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Hybrid 3 [read all reviews]
Reviewed By bduffy [read all by] on 3rd July 2018
Version reviewed: 3.0.7 on Mac
2 of 3 people found this review helpful.
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Stunning functionality and sound.

I picked this up for an insane $1.00 on pluginboutique.com. If you ever see this come up on special, you must grab it. This is simply one of the best all-purpose synths out there today.

AIR Technology has been around for a long time; until recently, their plug-ins were only available to Pro Tools users (they make the default effect suite included with Pro Tools), but they have opened it up in recent years to other formats.

I expected this to fall along the lines of the instruments included with Pro Tools; professional, but outdated, bearing the imprint of circa-mid-2000's. But boy, was I wrong. Of course the presets are techno-centric, but they sound fantastic and serve as great starting points. I found myself sinking in and wasting many an hour digging in and even coming up with ideas.

What really sets this apart is the multitude of features. It reminds me a lot of Omnisphere, without being sample-based: dual oscillators that can be blended or turned on or off separately; a rich step-sequencer and arpeggiator; a rich selection of saturation for the filters and excellent in-line effects. I'm reminded that AIR used to be Wizoo, who made some of Steinberg's finest, long-lost synths, whose ethos still runs through Cubase today.

Not only this, it's insanely light on resources. I'm not sure that I could top out Cubase, running on a 2013 MacBook.

I could go on and on, but really, this is a tremendous, still totally relevant synth today, and worth every penny at full price, but it's shocking that one can pick this up for as little as one dollar. I urge anyone to check it out; it's the underrated secret deal of the decade.

sixtyfive [read all reviews]
Reviewed By bduffy [read all by] on 1st April 2017
Version reviewed: 1.x on Windows
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sixtyfive is one of the things I miss from when I was using Windows. God, I would kill for a Mac port of this (but I realize that's impossible).

I've tried UAD's and Waves' dbx emus, and to me, this one sounds the best, retaining the bottom end of the input and not collapsing into digital mush as quickly as the aforementioned—especially at high gain-reduction levels.

It's worth 10x its asking price. Cannot recommend it enough.

Renaissance Axx [read all reviews]
Reviewed By bduffy [read all by] on 7th October 2014
Version reviewed: 9 on Mac
4 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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An Underrated Gem

RenAxx fooled many people when it suddenly appeared in the early 00's: it looks simply like a hastily-reskinned RenVox, with the exact same controls. I ignored it for a long time, but I have rediscovered it since then, finding it quite useful for drums, of all things.

The GUI couldn't be simpler; if you can get past the retina-blazing "Tolex" background, it's just a simple threshold/makeup compressor with automatic release control, and a limiter at the output to prevent clipping (just like Renaissance Vox!). The key to the Renaissance compressors' success, I think, is the automatic release parameters, or whatever is going on behind the scenes.

Compression is smooth and transparent, and you can see why this is marketed towards beginners-and-up. There seems to be something about the compression that "fattens" the sound a bit—somewhat reminiscent of Vintage Warmer's release character—that of course works well for guitars, but I have found to be really effective on drums (individual and full busses), and it can make a snare sound fuller, even at higher levels. You can push this thing quite heavily and still retain a good attack characteristics. It's very useful for slapping quickly on an acoustic guitar bus too, say, to gel them together and tame unruly plosives.

All in all, I'd say this is a delightful tool, and when one surveys the plug-in horizon, there are few compressors marketed specifically for guitars, so I think it's a great effect to have at hand when you need it—especially if you're more of a songwriter than an engineer. And if you're put off by its simplicity, just remember: some of the world's most coveted compressors are fixed-ratio/auto-release compressors with simple controls (UREI 1176, anyone? LA2A?), and I think this is a plug-in classic that deserves reappraisal and a higher place in peoples' plugin roster—especially if you got it during a Waves sale, or free with your Waves bundle.

Supercharger [read all reviews]
Reviewed By bduffy [read all by] on 13th January 2014
Version reviewed: 10.9 on Mac.
Last edited by bduffy on 13th January 2014.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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Native Instruments really shocked with this too-good-to-be-free compressor. This is probably the best "one-knob"-style compressor since Audio Damage's Rough Rider (but without the high-cut), and one of the best compressors you'll try this year.

What's really wonderful about Supercharger is that it gives you some control over the sound, including the all-important wet/dry mix, plus saturation and "Punch" modes. The Punch mode is reminiscent of Cubase's Vintage Compressor's punch mode, creating a very sharp attack, similar to a transient designer. The saturation is typically pleasant and well-suited to bass and drums.

Overall one NI's best offerings, at one of their best prices! $49 is more then reasonable for this little powerhouse, and for those who were paying attention last Christmas, they got it for free. Amazing.

Striptool [read all reviews]
Reviewed By bduffy [read all by] on 8th December 2012
Version reviewed: 1 on Windows
0 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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I was a little surprised to see this old relic pop up on the "Products" page!

