Plugin Alliance PickPack Challenge Plugin Alliance PickPack Challenge
Plugin Alliance PickPack Challenge
CLA MixDown

How Good is the PickPack Deal?

Now we’re fully into 2019 and all the insane Black Friday, Christmas and New Years deals are over – what is left for the price conscious, plugin dilettante‘s among us? We at APN decided to look a little deeper into the well publicized but seemingly misunderstood PickPack deal that has been available since last year. Is it really all of that? And if so, how does it work and what makes it different from all the other subscription programmes out there? If you’re a lover of ownership rights then this Plugin Alliance deal PickPack deal is most definitely for you. The idea is that you pick 10 plugins from their extremely comprehensive range and you pay $29 per month for twenty nine months and at the end you are the proud owner of those ten, ultra-premium plugins.

Well first off, twenty nine times twenty nine is a total of $841. That’s what you will pay in total for your cache of plugs. It seems like a lot of money though, so here at APN we decided to work the PickPack deal, showing you what what we picked and why. Was it worth it? Did the figures add up? We wont leave it til the end to tell you though. When you break down the PickPack deal on paper you’ll quickly realize that this could be the best deal on the streets right now. We picked ten plugins of which eight were over the $250 USD mark. That gave us a grand total of $2,610 USD for all ten plugins. Minus the twenty nine monthly payments which total $841 and we ended up saving an insane $1,769 – which is exactly 68%. This is better than most devs’ Black Friday deals!

FIRST PICK

SPL: IRON Mastering Compressor

For very obvious reasons we put IRON at the top of our list. It is a legendary, hyper modern mastering grade compressor built by SPL and holds pride of place in numerous Mastering Studios. The Hardware version costs around $7,000 and is a completely unique unit – not being based on any kind of vintage design. It utilizes the legendary 120 Volt SPL Rail technology which is said to have a major impact on dynamic range as well as to reduce ear fatigue… Regardless of this Plugin Alliance had us at ‘six rectifer circuits’ – including Germanium, Silicon and LED. Each setting creates a different vibe by altering  transient response, and offering differing ATTACK and RELEASE curves. Naturally there is a SIDECHAIN function that is frequency or HOST based.

SPL Iron also has a choice of two passive EQ curves hiding right in the center of it’s stunning UI. The first – AirBass mode adds a low-key, 2dB boost to the bottom and top in an effort to solidify the body of your track and give it an industry-style sheen. Flicking the switch down will give you a very characteristic Tape Roll-off using high quality Lo and Hi pass filters to replicate the response of a studio reel to reel. Great features literally abound in this plugin including the much loved TMT channel randomization, Mid side processing  (which is set up in a very elegant fashion), Mono Maker, Headroom, Parallel Mix and even Stereo Width. We have not stopped using ‘IRON’ since we downloaded it and I have a feeling that it will be our new go to on all modern pop productions.

“SPL Iron also has a choice of two passive EQ curves hiding right in the center of it’s stunning UI.”

COMPATIBILITY

SPL IRON requires Mac OS X 10.9 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

SPL IRON costs $329 but is currently on sale for $229 (Feb 2019)

It is available to demo from here or buy from here

NB: A FREE Plugin Alliance account (JOIN HERE) is required to use or demo SPL IRON. All Plugin Alliance plugins may be licensed to a standard USB stick if desired.

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

4 of 5

SECOND PICK

Louder Than Liftoff: Chop Shop

Louder Than Liftoff’s Chop Shop was our next pick. This was a more esoteric choice. We immediately loved the very simple, clean and intuitive design. Shaped just like a 500 series rack module, Chop Shop is divided into three sections. Focus deals with the overall tone of the signal running through the processor – it’s basically a super-tasty, tilt style EQ – ie it affects both lo and Hi Frequencies simultaneously, raising one whilst attenuating the other. Moving onto the Lo-Cut we find an interesting but simple control set. It will serve you well to understand exactly what’s going on here. What won us over was the brilliant Lo-Rider control. So simple but so awesomely effective. Essentially it takes the lo-passed signal from the adjacent 12dB/Octave filter and blends it back into the signal with a parallel mix control. The Bump control is another sweet addition, simply adding a resonant bump (similar

