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This article was originally published in issue #42
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Fractal Audio is best known for its incredible Axe FX line of products - high end amp modelling and FX rack/floor based units that are used by some of the best guitar players in the business and renowned for their best-in-class audio quality. Up to now the fantastic effects algorithms that Fractal Audio produce have only been available in their hardware units, but the company has been producing high quality software utilities and even ventured into plug-in based speaker simulation for DAWs with their ‘Cab-Lab’ program, so moving into the effects plugin world seems like the next logical step. To this end the company has released its first plugin based effects algorithm for use in the DAW world - the FAS-FX Reverb plugin.
In entering the plugin world, Fractal created the FAS-FX ‘Board of Advisors’ – a group of Grammy award winning producers, engineers and celebrated musicians, all of whom already used the company’s products. Their input allowed Fractal to tailor the product to fit well with modern DAW work flow and techniques and produce a feature set that would most appeal to the modern musician. The FAS-FX Reverb is essentially the same reverb algorithm taken from the Axe FX II hardware unit but, since modern DAW hardware is so much more powerful than the DSP chips found in the Axe FX, the quality and capabilities of the plugin can be pushed even further than the hardware equivalent.
The plugin itself is very easy to install in AU, VST and AAX formats on both OSX and Windows, requiring an iLok account (but not an iLok USB dongle) to register, before showing up in your chosen DAW under the Fractal Audio banner. Upon opening FAS-FX Reverb you are greeted with a compact and highly attractive user interface that takes its design influence from the company’s Axe Edit software utility with easy to read controls and a page style arrangement with Preset, Basic, Expert, Tone, Dyn/Mod, Config and Store buttons along the top to access each ‘page’ of parameters.
The Basic page contains everything you need to get started with tweaking your Reverb effects. Time, Predelay, Size, Tail Level, Early Level and Spread give you control over the size and shape of your virtual room, whilst a Low and High Cut offer basic EQ shaping. There are seven reverb types to choose from here, namely Chamber, Hall, Plate, Room, Spring, Studio and Tunnel. The Expert page offers a much finer level of tuning over early and late reflections for more demanding users and the Tone page gives you finer EQ control thanks to a four-band parametric EQ. Fractal has very cleverly added in a built-in ‘ducker’ that will dynamically adjust the reverb level according to the input signal if required to make the reverb sit better in a mix, without requiring complex sidechain routing within the DAW. Modulation parameters can also be found on the DYN/MOD page for adjusting the rate and depth of the reverb tail’s modulation. Presets can be stored on your hard-drive for future recall or for sharing with others and can be recalled using the Presets Page where you’ll find a ton of great sounding factory presets ranging from simple rooms to complex effects with huge decay times.
Editing sounds is straightforward and intuitive and preset browsing is made far more effective by Fractal’s use of a Persistent Mix control so that mix level doesn’t change when auditioning different presets. The sounds on offer are simply some of the best this reviewer has ever heard with natural reverbs and creative effects sounding just as convincing as one another. The long decay times, especially when combined with the modulation and tail shaping can produce some truly stunning results that are supremely rich and smooth, but can be tailored to fit into any mix scenario required. Particularly impressive are the spring reverbs that sound extremely realistic but can be turned into some cool, creative delay effects with some tweaking. This is a very versatile plugin that is easily as good as anything else on the market but with a very easy to use interface and some of the most impressive and creative reverb sounds you’ll find out there. It’s also very resource friendly with a low CPU overhead, especially for such a processor intensive effect as reverb, and takes up a very small amount of space on your hard drive.
As the first foray for Fractal into the plugin effects world, FAS-FX Reverb hints at some incredibly exciting things to come. Imagining plugin versions of some of the other superb effects from the Axe FX II with all the extra added horse power that the modern DAW can supply is an enticing prospect and one that this reviewer hopes the company will explore in full. It’s very reasonably priced too, and available directly from Fractal’s website as an instant download. Highly recommended!