The market for comprehensive mixing plugin bundles is pretty well catered for these days by big names with equally big price tags. So a new developer offering a 40-strong collection of VST/AU/RTAS/AAX plugins at a seemingly very reasonable price ($49 individually or $299 for the lot) is something that any producer on a budget is going to sit up and take notice of.
Plug & Mix is the creative arm of DontCrack, a company set up to release plugins at fair prices, thereby encouraging customers to heed its eponymous advice. The VIP range first emerged in late 2011 but has recently been revamped, expanding its range considerably.
This isn't trying to be a top-tier bundle by any means; the philosophy seems to be that each plugin aims to serve one particular function simply and effectively. While this philosophy of solid value and high quantity guides the marketing, the design of the plugins themselves is clearly shooting for a balance between uncluttered, intuitive GUIs and a decent level of control.
Obviously, we don't have space in two pages to go into detail on all 40, but we've given them all a very thorough going over in order to put together an informed overview.
Reverb, delay and creative
The least expansive category of plugins in the VIP bundle comprises two reverbs and a tape delay plugin: Digital Reverb, Digital Plate and Echoflex. While Digital Reverb does exactly what you'd expect, the latter two are more interesting.
The EMT Gold Plate-based Digital Plate has a lovely vintage sound with easy Dark/Bright Color control, and Echoflex's 60s guitar pedal- style effect sounds great, its large central Time knob and three subordinate knobs for Tone, Variation and Sustain making creative delays a breeze to construct.
This bare bones approach means you don't get anywhere near the extreme customisation of plugins like FabFilter Timeless 2 or FXpansion Bloom - these aren't intending to be that powerful, but they are deceptively deep and ideal for getting good results quickly.
The creative effects group is certainly the most numerous of the bundle, taking in classic tools like phaser, flanger, Leslie emulation and chorus, as well as more esoteric offerings like Ob-LA-Wah vintage auto-wah and Degradiator, a bitcrushing effect with a band-pass filter.
The more unusual effects certainly grab your ears and interest most, but that's certainly not to say that the more conventional ones are sub-par. The multistage Classic Phaser, in particular, is deep and rich, and could easily become the staple sweeper in your collection.
There are also four guitar amp distortions. California Tone's Mesa Boogie-style warmth gave our guitar the best hard rock distortion of the bunch, while American Tweed imbued it with a classy, lightly driven tone. None of these are going to give Guitar Rig a run for it's money, but they're a lot less expensive. Screamer, meanwhile, uses a heavily peaked and driven filter to create fun sweeping growls that work well on dubstep basses.
EQ, tone-shaping, dynamics
When it comes to EQ, VIP Bundle features an impressive array that goes beyond the run of the mill. Liquid Air Q offers a Maag-style Air band (a coloured shelving boost, essentially), giving sounds an airy presence and making this 3-band EQ useful for padding out the high frequencies in a mix.
Similarly, Ambiosoniq is a 10-band graphic EQ with an Ambience knob that dials in some stereo depth, although we did experience some buzzing a few times that required the plugin to be reloaded. Beyond those, the Abbey Road-esque Brightness gives impressive high-end shimmer, while Analoger is a decent though feature-light saturator.
While the Ultramaxit maximiser, Retro Compressor and Retro EQ are pretty standard functional fare, there are some stand-out mixing plugins that warrant mention. Clarisonix is a powerful, clean sub booster, easily on par with Waves' classic Renaissance Bass, and Stereolizer has become one of our favourite stereo spread plugins for both its ease of use and sound quality.
Mastering is certainly a possibility with the VIP plugins, but the lack of multiband compression and precision frequency analysis make it a secondary consideration and not a reason to buy in itself.
Very Important Plugins?
At this price, the VIP Bundle would be a worthwhile addition to anyone's collection, from the bedroom producer to the seasoned studio engineer. However, it'll be novice or hobbyist producers looking for a package to help them hit the ground running that will get the most out of it, as more experienced computer musicians will already have most of this stuff covered by other plugins.
Expecting overwhelming versatility from the Bundle would be to miss the point, though: each plugin's stated aim is to do one very focused thing well (a guitar stompbox is a good analogy) without ravaging your CPU, and they hit that target more often than they miss it.
We're happy to have them in our collection, and we reckon you would be too.