With a trio of virtual synths under its belt, XILS-Lab's first effect plug-in is a true stereo delay with independent left/right channels and a crafty trick up its sleeve.
Le Masque: Delay 'masks' the input signal, defining 'wet' zones along the timeline in which processing is applied, leaving the remainder dry, a bit like how you'd use automation of aux send levels.
This masking is done in the central window. Set the length of your processing loop (1-4 bars) and click the grid display to create a mask, of which up to eight can be active at once.
Drag the start and end boundaries (Locators) of each mask to establish its range, and for that period in the loop (which can be set to sync to the host DAW, an arbitrary BPM value or via tap tempo), the audio signal will be processed by the plug-in.
For example, draw in a short mask over every other beat in a drum loop to apply the delay just to the snare drum, or make one mask spanning the full range of the loop to have Le Masque act like a conventional stereo delay.
Locators can be snapped to the quantise grid or moved around freely on an individual basis, so you can mix quantised masks with unquantised ones, giving endless rhythmic flexibility.
Applied globally to all masks, the two Locator envelope knobs dial in up to 10 seconds of Attack and Release, with a few milliseconds of the latter often being required to smooth over unpleasant clicks at the masks' tail ends.
In terms of controls, there are no surprises in the delay and filter/mod sections: Time, Feedback, Level and Pan for the delays; Cutoff, Resonance, Drive and a choice of five Types for the filter. The filter is certainly noteworthy for its sound, though, which is well up to XILS' usual standards. It can even self-oscillate.
Is that a…?
Modulation is a key feature, with a syncable LFO and an ADSR envelope and full MIDI learn onboard. That's a modwheel you can see there at the bottom left, and actually, it wouldn't go amiss on more effects plug-ins, we say. It's just a handy mouseable modulation source, after all, assignable in this case to the same array of targets as the Locator Levels.
There's real MIDI going on behind that wheel - pretty much every control in Le Masque: Delay is MIDI-assignable and fully VST/AU automation-compatible. XILS-Lab is clearly keen for us to get hands-on by whatever means necessary! A (slightly graphically glitchy) pop-up MIDI learn window makes assignment a breeze, and CCs can be pointed at multiple targets.
Unfortunately, you can't assign CCs to mask Locator positions. Also, although the MIDI learn window dutifully pops up for the buttons (most notably Swap, which would be very useful assigned), it doesn't actually work - seems there may be a bug in there.
However, the Locator Level modulators really get things moving: those horizontal white level indicators in each mask are assignable mod sources, controlling one or two parameters from a list that includes filter cutoff and resonance, envelope attack and decay, delay level and pan, and LFO rate.
Le Masque is a solid performer as a regular stereo delay (full mask), but absolutely awesome as a more creative rhythmic delay and filtering tool. Being able to chop the processing in and out without bypassing the output (and thus killing the delays themselves) is powerful enough in itself, but throw in that filter and you can do it frequency-selectively, picking out individual sounds for treatment - just hi-hats or bass, say.
The modulation is the real clincher, though, making this a winner for sound designers, electronic producers and instrumentalists alike. Plus we haven't yet mentioned the Swap function, which instantly swaps the masked and unmasked areas around, or the fact that the whole thing can happily run under its own steam with the host DAW in stop mode.
We do have a couple of suggestions: we'd love to see multiple mod sources made available per mask and that eight-mask maximum raised. That said, though, Le Masque: Delay could well be the best €59 you'll spend this year. Everyone should own this crazy little plug-in.