Since its release in 1999, Cycling '74's Pluggo has become a popular tool in music recording and production studios around the world. This is due in large part to its combination of affordability, versatility, and seemingly endless potential for future expansion. In a nutshell, the program is a collection of audio-effects plug-ins, such as reverbs, granulators, filters, delays, and distortion modules, for use with various Mac host applications. Called “the never-ending plug-in” by its authors, Pluggo comes with more than 100 plug-ins, and users can add more as they become available from Cycling '74 and from other Pluggo users.
The newest release of Pluggo, version 3.0.2, offers several major additions, which I'll focus on here (see the October 1999 EM for a more detailed overview). These stake out new territory in the sound-processing universe and help solidify the software's reputation as the greatest deal around for Mac-based plug-in users.
MUSIC FOR THE MASSES
First and foremost, Pluggo now supports RTAS, MAS, VST, and VST2 plug-in formats. Pluggo 3.0.2 can therefore be used with a long list of programs, including Pro Tools (version 5.1 or higher), Logic, Cubase, Digital Performer, Peak, Live, Spark, and Max/MSP. Moreover, setting up Pluggo in any of those hosts is wonderfully easy, in part because of the Getting Started with Pluggo manual. The manual gives you a thorough but easy-to-complete step-by-step configuration guide for each of the programs listed above and helps users get up and running with minimal hassle.
I experimented with Pluggo 3.0.2 within several hosts, including Digital Performer, Peak, and Max/MSP, and in each environment, it was responsive and stable. Some problems have been reported, however, when running Pluggo 3.0.2 from within Logic. For example, crashes have occurred when loading Pluggo presets or new plug-ins while playing a sequence. Cycling '74 informed me that it has identified the bug that caused the problem and claims that it will be fixed by the time you read this.
In addition to Pluggo 3.0.2's support for more formats, many other things about it have changed since it was last reviewed in EM. Most noticeable are its 114 plug-ins — that's an increase of more than 50 percent from the original 74. Comprising the 114 are all the original Pluggo plug-ins, most of the “Pluggo-the-Month” plug-ins from the Cycling '74 Web site, and many others created just for this release. The new plug-in effects run the gamut and include delays (TapNet), flange (Jet), chorus (Chorus X2), distortion (HF Ring Mod), dynamics (Limi), filters (WasteBand), granulizers (Squirrel Parade), modulators (Knave Stories, M2M), and more. All work with the recently released version of Cycling '74's Max 4.0/MSP 2.0 programming environment.
At their best, Pluggo plug-ins have unexpected control parameters that users will find very helpful. TapNet, for example, is a four-tap delay line that allows any of the taps to feed back to any other, as well as to itself. Furthermore, every tap has a modulator attached for creating chorus and pitch-shifting effects. Needless to say, this complex system can create some amazing sounds! Happily, TapNet also gives you three possible user interfaces, each providing a different amount of parameter detail.
Two other highlights among the new plug-ins are Chorus X2 and WasteBand. Chorus X2 is a stereo chorus effect that divides the signal into two frequency bands that can be processed independently (see Fig. 1). WasteBand takes a similar approach to distortion and offers three frequency bands per channel, each of which can be muted, passed, or distorted.
Given the potential confusion of trying to remember the function and operation of such a large number of plug-ins, the “dictionary” that comes with Pluggo, called the Pluggo Plug-in Reference Guide, is quite useful. The Guide lists all of the plug-ins alphabetically and describes what each one does. It also shows a picture of each plug-in's interface, explains what each control on the interface affects, and gives hints about how it might be configured. More importantly, the guide contains a table of contents that lists the plug-ins by category — reverbs, delays, and so forth — for quick searches and comparison of particular effects. Finally, the guide has another, longer index that lists all of the plug-ins' presets alphabetically by name, from (In a) Big Country to Zzzzz. That is a nice touch, because shopping for an effect by preset name rather than by plug-in name can be an aid to inspiration. I found working with this list to be both productive and amusing, and I heartily recommend it.
SEA OF SYNTHS
The real wow factor of Pluggo 3.0.2 is the set of 19 new software synthesizers, dubbed “the Virtual Instruments.” You can perform on these synths either by using live MIDI input or by controlling them with MIDI data sent from a host application. The wide range of synths Pluggo provides includes Additive Heaven (additive synthesis), Xmod Synth (analog-style modular synthesis), Fm 4-op (FM synthesis), Sampled Drums (eight channels of sampled drums), Laverne (two-oscillator subtractive synthesis), and Rye (granular synthesis). While playing with all of these instruments, I was especially impressed by the number and variety of analog-synth emulators (see Fig. 2).
