An Exploration of Selected Effects Plugins

Realizing at the start of 2024 just how many effects plugins I have in my collection, I resolved to go through each one, dig in and explore it deeply, in order to:

  • increase my understanding of how they work and what they can do for me
  • find some cool tricks and techniques
  • drop any of them that don’t compare that well to their siblings
  • build up more resistance to buying more plugins.

Here are some of the notes I’ve taken along the way. This isn’t anything like a comprehensive list of plugins I use or recommend, it’s just the ones where I wanted to get some observations and thoughts written down as part of this process. Maybe you’ll find something useful, or get some ideas or inspiration for using other plugins you may already have.

Delays

Aqusmatic Audio Dedalus Delay

  • Feedback has always seemed a bit much on this one, and I haven’t noticed FeedDamp doing much. But turning up the input gain can give the feeling of reducing the feedback repeats.
  • The filter in the upper right corner is inside the feedback loop (and is a great way to affect the feedback tone and feel). Turning up the Prefilter knob makes it also apply to the initial delay, as well as also increasing the overall strength of the filter.
  • The overdrive stage seems to be applied on the initial delay, after any pre-filtering, as well as after the filter within the feedback loop.
  • Bandwidth is applied after overdrive (again, on the initial delay and within the loop).
  • Ducking/gating comes after the feedback loop. “Minimum” controls the level of the ducked/gated material (lower level = stronger ducking).
  • Modulation (VarDel/VarPitcH): the secret sauce here is that delay time changes can either cause doppler shift (“Glide” mode) or use a granular technique to overlap delays at different lengths as the delay time is modulated. Larger numbers of grains are more similar to Glide. Different grain rates will give smooth or rough textures, or steppy changes, depending on modulation speed and delay time. The “Delay Mod” switch seems to affect panning as well as delay time.

Sonic Charge Echobode

  • This plugin combines delay with diffusion (“Smear”) and filters, a frequency shifter, as well as an assignable LFO.
  • Note that frequency shifters are not pitch shifters — the shift in Hz is linear across the whole spectrum, so it bends harmonic sounds into inharmonic ones. Ring modulation happens to be the same as a mix of an equal upward and downward frequency shift, so this plugin provides a knob to control the mix. The “Anti Refl” switch prevents downward frequency shifts from reflecting around 0 Hz (shifting back up again) off is also known as thru zero.
  • Smear can easily turn delays into reverbs, and low-rate ringmod can act as a kind of tremolo. So there’s an awful lot that can be done with this plugin.
  • It’s definitely worth exploring MIDI mode, where the ringmod/frequency shift tracks the pitch of the played note, for even more dramatic and unusual effects. Hold Shift while turning the big knob for fine-tuning. The lowpass filter can help keep the pitch from running away through feedback.

Inertia Sound Systems Hinder

  • This delay provides a few methods to imbue a lo-fi character: bit reduction, noise, a filter, distortion (“heat”), and a “dark mode”. It also adds a compressor in the feedback loop, driving a bit more sustain and raising the stakes for all of the other dirt you add (as well as affecting the reverse mode dramatically).
  • Unfortunately, modulation can be a weak point with this one. Outside of sync mode, it’s not particularly easy to dial in subtle modulation for a really gentle wobble. I prefer to use Bitwig’s LFO modulators instead for finer control.
  • In sync mode, the modulation applies directly to the time knobs, which means it’ll be changing the clock divisions rather than providing that sweet Doppler shift. (And the internal LFO can’t sync to a clock to make that really cool — again, I use a Bitwig LFO instead.) Modulating the Width though provides a smooth delay time offset between the L and R channels, which does give Doppler shift in either mode.

