Airwindows has released Desk, an AU plug-in for Mac OS X to turn your DAW into a real mixing desk. It goes on every channel, every buss, every output - everywhere - and turns digital math into very clean console sound. +18db headroom. Not a fuzz tone or tape sim. No mud. Desk costs $49.99.
How and why it works, according to Airwindows
Very few things in real life, whether acoustic or electrical, are really mathematically perfect. Air compresses, circuits distort, everything becomes nonlinear- yet DAWs, even ones as nice as Logic, remain entirely linear. That's great to build on, but it compels people to throw all sorts of tape emulations, etc. at the problem.
Desk takes both signal level and slew rate and makes them nonlinear. You could say it warps the reality of your DAW. But unlike tape and distortion effects, Desk is not designed to distort at 0 db. Its headroom is a solid 18 db or so above zero, like a real console- and it isn't meant to sound great when run into blatant distortion, any more than real consoles do. (Hit a buss hard if you really want the sound of stressed hardware.)
Instead, Desk builds on the lessons learned by the popular freebie Channel, setting up a non-linearity that is super gentle. If you don't have really good monitoring, you might not hear any effect from just one copy of Desk in the signal path- nor should you- this isn't about dirt, it's about clarity and reality.
But when you have Desk on every channel and every buss and every output - hitting at least two and sometimes three or more in some routings - that's when things start to gel and sound not like a DAW anymore. Desk is set up to handle any type of sound, even very dense bright sounds. It's not just for dirty rock music, it's totally versatile. It lends itself to old school use of gain staging - record stuff at its intended level in the mix and everything will fall together incredibly easily, without ever sounding like you used fake digital 'warming'.
Desk does not supply its own safety limiter or clipper- again, its headroom is something like 18 db over DAW output clipping (thanks to Logic's floating point busses). If you need to hit the output buss in such a way that it overdrives, you can use ShortBuss for a fatter sound (the output should place Desk before ShortBuss) or ADClip for a cleaner, harder sound- or indeed any other saturation or limiter plugin you like. Bear in mind that ShortBuss and ADClip don't apply the slew non-linearity that Desk applies, so you still need a Desk instance in there first to get the full effect.