New Instrument, FX and Utility Plug-Ins

Sep 1, 2002 12:00 PM, BY RANDY ALBERTS

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Q: How many digital audio recordists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Forget light bulbs; take a look at this new bulb-emulation plug-in that models vintage incandescents and is compatible with all of the major vintage lamp plug-in formats.

If all of the new plug-ins listed in this article — and the thousands of effect, sampling, synthesis and utility parameters embodied in them — aren't enough to help you make better and more music, then seek counseling soon. This year's list includes all types of software plug-in categories that were newly released or significantly upgraded since the 2001 Summer NAMM show, including some of the releases planned for next month's AES convention.

Demonstrated at this year's Winter NAMM and released in June, Akai Professional's (www.akaipro.com) new line of VST audio processors marks the company's first foray into software plug-ins.

DecaBuddy ($149) can add up to nine harmony parts to a vocal track, using preset scales, user-defined scales, a harmony editor screen or MIDI to create up to five independent vocal parts. Voices can be assigned subtle, random delay and pitch shifts to “humanize” harmonies, and they can be controlled from a keyboard controller or sequencer. A Formant function can change women's voices into men's (and back again). Platforms: Mac, PC, VST.

It's no surprise that QuadComp ($149) is a 4-band compressor/expander with linear-phase FIR filters that split signals into four separate bands without phase shift or distortion. Thirteen presets select QuadComp's frequency bands from 50 to 12,500 Hz, with selectable crossover slopes at 6, 12, 18 and 24 dB per octave. Platforms: Mac, PC, VST.

To create 50-band robotic voices and other special effects, check out D.C. Vocoder ($149). An internal six-voice synthesizer and modulator signal can create vocoder effects, even without a carrier signal. A formant stage provides additional gender-bending, and the 50 bands' levels can be controlled like a traditional parametric EQ. Platforms: Mac, PC, VST.

PitchRight ($149) pitch-corrects vocals and instruments in real time using just three parameter controls. Ratio sets the amount of pitch correction, Calibrate controls the reference pitch frequency and Smoothing adjusts all corrections for vibrato without influencing the transition time between notes. Platforms: Mac, PC, VST.

Rotator ($149) is a rotary speaker cabinet-modeling plug-in that emulates the standard rotation speed values of an original physical cabinet that can be detuned ±25%. Cabinet distortion is controllable, as is the placement of a pair of “virtual stereo microphones” to create anything from a mono signal to a 120° stereo spread. Platforms: Mac, PC, VST.

If you can carry a tune far better than you play synth, then check out kantos 1.0 ($299) from Antares Audio Technologies (www.antarestech.com), a multiplatform “audio-controlled synthesizer” that can be controlled by any pitched monophonic audio source, such as voice or trumpet, to drive anything a MIDI controller can. In addition to traditional synth modules, an Articulator module dynamically applies the harmonic content and formant information present at the source signal's input to the plug-in's synth engine. Platforms: Mac, PC, MAS, VST, RTAS, DirectX.

Applied Acoustics Systems' (www.applied-acoustics.com) Lounge Lizard EP-1 ($199) is an extensive assortment of just about all of the electric piano sounds that any roadhouse player could need. Laid out like a hardware desktop beat box, Lounge Lizard provides rotary virtual knobs for controls over mallet stiffness and force, time decay and tone, pickup position symmetry and distance. Applied Acoustics uses its own proprietary modeling technique to re-create the classic electric pianos of past and present. Platforms: PC, Mac, VST, DXi, MAS, DirectConnect.

Arturia's (www.arturia.com) Storm 2.0 ($149) is a hefty update to this stacked, stand-alone, VST Instrument and ReWire-savvy studio instrument. Supporting Mac OS X and Windows 95 through XP, the dual-operation Storm is a comprehensive selection of 13 virtual instruments and 10 effects processors, including an easy-to-use step sequencer with improved interactive features. Pattern-based synth, sampler, bass and drum modules can stack or sit alongside distortion, delay, mixer and an assortment of other tools to tweak melodies and loops as far as the user's CPU will allow. Platforms: MultiMac, PC, VST ReWire.

