by Diogo C
Last January I had the opportunity to review Softube’s first “big bundle” offering and my impressions of their “Volume 1” curated collection were very positive. Softube has recently updated this bundle with the release of “Volume 2”, which packs everything that was included before and adds three new plug-ins, making for quite an impressive collection of eighteen plug-ins, so let’s recap what’s inside:
- Amp Simulators: Vintage Amp Room and Bass Amp Room
- EQ, Dynamics and Saturation: Drawmer S73 Intelligent Master Processor, FET Compressor, Saturation Knob, Summit Audio Grand Channel, Summit Audio EQF-100 Full Range Equalizer, Summit Audio TLA-100A Compressor, Tape*, Trident A-Range EQ and Weiss MM-1 Mastering Maximizer*.
- Effects: Fix Doubler, Fix Flanger, Fix Phaser*, Modular FX, TSAR-1/1R Reverbs and Tube Delay.
- Virtual Instruments: Heartbeat and Modular
With that out of the way, what’s new for Volume 2? In a nutshell, Tape, Fix Phaser and Weiss MM-1 Mastering Maximizer plug-ins and also updates for all plug-ins with varying scopes from small bug fixes (most plug-ins) to significant developments (Modular). Here’s a quick breakdown of the new plug-ins and Modular updates:
- Fix Phaser: A new addition to the Fix Audio modulation line, Phaser follows the trail of its predecessors (Flanger and Doubler) to deliver a highly configurable phaser effect that can easily go from classic to modern, always delivering superb sound quality.
- Tape: Softube is highly regarded for their analog hardware emulation techniques, so a Softube tape emulation plug-in was bound to happen at some point, and it’s no surprise that it’s so good sounding and simple to use just like their other “analog” processor plug-ins. What is surprising here is how lightweight it is, with a very modest CPU load and meager 4 samples of latency (at 48 kHz). This allows for multiple instances to be used on basically any half-decent computer from the present or recent past.
- Weiss MM-1 Mastering Maximizer: The MM-1 is the joint work of two digital audio masters, and the results are of the highest quality as one would expect when Softube and Weiss are involved. This closes a gap from Volume 1, which lacked a true “mastering-grade” limiter to finalize mixes, something that can be achieved easily and quickly when the MM-1 is used in tandem with the Drawmer S73. Add the Summit Grand Channel and you have a bonafide set of tools for finishing tracks.
- Modular updates: Although they are not a Volume 2 ”exclusive”, the updates for Modular deserves a mention here since they were quite a big deal and have greatly enhanced this platform. Since Volume 1 was released the Modular platform got patched many times and saw the inclusion of a few but meaningful utility modules (free for Modular owners) and Softube effects such as the freebie Saturation Knob, TSAR-1 Reverbs and Tube Delay, which are now available as modules if you own a license for them (Volume 2 owners have TSAR-1 and Tube Delay). A ring modulator (Doepfer A1-14) and a pitch quantizer were also recently added, and best of all they were also free for all owners. ROLI Seaboard support was also introduced, which opens up interesting possibilities. Modular also received a number of patches with significant “quality of life” improvements, such as optimized CPU performance and a very well organized preset browser, which was sorely missing when it was released.
To Gobbler or not to Gobbler? Softube’s decision to adopt the Gobbler platform for plug-in management was met with some controversy and discontent from a meaningful portion of our community, and I’m not a Gobbler adopter myself. However, for the purposes of this review and since Softube offers two activations for different computers (or USB dongles) I decided to give Gobbler a try and install my Softube plug-ins on my mobile production computer using their app. I own over twenty from Softube, so I thought “why not” and it all went very smooth. Then I felt confident enough and decided to try the app on my main work computer to update my plug-ins in order to keep both computers in perfect sync. All good there as well, and with a few clicks it was done. On the other hand, both my computers were unusable during the process due to the slowdown cause by many consecutive installers running in the background, so go all to grab a coffee in the meanwhile. Took roughly 20 minutes on each machine to complete this process, which also requires a decent internet connection (60 Mb/s in my case). I can understand why some people were/are upset with the whole Softube-Gobbler system as it adds yet another layer to the process, which wasn’t there before and can perceived be perceived as an unnecessary hurdle i.e. yet another account to create and app to install and all concerns around it. Downloading and installing over twenty individual plug-ins is at least as consuming, so for now I’m taking the plunge and keep using it for my Softube collection, but you may feel otherwise - especially if you don’t have many plug-ins to install.
