Sure, we all know about those sexy recording plug-ins that model vintage instruments and create sounds that would cost us thousands of dollars if they were done using hardware. But what about the hard-working utilities that don’t get the glory, yet still get the job done? Let’s look at some recording software under $50 that will become your DAW’s best new friend while keeping your checking account happy.
BRING 32-BIT ZOMBIE PLUG-INS BACK TO LIFE
The good news: it’s a 64-bit world on both Mac and Windows. The bad news: You still have a bunch of cool, if not legendary, 32-bit plug-ins that aren’t compatible with today’s computers, but would be alive and well if only they could be converted to 64-bit operation. Fortunately, they’re not dead—they’re only sleeping. Bridging software “wraps” 32-bit plug-ins so that they look like 64-bit plug-ins to your DAW, and DDMF Bridgewize is the only cross-platform bridging utility that works with AU/VST 2.4 plug-ins on the Mac, and VST 2.4 plug-ins on Windows. It also transfers audio with zero latency between your 64-bit DAW and 32-bit plug-in, while adding negligible CPU usage. The interface displays all 32-bit candidate plug-ins for easy wrapping and unwrapping, and speaking of zombies, Bridgewize even works with 64-bit computers dating back to Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.7. It’s pretty cool that for $29, your 32-bit plug-ins can reincarnate as productive members of today’s 64-bit society.
ALL ABOUT THAT BASS
It’s hard to get bass mixed right, because those low frequencies push the limits of recording and playback technology. The usual answer is to slap a ton of compression to even out levels, but that can add artifacts like pumping, breathing, and popping—not good. Fortunately, there’s a better way: ride the gain perfectly to compensate for level variations. Sure, humans can’t do that perfectly, but the Waves Bass Rider can. Essentially, it’s like a robot engineer that constantly monitors the bass level on a note-by-note basis, and adjusts the level for consistency. Because this doesn’t require dynamics processing, the sound is as a natural as simply varying a channel fader, and doesn’t alter the bass’s attack and decay characteristics (or the tone). And if you do want to add compression for color or character, you won’t need to add as much, because the Bass Rider will already have done the heavy lifting. Besides, it’s hard not to like a plug-in that makes life easier!
SCOPE OUT THE ISSUES
Are the drums aligned with the bass? Is the signal that’s taken direct, out of phase with the miked version? Are there phase issues with multi-miked instruments, or within an effects chain? Is one of those waveforms clipping, or is it just a saturation effect? Blue Cat’s $39 Oscilloscope Multi plug-in has the answers, costs a whole lot less than a laboratory oscilloscope, and works with any sample rate. You can visualize and compare the content of several audio tracks on the same screen using its X-Y view, as well as do waveform extraction on mid-side channels; it also has sync modes similar to a triggered laboratory ’scope. Other features include a phase scope, histogram display to represent average levels of signal peaks, and four memory slots so you can store waveform displays for comparison with other waveforms. It’s available for Mac and Windows (32/64-bit) AAX, VST, and VST3, as well as AU for Mac.
STRIKE UP THE MULTIBAND (DISTORTION)
You might think the D16 Group Devastor plug-in is more of a processor than a utility, but it’s very useful to have something that can split audio into multiple bands so they can be processed individually. It provides diode clipping with three bands—each of which can go before or after clipping—for $49. The filters aren’t the traditional peaking kind, but offer low pass for the low band, high pass for the high band, and bandpass (or band reject) for the mid frequencies. Because they each have their own cutoff frequencies and resonance controls, it’s possible to obtain unconventional multiband distortion effects. Also note that you can always dial back the drive, threshold, and shape if you want subtle saturation effects to give a sweet lift to master recordings, although of course, you can always crank things up for monstrous, growling distortion with kick drum and bass. This plug-in is available for 32-bit or 64-bit hosts, with Mac OS X 10.6 or higher, or Windows XP and above.
PLUG YOUR PLUG-INS INTO A PLUG-IN
You know the story: you can’t use VST or AU effects in Pro Tools, or VST effects in Logic Pro X. Cubase is allergic to AU plug-ins, and Ableton Live doesn’t want to deal with VST3. You want to do parallel or multiband processing, or insert series/parallel effects chains, but not every program has Studio One’s ability to create parallel effects chains. What you need is a plug-in that can accept and transform other plug-ins, which is what the DDMF Multiplugin ($49) does—and more, like mid-side processing. It even comes with a four-band crossover for multiband processing, and a routing plug-in for cross-track processing. It also includes bridging for 32-bit plug-ins, a stereo sidechain input, dry/wet control for each plug-in, support for surround and other multi-channel applications, and a whole bunch of other stuff that’s essential for, well, managing almost any type of plug-in in any type of host. It’s compatible with Windows (32/64-bit VST/VST3 and AAX as well as 32-bit RTAS) and Mac OSX (10.6 or higher, 32/64 bit VST/VST3/AU/AAX and 32 bit RTAS). This is your basic “how did I get along without this?” plug-in…and the price is certainly right.