Since the beginnings of the digital technology revolution, sound design has been confined to an often tedious and time consuming workflow based on layering and automating MIDI and audio tracks manually on a DAW. Despite the obvious outreach and power of this way of working, oftentimes we feel like it is an overkill approach in situations where we require a slimmer and more agile and straightforward mechanism that would enable us to produce high quality sounds in a more intuitive manner with just a fraction of our available computing power and without having to use up so many tracks in our DAW.
Here’s where sound design Plugins come in. They allow us to do a lot of the usual tasks such as layering, automation, modulation, processing and mixing from a single MIDI track while introducing fun and exciting non deterministic features like randomisation into the process, as well as other workflow enhancements that take away a big load of the tediousness and drag associated with more traditional approaches. So here’s a list of some of our favourite Plugins for sound design.
Sample Magic Stacker
This little known sampler developed by Sample Magic is a sound design powerhorse specifically designed, as its name implies, to stack sounds on top of each other in order to create more complex sounds very easily and very fast. It is primarily geared towards drum design, but the versatility of its powerful feature set makes it suitable for any type of sample based sound crafting.
Stacker features an impressive set of sound generators and processors including three independent samplers, a drum synth engine, and two send effects. These six modules are fully integrated within a six channel mixer with independent volume and pan controls, mute and solo buttons, as well as additional per channel features such as multi-stage envelopes for amplitude, pitch, and custom modulations, filters and FX inserts.
The instrument also includes a brilliant set of global controls such as a modulation matrix, a unique timeline editor to line up the sounds across time, global controls for pitch, length, width, MIDI velocity and keytrack, a pair of switches for mono/poly and envelope/gate modes, and a set of four custom macro controls.
Twisted Tools S-Layer
S-Layer’s functionality is spread across four tabs that control the main core of the instrument with randomizable controls for sample selection, sample start and delay, pitch, pan, and volume, FX inserts for granular effects and filtering, a five stage amplitude envelope, and FX sends for delay and reverb. On top of these four different screens you get a set of global controls for BPM sync, velocity sensitivity, global randomisation, tune, decay, and volume, and a basic limiter, as well as a modulation matrix based on four step sequencers and four assignable macro controls.
One of the things that sets S-Layer apart in terms of UI design is that each control is broken down into eight randomizable sliders designed to adjust each parameter across the eight different sound layers from a single spot. A groundbreaking feature that clearly signals the intent of this sampler to focus and excel in sound design duties. Another feature that really makes this instrument so powerful and blazing fast as a standalone sound design solution is its extensive set of randomisers that allows it to generate endless combinations of samples and parameter values with the simple stroke of a button.
Developed by Vengeance Sound, VPS Avenger is a virtual synth that goes way beyond the typical functionality present in most traditional software synthesisers with the addition of an audio engine capable of sampling and granular synthesis. This engine, combined with a set of virtual analog and wavetable oscillator types, opens up a whole world of possibilities in terms of sound design, making it possible to combine virtually any type of sound as well as shaping a whole stack of sonic elements with the powerful, familiar and comprehensive feature set of a virtual synth UI.
Another remarkable feature of Avenger consists of a dedicated Drums module devoted to supply an additional sound layer specifically conceived and purposed for handling percussive samples on top of the other three layers. This additional module comes equipped with seven dedicated controls for Volume, Pitch, Pan, Spike, Delay, Low Pass and High Pass Filters, as well as a Multi-Stage envelope and parametric EQ totally modulable from an impressive set of modulation sources that includes LFOs, Arps, Step Sequencers, Macros, Multi Stage Envelopes, and Math Operators.
Pigments is a dream come true for sound designers seeking to combine the power of virtual analog, wavetable, sampling and granular synthesis along with the latest innovations in the field of sound modulation and processing. Built by virtual studio technology and hardware emulation pioneer Arturia, this stunning synth is the result of 20 years of research and experience condensed into one of the most powerful, intuitive and agile interfaces available.
Pigments features a dual audio engine which allows you to mix virtual analog and wavetable oscillators with a sample engine capable of triggering, manipulating and resynthesizing custom audio samples in any imaginable way. The audio engine allows for advanced features such as wavetable resynthesis and morphing, spectral processing, granular synthesis, and sample mapping. All these different sound generation sources and types can be combined, modulated, processed and routed in numerous ways through a stunning interface designed to enable a lightning fast workflow, which makes Pigments an absolute beast in the sphere of modern cutting-edge sound design.
Here ends the first part of this article about our favourite Plugins for sound design. In it, we have gone over some of the advantages to using Plugins for sound design, as well as our first batch of reviewed virtual instruments including Sample Magic Stacker, Twisted Tools S-layer, VPS Avenger, and Arturia Pigments along with their most remarkable features for sound design.