Kush has been consistently developing plug-ins that have major vibe with analog character for years now. Even their partner company, California's Sly-Fi Digital, has made some of the go-to plug-ins that I use on almost every mix – the Sat(uration) knob on their Axis EQ is "chef's kiss." But I'm here to tell you about the latest sorcery from Kush. SILIKA is both a plug-in based on a dual-diode compressor and a distortion tool. Distortion modes are modeled after the input and output transformers of a "meticulously maintained" 1973 ADR Compex Limiter. The compressor is based on the compression circuit of an early '70s Neve 2254. Simply put, this plug-in rules!
A big part of SILIKA's greatness is due to its gain staging flexibility. The Input knob drives the amount of distortion you want (and you're going to want at least a little). You can choose between hitting a Zener- or germanium-style diode model for your input drive. The Zener model has a brighter, teeth-grinding sizzle to it, while the germanium model is a bit darker and seems more focused on blowing up lower frequencies. Either way you go, the result is an incredibly smooth and exciting distortion that sounds impressive on drums, bass, guitar, vocals... you name it! I love the way the Zener-style distortion adds presence to a full drum kit but keeps cymbals from getting harsh. Germanium-style works perfectly when you need to spice up a boring DI bass guitar track or add a little extra oomph to a vocal. Okay, back to the gain staging. Once you've dialed in your preferred amount of input drive and distortion type, there is a wet/dry knob in the GUI for the right amount of saturation you may need. Next, you have the compression stage. You've got your standard Attack (30 ms to .1 ms) and Release (5000 ms – 15 ms) knobs, a Ratio selector (2, 4, 12, or 20:1), and a Thresh (old) knob that does exactly what you'd expect. There is also a sidechain section with a high-pass filter ranging from 20 Hz to 300 Hz and a Boost knob that will crank a 9 dB bell curve anywhere from 2.5 kHz to 10 kHz into the sidechain circuit. Note that these are both just affecting what the compressor reacts to, not the source material itself. There is also a key input for an external sidechain. You then have a Mix knob to add in as much of the compressed signal as you want to your already-dialed-in saturation signal. This makes it very easy to find a sweet spot for the right amount of saturation and compression. Want less drive? Back off your Input or dial back the Dry/Sat Blend knob. You want sounds to blow up but not get squeezed too hard? Crank the Input and use the Sat/Comp Mix knob to get some parallel compression happening.
Lastly, there's the Output knob. This is at the very end of the circuit, so it will keep your track level consistent even when making Mix knob adjustments between dry, saturated, and compressed signals. For fun, they've added a Fury button that literally multiplies everything by ten. This means the distortion becomes ten times more pushed, and the attack/release times become ten times faster than the amounts shown.
Because there is a lot of control with this plug-in, Kush created a tri-meter that uses color-coded needles to show In(put), Out(put), and GR (gain reduction) all at once. It's a cool feature, and it works efficiently, but it is a little distracting to have on all the time. They must have foreseen this, so they give you the option to select an isolated view of only I/O, GR, or the tri-meter. They've also included their Kush-standard polarity button, a Help button that links to the manual on Kush's website, and a stereo Linked button. Note that even when stereo link is off, there is still only one Threshold control.
SILIKA's distortion model is so smooth and flattering – it's crazy how easy it is to turn a weak source into a confident and interesting track. The compression circuit of this plug-in is excellent and has features that make it useful for any compression job. I love everything about this plug-in! The only thing I wish it had was a link (auto gain) feature for the Input and Output knobs. Obviously part of the fun in using SILIKA is driving the input, but you'll inevitably end up turning down the output. Not a big deal, but it could be useful. For those of you still on the hunt for a digital tool that sounds and reacts like an analog box, SILIKA should be a top priority to demo. On second thought, buy the damn thing! Kush only charges $99 for this plug-in. Alternately, you can pay $9.99 per month and get everything they make! SILIKA is a big winner in my book.