The Sound Guy Spectral Machine Review

Jan 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Michael Cooper



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Fig. 1: The control layout for 3 AM, one of Spectral Machine’s general-purpose effects

Fig. 1: The control layout for 3 AM, one of Spectral Machine’s general-purpose effects

Fig. 2: Many of Spectral Machine’s effects offer only a few controls.

Fig. 2: Many of Spectral Machine’s effects offer only a few controls.

New from The Sound Guy is a potpourri of effects—wrapped up in one plug-in—that use Fast Fourier Transform to massage and mangle audio. Flanging, multiband tremolo, equalization and pitch shifting are just the beginning. Other processors virtually transform vocals into keyboard instruments or robots to startling effect. But the biggest eyebrow-raiser is Spectral Machine’s list price: only $49.95.

Spectral Machine supports AU and VST formats. I reviewed Version 1.0.2a of the AU plug-in in MOTU Digital Performer 7.21 using an 8-core Mac Pro running OS 10.6.8.

Navigating Spectral Machine’s user interface is an easy ride. Mouse-click on the GUI’s General Purpose box, and a list of seven polyphonic effects (those capable of processing chords) appears in a browser-like effects menu on the left side of the GUI. (See Fig. 1.) Click on the Monophonic box instead, and the menu lists eight effects that only work with monophonic sources (such as a solo voice or an instrument playing a melody). Select an effect from the menu by clicking on it, and its exclusive control set appears in the center section of the GUI; most of the effects offer very few controls (see Fig. 2). A helpful read-only text field describes the selected effect and what its controls do. A clip indicator and separate sliders for adjusting wet/dry balance and output level are always available on the right side of the GUI.

The Delay Spectral Bands and 3 AM effects each split the audio into three bands; you can adjust the two crossover frequencies for each effect. In Delay Spectral Bands, you can apply separate delay times (up to 10 seconds!) and feedback to each band. 3 AM provides separate depth and rate controls for an LFO controlling each band, creating a multiband tremolo effect.

Spectral Freeze is a 2-band, sample-and-hold effect with adjustable crossover frequency. Click on the Fire button, and the effect samples and plays back a very short slice of the input audio. The audio then decays independently in each band at the rates you set using two sliders. Clicking the Reset button resumes normal play-through of the input signal. The Sample and Hold effect is similar to Spectral Freeze but is wideband, and it automatically and repeatedly resamples the input audio at a time interval that you specify in milliseconds.

Two of the General Purpose effects are simple equalizers. 3-Band Filter is a 3-band graphic equalizer with adjustable crossovers and gain controls for each band. Spectral Peak/Notch is a single-band parametric equalizer capable of producing both bell curves and notch filters. Yet another effect, Oscillating Peak/Notch, lets you modulate the center frequency of a parametric filter with an LFO; depth and rate controls are provided for the oscillator.

Pitch Shift is a single-voice effect that does just what its name implies, purportedly preserving formants in the process. If you need two pitch-shifted voices, select the Harmonize effect; each voice has controls for adjusting its pitch-shift amount, gain and delay. The Spectral Shapeshifter effect shifts only formants and not pitch.

Pitch Quantizer is a chromatic pitch-correction effect with a twist: The setting for its correction control determines the maximum extent to which a note is allowed to move to the nearest semitone. The speed of correction is dictated by the rate slider’s setting. Robotization is another pitch-shifting effect and it’s a brute: It changes any pitch to a single fixed frequency of your choosing, no matter how far-flung it is from the source’s fundamental pitch.

The Pitch Isolate effect strips transients and integral noise (such as the breath noise on a flute track) from audio, leaving only the tonal (sinusoidal) component. Sine/Noise provides two sliders for adjusting the respective levels of transients and noise (together as one component) and the tonal component. With the Vibrato effect, only the pitch of the sinusoidal component of the audio input is modulated; separate rate and depth controls are provided for the LFO.

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