Sunday, September 30, 2012


Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about Virtual Console Emulation!
This article talks about a particular kind of plugin set between a Saturation Plugin, an Harmonic Exciter, a Mix Buss Compressor and an Equalizer. Looks complicated? It's actually easier than it seems, in facts, like we've already seen with our Virtual Channel Strips article, it's just all about recreating a sound that feels a bit less digital, and a little more like the vintage albums. 
Back in the day, in facts, recordings were done analogically, by processing the sound through huge and expensive consoles that, just by passing the signal through them, used to give to the wave a particular colouration, and this colouration, featured on some classic, timeless album, is still today sought after from many sound engineers.
This "Colouration" of the sound consisted basically in some characteristic of the electronic components used for the console, and at the beginning they were meant to be as transparent and hi-fi as possible, but nevertheless the sound was inevitably modified by passing through them to the point that, once a real hi-fi and true-to-the-source recording has been possible, the engineers felt something was missing.
When the Drive knob is raised, those Virtual Console Emulators basically works halfaway between a Harmonic Exciter and a Saturator, so they add a bit of gain and a sligh compression too, and the hi-pass and low-pass filter tries to set the sound on the coords of the ones created with the virtual consoles. 
Some of these plugins works as a Summing processor too: a summing processor is a tool that is used to sum together the tracks, not only by stacking and exporting them on a single file, but  
adding a slightly 'bigger' and more professional sound, although this is the source of much debate in the pro audio world, since always more audio engineers are sticking with the "In the box" solution without problems.

Here are the best Console Emulation plugins, ordered by price:

- Terry West's Saturn Console emulation: A Free console emulator for single channels or busses with fixed Hi-Pass and Low Pass filters, a warm gain-driven saturator with a option to use the fine US-pre gain compressor and two meters.

- Sonimus Satson: another good console saturation plugin, at an excellent pricing, with adjustable hi-pass and low-pass filter and gain control.

- SKnote Stripbus: Four types of console emulation, hi pass and low pass filter, VU meters, stereo buss compression and a very low price.

- Waves Nls: Three different console simulations (Neve, SSL, EMI), which will add different tonal colourations to your single instrument or mix buss and work as Summer.

- Slate VCC: another console emulation that features 5 classic console models, and features summing capabilities.

- Acustica Audio Nebula: an impressive virtual console emulator

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

HOW TO USE GATE and NOISEGATE (with Free Vst Plugins Inside!)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about Noise Gates!
When we record an audio from a souce, a microphone or straight with the jack into the audio interface, we may have some unwanted noise, generated for example by the hum of the pickups (especially the single coil ones), the quality of the cable, and every other ring on the chain that brings the sound into the Daw.

Let's start by saying that there are different types of "noise": Hiss (which are the frequencies that produces sibilance), Hum (which is the low background noise), Clicks and Crackles (which are the snappy sounds sometimes presents when digitizing vynil recordings, or when a source goes into peak, distorting the signal) and the Ess frequencies, produces by the sibilance of the human voice.
The noisegate usually works by selecting the typical frequencies that we want to remove (for example the hiss frequencies, in the case of the DeHisser), and once they occour, heavily compressing them, lowering their level to silence. 
So we're talking about plugins that are both Equalizers and Gates (a Gate is a Compressor that works on the opposite way: when a signal is below a certain threshold, instead of boosting it, it brings it down to zero decibel).
Also Gates are used when recording an acoustic drumset, to remove unwanted bleed of other drum parts on a microphone (e.g. to remove the snare sound from the kick microphone).

Many commercial noisegates (like Waves, Sonnox or Izotope) features a "Learn" function: you play a part of the track where only the noise you want to remove is hearing, and the program will remove it from the whole track leaving the other frequencies untouched. This function is featured by some free plugin too, as you can see on the list below.