Noise Engineering Imitor

  • Based originally on the Imitor Versio Eurorack module, the plugin version greatly expands on the features and flexibility — it’s basically a whole different animal.
  • The *2 and /2 buttons on Beats and PreDelay affect time, not speed. *2 means twice as much time, not twice as fast. But on synced modulation, it does refer to speed.
  • You can use Taps and Decay to simulate feedback without actually using feedback. Or you can combine it with Regen (and its additional effects).
  • Playing with Predelay, Time Warp and the Tap checkboxes can let you build more complex, swinging echo rhythms.
  • Time Warp helps to break up ringing feedback when you have a short delay time, large number of taps and high Regen, letting the delay ring out in a reverb-like way. Used this way, positive time warp generally calls for shorter delay times than negative time warp. Fewer taps brings more metallic ringing, more taps is smoother.
  • For the Tap Delay LFO on the Tone page, Dance varies the LFO rate differently for each tap, while Stereo varies the LFO phase for left and right channels. These can help make the modulation of more reverb-like effects as lush as it needs to be.
  • The envelope follower is a fantastic addition — assign it to Blend for ducking, to Regen for controlled bursts of feedback or for feedback ducking, to Crunch, Shimmer or Doom for a more subtle touch than just leaving them high, to Tone for a sort of auto-wah in your delays, to Decay or even Tap Total to modify the tap profile dynamically for a kind of swell effect… you can even assign it to delay time or Time Warp for weirder wobbles. (If modulating Tap Total, this causes shifts in how Time Warp as well as the panning parameters and Decay are applied.)
  • Assigning a square wave LFO to Time Warp when you have at least 3 taps and some regen is a neat way to get a blend of octave-shifting and non-shifting into your delays.
  • If you’re using a large number of taps and positive time warp, try a saw or triangle LFO into Angle and Rotate to wobble it around a bit in stereo for a bit of a granular delay kind of feel.

Audiority Plexitape

  • Sound On Sound mode was weird on the original hardware and it’s weird here. Frankly I just use Echo, or even Off for the preamp.
  • The Aux Echo knob (if not turned off) has the same scale as the main time slider; both are dependent on the Varispeed knob or sync setting.
  • Control names are a bit odd on this one. “Echo Sustain” is feedback amount, while “Record Level” is the preamp. (Higher preamp levels increase both the first echo and the feedback.) If you want more drive for tone reasons, you’ll probably need to turn down Sustain to compensate.
  • “Echo Volume” is the wet/dry control.
  • “Early/Late” preamp switch affects the tone.
  • Varispeed, as far as I can tell, does not affect the tone, only the delay time.
  • On the Age knob, lower values mean more degradation (the opposite of Valhalla Delay). Due to lower stability, this has a damping effect on the feedback.
  • Gain staging is important here — In, Out, Noise, Record Level, Echo Volume and Mix all interact and give you a variety of control, but it’s not particularly simple!

Audio Damage Ratshack Reverb

  • Like the hardware, this has no modulation of its own. It can be nice to assign an LFO from your host to the delay times, either with Link on, or modulating in opposite directions on L and R.
  • There’s really not much point to the Input switch — leave it on Mic to use the slider to boost the signal into distortion. (Some people own the hardware mainly to use it for the distortion, not the delay.)

Unfiltered Audio Sandman Pro

  • The diffusion on this one has few taps, so for the most part it’ll give you noticeable bouncy echoes with an interesting muted character. You can use this with extremely short delay times (including “No Echo” which is simply a 5ms delay that works with all the other features). Diffusion also sounds pretty cool with Reverse delay mode!
  • Strong feedback does tend to smooth out the diffusion.
  • In Multi-Tap mode, the displayed delay time is the time for the final tap in the chain. Increasing taps but keeping the same delay time increases the tap rate. Negative spacing accelerates the taps, positive spacing decelerates them.
  • A fun thing to try: capture a buffer in Sleep mode, then switch the delay time to Offset or Independent stereo, so the L and R channels repeat the buffer at different rates. (You can adjust start/end times as needed to keep them coherent.)
  • With “Sleep Filter” enabled, some of the effects from the delay modes (Saturate, Wow, Dirt etc.) as well as Diffuse apply to the sleep buffer in real time. When it’s disabled, they are recorded into the sleep buffer. This means you can record into the buffer with Sleep Filter disabled, enable Sleep and then enable Sleep Filter to double the effect.
  • Multitap and pitch shifting are always recorded into the sleep buffer, and can’t be changed afterward. But you can repitch the buffer using Sample Rate.
  • With Sleep enabled, you can assign an LFO to Reverse for ping-pong buffer playback. (Note you can also move the End to the left of Start for reverse playback.)
  • A square, tempo-synced LFO also can be good into Start and/or End for rhythmic variation on your buffer playback.
  • In Pitch Shifter mode, if you shift one channel up and the other down, using X-Feed instead of Feedback can prevent the “shimmer” effect of cascading pitch shift delays. This can work well with Mid/Side enabled.
  • Glitch Shifter is the same, but you’ll probably want much smaller shift amounts unless you just enjoy total chaos.

