Scratch, Trash, Freeze That Audio!

Sep 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Randy Alberts


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What if you're in the middle of the mix and your client says, “Can you make it sound a little more…exotic?” If you're at a loss for inspiration, effects plug-ins — able to morph your sounds with a single mouse-click — can come to the rescue. And while there's nothing amiss with standard delay, pitch shift, distortion or dynamics plug-ins, of course, sometimes you're looking for something more out of the ordinary. If verbs such as morph, carve, decimate, diffuse, granulize, transform, resynthesize, freeze, shuffle, trash, warp, scratch and freak pique your curiosity, then read on.

Certainly one of the more exotic plug-ins around is kantos ($299) from Antares ( Available for RTAS, VST, DirectX and MAS Macintosh platforms, kantos provides a range of soft-synth functions and new ones specific to audio control. Dual wavetable oscillators, envelope generators, LFOs and chorus generators are standard enough in nature, but controls over timbral articulation are unique to kantos. This module takes harmonic content and formant information from an internal or external input signal and dynamically applies it to the synthesized signal.

Arboretum Systems' ( always-evolving Hyperprism effects processing plug-in suite ($299 for Hyperprism Gold) is now in Version 2.5. It has added OS X compatibility, plus some fairly twisted new effects in this X-Y parameter-controlled environment. New to Hyperprism Gold is Dispersion, a frequency-dependent delay that adds delay to specific bands, converts transients into useful “chirps,” and interpolates the delay of each frequency band between user-controlled high and low values. Inharmoniques is a perpetually rising and falling flanger/phaser combined with multiband limiting that acts as a comb filter to provide more variety and control over modulation motion than a traditional flanger/phaser. Makka-Delay is an advanced filtered feedback delay incorporating a chain of filters and waveshaping distortion.

BIAS ( released V. 1.2 of its Vbox ($99 stand-alone and VST plug-in; Vbox SE included with Peak 4) multi-effects control environment for VST plug-ins. Now supporting Windows and working as a stand-alone Mach-O application on OS X, Vbox integrates as a VST shell plug-in for any VST host program. Users can create millions of sonic solutions in the Vbox plug-in matrix, as well as with a virtually unlimited number of VST plug-ins, dozens of which come bundled with the package. Effects are combined, routed and mixed in parallel, series and series-parallel combinations, and are instantly hot-swappable on-the-fly when things get really exotic. Used as a stand-alone app, Vbox, which comes bundled with BIAS Peak and Deck as Vbox SE, can load and process .AIFF, Sound Designer II and .WAV audio files.

An X-Y parameter controller and 31 effects processors have been added to the loop-crazed Fruityloops environment in FL Studio 4 Producer Edition ($209) from Image-Line and distributed by Cakewalk ( Working stand-alone and as a DXi soft synth on Windows, FL Studio Producer includes Wave Traveler, a .WAV file DJ scratcher, and a granular synth fittingly called Fruity Granulizer, which splits, stretches and morphs samples. BeepMap generates some wild stuff by creating sounds based on imported image files. Recently added to Cakewalk's Project5 soft synth, sampler, effects and loop-editing platform was Spectral Transformer ($429), a DX effects processor employing phase vocoding and “frequency mutation” to come up with all things warped. It was designed as a real-time instrument with six effects of its own, including transposer, accumulator, exaggerator, lo/hi filter and tracer, the latter thinning a sound until only a trace of its original audio signature remains.

From Ireland comes Wider 1.2 ($299) by Cuan Technology Studios ( Just what does a “spatial audio sculpture” plug-in do for Mac and PC Pro Tools? Plenty. Wider carves up and reassembles audio sources as time-, space- and frequency-dependent elements, allowing users to spread thin-sounding takes by utilizing band splitting, delay and panning controls to tune the directional radiation pattern of a given instrument. Position-dependent ambient reflection patterns can be made to vary with the pan of audio at Wider's input. Pro Tools|HD, TDM and RTAS versions are available.

