Ostensibly a drum mixing tool especially built for kick drums, Subloom is one of those plug-ins based on a mixer's workflow, specifically Jesse Ray Ernster [Tape Op #151], and combines several functions in a single "two-channel" GUI. When I look at my own plug-in chain for kick drum mixing, I usually see EQ, direct compression, parallel limiting, and parallel (real or faked) sub kick, plus occasional variable phase adjustment and/or transient shaping. Subloom works much of this into its processing, with the "kick" channel's high/low-pass filtering, additive resonance, Neve-styled 3-band EQ (pre or post), transient control, and saturation. In my early analog era, I remember triggering a gated 40 Hz test tone from a kick in order to add a synthetic low end to a poorly recorded drum. Back in the old days, just blending in a little of this deep note could fill in the missing sound, and it's also the coolest hip-hop trick. Subloom's "sub" channel side features this option and is all set up for us with Pitch selection, gating controls, Pitch Dive (drops pitch after hit), plus the same versatile saturation section as the “kick” channel.

I tested Subloom out on a session I was mixing where the engineer seemingly didn't pay enough attention to the drum sounds. On the kick, I'd already meticulously removed several clicks caused by mic preamp overloads. Then I gated it to remove a weird "echo" sound (Bad kick pedal? Poor technique?) and double-checked that every hit was still present. My usual plug-ins, with an SPL Transient Designer [Tape Op #21] added, delivered a pretty decent "indie rock" type of sound. When I copied over the track and inserted Subloom, I quickly dialed in a much more controlled, bigger "rock" feel. I didn't use the “sub” channel for this track – luckily, there was a decent natural low end to work with. However, when I played around with that section, it was stunning how perfect and deep of a note (21 Hz) I could add. Speaking of that, unless you have amazing monitors, always check what you're adding “down there” with quality headphones! Beyond a polite sub tone, I was able to do some totally crazy messed-up synthesizing with the “sub” section – trying it on an electronic-based mix client's mix was a blast. Adding pulsing notes and saturated drum machine beats changed it drastically from the raw track in a cool way.

In usual rogue-engineer fashion, I tried the Subloom on sources other than the kick drum. With a pretty dull snare, I was able to add snap and body, though it changed the drum sound a lot, and I think I'd only use this for extremely desperate tracks. On bass, I got some impressive industrial saturation, but there's not really the processing here to mimic what a bass amp simulator can add to a dead-sounding DI track. The saturation and EQ worked pretty well to create spikey lead vocals, and adding a sub pitch was super weird if you need something like that!

There are a lot of controls, so it might initially appear confusing, but I was getting what I wanted fairly quickly, and in use the GUI "mixer" layout makes a lot of sense. Subloom gives us a lot of control under one roof for setting up exciting and workable kick drum sounds while offering a lot of creative options when needed.

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

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