Nomad Factory's Blue Tubes VST Bundle 1.01 ($156; available for download at www.nomadfactory.com) is a collection of six commonly used processors for tracking and mixing. The interface's design, look, and feel combine elements of venerable old tube gear from Pultec, Teletronix, Universal Audio, and the Danish TubeTech line, among others. The graphics include big, blue front panels with large adjustable black knobs and beefy-looking toggle switches.
I tested Blues Tubes in Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer 2.7 using Audio Ease's VST Wrapper and also in the Mac A/V mixer within a Pro Tools Mixplus TDM system running Emagic's Logic, v. 4.8.1. The results differed vastly. Under VST Wrapper, the plug-ins worked great, though I didn't get the full automation of effects that you would in a host such as Cubase. Within the Logic rig, however, performance was problematic and buggy, but that was due more to Logic's VST implementation than any fault of the plug-ins.
The six plug-ins in the Blue Tubes bundle are Compressor CP-2S, Equalizers PEQ-2A and PEQ-2B, Limiter LM-2S, Driver DR-2S, and Analog Flanger/Chorus/Autopanner CH-2S. All are available in both stereo and mono versions. Nomad Factory uses a challenge-and-response authorization scheme, and once I got the proper code, I was able to quickly install and launch the plug-ins on both of my systems.
All the plug-ins sound great — very analog — and they include many useful presets to get you going. I especially like the Flanger/Chorus/Autopanner for its versatility and smooth, simple operation. It runs the gamut from very pretty chorusing to grainy flanger effects and has the ability to decouple the Rotate (autopan) feature from the chorus or flanger LFO modulation. (This is not possible with the Flanger/Chorus in Nomad's Liquid Bundle.) Although I'm not a big fan of LFO syncing, I was unable to find a way to sync the LFO to MIDI clocks and was annoyed that the LFO speed and delay times are expressed in numbers from 0 to 100 rather than in seconds or milliseconds. I was also irritated by the touchy Speed and Depth controls — all the useful settings are “compressed” within a quarter of the knobs' ranges.
The PEQ-2A equalizer's front panel looks like the famed Pultec tube EQ with the same frequencies and operation. One of the Pultec's main features is its ability to boost and cut the same frequency at the same time. This yields a contorted EQ curve and produces a sound coloration not achievable otherwise. The PEQ-2A does this trick just fine. The PEQ-2B is a 3-band equalizer with a similar sound profile but more carving abilities. After hours of sessions, my producer and I appreciated the warm and natural sound of both equalizers.
Also immediately likable is the Blue Tubes Driver DR-2S. This is a stereo analog overdrive plug-in that simulates tube amplifier saturation. Using very gradual steps, you can “dial in” just the right amount of filth. Designed for electric guitar, the DR-2S has a natural-sounding gating feature with four nonadjustable preset release-time settings. However, for gating short percussive sounds, I would have liked an even shorter release-time setting than the shortest one offered. The Overdrive and Gate Threshold settings were also labeled 0 to 100, but thankfully, the useful highpass and lowpass filters offered more intuitive settings (5 to 500 Hz and 160 Hz to 16 kHz, respectively).
On the Level
The LM-2S compressor does a pretty good imitation of a Universal/Teletronix LA-2A leveling amp. I like the glowing blue tubes and the three attack- and release-time choices — a welcome departure from other LA-2A plug-ins. The CP-2S is a more full-featured compressor with variable Attack (0 to 500 ms) and Time Constant or release settings (5 to 5,000 ms). The Threshold and Ratio are again labeled 0 to 10, and there are Low, Medium, and High peak-detection buttons. Both of these compressors sound good when applied in light to medium strength; I don't think I'd use them heavily on mission-critical lead-vocal tracks or across the stereo-mix bus.
For just $156 and a fast download, the Nomad Factory Blue Tubes VST Bundle is an easy-to-use and totally musical collection of simple utilitarian tools for tracking and mixing. Versions for PC, MAS, and TDM, along with LFO sync, are coming soon.