Sound Designing From Scratch
If you’re still caught up in the vst plugin hype then congratulations! Lets face it, vst plugins are here to stay (as they should be) and if you’re experimenting with the many varieties of vst plugins out there then you’ll get experience plus a head start on the competition when it comes to ‘Creative Exploration’ via third party vst plugins.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Ableton Live user and I’ve been using Ableton for over 15 years. I’m a firm believer in knowing one’s native DAWs - UI, Instruments, I/O, Auxes, sounds, samples, functionality and etc. - intimately! But don’t let people discourage you from experimenting with third party vst plugins because you may discover that there are developers creating some vst plugins that are as compatible with your technically creative workflow as light is to day.
You’ve seen an immeasurable amount of entities on the web that keep you informed about the best picks. I want to start my own version of great picks however, I am all about doing things from scratch, and/or starting at the ‘Core’ and building signature, none-liability sounds and eFXs. My list will be different; it will only pertain to vst plugins of interest and vst plugins that I personally use. But the main highlight will be vst plugins that serve to help you get the job done from scratch!
This list will be direct to the point and have only (2) two categories:
Vst Plugins that I currently use to design sounds from scratch.
Vst Plugins that I have an interest in using to design sounds from scratch.
Finally, this list will not contain exclusively new vst plugins by commercial markets, nor will they be what certain entities consider, ‘The Most Popular’ but will contain any and all vst plugins that I currently use or have an interest in using corresponding to the year that I am posting (starting off with the current year of 2018 - meaning that if I have a plugin that was popular back in 2000, I will still post in the current years’ top picks because I may be just discovering it, just using it and/or etc. but want to share how I use and why so you may be inspired to test it out and experience all of its’ glory).
I haven’t always delved into the realms of vst plugins; I now find myself getting more in depth with these third party tools, using specific vst plugins for specific task to accomplish even greater creative outcomes and as such, I personally do not care when they were created as opposed to; user interface capability (easy to view), how the circuitry audibly translates (via sound) and functionality (does things move in compatibility with how I slide my mouse or rotate my midi controller knobs, etc.) as these elements serve to enhance my technically creative workflow experience. This isn’t a popularity contest list, but an artistic resource list.
Note: I am not affiliated with any developers or companies of the products being listed in any way…(yet)!
1. Alchemy - by Camel Audio
I’ll start the list off by taking a trip into the past (please do your intel as I will only cover a few focal points of every vst plugin listed). Alchemy is a powerful synth and is my 1st 2018 free top pick for designing sound from scratch. I use it in so many different scenarios and I personally think that this is the best vst plugin every created. If you have some intel about Camel Audio then you know that they were internationally renowned for their vst plugins (it still saddens me that they went out of business, mystifies me to boot). But before they did announce their official closing date they released ‘Alchemy’.
Alchemy allows you to create sounds from as close to scratch as you can get:
Basic - Saw, Square, Triangle and Sine - It then goes into hybrids with Pulse, Saw (hybrids), Square (hybrids) and Sine (hybrids).
.Wav File Import (sampling capabilities) - Import Algorithms - Granular, Additive, Additive + Spec. and Spectral.
Modulation - Endless modulation routing capabilities or should I say, “endless complexed modulation routing capabilities”.
A hidden feature of Alchemy is its’ ability to generate sound from (don’t quote me on the format, it’s been a while) .png/.jpeg files (if not .png files then it’s .jpeg files but definitely one or the other). Alchemy is a resynth/sampler great for taking your originally recorded audio material and/or waveforms and transitioning them into unique and specific sound designs eFXs and instrument sounds. Look, definitely try to grab this vst plugin; Apple bought Camel Audio’s Alchemy upon their closing and I believe this plugin is now available and exclusive to Logic Pro (here is evidence that Alchemy may be available in specific versions of Logic Pro). If you’re absolutely, positively, with a shadow of a doubt and desperately trying to get this plugin, hit me up and I may be of some assistance getting you a x86/x64 1.25 ‘Windows’ version that is compatible with 8.0, 8.1 and 10 for any DAW (note: this version is compatible with windows vista and 7 as well, but I have not tested this). A donation of no less than (5) US dollars via paypal will be charged for the intel.
