The Sound Guy Spectral Machine Review

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



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Delay Spectral Bands created very interesting, if unnatural-sounding, multiband echoes. I could delay a vocal track’s high, midrange and low bands by different amounts and blend the processed signal with the dry vocal. This took awhile to set up properly as there was no way to sync delay times to Digital Performer’s tempo. And while I could set any band’s delay time to 0 ms (no delay), I couldn’t bypass or independently lower the gain for its output. The result amounted to an arbitrary equalization of the dry signal at the plug-in’s output. I also wish that the wet signal had highpass and lowpass filters at its disposal so that they could be used to siphon rumble out of the low-band delay and make the high-band delay sound more natural. (Highs become progressively dampened in a natural acoustic environment as echo times increase.)

On tracks for vocals and electric guitar alike, Spectral Freeze’s 100-percent wet output created interesting—often bizarre-sounding—drone effects that could be useful to sound designers working on a sci-fi or horror flick. The Sample and Hold effect’s wet output made a vocal track sound like a dynamically filtered keyboard, evoking electronica and dance productions. The inability to sync to Digital Performer’s tempo made it virtually impossible for me to lock the generated notes to my other tracks for more than a bar or two.

I could create outstanding multiband tremolo effects on a synth pad using 3 AM, my favorite offering in Spectral Machine’s arsenal. I only wish the LFO rates for each band could be synched to my DAW’s tempo for faster setup and accuracy. I could also create some good flange effects on electric guitar tracks using Oscillating Peak/Notch.

3-Band Filter and Spectral Peak/Notch were unremarkable equalizers, both in their capabilities and sound quality. Digital Performer’s Masterworks EQ provided far greater flexibility and features.

Pitch Shift and Harmonize were both of limited use. Using either effect, I couldn’t pitch a female vocal up even one semitone without hearing gargly artifacts. Pitching down produced fewer pitch artifacts and preserved formants quite well as long as I shifted the pitch no more than two semitones. Although both effects can be used to generate background harmonies (one harmony in Pitch Shift and two in Harmonize), they must necessarily be parallel; diatonic, or intelligent, harmonization isn’t possible.

Pitch Quantizer was, frankly, a train wreck. Used on a vocal track, even moderate pitch correction—25-percent maximum correction toward the pitch target, at a very slow rate of change—produced a gargly and distorted sound. Equally disappointing was Sine/Noise: Lowering the Noise Gain slider even just a couple dB (to reduce breath noise) made the vocal sound thin, scratchy and distorted. And no amount of formant shifting, however mild, could prevent Spectral Shapeshifter from distorting a vocal track horribly. The wet output for Spectral Machine’s Vibrato effect was also terribly distorted, making it unusable.

Pitch Isolate made a vocal sound like a keyboard instrument with muffled highs, a potentially useful effect in music production. Robotization sounded like Auto-Tune’s Cher effect in your worst nightmare, but I mean that as a compliment. It did such a great job hamstringing the pitch of a singer that she sounded like a computer-generated voice stuck on one pitch. The fidelity wasn’t great, but it didn’t matter. In fact, it made the effect more credible.

Spectral Machine lacks any kind of frequency graph and spectrogram, an oddity and disappointment considering its sole focus is frequency-domain effects. Master controls for multiband parameters would have made setup easier. Also missing are I/O meters, which would help hunt down the origination of unintended distortion. There are also no built-in facilities for naming, saving and loading presets; you’ll need to use your DAW to accomplish those tasks.

Spectral Machine offers several unusual effects that approach greatness for music production and sound design, but others fall far short of professional benchmarks. Unfortunately, the omission of sync-to-host capabilities hampers the use of some of the best-sounding effects—3 AM, Sample and Hold, and Delay Spectral Bands—for music production. Sound designers will especially appreciate Spectral Freeze and, to a lesser degree because it’s a one-trick pony, Robotization.

Considering that Spectral Machine costs only $49.95, you should contemplate giving it a try. The Sound Guy offers a 60-day, unconditional money-back guarantee.

Mix contributing editor Michael Cooper is a mix and mastering engineer based in Oregon.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Sound Guy Spectral Machine product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Sound Guy Spectral Machine product page.

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