It’s hard to go wrong with it. We’re granted hybrid, semi-fixed settings yielding immediate, yet effective, results. Toss it on a track or bus, tweak three knobs, flick one switch, and select from one of 11 processing styles found in a tidy grouping of LED-indicated toggles. A simple, but attractive LED ‘Gain Reduction’ meter provides visual feedback for the degree of processing that’s being applied.
C’est tout – boom! You be done, like steak!
The sounds produced here span mild, even-tempered limiting; all the way up to searing, energetic force. This is due of course, to the faithful modeling of the hardware unit’s three band ‘FET’ compression circuitry. The “S73” makes it très simple to bring enhancement, lift and energy to your mix. As per usual, parallel processing is a given.
Fix Flanger , as its name would imply, is well-suited to forming dervish, swirling flange effects; or more subtle, phase-meets-chorus tact. It features both delayed and pre-delayed signal streams while providing ‘Auto’ and ‘Manual’ Sweep controls – these being blendable between each other.
Introducing some ‘Delay Offset’, allows for more profuse flanging effects without disturbing the integrity of the source. Tap and ‘Tap/4’ buttons allow you to tempo-tap the LFO sweep rate and/or divide it by quarter note values.
Manual Sweep tends toward a dandy emulation of out-of-sync tape machines – a’ la John Lennon @Abby Roads. In “VSO” Mode, the large, attention-grabbing VSO knob functions much like a VSO (Variable Speed Oscillator) dial would behave on an old studio tape recorder. As such, a very believable facsimile of double-tracking through two speed-differentiated tape machines is easily created.
Doubler is a more chorus-y type of processor, closely emulating the “FIX AD-2” - a real-time auto doubling hardware device. This one is super simple to dial in thanks to its straight-forward, albeit frugal, set of controls. For the most part, “Doubler” enhances its source with lush modulation without becoming unwieldy – unless, of course, you crank up the ‘Regenerate’ knob. Doing so approaches flanging territory. Be that as it may, “Doubler” is absolutely brilliant at producing classic doubling effects.
Dual Sweep mode accords a type of auto-panning - producing obvious, but pleasant ‘swish and sway’. Fine-tuning the Sweep control delivers titillating sonic results - and facilitates mono compatibility checking. Naturally, a ‘Mix’ knob is on hand for parallel processing when you insert “Doubler” as a track effect.
In keeping with contemporary production practices, tempo sync is on tap so no worries there. A trim compliment of self-explanatory controls keeps things simple and efficient. The typical duet of ‘Time’ and ‘Feedback’ is accompanied by passive ‘Bass’ and ‘Treble’ controls – these affecting the processed signal only. Delay times range from an imperceptible 1 ms to a satisfactory 1000 ms.
Tube Delay hosts a rich, colorful saturation/overdrive algorithm. Softube tell us that this is actually a triple-stage tube design, with each layer adding to the big juicy sounds that the unit can dispense. In all truth, this is a key ingredient that aids the widget in distinguishing itself from the crowd. Spanning subtle, harmonic color to gritty rock n’ roll heft, Tube Delay’s “drive” function dishes out heaping helpings of vibe-a-licious echo and delay.
Being very analogue-like in character and tonal depth, “Tube Delay” produces full-bodied sonic textures sure to please both engineer and listening audience alike. If you care to twiddle the ‘Feedback’ knob by means of DAW automation, you can even score some ‘Hendrix-y’ oscillation mayhem. And yes, a ‘mix/dry’ knob is included.
Modular: This flexible, expandable, modular synth is the manifestation of a close collaboration between Softube and Doepfer – originators of the Eurotrack modular synthesis environment.
DISCLAIMER: There is, by far, too much unearthing and exploration required to bring to light all that lays beneath the surface of this instrument, to cover it in this “Volume 1” bundle review. To gain a solid grasp of all “Modular” has to offer, I recommend that you check out Nick Bate’s comprehensive video presentation, over at SonicState: YouTube Link Here
At its core, “Modular” is a deeply modeled emulation of Doepfer’s Eurotrack patchbay-appointed modular system. Conceptually similar to Bob Moog’s “5U” Moog Unit designs, the Eurotrack standard become hugely popular in the mid 90s by reason of the platform’s lesser price point and (for-the-era) cutting edge innovation.
Softube’s synth is parceled with six of Doepfer’s best known modules - those being: A-110 (VCO), A-108 (VCF), A-132-3 (Dual VCA), A-140 (ADSR), A-147 (LFO), and an A-118 Noise & Random Generator. Indeed, the modules were all painstakingly modeled in exquisite detail.
