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This article was originally published in issue #45
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Andi Picker has been at the toybox again...
In some ways plugins are a bit like guitar pedals, not just in the obvious way that they’re all effects, but in that so many manufacturers clearly like the idea of making them, and then go on to produce just another version of the same thing that we all have far too many of already. Many coders of plugins never rise above the level of a few shout-outs on social media, but a small number manage to carve themselves a niche by being good (or these days, by being extremely good) or by being different. A vanishingly small number of plugin producers go onto achieve “Industry Standard” status, to become the names that you can find in the small print if you read the mixing notes on major hits in all sorts of genres of music. That’s where SoundToys sits.
The SoundToys 5.1 plugin suite contains all of the Sound Toys plugins (except that I couldn’t find the Little AlterBoy robot voice generator in the rack for some reason) and a virtual Effect Rack. It has some very flexible modules that cover just about everything you might want to do with delay, distortion, phase-shifting, pitch-shifting, panning and tremolo, as well as some single function emulations which tend to stay away from the tried-and-tested models; so instead of a 1176 compressor, you get a Shure Level Loc, instead of a Neve console you get an Altec 1567A – and there’s even an expanded version of the classic ‘80’s Prime Time analogue/digital hybrid delay unit. That said, if you do want a Neve, or an EMI/Chandler channel, you can find them tucked away in the Decapitator module; fancy an Echoplex or a Space Echo? Echo Boy will do you.
The emulations sound great and because they’re a bit different I find that I’m pulled away from my “Neve on Drums, API on guitars” sensibilities, and into a world of just try it. Interfaces range from very simple to a bit crowded (in some cases with a “Tweak” button to open additional options). There’s going to be a learning curve to get to grips with everything that SoundToys 5 can do, but there’s also a huge amount of goodness to be had by nudging a few knobs and pushing a few buttons and seeing what happens, and there are plenty of presets at both module and global levels to get started with.
Plugins can be used individually, or in the Effect Rack, and most have a 'mix' control that allows parallel processing (the Effect Rack also has a universal mix). The rack also offers a Recycle control that seems to allow you to feed-back some of the output to the input, which can create some seriously messed-up modulation sounds. I was slightly surprised that there are no series/parallel routing options within the rack, but you can load individual plugins and route them as you like in your DAW, so that’s a minor issue. I’d have also liked to see undo options, and I lost a whole rack worth of effects that I’d set-up manually by accidentally clicking a 'next-preset' button which took me to the next preset (go figure) but then had no way to get back to where I was.
What about sound? What about the individual plugins? Well, there really is far too much to go into in the whole suite in detail. Some of the plugins, like the classic Echo Boy and the phase and tremolo effects, have a hundred and one options under the covers, while others like the Devil-Loc compressor and the Radiator console are very-much twist-and-go, and many of them are now on my 'won’t do without' list. There are a lot of incredibly pleasing sounds very close to the surface in these plugins, with a lot of additional fine control to tailor them to exactly what you want to hear, and I keep discovering that they do far more than I initially thought they did.
Keep an eye on social media and you might find occasional offers for free copies of the reduced (but still excellent) versions of some of the plugins. I’ve happily used a few for several years now, and have also just grabbed the new Sie-Q equalizer for the initial launch price of free. You can also get a free 30 day trial of the whole package so you can give it a go for yourself.
I find that mixes that I do using SoundToys tend to sound different to mixes I do with other plugins, perhaps because they actually are different, but I think there’s also an element of bringing out my inner child and letting him play with the crayons for a while. Not a lot of software does that to me, and I love them for it. Check out the video for some sound examples, and pop over to http://www.soundtoys.com to find out more and to grab a trial copy. A fantastic plugin suite that manages to be both original and highly flexible!