SKnote Disto by PB+J
DRM: Registration via Website
Try and Buy: no demo, money returned if unhappy
“Disto” emulates the much loved "Distressor" comp, which is famous for adding pleasing distortion on varying modes to compression, and the Fatso, which is famous for adding warmth via saturation. It might be compared to Soundtoys Decapitator, which I've never used, or to Kush Audio's UBK-1 and Pusher, which I've used a lot. It adds dynamic control and various kinds of “mojo.” SKNote is a small maker of both plugins and hardware, located in Italy.
This is a very interesting plugin that can sound fantastic on some things. Male vocals, for example, or peaky guitar. It can get extremely squashy and add subtle distortion, or it can get very effectful and add lots of euphonic noise to relatively light compression thresholds. I’ve found it to be like nothing else on some things, for better or worse. I love it on my own vocals: in general it’s great on male vocals. It can add both distortion and “warmth” and transformer saturation and if you go overboard it quickly becomes a mess. But there’s a sweet spot where it’s great. It’s hard to separate out “sound quality” from the somewhat nutty controls, see below. When it works, it’s great.
I like the way it distorts or saturates much more than I do the Kush stuff. I’m not sure why. I can just get a very smooth, phat compression with some edge to it very easily. I’d rate the sound quality very high, when it works right, but there are some caveats regarding the controls, see below.
Oh a note: My experience with hardware Distressors is fairly limited and I've never owned one. So I'm not going to be able to tell you if it sounds just like the hardware or not. I don't really care, to be honest: I'm interested in how it sounds, not what it sounds like.
It has a compression section and a saturation section. Just to confuse things, the compression section also saturates. It can operate in stereo or mono or mid/side mode. You can add a HP filter and two kinds of distortion to the comp section, you can vary the ratio widely, and you can choose “british” mode which I think changes the ratio? It’s very unclear from the documentation.
Then there’s the saturation section, which lets you add “warmth” and “hottitude.” Warmth seems to be some kind of low pass filter? And “hottitude” is more saturation. You can add a transformer emulation that saturates the low end more. These can be great but are very easy to overdo. Did I mention you can run the whole thing in stereo or mono?
Ease of Use
Ok not good here. First of all the GUI, to me, is annoying. It models a strong light source which never looks like the light source in my studio, so it’s irritating. The light is always coming from above and slightly to the right: the left side is always in shadow. So it’s always kind of ”out of sync” with the actual light in the room: there’s always an irritating cognitive dissonance present. You might not care
But the control layout, while reminiscent of a hardware Distressor, is confusing. Why are there ALWAYS three rows of knobs, no matter what mode you are using? Why is stereo indicated by two rows of comp, and two columns of saturation? I guarantee your first feeling on trying to use this will be a degree of WTF? Then you figure out that in mono mode only the top row and the bottom left two knobs are doing anything. IMHO it would have been much better interface design to have the GUI change as you went from mono to stereo: say, have part of the gui gray out or vanish in a virtual “drawer.”
Ok, an attack and release knob: nothing here is normal or clear. In some modes the attack knob does nothing at all. In other it works sort of like a regular attack knob. Same, l as far as I can tell, with release. You just have to futz around with ratios till you find a ratio at which the attack knob works. Unless you like what it’s doing already, which you might. I understand, from the developer, that this is because it has different “modes” of compression, some with fixed attack, and these modes are linked to compression ratios. But nothing tells you that. Again this is software: if they aren’t doing anything INDICATE IT.
Then there is a secret “out of order” mode accessed by a text link at the bottom left. This is another dose of WTF: I cannot tell what it does, exactly, but I think it messes with mid side a lot, because when I engage it all my reverb sends go nuts. It’s like a “chaos” switch. I’m scared of it and leave it alone
Ease of use: relatively poor. But if I compare it to, say, Kush’s “pusher,” it’s not harder to use or more confusing that that nutty interface, and in my experience, it gets me what I want more directly and simply. It just has a little more of a “homemade” look to it. I think this plugin makes a good argument for plugins NOT looking like the hardware they imitate—it would be easier to use if it did the same things but were redesigned from the ground up to be purely digital.
SkNote runs with might be described as “legendary Italian efficiency.” There is supposed to be an update coming soon: the developer says it doesn’t really have any mild compression modes because, he argued, there are a lot of comps that do that, this is meant as a colorful comp. I’ll be looking forward to a version that operates in a more conventional way, although I have other comps that do that kind of thing well and will likely use this as Quinto, the developer, intended.
It may be that if you use a hardware distressor all the time the controls will seem more familiar.
Bang for the Buck
It’s a steal at $29. Despite the problems above, it can sound really really great. I like the plugin and use it pretty regularly, and am glad I bought it. It replaces the two Kush plugins, Pusher and UBK, for me. Despite the negatives I think it’s a very good plugin.
Any track where you want to combine stiff compression with saturation and distortion. Any track where you wish you had a distressor, used fairly heavily