The SoundToys suite of plug-ins was developed by a crew of ex-Eventide gurus headed up by Ken Bogdanowicz. [See interview on previous page.] Ken and the gang have been developing plug-ins for years now, starting out early in the DAW game writing exclusively for the Pro Tools TDM platform. From the very beginning of its original release date, the SoundToys suite has been one of my favorite sets of plug-ins, hands down. However, once I jumped ship from a Pro Tools rig to a fully native setup (using Logic as my main host), I was sadly left without the ability to use my SoundToys. Needless to say, when I heard that SoundToys was releasing a native version, I was extremely excited.
The suite consists of EchoBoy, FilterFreak, PhaseMistress, Tremolator, and Crystallizer. (Speed is also part of the suite, but it only works as a Pro Tools AudioSuite plug-in.) As mentioned above, I've been using these plug-ins for quite a while now, and they are truly amazing. The SoundToys website says that they are "renowned for our analog emulations", and I have to say that this is no boast. The guys at SoundToys sought out and bought a whole lot of vintage gear in their never-ending quest for a wide range of emulation options, and a lot of classic pieces of gear are represented in the presets. The most important thing, of course, is that it all sounds huge and meaty. Out of all of the effect plug-ins that I use on a daily basis, there are very few that actually sound like you're using a great sounding piece of hardware, and the SoundToys suite does just that. When you factor in the overall sound with the great GUI design and functionality, you have an amazing set of tools.
EchoBoy is the multi-mode echo plug-in of the suite, and it is also my first-call delay/echo effect in any session. The interface is pretty simple up front, but there are a lot of features designed for the tweaker at heart, so be sure to dig in and explore. Delays can be synched via MIDI clock, tapped in, or set to whatever BPM you wish. There are four main modes of delays to choose from: Single Echo, Dual Echo, Ping Pong, and Rhythm Echo. Each mode has a different set of parameters, although there is some overlap between the four. There is a section that controls the tempo and sync; and there is also a Groove knob that I find myself using a lot that allows you to adjust the swing of a delay rhythm. You can also very finitely customize the rhythmic variations of a delay preset. There is a third section of the interface where you can control input and output balance and Saturation on a preset.
FilterFreak consists of two plug-ins. Standard FilterFreak has one filter, while FilterFreak2 has two filters that can be run serially or in parallel. FilterFreak combines traditional filter-based effects with a groove section that is intuitive and easy-to-use. PhaseMistress is based on classic phase- shifter units and also has a section for synching grooves. Tremolator emulates the tremolo effect of guitar amps, Wurli keyboards, and tremolo pedals. There is a programmable rhythm editor that allows you to create custom patterns. Crystallizer, the tweakiest plug-in of the suite, is based around echo slicing and pitch processing-a bit like the classic Eventide Harmonizer's Crystalize preset on steroids.
Each of the SoundToy plug-ins has a large number of presets, and this is one area where they've exceeded expectations, at least for me. You can tell these guys have to get out and away from the computer a bit more, there are that many presets. The presets range from classic sounds, to the very subtle, to the weird and wonderful. While many plug-ins on the market attempt to emulate the classic pieces of outboard and pedal effects, a lot of them fail miserably. Not so for the boys at Soundtoys; as mentioned above, they shelled out some heavy lucre in their search for classic pieces and many of them are very effectively represented here.
For me, probably one of the best things for getting a lot more out of effect plug-ins is some sort of tactile interface activity, and this is one area where the SoundToys plug-ins excel. Mapping a KAOS pad and some MIDI knobs to a few parameters on EchoBoy, for example, allowed me to create a lot of tweaky but very usable delay-artifact sounds on a hard rock tune I was working on. Suffice it to say, the options here are endless, and the respective interfaces of the SoundToys plug-ins invite experimentation.
The scenarios that I tend to use these plug-ins range from the typical to the very strange. Delay treatment on drums and vocals to add space, depth, and rhythmic filigree is a pretty typical use of an echo plug-in, but with a delay-line EchoBoy, the overall sound quality is very robust. I've been working on some 30 second funk loops for a client where FilterFreak has really flown its vintage flag on bass and guitar; and the same goes for PhaseMistress on guitar for that vintage funk sound. The Bass Guitar Tone Machine bank in EchoBoy has some really subtle but great sounding spaces that I have been using a lot on vocals and drums.
One very geeky thing I tried involved a custom environment I created for Logic that saves snapshots of plug-ins and faders for recall at the click of a button. I was working on a dub type of track, and as expected, the track was calling for a heavy dose of delay feedback-a perfect situation for EchoBoy. I stored a heavy delay setting as one snapshot and then stored another snapshot with a bit more feedback-almost to the point of breaking up-and also with a slightly different rhythmic delay groove. While the song was playing and going into full-on dubby bliss, I switched snapshots occasionally to change things up, and the resultant sound of transitioning between EchoBoy snapshots was very cool. Every once in a while, I sent EchoBoy's wet delay signal to another bus with another EchoBoy set up for even dubbier bliss, and then sent a quick burst of this signal back into the first EchoBoy, and then repeated at whim. A highly recommended trick.
Now that SoundToys is available in native format, the reality is that the more powerful the host CPU, the better. These are really powerful feature-laden effects that are DSP intensive. I have the suite installed on three different Macs that reflect the evolution of Apple hardware over the last few years (a PowerBook G4, a dual G5, and an Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro), and the difference in performance between the three is very noticeable, especially when you have multiple instances of plug-ins running. So, if you're going to shell out the cash for this suite, download the demo and really run it through its paces to make sure you know what to expect in terms of performance on your machine.
SoundToys is an affordable pro-level plug-in suite for both the tweakhead and the preset-user at heart. These are extremely versatile plug-ins with solid interfaces and robust code. You might find that vintage outboard effect you own noticeably begin to collect dust. Yes, I have to admit it; slowly but surely my hardware effects are making their way onto eBay. It would be a story dripping with irony if my Roland RE-501 was bought by the SoundToys gang, only to wind up as a preset on a future update. Keep up the good work, guys. ($495 direct; www.soundtoys.com)