Finding the right kind of distortion for the job is often a challenge. With the options ranging from screaming guitar pedals to subtle tape saturation emulators, the choice is bewildering.
Voxengo already makes numerous such plug-ins, from obvious amp-type ones (Tube Amp and Boogex) to more restrained offerings (the valve-influenced Lampthruster and Warmifier), and even a tape simulator courtesy of their Analogflux Suite.
As you may have surmised from the name, its latest release, VariSaturator, supplies relatively subtle saturation. It does, however, offer both valve- and digital-style effects, and so should cover quite a bit of ground.
The underlying concept is a two-band design with variable crossover point. Once the signal is split into the bass and treble frequency bands, each band is routed in series through the valve and digital sections, meaning that you essentially have four sets of processing controls. You get to rebalance high and low bands at the output stage, and you can dial in the unprocessed signal, too, for parallel effects.
In keeping with Voxengo's other plug-ins, VariSaturator has a flexible internal routing and grouping system.
VariSaturator's two main sections, Valve Saturation and Digital Saturation, are designed to introduce even and odd harmonics respectively. The valve circuit is based on a typical twin-valve amp design, while the digital circuit is based on a simple digital waveshaper model.
You may have noticed that each stage and each band has both Pre Gain and FX controls. In use, we found that balancing the two is key to getting the result you wanted.
When pushed hard, the valve effect sounds softer and more fuzzy, whereas the digital sound is tougher and grittier.
Another side effect of signal saturation is level limiting. This is more marked for the valve processor, although you've got the digital stage following it to boost things up again.
VariSaturator is excellent for processing beats - both single hits and loops. The valve section is great for adding ringing resonance to kick drums and subtle high-frequency trash to hi-hats.
Bass guitar also responds well to treatment, particularly with the digital option engaged. However, we weren't able to produce a convincing driven electric guitar.
VariSaturator is a great tool for bringing character to individual sounds and adding glue to stereo blends. The interface is easy to get to grips with, and the flexible grouping and routing are a great bonus if you fancy experimenting. Assuming you're not looking to completely mash things up (as you might with d16 Group's Devastor or Ohm Force's Ohmicide), we can see little to criticise.
Listen to VariSaturator go to work on a variety of instruments: