Acustica’s approach to making plugins is all about realism. Their self-proclaimed goal is to make plugins that “provide the most authentic reproduction” of the hardware they model, and they do this by developing their own sampling and reproduction methods that allow that extra bit of accuracy in their models.
I’ve spent some time with two of the new plugins; Lemon, a multi-tap delay with a whopping 40 hardware emulations, and Ruby, a faithful model of D.W Fearn’s VT-5 hardware EQ unit.
An original D.W Fearn unit will currently set you back in the region of £8000! Designed by Fearn, a huge amount of time and effort has gone into selecting precisely the right components and functionality for a universally great EQ (find out more at dwfearn.com). Acustica say that while other attempts failed to convince the man himself, Ruby was close enough that Fearn felt able to put his name to it.
Acustica have clearly spend a lot of time on the interface – the graphics when moving a control are smooth, and switching in the preamp causes the signal to fade in as if you were switching on a real valve unit. The sound is the most important part of course, and while (sadly) I didn’t have a hardware unit to hand to compare, quality is clearly the aim of the game.
The EQ itself sounds very nice. Flat and with the preamp switched on there’s a character to the sound already. The five bands of EQ are carefully voiced to help bring out the clarity of whatever passes through it. I found myself using the mid cut band frequently to pull out the mud or boxiness from tracks, and the high boost band I found really useful. When recording with a ribbon mic Ruby was able to bring out the high end without bringing up a load of noise as well, which I’ve often found to happen in other hardware models.
In fact, I was surprised overall how much I could milk the boosts and cuts without making the source audio sound unnatural. The EQ itself is musical and flattering. It’s easy to make instruments like acoustic guitars sound larger than life when using Ruby, and to give vocals that bright breathy sound that brings them out over the rest of the music.
One thing that let the side down for me though was the responsiveness of the controls. While my MacBook Pro was able to function with a fair few instances of the full fat Ruby in one Logic session (a “zero latency” version comes with the package), it was the delay in the change of a control that began to frustrate me. When you turn up or down a control it can take a second for the change to audibly happen, which took a bit of getting used to, and disconnects you from the otherwise realistic feel of the plugin.
Lemon is a suite of delay plugins with one goal in mind: Present as many of the highest quality sonic options as possible. Acustica has taken samples of 40 different pieces of vintage and modern hardware, and put them all in one handy plugin. Character is key, and Acustica have spent time modelling the sound of each delay unit, but has also carefully included and selected filters in the feedback loops that match or complement the delay.
It’s difficult to know where to start when you first open Lemon. There are so many options it’s almost paralysing! The default preset is a clear delay with no tonal effect, changeable by the EQs in the feedback loop. From there, as you dive in and experience the different delay sounds, you can easily lose hours. I’d definitely recommend taking some time to listen to and try out each preset, finding your favourites and remembering where they are. Acustica has helpfully given each preset a picture, which they say closely relates to the character of the delay modelled. This is really helpful for remembering what preset you’re after, or even when searching for a sound in your head.
The qualities of the presets are wonderful. As a guitarist with a serious delay obsession, Lemon really kept my attention. I often found myself just sitting and listening to a sound for some time, playing with the feedback filters, drive and other tonal settings. Whether it’s a clear, bright digital sound you’re after, or a dark distorted feel, or anything in between, there are at least a few different presets that’ll get you there in every case.
There are three plugin versions that come with the Lemon bundle, a multi-tap plugin with five delay lines, a stereo version with a ping-pong option, and a ‘slim’ stereo version, missing only a couple of EQ features and the preset images. There is also a zero latency version of each plugin included.
As I found with Ruby, the controls for Lemon were pretty slow to respond. Changing preset takes a second, as does switching on delay lines and the EQ section. Changing the knobs didn’t feel as bad, but I suspect it’s masked as you’re listening to delayed repeats. The delay time section feels pretty clunky, with no text entry and with each number requiring you to change it individually, it feels like it takes longer than necessary to change the delay time (although I like how you can use note values and time values at the same time).
One other issue I had was with the feedback lines – over-using the feedback control will push the unit into positive feedback, which causes a nice effect for a bit but ultimately clips the plugin. This is fine once you know not to do that, but the feedback levels don’t seem consistent between presets, so If you’ve been using a tape emulator with restricted frequency response, switching to a more full range sound can send you into positive feedback and horrible noises. If you’re after crazy delay effects, this isn’t the plugin for you, as Acustica say themselves. Lastly, while I’d love to be able to plug my guitar through the delay and play all day, live playback isn’t possible for all but the most powerful processors (7th and 8th generation Intel processors are required)
To conclude, if you can accept a slightly jolty user experience, then these plugins are really special. Ruby is a really clean, usefully voiced EQ which adds a nice open colour to the sound, and Lemon has so many beautiful and inspiring delay sounds that I’m sure it will make its way into many of my sessions.
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About The Author
Sound and Recording engineer. Based in Bryanston School's busy studio, working with students and external musicians. Produces, records and mixes genres ranging from classical to folk, rock and anywhere else. Sometimes plays instruments too. You can find him here.