I absolutely love the original SoundHack sound design software, so I was excited to hear that Tom Erbe, designer of SoundHack, had released a new suite of plug- ins advancing some of the more esoteric timbre-shaping ideas in SoundHack. Even more exciting is that he plans to release more SoundHack plug-ins in the near future. SoundHack Spectral Shapers are four VST/AU plug-ins (for OS 9, OS X, and Windows): +spectralcompand, +morphfilter, +binaural, and +spectralgate. All four use some form of spectral analysis to reshape timbre, but each does so in its own unique manner with amazing results.

+spectralcompand is a dynamics plug-in which divides incoming audio into 513 frequency bands. Each band can be processed with a combination compressor/expander (hence "compand") with ratios ranging from 5:1 to 1:5. You can also draw a custom threshold shape in the main window, setting a separate threshold for each frequency. This feature is present in the +spectralgate plug as well and is a key aspect in the sound-mangling capability of these plug-ins. Separate controls for attack/release, make-up gain, and tilt (which alters the threshold shape by raising the high frequencies or lowering the lows, or vice-versa) all make for radical harmonic effects and highly adaptable noise- reduction possibilities. As with all the plug-ins in this suite, +spectralcompound can operate in pure mono, mono to stereo, stereo to stereo, or stereo linked modes.

+spectralgate, like +spectralcompand, divides incoming audio into 513 frequency bands and applies a noise gate to each. This allows you to duck or gate specific frequencies without affecting others. Think of this plug-in as a frequency-dependent gate/ducker or level-dependent filter. Then think of what it will do to your loops when you use extreme settings-it's awesome.

+morphfilter, like the other plug-ins, lets you draw a spectral image or capture the spectral shape of incoming audio. Here, the curve that you draw or capture becomes the frequency response of a filter. The cool thing about this plug-in is its unique ability to morph between two saved filter curves. This can be done through MIDI (automatable of course) or via the built-in LFO (which can be sync'ed to the host DAW application). Together with the tilt control, this morphing can result in subtle or radical sound designs and colorations.

+binaural simulates the filtering effect of the head and outer ears to place a sound at a specific position around the listener's head. Although it's optimized for headphone use, it's useful in creating a sense of depth and space in any mixing situation.

Tom Erbe's Spectral Shapers are well designed and thought-out, with classy, streamlined interfaces. Each of the plug-ins can be automated via MIDI controller messages, which is awesome for real-time control, live or in the studio. They are somewhat CPU-intensive, but should not overburden most systems. And the bundle is available as a fully-functional, 14-day trial from the SoundHack website. If you are a late-night sound mangler/designer/experimenter, or you're just looking for a fresh approach to signal processing, these plug-ins really have to be tried. In fact, they're a bit beyond description.

($150.00 MSRP; www.soundhack.com)

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

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