I have this little gem in my arsenal and it’s the first market obtainable ‘Freebie’ on the list. If you’re aspiring to sound design from scratch then you’re just like how I was; you’re using anything that will record sounds (digital multitrack recorders, digital records, cellular phones, boom mics and etc.). After you’ve recorded the sounds then you’re off to your AE (Audio Editor), then you’re off to your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
When you are sculpting layers of sounds together and decide to fundle around in the stereo width domain, you’ll likely run into phase/polarity issues. The imager can assist you in bringing your sounds back into a positive phase/polarity, useful in making sure every sound in your eFXs and audible designs translate from stereo-to-mono and mono-to-stereo so they’re heard on any speaker system correctly (have you ever listened to a track on one system and heard everything but listened through another system and only heard certain parts - this is the results of phase/polarity issues).
I have both of these free vst plugins, experimented with both, but have only utilized ‘Fracture’ in a recent eFXs/sound design project due to be released in 2019 (no said date). I stumbled upon Glitchmachines doing some intense intelligence about sound designing and the results of that intel was how can say this…..something like a dream come true! I won’t get into all of the details of that project on this list. I will tell you that Fracture was the main element that I used in a custom made, complexed Ableton Live instrument rack to create a library of ‘Robotic Artifacts’; totaling to 101 custom-tailored eFXs for the film and gaming industries. I will also tell you that I am going to continue to get extremely intimate with both of these vst plugins for times to come and they will both be essential elements in continuing my Robotic Artifacts library volumes.
These (2) two vst plugins first off, sound absolutely great. Fracture is a buffer effect while Hysteresis is a glitch delay effect. The combination of the two renders you a arsenal of glitch mechanics that can take your recycled audio recordings to the next level in robotic sound design. The key to acquiring the most out of these two vst plugins lies within their ‘Real-time’ automation, resampling, applying more enhancement effects before finally chopping out unique sounds to render! I’ll be creating a short video detailing how I created the ‘Robotic Artifacts’ library in the near future but if you’re interested in hearing snippets of all 101 sound eFXs visit my direct Instagram link here.
Note: The title link of these two vst plugins routes you to Glitchmachines’ free vst plugin bundle which includes: sound packs as well as Fracture & Hysteresis!
‘Krush’ is a bitcrusher that sounds really nice (audible circuitry speaking wise), has a wonderful UI (user interface - I can see everything exceptionally well) and functionality (automation of every control - midi controller - also, the mouse interacts with the interface quite well). Going back to the overall sound, It has a warmth to it that reminds me of some analog saturation and for it to be a bitcrusher it allows you to aggressively add that bitcrush characteristic that can either/or be harsh, mild or gentle without a digitally pronounced processing sound (it really sounds that warm to me). I’ve used Ableton’s ‘Core’ bitcrusher instrument a lot and I love it but what I wished that it had is exactly what Krush has implemented in their bitcrusher and that is a sort of way to shape the ‘Crushed' signal. They even took it a step further by adding what I’m going to call parallel dry/wet faders so you can create the perfect balance of processed and unprocessed signal (I love this functionality in an effects plugin). Shaping the signal with modulation parameters along with a hp/lp-filter is the bread and butter of the plugin. In sound designing from scratch, my first thought is to use this plugin as a sort of dynamic soft saturator bitcrusher(?) in specific frequency ranges automated, however you can completely destroy a sound and give it a completely different tonal characteristic from the original sound.
I would have loved being exposed to this particular vst plugin in the process of creating my ‘Robotic Artifacts’ library. I found that Krush allows you to add or reduce sparkle in conjunction with the filters to specific frequency ranges. In my ‘Robotics Artifacts’ library I utilized multiband dynamics to add excitation to specific frequencies ranges while using the same effect to dull others and this wasn’t an ideal approach for me. I would have much rathered give the core eFXs their own effects characteristics and then utilize something like a dynamic filter only for enhancing or attenuating frequency ranges and blending those frequency ranges accordingly. Future ‘Robotic Artifacts’ libraries will take advantage of this bitcrusher by the individual layer; adding pronounced, glitchy sparkle to certain focal point frequencies of a individual layer while dulling other layers but still adding some crush in the same sense. I am excited to give it try (I’ve played around with ‘Krush’ but at this current moment, I haven’t dived in as deep as I’m going to in the near future)!
