Sonitus:fx R3

PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in July 2002, contributed by then Editor-in-Chief Rip Rowan. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!

Every so often a product comes around that justifies a real rave. The Sonitus:fx R3 plug-in package is a perfect example of a product that I just have to praise loudly.

Sonitus:fx is a PC-based (DirectX and VST) plug-in bundle that offers a very usable assortment of innovative and practical plug-ins at a value-conscious price. This new version 3 release sports an updated user interface, enhanced metering, several new plug-ins, and some new optimizations. The bundle is available on-line directly from Ultrafunk (http://www.ultrafunk.com), or you can buy each plug-in individually. However the whole package is so damn useful you’re better off with the whole bundle.

What’s in the Bundle?

The package features ten individual plug-ins: Compressor, Delay, Eqaulizer, Gate, Modulator, Multiband, Phase, Reverb, Surround, and Wahwah. Each one offers 32-bit floating point processing, VST automation support, A/B comparison switch, and a host of cool presets. The package has a consistent look and feel and offers excellent usability. Integrated online help is provided. And the plug-ins are quite efficient, offering some of the best performance you can get.

For version 2 owners, the version 3 plug-ins will install side-by-side with your existing plugs. This ensures that all of your current mixes will be completely unchanged. If you have ever installed an “upgrade” to a plug-in package, only to find that your mixes have all changed due to changes in the plugins, you will really appreciate the approach that Ultrafunk has taken.

The whole package installed perfectly. After downloading the installer from the website, I installed the plug-ins on my computer. Ultrafunk uses a simple registration key to unlock your software, and once installed, there are no dongles, hidden files, CD-inserts, or other draconian copy protection “gotchas” waiting for you. The whole process was perfectly painless and I had the plug-ins installed and running in under five minutes. This is the way all software should be.

fx:Compressor

The Ultrafunk compressor had me convinced as soon as I started working with it. It offers all the usual controls – input and output gain, attack, release, threshold – as well as a variable knee control and “vintage” knee switch. A built-in brickwall limiter with lookahead is provided, along with an adaptive release control (“TCR”) switch. Ample metering (with peak hold) is provided for input, output, and gain reduction.

The combination of variable knee and “vintage” mode makes this one of the most flexible compressors you’ll ever use. The knee is adjustable from hard to ultra-soft, giving you compression options from “crush” to “control” to “caress”. And the “Vintage” switch allows you to change the knee shape to give the unit a characteristic vintage-optocompressor sound. With these two controls – and by using the Limiter and TCR – I found that I could coax all kinds of killer compression from this plug-in.

fx:Compressor’s presets include a number of “vintage” settings with familiar names: Urie 1176, Teletronix LA2A, dbx 165, etc. Do these plug-ins sound “just like the original?” Well, no. But, they do have sonic character very similar to the named presets. For example, with the 1176 setting I was able to coax that familiar, slightly overcompressed, lightly browned sound on a bubblegum-pop vocal, and with the LA2A setting I got that freaky crushed drum sound from a room mic that might make you think “LA2A”.

I am a compressor freak. All compressors have their own unique character, but the Sonitus:fx R3 compressor offers such a wide array of options it is very much like having several compressors in one. I hope I never have to mix an album with only one compressor, but if I did, this would be a great choice.

fx:Delay

The Sonitus:fx R3 Delay is a straightforward two-channel delay unit with a twist. The plug-in is easy enough to figure out – you have control over delay time, feedback, cross-feedback – the usual stuff. Low and high pass filters are provided to give the delayed signal a little extra character if you like.

The Delay includes a “Sync” setting that allows you to enter the song tempo in BPM and then set the delay times based on divisions of a beat – whole, half, quarter, etc. This is a useful and straightforward way to set precise delays for your song.

An innovative idea is the inclusion of a “Diffusion” control that spreads out the delayed signal into a cluster of delays centered around the delay time. The Diffusion control allows you to get interesting delay effects and can even approach the sound of old analog reverbs. The Diffusion control sets this delay apart and gives it a unique spin on delay sounds. I would have liked to see better control in the EQ section – I like being able to set up radical EQs in the delay line – but otherwise, this is a competent delay with it’s own sonic stamp.

fx:Equalizer

The Sonitus:fx R3 Equalizer is a great example of “doing one thing right”. The EQ is a six-pole “paragraphic” style EQ. Each pole can function as a high / low pass, high / low shelf, or peak / dip EQ. Additionally each pole can be switched out of the circuit if not needed.

Some EQs offer excellent surgical cuts, but fail to provide robust shelfs. Others provide great shelving and high / low pass filters, but cannot serve up narrow-Q boosts and cuts. The Sonitus:fx R3 EQ excels in either arena, giving you adjustable-Q shelfs and high / low pass filters as well as laser-focused cuts. And the sonics are excellent. Boosted bass is warm, never pinched. Boosted treble is sparkly, not harsh. And boosts and cuts exhibit only the smallest amount of ringing – on par with any good hardware EQ.

