Formats: Windows VST, FL Studio
From the developers of the popular FL Studio host application comes Ogun, an unusual additive synthesizer plug‑in with the emphasis on "rich, metallic and shimmering timbres”. The quoted minimum requirements are on the high side — a 2GHz CPU and 512MB RAM are recommended — and additive synths can sometimes be a drain on system resources, although during testing Ogun seemed quite efficient.
Image Line describe Ogun's GUI (Graphical User Interface) as "space‑saving”, which is fair enough, although 'cramped' would be another way of putting it. The largely grey‑on‑grey colour scheme is not unattractive, but is quite low‑contrast, which is not an aid to visibility. The GUI controls are small, some to the point where they can be quite fiddly to manipulate with an ordinary laptop touchpad.
The Ogun window is divided into thirds. The top third contains master pitch and volume controls, an on‑screen "modulation square”, and a patch information display. Beneath are the main synthesis controls. A graphical envelope editor is used to assign modulation sources, or Articulation Parts, to parameters. The bottom third is given over to Ogun's on‑board effects, which include chorus, delay and reverb.
Ogun represents something of a departure from conventional synthesizer designs. Programming it from scratch can be a challenge, and sadly the help file isn't all that helpful. Two "seed values” — numbers between 0 and 9999 — are specified per preset, providing "two independent weightings for the harmonic spectra”. Exactly how these numbers influence the process is not made clear, although adjusting them can alter the sound significantly. The Rich parameter determines the total number of harmonics generated (between one and 32,767), and hence the 'richness' of the sound. Further parameters control the balance between the harmonic content generated from the two seed values, and how variable EQ is applied to further shape that content.
Although it's algorithmically very different (and technologically a lot more sophisticated), what Ogun reminds me of more than anything is an elderly Yamaha four‑operator FM synth I used to own. Its user interface is awkward and obscure, with parameter labels that are either unfamiliar, abbreviated, or both ('Pre', 'Dec', 'Full', 'Phs', and so on). Adjusting these parameters often produces unexpected results, and attempting to steer the synth in any particular direction can be frustrating, as it sometimes seems to want to veer off on its own, for reasons that aren't clear.
Yet, for all that, the surprises are often pleasant ones. Ogun is capable of coughing up novel, attention‑grabbing noises unlike anything a more conventional synthesizer might be expected to produce. Some of the presets are excellent, and plenty of fun can be had by picking one as a starting point and just randomly tweaking parameters to see where you end up. Lots of metallic, percussive, bell‑like sounds are available, but eerie, floating pads and drones are possible too, along with scratchy, clunky, textural glitches of various kinds. Further possibilities are suggested by Ogun's analysis and resynthesis functions: WAV files can be dragged and dropped onto the instrument's GUI, and analysed to produce new harmonic spectra, to serve as starting points.
Given time, it would be possible to become better acquainted with Ogun's inner workings, and begin programming it more deliberately. However, I wonder how many users will have the patience. Personally, I suspect I wouldn't bother. Given its reasonable price, I'd be happy to approach Ogun much as I did my old Yamaha: with only a limited grasp of its inner workings, but in the knowledge that a bit of trial‑and‑error experimentation might well result in something interesting. Paul Sellars
Formats: Windows & Mac VST3, VST2.4, RTAS; Mac AU
VirSyn are a company who often take a slightly left‑field approach to sound creation and processing — products such as Cantor, Tera and Matrix are certainly not 'me too' software — and their latest offering is no exception. FDelay, aka "The Rhythmiser”, is a multi‑band delay processor made with sound design and loop manipulation in mind. The plug‑in splits the incoming audio into 27 frequency bands and then applies separate delay processing to each band. While the world is not awash with frequency‑based delay processors, the basic principles seem similar to Native Instruments' Spektral Delay, which SOS reviewed back in August 2001.
Although the sounds it can create are complex, the FDelay control set is fairly modest and all contained within a single window. Preset Browser aside, the upper section is dominated by the band display area. This can be switched to show level, delay times or feedback levels for each band, all of which can be edited via the mouse. Delay times are further adjustable via the four buttons beneath the band display. The one labelled 'Free' allows delay times to be independent of the host tempo (through a range of 5ms to 5s), while the others — Std, Tripl or Dot — sync delay times to specific note forms. Engaging the Xpand button increases the range of delay sync range when using the Std option. The Cross button causes delays to alternate between the left and right speaker, for extra stereo interest.
