Front DAW is a very affordable analogue console emulation plug-in for Mac and Windows, and it's compatible with VST, VST3, AAX and AU hosts. There's a two–week free trial of the paid version, after which you can buy it or continue to use the feature-limited free version. The software uses license files for authorisation, so you can use the software on all your computers, and it works at sample rates in excess of 192kHz employing 64-bit audio processing.
Apparently, the idea for this particular plug-in came from English producer and remixer Greg Brimson, who also coined the catchy name. As with other console emulations, the idea is that you place one instance of the plug-in at the start of your signal chain on each channel and/or bus in a mix (or selected channels if you don't want to treat everything). That way, your DAW's channels behave more like those on an analogue desk. It's good, then, that the CPU load is so small: you can use a lot of instances without giving your computer a hard time.
Real analogue desks have channels that all behave slightly differently from each other because of component tolerances, and that's what the VARM (Variable Analogue Random Modelling) technology at the heart of this plug-in sets out to replicate. Each instance can be set to one of three types of saturation (based on a US, a British or a German console), and the Mojo knob dictates the degree of saturation. An input gain control operates over a ±24dB range, adjusting the level of signal that's fed into the plug-in, and there's also a variable high-pass filter adjustable from off up to 500Hz. The logo changes colour (from amber through to red) to act as a basic level meter.
The GUI is resizable, has a nice retro appearance, and can be used on mono or stereo channels. The designers have included a few presets, but it's so easy to use that you really don't need them (and you'd still need to set the Input Gain control according to how much headroom you leave when recording).
The CPU load is extremely small, so on any half-decent machine you can afford to instantiate a lot of these plug-ins without giving your computer a hard time.
With Mojo set to around 30 percent, the effect is fairly subtle — I found it to be most evident on drums, percussion and bass instruments. Subtle is usually good, though, as if you made every track in a session really dirty, the final mix would be a real mess! Used in moderation, mixes sound just that bit more solid and warm, and pushing maybe just the drum tracks and bass a bit harder can help them pop out of a mix. It's not the only plug-in that can perform this role, but it's a good one, and the price is right: I've a feeling this will find its way into my default song template!