As the name of the plugin suggests – SubLab’s only purpose in life is to create SUUUBBB that rocks your walls. The creators have listened to how the sub is being worked in contemporary music, and tried to add in all the necessary elements to shape your sub right there in the plugin, without needing to add countless plugins to make it work in the mix.
Sublab is the same dark and super minimal look of their other synth – Circle (see our FAW Circle review) – easy on the eyes, and very intuitive. Sublab is based around 3 sound generating engines; an analog synth emulation with standard waveshapes, a sub synth, with a cool ‘psychoacoustically treated’ oscillator and a sample engine, with over 200 kicks and 808’s immediately available. There are a bunch of presets ready-made, loosely bunched into different genres. You can also buy packs to build out your library if there’s a particular style you like.
The three engines sit on the left-hand side of the GUI, in a single window. They’re represented by 3 different colors, and can be clicked between by selecting the name at the top of the window. Each engine is slightly different. The Synth engine has 4 different waves visually represented in the middle of the window. There are 3 ADSRs to tweak volume, pitch, and filter. The sample engine has a drop-down menu with all the kicks listed, sampled from great analog machines such as Vermona, 707, BIA, Jomox, etc. You can also drag and drop your samples into the engine. The sampler is a simple affair – with parameter control over the start and end of the sample, the start and end of a loop point, with crossfade, and an AR volume envelope. You can choose whether to loop, and if you want to pitch track the sample or not. Below the sampler is a window showing the root note and octave, and fine-tuning options. Essential for your 808! The sub-bass is a pure sine, but with a harmonics control separate from the root harmonic (more on this later) and a visualization of where the root and harmonics are playing note-wise.
Moving down the left-hand side, at the bottom of the window is the low/band/highpass analog emulated filter with wet/dry mix for the synth and Sample engines. Next to that is a simple one slider per engine mix window, which enables you to get the right balance between the sounds.
The effects that I often utilize when working with bass are compression and distortion. They both give control and tone flavour to the bass sound. These two effects are built-in to the machine, at the bottom of the GUI. There are 4 different flavours of distortion, with a low and hi-cut to control where it affects the tone. The compressor is a standard affair, although it does have an auto sidechain function, which enables the kick sample to carry over the top of the bass synths if you wish. As with the filter, there are wet/dry controls for both distortion and compressor, so they can function as parallel effects.
The top right of the window is for metering, and some mix functions. The visual freq representation of each sound is particularly useful – each engine is again in its representative colour, and you can clearly see how the sounds interact with each other across the frequency range. It’s here that I first noticed that the sub synth is constrained automatically to a set octave range. So it will never go above or below that octave, instead jumping the note played up or down the octave. This is fantastic, as you can depend on Sublab for a more consistent bass tone, and still make sure the sub interacts well with the other two engines in the visualiser. The final level control has a built-in limiter with true peak metering, and a cool simple stereo imaging control that enables you to have those super-wide sounding 808’s. All very simple but incredibly useful to have packed into one instrument.
Sublab has a cool piece of algorithm baked-in to the sub engine that gives you some control over the psychoacoustics of the sub sound. You finished writing your track, it’s banging, and you stick it on your headphones to listen…. aaand nothing. No bass. Super frustrating, but a common mix error. Sub bass, especially when a pure wave, is often below the frequency range of smaller speakers (Bluetooth, headphones, etc) This is where the X-sub comes in. You can control the addition of harmonics to your sub signal, so you can add bass tone to a frequency range that will show up on your headphones, and make the bass feel solid again. Other plugin companies have made VST’s that can do this to your bass signal, but having it built-in to the synth is just so efficient!
Another excellent feature that helps your ears by taking some of the guesswork away is tuning. The power and feel of 808’s are amplified when you tune them to the song correctly. They just feel better. Sometimes that’s incredibly hard to hear. Sublab has a little helper for that. Firstly – you can drag and drop your samples into Sublab (wahey) but once you’ve done that, it will figure out the pitch of the 808’s root note, and set it up so you can play it with midi. Yet again, this is something you can do with your ears or other tuning VSTs, but to have it right there in the software just makes the process quicker. And we’re all about the software getting out of the way so we can write.
There are other Sub-bass VSTi’s out there, but I really like Sublab’s GUI, the intuitive sound-making process, and I love that all the elements are there built-in – so you can add the FX that you would typically use to create slamming sub.
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