In music, especially in dub, the delay is often so much more than a filter. It’s a sound shaping tool that sends you on a powerful hallucinogenic trip and turns you from sound engineer into a sort of shaman. Here’s a mix by Subatomic Sound System putting the Dub Machines Modnetic & Diffuse to good use:
Traditionally you would deck out your studio with vintage gear like the Roland 201 Space Echo. The truth is, that while analog equipment has its charm and instant knob tweaking capabilities, their digital counterparts have gotten better and better at providing rich analog models and digital effects.
Today I want to talk to you about one of my secret weapons. They are called Dub Machines and are a set of delay plugins by talented developers Surreal Machines.
I’ve been using the previous version of Dub Machines from the day it was released. Back then, Ableton asked Surreal Maschines to develop a pair of Max for Live delay effects that could emulate classic analog gear like the tape echo from the 70s. I don’t produce dub music, but the sound is candy to my ears, so I know I had to incorporate some of these raw, spacey elements in my own productions.
Back then you could only use them in Ableton Live. Many producer complained and wanted to get the Dub Machines in their DAW of choice. Fast forward to 2017: Dub Machines are released as VST/AU plugins. Finally users of Logic Pro, FL Studio, etc can get their dub on!
Since I already use the Max for Live devices, I asked myself: ‘Why upgrade?’
Dub Machines VST & AU Plugins
The new Dub Machines are much more than a simple port from the Max for Live devices into a standard Audio plugin format. If you owned the previous version, then prepare to upgrade to a whole new level of dub sounds.
Modnetic is like Magnetic on steroids. It’s quite different from the Max for Live version, hence the name change.
It delivers creative & unique echoes by emulating a classic tape delay and introducing saturation, convolution reverb and amp modelling with analog-based modulation. You can use it very practical or go all out and get esoteric. Here’s some controls that I tweak most frequently:
The big wheel in the middle of the plugin is the Echo section. There are seven combinations providing different variations and with the accompanying controls you have an infinite range of of rhythmic delays at your fingertips. I like the Wow dial a lot, because you get to control the tape speed and make the whole mix sound more organic.
The convolution-based Reverb unit offers 26 types grouped into Springs, Plates, and Halls. The crucial Character section provides four modelling options: Lo-Fi, 501, Old, and Dark – each of which drastically changes the behavior and tonality of the rest of the device by an amount determined by the Amount control below it.
In the mix section you have a handy dry/wet control to dial in the strength of the effect, as well as individual dials for bass & treble for additional tone shaping. Tweak the input knob and you increase the saturation and hiss so the mix sounds more analog. Last but not least you can fine tune the stereo imaging at the output stage with a width control.
The cool thing is that you can use Modnetic as a simple Convolution Reverb if you wish. You can bypass the Echo, Modulation, and Reverb areas independently. Try altering the path to get a radical different sound. Modnetic is a true swiss army knife and creative inspiration in my personal workflow!
Diffuse is a diffusion delay modeled on machines from the 1970s and 1980s. You can effortlessly morph from delays to reverbs and even crazy special effects. Diffuse is geared to be modulated live with its streamlined GUI.
When you start using the plugin, I urge you to check out the presets which you can easily access by a drop-down menu at the top. There’s so many great starting points there, that you often dial in your desired effect within seconds. Some controls I usually play with after choosing a preset:
Rectify: Adds inharmonic saturation (aka crunch!)
Width: Control the stereo image of the wet signal.
Hold: Freeze everything but the Repeat value. This is great for creating rhythmic transformations!
Pattern: Switch between nine different rhythmic variations, from heavy swing to hypnotising bounce!
Regen: You can get some unpredictable effects when turning it up past 150%. Watch your levels – just like you would with a real tape delay!
Size & Diffuse: Control the relationship between the delay & reverb and shape the overall character of the effect.
Two other essential features are A-B which allows you to compare two settings and Mix Lock which keeps the dry-wet balance locked while changing presets.
I didn’t dive too deep into this plugin yet. I use Diffuse mostly to add splash momentary dub effects. The whole thing is so intuitive, that I don’t feel I need to go through the manual yet to get production ready sounds out of it.
Dub Machines by Surreal Machines is an easy recommendation for everyone – not just dub & techno producers. Modnetic is really the star of the show. It merges a modern take on echo effects with the classic tape saturated delays and adds heaps of modulation options! Combine it with Diffuse and you have probably all the delay effects you’ll ever need. It’s priced fairly at €69 for Modnetic and €49 for Diffuse (€99 if you buy both as bundle)