A Pair of Great-Sounding Multi-Effects
FIG. 1: CamelPhat''s control-panel layout mirrors the signal flow from BP Filter (top left) to the master output (bottom right).
CamelPhat 3.15 and CamelSpace 1.15 are multi-effects plug-ins from U.K.-based Camel Audio. CamelPhat is designed to add warmth, edge, growl, and in-your-face presence to bass, guitar, drums, grooves, and vocals. CamelSpace works less with timbre, more with rhythm. It specializes in superimposing rhythm patterns over pads and ambient sounds.
I installed CamelPhat and CamelSpace as VST plug-ins on my 2.3 GHz Pentium 4 computer running Windows XP. VST and AU versions are provided for the Mac. I had no trouble using the plug-ins in Sony Media Software's Sound Forge 8 and Acid 6 and Cakewalk's Sonar 5.
CamelPhat is quite CPU efficient; CamelSpace is more demanding. Being multi-effects, their CPU drain varies with the number of individual effects that are active. For example, with all nine effects turned on, six instances of CamelSpace in Sonar required 70 percent of the CPU, which works out to just over 1 percent per active effect. With all eight effects turned on, six instances of CamelPhat required 20 percent of the CPU, for less than 0.5 percent per effect. That's quite efficient in both cases.
CamelPhat is a work of streamlined beauty and a joy to program (see Web Clip 1). Its six effects modules — BP Filter, Distortion, MM Filter, Flanger, Magic EQ, and Compressor — are graphically arranged to reflect the signal flow (see Fig. 1). The control panel also houses a pair of LFOs, a Value Readout display, an x-y controller pad, and a master output module.
BP Filter is a powerful bandpass filter. Low and High faders set the frequency boundaries of the pass band, and each has its own resonance control. You can use the BR Mix control to mix some of the rejected portion of the signal back into the output. Modest BP Filter settings soften the low and high ends of your signal, whereas extreme settings permit only the narrowest sliver of a band to pass through. Turning the Low Res control up can induce oscillation. Increasing the High Resonance can sharpen the output to a razor's edge.
The Distortion module offers four different distortion types: Tube (analog-style overdrive), Mech (a grittier version of the same and my favorite), Bit Crusher (bit-depth reduction), and Xcita (a high-frequency exciter). You can mix in varying amounts of each to create a rich and complexly distorted output ranging from a purr to a complete breakdown.
MM Filter is a multimode resonant filter offering nine filter types — lowpass, bandpass, highpass, lowpass fat (an edgier version of lowpass), bandpass fat, highpass fat, notch, peak (inverted notch), and comb — along with a ring modulator. Attack, release, and envelope-amount controls fine-tune the envelope generated by a built-in envelope follower, which is used to modulate the filter cutoff and ring-modulator frequencies.
Flanger, a bare-bones flanging effect, has just two controls: Amount for the wet/dry mix, and Rate for the speed of the LFO that modulates the delay time. Its purpose is to impart a flange-inflected undercurrent to the mix when used in conjunction with other effects.
Magic EQ is an equalizer for boosting the low end. It works especially well with kicks, low toms, and bass lines. I fed it a groove, turned up the amount, and found that sweeping the frequency from minimum to maximum brought out elements of the low end I'd never heard before. Pressing the P (phat) button thickens the signal, but the effect can be too much when used with signals that are already rich in low frequencies.
The powerful Compressor module is modeled after classic analog studio compressors. As with many CamelPhat and CamelSpace effects, its few controls — compression amount, release time, and fattening — belie its power.
Camels in Motion
Each of the LFO module's two independent LFOs can be routed to modulate any CamelPhat parameter using one of seven waveforms: sine, triangle, ramp up, ramp down, square, random square, and random triangle. Turning Rate Sync on syncs the LFO rate to tempo, and both triplets and dotted notes are supported.
Clicking on the Randomize button assigns random settings to every control in every active module. Randomization is intelligent, meaning that it generally results in musically interesting settings. It is great for creating new, unexpected sounds.