Looking for lots of exotic, one-of-a-kind processors? There are 100 such tools and more in Pluggo 3 ($199) from Cycling '74 ( for Macintosh VST, MAS and RTAS environments. Joining the original 74 Max4/MSP2-developed plug-ins are Granular-to-Go, a granular synth processor for stuttered vocals or purely abstract timbres, and Noyzckippr. The latter actually multiplies an input signal using bandpass-filtered white noise to provide nonlinear effects, including fairly odd tremolos when the center frequencies of the filter are very low. Included with Pluggo 3 is the Plugmaker 2.0 application for those rolling their own Pluggos with the company's MSP application. And due from Cycling '74 this fall is MODE ($295), an OS X plug-ins suite of three synths and a pair of effects called Wash and Spin, the latter being a rhythmic processor with state-variable filter, panning, gating, delay, distortion and bit-reduction controls that promise to produce sounds ranging from “subtle modifications to extreme abuse.”

Another DIY sound builder is PizzaFX ($50) from D-Mute/Azymute (; Creamware Pulsar, Scope and Luna2 users who want everything on their sonic pizzas can make their own by combining any Creamware- or third-party-created inserts effects and saving those combos as effects presets.

The legacy cross-synthesis TDM plug-in duo Bruno/Reso ($395) from Digidesign ( turns any Pro Tools audio source into a range of uniquely textured new sounds. Supporting Mac OS 9 and X, and all Windows platforms with up to 96kHz sampling, Bruno/Reso incorporates 24 voices to layer and manipulate a wide spectrum of tones. An on-screen keyboard allows users to latch keys and produce multiple notes from each audio event.

DUY's DSPider ($1,195; dist. by Digi-design, is a modular Mac TDM/HTDM plug-in creation tool that comes with 40 modules that the user links together to create virtually any sort of processing device. More than 250 effects presets are included to get you rolling, including compressors, reverbs, EQs, and synthesized and special effects. Also available from DUY is ReDSPider, a read-only version of DSPider that allows access to all of the latter's preset effects.

Included with the latest version of Logic 5 is Spectral Gate, one of Emagic's ( new 32-bit, floating-point proprietary audio processing plug-ins. Users define a frequency range, and then make different parts of the audio source signal separately audible above (called Super Energy) and below (Sub Energy) the threshold level. The company describes the isolated monitoring of Super Energy as vocoder-like.

Effects don't have to be new to be innovative. May-be you've thought up some crazy scheme to tweak your mix with a classic phasing effect. Or how about a flanger? Eventide ( has released plug-in versions of its '70s favorites — Instant Phaser and Instant Flanger — as part of its new Clockworks Legacy bundle, which also includes the Omnipressor and H910 and H949 Harmonizers. These virtual goodies take the studio classics to the next level with features like automation and resolution of up to 192k.

From FXpansion/GForce Group and distributed by Digidesign ( is MindFX Volume 2 ($499) for Mac and PC RTAS and HTDM users. Included with this six-pack of new plug-ins is Snippet Resynthesizer, a hybrid real-time granular/wavetable tool that creates wavetables on-the-fly from any audio input signal; Hyper Channel, a standard gate/compressor/EQ/reverb channel that assigns each of 12 internal states per processor to a MIDI key for smooth effect morphs; and Evolver, a multidirection, FIR-based convolution filter with real-time morphing and transformation capabilities that cut and boost selected frequencies “in ways both surgical and bizarre.”

Developed by Ina-GRM ( and distributed worldwide by Electronic Music Foundation, the GRM Tools family of audio processing plug-ins is included with the GRM Tools Classic ($549), which is now available for Mac OS X. Freeze allows users to freeze three-second segments of a signal and scrub them with a 2-D controller to reveal unheard-of sounds and create loops of varying sizes and pitches. Doppler creates that classic “police siren” effect, and Shuffling controls the durations and attacks of signal fragments — and their related pitch and density — to create distinctive resonance or reverberation to fill audio spaces with overlapping fragments of a sound.

If the unterminated wires of this plug-in's cool interface are any indication of what's under the hood, Trash ($229; $199 download) from iZotope ( can strip any incoming signal of its protective sheath to reveal untold dirt, grit and distortion. This 64-bit DirectX effects processing plug-in goes beyond a typical guitar amp simulator with 85 cabinet models, 48 types of multiband distortion and dynamics, and 36 LFO- and envelope-triggerable LFOs. Also from iZotope is Spectron ($99), which employs a spectral-analysis engine to split incoming audio into thousands of independently affectable frequency bands before resynthesizing it all into something entirely different.