Focusing on guitar sound, the main issue here is the low background noise, or Hum, generated by the pickups and sometimes by the cable too. We need to clean the sound before entering in the amplifier, or, especially if we use the distorted channel, the noise will be distorted and amplified too, resulting in a strong hum and feedback.
If we are recording an amplifier by Microphoning it, we must use a Hum remover OR just manually cut away the silence parts that feature only noise, retaining the full harmonic richness of the played parts.
If we are recording straight to the interface using Virtual Amp Simulators, instead, we can use a Noisegate BEFORE the virtual amp, and before the eventual virtual Overdrive that boosts the amp.
Many DAWs today features a bundled Noisegate that eliminates the hum, but if your bundled noisegate is not good enough or if it's completely absent, here's a selection of the best free Noisegates:

FRETTED SYNTH GATE PLUS - a Noisegate with all the features of a Compressor.

GVST GGATE - One of the most used ones, very simple.

7AMP NOISE GATE - One knob gate with Learn function: you simple hold your guitar strings for a second, or keep your microphone in silence, allowing the plugin to study noise pattern, then you set filtering level.

REAGATE - the free Gate from the Reaper Daw

FLOORFISH - A versatile multi-purpose Gate, with Learn function.

- How to use a Noisegate to remove unwanted background noise or microphone bleed: Let's load a noisegate on the track we wish to "De-Noise", and set the Threshold control wery low, so that no signal is below it, and therefore there is no gating. 
Now raise the Threshold control until only the hum is gated, and adjust the attack and release control in order to decide how fast the Gate should kick in, and for how long it should be active. It's as simple as that, just remember, when you use it to clean up your guitar tone, to adjust it with your distortion on, or the hum will be almost inaudible.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

THE BEST FREE VST GUITAR AMPS (a guide with free Vst plugins inside)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about a long awaited topic: the best free guitar amp simulators, which ones are, where to find them, how to use them :)
First off let's put it this way: the last ten years have seen a very fast acceleration towards guitar amp modeling, with the release of increasingly accurate softwares that recreates hardware circuts, both solid state or Tube driven, that tries to recreate the final result in terms of sound. This effort to bring hardware processors to the digital domain has brought to the birth of digital amp modelers, both hardware (like the Line6 Pod, that we have already covered on This article) and software.

On the software side the scene is rapidly evolving, with the release always more accurate modelers, such as Peavey Revalver, which features the proprietary license of Peavey amplifiers, or Overloud TH-U and Bias FX, and the market is lately trying to explore the smartphone and tablet market too.
Those abovementioned products are commercial all-in one bundles that features an array of virtual amps, cabinets and stompboxes, but also in the freeware domain there is a wide range of quality software, developed by engineers that decides to share with the public domain community the results of their researches, often offering products that have absolutely nothing to envy to the commercial ones.
Here are the most used:


TSE - X30 - Based on ENGL E530 Rack Mounted Amp Unit
TSE - X40 - A Hybrid between A Mesa Dual Rectifier and A Peavey 5150
TSE - X50 - A Peavey 5150 Clone


Nick Crow - 7170 Lead - A Peavey 5150 Clone
Nick Crow - 8505 Lead - A Peavey 6505 Clone
Wagner Sharp - A hi gain tube preamp simulator

Ignite Amps - NRR 1 - Great Sounding High Gain 3 Channel Amp
Ignite Amps - The Anvil - A VST version of the Amp designed by Andy Zeugs
Ignite Amps - Emissary - A beautiful looking and sounding amp, so powerful and versatile that it doesn't even need a booster
Ignite Amps - ProFET - my favourite one from this producer, the simulation of a solid state preamp, that with the right booster becomes excellent for heavier metal genres.


Clang - A simulator of Randall Satan
Jump - A simulator of a Peavey 5150
Megafuzzie - A simulator of a Mesa Boogie Mark IV
Mars JFD - A simulator of a Marshall AFD100
The NSB - A mix between a Peavey and a Dumble
JessieM X100 - A simulator of a Marshall JCM800 2204 50w
Lead E530 - A simulator of the Engl E530 lead channel
Andy Zeugs Anvil - A simulator of the Anvil preamp
Heavy Lead 5150 - A simulator of a Peavey 5150
Endl Fireball - A simulation of an Engl Fireball
Super Sonic - A simulation of a Bogner Ubershall
Pvthp7 - Peavey 5150 - The simulator of a Peavey 5150 head with snake skin tolex
Pvthp7 - Krank Revolution - A Krank Revolution emulation
Pvthp7 - Mesa Boogie Mark 3 - As the name says, a Mesa Boogie Mark 3 emuolation
Pvthp7 - Baron K1000 - a Baron K1000 custom head emulation
Pvthp7 - Randall Solar - an emulation of the Randall Satan, the Ola Englund signature head

This russian programmer also produces one free multiband noisegate called "3 Band Noisegate", also downloadable from the site.