Just in case you’re thinking that six modules seem like a rather sparse endowment, be advised that you can incorporate as many instances of them into the synth’s rack as you desire – or until your CPU caves in. Developed with expansion in mind, there are already three more add-on “Intellijel” synth modules on offer for this platform - available for subsequent purchase. More modules are expected from other developers as time goes on.
Finally, four DAW and MIDI interfacing modules, an FX module, three mixers (mixers for audio input, control voltages and polarizing) and four sequencers (8 step, 16 step and 5-step Penta) complete the substantial array of building blocks. It’s interesting to note that sequencers can be linked for up to 24 step sequencing and beyond.
There are about 200 preset patches at hand, most of which aptly showcase the deep, lavish sonic palette that this synth exudes. Softube’s “Modular” generates roaring, thunderous lows, warm, well-balanced mids and feathery, airy highs. Combined, these aural factors produce satiating tonal tonics; albeit at the expense of demanding CPU requirements.
One niggle that I have concerning the patch presets is there isn't a built-in preset manager provided. The presets can only be accessed through your DAW's interface.
** !! CPU ALERT !! **
I held U-He’s “Diva” up at the top of the list concerning CPU consumption. Truth be told, “Modular” is much, much more demanding on my system. For example, In Studio One’s Performance monitor, Diva (fast mode) bumps the meter up to 20 – 25% for some patches. Softube’s modular synth has driven the demand up to 50% and even higher! Ouch! The sounds it creates are terrific, but that’s too demanding for common use.
Eight drum modules make up our beat-making-box’s simple workflow and configuration. Herein are two kicks, a couple of snares (plus claps), percussion, hats and cymbals. Each channel is configurable with dedicated controls for that particular piece. Kicks feature ‘decay’ and ‘pitch’ knobs. Tone and ‘type’ accompany percussion, while a unique combination of ‘wave’ and ‘synth’ rotary dials furnish the snare, rim, clap and hi-hat strips.
Each element is fed into the mixer section, having its own channel where reverb and delay effects can be added. Automated panning is available via the ‘Ping or Pong’ control. A solitary EQ knob attends each channel, but is tailored specifically for the element in use. As such, the EQ function is somewhat an intelligent auto-tracker in that it dynamically adapts itself for its source.
Softube could never be accused of skimping on the quality of the built-in ambience effects, considering that they’ve benevolently implemented the outstanding reverb algorithm from their illustrious “TSAR-1”. What’s more, the channels are all routable through an adaptation of the Softube “Valley People Dyna-mite” dynamics processor.
In keeping with Softube’s modus operandi, “Heartbeat” is more than capable of slamming out an explosive barrage of analogue-like beats. At the final output stage, the elements are channeled into a “master bus”. Here, we find a global saturation knob, three-band EQ, High & Low pass filters, and finally, ‘Width’ and ‘mono cut’ controls. The latter determining the frequency ceiling under which lower sounds get summed to mono.
These are Softube goodies – nuff said!
Seriously though, once you decide to take your audio plug-in purchases up to the Pro-grade level, it more or less comes down to thine own personal preferences regarding design and/or features. If you prefer authentic analogue-ish charm - easily dialed in employing vintage-looking interfaces - it’s tough to find better than Softube’s variety. This crew of Swedish rock n’ roll scientists have been crafting elite, “old skool”, vibe-in-the-box plug-ins now since 2003. They know their ‘stuff’. Many thousands of professional recording studios worldwide rely on Softube products to churn out chart topping hits.
None of these pieces of kit could ever be accused of sounding cheap, generic or ‘vanilla’. Due to scrupulous component modeling, highly-convincing analog quality is readily imparted to any sterile digital DAW project.
To this reviewer’s ears, each individual appliance in the “Volume 1” bundle delivers superb audio quality and identifiable sonic character. The range of compressors and EQs are second-to-none and surpass the common fray with little to no aliasing or unpleasant artifacting.
For instance, the “Summit TLA-100A” convincingly captures the magic and essence of its original hardware namesake. There’s convincing, clean, analogue-like warmth (without mud) a-plenty on offer. The “TLA-100A” babies its audio source with gentle, breathing, organic compression or it can dim the lights and seduce your auditory senses with exciting saturation and color.
The same can be said of all the peripherals packed into “Volume 1”. While being used judiciously, there’s just something about Softube plug-ins that imparts warmth (without mud), harmonics, ‘air’, 3D-dimension, and yes, vibe-y-ness to audio material. Drive them with some deliberate intent and your tracks will take on colorful, vintage character in all the right ways - rich, soul-stirring saturation and ‘hair’.