Midifier ($49 download) from knz-audio ( is a DirectX and VST Windows audio plug-in (Mac version in the works) that converts monophonic audio tracks to MIDI data in real time. A polyphonic and percussion version is also expected. Need to generate synth harmonies from a vocal track long after the synth player is gone? Midifier can also be used to convert existing audio material into MIDI lines, as well, and a simple built-in synth allows auditioning of the results, even if the host program doesn't support incoming MIDI from audio plug-ins.

Native Instruments ( announced a rewritten audio engine and enhanced performance features to NI-Spektral Delay 1.5 ($299). If tweaking feedback delays for 160 bands per stereo side and interacting with drawable filter curves and an edit graph mouse window aren't enough to find your tone, then you might want to reconsider how you're making a living! Unusual processing options, such as rotation of the frequency bands or reverb simulations by smearing the amplitude course of each band, take NI-Spektral Delay far beyond your typical multitap tool.

Propellerhead's ( Reason 2.5 ($399) adds a number of new effects processors. Joining the rack is a high-quality reverb, a CV and gate signal splitter, an '80s-era Unison button synth emulation and the Scream 4 Sound Destruction Unit. The latter's 10 different “damage types” are great for overdriving, distorting, fuzzing, tubing, tape-saturating, feedbacking, modulating and warping the heck out of any audio or synth track you feed it. A unique dynamic effect can be created using the amplitude-respondent envelope follower to control the effect's scale parameter, and Scream's Damage Control knob pretty much says it all. For more, see the “Field Test” on page 112.

PiWarp (included with $449 VST Bundle) from Prosoniq ( is a unique VST/DirectX frequency-warping plug-in that creates generous amounts of special effects, atmospheres, dense ambient sounds “of alien worlds or space ship environments” and more. Users can employ PiWarp to generate interesting counter-melodies and effects when it is applied to dry vocals and drum sounds. Version 2.0 of PiWarp, recently announced, now offers Mac OS X support.

SFX Machine RT ($99) from Sound Guy ( is a real-time version of the audio effects plug-in platform. Hundreds of conventional and not-so-conventional effects presets in SFX Machine make the creation of just about any sort of effect possible, many of which include a pitch tracker or envelope follower to allow the effect to respond to the input signal's characteristics. Notably exotic are presets such as VelvetChimes, a series of bandpass filters tuned to various chords; FreezeBoing, a granular synthesis; Theremin Envelope Follower, which uses the pitch of a solo instrument to control an oscillator's pitch; and PitchTrack, which translates a singer's or solo instrument's pitch up two octaves and then uses that to modulate the cut-off frequency of a bandpass filter and add white noise and vibrato for a totally convincing whistle effect that follows the source track.

Does a massive 3-gigabyte core sound library with 3,000 patches and more than 38,000 samples provide enough sound tools for a convincing turntable and DJ emulation? You bet. The Spectrasonics Stylus Vinyl Groove Module ($299; dist. in North America by Ilio Entertainments,, available for VST Mac/PC, MAS and RTAS, is the first Groove Control instrument developed for Pro Tools RTAS, LE, TDM and HD. Groove elements, loops, samples and a powerfully intuitive user interface allow the creation of convincing DJ, turntable and scratch grooves.

If playing a nagara, bansuri, tanpura or other traditional Indian instrument is what you're looking for, then go no further than the SwarPlug VSTi suite of 21 instrument plug-ins ($195, Windows/Mac) from Swar Systems ( in India. Built on the acclaimed 24-voice polyphonic LinPlug CronoX 2 sampler engine, each SwarPlug instrument offers over 1,000 MIDI loops performed by renowned Indian musicians. Classical and folkloric repertoires are covered, and the Swar Systems Website includes a rich Indian music and lifestyle links page.

