Soundtoys Soundtoys 5 - Native Effects Plug-in Bundle by Diogo C
- Product: Soundtoys 5
- Developer: Soundtoys
- Formats: VST, AU, AAX, RTAS - Win/Mac
- DRM: iLok Software - USB dongle optional
- Price: $599 MSRP with custom upgrade prices
- Website: https://www.soundtoys.com/product/soundtoys-5/
After nearly one year of expectation, Soundtoys finally delivers the highly-anticipated Version 5 of its line of effect plugins. Having established themselves as one of the quintessential plugin companies since the early days of DAWs, Soundtoys’ tools are ubiquitous all across Gearslutz when it comes to naming the best special effects out there, and they have rightfully gathered a big cult following that even includes some big endorsements. I’ll take a look on what’s new for V5 then do a quick rundown of the bundled plugins, finalizing with the scores focusing on the bundle as a whole.
Soundtoys 5 - What’s new?
Version 5 brings the brand new Primal Tap delay plugin, along with a new Effect Rack that can chain up to six Soundtoys plugins. There’s also a general framework update for the existing Soundtoys bundle, with improved tweak menus and new wooden frames - which looks nice but this is just cosmetic of course. You can check out my "virtual unboxing" video for all the updated interfaces, so for now I’ll just say that quality of life when using these plugins has raised substantially with this update and this is definitely their best form so far. The new tweak menus are presented as lower panels which replaces the former floating windows, and this proved to be a big improvement to this reviewer’s eyes. Sections such as modulation editors (on all plugins applicable), saturation and other inner settings had their interfaces enhanced and are now offered in a much more elegant way. It definitely makes their use far easier than before, and not having things on top of the main interface is a great thing. These plugins are quite feature-packed with many possible settings on some cases such as Echoboy and FilterFreak, so a better organization of the interfaces was definitely called for.
One of the biggest news besides the rack, the reworked menus and PrimalTap are the new analog emulations/saturation options on FilterFreak, PanMan, Phase Mistress and Tremolator. They have scrapped the digital/analog toggle and now those plugins have seven different “analog styles” ranging from kind of subtle to very crunchy, amongst those there’s a “clean” mode which is as close as it gets to digital mode - not entirely digital but very clean. The seven options covers more sonic ground than ever before, so I’d say it was a good change that added a nice extra touch to an older set of plugins. Crystalizer, Echoboy now have longer delay times and pitch-slewing effects when automated and Radiator also had some small changes which I will cover shortly. Overall these were good changes but they came at the cost of (some) backwards compatibility problems, and I can definitely understand the frustration from people who wanted full retrocompatibility and it’s a fact that can not be downplayed, but I will look into it with fresh “version five” eyes and say that overall the changes weren’t totally “necessary” but they are definitely welcome - these plugins are definitely better now, so maybe that can soften the eventual recalling and redialing burdens a little bit.
Quick rundown of the plugins included on Soundtoys Version 5:
- Crystalizer - I’ll confess that I have a hard time understanding this one, which never stopped me from enjoying it...even if that means relying on presets as my crutches when I take it for a walk in a mix! Crystalizer sounds just the same as ever, just as good as always, but it gets the V5 facelift with an improved design that organizes everything on a single window, without floating things covering the main interface, which is definitely a good thing. Longer delay times and gate/ducking controls are the other new and welcome things here.
- Decapitator - No changes here other than the cosmetic wood panels, so it’s that good old multitude of saturation options for all tastes that we thoroughly enjoyed for so long, which is just great. Perfect when your effect rack experiments are asking for a little nudge in the tone and some extra power to cut through a mix or just to make a sound sit nicely. The Decapitator is a very versatile plugin, perhaps one of the most in its category, and still holds up immense value years after its release.
- Devil Loc/Devil Loc Deluxe - No changes here as well, not that they were needed anyway. This is an absolute favorite of mine and it shines even more in the effects rack for some extra gritty modulated out of this world delays and who know what else. Based on a mic limiter made by Shure in the 60s, this is a vicious compressor capable of delivering brutal distortion. The darkness knob is the icing on the cake, rolling off high frequencies which is often necessary when dialing very bold tones.
