Friday, April 3, 2009
Product: The Silverline Collection
Manufacturer: D16 Group Audio Software
Type: AU/VST plug-in effects
Support: http://www.d16.pl/faq, online user forum
Platforms: VST for Windows 2000/XP or later, VST & AU for OSX 10.4.3 or later.
Price: €119 (equivalent to a 15% savings on each plug-in if you bought them separately).
Demo: Available at http://www.d16.pl/index.php?menu=6
While the world awaits Nithonat, D16’s upcoming TR-606 emulator, they asked me if I might be interested in having a look at their Silverline Collection, a suite of 4 plug-ins consisting of the Devastor Multi-band Distortion Unit, the Fazortan Controllable Space Phaser, the Decimort High Quality Bit Crusher, and the Redoptor High Quality Vintage Tube Distortion. Knowing D16’s reputation, I gladly took them up on it. Each of the four plug-ins is available separately if only one of them is what you need, but by buying them together, you can save yourself about €20.
Installation is pretty much your run of the mill installation procedure. You download the files, click on the installer and it takes care of the rest. Copy protection comes in the form of a downloadable key file, which you can install anywhere on your computer you like. When you run each plug-in for the first time, it will ask you to point out the location of the key file, and you’re good to go.
DECIMORT bills itself as a ‘high quality’ bit crusher, and even a quick glance at the interface reveals that this is clearly more than just your bog standard decimator. For one thing, bit depth and sample frequency have independent settings for left and right channels (the left channel settings are used if you are using the plug-in in mono). But before I get ahead of myself, let me explain what DECIMORT is about.
In the early days of sampling, technological and cost limits meant that audio fidelity couldn’t be as pristine as what we are used to today. Although the realism of sampled instruments was heavily heralded at this time, it was undeniable that the lower bit depths and sampling rates also imparted them with a certain lo-fi aesthetic. While everyone railed against this at the time and strove to avoid things like aliasing and bit noise, as often becomes the case, these types of artifacts actually become desirable by users of the newer, higher-fidelity soft samplers of today as a special effect. There was a certain beauty to the character these older machines imparted to sounds, so now electronic musicians have a variety of different bit-crushers and sonic decimators at their disposal to relive that sound of the old days. DCIMORT is one such plug-in, but as I mentioned before, it affords a level of control not often seen on this type of effect.
Starting at the top, is a PREAMP setting that allows you to adjust the input level to the plug-in. As you might expect, this can be abused and driven hard to add more balls if you like. Next to this, is the OPTIONS button which features various options for loading and saving presets, as well as settings for MIDI Learn functions so you can control DECIMORT’s settings with your MIDI controller of your choice. The very straightforward preset browser is next to that with a display for the preset name and buttons to select previous or next presets, copy and paste functions, and a BROWSER button that opens up a menu of all the presets for selection instead of cycling through them with the previous and next buttons.
Beneath that is where all the fun stuff resides. As I mentioned before, independent settings are available for the left and right channels of a stereo signal. (There is also a LINK PARAMS button you can select if you want to use the same settings on both sides.) Like most bit-crushers, there are setting for bit-depth (16-bits all the way down to 1-bit) and sampling frequency (44.1k all the way down to 0Hz!) A button here can also turn the FREQUENCY control into the CUTOFF level of a lowpass filter if you need to get rid of undesired frequencies.
To the right of these parameters, we find individual multimode resonant filters for further altering your sound. These are available in Lowpass, Bandpass, Highpass, and Band Reject flavors with cutoff ranging from 20Hz all the way up to 12k, The filters sound very nice, but truly shine when you drive the preamp setting to dirty things up.
Finally, there is a WET/DRY knob that lets you select how much of your signal will be effected. I wish more distortion and compression effects offered one of these. While it’s true that these are most often used as insert effects, adding a wet/dry knob allows you to balance between both the original and effects sound, much as you might when using parallel compression. This is really useful for dialing in just the perfect amount of dirt without over-doing it.
So how does DECIMORT sound? In a word: great. It’ll spit at you, shred your drums into aliased shrieks, transform your synth lines into Justice-style bit-crunched nightmares, give your vocals a robotic crackle, and just generally make anything you feed into sound wonderfully lo-fi. It really has a lot of character to it that I don’t hear in most other effects like this. Although it’s a purely digital effect, I dare say Decimort sounds more ‘analog’ if that makes sense. It really sounds like it’s coming out of a piece of hardware and not just the plug-in slot on your DAW. Of course, it can do much more than that as well and you may find yourself twiddling knobs for hours exploring its effect on different types of sounds. Anyone seeking out this sort of effect should really give this one a look.
