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Nomad Factory Blue Tubes VST Bundle

Published in SOS November 2002
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Reviews : Software: ALL

Formats: Mac VST

While Nomad Factory may be newcomers to the audio software market, founder Bernie Torelli has been perfecting his craft as an engineer, arranger and producer for some years now. Along the way he's also managed to train himself in C++ programming, and the new Nomad Factory VST effects bundles have come about as a result of him combining his interests. The Blue Tubes Bundle comprises six VST plug-ins (actually 12, since each one is provided in a mono and a stereo version), designed to cover a range of everyday studio tasks.

The first observation that must be made is that all six of these plug-ins look absolutely fantastic. This shouldn't really matter, of course — but there's no denying that a good-looking, approachable user interface is a bonus, particularly for 'utility' plug-ins like these which are likely to get a lot of use. The design is not only superficially attractive, either: three of the six feature excellent, large 'VU meter' displays, which provide useful, intuitive feedback about what the plug-in is actually doing to your signals.

What matters most, however, is the sound — and to my ears, the Blue Tubes Bundle sounds every bit as good as it looks. All the plug-ins seem to share a common characteristic, in that they colour the sound very slightly, but in a very pleasing way. It's quite difficult to pin down, other than to say that they tend towards warmth, adding a nice sparkle without any unwanted fuzz.

CH2S provides chorus and flanger effects that are lively without being overpowering, and even with the feedback control at maximum it still produces sounds that could be useful in a mix. The low and high Frequency controls provide an easy way to cut and boost the output and ensure that the effect sits where you want it to, without spilling out of control.

CP2S is a good all-round compressor, and very easy to use. There are Threshold, Ratio, Attack and Time Constant controls, as well as Low, Med and High switches affecting the 'severity' of the effect. A simple Volume control is the only other parameter. The output of CP2S can range from the very subtle to the very extreme, and watching the VU meter makes it easy to fine-tune the effect at the more subtle settings. The LM2S limiter is even more straightforward, offering just two knobs, marked Gain and Peak Reduction, and two switches for Attack and Release (each with three possible settings; '5', '8' and '10'). For all its simplicity, LM2S can be very effective, and its one and only preset ('Mix Limiter') is subtle enough that a whole mix can be passed through it without the result sounding unnatural. It can really bring a satisfying loudness and presence to a song.

The DR2S preamp simulator is the most 'confrontational' of the Blue Tubes plug-ins, and at its extreme settings can create some excellent overdriven distortion sounds. The high and low-pass filter controls can be used to either soften the high end when things are getting harsh, or roll off the bottom to create tinny gramophone and wireless effects. There's also a built-in noise gate, which is very useful for keeping the mayhem under control.

PEQ2A is the first of two EQs on offer, and offers the most flexibility. There are three EQ bands: low shelf (switchable between 20, 30, 60 and 100 Hz), mid-band (switchable between 0.5, 1.2 and 1.6 kHz) and high shelf (switchable between 4, 5, 8, 10 and 12 kHz). Each band can be switched in or out independently, and can be either cut or boosted. PEQ2B is a slightly simpler two-band EQ with a low-frequency section switchable between 20, 30, 60 and 100 Hz and a high-frequency section offering a choice of 4, 5, 8, 10 or 12 kHz. Unlike PEQ2A, there is no cut available; there are only boost and boost-'attenuation' controls for each of the two bands. There's also a bandwidth (Q) control, calibrated from 0 to 10 ('Sharp' to 'Broad').

Both EQs share a very similar sound: bright without being overbearing, and generally very easy on the ears. Neither is suitable for precise 'surgical' alterations, but that really isn't the point. Both PEQ2A and PEQ2B allow you to quickly tweak sounds to fit your mix, simply and without any fuss.

