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Introduction

Producers tend to be particularly selective over their plugins. Day in, day out, you find yourself reaching for the same trusty handful. Typically because we feel confident in our ability to get a great sound out of those few, or because a much more accomplished producer sings their praises over a specific plugin. Overtime, when you feel as though you’ve exhausted or perhaps even outgrown your plugins, it becomes difficult to remain inspired and continue crafting sonically unique music.

This is where AudioThing steps in. Not only is AudioThing’s selection of plugins one of the most impressive I’ve ever used, their ability to create fresh and inventive plugins, that re-energise your creative drive, is unrivalled. Below I detail the five AudioThing products that I believe to be the most innovative of their collection. Have your audio engineering hats at the ready, it’s about to get technical.

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MiniVerb

MiniVerb

MiniVerb’s genius lies behind the fact that it isn’t what it appears on the surface; despite presenting itself as a standard reverb plugin, in actuality, it isn’t a reverb plugin at all. By employing a classic slapback delay technique, it creates a sort-of “fake reverb” effect — similar to the approach that old, low-powered synth chips from retro video game consoles used; simply because they didn’t possess the processing power to generate true reverb sounds. I find that modern reverbs can take away from the nostalgia of classic retro synth plugins — they sound “too real”. The slapback delay route results in a more faithful recreation of the original effect, helping to preserve part of the retro nostalgia hit that you would have otherwise lost.

The additional built-in modules help cement MiniVerb as a staple of your retro synth-pop plugin arsenal; the pre filter module allows for the classic “breathing” effect, seen when automating the cutoff frequency, with the resonance increased slightly — giving off a convincing Tame Impala character. The vibrato module is a welcome addition to an already appealing package, that isn’t unique to just sounding excellent on synths. Turn all the other modules off and use it on some guitar for a fantastic lo-fi sound, all on it’s own. Cranking up the depth knob before fiddling with the wet and dry mix can also help turn this plugin into a perfectly competent, unique “wobbly” chorus-like effect. MiniVerb’s bitcrusher module puts the icing on the cake for the nostalgic feel — offering a pitch shifting knob for finely tuned pitch alterations, perfect for MGMT style detuned synths.

Admittedly, this is very much a try-it-yourself kind of plugin, its capabilities appear similar to that of even most stock plugins. It’s not until you actually have this plugin in your hands that it’s versatility is shown as being leagues above any stock option. MiniVerb is the ultimate companion to any retro synth sound.

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Speakers

Speakers is my personal favourite of all the plugins on this list, the reasoning behind it’s lower placing will soon become apparent — if that doesn’t say something about the sheer standard of the plugins in this list, I don’t know what does. There seems to be millions of lo-fi degradation plugins out there, typically being vinyl or tape emulation effects; none of them, in my opinion, come close to the brilliance that is AudioThing’s Speakers. I’ve never seen a plugin that accommodates such a wide degree of lo-fi recording and playback machines. Being able to choose from thirty different perfectly modelled input devices, from famous retro microphones, to contact mics and toy microphones, offers a level of lo-fi freedom and creativity that I’ve never experienced before. It had me genuinely questioning “where has this been all my life?!” — that’s before I’ve even mentioned the almost fifty different, equally outstanding, output devices; ranging from modern bluetooth speakers to broken speakers and, bafflingly, “Speak & Spell” units.

Truthfully, lo-fi music has always owned a special place in my heart, being the genre that initially introduced me to music production. With this in mind, I can affirm that Speakers is the definitive lo-fi plugin. Inspired by iconic producers like J Dilla and MF DOOM, alongside much more modern producers like Joji and bsd.u, this plugin helped to bring me one step closer to their perfection of the lo-fi subgenre. As my production experience progressed, I found myself naturally departing from wanting to build lo-fi productions, but this plugin had me itching to create another lo-fi track from the moment I opened it. To say that dusty lo-fi beats is this plugin’s bread and butter would be an understatement. I can confidently see Speakers being loaded onto countless tracks in my future, now much more convincing, lo-fi creations.

In the same vein as MiniVerb, Speaker’s additional modules help set it apart from it’s competition; a dedicated distortion or degradation module allows for countless variations of gritty, low fidelity audio deformation. On top of this, the plugin includes an intuitive compressor module, which, although I wouldn’t rely on for heavy-duty mixing, is convenient for on-the-fly dynamics shaping. I am especially partial to the background noise module, as organic rain sounds have always been a fundamental feature of classic lo-fi beats. This module is capable of generating a huge array of different ambient sounds, making having to load a long ambient noise sample onto another track a thing of the past. You can even tell the background noise to positively follow, or negatively follow the transients of the input — perfect for either layering sounds, or filling out quiet space. A standard filter plugin is also included, for good measure. It is also worth noting that the signal routing and order of modules can also be customised, for an even greater level of versatility.

In fact, versatility truly is a stand-out quality of Speakers; the pitch knob on the input and output device panels can be altered to re-pitch the device’s impulse response — giving the possibility for the fine tuning of the sound’s character. The echo and feedback knobs can be used for a simple delay effect, useful for creating more convincing recreations of devices like megaphones, which typically feedback outputted sound into themselves again.

In all, this plugin has become a key player in my lo-fi plugin collection. The degradation module can add classic distortion, to add some subtle saturation to your mix, or extremely transformative effects, such as robotisation or telecom emulation. The compressor module, along with retro microphone selections can even create nostalgic, yet clean, analog sounding drums. I can’t think of an instrument that this plugin wouldn’t be applicable for — I’d even use it on the master buss, for a particularly extreme lofi production.