Next up, we have DEVASTOR, which is a multiband distortion unit that expands on the one built in to d16’s 303 emulation PHOSYCON. The basic overall design is consistent between the plug-ins in this collection, so I won’t bother to talk about the preset browser and OPTIONS menu that I already covered on DECIMORT.
The first stage your signal goes through is the DYNAMICS section, which is governed by a single knob. Think of this as an ultra-simplistic compressor that can go from adding a little weight and consistency to pure dynamic smashing. This can have a big impact on what the final tone of the distortion sounds like, so it is not to be overlooked.
This is followed by the DIODE CLIPPER section, which is controlled by three knobs in charge of PREAMP LEVEL (clippable), THRESHOLD (the level at which the distortion kicks in), and KNEE (soft knee settings yield more subtle tones, while hard knee is harsher).
From here, the signal is sent through 3 independent filters running in parallel. According to D16, these filters are different from the peaking filters normally found in multiband distortion units and more closely resemble those of a synthesizer, which lends a unique character to the effects obtainable through DEVASTOR. Each of the three filters offers Lowpass, Highpass, Bandpass, and Band Reject varieties. Cutoff, resonance, and volume controls are also available for each filter separately. Different configurations of the filters are available by using different combinations of the PRE/POST switches that precede each filter.
Like DECIMORT, there is something very special about the sound of DEVASTOR. This is one of those plug-ins that you will find yourself tweaking for hours on end because it offers such a wide range of tones. You can get really subtle tube/tape saturations or absolute bone crushing, in your face sonic mayhem and everything in between. And the best part is, it sounds great on damn near everything. Another winner.
Compared to the previous two, FAZORTAN (D16’s take on vintage phaser effects) is relatively simple. As one might expect, the available controls begin with FEEDBACK and STAGES controls for adjusting the basic character of the phase shifting.
It’s this next part that is what makes FAZORTAN stand out from other phasers. Unlike a normal phaser, which typically features a single LFO to control the sweeping effect, FAZORTAN has two. This, plus a selection of 6 waveform types (most phasers only have one) to use on the LFOs, allows for much more complex phaser modulations than just the standard sine or triangle sweep. In addition to the waveform selection control, each LFO has independent controls for RATE, DEPTH, and OFFSET. STEREO PHASE and WET/DRY controls are available as well.
Phasers are pretty specialized effects, so this probably won’t appeal or be useful to everyone, but if you need the effect, you’d be hard pressed to found one that sounds much better than this. It’s great on synth strings, guitar, bass, electric piano, and percussive synth parts. The extra LFO and LFO waveshapes gives it a much more organic quality than standard phasers and really adds depth to anything it’s used on. Great!
We round things up with another distortion device, REDOPTER. REDOPTER emulates tube distortion, which many people find has a more pleasant warmth when compared to other types.
The available controls begin with the pre-amp section consisting of PREAMP GAIN, LO CUT, and HI CUT controls to allow you some basic sculpting of the tone before it goes to the other sections. As with the other plug-ins, the PREAMP can be overdriven to give you more oomph if you want it.
The next section of controls is labeled TUBE CONTROL and consists of knobs for TUBE BIAS, TONE, and BRIGHTNESS. These all more or less control the number and type of harmonics produced by the tube distortion and gives you still further options for shaping the exact distortion sound you need.
But if that still isn’t enough control over your tone, this is followed by a 4 band parametric equalizer, each with its own settings for FREQUENCY, GAIN, and BANDWIDTH. The equalizer is very flexible and ensures that if you are after a particular tonal balance, you can get it with a little tweaking.
The sound quality of this plug-in is consistent with the rest of the suite of effects – excellent. What’s most striking is just how flexible it is. You can add some gentle warmth, you can shred your signal into a noisy wall of sound, and anything in between. Like the other Silverline plug-ins, REDOPTER lends itself to hours of tweaking and experimentation. This isn’t to be underestimated, as it seems a lot of plug-ins don’t invite this quite as readily, at least for me.
D16 have clearly done their homework and have made sure that there is something unique about their approach to separate them from other takes on the same sorts of plug-ins. The differences are usually subtle ones, but they’re ones that go a long way towards making the effects sound as good as they do. FAZORTAN is the only one I can’t see myself using too regularly in the future, but that’s more a reflection on the types of effects I tend to use than on the quality of the plug-in. If you’re looking for a variety of ways to distort your audio with a very organic, hardware-type sound, this suite should be in your collection. Period.