I have to say that I'm very impressed with the Blue Tubes Bundle. In the few weeks I've been using them, I've rapidly become an addict. I love the sound, I appreciate the minimal CPU load, and the simple, uncluttered user interfaces are a breath of fresh air. However, it's probably fair to say that these plug-ins won't appeal to everybody. Their simplicity means that they aren't the most flexible tools in the world, and they certainly aren't 'transparent' in the way that some effects try to be. Instead they impart a characteristic 'musical' warmth to your recordings, and allow you to make simple alterations to the character of the sound. If this sounds like something you'd enjoy, I'd highly recommend downloading the demo versions and taking them for a test drive. Currently the bundle is available only in Mac VST format, although MAS and RTAS versions are in development. The full bundle costs $156 (about £102), which doesn't seem unreasonable for plug-ins of this quality. Paul Sellars


Ohm Force Hematohm
Formats: Mac VST, PC VST & DirectX, BeOS

Gallic DSP-meisters Ohm Force have a knack of creating plug-ins that look weird and sound weirder, and Hematohm is no exception. Like their other products, it's available in two versions, one having a bizarre-looking interface to inspire you artistically, the other featuring a more sober skin that gives you some hope of understanding what's going on. Even if you opt for the latter, however, preset names such as 'Melancholic Squid' and 'Soft Plastic Nail' are still somewhat opaque.

Hematohm is, in fact, a real-time frequency shifter. Not to be confused with pitch-shifting, this effect moves all of a sound's frequency content up or down by a fixed amount in Hertz. When applied to pitched sounds, the results are usually enharmonic, as the frequency-shifted fundamental and harmonic frequencies no longer bear any musical relationship to one another.

The basic frequency-shifting algorithm is augmented by several additions. The first is a well-specified, tempo-sync'ed LFO with 10 different waveforms (including brown and white noise), which can be used to control the amount and direction of frequency shift. The second is an envelope follower, while the third is a tempo-sync'ed delay line, the output of which can be fed back into Hematohm to add to the sonic carnage.

I was slightly surprised to find that Hematohm does have subtle applications. It can, for instance, be used quite successfully to add slight random variations to synthesized instruments or sampled drums, with the aim of creating a more 'human' feel. As expected, however, the plug-in's real forte lies in more extreme territory. The amount of frequency-shifting that can be imposed is huge (up to 5kHz in either direction), and the LFO and envelope follower allow you to sweep the frequency spectrum of the audio in innumerable ways. Sometimes the effect is not unlike that of a resonant filter, while other settings recall ring modulation, but Hematohm can also produce far-out chattering and burbling noises that are all its own. The icing on the cake is a morph function that allows you to create long, evolving effects by moving gradually between Hematohm patches.

A wide range of interesting results can be obtained with drums and other instruments, but I found Hematohm particularly good for weird vocal effects. It will produce anything from sinister robot voices and sci-fi bad guys to more subtle ambient delays and atmospheres. Unlike many vocoders and other effects, it seems to retain intelligibility and the dynamics of a human voice even when used heavily.

Like Ohm Force's other plug-ins, Hematohm has a character all of its own. It won't appeal to everyone, but those who like a touch of darkness and sonic anarchy in their mixes should definitely check it out. A demo version is available, and Ohm Force's innovative pricing policy means that it costs only $9.95 to download the fully functional Standard version — users need only pay the full price of $59 if they want to use it in a commercial release, or if they require the additional features, such as MIDI controllability, a larger preset bank and 24-bit output, of the Expert version. Sam Inglis

Standard version $9.95; Expert version $59.

PSP Lexicon PSP42
Formats: Mac VST, PC VST & DirectX

Professional Sound Projects (PSP to their friends) have managed a rare coup with their latest plug-in. Based on the legendary Lexicon PCM42 digital stereo delay and phrase sampler, it sounds so similar to the original unit that Lexicon have endorsed it, allowing their logo to grace its front panel. Lexicon PSP42 will run on any Microsoft OS from Windows 95 onwards, while Mac owners will need Mac OS 8.5 or higher, and a MAS version is expected soon for DP users.

PSP42 is capable of generating wide range of delay-based effects, and is based on a digital delay line operating at a sampling rate that can be varied continuously from 0.5 to 1.5 of the host sampling rate or, using the DLYx2 button, to half its normal rate. Depending on sample rate, up to 9.6 seconds of delay are available. Replay rate can also be modulated using an LFO with sine/square wave options and an envelope follower, so that both delay time and pitch can be altered. Special attention has been paid to anti-aliasing filters and the sample-rate converters, so that unwanted distortion remains low, and the signal path remains 32-bit float throughout.

