesting
when you realize that Tantra is equipped with literally one of the best modulation matrix’s we’ve ever used. It has to be one of the most beautifully realized plugins in any category. By simply clicking on the little circular target beneath any of the eight modulators (so long as you’ve programmed them) and dragging the virtual cable to literally any control on the interface you automatically start populating the mod matrix with your boss moves, building incredibly complex and, more importantly,
“This is 2018 and Tantra makes you understand we’ve come a long, long way.”
great sounding patterns in a matter of a minute or two. This is 2018 and Dmitry Sches makes you understand we’ve come a long, long way. Tantra is almost too good to be true.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
Dmitry Sches Tantra is available in two versions:
Standard: $69 (with 122 presets included)
Factory Expansion Bundle: $99 (with 314 presets included)
Both versions are available to demo or buy from here
NB: APN recommends the factory bundle as the presets are excellent
and will provide a massive amount of inspiration for just $30 more.
Vengeance VPS Glitch Bitch
The VPS GlitchBitch is every bit as edgy as it sounds. Vengeance and Keilwerth Audio have created a real game changer with this plugin. It starts and ends with the gigantic GLITCH button in the center of the very well designed and stylish, highly recognizable black and silver GUI. If you’re looking for an easy to actuate, well laid out and highly programmable glitcher then this
buffer-abusing monster will fit the bill. You can play around with the buffer sizes, making them longer or shortening them up, reverse them or pitch them up or down (in “advance buffer mode”) and they are syncable to host tempo, In the action packed front panel you’re also able to add both low and high pass filters, apply rate reduction, volume and pan modulation, whilst
n-point lets you draw in custom envelopes on the modest screen, the onboard sequencer is only a click away in the thoughtfully designed menu. Glitch Bitch is another go-to for APN. The presets (as usual with Vengeance products), are incredibly well designed and inspire you to explore and reverse engineer to get what you need for your song. Glitch Bitch is a savage piece of kit.
“Vengeance and Keilwerth Audio have created
a real game changer with GlitchBitch”
LFO and VOLUME SHAPERS
Xfer Records LFOTool
LFOTool has a stormin’ twelve LFOs and each of those spoils the user with vector-based graphical editing. It’s very easy to create your own shape in the smallish window – simply double-click anywhere along the current shape that populates. You can slide your newly created point left or right or drag it up or down, which will alter the overall shape – curves are easy to create and overall it’s a very intuitive way of building a custom shape fast. If you want to keep things regimented to the grid then simply use the ‘ALT’ key when creating. This will keep you locked in. Another great feature is simplicity in itself and that’s the ability to copy and paste between all twelve LFO slots. Very useful. If you look below the main display you’ll cop an eyeful of some very important controls. This is the
area in which you set overall tempo and timing as well as nudge the LFO shapes around, phase tune them or add swing and even smooth out the overall result so it doesn’t click as it cycles. Even though LFOTool has a limited number of destinations – namely Volume, Pan, Cutoff and Resonance let me tell you that this is more than enough to solidify LFOTool in the must have category for about 99.9% of producers on Planet Earth. To give a quick example, LFOTool can be used instead of a sidechain compressor which, in a DAW like Ableton means that you don’t have a nightmare freezing tracks that are routed with SC compressors and thus allows you to keep your CPU overheads down. This is a highly recommended tool and a go-to plugin for everyone at APN.
“LFOTool has a stormin’ twelve LFOs and each of those
spoils the user with vector-based graphical editing.”
Kilohearts’ concept for the the Multipass plugin was simplicity in itself. So how come nobody else has thought of it first? The key to multiples is the five band, frequency split, plugin hosting environment that hosts all the action. To keep things from getting confusing, Kilohearts terms the native Multipass plugins ‘Snapins’. There are many of them available for just $19 each but we recommend that you at least get the The Producer Pack ($159) which you a Compressor, Distortion, Filter, Haas and Phaser to go with the standard Chorus, Delay, Gain, Limiter and Stereo Snapins that are included in the $99 version. Naturally the funnest pack is the Modular Madness bundle ($249) which gives you Bitcrush, Comb Filter, Formant Filter, Frequency Shifter, Pitch Shifter, Resonator and Trance Gate. The big deal with Multipass is that you can literally get to work sound designing the frequency spectrum of whatever track you instantiate it on.