The large Feedback control adjusts the global feedback level for all frequency bands, while the Dry/Wet and Gain controls are self‑explanatory. The only other controls are X‑Shift and Y‑Mod. The former shifts the delay times for each band up or down the band pattern (for example, the delay time of band 1 is moved to band 2 and so on), while the latter gradually inverts the delay times so that long delays become shorter and short delays become longer.
In use, FDelay performed flawlessly within Cubase 4.5.2 on my test PC. While I wouldn't describe it as a mainstream effect, it can produce some really interesting results. For example, during my testing it made some routine mid‑ to slow‑tempo drum loops spring to life, in a more subtle way than with a standard delay, and was sonically much more interesting, adding a tonal texture as well as the rhythmic complexity. It also added a layer of 'fairy dust' to pad sounds and, depending upon the level settings for particular bands, could completely change their tonal character. With vocals, the results were a little more variable, but FDelay is certainly suitable for the occasional special effect on a dance vocal.
Given the somewhat specialised nature of the processing, FDelay will not appeal to everyone, and the price means it is not going to be a casual purchase. That said, if you like your effects a little more on the experimental side, FDelay — like other products in the VirSyn line — might be just up your street, and the downloadable demo is well worth giving a spin. Potential users should also note that FDelay uses a Syncrosoft key for copy protection (as used by Steinberg) and the cost of the key is not included in the price of the plug‑in. John Walden
169 Euros including VAT.
Formats: Windows VST, FL Studio
Another offering from the people behind FL Studio, the not‑very‑descriptively named Gross Beat is an effects plug‑in "designed for repetition and scratching effects”. More specifically, "gating, glitch, repeat, scratching and stutter” noises are the goal, the target audience being dance producers wishing to emulate the turntable trickery of the more creative club DJs. This is not an entirely new idea, and one or two similar plug‑ins have previously seen the light of day. That said, Gross Beat is rather more sophisticated than its predecessors.
The plug‑in provides a two‑bar‑long audio buffer, which is continually refreshed as the host application plays. A vertical green line scrolls from left to right across the plug‑in's display (the 'envelope mapping panel') to indicate the host's playback position relative to the buffer. Two different multi‑point envelopes are superimposed: one (in green) is the 'time mapping' envelope, while the other (in orange) is the 'volume mapping' envelope. These control time and amplitude modulation respectively, and work pretty much as you'd expect.
In the screen grab, for example, the blocky orange envelope creates a stuttering 'gate' effect that gradually increases in speed, while the green wavy envelope spins an imaginary turntable (represented by the small 'clock face' in the upper left‑hand corner) back through 180 degrees, in four smooth steps. If this is difficult to visualise, rest assured that it's much easier to grasp when you can watch the playback marker move and hear the effect on the audio. In use, Gross Beat is actually quite intuitive — certainly more so than the slightly bewildering help file might lead you to believe.
Time and volume envelopes can be edited with a great deal of precision, and can contain straight and curved segments. Right‑clicking an envelope point opens a contextual menu from which preset shapes such as 'Double curve', 'Pulse' and 'Half sine' can be chosen. Just about any imaginable turntable movement can be modelled, along with some that would probably be impossible with physical decks. What the plug‑in can't provide, of course, is the hands‑on, tactile experience of a real turntable — the 'clock face' dial can be clicked and dragged with the mouse pointer, but that's hardly the same thing.
Nevertheless, a degree of improvisation is possible. Thirty‑six preset slots are provided in which time envelopes can be stored, and another 36 for volume envelopes. These have MIDI notes pre‑assigned for ease of switching, while a right‑click allows other external controls to be assigned. Set up a dozen or so envelopes in advance, and you're then free to string them together in whatever order you like, however the urge takes you.
Gross Beat really only does one thing, but does it exhaustively, offering pretty much every function you could ask for — along with a few you probably wouldn't have thought of (for instance, audio files can be loaded, analysed, and used to create new mapping envelopes). The simulations of 'real' DJ effects sound natural and convincing, and are not difficult to create. Other, more unnatural 'glitchy' effects can also be produced, although these are not really where the plug‑in excels.