- EchoBoy - This is probably Soundtoys most famous, talked-about and coveted plugin, the EchoBoy is omnipresent in “best of” lists around Gearslutz when the subject at hand is “delay plugin” or “greatest plugins ever”. It’s just that good, and it’s even better now with the GUI facelift that elegantly replaced the floating windows for the inner settings. One other new feature is that Echoboy is now capable of doing slightly longer delays, which is never a bad addition to a delay plugin. It’s hard to improve on something that’s near perfect, but V5 managed to do it with and overall EchoBoy feels definitely better than ever. Sound-wise it’s the same Echoboy we always loved - and will keep on loving.
- FilterFreak 1&2 - Arguably surpassed in some aspects by other plugins, the good old FilterFreak is still a very useful tool that is more than capable of delivering great sounding results. It also got a interface extension which is great to work with and the new analog modes that can go from subtle to very dirty if you crank up the input. Overall these new features helps to keep FilterFreak very relevant, it’s the plugin that likely benefited the most from this upgrade and it will definitely play an important role when used within the rack since a good set of modulated filters is something essential to our modern sound effect making duties.
- Little AlterBoy - Included on v5 for those who slept on the offer and didn’t redeemed their download codes on time, but according to Soundtoys it was not included in the effect rack because of its complex pitch detector which has an inevitable latency that would affect all the rack. Despite being left alone, this little boy is fine on its own, with a very aggressive sounding pitch shift, MIDI capabilities and a remarkable sound signature like one expects from Soundtoys.
- Microshift/Little Microshift - A one trick pony, but it’s quite a trick and one that’s widely (pun intended) present in contemporary popular music. You can try to get things in the same ballpark with other plugins, but here you have it ready to served, awesome sounding rich stereo width goodness. Unchanged on V5 since it was released not too long ago.
- PanMan - A effects bundle needs a good panner, period. So Soundtoys gives us a great one. Also basically unchanged besides the analog mode, also benefited from the update with a better interface that makes moving your stereo around quite an enjoyable experience.
- Phase Mistress - Everybody needs one good phaser so why not have a great one? In the same vein as PanMan, Phase Mistress is a necessary plugin, one that you might not use very often but it does get its share of use from time to time, make no mistake about it. Also gets the v5 makeover, which helps to keep it relevant, and the new analog modes can add some good grit.
- PrimalTap/Little PrimalTap - This one definitely deserves a review on its own, so I’ll just say it’s awesome! It goes far beyond the little teaser plugin that was offered for free a while ago, with a hefty amount of options such as HP/LP filters that can be place at the output or at the feedback loop, several different delay modes including classic ping pong, serial and cross delays along with a reverb algorithm that sounds very cool. There are also further modulation options, lock-to-tempo/beat function for easy rhythmic delays and a freeze button for ultimate tapping madness, all of that with a sound character that is quite unique. It went so far beyond the Little version that I can safely say that this is the best little-to-big transition we’ve had so far. Little Primal Tap wasn’t forgotten and now has pitch-slewing on the time control too.
- Radiator/Little Radiator - Unchanged in terms of sound, only general framework update and the wood paneling of course. Same rich tone, and as the name might suggests it is great to warm things up and add some extra fatness and roundness. Favorite of mine on bass, electric guitars, soft synths and anything that asks for a little low-mid bump with some thickened top end. Clean mode now completely takes out the hiss.
- Tremolator - I’ll second what I said about PanMan and Phase Mistress: having a good it’s a necessity, even more so if you’re mixing electric guitars. Gets all the v5 goodies and also gets a drag/rush feel knob, which is great to spice up rhythms that are maybe too straight.
The Effect Rack
One of the biggest selling points about Version 5 is the Effect Rack, which allows the user to chain up to six Soundtoys plugins in a row. When I started playing with it was fun, but for a short a while until I felt like it missed some depth...but how come? While chaining amazing plugins in a row is fun, I felt like the rack currently lacks better handling of audio signals and I’d really welcome a mixer-style routing to really make the most out of these plugins with the choice of serial or parallel inserts, auxiliary channels, sends, some panning options and everything that comes along with a full-blown audio mixer. Further modulation options would also be much welcome, with macro knobs to control a bunch of parameters at the same time, a modulation matrix and so on. Besides the basic input/output, mix and the feedback control, it doesn’t add anything else than what your DAW mixer offer - some will offer even more to be honest, such as Reaper, Studio One and Tracktion, which all have very flexible routing options.