BIAS' (www.bias-inc.com) Vbox ($99) multi-effects control environment for VST plug-ins now has Windows and Mac OS X support working in either stand-alone or as a VST effects plug-in, and all BIAS audio products now support OS X, as well.

Brand-new from the company in the plug-in category this year is SuperFreq ($79 download), and it is super freak-ayy. Native to OS X, this mastering-quality, real-time, 10-band, paragraphic EQ plug-in is a true Carbon Event-driven OS X tool with -18 to +18dB gain values, wide-Q bandwidth values, individual band-bypass buttons, 24dB stereo input/ output meters and sweepable frequencies ranging from 20 to 20k Hz. SuperFreq, one of the first Mac OS X-native plug-ins offered, operates with any Carbonized VST-host environment and can alternately be launched as an 8-band EQ to save on system drain. Platforms: Mac, VST.

Big Fish Audio (www.bigfishaudio.com) created quite a ripple on the plug-in pond by announcing an interesting sort of hybrid plug-in format. Don't panic: UVI (Universal Virtual Instrument) isn't yet another proprietary plug-in format but rather the ultimate democratic one. Essentially three product types rolled into one, each new real-time UVI plug-in is equal parts virtual instrument and sample player, VST/MAS/RTAS plug-in and large sound library. And, most importantly, sounds can be accessed via MIDI and played and modified directly through the console of your favorite DAW software. Sound files can be edited parameter-by-parameter and saved directly to a sequence/song for an all-in-one music, sound and patch info file. Installed and opened just like any other plug-in, the Big Fish UVI interface remains the same, regardless of which library is loaded. Controls over amplitude and filter envelopes, LFO rate, depth and destinations, velocity curves, filter, pan, gain and sample-program management are provided.

Eight new UVI plug-ins called Plug-sounds, each with more than 600 MB of high-quality sampled sounds, were released by Big Fish to help launch the new borders-ignorant format. Volumes 1 through 6 (Keyboards Collection, Fretted Instruments, Drums and Percussion Elements, Hip Hop and R&B Toolkit, World of Synthesizers and Global Collection; $99.95 each) provide a wide palette from which to paint your next production. Platforms: Mac, PC, VST, MAS, RTAS.

Two new high-quality effects plug-ins to reach CreamWare's (www.creamware.com) DSP platforms are Vintage Compressor Vinco and MasterVerb Pro ($195 each). No conventional compressor algorithms were used during Vinco's development to better model the sound of classic analog studio compressors, and the company's Circuit-Modeling technique was employed for the same reason. MasterVerb Pro sports an enhanced reverb processor over its predecessor plug-in MasterVerb. Thirty-two-bit live processing, unlimited reverb times and authentic early reflections based on the source-image method were used to create this high-quality reverb plug-in. Vinco and MasterVerb Pro plug into the company's Luna, PowerSampler, Pulsar, Pulsar XTC and SCOPE SP platforms.

Also new from CreamWare is Minimax ($245), a complete software emulation of the venerable Moog Minimoog. Minimax was designed for a 1:1 ratio in emulating the Minimoog's sonic characteristics. Being able to create feedback by routing Minimax's second audio output into the mixer section and other original minimoog tricks have also been faithfully reproduced. Platforms: PC, Mac, CreamWare.

The new Pluggo 3 ($199) was re-leased this May from Cycling '74 (www.cycling74.com). It now offers more than 100 effects and more than 20 soft synthesizers. Created by programmers working in the Max/MSP environment or rolled on your own, each Pluggo plug-in makes good use of the improved Max4/MSP2 language. New modules include Shape Synth, a user-controlled waveshape synthesizer, and the company's Essential Instruments collection, which was culled from the developers who created the crafty iSynth. Essential Instruments include a wide range of additive, analog-modeled, granular, waveshaped, wavetabled and percussion synth engines. Big Pluggo news for Digidesign users is RTAS support. Platforms: MultiMac, RTAS, MAS, VST.

Digidesign (www.digidesign.com) released Reverb One TDM and announced distribution of new plug-ins from Wave Mechanics (SoundBlender) and Access (Virus Indigo TDM). Reverb One TDM ($995) is a high-quality reverb with an intuitive early reflection and reverberation contour display that includes independent controls over level, decay time, attack, spread, size, diffusion and pre-delay, and it comes with an extensive cache of reverb presets. Separate dynamics and chorus sections allow detailed shaping of reverb decay, and a built-in multiband EQ has adjustable crossover points. Platforms: Mac, PC, TDM, HTDM.