Sound quality: Softube certainly belongs in the upper echelons of the crowded plug-in scene, which is a big feat on itself given the stiff competition that is out there. What is good to see is that they are not resting on past glories, something proven by their latest developments - seen and heard on Tape, MM-1, Modular and others. Their plug-ins are easily at the top shelf in terms of sound quality and Volume 2 features some of their best products, so I can’t give them anything other than five stars.
Ease of use: All plug-ins on the bundle are very easy to use, with interfaces that are mostly intuitive and uncomplicated. The only interface that troubles me a bit is the Trident A-Range EQ, which hasn’t aged well and looks too small on today’s common screen resolutions of 1080p or more. Overall these plug-ins are also very efficient, both in terms of CPU and latency, and populating a big mix with them won’t be a problem unless you get super greedy - Modular can be quite intensive depending on patch complexity although it has been substantially improved since it was first released. The documentation is also on point, with a unified user manual for all plug-ins on a PDF file written in clear language, providing straightforward explanations for basically everything one needs to know. Also important to note is the fact that these plug-ins are constantly patched and updated so bugs never go unsquashed.
Features: Volume 2 offers a very diverse set of features, covering many sonic territories from subtle analog warmth and vibe-makers to modern sonics with precise control. Softube plug-ins are more about offering the user meaningful features than putting a ton of inner-tweaks on the table, so the Volume 2 sum is definitely greater than its individual plug-in parts. There’s a wide range of possible applications, from guitar and bass amp simulation to analog-style compression and equalization, vintage effects, classic drum machines, modular synth patches and much more. It’s a bundle that provides not only good building blocks with the Amp Rooms, Modular and Summit Channel but also a few extra spices on FET or Tape, and with all the effects (FIX line, TSAR, Tube Delay) this bundle is certainly one of the most well-rounded right now.
Bang for buck: Priced at $499, Volume 2 is not what I can call affordable and it lines up price-wise with complete DAWs, and that’s not to mention all the plug-ins that can be bought with this money. On the other hand, it’s undoubtedly a very good deal since it provides a very significant discount over the price of purchasing individual plug-ins and that makes it quite an enticing proposition if these plug-ins are lined up with your needs. I can see Volume 2 being interesting for both newcomers and seasoned veterans, but I also think that the first group will probably benefit more from it since they’ll probably have less plug-ins than those in the second group.
Recommended for: Mixing engineers and producers looking for a bundle that expands their choices and that complements their existing plug-ins with extra flavors. Electronic musicians might also enjoy the mixture of top-notch instruments and premium audio processors.
Worth the upgrade? In short "yes" as Volume 1 owners are offered an upgrade discount for Volume 2 on a very fair price, which is once again cheaper than buying the new plug-ins individually. However, the new arrivals are mostly aimed at the mix or mastering crowds and may not be very appealing to electronic music producers since there are no new instruments or more new modules for Modular. On the other hand, these are fine tools that can be used creatively as well, so the decision comes down to wether or not you want these new plug-ins.
- A diversified set of plug-ins that expands the processing options offered by most DAWs.
- Includes gems such as the Summit Audio plug-ins, Modular, the Amp Rooms, Tape and Weiss MM-1.
- Plug-ins that are easy to use and gentle on the CPU for the most part.
- Modular is simply awesome. That can’t be stressed enough.
- Reasonably priced, not super affordable but not prohibitively expensive as well. Fair upgrade offers for owners of Volume 1 and other Softube plug-ins.
- May overlap to varying extents with what one already owns.
- No room for customization or alternative selections.