Let’s get one thing straight right at the start. The RC-20 Retro Color by XLN Audio is one of my go-to plugins when it comes to tastefully ageing and dirtying up sound. The preset library is excellent to give you a headstart and it is super fun to mess around with when you go deeper. It’s great to use on your master channel to colorize your whole track, but is equally effective as inset plugin to colour just your drums, guitars, keys or bass.
With it’s six effects modules (Noise, Wobble, Distort, Digital, Space and Magnetic), the RC-20 lets you replicate sound from vinyl records to VHS recorders and beyond, so let’s check them out quickly!
In the Noise module of the RC-20 Retro Color you get 16 looped noise samples, including vinyl, tape, VHS, studio ambience and a few more. You can even customize each sounds with the Tone knob. And the built-in Duck option is super convenient, because it lowers the noise level as the input signal gets louder. This gives you that subtle pumping sound which Flying Lotus heavily used in his early productions!
The Wobble module adds wow and flutter to emulate an aged cassette deck or warped vinyl. When flicked into stereo mode, Wobble will morph into a nicely flavoured chorus effect.
Distort offers six saturation algorithms: valve, transformer, broken speaker and three waveshapers! You can even use the built-in Focus Filter to target a specific frequency range with the effect.
Next up is the Digital module. This is a simple bit crusher, where you can control the sample rate and bit depth reduction. Again you have a Focus Filter, this time with a low pass filter so you can cut out the harshness of the bit reduction, if it’s getting too much.
The built-in reverb is simply called Space. This module certainly won’t replace your favourite reverb plugin. But it is useful for dialling in a bit of ambience during retro coloring your track.
Magnetic simulates magnetic tape and I really like the random elements in it to create a bit of chaos, eg. with the Dropout setting you can introduce volume drops at random timings. You can also process the left and right channels independently for a more authentic retro sound.
RC-20 Retro Color Verdict
The RC-20 is easily one of the best plugins in its category. Slap it on a track and easily brighten or dull and otherwise boring instrument or mix. You can even rough it up quite a bit. The clearly labelled presets provide great starting sound, but the best is that each effect can be dialled in to your liking.
A great all-in-one sound design tool! The Flux engine is our highlight. It adds instability to all FX modules. This way the results are less predictable and invite happy accidents.
XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color is available for Windows and Mac and will cost you around $90.