Access' Virus Indigo TDM ($795) puts the ferocious growl and upper-end punch of its namesake hardware synth in the hands of any Pro Tools|HD or MIX user. Check out the Access sound, with four oscillators per voice, 20 available voices, dual 6-pole filters and up to eight multitimbral parts per DSP, and a 96kHz sampling rate. Platforms: Mac, PC, TDM, HTDM.

SoundBlender ($495) from Wave Mechanics brings the PitchBlender and TimeBlender plug-in suites together under one revved-up roof, with an extensive collection of time, pitch, filter and modulation effects. The heart of the beast is Wave Mechanics' Tri-Modulation Matrix, a trio of modulation sources that can be mixed and routed to dozens of effect parameters. Platforms: Mac, PC, TDM, HTDM.

HQ-OR Orchestral ($199) from Edirol (www.edirol.com) is a potent new VST and DXi soft synth. Much like working within any standard general MIDI module, Orchestral's individual screens to select sounds, add chorus and visually pan instruments across a stereo pan field display leave little else for the user to do but play. Sounds focus mainly on strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion and keyboards in a package that also includes Cakewalk's Music Creator 2002 software. Up to 16 parts and 128-voice polyphony are possible, and up to 24-bit/96kHz compatibility is offered. There are also more than 350 preset and user patches, 39 drum kits, high-quality 32-bit floating-point processed reverb and chorus/delay, and real-time access to many parameters via hardware control surfaces. Platforms: PC, Mac, VST, DXi.

Emagic (www.emagic.de) has been busy studying old beer-stained Hammond B3s and dusty Hohner Clavinet D6s lately to come up with the new EVB3 (Emagic Vintage B3, $199) and EVD6 (Emagic Vintage D6, $179) plug-ins, respectively. EVB3 uses the company's Component-Modeling technology to capture the original faithfully and then some — all the way down to the way aging components and the resulting artifacts and key click variations affect a good B3's sound. EVD6 similarly goes this far to faithfully reproduce the Clavinet D6. Platforms: Mac, PC, TDM, HTDM/Mac.

Also new from Emagic is a full porting of every effect plug-in found in Logic Platinum to the TDM platform in the form of EPIC TDM ($699), due out this fall. Plug-ins range from meat-and-potato dynamics to wildly modulated special effects, and includes the new Spectral Gate and Enverb modules. Platforms: PC, Mac, TDM.

ZombiRATor? BubbleRATor? It really doesn't matter what GenieSyS (www.genevoice.com) names its SchizoRAT Pack ($47.95) of five DirectX plug-ins aimed at the sound design environment; they look and sound great. GenieSys has come up with its own Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) algorithms that, when combined with the Pack's user-designed break-point envelope control over each plug-in's parameters, present an almost endless palette of animated timbres. BubbleRATor and ZombiRATor add vibrato only to selected portions of a source waveform and momentarily “freeze” selected harmonic ranges. Other RATs allow designers to create nonlinear frequency shifts, add complex spectrums to individual tracks, create four-note polyphonic material from monophonic tracks and allow user reshaping of pitch and melody. Platforms: MultiPC, Windows, DirectX.

Recently released as a $39 plug-in bundle, Space Synthesizer 1.1b, Space Effect 1.0 and FlexFx 1.0 from developer Mikael Hillborg (www.mhc.se/software) pack a lot of punch per buck. The $39 FlexFx family of CPU-conscious audio processors with built-in LFOs and host syncs includes five meat-and-potatoes effects, including basic delay, chorus and filter. Space Effect's synth architecture provides sync, feedback and mix controls over left/right delay signals, as well as extensive control over resonance, filter, chorus and tone-sequencing parameters. Space Synthesizer, as the name implies, looks much like Space Effect, but it also offers an evolving waveform module onboard. Platforms: Instrument/MultiPC, VST.

