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PAR Picks 6: Plug-ins for Aggressive Processing

Our software editor shares a half-dozen of his favorite hard-toclassify plug-ins with unique sonic signatures.

Apple Logic Pro Exciter

In this installment of PAR Picks 6, we’ll take a look at a group of plug-ins best described as “processors.” Each one in this collection has the ability to uniquely alter the sonic character of either a track within a mix and/or the entire mix itself.

1 Apple Logic Pro Exciter
Lurking under the Specialized menu in Logic Pro is the Exciter plug-in. As easy to use as it gets, you simply drag the single frequency slider to the range you want to enhance (below that range will be unaffected). Use the Harmonic knob to select the amount of processing desired. There are also two color modes with Color 2 adding a bit of extra distortion into the path and an Input button for auditioning the wet signal only.

Exciter does a great job bringing out harmonic content and truly shines on acoustic guitars. I wish someone would make a plugin version of this no-brainer for non-Logic systems.

Price: Included in Apple Logic Pro

Contact: Apple |

Avid/Bomb Factory SansAmp PSA-1

2 Avid/Bomb Factory SansAmp PSA-1
Based on the original 1989 hardware pedal, the PSA-1 is my “tone crusher.” Many different sounds can be shaped from this plug-in. Pre-Amp adjusts the signal level going to the input and Buzz controls the low-end breakup and overdrive. Punch controls midrange breakup and overdrive, and Crunch adds (or subtracts) upper harmonics. Drive increases the amount of “power amp distortion,” Low and High can boost or cut by +/- 12 dB and Level is for final signal output.

My old Fender P bass sounds huge with some Pre Amp gain, a touch of Buzz and Punch and the Lows slightly boosted with the Highs down a touch. While it doesn’t replace a cabinet, it helps give DI’ed bass sounds a real edge. For distorted bass, I’ve found nothing better yet. I’ve also used it on guitar to get a console overdriven sound like Black Dog but its also killer on keys. I do wish they would update this with a blend control and some meters, but hey, it’s still a classic.

Price: $395

Contact: Avid |

Sonnox Inflator

3 Sonnox Inflator
Another one that works on just about anything, it does precisely what its title implies — “inflates” the sound of whatever its placed across. Not only can it deliver gain without compression, but also the internal process adds harmonic content and warmth.

You’ve got Input and Output faders, as well as Effect and Curve. Effect sets the actual amount of Inflator effect (0 to 100 percent) and Curve modifies such things as “fatness” and “harmonic content.” Direct mode is used most of the time, but you can also select Band Splitting, which splits the process into three frequency bands (but it can clip your signal, so be careful).

Inflator is great across a drum bus, or directly on a snare. I’ve also had great success with it on lead vocals, just to help pop it through a track and add some “air.” Price: $115 & $195 (Native-only and TDM-plus-Native, respectively)

SoundToys Decapitator

Contact: Sonnox |

4 SoundToys Decapitator

This gem is actually an analog saturation modeler that sounds great on bass, drums, vocals and guitars. It’s super-easy to use, as there are only six knobs, a few switches and several buttons.

Drive increases gain, and the Punish button adds an extra 20 dB of gain, so watch out when pressing ON, as it can blast. Low Cut removes low frequencies before they hit the saturation point. Tone helps color the sound (Dark or Bright), and Hi Cut removes high frequencies from the distorted sound. The Steep switch alters the slope of the Hi Cut Filter where On is 30 dB per octave and Off is 6 dB.

The Mix knob blends original with saturated version (Wet/Dry), and the Output knob turns down the output level. The Auto Gain switch automatically turns down output as you adjust drive level, and the Thump switch adds a few dB of low-frequency boost.

I turn to the Decapitator for just about every bass part I mix, be it electric, acoustic or synth. It just adds this “thing” that EQ and/or compression can’t achieve on their own.

Price: $179 & $349 (Native and TDM, respectively)

Contact: SoundToys |

5 UAD SPL Vitalizer MK2-T
Another plug-in based on original hardware, this software recreation is a “spot-on emulation” of the tube Vitalizer MK2-T unit. It unmasks sounds by shifting louder frequencies slightly in time exposing the softer and masked sounds, hence helping with overall definition and balance. Running in mono or stereo, it has a Drive control for setting the filter operation levels and Bass with “soft” setting for a warm/soft tone and a “tight” setting for drier, more percussive bass.

UAD SPL Vitalizer MK2-T

Compression affects only the low-frequency signals, Mid-Hi Tune sets the cutoff frequency (1.1 kHz to 22 kHz), and Process sets the amount of Bass/Hi-Mid intensity. LC-EQ is the high-frequency filter, controlled by the Intensity knob. Stereo Expander widens the stereo image and Output reduces or increases output (-20 dB to +6 dB).

Try placing the Vitalizer on a drum loop and adding a touch of compression and the Stereo Expander, then playing with the Bass control to enhance the kick. It can actually make certain loops sound almost three-dimensional, by increasing the perceived room sound while adding low punch. But I’ve also used it to add clarity and air to a stereo vocal bus and even an entire mix.

Price: $199

Contact: Universal Audio |

Waves MaxxBass

6 Waves MaxxBass
Yes, I still use it! This Waves classic, which extends perceived harmonic bass frequencies, has many uses. Don’t just think of it for bass guitars — it’s perfect to add weight to snare drums or even to punch up the bottom of a stereo master.

Using the Graph, you blend in the Original Bass with the MaxxBass process using the Input, Original Bass and MaxxBass faders, as well as the Frequency slider. Additional process options include Dynamics Ratio and Response, as well as a High-Pass Filter and Decay for Harmonics.

It’s useful to use the three different monitor buttons in the Output section. Audio lets you hear the full mix, Original Bass lets you hear just that, and MaxxBass lets you hear the processed signal.

I’ve found it best to turn down some of the original bass, move the slider to find the appropriate frequency, then increase the MaxxBass slider until it’s too much. Then I just back off a bit and hit bypass to check my work. Try it on snare, and you can feel the weight added.

Price: $120 & $150 (Native and TDM, respectively)

Contact: Waves |

Rich Tozzoli is a producer/engineer and the software editor for PAR.