If pressed, I would also categorize Softube’s FX plug-ins as predictable; as in reliable and dependable. Use them gently and they infuse wonderful dimensionality – push their font ends and they respond with gusto. You have to really work hard to make these sound bad.
The POSITIVE | I dig Softube’s plug-in GUIs and I'm grooving on their well-laid out, simplified interface designs. They facilitate fast workflow and immediate results. This, combined with photo realistic graphics of vintage analogue gears, never fails to bring a satisfied grin to my mug.
Knobs and sliders are spaced appropriately. Not-a-one of these plug-ins suffers from a cluttered, disoriented or cludg-y layout. All items are clearly marked and provide accurate visual feedback – typically along the bottoms of the plug-in windows.
Speaking of the GUI controls – me like-y. Me like-y a lot. There seems to be just enough ‘resistance’ to prevent fiddly mouse movements. Thankfully, you won’t be incumbent with any circular-style button manipulation here. Rather, it’s good old-fashioned linear up/down dragging. Fine control is actualized by keeping your keyboard’s ctrl key depressed while dragging (command key on MAC).
The NEGATIVE | As screen resolutions increase, it's becoming all the more necessary for plug-in developers to accommodate contemporary desktop sizes. I generally enjoy the overall appearance of Softube GUIs; however, I strongly encourage Softube’s developers to revisit their GUI development and release updates featuring resizable, scalable interfaces across their entire product line. Arturia’s “V Collection 5” ** is a perfect example of this kind of implementation. U-He’s “DIVA” also boasts a beautiful, resizable interface.
On my current system’s native resolution of 1920 x 1080p, I deem many of the Softube GUIs to be too small. I have trouble reading the text elements and many of the knobs and sliders seem under par for me. In all fairness, Softube originally released many of the plug-ins contained in the “Volume 1” bundle when 1368 x 768 was still considered a typical resolution. Alas, we now enjoy 4k (and even 5k) resolutions on the highest end systems. Understandably, smaller plug-in GUIs are not very well favored anymore.
Performance & Functionality
“Hey, it's not rocket surgery or brain science needed here, folks.” *Grin.
These babies are a real treat to wangle awe-inspiring sounds out of. Their intuitive interfaces belie the exacting, elaborate DSP code housed under the hoods. As a general statement, even a rookie engineer can easily instantiate Softube effects on some tracks – and pull up rousing results – without cracking open a user’s manual.
Nonetheless, if you would like to glean some great insights and tips, be sure to watch, listen and learn from Grammy-nominated engineer, Ryan West (Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye West) in the included 90-minute mix-tutorial video.
Now-a-days many developers are implementing some form of built-in parallel processing – a task that used to require somewhat elaborate processes within a DAW. Softube is one of the first groups of developers who recognized the urgency to simplify this crucial production exercise. To their credit, they introduced ‘Direct Injection’ in response to the needs of burgeoning engineers and busy Pros alike. It’s so much easier to tweak a single knob than resorting to setting up parallel routing or copying tracks. Direct Injection streamlines parallel processing and helps reduce duplicated tracks and/or superfluous AUX tracks.
CPU consumption ranges from negligible to moderate depending of which bundled plug-in is in use. Overall, I consider the collection to be light to moderate on system resources. For example, on my Intel Core i7 7700HQ, “TSAR-1” hovers around 6% or 7% @44.1/24bit/512 samples in Studio One Pro 3.5’s performance monitor. Ableton Live 9 indicates a 5% to 6% hit at the same project settings. As a point of reference, “IKM CSR Plate” uses 3% to 4% in Studio One Pro 3.5 on my system. 2c-Audio’s “Aether” and FabFilter’s “Pro-R” both hit between 8% - 11%.
Licensing & Copy Protection: iLok – Pace - Gobbler. All Softube products are copy protected by Pace, but do NOT have to be iLok *dongle protected. Mind you, I recommend using an iLok dongle because hard drives can crash, destroying machine-based activations.
A closed, proprietary product-management system, by the name of “Gobbler”, is now being utilized by Softube. Through the (downloadable) Gobbler app, you can access downloads for all your personal Softube product purchases. As of the time of this publication, older Softube products are still downloadable as an “ALL-IN-ONE” installer. Going forward, new releases are limited to the Gobbler system.
If you haven't an existing iLok account, you'll be urged to create one while setting your Gobbler account.
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Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel music artist and minister. Charles had been a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.