Who needs 1,260 amp combinations and a wide array of stomp boxes and post FX features all in one Pro Tools|HD and VST plug-in? You do. IK Multimedia's (www.ikmultimedia.com) AmpliTube ($399) turns both platforms into a sort of vintage amp and pedals heaven, complete with orange power-soak buttons and faux tubes glowing behind a convincingly rendered amp grille. This plug-in sports separate pre, EQ, amp, cabinet and mic-emulation modules, and it models a large selection of vintage and modern amps, spring reverb, tremolo and stomp boxes. Platforms: Mac, PC, VST, Logic, RTAS.

Developed with mastering engineers and sound designers in mind, Groupe de Recherches Musicales de l'Institut National de l'Audiovisuel, aka INA-GRM (www.ina.fr), released its new GRM Tools ST (Spectral Transform) Bundle ($549; $249 per separate plug-in) as a four-module suite for the “Free through Pro Tools|HD Mac family.” ST Contrast uses novel compression and expansion techniques to add subtle changes in “vibrancy, depth and liveliness” for mastering and archival audio restoration applications and any extreme sound transformation uses. ST Equalize is a 31-band, ⅓-octave graphic EQ that features GRM's elastic string feature when mouse-manipulating curves with “sound-performance” applications, and ST Shift allows a user to perform two complementary sound-processing operations at a time. Finally, ST FreqWarp, a spectral component rearrangement plug-in, can best be described by one INA-GRM user's feedback from the company's site: “The most far out, radical, bizarre, powerful and effective sound-transformation tools I've ever seen.” Platforms: FX/Instruments, Mac, RTAS, VST.

Mackie's (www.mackie.com) UAD-1 ($995) is a PCI DSP card/plug-in suite package that takes the heat off of a CPU by handling all plug-in processing “offline.” Developed by Universal Audio, the UAD-1 software solution includes RealVerb Pro, 1176LN and Teletronix LA-2A Vintage Compressors, Nigel Guitar Processor and the CS-1 Channel Strip; the latter includes EQ, compression, delay modulation and reflection reverb modules specific to the UAD-1 platform. Universal's Version 2.2.6 software now also includes Digital Performer support. And Nigel not only looks like an interface Mr. Tufnel would love, it sounds as big as any Spinal Tap concert, with its own mini-suite of preamp, speaker cabinet modeling, echo, tremolo, modulation filter, compressor/ gate and phaser plug-ins. Rock on! Platforms: MultiMac, PC, MAS, VST.

Also from Mackie are several new plug-ins for its D8B/UFX and new Soundscape DAW platforms. The Drawmer SDX100 ($399) is a new mixpander plug-in designed for use as a channel dynamics package or mixdown processor; it allows users to control its components in groups or individually. SpinAudio's SpinDelay ($89) is another Mixtreme plug-in for Soundscape that includes a handy tempo-based delay and tap delay calculator that links taps by ratio. And, after releasing Acuma Labs' Final Mix Mastering Suite ($399) and its DSR-1 frequency-specific de-essing UFX plug-ins at Winter NAMM, there were two more for the recent Summer Session. Acuma's RTA-31 ($199) is a new graphic equalizer and spectrum analyzer for the D8B desktop, and the aptly named Saturated Fat ($199) handles all sorts of distortion and cabinet-modeling chores like a short-order cook at a greasy spoon. Platforms: PC, Soundscape, D8B/UFX.

McDSP (www.mcdsp.com) is well-known for its Analog Channel plug-in when it comes to warming up a digital signal, so warming up to some modeled oscillators, LFOs and ADSRs in the company's new Synthesizer One ($695) should come easily. The additive, subtractive, wavetable, FM- and AM-based modular Synthesizer One can process external audio and combine that with synthesized signals. And all oscillator, filter, LFO and envelope signals can be routed to multiple modulation targets easily using a straightforward, logical interface that resembles McDSP's plug-in family line. Also newsworthy is the company's offering of free Pro Tools|HD updates for McDSP plug-ins that now include 44.1 to 192kHz support; see the company's Website for details. Platforms: Mac, TDM Mix/HD.

Not new but certainly worth mentioning is the recently announced Pro Tools|HD and VST plug-in format support for all Metric Halo (www.mhlabs.com) plug-ins, including SpectraFoo, SpectraFoo Complete and ChannelStrip.