I'm not sure if this will work for many people running modern systems anymore (DX is dead), but it was actually a pretty good-sounding EQ/channel strip in its day. What I recall is that the controls are programmed terribly - they "pull" when you expect them to "push" - and I was forced to stop using it. Which is too bad, it had a nice high shelf and gentle compressor.

Not too much to add, apart from that. There are many, superior, free modern options for channel strips (not the least of which is Cubase 7's excellent new Channel Strips), so I would avoid this.

SplineEQ [read all reviews]
Reviewed By bduffy [read all by] on 29th May 2012
Version reviewed: 1.0.9 on Mac
3 of 3 people found this review helpful.
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This is quite an extraordinary EQ. I'm usually not crazy about Bezier curves (even in Adobe Illustrator, they drive me mad!), but this EQ gives me an excuse to get more familiar with them. But I do have to say, the "killer app" with this EQ is the amazing spectral display.

The RGB display undulates and moves with the audio signal (red = low end, high = blue, as expected), making it very easy to zero in on hot spots in the recording. I was able to instantly remove the boxy character from a tricky voiceover in a mixed ad spot, while leaving the background music largely unaffected, just by adding a generous dip around the "green" area, which was clearly the VO's fundamental area.

There are some great tricks here too, like being able to transpose and adjust the gain of filters. The limiter is a nice touch, although it doesn't seem to protect the signal from distorting at all. It may need another tweak or two, but generally, I would never boost enough to make my EQ scream, so this is not a big deal.

Another con: there does not seem to be a way to bypass a band; you can only create and delete bands, which seems a little destructive for the sensitive art of mastering.

Also a great feature: you can control how precisely the EQ follows the "ideal equalization curve". At lower values, a dotted line will show how much the actual EQ is diverging from the ideal EQ, and you can increase the precision to more closely match the "ideal". I could use it a highest quality in Wavelab 7, no problem, but it sounded good even at lower settings.

Overall, this seems ideal as a mastering tool, given its buffer sizes and CPU use. Again, it's easy to find trouble areas in your mixes with the display, and the curve splines can give you very precise control over the signal, or even offer a novel way of approaching EQ. At $19, this is a crazy steal, and there's a 4-band version, which could already meet most mixing/mastering needs. I strongly advise readers looking for a cool linear-phase filter to check it out.

Presence [read all reviews]
Reviewed By bduffy [read all by] on 4th May 2012
Version reviewed: 1.0.2 on Mac
4 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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The best thing about Presence is that it's simple. You can insert this, twist a couple knobs and make your source sound better right away. I find this particularly useful for dead-sounding mixes, but can be just the thing for drums, acoustics, vocals and the typical targets that benefit from exciters.

The GUI is pretty straightforward: Low & High gain, input/output gain and a very-welcome low-cut filter (this is great because you can augment the lows with the exciter, but roll off unwanted subs with the filter). A unique feature is the "Tilt" dial, which can be used to shift the whole spectrum to more highs or more lows. I find you can really dial in a nice, professional high end on a master with this. I'm not sure if this is just a simple "tilt EQ", but usually things are more dynamic with SKnote's stuff. At any rate, it does not sound harsh, even on significant boosts!

I do have to take some points of the GUI for a reason that plagues most of SKNote's "grey" line: the grey-on-black text is very hard to read, and I just have to wonder why he doesn't punch of the whiteness a few notches. Overall, I love the GUI, but I just cannot read the font on my smaller monitor.

I like to follow up Presence with SKnote's Roundtone tape emulation plug-in. This can help soften any harsh tones from the boosts in the exciter, for a more natural sound.

All in all, it's hard not to recommend this plugin! I would say it doesn't quite clear up the midrange elements like a BBE or Aphex, but is one of the best I've heard for high and low end. Another interesting and appealing release from SKNote, again featuring his unique approach to plug-in design, at a very low price.

DC1A [read all reviews]
Reviewed By bduffy [read all by] on 6th March 2012
Version reviewed: 1.1 on Mac
4 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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Well, this is a nice little gem! A free, cross-platform, dirt-simple compressor that delivers a punchy sound that is great for enlivening instruments. I could see this getting a lot of play on drums, and also on things like pianos, that benefit from a strong attack and added sustain.

The interface is tasteful and appealing; a nice "aged" look that signals what to expect from it. And, of course, the two-dial compression solution - you drive it with the input and compensate with the output, 1176-style. Simple. Done. The VU meter gives you a nice, attractive readout of gain reduction too.

The compression character is nice and snappy, with a strong attack characteristic and long-ish attack, super-ideal for snares and adding ye olde "punch" to material. I'm lucky in that it just naturally gives off a kind of compression I tend to favour, so I think I'll be using it a lot in projects. As a composer-mixer-DIY guy, I tend to favour simple solutions for those times when I can't take an hour to dial in the perfect compression. It's nice when it just has it.