Valhalla Delay

  • Honestly I think this one is pretty straightfoward, almost foolproof to dial in, has lots of helpful tooltips and so on. But here are some ideas for unusual uses…
  • Disable all the modulation and set Delay at 0. For each mode, start with mix at 100%, feedback at 0%, diffusion amount at 0% and see what kinds of tones you can get with the other controls. Then experiment with mix, feedback and/or diffusion.
  • (You may find while playing with those that some knobs sound awesome when in motion, so why not assign an LFO or envelope follower from your host to modulate them?)
  • Ghost with 0 delay is a special case, since it’s a frequency shifter — sounds great with the mix at about 50%.
  • RevPitch is another special case; the lower the delay time, the noisier it gets. Times in the 0-20ms range can be nice to layer in behind another sound, with judicious tweaking of EQ and mix.
  • The ducking algorithms can be fun with Drive, Age and EQ.
  • Also try the same thing with non-zero delay times and a moderate mix, but without using feedback or modulation. You can still get multiple echoes by switching Style to Dual, Ratio, PingPong or Multitap.
  • And of course, cranking feedback to 100% or beyond just to “freeze” something imperfectly in the buffer, and then playing with the controls to mess with it, is always fun. I find it helpful to make sure Diffusion Amount is non-zero first, so you can quickly crank it up to smear it out into a drone without losing some of the buffer to a glitch as diffusion switches on. Also, a second instance in series can give you even more to play with.

Modulation/Pitch FX

Aegean Music Pitchproof

  • This is a pretty good pitch shifting “pedal” for free, good for doubling octaves or fifths and so on. It can also act as a kind of chorus if you just detune a little and set blend at about the middle.

Bitwig Pitch Shifter

  • Unlike Pitchproof, I like using this for more experimental purposes than simply changing the pitch of a signal. At fully wet you can get texture changes and rough inharmonic sounds. Small shifts with the mix about halfway and modulating the grain size can give you somewhat unusual chorus-flanger-phaser-like effects.

United Pluigins Retronaut

  • This plugin has a lot of character settings, so I love the Random feature here. A few clicks will very quickly take you through combinations of settings you might not have dialed in yourself, and chances are if none of those have the magic you’re looking for, you don’t need to waste time with endless tweaking.

Audiority Electric Matter

  • Mostly a straightforward effect. But in “Filter Matrix” mode, it’s worth trying modulating the Range with an envelope follower from your host. Modulating it at audio rate can get things really dirty.

Audiority Tube Modulator

  • I’ve found I really like the Link mode to get the two LFOs synchronized. Note that turning it on doesn’t immediately synchronize the controls — it takes effect when you move one of the time or amount knobs. So you can keep the amounts independent but synchronize the rates. Try different LFO shapes on the two sides.
  • Mix seems like a small and unimportant knob, but several of the Amplitude effects really benefit from a less than 100% mix.
  • If your host allows it, try separate instances of Tube Modulator on the left and right channels, with slightly different LFO rates and maybe a little Wow & Flutter. It’s extra lush.

