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Apple Audio Unit Plug-Ins — A Real-World Review

In this Real-World Review, studio owner Rob Tavaglione discovers a top suite of free plug-ins has been hiding in plain sight.

A variety of Apple Audio Unit plug-ins, including Graphic Equalizer, Distortion, Multiband Compressor, Apple Filter, Delay and more.
A variety of Apple Audio Unit plug-ins, including Graphic Equalizer, Distortion, Multiband Compressor, Apple Filter, Delay and more.

It’s been said many times over that you could mix a song (or most any audio content, for that matter) using only stock DAW plug-ins, and considering the quality of today’s offerings, it’s hard to disagree. One of the most useful suites of free plug-ins has been hiding in plain sight: Apple Audio Unit plug-ins. Not only are they eminently useful for users of Apple’s GarageBand and Logic DAWs, but some of them are so downright good that pro users in general ought to give them a listen.

None of the following plug-ins are particularly feature rich, cutting-edge or “intelligent,” but they all offer simple interfaces and a modicum of controls for getting good sounds really quickly. Generally speaking, their clean GUIs, more-clinical-than-colorful tones and ubiquity make them ideal for educational purposes.

EQs and Filters

Bandpass Filter – This simple “center frequency” plus “bandwidth” plug-in is easy to grab and drag the controls in order to create those DJ-style filter sweeps so prevalent in today’s pop. Paired with some clever automation, it’s time to either “break it down” or “build it up” to your big crescendo.

Graphic Equalizer – Offering 31 or 10 bands and instantly “flatten-able,” it’s perfect for monitor engineers-in-training and “visual” EQ’ers.

Filter – This is Apple’s blandly-named yet powerful 5-band EQ—a high-pass filter or low-shelf, followed by three parametric bands, then a high-shelf or low-pass filter. Once you grab a node, its frequency, gain and bandwidth values are displayed, allowing easy manual sweeping while you search for the ideal EQ points, plus you can type in exact values. Parametric EQ is the same plug-in, just single banded for your convenience.

High-Pass Filter and High-Shelf Filter – Single-purposed, they quickly get the job done with no frills

N-Band-Equalizer – I saved the best EQ for last as N-Band is mighty powerful, featuring up to 16 bands of control, along with a smorgasbord of filter types for pro flexibility: Butterworth (high- and low-pass), Resonant pass (low and high), Band Pass or Stop, Low and High Shelf and Resonant Shelf (low or high, for that delightful scoop just before your bass-boost Pultec-style curve, amongst others).

Dynamics

Dynamics Processor – This offers up your traditional full-bandwidth compressor, with that simple grab-and-drag interface and ample control. A pulldown menu reveals attack, release and make-up gain controls. Note that Apple calls what is typically ratio “Headroom;” it’s the same concept from a different perspective.

Multi-band Compressor – The plug-in looks, acts and sounds just like Dynamics Processor, except now with four frequency bands of control. This pulldown menu offers both pre- and post-gain for each band and the above controls, too. This is a powerful plug-in that keeps up with premium plugs, and can either glorify your mix or destroy it, just like any good multi-band comp should be able to.

Peak Limiter – The plug-in where many a stock DAW plug fails, this limiter actually sounds pretty good. Attack, Release and Gain controls keep it simple, although the presence of Release does make for a little bit of fine adjustment.

Time, Space and Pitch

Delay – It looks a bit limiting at first glance with only five algorithms, but Delay actually turns out to be quite powerful and more than adequate. A low-pass filter gets you that dark, echo dujour so commonly heard and Feedback Invert flips polarity and can create some hollow landscapes. Time and Feedback parameters are grab-and-dragable, making for some easy experimentation, and since all parameters can be automated, you can do pretty powerful stuff if you’re so inclined.

Matrix Reverb and Reverb 2 – These are both reasonably powerful ’verbs with an ample set of controls, but the outdated GUIs make them no fun—and rather slow—to use. Rather than grabbing and dragging some points or nodes, you’ll be typing in values, but at least the sound quality is good enough to satisfy your typical reverb needs.

Pitch – No plug-in suite is complete without the ability to transpose and tune, and Pitch delivers pretty darn good results. You can tune in cents and mix dry-to-wet ratio (although this control stays cranked to full wet typically). Smoothness and Tightness controls help avoid artifacts and deliver believable results, while automation allows the creation of some purposeful glitches if you’re a post-modern producer into creating today’s entirely unbelievable sounds.

New Pitch – Oddly, this plug is more simplistic than Pitch and offers only Scale (plus or minus 2400 cents), Render Quality, Overlap and Peak Locking (what the last two parameters exact functions are remains a mystery to me).

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Miscellaneous

Distortion – This is one seriously and flexible tool for completely mucking up a signal in a myriad of ways. The process starts out with a delay module (up to 500 ms), presumably to easily allow some dirty echoes and gritty slaps. A Ring Modulator is next with two frequencies at hand, which I found made finding useful tones easier than typical. Decimation—bit crushing if you will—is next with both Rounding and Mix (blend) controls that bring the unique dirt of “broken digital” to the table. Finally, the Overdrive module allows more conventional odd- or even-order harmonics to be added to your signal and blended to your exact taste. A master wet/dry control for parallel fine-tuning and some Soft Clip Gain finishes off this cool workhorse of a plug. You can go light on evens/odds, with a touch of soft clip and just barely blend it all in for some gentle whole-mix saturation, too.

Net Send – It’s perfect for encoding your stereo signal for network transmission into a number of formats, from 16/24/32-bit PCM, 24/16-bit Apple Lossless or a whole bunch of Apple AAC flavors.

Round Trip AAC – Here’s a fun exercise: Slam your mix right up to zero dBFS with Limiter and encode into Apple’s MP3 format AAC, and then use Round Trip AAC to measure the number of encoding errors. Put it in Training Mode and see if you can identify the source file and the encoded one.

Sample Delay – Need to slip a track back in time in mere samples (up to a second)? Sample Delay allows you to slide it back up to the sample rate’s number of samples precisely.

Roger Beep – Perhaps the greater question behind “Why do I want to create a beep when signal falls below threshold” is “What the heck does ‘Roger Beep’ even mean?” It’s a hold-over from the days of CB and amateur radio transmissions, where a circuit was built into the push-to-talk microphones to emit a beep, or a series of beeps, upon completing a transmission (instead of saying “over” indicating you’re done speaking). You see, back in the day, we would attempt ridiculously long-distance communications as a badge of honor and the Roger beep (being louder than the mic signal and a sine wave) could be more easily heard during marginal quality broadcasts.

Audio Units for the Masses

It used to be that Garageband wasn’t capable of making records, but many of my clients (and likely yours, too) are now proving otherwise. Having these free Apple Audio Unit plug-ins sure beats the minimalist, typing-rich GUIs of GarageBand’s stock plugs, and combined with the slew of virtual instruments, loops, virtual drummers and virtual guitar amps (there’s a whole other article there), it looks like penny-pinchers can now make records on the cheap.

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