Overall EM Rating (1through 5): 4.5
SoundToys (formerly Wave Mechanics) has released FilterFreak ($249),an analog-style multimode filtering plug-in for Mac-based Pro Toolssystems. It features one or two bands of filtering, a master section,and an extensive modulation section. Its architecture is clear andconsistent, and its suitably high-tech retro graphics provide a snappyoscilloscope-like display. FilterFreak's capabilities are quite deep,but you can easily produce interesting musical results within minutes.Hundreds of factory patches show off the plug-in's varied capabilitiesand make good starting points for experimentation.
FilterFreak ships with RTAS, AudioSuite, and HTDM versions for MacOS 9 and OS X, and it requires an iLok hardware key for copyprotection. The plug-in is host based, running on the CPU even on TDMsystems. It can be processor intensive, particularly whenanalog-saturation modeling is switched on. I tested FilterFreak using adual-processor Mac G4/867 MHz, Pro Tools TDM 6.2.2 software, and ProTools|HD 3 Accel hardware. The plug-in was stable; however, Iencountered some graphical anomalies when Pro Tools automation wasengaged.
FilterFreak's two filter bands can be routed in parallel or inseries at the click of a switch. When you engage the Link switch, thesecond filter tracks any movements you make on the first filter'sknobs. Each band has a Shape knob for choosing whether its filter typeis lowpass, bandpass, highpass, or band-reject. The Poles knob selectsthe slope of the filter curve, from a gradual 2-pole to a razor-sharp8-pole configuration. The Frequency knob specifies the center point orcutoff frequency, depending on the filter type. The Gain knob allows 24dB of boost or of cut, and the Resonance knob adjusts the boost at thefilter frequency. With the resonance turned up, FilterFreak's filterssound appropriately fat and rich. High resonance settings drive theminto self-oscillation that sounds authentically analog.
The master section contains knobs for wet/dry mix, modulationamount, and input and output gain. You can overdrive the signal beforeor after filtering (or both) by adjusting the Input and Output knobs.Clicking on the Analog Mode saturation-modeling switch reveals avariety of distortion and compression settings: Clean, Fat, Squash,Dirt, Crunch, Shred, and Pump. As their names imply, they range fromwarm and friendly to hard and nasty. Although saturation modeling addsconsiderably to the processor load, it is responsible for much ofFilterFreak's character.
FilterFreak's well-designed modulation section offers six modulationmodes that modify filter frequency, resonance, output level, or any twoof those in combination. Switching modes changes the controls thatappear in this section. In most modes, the LFOs can lock to MIDI Clockor tap tempo.
In addition to providing standard LFO shapes, LFO mode allows you todraw your own shapes and save them as presets. Rhythm mode plays aseries of complex filter-modulation patterns that you create using theRhythm Editor, which displays a drum-machine-style metrical grid.Envelope mode produces a classic amplitude-triggered envelope-followereffect. Sample-and-Hold mode generates random modulation levels thatcan sync to your session's tempo. Random Step mode combinesSample-and-Hold with Envelope mode to create a triggered random-levelgenerator. And ADSR mode generates a synthlike filter envelope that canbe triggered by threshold level, by MIDI notes, or by pressing theplug-in's trigger button. With so many modulation choices, you'llprobably be finding new uses for FilterFreak for some time to come.
I was quite impressed with FilterFreak's sound quality andversatility. The plug-in imparted a variety of interesting effects towhatever I threw at it. I spiced up an analog-synth drone by modulatinga lowpass filter with sample and hold. A pair of LFO-modulated bandpassfilters created a new take on the telephone-EQ vocal effect heardfrequently in electronic music. But my favorite effect was manglingdrum tracks by processing them through heavy saturation and a filterpattern I drew in the Rhythm Editor. The flexibility of FilterFreak'sfilters surpasses anything I've heard on a hardware-basedsynthesizer.
FilterFreak is a gem. Its selection of filter effects, its clear andsimple user interface, and its extensive modulation capabilitiescombine to make a plug-in that sounds great and is fun to play with. Ifyou are a Mac-based Pro Tools user looking for a solid new tool foryour arsenal of effects, FilterFreak is worth a good listen. You candownload a demo at the SoundToys Web site.