The delay line is preceded by a saturator to emulate the desirable warmth and punch of a vintage tape machine, if desired — you can adjust the amount using the Input and Output level knobs — while its output can be fed back via a phase-invert option and switchable 4kHz high-cut filter, the latter being particularly useful for keeping echoes 'behind' the original sound. A headroom meter displays the level of the input plus feedback signal after the saturation 'circuit', and can be used to adjust the envelope follower drive level.

The delay section has two modes. In DLY mode the delay time is set using Inc/Dec buttons in millisecond increments, or directly by vertical mouse dragging, while in CLK mode the delay is tempo-related: tempo can either be set manually or received automatically from a suitable host application, in which case the delay time will also track tempo changes in real time. The delay value is then displayed as two numbers designating a fraction of a bar — for example, 1 and 4 signify a single quarter beat.

A Repeat Infinity button puts PSP42 into phrase sampling mode, where the current contents of the buffer are continuously looped until it's deactivated again. In CLK mode this is triggered externally, to make it easier to capture tempo-locked loops.

The Manual knob allows quick adjustment of the delay time, while the Depth control of the VCO Sweep section adds the combined effect of the LFO or envelope follower, mixed using a clever Waveform control that allows any combination from sine to envelope to square. There's a separate LFO Rate control with blinking 'LED'.

Many refinements have been incorporated to avoid clicks, pops and other unwanted artefacts, such as smoothing out abrupt parameter changes, checking for zero crossings, and performing real-time crossfades — you can even switch between presets without glitching.

Supplied in mono and stereo versions, PSP42 is primarily intended to be used as an insert, although you could of course process an entire track. The results are truly excellent, with the interactions of the many controls providing a far wider range of treatments than you'd find elsewhere. Every parameter can also be automated via a suitable VST host or using MIDI controllers, and the delay time has been split across two Controllers for 14-bit precision. Apart from the more standard tape echo effects you can achieve spiralling pitch repeats, deep flanging, phasing and Leslie effects, along with comb filtering and tape saturation. The factory presets are impressive, as are the graphics and the audio quality — I'm not surprised that Lexicon gave this the thumbs up! Martin Walker


Universal Audio Nigel
Formats: Mackie UAD1 (PC/Mac VST & Mac MAS)

Here's a bargain for you! Universal Audio have released their Nigel guitar processor for the UAD1 and Powered Plug-ins suite, and it's free to all registered UAD1 owners. The company hype claims it to be "the next generation of guitar processing technology integrated into a complete multi-effects plug-in solution". Nigel effectively incorporates just about every amp and stomp-box sound a guitar player could want into a modular 'gig rack', complete with attractive retro knobs and face plating. As with the CS1 Channel Strip plug-in that all UAD1 owners are familiar with, the individual components of Nigel are also supplied as separate plug-ins.

Front and centre is the extraordinarily powerful Preflex module, the heart of Nigel, housing UA's 'advanced guitar amp modelling' technology. The module is actually two independent amp processors (A and B) that work simultaneously. Each can be set to any of a number of user-updateable amp types, including Rectified super-high gain, Marshall emulations, Fender Bassman, high-end 'boutique' tubes, smouldering low-gain blues amps, and the best variety of clean Twin and high-gain Tweed/Princeton emulations I've heard yet. Once set, you can use the A-B Morph slider to actually converge one sound into another — through interpolation, not simple crossfading. This is a great way to take your core sound for a given arrangement and give it an alternate edge, or mood, that can play off other instrument parts. The results are unbelievably smooth, cool and inspiring.

Simple and effective three-band pre- and post-amp EQs are provided, along with two specialised functions called Color and Bent, respectively capable of drastically modifying the frequency and amplitude/ distortion characteristics of the signal with a single knob twist.

The amp receives its input from the Gate/Compressor module — which, thankfully, is modelled after distinctly more 'vintage'-sounding sources than the CS1 components, providing natural-sounding soft-knee envelopes best suited for guitars. Below the amp section is a clean and simple cabinet selector module, offering numerous variations of one, two and four-speaker combos, of 10 to 12 inches in size, miked on or off axis, near and far, and so on. Versatile and true to the real deal, the cab emulations range from classic Celestion, Greenback, Oxford Blue, Marshall and Fender to Line 6 and Sansamp DSP varieties, all as captured by a Shure SM57 mic.

