Plugin Boutique Scaler by Diogo C
The Scope: Scaler is a MIDI effect that is focused on offering the electronic musicians a quick path to two of the most essential aspects of songwriting - chords and scales. It is built around two main operating modes: a “detect” mode and what I’ll call a “librarian” mode. The first mode displays chords as they are played on the keyboard, while the second is really a library of chords and scales. Once this first option is made - detect a chord or pick a chord - then it flows to the same stream. Upon clicking on each chord Scaler will immediately show all its corresponding scales along with tags for their style and “mood”. The user can also simply pick a key and a mode (minor, major, Lydian, etc.) and Scaler will show the respective diatonic chords, voicing options and chord alternatives. There are 12 scales with 12 modes, totaling 144 different options (see attachments for all options). In order to offer more practical examples Scaler also packs a good set of presets that includes 50 chord sets for a “mood” or certain genre and also 50 chord sets from artists such as Carl Cox, CeCe Rodgers, Mike Huckaby and others. Overall these presets are mostly catered towards modern-sounding music, but they’re also universal enough to provide good starting points for most styles.
In use: As mentioned before this is a MIDI effect, but its implementation varies from one DAW to the other. For example on Cubase it’s a “VSTi” or VST Instrument plug-in instead of a MIDI effect, with Scaler showing up as a source and/or destination on MIDI tracks once the “VSTi” is loaded on the instrument rack or track. On Logic Pro it’s a de-facto MIDI Effect that uses that appropriate insert slot - it’s important to note that it also shows as an “AU generator” but this way you’ll only be able to use its onboard sound without sending MIDI to other instruments, which is done through the aforementioned MIDI Effect. On Pro Tools it’s an AAX instrument and follows the same principle of Cubase, where it shows up as an input or output for MIDI tracks. Moving past that, Scaler’s interface is organized on three main sections: top keyboard area for detecting chords or picking notes, a middle section for scales or chords, and a lower section that allows for chord progressions to be played. The middle section is probably where the bulk of the work will be done, and to facilitate that Scaler offers easy octave shift and also chord substitution buttons to quickly access the III mediant and VI submediant of a given chord. Lastly, the lower section is quite a handy feature that is noteworthy since it enables the user to preview a progression before going to the DAW with it. Also worthy highlighting is that all three areas have a “Bind MIDI” button that will route the incoming MIDI to that particular area, allowing for easy chord triggering. Other notable features includes the resizable interface, humanized velocity which slightly randomizes each note for a more human feel, configurable drag and drop settings (see attachment for all options) and onboard. One sad note is that there’s no support for using the computer keyboard to play notes or trigger chords on Scaler, so you either have to use a mouse or with a MIDI keyboard to play/trigger or use an intermediary solution for the computer keyboard as available on some DAWs such as Logic, Live and others. Besides that there’s little to complain here, so let’s wrap it up with the scores.
Sound quality: This is not a very import criteria for this plug-in since it’s all about MIDI and chords and not sounds or timbres, so this should be pretty much irrelevant to most users, but I’d like to highlight that Scaler does offers some onboard sounds (a piano and three synths which are all lead-esque) so that the user doesn’t have to connect it to an instrument if all they want to do is pick certain a certain chord. Needless to say that these sounds are pretty basic and will certainly need something else (i.e. a proper software or hardware instrument) for your final product, but they’re still a welcome feature nonetheless.
Ease of use: I don’t usually start with user manuals, but in this case something caught my attention. The documentation (14-page PDF) and video tutorials on YouTube shows setup examples for Live and Logic, which was quite helpful given my inexperience with those two but on the other hand I think other DAWs should be included, the omission Pro Tools is actually a bit glaring since it supports AAX when many plug-ins on this category won’t. The absence of setup tutorials for the everlasting FL Studio and rising hosts such as Bitwig and Studio One is a kind of concerning too, but nevertheless, it’s not hard to set it up and get it running regardless of the host in place - just follow the bottom line that Scaler has to send MIDI to your desired instrument or drag and drop/export MIDI file with the desired chords to the DAW using the onboard sounds for preview and you’ll be fine. One other small but nagging issue is the fact there’s no way to tell the version number on the plug-in, which detracts from the developer’s laudable effort to introduce new features and bug fixes as seen on the latest update (version 1.1). Setup niggles aside, the plug-in itself is really a breeze to learn and results should come in no time. It’s very intuitive to use, the interface is clean and uncluttered, presenting no obstacles to the user and makes life easier for music theory illiterates such as myself to quickly build nice chord progressions. CPU-wise it’s a lightweight plug-in, running multiple instances on a session shouldn’t be a problem for today’s computers and even the modest ones will handle it.
Features: Without extrapolating its purpose and initial premise, there’s not much to complain here. As mentioned before, computer keyboard playing/triggering capabilities would be great to have, especially for quick sketching on laptops and on situations where a proper MIDI keyboard controller is not available. I also would like to see the drag and drop functionality enabled for scales, but besides those two issues the current feature set fulfills its purpose, providing a solution that should be simple enough for anyone to get some decent chords on their songs. On a closing note, Scaler has been updated two times with a handful of new features during the course of this review, and to see developers committed to the constant improvement of their product is always a great sign of things to come.
Bang for buck: The market is very competitive these days when it comes to composition aides and chord tools, with all sorts of products offering different depths and solutions to our address our song-making needs, so I advise everyone to get their hands on all possible demos and figure out which one fits best. Having said that, Scaler ranks amongst very high when it comes to workflow and ease of use, it’s equipped with the right tools to be fast and effective when laying down the building blocks of a song.
Recommended for: novice songwriters and producers or anyone looking for a quick and painless path to chords and scales.
Extremely easy to use
Enables a fast-paced workflow
Well-organized and efficient user interface
Quick access to a comprehensive library of chords and scales
Supports all major DAWs
Doesn’t send notes/trigger chords through the computer keyboard
Developer: Plugin Boutique
Formats supported: AAX/AU/VST for Mac (10.7+) or Windows (7+)
DRM: license file
Price: $49 (US Dollars, MSRP)
Demo: fully functional for 29 days with periodic noise bursts, which are fortunately not extremely loud or frequent. PS: Come on guys, noise bursts are so 2010, time limit is the way to go, so take that noise out please?
Click below for full resolution (1080p) screenshots.