“We immediately loved the very simple, clean and intuitive design.”

to Ableton’s stock filters) at the corner frequency of that filter. However, the clever part is that the filter changes character from fairly relaxed when fully counter-clockwise to tight and peaky when dialed in fully clockwise. Trust us when we tell you – it sounds great! Finally we have the Hi-Cut section. You’ve probably guessed that there’s some clever Jiggery Pokery going on here too – and you’d be right. It’s a pretty soft, mastering style 6dB/Octave roll off that occurs from between 500Hz and 25kHz. The Sound is clean and smooth but very cleverly, if you hit the 0.5X button the frequency range is shifted down an octave, whilst the slope is switched to 12dB/Octave with a resonant push to the corner frequency to retain perceived brightness. Very very smart – and it works. Other notes are that the system agnostic pre-set handling is a huge relief and something we’d love to see PA translate to all their plugins.

COMPATIBILITY

Louder Than Liftoff Chop Shop requires Mac OS X 10.9 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

Louder Than Liftoff Chop Shop costs $139

It is available to demo from here or buy from here

NB: A FREE Plugin Alliance account (JOIN HERE) is required to use or demo Louder Than Liftoff Chop Shop. All Plugin Alliance plugins may be licensed to a standard USB stick if desired.

5 of 5

5 of 5

4 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

THIRD PICK

Brainworx: Maag Magnum K

Our third pick was the new Maag Magnum-K compressor. To be fair, it’s a lot more than a simple compressor and we knew that when we selected it. Maag EQ’s are renowned the world over for their irresistible ability to create sexed up, industry polished and ear-pleasingly bright vocals. When we saw the new Magnum-K we just had to find our what special sauce Cliff Maag had dreamed up. The Magnum-K is the beginning of the journey – even though it’s situated directly in the middle of the quintessentially Maag-style GUI. The Magnum-K was a circuit originally designed to remove harshness at the traditionally ear-curdling frequency of 2.5k. There’s no doubt that APN are suckers for any new ‘Industry’ focussed vocal tool.  It would seem like we have definitely found that. There is just so much clever sh*t going on with the Magnum-K that it’s hard to explain. It is recommended to use the unit in FB or FEEDBACK mode to avoid animalizing your situation – which is what can easily happen in FF or FeedForward. You may want to leave that for sound design duties.

Moving past the compressor stages you will see a very dreamy, very blue section. This is the genius we were speaking of earlier. This is the legendary EQ-2, brought on board not to shape the Mids and high end of the de-harshed and beautifully compressed signal – no, this EQ works on the dry, parallel signal which is blended back in with the compressed version in a pre and post cocktail that sounds simply heavenly. This really is so very effective and, like a number of other new PA joints, there is a 20 channel TMT with Radnomization, Mono-Maker, Stereo Width, Mid/Side with separate solo function and so on. This is a simply blinding plugin.

The Magnum-K was a circuit originally designed to remove harshness at the traditionally ear-curdling frequency of 2.5k.”

COMPATIBILITY

Maag Magnum-K requires Mac OS X 10.9 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

Maag Magnum-K costs $299 but is currently on sale for $199 (Feb 2019)

It is available to demo from here or buy from here

NB: A FREE Plugin Alliance account (JOIN HERE) is required to use or demo Maag Magnum-K. All Plugin Alliance plugins may be licensed to a standard USB stick if desired.

