Clean-sounding audio isn’t necessarily great-sounding audio. IK Multimedia’s latest gets down and dirty with your tracks. By Peter Hodgson
It’s one of the great dichotomies of our time: we have all this great equipment for recording audio but it’s hard to get that stuff to sound as good as the analog gear that was being used 40 years ago. IK Multimedia knows recording gear and they also know the importance of dirt and grit in getting a great sound. Saturator X is an individual processor model that slots in to the T-Tracks CS ‘Custom Shop’ plug-in, and it’s designed to give you all sorts of analog-style warmth, saturation and harmonic goodness.
IT’S GETTING HOT IN HERE
At the heart of Saturator X are ten different analog saturation simulations. Tape 1 and Tape 2 reproduce the high-frequency compression of analog tape, with Tape 2 adding more distortion and high-frequency roll-off. Master +6dB and Master +12dB offer soft saturation for adding body and fullness to a weak-sounding mix. Tube 1 is based on a push-pull circuit with classic tube saturation and odd harmonics for an aggressive, edgy distortion, which Tube 2 is based on a Class A design with rich-sounding even harmonics. There are Solid State versions of each of these too, each of which sounds a little more aggressive and less warm. Finally the two Transformer modes (Iron and Steel) provide an interesting balance of harmonic enhancement and slight distortion, with the former being richer and the latter having a more balanced amount of odd and even harmonics.
Interacting with the plug-in is a breeze thanks to a ‘Magic Eye’ VU meter which gives you a visual indication of the amount of saturation applied to the incoming signal. There’s also a Brickwall Limiter which keeps the signal from clipping in the wrong way, and an Oversampling feature which effectively gives you a ‘high definition’ version of the signal - and depending on the vibe you’re going for, you may prefer to leave this on all the time, off all the time, or on a case-by-case basis.
THE X FACTOR
It’s up to you to decide where you want to apply Saturator X within your workflow. To give you an idea of how I’ve been using it, I’ve been taking a Line Out from my Mesa Engineering Cab Clone to feed my Marshall DSL50 into AmpliTube 4’s cabinet and mic modelling, then placing Saturator X after that on my guitar tracks, typically with Tape 1 or Tape 2 engaged with a good amount of grit. This especially helps cleaner sounds to stand out instead of getting lost amongst the cymbals, while Tape 2 fattens up lead guitar parts nicely and is also great for getting a bit of a vintage vibe out of vocals. I’ve found that Solid State - Push Pull mode works really well for punchy drums, while Tube Class A mode with a bit of growl is ideal for more of a fat drum sound. And the two Tape and two Transformer models seem best for placing across your Master fader: the two Master modes paradoxically seem a little too dirty to run across most of my mixes, but I’m sure there are some folks who can put them to great use, and they sound awesome with dirty bass guitars. Truth be told, most of the really great sounds exist towards the lowest reaches of the Gain control where you’re able to get the character of the equipment being modelled before the distortion gets too extreme, so adjust carefully.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you don’t have access to a full vintage analog studio, Saturator X is a great way of getting some of that classic warmth, richness, grit, growl and gain into your tracks. And in the spirit of actual analog gear, the sound you get out of it is very much dependent on the sound you put into it. You’ll get different results depending on whether you put it on an individual track, a stereo bus or on your master fader, and you may find you have to tweak the signal before hit hits Saturator X to get the best sound happening. But once you do it’ll open up a whole new world of punchy, crunchy, earthy tone for your recordings.
• Like an instant ‘sound great’ button
• Lots of usable sounds
• Can get pretty distorted pretty quickly