With their Music Studio, Samplitude and Sequoia products, Magix cater for all levels of the computer recording market. They’re now entering the audio plug-in fray, with their first three releases being the Vintage Effects Suite, VariVerb and Analogue Modelling Suite.
All of these products feature VST versions of plug-ins that are currently part of the Samplitude/Sequoia audio processing armoury; Magix clearly believe that these are deserving of a wider audience.
In the box
The AM|Suite comprises three separate plug-ins: am-track is an ‘analogue’ compressor and tape simulator with selectable vintage and VCA modes; am-pulse is a transient modeller that enables creative envelope shaping and is combined with a tube saturation and treble exciter section; and am-phibia is a tube amplifier/ channel strip that can be pressed into service as a vocal preamp, tube guitar amp or ‘track warmer’. All three plug-ins are said to be based on replicas of classic circuit designs and, as the bundle’s name suggests, are designed to imprint a sense of analogue warmth onto your recordings. The big question, then, is: how do they compare to their rivals?
Open the box and you’ll find a CD and printed manual. The setup program installs all of the new Magix plug-ins (VE|Suite and VariVerb Pro included) and each will run in demo mode until it’s activated. To do this, you’ll need a serial number (found on the box) and an internet connection. The whole process can be completed from within the plug-in and is both simple and quick.
Once you’re up and running, you discover that each plug-in has a similar look and feel. Global controls for preset management, bypass and A/B program comparison remain the same throughout and are easy to use. Most parameters are accessed directly from the front panel, though in some cases, additional parameters that are normally hidden from view can be accessed by clicking on the Expert button. All the settings feature ‘parameter smoothing’ when you move from one preset to the next, so there should be no audio dropouts or deafening clicks.
Let’s begin by considering am-track, which has two compression modes. VCA mode emulates the cleaner sound of a modern compressor; you might use this when you’re looking to create a sound that’s predictable and uncoloured. Vintage mode, meanwhile, emulates the less surgical sound of older compressors such as the Urei 1176. In these products, various anomalies - which might have looked bad on paper - gave us what is now known as the ‘analogue’ sound.
VCA mode has controls for threshold, ratio (up to 1:15) and knee (fully variable from soft to hard). Vintage mode forgoes all of these for a Drive knob, which mainly acts as a compression ratio control (the analogue ‘magic’ is worked behind the scenes). As you’d expect, both modes enable you to adjust the usual attack and release parameters.
Click on the Expert button and additional controls are provided for tweaking the compressor in more obscure ways. A welcome feature here is the Comp Mix knob, which allows for parallel compression. The Tape section is designed to impart the non-linear characteristics of magnetic tape onto your digital audio. In practice, this adds up to a little more distortion (with additional harmonics) and dynamic EQ changes. We found the best way to deal with this section was just to experiment.
Second up is am-pulse, which is best used on more percussive sounds such as drums or acoustic guitar. Audio can be shaped using the attack and sustain controls. Although it covers some of the same ground as the compressor, the results you can get from am-pulse are potentially more extreme. Harsh, soft, ambient, tight and dense are only a few of the adjectives it can inspire - just give it a go and the controls quickly become intuitive. There’s also a high-frequency exciter to add brightness and a saturation section for some tube-like dirt.
The third and most complex plug-in is am-phibia. Here, an optical-style compressor/limiter features alongside EQ and guitar cab modelling.
The AM|Suite is both easy to use and capable of delivering good results. The plug-ins do indeed impart an analogue sound to our tracks, though they definitely wouldn’t replace a high-end (and very expensive) hardware unit. This isn’t really a fair comparison, though: what’s more important is that they stand up well in comparison to their software rivals and as a package represent good value for money.
Problems? Well, we don’t like the tiny fonts that are used for the parameter labelling, and the manual, while well meaning, is a tough read in places, even for the more experienced studio-head. The supplied presets give a good indication of the scope of each plug-in, but a little patience and deeper exploration will give greater sonic rewards. There are more than enough ‘expert’ settings here to keep most people happy.
There’s a certain irony in the fact that the tools in the AM|Suite go beyond those provided with most DAWs, even though they were launched as part of a DAW. This is to Magix’s credit, though: the more time you spend with this bundle, the more useful it becomes. We’ll definitely be keeping it on our system.