QUICK PICKS: AIPL WarmTone 2.1 (Win)

I have a confession to make: I have never been fully satisfied with my digital recordings. When I compare them with mixes done on tape machines 15 years

I have a confession to make: I have never been fully satisfied with my digital recordings. When I compare them with mixes done on tape machines 15 years ago, they seem to be missing something. Conventional wisdom attributes this to the "warmth" of analog recordings, which makes them smoother and easier on the ear. Digital recording is cleaner, but it's also colder and more sterile, and digital peaks (with their sudden precision) sometimes sound harsh.

AIPL's WarmTone DirectX plug-in (standard version, $34; ProSound version, $64) aims to solve that problem. This dual-purpose package adds both tube color and tape-saturation effects to tracks and mixes. The effects can be used separately or together under any compatible PC-audio host application.

Easy ListeningI tried WarmTone's tape-saturation feature first. The effect has only two settings: Envelope, which determines the degree of compression, and Limiter, which sets the threshold. Using even modest settings on full digital mixes has a subtle but significant effect. Sharp attacks and transients become less strident. Harsh peaks are rounded into a gentle blending of instruments. Overall, the sound is indeed smoother, warmer, and easier to listen to. The effect works equally well on individual tracks.

WarmTone's tape-saturation emulation is clearly better than that of many other plug-in compressors. It produces few of the common sonic artifacts associated with conventional compression. The casual listener might not notice much difference, but those who strive for sonic quality will definitely hear an improvement. The effect is so pleasing that I used the tape-saturation feature on a number of my older mixes to improve their sound.

TubularWarmTone's tube-effect section adds various degrees of overdrive ranging from warm buzz to shredded metal. The adjustable sliders include Personality, which controls overdrive EQ bias; Blending, which controls the amount of overdrive added to the mix; and Dynamics, which adjusts rise and fall times. I used the tube-overdrive effect both alone and in conjunction with the tape-saturation effect and found that it works best with saturation. The results were some of the cleanest overdriven tube sounds I've ever heard.

Although the sounds were of high quality, I had trouble achieving sustained distortion. I would also prefer some additional controls (such as adjustable parametric EQ or a built-in amp simulator) to increase the range of sounds. Another drawback is that real-time performance requires a lot of CPU power, especially for stereo usage.

WarmTone is available only as a direct download from AIPL (www.aipl.com). The company has cut out packaging and shipping costs and passed the savings directly to consumers. This approach is both convenient and environmentally friendly. The file is a modest 600 KB, so it downloads quickly and easily. Users can try a free sample of both the standard and ProSound versions. The ProSound version uses a higher bit rate for processing, and sounds significantly better. It's well worth the price.

Overall, AIPL's WarmTone is a good addition to any serious musician's audio toolkit. Although its tube-overdrive effect lacks sufficient sustain, its tape-saturation emulation is superior; I'd buy the software for that feature alone. In fact, it has become my plug-in compressor of choice for mixing. If I were stranded on a desert island with only a few software plug-ins, I would definitely want AIPL's WarmTone to be among them.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4