Antares Tube ($129) is an inexpensive cross-platform plug-indesigned to add the sonic characteristics of analog tube preamps to DAWtracks. For a Mac running OS 9.x, Tube is available in MAS,RTAS, and VST formats; for OS X, it's currently available in RTAS (forDigidesign Pro Tools 6) and VST formats. (Antares says that a MASversion for OS X is in the works.) For Windows 98, 2000, ME, NT, andXP, Tube supports RTAS, VST, and DirectX formats.
Tube can be instantiated in mono or stereo, and because it's soefficient, you can use it on many tracks at once. The plug-in's userinterface is simple and intuitive. Two virtual knobs adjust input andoutput levels; each control affects the left and right I/O channelsequally in the stereo version. Level and clip meters for the inputshelp you set levels so that Tube's modeled tube-saturation effect willaffect more or less of your input signal's upper dynamic range. Leveland clip meters are also provided for Tube's outputs, and a Drivecontrol provides increased “tube” saturation as you crankit up.
You Devil, You
Tube allows you toswitch between two different tube models to process your audio. The“heavenly blue tube” (accompanied by an amusing graphic ofa blue-tinted tube topped with a halo) purports to model a“classic high-quality tube preamp.” The “fiery orangetube” (with its devilish horns) models an overdriven tubeamp.
You can also switch an OmniTube function on or off with either tubemodel. With OmniTube switched off, harmonic distortion is added only tosignal peaks, the way real tube circuits saturate. With OmniTubeswitched on, harmonic distortion is added to the input signal acrossits entire dynamic range. Tube accomplishes this feat by compressingthe input signal and applying makeup gain before the tube processingand then restoring the signal's dynamics after harmonic distortion hasbeen added. However, I found that the OmniTube effect squashed tracks abit too much, making them sound two-dimensional and lifeless.
Warm Me Up!
I got mixed results using Tube on various instrumental and vocaltracks. In general, I liked Tube better on “steady-state”sources as opposed to those with pronounced transient peaks. The orangetube in particular (and to a much lesser degree the blue tube) roundedoff transient detail on acoustic-guitar, kick-drum, and snare-drumtracks. Tube's slurring effect on transient peaks was much morepronounced than that of real tube circuits, which generally are alsorelatively slow to respond to transients compared with solid-statedevices (although there are exceptions). Because of the way it degradestransient content, I found that Tube was too compromising to use onentire mixes.
Electric bass guitar was an entirely different matter. The blue-tubealgorithm transformed a dry, wooden, dimensionless bass recorded via aDI box into a lush, round, big bad boy. On electric rhythm-guitartracks, the blue tube lent a creamy sustain and increased presence thatsounded downright awesome. Used at moderate settings, the blue tubeadded a subtle warmth and sweetness to vocal tracks. Anything more thanlight processing made vocals sound too dirty, but a little bit of Tubeproduced a nice enhancement. In general, the blue-tube algorithmsounded a lot like the tube-saturation effect included with Antares'sMic Modeler plug-in, although as mentioned earlier, Tube can processstereo as well as mono tracks.
In most applications, Tube's orange tube sounded too gravelly for mytastes. The orange tube also adds fizzy high-frequency distortion, thekind that is produced by a fuzz box. The one application for which Iloved the orange tube was processing a hard-rock electric-guitar solo.The solo had already been tracked with hefty amounts of distortion, butadding some orange-tube processing put the sound over the top, creatinga wonderfully outrageous effect. Nothing else in my extensivecollection of MAS plug-ins could give me that particular sound.
Tube won't deliver the sound of a high-quality tube-mic preamp, butin all fairness, I don't know of a plug-in that could. That's whyhigh-end tube preamps are still in demand. But that doesn't diminishTube's usefulness in studio productions. Used with discretion (andsometimes without), Tube can provide excellent enhancement ofnonpercussive sound sources.