The Virtual Instruments operate fairly easily, but their setups vary slightly for different host applications. In Digital Performer and Pro Tools, for instance, a Virtual Instrument is inserted into a blank audio track. But in other programs, such as Logic Audio and Cubase, you must place the Instrument on a specifically configured track, such as Logic's Audio Instrument track and Cubase's VST Instrument track, and then assign a MIDI track to play it. Beyond that, Pluggo's soft instruments function like any other soft synth and will appear in the pop-up menu of available outputs for the MIDI track you've designated.
Speaking of plug-in control, a new modulation plug-in has been added to Pluggo's arsenal. This remarkable new entry is called M2M (MIDI to Modulator) and turns real-time MIDI-performance information into control data for other plug-ins. M2M allows you to do very cool things such as using a Mod Wheel to control a delay line's feedback setting. Among other tricks, M2M lets you constrain and scale incoming MIDI values, which can be extremely helpful when you want to experiment within a specific range of a plug-in's settings.
Pluggo 3.0.2 also has added support for synchronization when you run Pluggo and non-Pluggo plug-ins simultaneously — something that many desktop musicians do. For VST2 and MAS host applications, many Pluggo plug-ins can sync directly to the sequencer's tempo; just set the Synchronization pop-up-menu parameter on the plug-in to Host. That is a very handy capability and allows you to change your sequencer's tempo without worrying about resetting Pluggo parameters or using a click track. For other (older) Pluggo plug-ins or VST or RTAS plug-ins, you can use the PluggoSync to accomplish the same thing.
For those who want to build their own Pluggo plug-ins using Max/MSP, two changes in Pluggo 3.0.2 are especially welcome. The first is Pluggo's enhanced audio-DSP engine, which has been updated to have all the functionality of Max 4 and MSP 2. That gives plug-in developers several added audio-processing tools, including better handling of polyphony (using the poly˜ object) and much easier FFT analysis and resynthesis (using the pfft˜ object). (See the sidebar “Plugging In to Pluggo” for more resources on this topic; also take a look at the sidebar “Roll Your Own” in the October 1999 issue's Pluggo review for an introduction to building Pluggo plug-ins).
Another boon for plug-in developers and other users is the Pluggo Runtime Installer, which should be available by the time you read this. This program allows anyone with a supported host program to use plug-ins created in Pluggo. The Pluggo Runtime Installer enables musicians and developers with offbeat ideas to invent new plug-ins and distribute them to a potentially worldwide audience, which is a very exciting proposition.
YOU GOTTA BELIEVE
Pluggo 3.0.2 combines easy setup and use with a seemingly inexhaustible wealth of ways to manipulate sounds, including open-ended expandability. From common delay effects to insane granulations, it offers a wide array of creative plug-in effects that have something for just about every type of desktop musician. At $199 for more than 100 synths and effects, it's an excellent bargain.
Given that many single plug-ins cost $100 or more, you may be thinking that Pluggo is too good to be true. My advice is to just try it. You can download a free demo version from the Cycling '74 Web site that is totally functional but outputs a five-second beep every minute until an authorization code is given.
Plug-in users of the world, unite! Pluggo 3.0.2 has something for all of us, at a price that can't be beat.
Doug Geers,a composer who enjoys creating and performing music with computers whenever possible, teaches at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Minimum System Requirements
Power Mac 604/150 MHz; 64 MB RAM; Mac OS 8.6; VST, VST2, MAS, or RTAS plug-in host
effects plug-in bundle
upgrade from 2.1 $99
FEATURES5.0EASE OF USE4.5QUALITY OF SOUNDS5.0VALUE5.0RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: A treasure trove of plug-ins at a dirt-cheap price. Some plug-ins act as modulators to control others. Works with VST, VST2, MAS, and RTAS. Users can create their own plug-ins using Max/MSP.
CONS: Mac only. Not OS X native. Pro Tools Free not supported.
PLUGGING IN TO PLUGGO
Several valuable Pluggo-related resources are available on the Internet. Two of the most useful and active are described below.
This site contains several additional free Pluggo plug-ins created by Pluggo users, including the wonderful Percolate collection of synths and processors by R. Luke DuBois and Dan Trueman. The site also contains the Pluggo Developer's Guide, which offers instructions on how to create Pluggo plug-ins, and Plug-in Confidential, a tutorial by Gregory Taylor describing how he made his first Pluggo plug-in, as well as all of the patches that went into it. You'll also find examples of the patches used to create the Pluggo plug-ins Rye and Walkie-Talkie, by jhno and Richard Dudas, respectively.
creativesynth.com/tutorials/004_SynthBuildingMSP/sbm_index.html This site contains “Synth-Building with Max/MSP” by Darwin Grosse, a set of eight tutorials on building virtual synths.