Audiothing Lines

  • This odd plugin has several things going on, and one of them is a frequency shifter. It can sound great with the mix level at about 50%, and/or with some feedback dialed in, and it seems to be well complemented by the distortion.

Arturia EFX Refract

  • I think of this effect as a kind of “super-chorus” — as far as I can tell, each of the “Refraction” voices is effectively something like a chorus, with each voice placed differently in the stereo field.
  • Each of these voices can affect one of the parameters of the right-side effect as well, such as the filter cutoff frequency or sample rate. In some cases the Amount setting increases the spread.
  • This spread makes the Comb Filter with high resonance effectively a reverb. (Comb filters are implemented by mixing a short delay with the dry signal.)

Reverbs

Phonolyth Cascade

  • This is a reverb that offers an unusual amount of control over the diffusion and number of stages/taps, giving you a wide variety of delay and reverb profiles. But it can be fairly complex to work with.
  • The general outline of the effect is:
    Input Stage > Predelay > (feedback return) > Diffusion > Damping > (feedback send with “delay”) > Output Stage.
    This means the “delay” parameter has no effect when feedback is 0. Predelay, the diffusor, and damping all do.
  • Modulation affects only the diffusion times, not the predelay or feedback delay.
  • When Shape is 1.0, the diffusion section stage is bypassed; Stages, Distance, Spread, Stereo and modulation are ineffective.
  • When Shape is 0.0, the diffusion section is active but delay-like rather than reverb-like — there is very little spread in the delay times of each stage, but the modulation of each stage is different. Use Spread rather than Distance for more flanger-like effects.
  • Note that turning down Stages can take some time to “settle” (it doesn’t immediately kill the ongoing tails in later stages).
  • Distance x Stages = the delay time of the first stage. Changing Stages doesn’t cause a Doppler shift, but Distance does (smoothed according to the Inertia setting).
  • Spread is the additional time it takes to reach the final stage. More stages means Spread had a stronger effect. At stages=24, Spread x and Distance 1.0 is the same total time as Spread 1.0 and Distance x.
  • For a “grainier” sound with more distinct delay taps, use a lower Spread and/or fewer stages. For “smoother” sound, use more stages and/or a higher Spread.
  • Shape seems to affect the amplitude profile of the stages individually as well as their envelopes, from what I can tell.
  • Remember that “Delay” is separate from the delays that make up the diffusion network, and not subject to modulation. It can be used to add space to the repeats, whether the diffusion is creating grainy/distinct repeat taps
  • Damping has a huge effect on the character; a grainier sound with a narrower bandwidth gives a more retro sound.
  • The Infinite button on the feedback is a thing of beauty.
  • When the feedback is in Freeze mode, the Damping still affects the result (but isn’t written into the buffer).
  • There’s no gain control on the input stage. Maybe there should be — watch your input levels so that stacked diffusion stages and/or feedback don’t cause clipping.

Noise Engineering Desmodus

  • Another effect based on a Eurorack module, this one is basically Desmodus Versio with the tempo-sync feature of Electus Versio added. Again, multitap delays with diffusion that can create a reverb. It’s not particularly realistic but very good both for industrial and ambient applications (and especially where those two intersect).
  • It does infinite reverb really well.
  • Like with Imitor, the envelope follower is a great addition. Try it on obvious things like Blend, and less obvious like Tone, Dense, Regen… even Time or Input or Output. The same holds true for square LFOs or step sequences.
  • It’s not obvious, but you can also modulate Lerp Mode and Node Mode. Switching modes on a step sequencer, or even using the envelope follower so that peaks get the octave-up treatment, might come in handy for something…
  • Also not obvious, but (as with other NE plugins) you can modulate both Hue and Fire on the Config page. I don’t know why anyone would want to use Fire, but having the interface color react to the envelope follower is fun 🙂 You can also assign modulation to modulation parameters…