Surrounding the whole Preflex pre/amp/cab section are effects pedal emulations aplenty. The Phasor module is a frequency-variable comb filter with LFO modulation. If you long for honest Mutron Bi-Phase, Small Stone or MXR-series sounds, this will do the business. Sweep rates run in very fine 0.01Hz increments from 0.03 to 10.0 Hz, and various sine and square LFO types are on tap.

The funk appeal of the Mutron III-influenced Mod Filter module is thanks to its meaty low, high and band-pass filters, whose cutoff frequencies and resonance can be controlled by signal level or LFO. Modulation types include sine, square, random, envelope follower, wah pedal and auto-wah. Similarly, the Trem/Fade, Mod Delay and Echo modules present time-based amplitude and delay effects ranging from classic tremolo and gain modulation, including 'Shimmer' and 'VariTrem', to short digital delay lines for chorus and flange, and longer ping-pong, echo and slapback delay lines of up to 1.2 seconds. I love the fact that the Trem/Fade module can be used to control the Mod Delay, achieving highly sophisticated amplitude envelope-controlled modulations.

After putting Nigel to the test in every conceivable musical style, I'm not about to argue UA's claims for it. This thing really is the 'all-in-one' of guitar processing for the virtual studio. Want even more bang for the no buck? Pumping vocals through the Preflex amp and cabinet section is a real treat, as is running classic keys through the Phasor and Mod Filter. Since the modules can be used separately, and each is furnished with an on/off-compare switch, you can even save on DSP power by using as few processors as you need.

I found very little at fault within Nigel, although I do wish you could enter values in via the keyboard: clicking and spinning knobs with the mouse is tedious on fine values. I also found rotating the knobs by moving the mouse side to side, rather than up and down, a little unconventional. The sound quality is superb, thanks to excellent modelling algorithms and 24-bit/96kHz performance, and the character of the Preflex module is definitely one of a kind. Knob parameters are automatable and MIDI assignable. All said, and bundled for the price of admission, newcomer Nigel ranks well with competition costing nearly half that of the complete UAD1 system. Jason Scott Alexander

Free download for UAD1 owners; part of v2.2.6 plug-in bundle.
Mackie UK +44 (0)1268 571212.
+44 (0)1268 570809.Click here to email
Click here to email

  Plug-in News  
  Abyss Studios are offering no fewer than 11 free PC plug-ins, covering a wide range of signal processing and effects duties. Currently available are Imager, Exciter, Hi-end Contort, Dual Rectifier, Harmonic Distorter, Snarl, Phase 2, Phased, Strangled Cat (a phaser/flanger), Filter, Repeater, Cushion (a 'vintage' compressor), and the Abyss reverb. For a modest shareware fee, you can have these plug-ins customised with your own logo. And while most people see the advantage of controlling their sequencer from a hardware fader surface, Abyss are also offering a pair of plug-ins for Cubase SX that allow Mackie D8b owners to do the opposite: adjust mixer parameters from within software.

Wave Arts have announced an upgrade to MasterVerb (reviewed in Plug-in Folder February 2002), which for the first time sees it available in Mac VST format as well as Windows VST and DirectX. New features in v3.02 include full VST and DirectX automation, an improved interface, a new diffusion control for better command over early reflections, output meters with auto output gain adjustments to prevent clipping, and full documentation. There are also 16 additional factory presets created by SOS's PC specialist Martin Walker.


Beginning with the freeware Frohmage, Ohm Force (see main text) are porting their range of plug-ins to the RTAS format for Pro Tools users.


  Plug-in Tips  
  Some mix engineers create interesting effects in hardware studios by sending a mono signal to an auto-panner, then feeding the left and right outputs of this to different effects — using two parametric EQs set to boost different areas of the frequency spectrum, for instance, can give you a rich phasing effect. Most sequencers are designed in such a way that it's not easy to do this with an auto-pan plug-in, but you can often achieve the same results by using the sequencer's automation facilities. Try setting up two sends and using the same repeating automation pattern (such as a sine wave) to control both of them, but put one of the automation tracks 'out of phase' with the other by moving it horizontally in the sequencer's Arrange page.

If you have a graphic EQ plug-in, you can use it to add stereo width to mono audio tracks. The idea is to set up two instances of the plug-in with alternate bands fully boosted and fully cut — one having the odd-numbered bands boosted, the other the even numbered bands — and use one to process the mono signal panned hard left, with the other panned hard right. Mike Senior


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