PCRECORDING.COM - Ultrafunk Sonitus DirectX Effects Plugins Review
Product: Sonitus:fx release 1c
DirectX plugins for DAW software come in all types of configurations and price points. They vary in functionality, ease of use, compatibility and sound quality. With improvements in GUI design and DirectX coding, the applicability and useability of on-board effects in DAW systems is approaching the useability and quality of out-board units. The single biggest advantage other than relative cost, is that one on-board reverb unit can be used for numerous digital tracks simultaneously. In addition, precise settings and adjustments are very easily done in a digital setting. From an efficiency perspective, DirectX effects are a tremendous value.
I review the latest offering from newcomer Ultrafunk.com, the Sonitus:fx package - - a suite of four DirectX effects - - Reverb, EQ, Modulator and Phase Shifter.
I went to the Ultrafunk.com website to download the package. The Ultrafunk site has an understated hipness to it and provides helpful, downloadable manuals for each effect. They each were well-written and easily understood. After downloading the set from the Ultrafunk website, installation was effortless. It took a matter of seconds and was instantly useable. The Sonitus installation process does not enter the Windows system files, thus allowing you to place the effects programs wherever you want.
The first thing I noticed was the GUI design of the interface. I found each to be quite intuitive. Input changes are made with keyboard entries, horizontal sliders or moving selected markers on the graphical window. In each case, a numerical window reflects the changes made. I used the effects extensively while doing reviews on a variety of multi-track software, including, Samplitude 2496, Cakewalk v.9, and n-Track Studio. The plugins were instantly recognized and easily useable in each of these programs. The reverb quickly became my default plugin reverb for use on my DAW.
fx:reverb implements a high-quality diffuse reverb algorithm. The fx:reverb is a wonder of flexibility and usefulness. From top to bottom, the user can set output to mono or stereo with a toggle switch, overall volume levels with a horizontal slider that includes a numerical display. The reverb has a low-cut and high-cut filter function that can be adjusted either with the mouse via a graphical interface or by keyboard entry in the window display. In the next section, predelay, room size and diffusion setting can be adjusted with horizontal sliders or via keyboard input.
Next, bass multipliers, crossover frequency, decay time, and high damping can be adjusted with the mouse or keyboard in the next window. Lastly, dry signal and reverb signal levels can be set with a slider. Moving the slider changes the displays numbers to provide feedback to the user. The user can also create tails for very short samples, extending their duration by the decay time automatically. Both input, output and reverb levels can be adjusted or muted for fast previewing and A/B testing.
The reverb provides for a wide variety of settings and is quite transparent otherwise. Keeping in mind that perception of sound quality is a subjective thing, I thought that it sounded very good in virtually all settings. Some digital DirectX reverbs have a tendency to sound harsh and artifact laden. These did not to my ears. The adjusability of each parameter made the wide range of effects very useful in a variety of different recording applications. I was easily able to apply as much or as little (my preferred) effect to the signal as I wished. The discreteness with which I was able to do this with the effect made it a valuable tool.
fx:equalizer is a 6-band parametric equalizer. The GUI allows for setting the filter type, center frequency, Q-Factor and gain for each band. The frequencies can be manipulated via keyboard input, by moving the horizontal slider or the numbered yellow balls in the graphical display.
Five filter types are available: Lowpass, Highpass, Peak/Dip, Shelving Low and Shelving High. Each frequency band can be boosted or attentuated +18 / -18 dB. You can also adjust the master output gain +24 / -24 dB to normalize the amplitude after filtering.
I found this effect to be very intuitive to use and very effective. Having six parametric bands available made very flexible, discrete and detailed frequency adjustments possible. I was able to use the six available bands to provide space to selected frequencies during mixdown. Locating particular offensive frequencies and making adjustments as necessary was quite easy. One particularly nice feature was the presets for 50hz and 60hz hum noise. The eq drastically and discreetly cuts out these frequencies and each multiple of it for those that encounter this type of noise.
fx:modulator combines flanger and ensemble modulation effects into one integrated plug-in. The user can set flanger or chorus settings for single tracks or a whole mix.
