I first ran across the excellent Audio Damage plug-in line via analogindustries.com, the blog of Chris Randall (ex-Sister Machine Gun frontman). Chris is one-half of the company with Adam Schabtach, and together they've made some stellar plugs which are known for their high quality, extreme affordability, and CPU economy.
Curious about their latest offerings, I recently installed Liquid, Fluid and Vapor, a group of semi-related plugs (all sold separately, but meant to complement one another in principal and design). My primary platform in testing was Ableton Live 7 running on a MacBook Pro. The installer offers VST and AU installation within OS X, but I opted for just the VST versions. (For a variety of reasons I've been bailing on the AU platform these days-a rant best saved for another month. [Me too -AH])
Liquid is a software flanger made to emulate real-deal tape flanging. Unlike standard pedal-based hardware flanging (and the plethora of DSP effects which follow that template), vintage analog-tape flanging has a depth and timbre which is difficult to capture in the digital world. What Audio Damage has apparently done is reduce Glyn Johns and Phil Spector to ones and zeroes, shove them into a tiny box equipped with two varispeed tape decks running in relative sync, and turn them loose upon our DAW. That's the only way I can describe the madness that is Liquid. It's good stuff-capable of adding very subtle stereo width or complete bat-shit psychedelic brilliance. Liquid does an excellent job of capturing the timbre of tape flanging, a wet-n-warbly, comb-filtered jet-plane swoop. Think 1967's "Itchycoo Park" by Small Faces. I found it quite fun to mess with vocals and entire mix edits rendered with liberal amounts of Liquid.
Fluid is an analog-modeled chorus that fills a need for a unique and usable chorus in the DAW world. I'll admit to being a chorus hater; it's highly unlikely that I'll use a chorus plug-in if I can avoid it, for the very simple reason that most chorus effects sound like ass to me. I actually do like Ableton's included Chorus effect, especially the one that comes with version 7, so it seemed fair to put it up against AD's Fluid and see how the two sounded. I found each to have their strengths; Fluid seemed to have a nice, wide stereo field that complemented synth pads and string sounds, but I didn't care for it on drum loops as much as I did Live's Chorus. All in all, Fluid seemed to have a greater degree of subtle coloration, which seemed perfect for adding spark or depth to mix elements that suffered from static placement or lack of stereo imaging. Although I know it can add more radical colors, I found I liked Fluid most when I could just barely hear it working-a weird compliment, I guess, but that's my take.
Vapor is what AD describes as a "diffusion chorus"-basically a diffusion reverb stage married to good 'ol modulating delays. Kinda like Fluid, Vapor sounds best (to my silly ears at least) on pads and slower-tempo rhythm tracks, although some of the presets (Nice and Easy in particular) seem like good jump-off points for drum loops or percussive tracks. Within the plug-in, one can control the modulation rate, the depth and shape of the diffusion, and the dry/wet mix. A low-cut filter is also available. I enjoyed the GUI's representation of diffusion level and modulation rate-a nice, simple detail that made tweaks immediately easy to grasp.
In fact, Liquid, Fluid, and Vapor all have similar GUI's-dead-simple, 2D-style interfaces with command-click resets of all parameters. There doesn't appear to be a way to input numerical values directly within the UI, but the virtual knobs work fine-just be sure to save any presets as there are no numeric indicators or values to help recall previous settings.
While it would be nice to see these ported to RTAS, I understand that the AD crew have enough on their hands with their already-supported hosts; their position is, "Maybe Digidesign should consider adding VST support to their products." Ding dong! You listening, Digi? Anyway, these are useful, great sounding, and very affordable plugs-ins. Check them out.
($29 direct each; www.audiodamage.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.