In what seems to be a growing trend, Freqtube FT-1 is a saturation plug-in for DAWs that uses an outboard analog processor in conjunction with software. This is my first experience with anything from the Freqport brand, and I hope this well-designed analog/digital hybrid is a sign of more to come. The unit connects to a computer via USB-C – audio converters are 32 bit and up to 192 kHz – and the software install is quick and easy. When it first powers on, the display indicates that the two pairs of E83CC and 12AT7 tubes are warming up. Once ready, it’s as simple as loading the plug-in on a mono or stereo track in your favorite DAW and choosing from the four available "hardware" channels.

The plug-in controls the outboard analog filters to shape the sound before it hits the tube, a handful of analog parameters (Harmonics, Drive) adjust how the tube changes your signal, and a blend balance (Analog Mix) is at the end of the chain. All of the audio processing happens in the hardware, and it's simple to automate within your DAW. There are also several displays (Volts / Time, DB / Frequency) to help visualize what is going on. The collection of presets all demonstrate clever ways to process everything from bass and kick drums to acoustic guitars and vocals.

An especially nice addition are the eight plug-in controller knobs on the top of the hardware box. These are assignable in any way you wish, per session. There’s a full color display there that shows which parameters are currently mapped to the eight knobs, as well as the current value. It’s easy to remap the knobs, and to help keep track each plug-in instance can be assigned a color which shows up on the hardware. It’s very well thought out. In practice, I’ll often do my initial sound exploration via mouse within the plug-in window. Any parameters I find myself unable to settle on, I'll assign to the hardware knobs and move on to something else. The knobs maintain their assignment no matter what part of my session I’m focusing on at the moment, and I can then tweak them by hand to find the sounds I need.

The FT-1 can go far more extreme than I expected! When leaning into to grittier, sharp saturation, it saturates more than I assumed it would, but without ever hurting my ears. It’s not exactly warm and gooey, but it excels at adding presence through overtones without sounding harsh. By doing so, it's also good for moving sounds from the back of the mix to the front.

The FT-1 freqtube is a joy to use, and its saturation is such an addictive sound. As with any hardware analog inserts, you'll have to remember to print your tracks before attempting an offline bounce, or run mixes in real time. When recalls are needed, the settings are all saved in the plug-in – it’s a piece of cake to pick up where I left off. I’m highly impressed with the quality of the entire FT-1 freqtube package and look forward to more useful products from the team at Freqport.

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

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