Whether you’re crafting evocative sound effects for film, TV or games, or creating a unique palette for your next music project, sound design is an essential skill. Here, we’ve rounded up a series of useful tools that can help you take your audio to the next level.
Best spectral editing: SpectraLayers Pro 6 by Steinberg
This is a complex toolkit that can help you get deep into the guts of your audio to extract hidden elements and edit sounds in layers. It comes as a standalone app and as a plug-in with ARA 2 support, so you can enjoy spectral editing from the comfort of your DAW. There’s also a newly released Elements version available for a mere £69.
We said: On the creative front, SpectraLayers has even more to offer. You can mix components of one sound with those of another and, by simply grabbing a brush tool and selecting a random range of frequencies, you can create astonishing sounds and waveforms that could be thrown into a sampler or looped into a track. Sound designers can use these abilities to blend aspects of different audio sources and formulate new and unique sounds.
Best quick effects: Noize 2 by Denise
Sometimes you want to try quick tricks with simple plug-ins just to see what happens. Noize 2 takes the simple notion of adding noise recordings to your audio via an adaptive envelope follower and packages it in an easy-to-use and tweakable plug-in. It has several noise types built-in but the real fun comes when you load in your own audio, which allows you to imprint the flavour of one sound on to another.
We said: Noize 2 adds five such flavours and adapts itself according to your signal level, so you can have it act on specific beats or tones. Other options include envelope tweaking, which can add a nice rhythmic attack to basslines. The noise types tend to offer more extreme EQs – Violet and Blue being the highest – while high- and low-pass filtering helps home in on specific noise bands, especially useful with beats targeting specific kit sounds.
Price £30. More information here.
Best lo-fi: OTO Biscuit 8-bit Effects by Softube
Based on OTO Machines’ coveted 8-bit crunch box the OTO Biscuit, this plug-in version from Softube gives you a variety of exquisite lo-fi sounds, partnered with a diode clipper and warm-sounding analogue filter. You get a brutal wave-shaper, plus delay, pitch-shift and step-filter effects. If your sound design requires some raw crunch, you won’t do much better than this.
We said: If you’re into working with hard glitch- and electro-type sounds, the OTO Biscuit is arguably the Rolls-Royce of 8-bit effects units. Softube has done an excellent job of capturing the lively and invigorating sound of the Biscuit, and there’s plenty here to get excited about. It feels like you’re playing with a piece of hardware – and it’s a joy to throw sounds at it purely to see what it spits out.
Best multi-effects: Relayer 1.5 by UVI
If you’re after a powerful all-in-one sound-shaping plug-in, Relayer is well worth your attention. You can have up to 32 delay lines, with per-tap modulation editors for Time, Gain, Pan and 2 Multi-effects (including WahWah, Comb, Phasor, Redux, Biquad and Waveshaper), plus a Color section to alter the tone, and a master Filter. It’s all presented in a crisp and intuitive interface.
We said: There are myriad presets that will Relayer justice but you’d be better off just diving in to discover its power. It is capable of so much: glitch effects, reverbs, distortion, drive, modulation and filtering, all within a smart interface. Need one plug-in for your desert-island hard drive? This could be it.
Best performance: Reformer Pro by Krotos
Krotos is known for its specialised sound-design plug-ins, such as the Weaponiser, preloaded with hundreds of realistic weapon recordings, and the Dehumaniser, a vocal-processing tool perfect for creating monster and creature sounds. However, perhaps its most innovative is the Reformer Pro, which uses “Dynamic Input Technology” to allow you to perform your sound libraries with a microphone. It ships with a large library of sounds, and you can expand your collection with additional packs or by loading your own samples. You can blend the output of four different libraries to create hybrid sounds.
We said: Reformer performs an analysis of incoming audio signals to select, edit and output SFX that match the frequency, amplitude and length of the input. By roaring into a microphone, you can hear your voice as a Bengal tiger, black leopard or glitching robot. What you hear coming out of Reformer is dictated by the audio that you feed in. It’s an expressive and intuitive plug-in.
Best morphing: MMorph by MeldaProduction
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you morphed the sound of a saxophone and a crying baby? Wonder no more. MMorph analyses the signal coming into the main plug-in input and into the sidechain, and morphs between them using a single dial. What sets MMorph aside are its additional features, such as spectral compression and harmonic generation, which allow you to tailor the two signals and blend more seamlessly.
We said: Most of the power, however, comes from fine-tuning the controls on the A and B panels, which essentially prepare each signal ahead of the spectral blending for the best possible results. Ideally, you want to use sounds that share frequency characteristics to get the most effective blends. In many cases, you’ll get characteristics of both signals, much like with vocoding, but in a more smooth, nuanced and detailed way.
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