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10 Unique Plug-ins for New Sounds

Friday October 6, 2017. 02:32 PM , from Sweetwater inSync
When it comes to creating new and unique sounds, there are many paths you can take and myriad tools you can use: guitar effects pedals, hardware synthesizers, hardware effects processors, samplers, even slicing and dicing analog tape! (Just check out the incredible sounds crafted by ahead-of-their-time composers in the Musique Concrete movement from the middle of the last century!) But in today’s largely virtual studios, software plug-ins have become the state of the art for sound design. There are literally thousands of plug-ins on the market today, and a big subset of that plug-in population is devoted to giving you creative access to powerful tools for creating new sounds, whether using traditional techniques (often with a twist), such as filtering and distortion; new takes on standard effects, such as delay, reverb, and tremolo; or completely innovative, previously unheard of processors that can take your sounds out of this world into fresh, unexplored territory.
Here are 10 cool processors (plus a bonus!) that will provide fertile ground for sowing the seeds of fresh sound creation. All of these run as plug-ins within your DAW or other host software — you can even combine several of these together in a chain using multiple plug-in slots in your DAW to really take things over the top!

Avid Pro Multiband Splitter
If you’re a Pro Tools user, you simply must check this one out. While it doesn’t do any sound mangling itself, it provides the means to do incredible things. The Pro Multiband Splitter (featured in the Pro Multiband Dynamics Plug-in) separates incoming audio into up to four frequency bands (Low, Low-mid, Mid-high, and High), which can each be routed to a separate track in Pro Tools. Though likely designed to be used for multiband compression or similar processing, Pro Multiband Splitter can facilitate so much more creative processing. Once the frequency bands are split to dedicated tracks, the fun really starts, because you can add different processors to each of those tracks, meaning you could put delay on just the highs, flanger on just the mid-high band, a gated filter on just the low-mid band, and distortion on the low band — or any combination of effects you can dream up! Multiband Splitter truly opens up a new world of possibilities for sound design.

Eventide Fission
Eventide’s Fission seems conceptually similar to Avid’s Pro Multiband Splitter, but it is in fact completely different. Instead of splitting a signal up by frequency, Fission works in the time domain, so you can separate the attack portion of a note or sound from the sustain portion, and then you can add independent effects to each of the separate sections to either reshape the sound — for example, turn a piano into a synth pad — or just create wacky effects, such as delay on the attack and chorus on the sustain. A variety of effects are built into Fission, with lots of creative control features, so the possibilities are immense.

Zynaptiq Adaptiverb
I admit, I’m a sucker for time-based effects such as delay and reverb. I simply love all the flavors of ambience and spatial processing variations these effects can provide. But when it came time to single out a creative reverb effect, I went straight to one of my current favs, Zynaptiq Adaptiverb. Adaptiverb uses a fascinating mathematical approach to creating reverb called “ray tracing,” which results in great-sounding verbs. But to me, the coolest functions are things such as Harmonic Filtering, which allows you to “tune” the reverb tail to a particular chord, key, or set of notes. (It will change how you hear and use reverb!) You can even pre-program different harmonic presets and select them via automation — or Adaptiverb can automatically follow the chords in your song. Freeze the reverb tail to create a pad that you can play over. Plus, it just has cool names for its functions, such as “Bionic Sustain Resynthesis.” If you think reverb is just simulating rooms and halls, you must check this creative tool out.

Waves Enigma
Waves has a wide selection of sound processors and manglers in their vast array of plug-in offerings, but the one that jumps out to me is Enigma. It’s a tough one to describe, because it can do such a wide variety of things; you’ve got filters, reverbs, delays, modulators, and more in an easy-to-grasp user interface. The sounds produced range from “traditional” effects, such as delays and flangers, to subtle “motion” and near-ring modulation to swept filters and synth-like timbres where the incoming signal is completely unrecognizable when it exits the plug-in.

Softube Mutator
The Mutronics Mutator was an infamous hardware processor launched in the early 1990s that was quickly adopted by artists such as The Chemical Brothers, Nine Inch Nails, and many others. To get one today, you’ll have to do some searching, because they fairly quickly went out of production when the parts supply ran out. But that’s the beauty of today’s virtual world! Softube is offering a meticulous re-creation of the Mutator that you run right inside your DAW! So what does it do? Mutator is, at its core, a 2-channel modulated filter. The original used voltage control to manipulate the filter, but with Softube’s version, you have all sorts of incredible control options: an envelope follower, onboard LFOs, Gate Mode, or even “external” control from another source using Mutator’s sidechain input.