You probably already know whether a plug‑in for simulating turntable effects in painstaking detail is something you want. If it is, you should certainly be looking at Gross Beat: it's a technically clever implementation with few real competitors. Paul Sellars
Formats: Windows & Mac VST & RTAS; Mac AU
Softube are relative newcomers to the plug‑in scene but their Vintage Amp Room has a reputation for tonal authenticity. Clearly, vintage guitar‑releated gear is their main focus, so when they turned their attention to reverb, it isn't surprising that they chose to model a traditional spring reverb. Softube's plug‑ins are protected by an iLok, which must be obtained separately if you don't already have one, and if you're not sure whether or not the plug‑ins are for you, you can download a 10‑day demo licence to your iLok and put them through their paces.
Spring Reverb aims to provide an authentic spring reverb recreation that's so real it twangs when you kick it! Well, you can't actually kick a plug‑in but there's a Shake lever that does it for you — and it can be fully automated, should you need the effect of somebody kicking a guitar combo part‑way through a song!
The usual wet/dry mic control resides on the left of the plug‑in window, while a matching knob to the right smoothy varies the sound between one, two or three springs. Two smaller knobs add bass and treble tone controls, while a further lever varies the tension of the modelled springs, which in turn changes the tonal quality of the sound and also its decay time. The circuitry around the spring is modelled on a tube topography to add a little warmth and character to the sound, but as with a real spring, there's very little for the user to adjust.
Spring Reverb is by far the most authentic‑sounding spring emulation I've heard so far. Technically speaking, spring reverbs are pretty terrible, because the reverb decay always contains an element of spring twang, and in response to picked notes or drum transients, the twangs become quite pronounced. Artistically, though, the tonal vagaries of the spring reverb work brilliantly for electric guitar (and for some types of vocal part) and this emulation sounds wonderful when used in the right context. The only non‑realistic element is the spring decay, which slides gracefully into silence, whereas the real thing is more likely to have a background of hum and noise.
As you'd expect, the single‑spring emulation is the most obviously twangy, while the three‑spring variant is the smoothest. I found the tension control to sound most 'normal' when set near the centre, but the extreme settings are also very usable and most of the time little or no EQ is required. For recording those reverb‑heavy Peter Green‑style minor blues or just for a bit of real amp vibe added to a DI'd guitar, Spring Reverb is quite excellent. And yes, the simulated 'kicking the amp' sound is scarily close to the real thing!
Tube Delay takes an outwardly retro approach but the description of the model makes no mention of tape. In fact the documentation suggests tube emulation combined with a digital delay. The plug‑in offers up to 1000ms delay, with the ability to set delay times manually or sync to the host DAW's tempo. Both the dry and delayed input signal paths have their own drive controls for setting the amount of tube distortion added, and there are brought together in a large Mix knob. Treble and bass EQ modelled on a passive circuit, is also available. Separate knobs set the delay time and feedback.
In action, the plug‑in produces a very usable and musically solid sound, which can get quite tape‑like if you roll off the bottom end from the output. Oddly, though, the tone controls work on the whole signal, not just the delays, so if you want to EQ the delay only, you need to patch the plug‑in into an aux send and set it to 100 percent wet. Using the drive control in moderation dirties up the sound quite effectively, though it can get a touch too gritty if you lay it on too thickly. At more sensible settings, the tube warmth really comes over well.
One effect this plug‑in doesn't attempt to replicate is the slight pitch modulation many tape echo units exhibit due to worn parts or stretched tapes, but if you patch a standard chorus plug‑in directly before the delay and feed it from an aux send, you can get surprisingly close. The delay also sounds very 'real' when used in conjunction with the Spring Reverb plug‑in.
There are no fancy multi‑tap options here, but as with the Spring Reverb, the end results somehow just sounds right. Even when you set the feedback control right on the edge of building up into feedback, the background mush created by the recirculating delays sounds exactly right. Maybe such vintage authenticity isn't for everyone, but if traditional guitar sounds are your thing, both these plug‑ins really deliver. Paul White
$99 each: Effect Bundle including both and Acoustic Feedback plug‑in $229.