Complaints? Only one: when dialing in Q values below 1 (a capability not even found on many EQs) the increments are not fine enough to allow for easy setup. When the Q value is below 1, it would be nice if the EQ measured the width in 1/100th increments. But this is really nitpicky. All in all this is a great EQ.

fx:Gate

The Gate is a new addition to the Sonitus suite, and like its bretheren, it offers everything you’d expect from a processor, and ups the ante with some unique sonic mojo.

All the typical controls are provided – gain, attack, hold, release, threshold. If you stick to these, the Ultrafunk gate is just like any other gate you’ve used. Ultrafunk has added a variable Lookahead control that will actually open the gate in advance of the oncoming transient – perfect to make sure that you don’t kill the attack from percussive sources. A sidechain filter is also provided which gives you tonal control over the trigger signal – useful for noise-control applications like hiss and rumber reduction. A “Ducker” switch changes the unit from classic “Gate” mode to Ducker mode, a useful tool to control unexpected peaks, and, when used in conjunction with the filters, allows the plug-in to be used like a de-esser.

However the hands-down coolest feature in the fx:Gate is the “Punch” mode. By engaging “Punch” mode, fx:Gate actually adds to the transient at the leading edge of the signal. Punch has a “wideband” setting that simply boosts the transient, and a “tuned” setting that adds a tuned transient to the signal. This is an ingenious addition for processing any kind of percussion. When used sparingly on gated drums it helps add punch to the close-miked drums. When used radically in conjunction with other processors, this control can reshape the tonal quality of the drum, allowing you to create some innovative and unusual drum sounds from an otherwise straightforward sound.

fx:Gate is a cool effect with an unusual angle, and is sure to be a hit in both the “classic” and “wild-and-crazy” drum sound departments.

fx:Modulator

Sonitus:fx Modulator is yet another example of “less is more” design. By giving you all the right controls, Ultrafunk gives you one plug-in capable of creating a good variety of chorus, flange, phaser, and tremelo effects.

A six-position “Mode” switch is the key. In various modes, it allows you to modulate:

  • a stereo delay line for classic flanging effects
  • an ensemble delay for chorus-type effects
  • the phase of the signal for phaser-type effects (three variations available)
  • the volume of the signal for tremelo effects

This flexibility results in a “greater than the sum of its parts” effect – one which can do quadruple duty on any number of signals. Ultrafunk also gives you good control over the modulator signal with an LFO switch that offers six different LFO shapes. Filters are provided so that you can alter the frequency content of the modulated signal, which helps to avoid muddy or distorted sounds. And a useful array of controls over the modulator keep the effects varied and flexible.

Often, for modulation-type effects, I’m not sure what kind of effect I want: maybe a flanger would sound better than a phaser, or maybe even a chorus? With fx:Modulator, one plug-in handles all of these tasks – just click a few presets to try out some ideas. The presets are usefully organized into categories based on sound – ensemble, flange, phase, special effect, and string phaser – a kind of phaser-meets-chorus effect. You might never leave the presets. This is just a great example of more sound with less plugins. fx:Modulator gets a lot of use on my mixes.

fx:Multiband

Ultrafunk fans have long raved about the sound of the Sonitus:fx Compressor, and with good reason. With Sonitus:fx R3, Ultrafunk has included a Multiband version of its popular compressor, and it is sure to be an instant hit.

A full feature-rundown of the fx:Multiband would consume its own article. The Multiband compressor features five bands, each one of which is, essentially, an fx:Compressor with it’s own gain, attack, release, variable knee, and Normal / Vintage mode. The EQ controls include frequency controls and a variable Q, useful for getting “stronger” or “gentler” multiband processing. fx:Multiband also offers the same intelligent release and limiting options available in fx:Compressor. All of these features combine to make fx:Multiband one of the most tailorable multibands on the market.

I found fx:Multiband to be a very useful mastering and vocal processing tool. I loved the fact that each compressor had its own completely customizable knee. This allows me to, for example, apply a highly-controlled compressor to the bass frequencies in a hip-hop mix, to restore a little punch and energy from an overly dense mix, or to use one band as a brickwall de-esser while the others are gently riding the signal.

In fact the only shortcoming I found in fx:Multiband was that there was neither an input gain or common threshold control. This means that, when mastering, the thresholds have to be individually adjusted from track to track. This is really a minor gripe, however.

All things considered, fx:Multiband is a workhorse processing tool that probably justifies the entire purchase price of the bundle. Combined with fx:Equalizer and fx:Compression, the package offers a powerful set of tools for basic mastering work.

fx:Phase

Sonitus:fx Phase is a simple stereo phasing tool that allows you to adjust the phase relationship between the channels of the stereo signal. It is most likely to be used in Mid/Side processing applications, but can also be used to widen the stereo image, fix a phase problem, or create “stereoized” sound from a mono source.

