There is no doubt that having good EQ’s and compressors at your disposal when mixing is a huge advantage to creating a great mix! However I truly believe if you are a mixing engineer and want to be known as having a sound, then it is critical to have a range of FX plug ins at your disposal that you know how to experiment with and master.
In this article, I am going to discuss my 4 favourite FX plug ins for mixing. 4 essentials I always go to when I mix a project and would struggle to have “my sound” without. I won’t go into full tutorials, but instead I will give each a brief summary, talk about some cool features and some cool tips and tricks you can use with them.
Why did I pick 4? Number 5 to me was just too hard to decide so I have named some honourable mentions at the bottom. It is also 12:30am on a Thursday morning and I have an album to continue mixing tomorrow morning haha. There are also plenty of amazing plug ins I am yet to properly use and discover their power I am sure.
Let’s start with my favourite…
- Soundtoys “EchoBoy”
EchoBoy is THE LEADING DIGITAL DELAY PLUG IN. I don’t even feel like I am going to pee anyone off by saying that (though Slate just bought out Repeater hmmmm)…
Echoboy is a flexible and powerful digital delay plug in that will allow you to search for or even create almost any delay sound you desire.
As this boy (see what I did there?) is quite a beast in terms of features, let’s start with the basic features then delve into the more advanced.
The main features you will reach for are the dry/wet mix knob, the feedback knob and the delay time knobs. The delay time knob also very neatly has a time. note, dot and trip button underneath that you can select that will help you find your desired delay notes/times easier.
Echoboy also has 4 Mode types that are all quite self explanatory: Single Echo, Dual Echo, Ping Pong and Rhythm echo, which is an echo that you can customize how the echo repeats and it’s volume per repeat.
You also have a low cut/high cut knobs, a groove and feel knob, an input and output control and the all-important SATURATION knob which I am always reaching for!
But we haven’t even reached the best parts yet! The true power of EchoBoy is that you can combine all of these different parameters with different sounding delay “styles”. The default is Studio Tape. But you also have Master Tape, Cheap Tape, Tube Tape, Analogue Delay, Digital Delay as well as chorus style delays, transmitter sounding delays and many more! I feel like I should work for Soundtoys because BUT WAIT THERE IS MORE! You can actually “style edit” these styles also. You can also tweak the width, left to right timing difference and the loudness of the odd and even repeats under the tweak tab.
WHY I LOVE IT and it’s uses:
If I haven’t already made it abundantly clear why I love it, then I’ll take it further now.
THE TWO MAIN REASONS WHY I LOVE ECHOBOY ARE:
- The abyss of control, parameters and flexibility that it entails. Whilst also having quite an easy to understand layout (just remember you can click the tweak and style edit buttons!).
- The Styles. Short and sweet the different styles of delay are super powerful and I implore any mixing engineers to have some fun and play with these.
Whilst talking about styles, lets chat about a few of my personal favourites. I would love to hear anyone’s else’s thoughts here also so please comment, message or whatever to me!
I really like that standard Studio Tape and I also enjoy the Master Tape. Similar to the studio tape but with more fizzle in the top end that I love on slap vocals. Another favourite of mine is the Echoplex. An edgy, modulated type of delay that I really like using on longer style delays, especially if I really want the delay to be a feature and not just a depth creating tool. Space Echo is great for epic moments. I also love the various chorus delays and the Cheap Tape Delay, a nastier grotty delay that I sometimes use with a faster time and the width on full to give a snare more life in parallel.
The main parameters I always reach for are the saturation knob, the high. low cuts and the width knob under the “tweak” button. Shaping your delays with these tools will help you create interesting sounds and you’ll begin to develop a unique sound! I also occasionally dabble with the Rhythm Mode delay and try and create cool delay patterns just for something different and exciting!
- Audio Ease “Alitiverb”
Widely regarded as the Holy Grail of convolution reverbs. Alitiverb has it all. Altiverb features a wide variety of spaces from the Sydney Opera House to brothels, to famous cathedrals to big oiler tanks. Altiverb uses real life analysing technologies to accurately capture real space reverb times and characteristics so that you can emulate said spaces into your DAW!