L12X - a simulator of the Marshall Lead 12 solid state amp


- Gerbert: a simulation of a Diezel Herbert (very suggested!)
- Uber: a simulation of a Bogner Ubershall
- Crunchman: a simulation of a Friedman head
- Ninja: a very hi gain original amp, no need of booster here!
- Pectifier: a simulation of a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier
- J800: a simulation of a Marshall JCM 800
- Valver: a simulation of a tube amplifier
- Rectifier preamp: a simulation of a Mesa Boogie Rectifier Preamp
- Schmitt - Octaver: a fuzz paired with an octaver


LePou - Lecto - Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier Clone
LePou - LeGion - An original voiced amp by LePou, very popular in the DIY Djent world
LePou - Le456 - An ENGL Powerball Amp Clone
LePou - SoloC - A Soldano SLO100 Amp Clone
LePou - Hybrit - A Marshall Superlead/JCM800 Hybrid


AcmeBarGig - C15 - A Very High Gain Amp
AcmeBarGig - Series 60 - An Original Voice amp, is supposed to replicate a "8000 Watt Head"
AcmeBarGig - Razor - An Original Voice Amp, capable of many different tones.
AcmeBarGig - Shred - A Full guitar amp suite, featuring 6 different amp models with interchangeable tone stacks (Engl, Mesa, Marshall, Vox, Krank, Fender).

There are also many other great, free, amps available from AcmeBarGig in their "Classic Hybrid Line."


NDZeit - DirtHead - Sounds like some kind of Peavey clone but with a voice control that lets you shift the voicing from American to British, similar to what Blackstar have done with the HT series. It includes a Cab sim that we'd recommend you switch off.
NDZeit - TubeBaby - Pretty basic emulation but with different amp "types" including. American, British and Custom. It includes a Cab sim that We'd recommend you switch off.

- How to use these virtual amplifiers: the typical chain to use these Virtual Amp Modelers is the one we've already seen on the Basic Guitar Chain article:


The Noise Suppressor will clean our sound from the hum of the pickup-cable etc, then the overdrive will be needed only if we need to boost the amplifier, giving it that extra "chug" required for modern metal tones, but if we don't need a sound that edgy we can skip it.
Then we need the Speaker Simulator to recreate the cabinet sound taken from a microphone, and then an Equalizer to filter the unwanted frequencies before they become Louder due to the Compressor, whose main use is to tame the lows. Finally, if we need to boost some frequency, we can add another Equalizer after the Compressor.

Comment if you wish to suggest more Virtual Guitar Amplifiers!

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

HOW TO USE VIRTUAL CHANNEL STRIPS (with Free Vst Plugins inside)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about Channel Strips.
Today, in the DAW era, we're used to think about channel strips as a sequence of empty slots on our track, ready to be loaded with any plugin we want, of any brand we choose, on any order, but it's not always been this way: with the term Channel Strip we refer to the single channel of a hardware mixer, which includes one or more Microphone Ins,  a volume fader, an Eq section, and often other features, such a compressor/limiter, an Fx Mix control, a Noisegate, and so on.
Is it still appropriate to talk about Channel Strips today? Maybe, since the last few years we have seen an increasing interest in trying to recreate a sound that has a common colour, like all the instruments were recorded through the same gear and mixed using the same processors, in order to ease the workflow and give the sound a slighly analog and coherent style.  

Let's start immediately by saying that the software house most dedicated and professional about the recreation of Channel Strips is Waves, and one of the most famous vintage channel strip emulations is the Waves SSL, which recreates the single channel strip of a Solid State Logic Mixer, one of the most used mixers of the best studios of the last 30 years.

