I really enjoyed Oli Larkin’s original Dronebox, so I was keen to see what improvements he’d made to an already unique comb-filtering effect.
User Interface: The original GUI that looks ‘good enough to eat’ courtesy of its chocolate-brown and jaffa orange colour scheme! Tasty. There is a lot packed into this bar of chocolate though. Initially, the GUI looks quite confusing as there are a lot of controls to play with. However, once I’d spent a bit of time with the excellent manual, all of Dronebox’s functionality is actually well-placed on the GUI, rather like a channel-strip, in fact. The controls are all crisp and easy to use. A nice touch is the inclusion of various ‘inputs and outputs’ which make it look like a hardware box.
Sounds and Features: Essentially, Dronebox consists of a bank of 6, tuneable comb filters. Each of these filters can be tuned to a particular resonance. Once an audio source is applied to the comb filter, it will then resonate at the chosen frequency. At its most basic form, this will give pitch to a pitchless sound, such as a snare drum for example. That’s a simplified version of the basic process; there are plenty of ways of achieving that outcome so this a great effect for tweaking and experimenting with. I really enjoyed this process as it brings unpitched sounds to life (try it on a drum loop for instance) and that’s what makes Dronebox so rewarding to use – almost like you’re getting something from nothing.
That’s only the basics of course. There are plenty of goodies available to further process your sounds. There is a multimode filter at your disposal, a tempo-synced delay (with ping-pong), a basic reverb, a signal generator to provide more input noise to the comb-filters, and a cool pitch-shifter which alters the pitch of all the comb filter at once (great for making your drums ‘talk’!). On top of that little lot, you have 4 LFO’s and an extensive modulation matrix for really cooking up some warped and sweeping weirdness!
So, what does all this actually sound like then? It all sounds fantastic and very different to your run-of-the-mill effects such as chorus, flanging, phasing etc. I find the effected sound quite difficult to describe because it’s so different. Sweeping, swirling, droning, resonating – it’s all that. However, the most important thing to know is that it’s musical and can be used in many contexts. It’s a generous demo, so download it and hear for yourself!
Documentation: No two ways about it; the manual is excellent. Well written and well illustrated, it provides a simple tutorial on how to utilise each of Dronebox’s many parameters. I found this to be a huge help, so top marks there. Additionally, there is help available on Dronebox itself to remind you what each of the many controls actually does – a very nice touch.
Presets: There are over 30 presets supplied, all of which show off quite a range of sounds and showcase Dronebox’s unique sound. I think this is quite a complex effect, so some more presets wouldn’t go astray to really show potential customers what they can expect.
Customer Support: I’ve never had to contact Oli for any support issues, but I’m quite sure he’d be very keen to provide assistance if required.
Value for Money: Very good value for money – there is a LOT in Dronebox for the money. Incidentally, its actually part of a bundle, so that only increases its vfm even further.
Stability: I use Dronebox on a PC in FLStutudio and it’s never given me the slightest problem.
Overall impressions: This is definitely an effect that you have to work at to produce decent results from – no free rides with Dronebox! However, your efforts will be very well rewarded. It provides a very varied and musically useful palette of sounds, quite unlike standard FX. I think it has broad appeal and would find a home in most styles of electronica, whether to completely alter the sound out of all recognition, or just to give some subtle ‘colour’. Lots of fun!