Simply adjust the first band and pull up an appropriate Snapin. For instance you could set your first band to 150Hz, then pull up the Stereo Snapin and set it to Mono. Then in the next band you can set your lower mid range and apply a Side-chainable Transient designer then stack a Trance Gate and Ring Mod straight after. Moving on to band number three, you could add a High Pass Filter (The Snapin Filters sound incredibly good – buttery smooth and very accurate), a Formant Filter, Distortion and then the Disperser Effect before wrapping up things with some LFO work and reverb on the top end with some Haas delay and the excellent Tape Stop effect on the Post FX ‘Master Channel’. Multiples is so ridiculously good it might really blow your mind or cause you a short circuit when you start to realize the sheer implication of using this system as a whole. Kilohearts’ Multipass is simply a sound design must have.
“Kilohearts’ Multipass is simply a sound design must have.”
Envolution by Sonnox is a transient processor with mad attitude. It can be used in the basic or traditional fashion by simply using the Attack (or in this case Transient) and Sustain controls but there is a lot more going on with this plugin. Envolution divides the process into two, color coded sections each with a switchable ‘Frequency’ display that showcases Envolution’s Piece de Resistance – Frequency dependent Envelope Shaping mode. Sounds crazy but this is where all the tweaking and the real fun can be had. Upon entering this mode you are presented with a choice of Tilt or Focus EQ modes replete with a single adjustable frequency that can help emphasize or de-emphasize some of the deeper materials present in the signal. In Tilt or Focus mode the plugin cleverly shows you which part of the signal is being effected which is great, especially if you flip the script in Focus and use the EQ in reductive
fashion using the Notch feature. Thankfully Sonnox are big on Wet/Dry functionality and Envolution has a Mix control to use for parallel and blending. There is also a Diff control, which is there to allow you to hear just the effected part of the signal. Either the Transient portion (by bypassing the Sustain section), vice versa or with the two signals mixed together. This in itself is a very powerful effect and it’s amazing, once you start playing around with it, how much you can reconstruct all kinds of audio material. Our favorite use is turning a synth line into a futuristic percussion-fest by removing the sustained part of the signal and focussing on the remaining transient material. Anyway you chop it up Envolution is another brilliant plugin from Sonnox that I guarantee has far more use than you would initially imagine. Great plugins push you to try different things and Envolution does just that.
“Great plugins push you to try different things
and Envolution does just that.”
All Sonnox plugins require Mac OS X 10.7 or newer
or Windows 7 and above
The concept behind this plugin is actually so simple as to be almost laughable – divide an audio signal into it’s component parts and allow the user to process them separately, then sum them back into one signal. However, the mathematics involved in making this actually happen are far from basic. Most of us are used to transient processing and it should be duly noted that transient style plugins are in most producers’ ‘idiot box’. Let’s begin with the sobering fact that you can raise or lower the volumes of the TONAL and TRANSIENT portions of any signal independently. You are already looking at an essential investment. With two zones and a small library of different processing options available to both you can use the FOCUS slider to bias one or the other. Pushing up you could use the onboard GATE
to shut the door after the transient parts of a signal, then EQ to taste. Or, increase the impact of a loop by compressing it in the TRANSIENT zone before activating the TONAL domain. This is where you can really start to explore the musical implications of Physion™. It’s as simple as picking a suitable effect from either drop down menu and bringing it into play. There are compressors, EQ’s, Gates as well as modulation effects like chorus, Phaser, Tap Delay etc. You can remove or partly remove the transient information from your signal – for instance taking out the attack of an acoustic guitar strum leaving just the musical part. Add some of the excellent onboard reverb and you have a beautiful, ambient instrument. Getting your head around a processor like Physion™ is important if you really want to benefit from cutting edge plugin tech.
“Getting your head around a processor like Physion™ is important if you really want to benefit from cutting edge plugin tech.”
All Eventide plugins require Mac OS X 10.7 or newer
or Windows 7 and above
Manipulator is an interesting plugin. Featuring ten different effects including pitch, formant, harmonics, sound smearing and pseudo stereo Manipulator was designed with a very singular purpose. Transform ordinary vocal lines into something crazy – saving producers everywhere a ton of editing and manual processing. Interestingly, many people have been using manipulator on mono synth lines, synth basses and even percussion because it can give you some very interesting results. One of the major draws of Manipulator (for the more musically
inclined) is the plugin’s ability to accept inputted midi data in real time. This is something you don’t come across too often and it allows the user to replay vocal parts and include harmonies on the fly. Manipulator supports up to four, polyphonic voices playable from any midi input device or controller. However it’s also a fun plugin to simply go through the extensive lists of presets and process a pre-drop vocal with or make a rapper sound super-intimidating. Manipulator is a killer piece of kit and is a great example of Out of the Box thinking.
“Manipulator is a killer piece of kit and a great example
of Out of the Box thinking.”