The recently upgraded Spark FXmachine ($199) and Spark XL ($599) from TC Electronic (formerly TC Works, allow users to build custom modular synthesizers, mastering processing and massive multi-effects processors with the included effects and/or any VST effects or instrument plug-in. Spark FXmachine 2.8 for Mac OS X and Windows — free to existing registered owners — now offers Audio Unit OS X support, mouse wheel support for enhanced para-meter control and 22 plug-ins, including the new Sonic Destructor, which is a free download upon registration. Built-in effects also include a resonance filter with envelope follower, an analog distortion emulation, and Grainalizer, a modulated downsampling delay unit.

USB (Ultimate Sound Bank, released the latest in the company's line of UVI Engine-based plug-ins: the Xtreme FX (Mac/Win). A virtual Foley and sound effects box, Xtreme FX provides instant access to a library with literally thousands of effects and sounds. The UVI interface makes twisting and shaping each sound to taste a breeze for any music, multimedia, game, broadcast or post application. Mach Five compatibility allows MOTU users to open library sounds directly in the company's new sampler, and all parameters can be saved and recalled within any Pro Tools 5 or higher session.

FilterFreak 1.0 ($249) is the first in a new series of exotic and everyday audio plug-ins to come from the SoundToys division of Wave Mechanics ( Inspired in design by the classic Mutronics Mutator and Sherman FilterBank, FilterFreak takes analog-modeled filtering to heights its predecessors only dreamed of years ago. The core of FilterFreak is a way steep 48dB-per-octave analog-modeling filter with adjustable filter slope, resonance and filter-shaping tools. If the extensive routing features and the ability to create radical filtering effects with the unit's tempo-locked LFO, envelope follower, random LFO, ADSR and triggered random-stepper controls with FilterFreak aren't enough, users can also build custom LFO patterns and shapes to lock to any tempo or groove.

Randy Alberts is a frequent contributor to Mix.

Something for (Almost) Nothing

There must be a law somewhere that says that the weirder a software app is, the less it should cost. In the audio world, there are plenty of bizarre shareware and freeware plug-ins out there to help you construct — or deconstruct — your mix. Of course, the quality of these effects ranges from professional to home-grown, so choose wisely! Here are a few free or low-cost goodies to get you started.

If you're into digital delay processors, check out the More Feedback Machine from Urs Heckmann, who wanted more control delay control than he “had available or could afford,” so he built it himself, creating a VST application that offers four delay lines that can be fed back into themselves and each other via a 4×4 feedback matrix. More than 100 parameters are available; features include delay filters, limiter/compressor/saturators, LFO oscillators and a step sequencer. Delay times are up to 2,000 ms. Go to A donation of $20 is requested after 14 days of use.

Coagula 1.6 Lite freeware from Rasmus Ekman is an “image synth,” meaning it can both create and manipulate images and uses image information, such as color and pixel position, to generate sound from those images. Use Coagula to generate complex synth sounds with drawing tools. Windows 95 or later is required. Download a copy at

Sound 2D Warper, a freeware application from Victor Khashchanskiy, takes the image-to-sound process a step further: It loads .WAV files and converts them to images. Then, you can add image effects and resynthesize them as sounds. Free at When you're on the site, check out Enrhythmizer, which acts like an amplitude or phase modulator by applying rhythm patterns over a source sound. It also provides a built-in noise and sine generator for test purposes.

The CREATE group at the University of California, Santa Barbara, offers Pulsargenerator 2001, a real-time interactive sound-synthesis program that employs pulsar synthesis (which generates and manipulates “trains” of sonic particles) and lets you use your computer as a controller. For Mac OS 9. Download a free copy at

Last but not least, AudioNerdz (, a group of four students in the Netherlands, is the team behind Delay Lama, a VST instrument that offers vocal synthesis via a 3-D “singing monk” real-time, animated interface. The plug-in emulates the sound of an Eastern monk, with real-time, high-resolution control over the vowel sounds, complete with 3-D animation. A built-in X-Y controller (or your MIDI keyboard) allows simultaneous control over pitch and vowel sounds. For Mac and PC. Although Delay Lama is freeware, AudioNerdz encourages satisfied users to donate to the International Campaign for Tibet.

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