Full disclosure: I saw an introductory promotion offering the United Plugins FrontDAW plug-in for free, so I downloaded and registered it. The promotion has since expired, and the plug-in is now available at its regular price, but that shouldn't stop you from checking it out. You can download a fully functioning 15-day trial. After the trial period, you won't be able to set the high-pass filter, and a few other settings are locked, but there are no drop-outs or white noise blasts after 15 days, so you can still use it. Licensing is accommodated through a downloadable license file – no iLok or dongle required, and you can install on all your computers as long as you're the user.

But I've jumped way ahead. United Plugins consists of a group of independent plug-in development teams under one umbrella headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic. FrontDAW (say "front door" with your favorite accent) is a VST/AAX/AU plug-in for Windows or Mac developed by Soundevice Digital that adds analog, console-like saturation in the box. I'm running Pro Tools 2019 on Windows 10, and it installed without a hitch. Since the initial download, I've also installed plug-in updates (v1.1 and v1.2), plus a Pro Tools update with no issues. The user manual is online, and I noticed a few errors with the documentation and contacted support (disclosing nothing about a review). United Plugins replied and updated the documentation quickly – hopefully this is a good indicator of support responsiveness should you ever need it.

FrontDAW is the brainchild of producer/remixer Greg Brimson, and offers a choice of BR (British), US (American), or GE (German tube console) style saturation. United Plugins says their VARM (Variable Analogue Random Modeling) technology makes each plug-in instance sound slightly different, even with the exact same settings. The saturation modes do pretty much what you would expect: BR adds some fatness in the low end with a bit of air on top. The US setting offers solid lows with punchiness in the mids. The GE mode might be my favorite, adding a noticeable sheen to the highs and slight grittiness in the low end.

I often add a high-pass EQ on tracks to get rid of any mud – especially on AUX buses with effects – so having the ability to roll off up to 500 Hz with FrontDAW frees up an insert point and gives me back a little CPU power. The GUI is scalable – just drag the bottom right corner! Double clicking or right clicking can get you to additional, finer-grained parameters and settings. The Mojo knob lets you dial in saturation. You can also use the Input control to drive the channel harder, but be aware that the input can change the output on the channel by +/- 24 dB – acting a bit like Pro Tools' Trim plug-in. I mention this because it can be easy to fool your ears with "louder is better," and some other console emulation or saturation plug-ins I have used have input adjustments that try to keep the output level consistent when introducing saturation. Because of this, I found it was easier to dial in the sound of each track with FrontDAW before I started mixing. You can still tweak the high-pass filter and Mojo setting, but use your faders after you settle on a tone.

I added FrontDAW to a mix I was working on for a local artist. This was a '60s-style rock 'n' roll song with female vocals. I created mixes with and without FrontDAW on each track and then also compared the same mix with a different console emulation plug-in. The mixes with console plug-ins sounded exciting in a different way, but, in the end, I used the mix with FrontDAW, and the artist loved it too. On another project I put FrontDAW across the master bus, and again it made the mix sound better to my ears. In the future I will probably mix and match FrontDAW with other plug-ins to achieve the specific character I'm looking for on audio tracks or aux buses. Download it, give it a whirl, and see what FrontDAW can do for your mixes!

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

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