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Speakers
Frostbite 2

Frostbite 2

AudioThing’s “Frostbite 2” can be described as an extremely adaptable spectral freezing and multi-effects plugin. The crowning feature of “Frostbite 2” is it’s alluring “Freeze” module, letting you choose from three different freezing modes; “Spectral”, “Reverb” and “Convolution”, all creating varying, yet equally captivating effects. The process of spectral freezing involves capturing instances of spectral “windows”. Then, using Fast Fourier Transforming, or FFT, to break down the input into its singular harmonic components, replays them and randomises their phases. Altogether summing to create a chaotic, yet unique and somewhat dissonant freeze of your initial sonic input.

The interface for the “Freeze” module is exceptionally simple and easy to use. It features a mode selection box; a fade knob, to control the decay of the frozen signal; a button to indicate whether the freeze process is currently active, which can be utilised for creative layering, and a clear button, to clear the cache of held audio. Along with a three-band EQ and spectrum analyzer. On top of it’s forefront “Freeze” module, “Frostbite 2” also houses a ring modulator, delay and LFO generator modules. All of which can be dragged and dropped amongst each other, to alter the signal flow. The LFO module can be used to modulate almost any parameter inside of the plugin, making crafting unique space-like soundscapes and textures even easier.

AudioThing’s signature “Randomise” button, which changes every parameter to a random value and appears in all of their plugins, has never been as interesting to use as it is here. The variety of completely unpredictable and sporadic effects that this plugin can generate is so vast that the “Randomise” button becomes a valuable inspiration development tool. The parameter locking feature, making any parameter unaffected by the “Randomise” button or preset switches, also comes in handy in this use case. The dry and wet knobs can be locked to their set values, while randomising, to get the most transparent impression over auditioned settings, for example.

The master output module also gives the option for the audio to be routed in serial or parallel modes — altering whether sound is directed through each module, left to right; one after another, or clean into each module individually, then summed before output. 

“Frostbite 2” is a clear demonstration of AudioThing’s incredible ingenuity and solidly cements itself as a powerful player in soundscape engineering plugins.

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Wave Box

Wave Box is somewhat strange and unfamiliar to wrap your head around, but I find that to be one of the most creativity-inducing aspects of it. Fiddling around with the parameters and seeing what the plugin spews back at you is both fantastically engaging and rewarding. At heart, it’s a fancy dual wave-shaping-function distortion plugin, that accommodates for both symmetric and asymmetric distortion. Meaning that wave-altering distortion effects can either be applied separately between the positive and negative halves of the wave, or summed together and applied across the whole wave - each leading to equally unique effects. Symmetrical distortion creates odd harmonics, made up of thirds and constructs a dominant seventh chord. Whereas asymmetrical distortion creates even harmonics, made up of octaves and fifths. Overall, in terms of character, even harmonics tend to be smoother and less noticeable, while odd harmonics are considerably more aggressive and give the traditional strongly overdriven sound.

Each of the two shaping function generators have a choice of ten different function curves, with a “Curve” parameter to dictate how harshly the functions are being applied to the incoming signal. The “Bias” fader, depending on whether you’re in asymmetrical or symmetrical mode, dictates the offset added between the positive and negative halves of the wave, or the ratio mix between the two functions, respectively. Allowing you to craft totally unique distortion curves, specific for your input or genre. As well as this, the plugin features two LFO modules, in order to modulate almost any parameter — varying intensity of individual shaping functions, or even bias level mixing, for example.

The envelope follower panel also allows for the modulation of most of the plugin’s parameters — enabling you to carry out ideas like pushing the positive half of the wave harsher, through asymmetrical distortion, at the start of transients, for example. This is a level of control that I’ve never experienced prior to trying this plugin, but I’m more than glad to have; the flexibility of this plugin is unparalleled by any other high-end distortion plugin. Wave Box has you covered for anything from classic, vintage sounding tube-like saturation, to all out digital crunch — or even both at the same time, that’s the beauty of it.

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Wave Box
The Orb

The Orb

Humanising your instruments is regularly a desirable effect, which is often difficult to pull off in an effective fashion. “The Orb” is a formant filtering and sequencing plugin that can be used to give any sound or instrument a humanised vocal effect. Fundamentally, the plugin accentuates the formant ranges of the input audio, to give the impression of synthesised vowel sounds. The plugin gives control over the gain of three different formant filters. Formants one and two determine which vowel sound is created, while formant three details the colour of the “voice”.

The plugin’s formant ranges can be shifted through presets of “Male”, “Female” and “Child”, or, alternatively, custom ranges can be defined, for the especially creatively minded. Predictably, this selection establishes the character of the sound, as the range of the third formant is shifted.

“The Orb” allows the number of possible vowel sounds that can be synthesised to be altered between two and ten. Excitingly, this value can also be automated using the LFO panel, on the right-hand side of the window. I mostly enjoyed this feature by setting the LFO waveform to random and messing with the phase knob — hearing the plugin sporadically switch my synth sound through each vowel creates an interesting effect that I’ve never thought of attempting to create before. I found that pulling the mix knob down to allow through the unfiltered sound of the synth created a natural, human sounding background accentuation to an otherwise rather drab synth. The LFO panel also enables the ability to modulate both the “Emphasis”, which is essentially the gain of the formant filter bands, and the “Drift”, which is by how much the filter band can shift from the center of the formant. Each LFO allows you to alter the rate, amount, phases and waveform to be used, adding to the already monumental creative freedom that this plugin provides.

Conclusively, It’s an electronic producer's goldmine, for which I’ve never seen a concept similar to before. This plugin can be used to warp, mangle, or add accentuating texture to almost any input, even the most tame sounds come out of this plugin unlike anything you’ve heard before. It’s easy to see that “The Orb” has the potential to revolutionise the way we think of humanising musical sounds or instruments; and for that reason, I deem it notably innovative.

This article was written by Ross Castledine - September 2020

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