Soundtoys Crystallizer
Choosing just one processor from Soundtoys isn’t easy, since even their most “traditional” plug-ins offer fun extended possibilities. But my nod goes to Crystallizer, which they call a “Granular Echo Synthesizer.” What Crystallizer does is slice up your audio and then process those slices. The results can range from standard delay-type effects to sheets of sounds to bubbling masses to alien delay concentrations. Everything can run in sync with your DAW’s tempo, and high and low filtering allow you to shape the output. While I’m limited to one plug-in here, I’ll put in a plug (no pun intended) for the Soundtoys Bundle, which includes the very cool Effects Rack that allows you to load up any combination of the 17 included plug-ins and treat them as a single effect for massive sonic carnage!

Native Instruments Reaktor
If you’re looking to get deep into sonic exploration, then Native Instruments’ Reaktor is something you’re going to want to check out. Reaktor is a software environment that runs as a standalone program or as a plug-in that allows you to graphically design synthesizers and audio processors. While it comes with many presets and a cadre of amazing pre-programmed devices, it’s the bottomless well of creative possibilities that truly set it apart. While Reaktor could seem intimidating, you can immediately get started using the aforementioned presets and devices. Plus, Reaktor 6 includes more than 40 Reaktor Blocks — oscillators, filters, effects, modulators, and sequencers — that you can use modular-synth-style to assemble your own creations. Whether you want vintage analog sounds or otherworldly timbres, Reaktor is up to the task.

Sugar Bytes Effectrix
For many modern genres, rhythm is at the core, but not just musical rhythm from drums and other instruments; we’re talking deeply embedded rhythm-ness inside the sounds themselves. From pulsations to chopper effects, a great tool for rhythmizing your sounds is Sugar Bytes Effectrix. This plug-in features a 32-step sequencer with 12 MIDI-triggerable sub-patterns that you can sync to tempo and use to control any of 14 internal effects. The sequencer can modulate parameters and more. The effects that result range from reverse parts to synced rhythms, looping, groovebox effects, a real-time scratch engine, and much more. If EDM, DJing, or electronic genres are your game, the Effectrix is one plug-in you’re going to want in your arsenal. A quick mention here: I had a tough time deciding between Effectrix and its sibling Turnado, which has more of a real-time approach to processing with up to eight effects controllable from a cool hands-on user interface. Check them both out!

iZotope Stutter Edit
BT’s music features incredible sonic manipulation, so you know that when he teamed up with the tech geniuses at iZotope, the outcome was going to be spectacular. And the result definitely delivers! Stutter Edit samples your audio and turns it into malleable clay that you can shape, twist, chop, and manipulate in an incredible battery of ways. All of the processing can be controlled in real time using MIDI, so Stutter Edit is equally at home onstage as it is in your studio. From sheets of sound to chopped stutters to hordes of screaming gnat notes, Stutter Edit seems to offer endless possibilities for morphing your audio into something completely new, whether vaguely familiar or utterly alien. With built-in effects, delay, pan, filtering, bit reduction, and slicing, Stutter Edit is quite deep, yet also quite playable, letting it serve as much as a musical instrument as it does an audio processor.

FabFilter Volcano 2
FabFilter’s Volcano 2 offers ridiculous filter power for sound design. It actually comprises four multimode filters, panning, delay, flexible routings, mid-side processing, a 24-slot modulation matrix, a sidechain input, and a lot more. From simple filter sweeps to filtered mayhem, Volcano 2 can do it. A big benefit is that all that power is easy to harness with Volcano 2’s transparent graphic user interface. As with Soundtoys and Sugar Bytes, I had a heck of a time choosing just one plug-in from FabFilter — their Timeless delay processor was also high on my list. In fact, do yourself a favor and check out the FabFilter Creative Bundle, which includes Timeless, Volcano, Twin, and Saturn, all powerful processors in their own right, but even more powerful in combination.

Bonus: Propellerhead Reason Software
Okay, maybe I’m pushing definitions here; Reason isn’t technically a plug-in, though I’m going to stretch the limits by pointing out that it can function in a somewhat similar fashion to a plug-in when you ReWire it into your DAW. Regardless, in my opinion, Reason makes the list because it’s an incredibly versatile and powerful sound creation environment. It’s loaded with synths and sound generators, but for our purposes here, it’s also loaded with a wide array of cutting-edge processors, from standard effects such as delay/reverb/chorus to sound manglers including Pulveriser Demolition Unit and innovative sonic tools such as Alligator Triple Filtered Gate. Plus, you can expand Reason with a huge selection of optional Rack Extensions for even more power and capability. Reason offers flexible routing and control possibilities, along with a state-of-the-art mixer for putting the final touches on your sounds. Given that it can also serve as a DAW and music creation platform, Reason is a no-brainer addition to the arsenal of every musician and producer looking to up their sound design to the next level.

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