Of the many audio effects plug-ins and software synthesizers I tested in the course of writing "Make Some Noise," several stood out from the pack. To give you a chance to hear them for yourself, I created some short audio examples that you can download from these pages.
What you're about to hear doesn't represent everything these programs can do--far from it. These sound snippets are intended to whet your appetite by showing just a few of the capabilities of today's music and audio software tools. The best way to experience the full range of these products' capabilities is to download the free trial version of each product from its developer's Web site.
TC Native Reverb and Waves UltraPitch
This first example showcases two effects: reverb and pitch harmonization.
Reverb is one of the most commonly used audio effects; it simulates the sound-reflection characteristics of a small room, a concert hall, a sports stadium--or anything in between. Adding a splash of reverb to a vocal can make it sound richer and fuller.
Of the reverb effects plug-ins I tested, I was most impressed with TC Native Reverb, part of TC Works' ( www.tcworks.de ) $499 TC Native Bundle. Its sound quality is not only superb, but its user interface is straightforward and easy to use, with numerous presets that make great starting points for your reverb needs.
Pitch harmonization is much less common than reverb, but no less useful. With a pitch-harmonizing plug-in, you can turn any monophonic (single-note) performance into a polyphonic one. Translated: You can turn a solo vocal into a six-part harmony, or a sax solo into a Tower of Power performance.
Waves' ( www.waves.com ) UltraPitch, part of the $450 Pro-FX Plus bundle, creates remarkably realistic harmonizing effects. You can control the position your virtual backup singers within the left-right stereo field, and you can add small amounts of random timing errors to enhance realism.
About the example: First, you'll hear me singing a few notes without UltraPitch, but with the reverb effect. Note the richness of the reverb. Next, you'll hear the exact same notes processed through UltraPitch.
Disclaimer: Although we do look a bit alike, I am definitely not Al Jarreau, and I apologize in advance for my mediocre singing skills. If you have dogs who are prone to howling, you might want to remove them from the room before playing this example.
Flanging and Modulation
Here are two effects that, among other things, are often used to add rich, swirling textures to instrumental tracks.
Flanging produces its swirling effect by combining two copies of the same signal, with the second delayed slightly. Although many sequencers have flanging and phase-shifting plug-ins, they lack the sonic richness and versatility of MetaFlanger, part of Waves' Pro-FX Plus bundle.
Modulation creates tremolo, vibrato, and rotation (left-to-right stereo panning) effects. Waves' Pro-FX Plus bundle also includes MondoMod, which excels at modulation effects.
About the example: First, you'll hear a short electric piano performance with no effects. Then, you'll hear the same passage processed by MetaFlanger and MondoMod. I used MondoMod's rotation feature to create the left-to-right panning effect that you'll hear. This effect will be especially apparent if you listen to the example with headphones on.
Music to Rave Over
Into dance music? You'll want Propellerhead Software's ( www.propellerheads.se ) $179 ReBirth RB-338 (distributed in the US by Steinberg ( www.steinberg.net ) for $199), which digitally recreates some legendary Roland Corp. drum and bass synthesizers.
Generally, you don't play ReBirth by playing the keys on a music keyboard. Instead, you create patterns --short drum and bass loops--and then switch between the patterns on the fly, while simultaneously twiddling ReBirth's on-screen knobs to change effects and alter the sound. You can record all these pattern switches and knob twiddles for subsequent playback.
About the first example: Dance music isn't my thing--you'd know why if you saw me dance. Nonetheless, I strayed into toe-stomping territory and created a short example that lets you hear a bit of what ReBirth can do. The tune starts out with a series of notes being played by Koblo's ( www.koblo.com ) $189 Stella9000 software synthesizer. After the drums kick in, everything you hear is being generated by ReBirth.
About a minute into the tune, I begin twiddling ReBirth's delay knobs, which create echo-like effects. About one minute and 20 seconds in, I begin switching to different patterns.
About the second example: If you'd like to hear what ReBirth can really do, download this example. This tune, by ReBirth master Frank Chotai, is called Transfusion. To hear more of his efforts, visit his Web site at http://www.vittran.norrnod.se/~speedo/.
Let's Go Koblo
Koblo's family of software synthesizers impressed me for their sound quality, their reliability, and their cool interfaces.
About the example: This example illustrates just a few of the many sonic possibilities of Koblo's Stella9000. Everything you'll hear here was produced by Stella9000: the drum loop, the end-of-the-world bass, and the electric piano.