4 of 5

5 of 5

4 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

FOURTH PICK

Elysia: Phil's Cascade

This was kind of interesting for us as we were expecting Phil’s Cascade to be a great sounding contraption but it turned out to be

an unusually good drum buss device as well. A coloration monster that possesses a vast array of tonality yet doesn’t fluff

up the signal or degrade the original clarity or power. In our experience it acts as buss glue – adhering the component parts

together. There is so much more to Phil’s Cascade than that though. If used judiciously throughout a mix and across busses also it will impart a real analog magic to your mix. It brings with it a stunning dimension to your source material. The controls are very, very easy to get a grip on, even if you haven’t read the manual. I would be remiss not to mention that the GO section is the Big GAIN ribbon in the center of the plugin. That’s what controls the amount of nasty you want to use. The Bias is simply to fatten or

If used judiciously throughout a mix and across busses also it will impart a real analog magic to your mix.”

pare things down, whilst the technical sounding GRID works in tandem with (moderate) amounts of BIAS to create different saturation characteristics. A lot of great results can be had with feeling out the controls but it’s good to remember that a fine balance between the filter and resonance settings can really make or break a tone. We love that you can fold away the top part of the GUI and that there are at least a handful of UI sizes to choose from. Something else we would love to see adoted throughout the PA range.

COMPATIBILITY

Elysia Phil’s Cascade requires Mac OS X 10.9 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

Elysia Phil’s Cascade costs $249

It is available to demo from here or buy from here

NB: A FREE Plugin Alliance account (JOIN HERE) is required to use or demo Elysia Phil’s Cascade. All Plugin Alliance plugins may be licensed to a standard USB stick if desired.

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

4 of 5

FIFTH PICK

Brainworx: bx_Masterdesk

Pick number five was almost difficult – until we downloaded and tried out bx_Masterdesk. I almost can’t remember the last time that we were so shocked (in a good way) by a plugin. We’re all for the single environment plugins that do job specific tasks – that was why we picked the Magnum-K. Masterdesk is such a different animal though. This plugin is borderline genius. You begin by setting your volume which has a number 1. next to it. Great. I love this thing already. Secondly you set knob number 2. which is called foundation. This is really a gigantic tone knob or, more accurately Tilt EQ. This sets the weight or tonal slant of your master. Bass Heavy or Treble Centric? Your call. After this

you adjust what Brainworx CEO and bx_wunderkind, Dirk Ulrich calls the Tone Stack, simply prefixed with a number 3. There is a devastatingly effective but simple control set, simply laid out with THD, Trim and even a compression Mix control. The four TNT compressor mode buttons go from Aggressive (1) to less aggressive (4). Included is the legendary bx-De-esser (presumably from V3) Ultimately though, we picked this plug because it is a boss choice for shooting sweet sounding mixes (that slam) to our clients, whilst under pressure. This plugin is incredibly good and is hands down the fastest, best sounding finisher – Just make sure your mix is good first!

“we picked this plug because it is a boss choice for shooting sweet sounding mixes (that slam) to our clients, whilst under pressure.”

COMPATIBILITY

Brainworx  bx_masterdesk requires Mac OS X 10.9 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

Brainworx  bx_masterdesk costs $299

It is available to demo from here or buy from here

NB: A FREE Plugin Alliance account (JOIN HERE) is required to use or demo Brainworx  bx_masterdesk. All Plugin Alliance plugins may be licensed to a standard USB stick if desired.

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

SIXTH PICK

Brainworx: bx_2098 EQ

We were looking for a nicely appointed mid/side EQ that didn’t look like a rack-mounted science degree. the bx_2098 is just that. It is simplicity incarnate. Not only that but it’s lovely to have this Rupert Neve designed, Amek 9098 EQ in our DAW. First off, this is an amazingly tasty sounding EQ. It’s unique, flavorful and also full of smart UI nuances that are fun to learn and incorporate into the workflow. So in a way, you could class the 2098 as a cerebral EQ tool.

“First off, this is an amazingly tasty sounding EQ. It’s unique, flavorful and also full of smart UI nuances…”

Probably our favourite aspects of the 2098 are the +/- 9dB buttons which effectively doubles the resolution at which you’re EQ’ing, by halving the available gain difference and the lovely NOTCH button which is a great detail, changing (as it does), the color of the frequency dial to blue and providing an effective way to Notch out crap frequencies if you find yourself unable to only sweeten. This EQ has been finding it’s way on to a lot of vocal tracks already.