Not only does Altiverb re create real spaces, but it also emulates classic hard ware and digital reverb units. EMT Plates, AMS RMX16, various spring and tube reverbs, the list is huge!
To top it off you can still play with the EQ, Reverb time and early reflection/tale gains.
WHY I LOVE IT and it’s uses:
Having such a wide range of reverb options can really help you find new and interesting sounds with your mixes. You can use Altiverb reverbs with anything. Drum rooms, large spaces, post production ambiences, weird metallic resonances, it is endless.
I also love that within each reverb you have options of the mic placement in that room. Close omni pairs, figure 8 set ups etc.
Though pricey at around the $800 mark, I dare say most serious mixing engineers would have this if they don’t already have the classic hardware units.
- Soundtoys “Decapitator”
This plug in has become one of the staple analogue saturator/distortion plug ins on the market. It is fairly self explanatory, 5 distortion styles replicating different types of analogue distortions form various tubes and gear, driven with the “Drive’ knob with an output trim control that has an auto feature, attenuating the output level as you increase the drive. This feature is actually super handy as it allows you to add drive without having to reach for your channels fader.
The “Punish” button can also be enabled to step the drive up to an even higher level of distortion.
It also has a mix control, low and high cut filters and a bright/dark tone control.
WHY I LOVE IT and it’s uses:
One of the main reasons I love this plug in is it’s flexibility. The 5 different saturator tones and the control you have with the drive level allow it to be used on almost anything.
Decapitator may not always be my go to distortion plug in, but I love how it can be used subtly to add some warmth, excitement, grit or just plain interest to almost any instrument!
On Bass guitar, play with the drive to bring out a bit of top end definition whilst also rounding out your bottom end. On vocals try running it in parralell with the distortion set any where between 3 and 8 ish. Play with the tone knob to potentially darken it and have a listen to how it thickens the vocals. Chuck it on horns to give them a bit more life, put it on a guitar that needs a bit more body or edge.
The amount of uses for this plug in and how many times I see it appear in tutorials is endless.
Buy it alone for around $150 or buy it in the Soundtoys bundle for only around $550 (half that if you are a student). This is the best value bundle that you can buy (not own for a year SLATE), on the market.
- Fabfilter “Saturn”
I have to admit, I am quite new to the fabfilter party. Their parametric EQ is now regarded as one of the leading paramtric EQ’s in the plug in world in an incredibly competitive market.
Fabfilter Saturn is another saturator/distortion that I rank inside my top 4 favourite fx plug ins. If I had been using it for as long as decapitator I may have even ranked it higher.
Let’s look at the main features first up. There is a big phat drive knob in the centre, a wet/dry mix knob, feedback knob, frequency selection knob, dynamics knob, tone faders and an output level knob.
You can then choose the types of saturation/distortion you are after. These distortions are modelled off types of tubes, Tapes and amps.
Let’s now talk about my favourite aspect of Saturn. The distortion bands. You can actually place frequency bands on the audio spectrum and treat each band different to create a unique distortion of your own!
You can also modulate crossover frequencies of these bands to take it to another level of interest!
WHY I LOVE IT and it’s uses:
As I said previously, my favourite aspect of fabfilter is the creativity you can have with this distortion. It is not just tones you are playing with, with the bands you can actually distort different parts of the audio spectrum differently. For example, sometimes I may go for a really gritty harsh bottom end distortion on vocals, but may go for a more gentle or warm mid range and top end boost. I can then play with the actual dry/wet mix of each band, the crossover frequencies of these bands and their level.
This is not even delving into the modulation side of things which I admit I have yet to delve deep into. There is just so much to discover!
The presets are fantastic too. I love the gentle saturator on vocals, but some of the amp and broken tube distortions can be super brutal and interesting. You can use these settings to run things in parallel with dry signals to create different textures. Think parallel vocals or bass!
- Soundtoys Phasemistress
- Soundtoys Tremolator
- Soundtoys Chrystalizer
- Waves Metaflanger
- Waves Mondo Mod
- Waves Enigma
- Eventide Blackhole
Jack Nigro, Jan 2017