Plugins with Mojo

Okay, so previously I mentioned we were using a bunch of external analog effects for this project because digital multi-effects and computer plugins don’t have a lot of “character”. While it’s true there are plenty of cheap plugins and digital rack equipment that will do the job but also sound sort of sterile and lifeless, it’s not true that they all sound that way. And, it’s important to note, sometimes it’s a good thing to be able to put some effects on your tracks without ending up with “character” and “mojo” dripping all over them. Anyway, here are some of the plugins that we plan to use on this project.

First is Phase Two by Audio Damage. This one is cheating a bit because while it isn’t an old vintage analog effect, it was designed to emulate one. Nevertheless, the important thing is that it sounds great, it’s a plugin and we plan to use it. It is patterned after the Mutron Bi-Phase, which is a really cool old phaser that I would love to own if it didn’t cost $1000 on ebay. Audio Damage have a bunch of other great effect plugins, another one that we plan to use on this particular project is Reverence, which is modelled after an old Lexicon reverb module.

Hey, guess what, more digital models of old vintage analog effects! Universal Audio makes fantastic plugins, and in particular they have modelled a trio of old Roland effects that I can’t resist using much too often. The RE-201 Space Echo, pictured above, is a model of an old tape echo that again is overpriced on Ebay, and is also a pain in the ass to maintain since you constantly need to replace the tape and clean the tape heads. I have still come close to buying one on multiple occasions, and probably will be tempted again in the future, mostly because everyone I know who has ever owned one always raves about it. For now, the UA plugin will have to do. Luckily it sounds great, just wish the delay was a liiiiittle bit longer so we could eek out dotted 1/8 note delays at the slowburn 94bpm tempo. The other two effects are both choruses, the SDD-320 Dimension D and the Boss CE-1, and they also both sound fantastic.

The Universal Audio compressors and EQs are the best plugin ones I’ve used. You run things through them and they just end up sounding better. I don’t know why, and I don’t ask, I just run lots of things through them. We’ll be using the Fairchild, 1176LN and LA-2A compressor models, and Cambridge, Pultec and Neve EQ models for all our compressor and EQ needs for this project. UA also has a fantastic emulation of the EMT 140 plate reverb that we’ll be using on a lot of tracks.

This one may look like it’s also an emulation, but it’s actually not! PSP make some great plugins with vintage style and feel and sound, including the Nitro multi-effects processor shown above. Other than the previously mentioned Universal Audio plugins, Nitro has the best software chorus we’ve heard. It also has great filters, can do phasers, delays, flangers, all sorts of stuff. Great plugin! PSP also makes an emulation of an old Lexicon delay that we’ll probably use on the project, and some tube/tape saturation emulations that will come in handy at the mixing stage. Added bonus, they just released the UB versions (finally!) of Nitro and the delays today, so I can use it on my Macbook!

Finally, we have Izotope Trash which we used all over our last EP. This plugin combines distortion, compression, EQ, guitar amp modelling, and delay. We mostly use the distortion and amp modelling parts; once we started using this plugin on drums, we couldn’t stop. We had so much fun putting drum and synth sounds through the amp models that I was tempted to buy a real guitar amp just to run things through it, mic the sound, and re-record it. So far I have resisted the temptation, but one of these days I will probably be weak…

We also have a lot of other plugins that also sound great, and also get a lot of use, but these are the ones we’re going to restrict ourselves to for this project. And even these will see limited, specific use… in general we would like to record everything through the external effects live, for several reasons. First, we want the album to have a live, loose feel, and it’s hard to get that when you have the option of manually automating and tweaking every parameter in your plugin at mix time to make it sound absolutely perfect. Also, we’d like to control the effects in real time along with the synth parts, and hopefully get some sort of synergistic interaction between all the devices. And finally, we wanted the chance to try out a bunch of new and old analog effects and see if they really do sound better than their digital counterparts. The plugins have the benefit of being convenient, consistent, and easy to use, so they won’t be going anywhere even if they don’t “win” the contest. The external effects, on the other hand, are going to need to give us something special to make up for the hassles associated with them. Either way, it will be fun to play with them for a few weeks at least…