COMPATIBILITY

Brainworx bx_2098 requires Mac OS X 10.9 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

Brainworx bx_2098 costs $249

It is available to demo from here or buy from here

NB: A FREE Plugin Alliance account (JOIN HERE) is required to use or demo Brainworx bx_2098. All Plugin Alliance plugins may be licensed to a standard USB stick if desired.

4 of 5

5 of 5

4 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

SEVENTH PICK

Brainworx: bx_Townhouse Buss Compressor

“This compressor reeks of that lineage. It sounds simply… Superior.”

The bx_Townhouse Buss Compressor may not be my immediate pick as top plugin of this PickPack deal… Yet, it has been by far the most used plugin we chose. I would go as far as to say that I don’t think I could give this one up. Period. The Townhouse Buss Compressor was dreamed up by Townhouse studios in 1978 when they decided that they wanted the buss compressor from their 4000 B console as a standalone unit. Thus it was created in a groundbreaking deal with SSL and it would be another ten years before SSL would do it themselves. Townhouse made some great sounding records. XTC, Phil Collins and even Queen.

This compressor reeks of that lineage. It sounds simply… Superior. It does every variation of buss compression so well that it’s hard to resist. I reach for it automatically almost every time. Especially I have found it to be useful for crushing the sh*t out of backing vocal stacks with a fast Attack and Release and just winding out that threshold. Pretty much the same treatment I’d give a mono drum room… Scary stuff but sounds amazing, every single time. The bx_Townhouse is a simply extraordinary plugin. Smash drums or tickle vocals. Whatever you put through it will almost always sound better. If it doesn’t then maybe you’re not using enough Threshold..!

COMPATIBILITY

Brainworx bx_Townhouse Buss Compressor requires Mac OS X 10.9 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

Brainworx bx_Townhouse Buss Compressor costs $299 but is currently on sale for $129 (Feb 2019)

It is available to demo from here or buy from here

NB: A FREE Plugin Alliance account (JOIN HERE) is required to use or demo Brainworx bx_Townhouse Buss Compressor. All Plugin Alliance plugins may be licensed to a standard USB stick if desired.

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

EIGHTH PICK

Brainworx: Millennia Twincom TCL-2

Twincom was an easy pick. We were looking for a totally uncolored and super high quality vocal compressor. Something that could replace an 1176 or perhaps a CL-1B with less coloration if required. It doesn’t happen often but options are options and we’d rather have a TCL-2 and not need one then need one and not have it! Let’s talk about this beautifully realized plugin. The most important part (in our opinion) is where the Twincom moniker comes from. We’re talking about the TT LED on the front panel which switches the Twin Topology from super clean J-FET to a more Gritty Vari-Mu

type vibe. The Vacuum tube part itself is based on Class-A amplifiers with twin triode vacuum tubes. It sounds a little funkier but not like Phil’s Cascade or Townhouse. No, this thing is suited and booted in comparison. It’s a very slinky, silky sound even.

We are more in tune with the J-FET sound though as that is where it is finding it’s primary usage.”

as a tube processor. We are more in tune with the J-FET sound though, as that’s where it’s finding it’s primary usage. Usually coupled with a super-clean mic like the Vanguard V13, through a clean A/D path like our Lynx Aurora(n) with no coloration, and then maybe with the Maag Magnum-K or perhaps some kind of Leveling Amplifier that has some grit, the TCL-2 will keep the path clean and clear preventing an over-abundance of tube coloration from creeping in and ruining the pristine path with too much character or harmonic distortion, which is not always welcome.

COMPATIBILITY

Millennia Twincom TCL-2 requires Mac OS X 10.9 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

Millennia Twincom TCL-2 costs $299

It is available to demo from here or buy from here

NB: A FREE Plugin Alliance account (JOIN HERE) is required to use or demo Millennia Twincom TCL-2. All Plugin Alliance plugins may be licensed to a standard USB stick if desired.

