Slate Digital VMR (Virtual Mix Rack) by PB+J
Synopsis: You can't consider this separately from the delivery system it comes with. The individual plugins are very good, the rest is a big pill to swallow.
Slate Digital specializes in analog modeled plugins. They promise--with no shortage of hyperbole--to deliver plugins that are virtually indistinguishable from the hardware they emulate. They seem to get very close if not actually all the way there, depending on who you ask. They are now pioneers in new forms of marketing--VMR is the centerpiece of a new subscription model.
VMR is a departure from Slate's other plugins in that as the name says it's a virtual "rack." You choose it in your DAW, click on it, and it opens as a rectangular box with a scrolling list of plugin modules in it. You choose one of those modules, drag it into the box, and you are off to work. As initially released, VMR included five modules: Two compressors, one modeled on an 1176 and one modeled on several different un-named comps, and two eqs, one based on Neve and one based on SSL. There was also a free module called "revival" which was something like an exciter/saturator for highs and lows.
I liked the modules very much for the most part. The Neve Eq especially grabbed me: it was very "musical" and it seemed to be highly effective. Small changes had significant impact on a mix. It seemed t add a degree of "dimension," Although when i A/B/x'ed it with different Neve emulation I had a hard time picking it out. I had a hard time with the black comp, based on an 1176, but once I figured it out I found it to be an excellent software comp for smacky stuff. The red comps worked better for me for lighter, more transparent compression. I never used the other modules much.
The rack takes up a good deal of screen real estate, but it's low on CPU use and if you only ever want to use slate plugins, ever, it's not bad, although the idea of a rack inside the rack in your DAW is odd. In your DAW's plugin list, VMR shows up as "VMR," not as the modules you have chosen. I found myself growing less and less happy with it in use, because i have a number of carefully chosen non-slate plugins i like to use, and my tracks started to look something like this :
What is in each instance of VMR? You don't know till you click on it. It's small annoyance but if you care about workflow it begins to build. The huge size of the rack is also a problem. Let's say you have VMR on a track with six modules. Six modules takes up a lot of screen. If all you want to do is adjust the high shelf on the eq, VMR is eating your entire screen while you do it. If you want to, say, EQ two tracks together at the same time, both with VMR, you can't, because each instance of VMR takes up too much space. See below for examples.
VMR was then updated, and in the process the long awaited VCC update came out. The new version of VCC was better, more stable and lighter on CPU, but it only worked within VMR. I didn't like the rack to begin with: this made it really ridiculous. Why was I putting a single instance of VMR containing only VCC on each track? I liked VCC as standalone plugin--I bought it as a standalone plugin. But now it had been converted in an update to part of a virtual rack. It was like sending your shirt in to be dry cleaned and having it come back sewn to a pair of pants and a tie.
The answer was that the new update coincided with the release of Slate's new "subscription" plan, in which for 20 bucks a month you could get the use of every Slate plugin. Slate has claimed they will produce ten new plugins a year, in perpetuity I suppose, so in four years you will be paying 20 a month for forty plugins, all in VMR. I'm not at all sure I need forty plugins: I know for a fact they won't make my mixes 40 times better.
Over those four years you will have spent close to $1000 to rent those plugins.
This may seem like an attractive option to some. It does not to me, but Slate has announced that the subscription model will be optional, and you can choose to still buy plugins the old way, if you like.
For me, the rack became too much of an irritant. I found it needlessly awkward to use. The idea of paying for a subscription to not yet existing plugins while also using plugins I already bought (VCC and the VMR modules) but which were now part of the subscription model was odd and Slate's offer of six moths free subscription did not ease that sense of oddness. I was already using those plugins for "free" in the sense that I had already bought them. The new subscription VMR came with two new EQ plugins but they didn't grab me, possibly because by then I was already too annoyed by the whole thing, but also because I have a lot of good EQ plugins already.
So for me the bottom line is the plugins sound quite good, but they aren't even close to unique enough to justify the clutzy rack and the apparatus of subscription. If slate ever dumps the rack I might buy some of the individual modules. But I'm looking for smaller developers who offer good plugins with less hoopla and complexity.
It's hard to review VMR apart from the context it arrives in. That context has me me to look for other options. There are a LOT of good, effective, inexpensive plugins out there.
If you can't afford more than 20 bucks a month VMR includes some very well made tools, and if you only want to use Slate plugins the rack will likely not bother you.
Note: here are some screen shots that make the point about screen space.
I work mostly on a 21.5 inch imac. Here are some screen shots that demonstrate this:
Two instances of VMR, full "rack:
Two instances of VMR, Just VCC:
Compare that to two instances of the old VCC:
You can see that it eats the whole screen, and if all you want to do is change the attack speed on a comp, you lose the rest of your DAW. If you are working on really big monitors, or using multiple monitors, this will likely not bother you.