5. Utility by Vennaudio
I stumbled across vennaudio by accident, I wasn’t even looking for a ‘Utility’ plugin; I guess I was more or less doing some intel on plugins and this is one that I had to grab. At the time I came across this vst plugin, Ableton’s utility was basic but they’ve now upgraded it and I still use it way more than this particular utility. Now the only reason I still go to Ableton’s utility is because vennaudio’s utility in the past was a little too advanced for me but that has changed with some serious intel on the ‘Gain’, ‘DC’, ‘Stereo/Mono’ features that the majority of any utility will have but with additional filters and width controls. The bottom line is that vennaudio’s utility is perhaps the most advanced utility plugin on the ‘Free Market’ (don’t quote me though - do your own intelligence). This utility takes things to the next level; it has hard/soft clipping, hpf/lpf not to mention a lot of other functionality and it is fully automatable.
I haven’t actually utilized this particular utility on any projects but I’ll be implementing in whichever next projects I decide to tackle. In sound designing or audio production, I use utility plugins on channels in conjunction with a stereo imager to correct phase/polarity issues to assist in widen the stereo image back a little - I’ll then gain match the audio/midi material as needed to bring any stereo imaging adjustments back to a loudness level that is perceived as the original loudness level before any parameter adjustments were made. This is a mixing process in audio production that is typical in a lot of scenarios however, it’s a little bit different and tricky on the sound eFXs design processing side of things. You can practice stereo imaging in conjunction with a utility and try achieving a great blend of (2) two sound eFXs to get better at mixing for sound designing eFXs (it’s worth the efforts when designing from scratch).
6. PTEq-X by Ignite Amps
If you haven’t yet been exposed to the vintage eq beast ‘Pultec’ then it’ll serve you to do your intel until you know everything about the hardware. Ignite Amps has delivered a vst plugin emulation (along with some more popular vst plugins) that I think sounds extremely great and authentic via the digital domain (this is arguable; whatever). You’ll also need to do some intel on analog eqing to bring out the best of any vintage/classic analog eq vst plugin that you may be interested in utilizing. I love this eq emulation because it adds transparent colorasation from an eq, adding that final polished sound to my sound eFXs. I like that Ignite Amps caught the authenticity of the Pultec Eq while adding some enhancements, so you’ll get that vintage character with some new and improved workflow compliments that in my opinion attributes: how the sound is processed in conjunction with how my cpu handles those processes in the digital domain while affecting the sound.
In sound designing eFXs, I use PTEq-X on buss channels and/or master channels in conjunction with a compressor; subtly to broadly roll-off the low-end frequency ranges, dampen mid-ranges and attenuate high-end frequency ranges. BE CAREFUL, this is not a precision eq, do not try sculpting any sound tonally with this eq, it shimmers to enhance the overall sound of whatever you place it on transparently - also, the oversampling feature renders it not as useful on multiple channels as it shouldn’t be utilized in this manner anyway (in my opinion).
7. Noiiz Filter by Noiiz
This is is my 1st favorite ‘Oneknob’ type vst plugin, even though it’s not a single knob (in other words, I don’t like ‘Oneknobs’ that much). The bottomline is this vst plugin and the ‘Noiiz’ movement is creatively inspiring to me; the ‘Noiiz Filter’ is a noise generator and a super fat overdrive circuit as specifically explained on their website. This thing sounds excellent and is the second vst plugin that adds what is perceived to me as having built-in warmth (saturation….or something) included in it’s core circuitry; it just sounds great! Besides drive and a resonance parameter control there is a ‘White Noise +’ knob that’s great for adding a noise element that has in every one of my experiments impressed me over and over again. The white noise reminds me of IRs (Impulse Responses) and sounds really organic and rich when not driven too much over the top of your original sound and filtered correctly (you’ll just hear it), add some resonance for sparkle or don’t for a truly natural saturated type (again) sound that is inviting.
I haven’t placed this unique vst plugin on a project as of yet, but the experimentation is simply ‘Engaging’ nudging you to get however complexed as the creative mind will take you. It’s great in conjunction with the bitcrusher from ‘Tritik’ as a divine noise generator and noise shaper advanced duo (oh yeah, I get pretty deep on how to use these top pick vst plugins as duos or trios in Ableton Live as well).
This list is not a popularity contest and as such I’ll repeat again, you’ll see plugins not listed as first round draft picks, not as year round draft picks; but as vst plugins that can and/or will assist you in your creative endeavors to design audio production sound and sound eFX’s from SCRATCH.
Feel free to leave any comments. If you have any suggestions for this list submit them on the ‘CONTACTS’ and I’ll consider adding it as link with your information included.