If you're looking for an easy way to add a pile of VST plug-ins to your desktop system without emptying your bank account, Sound Burst may have the solution. The Italian company's new Fx4u collection features a wide range of processing plug-ins with great-looking graphic interfaces. The plug-ins' consistent design makes them easy to use and fun to play with. The collection is divided into three volumes, each providing four plug-ins. You can purchase each volume individually, or you can buy the collection for considerably less than $200.
Fx4u, vol. 1 supplies four handy plug-ins: Master Chorus, Screamer, Sync Delay, and Retro Filter. Master Chorus generates as many as ten voices of lush chorusing effects. Presets include a Classic Chorus, a warm and dark Tube Chorus, a Panning Chorus, and two detuned chorus effects. Master Chorus also provides separate effects for guitar, electric piano, and strings. I didn't think those instrument-specific chorus settings would make much of a difference, but each one really enhances the character of the instrument it's programmed to work with.
Screamer is a 4-band distortion unit with three distortion drive settings. Unfortunately, the distortion settings don't have names, and the frequency bands aren't labeled.
Sync Delay is a virtual delay unit with left and right output channels that you can synchronize to a specified tempo (see Fig. 1). You can also disable the Sync-to-Tempo feature and independently adjust the left and right output channels. Moreover, you can sync the left and right output channels to each other, even when the Sync-to-Tempo button is active. Lowpass and highpass filtering are available.
The fourth effect, Retro Filter, has five cryptically labeled filters that you can modify with resonance and modulation parameters. A convenient meter lets you keep an eye on the input level.
Moving to the second Fx4u installment, vol. 2 provides Mega Filter, Metaphaser, Phoner, and Granulator. Mega Filter takes the Retro Filter from vol. 1 to a higher level, with ten filters and five cutoff slopes (see Fig. 2). Adjustable parameters include cutoff frequency, resonance, bandwidth, LFO rate and depth, and modulation by a basic envelope follower. The Power Resonance setting adds resonance and extra drive to any audio that passes through it; it's the best choice for squawking, spiky effects.
Metaphaser is a basic phase shifter with as many as 16 stages of phasing. In addition to the usual depth, rate, and feedback knobs, you can tailor its sound with stereo imaging and filter parameters.
The Phoner plug-in creates telephone-voice EQ effects and includes an adjustable noise generator, FM Distortion, and Drive parameters. With those controls, you can also create effects that don't sound like a telephone, such as making music sound as though it were being played too loudly through a tiny transistor radio with bad reception. Phoner might not be an effects processor that you use frequently, but it provides an amazing degree of flexibility beyond the simple telephone-voice effect.
Granulator is a simple granular synthesizer that does a fantastic job of resynthesizing the waveform data from audio tracks. Granulator takes in adjustable chunks of digital-audio data and spits them out at an adjustable rate or density. By adjusting the Shuffle setting, you can randomly shuffle the chunks around so they don't come out in the same order in which they went in. Granulator can adjust the pitch of the output data, randomly alter the output pitch, or combine the two functions.
Fx4u, vol. 3 rounds out the collection with Extreme Flanger, Protocomp, Quick Gate, and Rotovibe. Extreme Flanger creates a variety of effects ranging from Classic Flanger, Slow Wah Flanger, and Sweeping Flanger to more extreme effects such as Bad Tape and Robotizer. Extreme Flanger does more than create flanging effects; it also generates vibrato and doubler effects. In fact, of all the Sound Burst plug-ins, Extreme Flanger is the most flexible in the effects it can generate.
Sound Burst describes the Protocomp plug-in as “the smartest compressor you'll ever need for general use.” I wouldn't go that far, but it's easy to use and surprisingly smooth-sounding. Protocomp provides knobs for all of the expected parameters as well as three level meters and an envelope follower.
Quick Gate is a noise gate specifically for drum tracks and other sounds with short durations. It was another pleasant surprise, because it did a great job of tightening up some recorded drum tracks. I thought they were fine as they were, but Quick Gate made the drum tracks sound even better.
Rotovibe is two effects in one: vibrato and tremolo. When you want a vibrato effect, just minimize the tremolo setting. Likewise, minimize the vibrato to emphasize the tremolo effect. Vibrato and tremolo rates are adjustable, and you can combine the two effects to create some interesting choruslike sounds. Rotovibe works best with sustained sounds rather than sounds of short duration, such as percussion hits.
GOBS OF KNOBS
Most parameters in the Fx4u plug-ins are controlled with virtual knobs that you adjust by dragging the mouse. In some cases, buttons engage specific parameters; for example, Sync Delay has a button to activate Sync-to-Tempo and another button to engage the link between the left and right delay outputs.
As with most VST effects, you can save and load effects settings. In addition, Master Chorus, Mega Filter, Phoner, Rotovibe, and Extreme Flanger provide nine presets and an additional Custom preset that you can use as a starting point for creating effects. When you alter a parameter in a preset, the preset name automatically changes to Custom. It's a bit disconcerting at first, but the current settings aren't lost.
The Fx4u plug-ins are monaural, and you can use them as send and insert effects without problems. Master Chorus, Granulator, Metaphaser, Rotovibe, and Extreme Flanger include a Stereo Image parameter that adjusts the output's perceived stereo width.
NICE, BUT WHAT'S MISSING?
Despite the plug-ins' apparent ease of use, no documentation is included. Even minimal instructions would have made them much easier to use. According to Sound Burst, the company is writing documentation that should be available soon.
I like twiddling knobs as much as the next guy, but I also want to know what I am tweaking and why. Call me curious, but I would like to know the frequency settings for each distortion band in Screamer and what the three drive types are. Unfortunately, it's not possible to tell just by looking at the front panel (see Fig. 3). Although you can make an educated guess about the parameters in a simple effect such as Screamer or Metaphaser, it's impossible to fully understand them in more complex plug-ins such as Retro Filter. In fact, every effect has at least one setting that needs clarification of function or parameter range.
The Sound Burst plug-ins worked with most VST programs I use — Steinberg's Cubase VST 5.0 and Cubasis VST 2.0, Sonic Syndicate's Orion Pro 2.3, and FXpansion's VST-DX Adapter 3.0. However, a plug-in that I loaded into the Master Section of Steinberg's WaveLab 3.0 took over that program by blocking access to the Master Section window. I could use the plug-in to process audio data, but then I had to exit the program and start over again. Sound Burst says the next version of Fx4u will support WaveLab 3.0 and Emagic's Logic Audio 4.7. (The current version works just fine in WaveLab 2.0.)
The sound quality of each Fx4u plug-in is quite good, and the user interface is relatively consistent from one plug-in to the next. The lack of documentation and the WaveLab 3.0 problem should be corrected soon — they might even be resolved by the time you read this.
My only other wish is that the plug-ins were MIDI-controllable. However, I own a large number of VST and DirectX plug-ins that aren't MIDI-capable, so I'm used to living without that feature. Nonetheless, I can see myself working with all of the Fx4u plug-ins on a regular basis. Check them out and see if they suit your needs too.
Fx4u 1.2, vol. 1-3 (VST; Win)
$69.99 per volume; $179.99 for all three
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE3.0DOCUMENTATION1.0VALUE4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Good-quality effects. Consistent user interface. Low price.
CONS: No documentation. Unlabeled parameter controls. Plug-ins don't work properly with WaveLab 3.0 and Logic Audio 4.7.
Minimum System Requirements
Pentium/200; 32 MB RAM; Windows 95/98