Beside the Waves ones, there are other Channel Strip emulations too that worth mentioning:

- De La Mancha Strip Ts, which features a Gate, A Filter, an Eq, a Compressor, a Clipper, and a Meter, and has a very good price.

- Sugar Bytes Vogue Channel Strip, another good channel strip which features almost everything: Gate, Preamp (Gain, Highpass, Overdrive), Compressor, 3-Band Dynamic Equalizer, Filter, DelayReverb.

And finally here are some free ones, some of which can rival even the most expensive ones: 

- Terry West's Cs4 and Cs12: these are 2 channel strips one with a 4 band eq dedicated to the single tracks and one with a 12 band eq for the master buss, with a wide range of features, including a Tape Saturation tool.

- Two Notes Torpedo-Pi Free: a very interesting Channel Strip dedicated to Guitars, including a Harmonic Exciter and a Cabinet Simulation tool.

- Variety Of Sound Nasty Vcs: this plugin emulates the response of a vintage console, and features a Filter, an Eq, a Compressor and a Phase Alignment tool.

- Variety of Sound PreFix: this is a very particular kind of Channel Strip, featuring a Filter, an Eq, a Compressor and a Phase alignment tool, is specifically made to take place upfront the mixing process. It provides tools set to clean-up, fix and align audio tracks concerning overall frequency correction, phase alignment, spatial stereo field corrections and routing.

Try and experiment for yourself how these tools can improve your mixing routine, as they can really add a new dimension to the sound!

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Saturday, September 1, 2012


Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about How to Recognize the most important Frequences, in order to help you having a mental reference on where to intervene while Equalizing a sound.
Obviously we will try to point out and memorize just the main areas, and once there, we will still need to sweep with a Paragraphic Equalizer to find the exact frequency that we need to boost or cut, but it's pretty important to have a mental scheme: it will improve mixing a lot and make it much faster.

We're going to analyze the various octaves that covers almost the full spectrum of audible (20hz to 20'000hz); an octave is the double of a frequency, so if we choose as our first frequence to analyze the 63hz one, the second will be 63x2=126, the third 126x2=252 and so on.

63hz: this is the area of the low thump, it will give punch to kick and bass

126hz: this is the first octave of the first frequency we analized (it's the double in hertz), and adds even more weight to the sound, especially of the bass.

252hz: the second octave of the first frequency (the double of the double), it's the "mud area", and it's often cut on guitars and snare drums to add clarity, because if it's too high it produces a "boomy" sound.

504hz: the third octave of the first frequency lies in the "cardboard area", becaused it makes the sound a bit "boxy". This is harmful for guitars, in facts this area is often widely scooped out, but adds weight to vocals and snare, and presence to the Reverb effect (that's why this area is often filtered out from the reverb Fx Tracks, because it tends to act uncontrollable). 

1008hz: the fourth octave of the first frequency creates a telephone-like sound to the voice and gives it kind of an obnoxious horn-like effect, so it's better not to boost this area.

2016hz: the fifth octave of the first frequency gives bite to the guitars and attack to the snare, but too much boosting here will cause listening fatigue.

2500-3000hz: this is not a proper octave of a precise frequency, but it's called the "vocal area", and worth a mention since it's the range our vocals usually are, and it's the range the human ear is used to pick up most. It is therefore suggested to leave room on this area to let the vocals sit, also by cutting away some db from this area on the other instruments.

4032hz: the sixth octave of the first frequency causes the hissy effect on distorted guitars, and if left untamed can lead to a seriously harsh sound.

8064hz: the seventh octave of the first frequency brings out the brilliance of a sound, and works well to bring the vocals closer to the listener, but an excess on this area can also generate too much of a fizzy sound, especially on high frequency oriented sounds, like cymbals.

16128hz: with the eight octave, we're getting close to the end of the spectrum of the human audible (usually around 20000hz). This frequency adds some more air to the sound of the most high frequency oriented instruments, but needs to be listened very closely in order to be actually heard.

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