I’m really digging these lightweight and discovery-laden plug-in bundles from Native Instruments; the fun-to-cost ratio is highly disproportionate! Each of these packs features three 64-bit plug-ins (VST, AU, or AAX) that offer a surprising amount of creative potential for such a low cost. I was a little skeptical at first – I mean, who needs more distortion and modulation effects? One could argue that most DAWs include stock chorus and distortion effects groups that sound great, so why bother? To answer both questions straight away – everyone needs more distortion and modulation effects if they are designed with the same level of creative potential of these packs.

Let’s look at the Crush pack first. Bite is a bit crushing/downsampling effect with pre- and post-filter options and a unique Jitter control to dial in a level of stereo clock jitter and chaotic noise.Dirt is the closest that the pack comes to including anything remotely traditional-sounding in regards to a distortion effect, while managing to provide a ton of flexible, creative options by way of two blend-able circuit-modeled diode clipping stages, plus tilt and bias controls. The third plug-in in the Crush bundle is an insane ring modulation and frequency shifter effect called Freak. Freak alone would be worth the price of the bundle – its sonic palette includes everything from nasty AM radio warped oblivion, to tempo-locked amplitude modulation, to subtle stereo widening. My experience? Bass sounds and drum buses cower in fear before the Crush effects.

Each of the Crush pack effects benefits from an easy to understand, semi-flat UI with a bright, primary color background and bright graphics. I couldn’t feel more at home with these designs – they definitely aren’t skeuomorphic, but also don’t fall into the almost Scandinavian sterility of other modern software UIs. It seems dumb to say it, but this porridge is just right and invites discovery of semi-hidden features and sonic tweaks.

On to the Mod pack: Choral is a four-mode (you guessed it) chorus effect that offers voicings ranging from ‘80s Roland Juno synth or string synth sounds to bucket brigade style effects (apparently inspired by the Roland Dimension D). Flair is a wild take on the time-tested flanging effect with four separate comb filters that have many synchronized parameters that alter their harmonic relations with one another – think arpeggiated flanging chords with feedback! And last, Phasis is, yup, a phasing effect instrument – I use the term instrument here because it has modulation and frequency range potentialities that reminded me more of an FM synth than just another phaser. Like their cousins, the Mod pack plug-ins benefit from a clean and simple UI with generally no more than eight or nine controls. I loved this stuff on vocals and really just about any higher-frequency information in my mixes.

Both the Mod and Crush packs are clearly optimized for NI Komplete Kontrol controllers or Maschine – I used them with my Kontrol S49 keyboard MK2 [Tape Op #109] and they were a thing of functionally precise beauty on the high-res color screens. This is not to say that the plug-ins require a MIDI controller or keyboard at all – they can be used in your DAW just like any other plug-in (I had no trouble using them with Ableton Live, with or without a Push controller, for example). But for users who have bought into the Komplete Kontrol or Maschine ecosystems, these plug-in packs are ideal. For others, I’d consider these packs a substantial upgrade to the stock distortion and modulation effects groups included with any DAW. Well done, you German software guys!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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