SKnote MatterTone Review
SKnote’s gentlemanly, unassuming admission into the league of transient shaping is not one that should go unnoticed or be easily overlooked. Rather, this robust, able-bodied dynamics-device merits serious consideration. MatterTone packs quite a whollop for its low, conservative CPU demands. It doesn't hit your pocketbook hard though; it’s priced at only $30 (USD). This plug-in holds up very well under scrutiny. MatterTone can stalwartly occupy the same DAW space as any of its more costly competition without shame or timidity.
Perhaps, dear reader, you're thinking that we already have enough transient shapers on the market to choose from. What makes this variant of transient shaping unique? For starters, it is a “Level-independent” apparatus. Unlike typical compressors, limiters and most envelope shapers, this plug-in does not react according to the amount of channel gain – it responds directly to the audio source. Secondly, MatterTone is truly a multi-band design, providing separate ‘attack’ and ‘release’ controls for each band.
MatterTone takes typical transient shaping, splits it into three separate bands, and hands it back to you, empowered with some serious BAM!
C’mon, gang, let’s get to know this new recruit better, shall we?
SKnote’s goodies don’t come with extra baggage. No dongles required. No nasty call/response protection mechanisms. Within 12 hours of time-of-purchase, a direct download link is sent to your email inbox. Mr. Quinto Sardo makes it simple and easy without nasty licensing schemes or layers of bothersome piracy protection.
The Caveat? No downloadable demo. The benefit? YOU won’t have to be annoyed with dongles n’ such. You’ll receive a link to your very own personalized, digitally watermarked plug-in. If you decide that you don’t like it, SKnote will FULLY refund your purchase – no questions asked. What’s more, if you bundle-purchase “MatterTone” and “Grasso” together, you get them both for only $40! (A $10 savings, compared to purchasing each one individually).
Quinto Sardo & SKnote are totally “aces” in my books. Over-the-top customer service and high-quality products offered at exceptionally affordable prices. What’s not to love?
There were already a few transient shapers on the market before SKnote released this one. The other transient shapers were already capable of admirably controlling the ‘attack’ and/or ‘sustain’ of a given instrument track. In particular, these kinds of specialized dynamics effects made their worth known on percussive-instrument tracks and any drums bus. One of the first developers to release a plug-in of this type was Stillwell, with their dandy “Transient Monster”. There is also the Native Instruments “Transient Shaper” which I had always found to be one of the best.
When I first heard of SKnote’s MatterTone, I wasn’t feeling any great, tingly excitement. I was perfectly content with my copy of Native Instrument’s Transient Shaper. However, there is something different about “MatterTone” in that it is a multi-band transient shaper.
What’s that? Multi-band? Well, perhaps I should take a closer look at this one. After all, other SKnote products greatly impressed me; why should this one be any different?
The SKnote GUI offers pleasant, eye-appealing charm with its shaded, medium-grey background and ‘channel strip’ design. It’s sized moderately with dimensions of 230px wide by 570px high. The shadowed 3D”ish” appearance of the buttons lends a polished visual impression of a piece of studio hardware. The text is legible, albeit a little bit small. The buttons are smoothly controlled with your mouse and can be precisely positioned while holding down the shift key, on your computer keyboard.
As the user is ‘turning’ each knob, the knob’s value is seen in the small, black view strip located in the lower left corner of the interface.
Each of the three bands is aptly outfitted with ‘Attack’, ‘Release’ and ‘Frequency’ knobs. These are each abbreviated on the interface. The low shelf band ranges from 100hz to 600hz. Mids sweep peaks from 100hz all the way through to 11khz. The high-shelf can cover anywhere from 500hz up to 10k. All in all, there’s a very large degree of transient manipulation to be had with MatterTone.
SKnote plug-ins include a means of conveniently resetting each knob/slider to its default, zero-value positions. This is accomplished by holding the the "Ctrl" key on your keyboard while you left-click with your mouse on the knob or slider. This is not a well documented feature, and it was brought to my attention by my fellow KVR member, "Crackbaby". Thanks, CB.
I really enjoyed my time of bench-testing and reviewing MatterTone. As with other SKnote plug-ins, this one will definitely be one of the “keepers” in my tickle-trunk of tracking favourites. When transient shapers first became popular a few brief years ago, most of us probably think that this nifty method of dynamics control could be improved much more. For the most part, I still feel that way. Notwithstanding, the multi-band approach that SKnote has made available to us does certainly accord even greater control over the transient dynamics spectrum than most.
While MatterTone’s primary function is that of a “transient/envelope shaper”, it can also do quite a remarkable job as a DeEsser. According to Quinto Sardo himself, this came about rather accidentally. This dynamics dynamo is astoundingly versatile. It’s has a subtlety about it that allows it to remain transparent on a track. There I said it . . . the over clichéd industry-hype “T” word; nevertheless, it is “transparent”. MatterTone can be pushed and used for more creative applications, but truth be told, it is extremely well suited to its author’s intended purpose. It is an engineer’s envelope-shaping, secret tool.
I’m jotting down my thoughts and findings about it so that maybe it won’t remain such a secret.
While I was preparing a few audio clips for this review, I piddled around with "EZ Drummer" as a multi-out VSTi inside of Mixcraft Pro Studio 6. [INSERT DISCRETE PRODUCT PROMO HERE] I was able to take ToonTrack’s EZ Drummer (default) pop/rock kit to a different level by inserting MatterTone on the individual Kick, Snare, Hats, and Toms channels.
I go on record here and now, that for the most part, you can’t beat EZ Drummer . . . not even with a “stick”. I have a few high-grade drums sample libraries, including those by Native Instruments, FXpansion, and XLN-Audio. Somehow, for my personal style of music, EZ Drummer “Americana” or “The Classic” are usually the ones I end up choosing. The default EZ Drummer kit is ok, but it really doesn’t exhibit a huge amount of unique character; it tends to be quite, well . . . vanilla. But, and this is a big butt, (er, I mean ‘but’), whack you some MatterTone on the kick, snare n’ toms, and you have you some serious soul, son.
Take a listen.
Oh, by the way, I have SoundMagic's "Neo Loudness" lightly applied on the mains; just for grins n' giggles. To tell you the truth, I'm digging it more and more.
Here screen shots of the settings I used. Do you hear how the Kick Drum has more attack and more sustained "Thud"?
The snare has more "whack" and a crisper top end. I wanted to try achieve a fat 70s snare with a nice crisp attack.
High Hats are more defined. We have some 'sizzle' now.
Much like the snare, I wanted the toms to have a nice snappy attack and 'cut' through better. They are now more focused in the midrange.
MatterTone is very light on CPU. Even on today’s powerful, multi-core PCs and MACs, loading up a DAW with a dozen or more plug-ins will start to make a project ‘feel’ boggy and sluggish. Thankfully, MatterTone does not contribute to system draining sludge; it’s refreshingly light and manageable. Good job, SKnote. 5 Stars!
If you haven’t the interest or the budget to shell out big dough on a dedicated transient shaper plug-in, I invite you to strongly consider giving this super-affordable ‘Gee Whiz’ gadget an honest go. I’m confident that it will be finding its way onto many more tracks that you would have expected. If you already own a transient shaper, you’ll appreciate MatterTone for its ability to genuinely do a little more “shaping” than you are accustomed to.
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.
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