It's not every day you find a channel-strip plug‑in that offers out-there features such as pitch and formant shifting!
Many producers have entered into partnerships with existing software developers to capture their trademark sounds in plug‑in form, but Jordan Swift, aka DJ Swivel, has opted for a more difficult path: he has commissioned and overseen development work himself, and released The Sauce independently. Available in all major native formats for both Mac and Windows, it's a highly unconventional channel-strip plug‑in, aiming not to recreate the knobs and buttons of vintage hardware, but to provide a complete toolkit of modern vocal processing options.
The Sauce also embodies a single-minded determination to stretch the metaphor of mixing as cooking to breaking point. So, for example, there's a distortion algorithm called Spice, which offers Mild and Hot variants, and you can select Dab or Pump to add a little or a lot of compression. More unusual in a channel-strip context are pitch and formant shifting, aka Flavor, along with stereo Spread, Sugar, Drip and Smoke — which are, respectively, a stereo widener, chorus/flanger, delay and reverb. What's missing as far as standard channel strips are concerned is conventional EQ, but The Sauce has a far more powerful trick up its sleeve.
Clicking the Multiband switch serves up your input signal as a three-course meal, with the entire array of sauces available separately for each of three frequency bands. So, for instance, you could derive an octave-down pitch- and formant-shifted bass vocal from just the lower frequency band and blend that in subtly to add some extra weight to a thin voice. Likewise, instead of using the delay's built-in high- and low-pass filters to shape its sound, you could switch off the delay for the low and high bands and have it active only in the mid-range; or choose to sprinkle Sugar only over the high-frequency dessert whilst leaving the starter and main course alone.
I particularly liked the reverb, which pulls off the tricky balancing act of enhancing the source without overshadowing it or making it appear distant.
The culinary theme is carried over into DJ Swivel's presets, which offer such delights as Holy Aioli and Troutman's Fish Sauce. Many are the kinds of effects you'd use for their novelty value, perhaps chopping out single words or phrases to be spiced, sugared and lightly fried in sonic batter. However, if you don't rely on the presets and exercise a light touch with the chili, it is perfectly possible to extract more conventional vocal treatments from this plug‑in. Some of these can be quite more-ish, and I particularly liked the reverb, which pulls off the tricky balancing act of enhancing the source without overshadowing it or making it appear distant. The basically preset nature of components such as the compressor is more a benefit than a hindrance in practice: most of the time it works perfectly, and if it doesn't, you can use something else.
In practice, I ended up using The Sauce more often in full-band mode than in its multiband configuration. Most of the effects work very well on the entire signal, and full-band mode has an immediacy that evaporates a bit once you start setting things up on a per-band basis. Some of the effects on offer here provide flavour combinations I wouldn't have thought of otherwise, and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the results you can get by using, say, stereo widening and flanging together on backing vocals. Dial in some distortion and pitch-shifting, and you enter the realms of blue food: thoroughly unnatural, but immediately attention-grabbing, and very tasty in small doses!
Their celebrity endorsement means that signature plug‑ins tend to be at the pricier end of the spectrum, and The Sauce is no exception. However, it's not one of those signature plug‑ins that turns out in practice to be just another 1176 or Pultec emulation, or little more than a list of presets that you can't easily adapt to your own sources. The Sauce is a much more generous and thoughtful offering that feels like a genuine attempt to make DJ Swivel's personal production techniques available to all-comers. It is simple enough to start yielding results straight away, whilst providing enough control to allow those techniques to be applied to any source, and I think anyone who tries it will come away with some new recipes for fresh-tasting vocals.
An original and accessible source of vocal effects ranging from the subtle to the outrageous.