Although the rack is easy and straightforward to use (drag and drop and you’re set), it lacks some quality of life. Soundtoys’ interfaces aren’t exactly small, I’d say they’re sufficient for a single window, but when you stack 3 or more it gets inevitably messy and some vertical scrolling is mandatory. I’d say that a simple function to minimize the device, collapsing the interface to a narrow strip, would be enough to have a better grip on all the modules. In this day and age it’s getting more common to have different size options, scalable interfaces are getting more common, so maybe that can be also be considered for a future update. In very broad and vague terms I have a hunch (and no more than a hunch) that the Effect Rack is kind of incomplete and a work in progress right now. Soundtoys will hopefully add more to it in the next years, but as it currently stands it’s without any doubts a very useful sound effects tool and a creativity-enabler of the best order and it’s irresistible to play with. After all, it’s Soundtoys and its lengthy set of awesome plugins and there’s something very cool about lining up EchoBoy and Devil Loc Deluxe (and more!) under the same interface, there’s kind of a magic here that’s hard to find in the plugin land.
One last thing: it’s important to note that the little plugs for Devil Loc, Microshift, PrimalTap and Radiator are not available in the rack and we have to use their full-blown versions (as it was already mentioned, Little Alterboy is not available on the rack). I honestly think the little guys should be on the rack as they do serve certain roles very well - I can even imagine them lined-up side by side...they would fit very well given their small vertical size. Maybe this is another thing for Soundtoys to consider further down the road as they develop the rack.
Performance and support
Despite the aforementioned retro-compatibility issues and a handful of small bugs that are kind of inevitable on a big release such as this, Soundtoys’ plugins have always been pretty good in terms of performance. Maybe V5 is a bit better in terms of cpu load - although there is no way to have both versions running together I get the feeling that it’s at least as solid as it was on V4 and before. Stability is very good, no crash-inducing highlights and overall pleasing performance. It’s also important to say that the Soundtoys guys are very committed to delivering all the necessary updates and have been in constant contact with the Gearslutz community addressing all the issues.
- Sound Quality - 5/5: Amazing sounding, established and proven plugins. Stellar sounding individually and even better as a bundle with the effect rack and all its possibilities even with the rack’s eventual shortcomings. Some individuals plugins might have been trumped in some aspects by the competition, but as a whole Soundtoys is just too good and well-rounded. What I like about these plugins is that they not only sound great but they are also just plain fun to play with, true creativity-enablers of the highest magnitude.
- Ease of use - 5/5: Soundtoys always had good interfaces that were intuitive and easy enough, but Version 5 managed to substantially improve the quality of life aspect with the reworked tweak menus that really worked out very well. It’s easier than ever to operate the plugins, and despite their inherent complexity they are accessible and intuitive enough and won’t leave many heads scratching. If you need some further help, the included documentation was also reworked and it’s presented in the form of very organized and streamlined PDFs that are definitely worth a read if you’re not yet well-acquainted. Also worth mentioning is the fact that V5 does not require the iLok USB dongle and gives the user the option to use a software-based licensing system.
- Features - 4/5: I’m taking a bite here because of the effect rack. As was said before, it lacks a little substance despite giving that awesome feeling of chaining Soundtoys’ awesome plugins, but it falls a little short of depth right after that. Needless to say that if you don’t take into account or don’t care for the rack then it’s a resounding five stars - it’s a bundle of 18 amazing processors, all packed with some very cool tricks and a comprehensive set of features that will keep busy for quite awhile until you learned them all and once you have them under control you’re set for a very lasting and rewarding relationship with them.
- Bang for the buck - 5/5: Enormous value regardless of where you are coming from. If you don’t have these plugins by now, then it’s a great time to jump in and enjoy one of the most iconic set of digital audio tools ever created. If you’re upgrading then things gets a bit more relative since Soundtoys made case-by-case offers, with upgrade prices depending on which plugins the user owns and from what I can tell most people were happy with their offers. Regardless of each personal situations, the Soundtoys V5 bundle is an investment that will easily justify itself in a very short amount of time.
- Recommend for: anyone that has to do anything where sound effects are required and I really mean everyone!