Take one spectral graph and an eight-operator FM engine, add a battery and one B3 emulation so real you can smell it, and what do you get? Four new Mac and PC virtual instruments from Native Instruments (www.native-instruments.com). NI-Spektral Delay PTE ($449) claims to be the first real-time, Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) plug-in effect. Kontakt ($399) and FM7 ($299) each support Mac and PC via DirectConnect, VST, MAS or DXi, and can operate as stand-alone instrument applications. FM7 can actually read every sound library ever created for the classic DX family of FM synths, and Kontakt is a soft sampler that sports real-time time-stretching and resynthesis and an integrated loop editor. Native also offers the Pro Tools Editions of B4, Pro-52 and Battery for Mac HTDM/RTAS for $999 as the Studio Collection. Platforms: Mac, TDM/HTDM, RTAS (unless otherwise noted).

To even try to sum up what the plug-ins from Ohm Force (www.ohmforce.com) are all about in 50 words would be futile. Users can get lost in the company's lush Goth- and comic-inspired Website for ages and still not know exactly what each plug-in does. So, rather than attempt to explain VST and DirectX audio processing/mangling plug-ins like MobilOhm, HematOhm, FrOhmage, PredatOhm and OhmBoyz, we are pointing readers to the site. You have been warned. Platforms: Mac, PC, BeOS, VST, DirectX.

Power Technology's (www.dspfx.com) DSP-FX Virtual Pack 6.5 ($149), a stable line of DirectX plug-ins for PC audio processing that also operate as stand-alone devices, has recently added 96kHz support and full optimization for Windows XP. Twelve bread-and-butter processor tools are bundled together in a Virtual Pack, including the high-quality StudioVerb, Multi-Tap Delay, Analog Tape Flanger, Parametric EQ and Aural Activator. Platforms: MultiPC, DirectX.

New from PSP (Professional Sound Projects; www.pspaudioware.com) from Piaseczno, Poland, are four audio processing plug-ins. Lexicon PSP 42 ($149) is a high-quality digital stereo delay and phrase-sampler plug-in based on the legendary Lexicon PCM 42 processor; it simulates vintage tape machine delays with PSP's own tape-saturation algorithm and variable sampling-rate manipulation. VintageWarmer ($149) is a single- or multiband plug-in that simulates many analog-style compressor/ limiters and comes with a large library of device presets. VintageMeter (freeware) is a professional VU and PPM-metering plug-in. Another free gem from PSP is PianoVerb, which reproduces unique types of reverberation originally generated by piano strings. RTAS support for all PSP software plug-ins is expected by the time this story prints.

Serato Audio Research's (www.serato.com) Scratch Studio Edition ($299) is expected to be released before the end of the year, and for any turntablist straddling the creative fence between vinyl and digital audio workstation, it couldn't come any sooner. DJs can display their new dub plate skills using a physical “virtual” vinyl LP that connects via USB to scratch any digital sample or sound file. The included vinyl record controller device contains a control signal that allows the computer to track the record position and the motion and direction of the needle, and to simulate the same movement within a sound file. Scratch Live ($599; Mac/PC stand-alone) will include a USB interface for dual turntables that allows turntablists to do “crateless DJ'ing” by transferring all vinyl to hard drive and controlling those .WAV, .AIFF and MP3 files with Scratch Live. Platforms: PC, Mac, RTAS, HTDM, MAS (unless otherwise noted).

Also expected soon from Serato is Pitch ($399), a multiplatform Pro Tools plug-in that uses intuitive MIDI controls to carry out real-time polyphonic pitch changes. Expected to be announced as part of a stand-alone bundle of Serato plug-ins, Pitch carries on in the tradition of the company's popular Pitch 'n Time software. Platforms: PC, Mac, RTAS, HTDM.

