For this project, I picked some vintage-inspired effect plugins, which could replicate the sound of the era. Phaser and flanger were two staples of those years, and it’s not easy to find quality software emulations.
Eventide Instant Phaser & Flanger + Harmonizers
My pick? Eventide’s Instant Phaser and Instant Flanger. These are authentic-sounding and well-designed reproductions of two iconic ’70s units, with plenty of character and colour. Quoting our own review “even just running sound through the plugins with the depth at zero gives a warbly analog vibe.”
You can find more info about the Instant Phaser MkII here, while here you can learn more about the Instant Flanger MkII.
Speaking of Eventide and iconic sounds of that era, the harmonizer is one of the effects that made certain records sound unlike anything else heard before. I’m a big fan of the Eventide H910 plugin, and for this project, I couldn’t help but use it on various sources.
The sound of an era, literally…
Despite being pretty straightforward, the H910 is quite versatile. It can work its magic to fatten snares and apply subtle, organic de-tuning to synths, add harmonies or slapback delays to vocals, create insane mechanical sounds, drone effects, or robot language using self-oscillation, delay, and anti-feedback. I mean, if people like Tony Visconti and Kraftwerk loved it, who am I to disagree?
Modulation plugins are some of my favorite tools, especially when they are a bit ‘out-there’. A great example is the recently released Super VHS by Baby Audio. The company name might be silly, but their two first plugins (I Heart NY, a parallel compression effect, and Super VHS, an instant lo-fi gem) strike a killer balance between sound, ease of use, and captivating design.
These Baby Audio devs might be the new kids on the block, but this is a seriously nifty tool and I’ve been already using it a lot…
With a few clicks, Super VHS gets you in that beautifully haunting territory made popular by artists such as Boards of Canada and countless synthwave releases – slightly out-of-tune synths, warm tape saturation, gritty samples and grainy reverbs, to quote the company’s words. Super VHS is a clever plugin, with a small number of parameters that conceal some brilliant algorithms going on in the background. A word of warning: this is one of those plugins where a little goes a long way. When I started using it, I was like “let’s turn this knob up to 11”, but then I realized I was overdoing it and could still get good results with more cautious settings.
Check out Super VHS if you’re trying to capture some of that elusive spirit of the ’80s. You can learn more about Super VHS and buy it for $49 here.
XLN Audio RC-20
Another ‘out-there’ effect I’ve been using a lot on this record is XLN Audio RC-20. This Retro Color gem does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a toolkit, with six clearly laid out modules that can replicate everything from vinyl records to VHS machines, adding noise, wobble and dropouts to a track.
I generally use it to give more character (read: degradation!) to virtual synth tracks or beats, but it’s so versatile that every time I find some new ways of using it. I also love the fact it comes with lots of useful presets and some nifty randomization features. Definitely a keeper!
Speaking of character, there’s a recently released plugin that you might have missed, and that turned out to be very helpful during my sessions. It’s called Cassette, and it was developed by Wavesfactory. Cassette is a plugin that emulates the sound of vintage cassette tapes (four different types) and decks. According to Wavesfactory,” it has been carefully modelled after an exhaustive analysis of a high number of sound signals recorded into real tapes”.
Marketing claims are often pure hype, but believe me, that’s not the case with Cassette – this plugin delivers. Besides sounding great, it is also very versatile. With a click, the extremely intuitive interface provide users with an option-rich control panel where they can shape the ‘tape sound’ of their dreams – wow, flutter, random high-frequency loss, crosstalk between channels, stereo unbalanced, etc.
Wavesfactory Cassette is a nostalgia machine. There are many tape emulations on the market, but right now this is my favorite one.
Plenty of options for some quality vintage-sounding reverbs, but Valhalla’s price/quality ratio is always hard to beat…
For some proper retro magic, I also needed some quality reverbs and delays. I decided to stick to some of my ‘desert island’ plugins, such as Valhalla VintageVerb and Soundtoys Echoboy. Valhalla VintageVerb is a must-have, like basically all the Valhalla plugins. It offers that Lexicon vibe typically associated with ’80s records (but it doesn’t end there, it has 18 reverb algos too!). I love the fact that it has three different modes, so you can choose whether you want to emulate the sonic artifacts of a certain era… or not! Last but not least, it’s extremely affordable (like $50 affordable). You can learn more and buy VintageVerb here.
The Soundtoys bundle was featured on a lot of tracks, and it always delivered…
Soundtoys Echoboy shouldn’t need any introduction. It’s a classic plugin for a reason, and that reason hasn’t changed over the years. It’s like a vintage tone encyclopedia (dozens of modes available: Echoplex, Space Echo, Memory Man, DM-2, and more!) ready to be slapped onto your tracks. It’s extremely easy to use, yet very powerful and versatile. If the presets aren’t good enough as a starting point, with a few extra clicks you can customize those ‘under the hood’ settings and create exactly the sound you have in mind. You can read more about Echoboy here. The plugin currently costs $199.
Tape echo emulations are tricky beasts, but Imaginando did a fantastic job on this one, and you can even get it on iOS…
I’m a sucker for tape-echo machines, and on this project, I also made extensive use of Imaginando’s K7D. As we wrote in our review, K7 is a well-designed, easy to use, great sounding piece of software that will give your tracks ‘mojo’ for days! I used K7 when I wanted a different, somehow grittier flavour. To my ears K7 sounds pretty authentic, it comes with a vintage pre-amp/pre-gain saturation, and it’s super affordable ($39). By the way, there’s also an iOS version (for only $5!). You can read more and buy the plugin from the Imaginando website here.
FYI: I won’t go into mixing plugins here – this article is aimed at the creative side of things – but let me just mention one thing: Brainworx bx_console SSL kicks some serious ’80s ass. Enough said…
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