An almost-instant update just added a new feature, a "relaxed" button which allows for a more natural sound. So now you have two free compressors in one!

In a way, it reminds me a little bit of Molot, another wonderful free compressor that can drastically change your input signal. You just don't have to worry about any settings with this one - at all!

To sum up, I highly recommend, and I love that it's cross-platform. A big kudos to Klanghelm for offering this freebie, and considering this is just a "snapshot" of its bigger brother, I look very forward to checking out the full version (and at $20, it could be a real threat!).

Devil-Loc - Audio Level Destroyer [read all reviews]
Reviewed By bduffy [read all by] on 8th February 2012
Version reviewed: 1.0.5 on Mac
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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Note: I was lucky enough to get in on the free-version deal when this was released in 2011. Sadly, the free version doesn't seem to exist anymore, and is now a slightly expensive plug-in. I will base my review off the free version mainly, but I did try out the full version when it was released.

Devil-Loc is an incredible, lo-fi drum compressor/distorter. This has become my go-to plug-in for dirty parallel compression on drums. It's really such a simple plug-in; a small tweak of the parameters and your drums (and basses) will be screaming in glorious agony. I'd say it's destined to be a classic, if it became more widely-known.

The controls are super-simple: basically "CRUSH" = compression, and "CRUNCH" = distortion. It reminds me of CamelPhat Free in many ways, right down to its "instantly sounds good" factor. I find the compressor sounds best below about the "7" mark. The compression gets a little unpredictable when cranked, kind of "ducky", but experimentation should be encouraged with this plug-in. A real selling point is the attack on the compression; it's very spiky, and delivers and instant punch to it that is ideal for drums, and can add real presence to bass lines.

The distortion is wonderful, warm and tube-y, and can really help tracks stand out and sound less "digital". Not much more to add, except to watch out when blending it with the compression.

I would've given this a "10", except for a couple of factors:

  1. There is no output gain control/compensation, so this gets very loud, very easily.

  2. The full version of this plug-in is rather expensive for what you get. The full version only adds a couple more parameters and is $129. I'd have a tough time recommending this to anyone apart from the most moneyed musician. But if you're inclined, you won't regret it!
  3. I've found it to be a little buggy from time to time. I will report this to SoundToys.

But all in all, an amazing plug-in! And I'm sure those of us who were fortunate enough to get the free version will be wringing our hands for eternity as we reside over our warm, trashy parallel compression busses...

Nebula3 Pro Bundle [read all reviews]
Reviewed By bduffy [read all by] on 18th May 2011
Version reviewed: 1.3.448 on Mac.
Last edited by bduffy on 19th May 2011.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful.
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It's been a rocky road with me and Nebula. After years of passionate endorsement from other users, my jury is still out on this thing. I understand the developer is breaking new ground, but I have trouble regarding Nebula as anything other than an experiment in progress.

First off, the interface - despite its cool, retro look - is confusing, and worse, extremely sluggish, and tough to make precise settings. There is also a delay when changing banks and presets; just one of those things that ads up to a tedious experience. Lots of silly names don't help the user understand what model is what, but I understand this is a limitation in a world shackled with intellectual property, but most of them are simply indecipherable.

That being said, it's nice that the user has full control over the presets (programs), and can download and install programs at will. Although the sluggish, convoluted Nebula ethos is extended to the website, where it's very confusing to tell what section you're in, which one you should be in or where you get your standard presets from. Perhaps I haven't spent enough time on these sites, and the newer site is a vast improvement on the labyrinthian, punishing old site, so maybe it's just me. But I find it hard to tell what program or application is which, or which is an update. Oh well.

So sound-wise, this is where the big payoff should be, right? I personally think the user interface puts me off so much that maybe it colours my opinion, but I've never heard anything that blows me away. Some of the EQs definitely sound nice, if I can find a program that does what I want, but I've found the compressors to be very strange sounding; more like transient designers than the sacred equipment they're supposed to be exact clones of. Again, maybe I've just installed the wrong "programs", but I would point out that this doesn't really happen with any other effect I own, and is counterproductive to mixing.

Time-based effects don't fare much better, with choruses sounding like a single sine wave carving through your track. I just don't think this technology is ready, at this point.

And the latency is outrageous. I'm very used to high latencies, I'm not that picky, but adding a couple of these to a mix will make my DAW feel terribly unresponsive, and CPU builds up quickly. I just don't hear the crucial reward of stunning sound I'm supposed to hear for such a deadly performance hit.

Support is very good, the developer is a good guy and clearly believes in the product and wants to help, clearly doing his best. I always enjoy dealing with him.

I hate to be hard on a nice, independent developer, but this product just hasn't clicked with me. I've bought and stuck with it for the promise of the future, and we'll see where it goes. For now, it sits unused on my hard drive. Unfortunately, in the meantime, virtual analog technology is getting better and better, so I would like to see some serious optimizations in this product before I take another stab at it.