Sinevibes Droplet

  • The design of this one intentionally has a low density, so to get smooth-ish reverb requires a synergy of modulation, feedback and damping.
  • Deviation isn’t random — with no modulation and not changing any parameters, you’ll get the same rhythm of taps every time (including stereo positioning.)
  • You can take advantage of the separate Send/Return knobs by automating Send, to decide whether or not to send the current input through the effect without cutting off the existing tails.

u-he Twangström

  • I once did an A/B test comparing Twangström with an actual spring tank (using a Koma Elektronik Field Kit FX) and managed to dial it in so I couldn’t tell which was which.
  • Like a real spring reverb, you can twang the springs (with the GUI or VST automation/modulation).
  • Unlike a real spring reverb, the spring tension can be modulated for a chorusing effect. (Dreadbox Hypnosis has a modulated predelay stage for its spring reverb, but that’s a little different.)
  • The Input/Drive applies to the dry mix too, which you may or may not want. If not, consider putting this in a separate send or chain with a wet/dry control so you can have nicely blown out, filtered spring reverb alongside your clean dry signal. With plenty of drive, modulating the filter can be rewarding too.

Valhalla Room

  • The addition of the Space knob in version 2.0 pushed this reverb into my list of favorites, adding a feedback loop around the predelay and early reflections. My favorite way to use the plugin is to start with Depth at 0, Modulation at 0, Diffusion at max, turn up Space, and play with the Predelay and Early Size — the ratio between those two controls determines the smoothness or “bounciness” of the reverb. I might or might not bring in some depth (and adjust Decay) to let the late reflections play too.

Valhalla Supermassive

  • This isn’t a go-to ambient reverb for me, but try crystal-clear delays as a starting point instead. No modulation, no density, start in Gemini mode and Warp at 0. Each delay repeat will be slightly different due to phase cancellation with the input. Now slowly bring up Warp a bit and notice how the timbre changes. You might find something fantastic here staying entirely in “delay” territory, with a low Warp setting and no Density or Modulation. Note the Mode setting will affect the delay taps (it might multiply the selected time, or give you a predelay or tap patterns).
  • From there you might bring in Density, to see what it does. Or of course, modulation to make it all 80s synthwave lush.
  • Alternately: crank feedback to 100%, fill up the buffer with something, and play with the controls to mangle the resulting drone/noise.
  • For a subtle enhancer, try 0ms delay, 100% warp, about 80% density, no modulation. Pick your mode and dial in feedback, width, mix and EQ (I seem to prefer bringing the low cut way up).

Valhalla Vintage Verb

  • To design spaces with this plugin, I start with Predelay, Size, Attack, Diffusion, and Mod Depth at 0, HighShelf at 0db and BassMult at 1.0x, and Color at 1970s. The different algorithms reveal interesting textures with longer decay times. From there, working with one control at a time makes it clearer what’s happening. Generally, Size opens up more space between “repeats”, Early diffusion smooths the attacks of those repeats, Late diffusion smooths them all into a whole.

Distortion

Minimal Audio Rift

  • I prefer to work in Advanced View since it doesn’t hide any controls.
  • But to simplify things a little, I usually set the positive and negative distortion to the same type and enable Link. (I’ll separate them only if I want to modulate Blend to move between softer and harsher distortion types rather than changing the gain, or to crossfade between noise types.)
  • The plugin has a built-in envelope follower, but you might still want to assign one from your host if possible, to work with different attack and release times to encourage more movement in the various parameters. There are a lot of potential modulation targets…
  • The Feedback section and Filter section both have MIDI modes which track that last note played. Assigning an envelope follower to the feedback amount works very well.
  • Any overwhelming resonance on the filter can be tamed a bit by enabling Multiband, setting that section to only affect the filter, and adjusting ranges and levels as needed.