This is a practical tool with little sex appeal, but when you need it, you’ll be glad you have it.

fx:Reverb

The Sonitus Reverb has been praised by many engineers – including most of the ProRec staff – as being an effecient and great-sounding reverb plug-in. Version 3 of the Sonitus:fx Reverb does not disappoint. It offers a good-sounding, easy-to-use, effecient, flexible effect that is at home on a vocal, a drum track, or a whole mix.

Unlike some plug-in reverbs with exotic user interfaces, Sonitus:fx has a simple user interface that is easy to learn. The signal path reads from top to bottom. Starting at the top, you can use a set of high- and low-pass EQs to trim the signal that is feeding the reverb. This lets you avoid boomy reverb (say, on drums) and hissy reverb (where a singer’s S-es cause the reverb to “zing”). Controls are provided for pre-delay, room size, and diffusion. These basically control the size and distance of the reverb. Controls for bass multiplier, crossover, delay time, and high-damping offer tonal control over the timbre of the reverb. Three mix controls are provided: Dry (uneffected) signal, E/R (for early-reflection effects), and Wet (the actual reverb).

Possibly the coolest control is the Width control. This adjusts the phase of the stereo output from the reverb, widening it to “way out beyond the speakers” and narrowing it to mono. This provides great flexibility and lets you put the reverb right where you want it in the stereo space. When you need just a little extra space and ambience, widen the reverb to add some useful out-of-phase character to a too-mono signal. Or, narrow the reverb so that it sits with the processed instrument in the stereo field. Or, set the reverb to mono mode and hard-pan it away from the source signal for a cool effect.

It’s little touches like the Width control that set Ultrafunk products apart. It’s so simple, yet so instantly useful, adding tremendous flexibility to an otherwise great sounding reverb. And the reverb is considerably more efficient than other reverbs in my arsenal. This is a great tool all around.

fx:Surround

fx:Surround is a surround-sound panning plug-in, which allows you to create encoded surround (not 5.1) effects from mono and stereo signals. Using a variety of controls that determine the shape and speed, you can cause a signal to be panned left-to-right, front-to-back, around in circles – you name it. Intensity and Doppler controls are provided to give the sound a realistic volume and pitch shift as it travels past a focal point – or you can disable these processes if you prefer. This is all great stuff that you’d expect from a surround panner.

Because fx:Surround is an encoding-type surround processor, this means that it uses phase manipulation to achieve its effects. And this is where it get very useful in a mix. You can, for example, position a sound source out past the left speaker. This hard-pans the sound, and introduces a little out-of-phase material in the right, pushing the instrument farther out to the left. Used creatively, the result can be a mix with lots of width and depth, but which doesn’t sound like the whole mix has been run through some sort of stereo-widening effect. It’s fun for special effects, a great alternative to the typical pan control, and quite useful for spatial processing of your music.

fx:Wahwah

fx:Wahwah is just plain fun. Featuring an adjustable equalizer, fx:Wahwah gives you all the great sounds from classic wah-wah pedals like the Morley Pro and the Dunlop Crybaby. You can set it in a single wah position if you like, but more useful are the Auto and Triggered modes.

In Auto mode, you set a tempo, and fx:Wahwah opens and closes the wah control in time with the song. This is perfect for a repetitive part where you can cause the wahwah to effect the part in time with the music. Or, use Triggered mode to cause the wah to open up on the loudest peaks in the signal. This causes the wah to sound more like a tracking filter, not so much like a wah, but a cool effect.

Used on the right material, fx:Wahwah is indistinguishable from a guitar pedal. It’s lots of fun on drums and keyboards, too. It sounds great! For this song (a new track by Dallas’ Mandy Seymour) we just recorded the guitar direct while playing around with arrangements. As an experiment we tried the fx:Wahwah on the track – and presto! We had a keeper wah guitar track. (In case you’re wondering, the wah guitar is the guitar on the right side).

Conclusion

Sonitus:fx is a straight-ahead plugin package that is powerful, elegant, and affordable. Other packages may offer more plug-ins, but you have to ask: are they as versatile? Do you need three different EQs and compressors to do the job of Sonitus’ one? Do the packages offer seperate flanger, chorus, and phaser – where Sonitus proves one plug-in does the job as well? Are the plug-ins as efficient?

If you are looking for your first plug-in suite, this is a complete no-brainer. Sonitus:fx is everything you need and more at the right price. Or, if you have a plug-in suite and you are looking for new options and colors, Sonitus provides something new and different on every plug-in you get. Nothing will be wasted. Or, if all you need is an extra compressor or reverb, remember that the plug-ins are sold seperately if you prefer.

I’m sorry that I sound like I’m gushing. It’s just that I really think that Ultrafunk got it exactly right. The user interfaces are simple and elegant, the sound and flexibility are great, and the price is a steal. Sonitus:fx is the one plug-in package that everyone should have on their PC DAW.

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