Juice Your Sound

Juice Your Sound

Pick from a world of free and commercial audio plug-ins to get the right sound for your show.

Plug-ins are self-contained digital filters that can snap into any application that supports their particular plug-in standard. Several plug-in standards are available, but the most popular is the cross-platform Virtual Studio Technology (VST) standard, and the Macintosh-specific Audio Unit (AU) plug-ins.

Plug-ins usually install themselves or have a README file attached, which will walk you through the installation. Once you've installed them, you can use them in several ways. In Audacity, they are run against the current selection of audio, and the result is placed back into the file, replacing the selection. In mixer and recording programs, the plug-ins snap into the signal path so that you can hear their effect immediately as you record, though some will cause a delay in the signal.

Programs such as Peak allow you to set up a series of plug-ins and then run the signal through it while tweaking the parameters until you get the sound you want. The input and output of each plug-in is shown with a graphical meter.

In Figure, you can see the original input of the lefthand side going through a set of three VST filters and popping out on the righthand side. With the e button on each effect, you can edit the effect's parameters to tweak the sound.

Vboxing with Audio Hijack Pro

If you want the dynamic effect processing ability of the Vbox, where you can tweak the settings and then run the sound again and again, you can do that with Audacity and Audio Hijack Pro [Hack #50]. Use Audio Hijack Pro to hijack the signal from Audacity. Then hold down the Shift key when you press Play on Audacity. That will set Audacity into loop play mode.

The Vbox in Peak

Now, in Audio Hijack Pro you can add, remove, or edit effects to your heart's content while listening to the effects through your headphones or speakers. When you are done with the settings, you can record a playback from Audacity through the settings and import the recorded file.

Plug-In Sites

Plug-ins range from traditional effects such as compression, reverb, and flanging to synthetic instruments and visualizations. Here are some sites where you can find free or commercial plug-ins:

KVR Audio (http://www.kvraudio.com/)

An outstanding searchable database of VST plug-ins. The site includes a forum as well as categorized RSS feeds.

OSXAudio (http://osxaudio.com/)

A new site that covers the AU plug-in market. Both commercial and free plug-ins are listed here. An RSS feed is available to keep you up-to-date.

MadTracker (http://www.madtracker.org/)

A searchable plug-in database.

Plugzilla (http://www.plugzilla.com/)

A huge database of VST plug-ins.

Steinberg (http://www.steinberg.net/)

The originator of the VST standard has links to a bunch of VST developers and plug-ins.

The Music Womb (http://www.musicwomb.org/)

A searchable database of plug-ins of various flavors, including VSTs.

Recommended Plug-Ins

Here is a set of plug-in vendors I have found in my travels that you should have a look at:

Freeverb (http://www.dreampoint.co.uk/)

An excellent cross-platform free reverb plug-in.

Fillet of Fish plug-ins (http://www.digitalfishphones.com/)

These three plug-ins provide gating, compression, and de-ess'ing (removal of the long "s" sound).

Green Oak plug-ins (http://www.greenoak.com/)

Free phaser, chorus, delay, excitifier, and more.

MDA VST Effects (http://www.mda-vst.com/effects.htm)

A huge library of free VST plug-ins.

Voxengo (http://www.voxengo.com/)

Has a bunch of commercial and free VST plug-ins for Windows.

RubyTube (http://www.silverspike.com/rubytube.html)

A free plug-in for Mac and Windows that simulates a tube amp.

SoundSoap 2 (http://www.bias-inc.com/)

A high-quality commercial noise filtering plug-in.

Pluggo (http://www.cycling74.com/)

A set of around 100 VST and Real Time Audio Suite (RTAS) plug-ins that you can download and play with in demo mode and purchase if you want.

Kjaerhus Audio Classic Series (http://www.kjaerhusaudio.com/classic-series.php)

A free set of VST plug-ins for the PC that covers all of your basic needs.

Ohm Force (http://www.ohmforce.com/)

One free and a bunch of commercial plug-ins. Damned if I know how to use them, but they look really cool.

SmartElectronix (http://www.smartelectronix.com/)

A group of plug-in developers that has built a wide variety of free plug-ins.

Develop Your Own Plug-Ins

The VST plug-in standard is maintained by Steinberg (http://www.steinberg.net/). The site includes an API reference as well as mailing list links. The AU standard is part of Apple's new Core Audio interface. Documentation and developer tools are available on http://developer.apple.com/.

There are other plug-in standards as well. MOTU has the MOTU Audio System (MAS) plug-ins. Pro Tools has two standards: RTAS plug-ins, and expensive Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) plug-ins. Microsoft is also on the scene with its own DirectSound plug-ins.

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