Noise Engineering Ruina

  • This can be a tricky one to dial in, with a lot of weird interactions. I don’t think the default from the Reset button makes much sense, so here’s mine: Blend, Filter and Center at 100%, Phase at 50%, everything else at 0%, Mobile/Cancilla/Under modes. From there, trying one or two sliders at a time can give somewhat more controllabel results.
  • Don’t forget about envelope followers (internal or DAW-assigned); dynamic control of parameters can really wake things up.

u-he Runciter

  • This is my favorite part of the Uhbik collection (I also like Uhbik-Q) — a combination of distortion and filter is always more interesting to me than either one alone.
  • Using two instances in series can make a lot of sense, with the second one taming the first or the first preparing the second.
  • It’s got its own envelope follower for cutoff, but I will harp on this again: an envelope follower from your host, assigned to mix, drive, fuzz, resonance, etc. can also be very nice.
  • The MIDI key follow option for filter cutoff can be useful, depending on playing style (not so much with legato polyphonic phrases).

Lo-Fi

d16 Decimort 2

  • If your DAW can assign MIDI pitch tracking to a VST parameter (as in Bitwig Keytrack+), try assigning that to the resampler frequency, turning on Images Filter and shfiting it up maybe a tiny bit. Set Approx Filter to taste.
  • Of course you can also apply it to the pre/post filter, but that’s not as exciting.
  • Modulating Approx Filter with an LFO can add a bit of vibrato due to the phase shift it induces. You can really get some results that don’t sound like a bitcrusher/sample reducer at all…
  • Aside from the digital distortion, don’t forget there’s a preamp right there, which can lead to badass distortion that works well with the filter(s)… and (say it with me) an envelope follower.
  • If you’re using a DAW that can’t assign modulation sources to VST parameters in this way, and you’re still reading this… sorry, you’re missing out.

Unfiltered Audio Lo-Fi-AF

  • If you have an anti-click plugin (I can recommend Izotope RX De-click), this removes the clicky bits from Skip Chance, for smoother buffer glitches. You can modulate Skip Time for an unusual take on “tape” warble.
  • Envelope follower. Seriously. Works on all kinds of things here, positively or negatively depending on the control and the vibe you’re going for — do you want it to get cleaner and steadier with louder volumes, or worse and messier? Of course you do.

Inphonik PCM2612

  • This is another one that can benefit from De-Click.
  • Also some gain staging experimentation. Cutting the signal going in and then boosting it going out dramatically worsens the signal-to-noise ratio, which might be what you wanted just this once. Of course, boosting the signal level going in and cutting it going out has the opposite effect unless you drive your signal to clipping.
  • A noise gate in front can stop it from constantly spewing DAC noise (or a noise gate after, but you’ll probably need a higher threshold).

AudioThing Speakers

  • I like this plugin a lot, but don’t have any special tricks to suggest other than… you know. On the mic/speaker mix knobs or the filter cutoff in particular.
  • I suppose a regular envelope triggered by MIDI could be fine, I just like envelope followers, okay?

Other

Noise Engineering Librae

  • Yes, it’s a compressor… but I use it more for the drive sections, especially for stereo enhancement. Turning up Soft Drive and Soft Blend, and maybe a bit of the hard version too, on the Side channel can really wake up a stereo image (and you’ve got the goniometer and handy mid/side slider right there, as well as a bevy of other gain controls to make sure the mid is still stronger than the sides).
  • Watch out for hot signals into this one, especially if they were supposed to be “clean” with relatively little in the upper end of the frequency spectrum. Increasing Release can help prevent unwanted… grindiness or scratchiness or whatever you want to call it.

Sound Radix SurferEQ

  • A clever EQ that can track pitch (via MIDI or the audio itself) and move bands around automatically for you, with adjustable detection threshold and glide settings. It also offers not just typical shelving and peak EQs, but harmonic shapes specifically tailored for resonator (or anti-resonator) duties, which you can set in terms of ratio to the detected fundamental. You can really shape timbres in fun ways with this…
  • This pairs well with the free MeldaProduction MAGC, to restore lost (or excessive) volume.
  • It also pairs nicely with distortion, since you’re exercising a lot of control over the harmonics going into it.

2 thoughts on “An Exploration of Selected Effects Plugins”

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