FIG. 2: CamelSpace''s pattern sequencer (bottom center) can control the Trance Gate, Auto Pan position, and filter cutoff.
The Value Readout display shows the current preset name and has buttons for selecting the previous or next preset in the bank. When the Display Value option is active, it also displays the value of the currently selected knob.
The x-y controller enables you to modify the values of any two of CamelPhat's parameters. That is useful for both patch building and live performance. You can assign any parameter to the x (horizontal) or y (vertical) axis.
You can easily assign each CamelPhat control, including the x-y controller's cursor, to a MIDI continuous controller. Right-click on the control, choose MIDI Learn from the shortcut menu, and move your MIDI controller.
Although CamelSpace is as well crafted as CamelPhat, the control panel is more crowded to accommodate more modules and a step sequencer. With a few exceptions, the panel again reflects the signal flow through the modules: Trance Gate, Enhancer, AutoPan, MMFilter, Flanger, StereoDelay, and Reverb (see Fig. 2).
Trance Gate works in conjunction with the step sequencer to gate incoming audio. That creates a host of enticing stutter effects, imparting rhythm to continuous passages. It's a great tool for adding inner motion to pads, chords, and legato melodies.
Enhancer combines two effects: Xcita adds presence-enhancing distortion to the upper frequency range. Softsat adds warmth and oomph by emulating analog-style soft saturation.
AutoPan automates left-right panning motion in a stereo track. The LFO and Seq buttons determine whether the automation is driven by an LFO with seven waveshapes or the step sequencer, both of which can be synced to host tempo. The MMFilter is the same as CamelPhat's, but in CamelSpace, its cutoff frequency can be modulated by the LFO or the step sequencer.
Flanger is a classic flange effect with typical controls: Delay, Rate, Depth, Feedback, and Mix. Unlike CamelPhat's, this flanger is capable of generating robust effects suitable for soloing.
StereoDelay has independent left- and right-channel delay times syncable to tempo. Global Feedback, Cutoff for a lowpass filter in the delay feedback line, and Mix controls are also present. The Reverb module is basic but effective, allowing control of room size and wet/dry mix (see Web Clip 2).
CamelSpace's powerful little 128-step pattern sequencer can drive the Trance Gate, the AutoPan position, and the filter cutoff. In just a few square inches of screen space, it manages to fit an attack-sustain-decay amplitude envelope for each step, eight 16-step patterns, a pattern selector for creating and arranging the playback of those patterns, a Length control that specifies the duration in bars of the 16-step patterns, and a Shuffle control for inducing swing. MIDI users will be happy to know that MIDI notes can be used to switch on different patterns for different effects parameters.
One Hump or Two?
From their classy looks to their reasonable price, everything about the CamelPhat and CamelSpace duo says “Buy me.” The graphical user interfaces are well designed, and the documentation is clear and complete. The sound quality is excellent, and each comes with a generous collection of presets to get you started or to use as fodder for randomization.
If I had the cash for only one of these plug-ins, I'd go with CamelSpace. I found it endlessly fascinating to run groove loops through its presets, tweaking and randomizing as I went. I was slightly less bowled over by CamelPhat, but still sufficiently impressed to fork over the money. At $149 for the pair, you really can't go wrong.
rachMiel is a composer of deliriously experimental electronic and acoustic music.
$149 bundled with CamelSpace
FEATURES 4 EASE OF USE 4 QUALITY OF SOUNDS 4 VALUE 4
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Excellent sound quality. Handsome and efficient GUI. Generous preset collection. Intelligent random patcher. Reasonable price. CPU efficient.
CONS: Many low-level parameters are inaccessible. Distortion could be more dramatic. No internal tempo control.
$149 bundled with CamelPhat
FEATURES 4 EASE OF USE 4 QUALITY OF SOUNDS 4 VALUE 4
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Excellent sound quality. Attractive GUI. Generous preset collection. Intelligent random patcher. Reasonable price.
CONS: Some low-level parameters are inaccessible. Programming logic for long patterns is counterintuitive. No internal tempo control. Quite CPU demanding.