Steinberg Media Technologies (www.steinberg.net) offers eight new processors and instruments that emphasize on making recording guitarists feel right at home on the computer. Virtual Guitarist ($249.99) picks up where the Oberheim Strummer box left off long ago in creating convincing strummed chords for acoustic and electric guitar sounds. One look at the guitar face interface in either mode should comfort even the most newbie of computer recording guitarists. WARP VST ($299.99) does much of the same by putting a Hughes & Kettner amp face on this potent guitar amp simulation plug-in. HALion ($399.99) is a new 32-bit VST sampler that streams audio direct from disk, includes a 1.6GB sound library, and can import Akai, E-mu, GigaSampler, Sound Font, .WAV and .AIFF sound files to any VST environment. Similarly, The Grand ($299.99) provides 1.3 GB of multiple-velocity, layered, high-quality piano samples, and the new LM4 Mark II VST drum machine ($149.99) provides an independent ADSR envelope on each of its 16 pads. Finally, Voice Machine ($199.99) is a real-time “pitch-shifting” plug-in that can create four additional voices, each independently controllable, from a mono voice track. Attack ($149.99) from Waldorf provides meaty analog-synth percussion sounds. GRM Tools Vol. 2 ($199.99) is the new VST version of this sound designer's dream package, which includes INA-GRM's Reson, Doppler, Freeze and Delay modules. Platforms: PC, Mac, VST.

TC Works (www.tcworks.de), Steinberg and a few others were neck-and-neck for the most new plug-ins released this year. TC VoiceStrip 96K (included with TC PowerCore) is a VST- and MAS-based vocal-processing tool that includes voice-optimized EQ, vintage compression, gate, de-esser and SoftSat modules — and a pair of VU-emulating meters. Assimilator for PowerCore ($249) is a potent “fingerprint EQ” plug-in due out later this year that can sample the EQ curve of one audio file and apply it to another, and morph between two totally disparate sets of EQ curves. DeScratcher, DeClicker, DeClipper and DeNoiser will all be included with TC PowerCore Restoration Suite ($999) when it releases later this year. Native Bundle 3.0 ($399; $69 upgrade) has been spiffed up with added parameters, improved sound and a new user interface. Master X3 for PowerCore ($249), also from TC Works, was recently announced; essentially, it is the company's Finalizer mastering processor but now as a VST or MAS plug-in. And the new Waldorf D-Coder ($249) is an easy-to-use, Mac- and Windows-savvy VST/MAS plug-in that puts 100 bands of vocoded audio bliss at anyone's fingertips. Finally, TC Works released Spark FX Machine ($199) earlier this year. Also a multiplatform VST/MAS performer, this bundle comes with 21 plug-ins, including numerous effects processors and synthesis tools. Platforms: Mac, PC, VST, MAS.

Last but not least are six new plug-ins from Waves (www.waves.com). Version 3.5 Waves Native and TDM software now provide more simultaneous plug-ins, support of higher sample rates, and increased bit depth and dynamic range and support for TDM users of Control24, Pro Control and Mackie HUI control surfaces.

Waves Masters Bundle ($1,800 TDM/ HD; $900 native) provides more transparent mastering firepower with the company's L2 Ultramaximizer, Linear Phase Equalizer and Linear Phase Multiband plug-ins. The latter two use FIR filters for improved musical balance and independent gain and dynamics control on five bands with linear phase crossovers. Ultramaximizer carries on as “the next step in peak limiting,” with Automatic Gain Control, IDR dithering and ninth-order filters. Another multiplatform performer is Restoration Bundle ($1,300 native; $2,600 TDM) for restoration applications and noise reduction. The intuitive graphics, audio difference and direct audio output feedback of Restoration Bundle can make better mastering engineers out of us all. Modules included in this bundle include X-Noise, X-Click, X-Crackle and X-Hum. Platforms: Mac, PC, TDM, HTDM, VST, MAS, RTAS, Audio Suite DirectX.

The all-in-one Waves 360 Surround Tool Kit (price TBA) is a complete surround mixing and management tools bundle. The accelerated Version 3.5 Waves system has 192- and 96kHz support for all Digidesign MIX and Pro Tools|HD users, as well as enveloping spacialization and localization, among other benefits. Included are the S360 Surround Imager for adding distance panning and generating early reflections and shuffling for improved low-frequency spacialization, and the R360 Surround Reverb for control of more than six channels of perfectly decorrelated reverberation. The C360 Surround Compressor, M360 Surround Manager and M360 Surround Mixdown round out the package. Platforms: Mac, TDM.


Randy Alberts is the author of Tascam: 25 Years of Recording Evolution. Visit him at www.opendooredit.com.






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