There’s more to this vintage vibe machine than dirt, wow and flutter!
Retronaut has one main purpose in life: to undo the progress that has been made in improving audio quality since man’s first experiments with wax cylinders! But rather than just offering the usual suspects of noise, filtering, pitch wobble and distortion, this plug‑in also includes a multi‑voice modulation architecture plus delay offsets, which mean it’s able to conjure up some lovely retro reverb and delay effects.
The controls are grouped into six sections, and to keep things user‑friendly there are no hidden pages except for the global settings; that page can be accessed by right‑clicking anywhere on the GUI. Here you’ll also find the oversampling settings, the manual and the authorisation procedure, which involves a personalised licence file. The licensing system allows the plug‑in to be used on any number of machines belonging to the purchaser, and all the common plug‑in formats are supported for Mac and Windows operating systems.
The Mod section has a large Vibe knob in the centre, and this controls the overall depth of pitch modulation, while its HP Mod and LP Mod knobs control the modulation of the high‑pass and low‑pass filter frequencies in the VCF section.
The LFO section driving the modulation offers sine or triangle waveforms, with separate HP and LP Scale controls to offset (from half to double) the high‑ and low‑band modulation rates from the main rate. Four LED‑style indicators show the modulation being applied to the active voices. I discovered that the mod rate can go from very slow up to fast enough to create frequency modulation effects.
The adjacent Mix section allows additional modulated voices to be added (up to a maximum of four), so that the mod effect goes from vibrato to something more like chorus. Separate level controls for the wet and dry signals can be inversely linked so that the dry knob acts as a wet/dry balance control.
The VCF section emulates an analogue high‑ and low‑pass resonant filter to shape the sound. Both filters have a choice of two‑ or four‑pole slopes.
That brings us to the Degrade section, which is where the heaviest audio damage is inflicted. Separate controls bring in Flutter (random pitch modulations), Dust (this adds noise to the modulation waveform), Warp (pitch drift and a little level modulation at half‑rate added to all the voices), Fail (random glitches in pitch and level), Dirt (tape‑style saturation) and Feed, which takes the outputs from the voices and feeds them back into each other producing what sounds like a crude but strangely attractive reverb tank or ancient tape echo. There’s also a mono option to take you back to those pre‑stereo days.
When two or more voices are active, the Diverge panel is used to create offsets between them. A Speed control offsets the LFO phase between the left and right channels, while Lag adds a time delay to each voice that can also emphasise any vibrato applied (this can also go long enough to create audible delays). Phase offsets the LFO phase for each of the active voices and Resync resets the LFO phases, while each of the three additional voices has its own Scale control, which allows you to offset its modulation rate. I did rather miss not having separate bypass controls for the main effect sections but, other than that, the controls are pretty straightforward.
You can go as far as replicating the sound of a cassette that the cat’s been toying with for the last week.
So, what kind of sonic mayhem can you expect when all these controls are brought to bear on your sounds? As you might imagine, you can fashion band‑limited, saturated tape sounds with appropriate wow and flutter, or you can go as far as replicating the sound of a cassette that the cat’s been toying with for the last week, or the vinyl record she just used as a scratching post. These all come across with a real air of authenticity and can range from very subtle to totally wrecked. Less immediately apparent is that you can create some rather pretty effects too, as demonstrated by the ‘In The Clouds’ and ‘Lush Verb’ presets. These use the Lag control set near maximum and a healthy dose of feedback to produce shimmery repeat echoes with a definite vintage flavour.
You’ll also discover simulated room ambiences and some multi‑layered chorus‑like effects. But what stands out most for me about Retronaut is the way that it can create things like lo‑fi guitar and piano parts with added old‑school reverb/delay that somehow just sit perfectly in a contemporary mix — a very pleasant surprise. In short, if lo‑fi is your thing, you’re in for a treat, and even if you think nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, Retronaut may well make you think again!
A delightful multi‑voice lo‑fi and delay plug‑in, Retronaut is capable of a surprising range of effects from subtle colour to complete degradation and even lush reverbs.