The modulator employs the familiar horizontal sliders and numeric displays to set rate, phase, depth, delay, feedback, cross mix, mix and output levels for the signal. Lastly, the user can invert the feedback or wet signal and choose between six different LFO shapes. If you need/want to use modulation settings on your recordings, this one does just about everything.
While I seldom use flanger tones on my recordings I could see that this one was easy to use and sounded good. If you need to add depth or richness to a recording, this would be a good tool to use.
fx:phase lets you adjust the phase of a sound. You can alter the stereo image, avoid inverted phase situations or create stereo from a mono signal.
fx:phase features four different processing modes: Left/Right, Mid/Side, Center/Surround encoded and Surround/Center encoded phase adjustment. In addition, the user can control stereo image width, output levels and use the phase meter with pre/post monitoring. This could be a very handy tool to have in the box when phase problems arise or you wish to enhance stereo settings.
I primarily used the EQ and the Reverb units for my test recording sessions. I generally do not use the phase and modulation functions very much for my style of music. However, they are nice tools to have available for any special needs that might come up.
I found the EQ very easy to understand and use. The EQ provided a great deal of flexibility to narrow down the frequency I wished to adjust or to make broad sweeping adjustments. A quality EQ is an indispensable tool for a DAW user, particularly for mixdown adjustments. Having six parametric bands makes this particular tool very useful. Its GUI is very intuitive and easy to use.
The reverb has an intuitive interface, verifiable sonic and visual feedback for the settings changes, and it sounded very good. One of the oft-heard complaints about DirectX effects is that they can sound artificial and harsh - - that unwanted digital artifact sound I guess for lack of a better term. I compared the sound quality of the Sonitus reverb to the reverb on my Lexicon MPX 100. It faired very well I thought. Now, I realize that the MPX 100 is not a "top of the line" reverb but it definitely holds up well for most applications. I generally found the Sonitus effects were easier to manipulate and adjust. The feedback provided by the graphical interface made a lot of difference for me in quantifying what I was doing with what I was hearing.
I recorded my cherry Native American flute and then my acoustic guitar at 16-bit and 44.1kHz using a Marshall MXL 2003 microphone, Folio Notepad, Hoontech AudioDSP24, Hoontech ADC 2000 and n-Track Studio. I added nothing to the signal whatsoever - - no equalization, compression, etc. The mike position on the guitar was facing directly at the twelfth fret, my favorite position. The flute positioning was across the microphone so as to avoid excess aperture sounds. Each track was recorded to within -2 of clipping. I then applied the default reverb which sounded terrific.
If you care to here it, I have uploaded them to the site. To limit download time and storage space, I have kept them short and converted them to the .wma format. While some sound quality is lost in this type of conversion, I could not afford the space and burden you with the download times that would have been necessary as regular wave files. These will still take a long while to download so please be patient. (I suggest you right-click, Save Target As, and download the file to a spot you will remember. Then open up your Windows Media player and load it from the file you downloaded it to). Let me know what you think.
Conclusion: This suite of effects provide a robust set of DirectX based effects options for the DAW user. As a package they represent a mere portion of what it would cost to purchase one hardware based effects box. One might argue that hardware-based effects are easier to use and sound better. However, the intuitiveness and intelligence of the GUI on these effects dispels most of that concern.
At $140.00, this suite is not the cheapest but it is not the most expensive. It sounded great and was very easy to use. I got very satisfactory results using these plugins. I particularly liked the flexibility, feedback and sound of the reverb plugin. A close second was the powerful and useable 6-band parametric EQ. Isolating bothersome frequencies has never been easier.
Lastly, Ultrafunk tells me that the next version of Sonitus:fx will likely contain a compressor, surround panner and a wahwah simulator plus full VST support. In addition, updates and fixes for the present plugins will be available. I would be interested in taking a look at the upgrade when it is released - - mid-summer they say.