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

4 of 5

NINTH PICK

SPL Vitalizer MK2-T

Vitalizer is one of those plugins that you are so used to using in other studios that you don’t realize how reliant you’ve become on it till you open your own DAW back at the ranch and remember that you don’t own it. Nothing more annoying than not owning a must-have and that’s why SPL’s Vitalizer MK2-T was an easy ninth. We chose it over flashier, newer plugins because it is literally a unique staple that cannot be replaced. Using psychoacoustic principles SPL have created something that diametrically opposes the principles of lossy compression, effectively unmasking frequencies and reinforcing them instead of cutting them from the output. Much of this is to do with our perception of what is and isn’t loud, however, at APN, we just love the sound – Vitalizer has a unique sonic signature (Just like Autotune) in the top and bottom end. We love to reinforce entire mixes. Pushing the low end to a more clarified optimum and enhancing the upper mids and highs of all different kinds of instruments and vocals without

actually EQ’ing. It is an easy plugin to use as well. You simply work your way from the left hand side to the right hand side, avoiding anything that you don’t need for your particular application. Our favorite trick right now is to use the very dramatic STEREO EXPANDER on a massive plate style reverb RETURN. Perhaps as a parallel process or perhaps not. In can sound very surprising, yet subtle. What a sweet box of tricks the MK2-T really is.

“What a sweet box of tricks the MK2-T really is.”

COMPATIBILITY

SPL Vitalizer MK2-T requires Mac OS X 10.9 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

SPL Vitalizer MK2-T costs $249

It is available to demo from here or buy from here

NB: A FREE Plugin Alliance account (JOIN HERE) is required to use or demo SPL Vitalizer MK2-T. All Plugin Alliance plugins may be licensed to a standard USB stick if desired.

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

4 of 5

TENTH PICK

SPL De-Essers

We can’t even play around with pick number 10. SPL’s De-Essers are topline and for $199 you get both the dual and single band in a ‘bundle’. It’s good to have a selection of De-Essers and frequency Specific dynamics plugins but the SPL’s are so fluid, so natural and so industry sounding that we’d have been stupid not to include them in our PickPack extravaganza. Usually we’ll use the De-Esser and only bring in the Dual Band if we need back-up. Careful not to over-do the essing though…

“…the SPL De-Essers are just so fluid, so natural and so industry sounding.”

COMPATIBILITY

SPL’s de-essers require Mac OS X 10.9 or newer
or Windows 7 and above 64bit Only

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

SPL’s de-essers cost $199

They’re available to demo from here or buy from here

NB: A FREE Plugin Alliance account (JOIN HERE) is required to use or demo SPL’s de-essers. All Plugin Alliance plugins may be licensed to a standard USB stick if desired.

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

::CONCLUSION::

Now there is a way to save even more money than us: We worked out that you can save an insane seventy four per-cent if you buy a certain selection of PA’s plugs saving an obviously healthy $2,389… This is the grown and sexy version of the famous lay-away principle, of that there is no doubt and, if you don’t jump on it this year you may end up reminiscing about a missed opportunity next year as there’s really no telling how long it will last. We already figured that out and saved an extremely competent $1,769 on our own bundle. We literally only got what we consider vital studio pieces that we absolutely cannot be without. Maybe it’s time you did the same.

“We only got what we consider to be vital studio pieces that we absolutely cannot be without. Maybe it’s time you did the same.”

Baby Brown Publisher & Editor

Baby Brown is a Grammy Nominated Composer/Producer and guitar player. He’s privileged to have written, played, produced and recorded some of the coolest artists ever from Eminem to Xzibit, Mickey Avalon to Deniece Williams the Lady of Rage and C Murder – to name a few. His technology swag is strong and he’s happy to make friends with you on Instagram.

No comments so far.

Be first to leave comment below.