You get what you pay for, right? Well in some walks of life, yes, but in the plug-in market, the proliferation of high-quality freeware effects is causing many people to question whether that old maxim still holds true. The big commercial companies are still in business, but there's no doubt that they're having to work harder than ever to convince punters to shell out for their products.
Developers like SoundToys, then - who are used to producing TDM-only, high-end, high-price plug-ins - must see the native market as a massive challenge. With their Native Effects Bundle V3, though, it looks like they're making a serious bid to conquer it. This six plug-in collection retails for just under $495 - while that might sound like a lot if you've been bred on freeware, when you consider SoundToys' TDM prices, it actually starts to look pretty reasonable.
The six effects cover modulation (PhaseMistress and Tremolator), delay (EchoBoy and Crystallizer) and filtering (FilterFreak); you also get Speed, SoundToys' time and pitchshifting plug-in, but in terms of support, this is the odd one out as it's AudioSuite only. Indeed, native though this package is, it's worth mentioning that it only contains Audio Units and RTAS plug-ins for Mac. There's currently no VST or PC support, which is a big shame.
To get up and running, you'll need an iLok key and account, so factor in another £30 if you're not already suitably equipped. On the upside, you can buy the bundle as a download from the SoundToys site (it's just over 100MB): at the current exchange rate, this means it costs around £250.
Without wishing to generalise too much, it's fair to say that the overall theme of these effects (Speed aside) is analogue emulation. For TDM users, part of the attraction of SoundToys has been the way in which they've worked through various famous boxes and pedals (Echoplex, Bi-Phase, Sherman and many more) and created plug-ins that accurately replicate their sounds. Combine their excellent design skills with a multitude of presets and you've got an extremely useful plug-in suite.
Let's start our run through the plug-ins with a look at FilterFreak. This comes in two forms - single filter and dual filter - and in both cases combines a typical resonant filter (offering low-pass, high-pass, band-pass and band-reject filtering) with an extensive modulation section. Once you move away from a simple static filter, the modulation section really comes into its own. Offering everything from a simple envelope and LFO to custom rhythmic patterns, the breadth of effects it enables you to create is impressive. If this all seems a bit much, you can retreat to the preset list, which runs to upwards of 200 entries.
With a name like PhaseMistress, it's obvious where SoundToys are coming from with the next plug-in. But scratch the surface and it's clear they've been through pretty much every phaser under the sun for inspiration. Ignoring the presets for a moment, simply spinning through the style list is quite daunting, and when you couple this with the 'tweak' sub-window, the sky seems to be the limit. The modulation options are similar to those in the FilterFreak, and though the Analog Mode ups the CPU usage, it does give you a distinctly different sound.
On the face of it, the humble tremolo doesn't seem capable of garnering an enormous fan base. However, Tremolator takes the basic idea of modulating the amplitude and then runs with it. You've got a bunch of old-school emulations, if that's what you want, but drift off into the world of auto-gating and that trusty rhythm editor and you'll be well and truly entrenched in glitch territory.
With EchoBoy and Crystallizer both being delay plug-ins, you'd expect them to share some common ground, but the two are actually cut from completely different cloth. EchoBoy is the tape-delay-influenced unit - perfect for adding character to lead vocals or guitars - while Crystallizer is inspired by the Crystal Echoes preset from Eventide's mighty H3000. This means pitchshifting and granular reverse echoes aplenty, so it's great for creating sounds from the simplest of incoming impulses.
Without question, Speed feels like the odd one out here. Even so, it's still to be recommended, enabling you to shift the tempo of a whole track by a few beats per minute without noticeable artefacts. Alas, Speed remains Pro Tools-only, so it's not useable in Logic (unlike both Serato's Pitch 'n Time LE and iZotope's Radius).
While we're on the subject of compatibility, we should also mention that the AU versions seemed unable to write automation from the plug-in controls when we ran them in Logic (this wasn't the case in Pro Tools LE), but we hope that this will be corrected in an update. And also, although the main interfaces feel great, open up a sub-window or parameter list and things can feel a little cramped.
These gripes seem minor, though, when you weigh them up against this bundle's general fabulousness. We'd really like to have the other SoundToys TDM plug-ins in native form now that we've seen these - and PC and VST users should feel suitably annoyed they're not catered for at all - but this will certainly do for now.