Arturia FX Collection 3 by Sound-Guy
FX Collection 3 from Arturia – Even More Audio Effects You’ll Actually Use
Arturia introduced the FX Collection a couple years ago,updated it in 2021 and has just bundled more very useful audio FX plug-ins in FX Collection 3. As with the last bundle, they have added a couple recently introduced modules along with two brand new processors, bringing the total to 26 audio processors. I have been impressed with all the previous processors in this series – will the new ones continue the trend?
What is It?
The FX Collection 3 (FX3) is a bundle of 26 plug-ins, 22 of which I’ve previously reviewed for the original package and the FX 2 release last year. You can read these if you wish using the links at the review’s conclusion.
Since there is so much provided in this bundle, I won’t spend time (yours or mine) reviewing any of the previous modules, but will note that FX 3 includes five compressors, three delays, two distortion units, three filters, four modulation units, three preamps with EQ, three reverbs, a classic stereo EQ, a tape emulation processor and a fabulous granular processor. At about US$15 per unit at the list price (and US$11.50 at the intro price until July 6, 2022) these are a steal considering the audio quality and features. Of course you can also buy any one of them at a much higher per unit cost (US$99), still reasonable for the quality.
In addition to the processors described for FX Collections 1 and 2, there are two processors included that were recently described on this site, Tape MELLO-FI and Efx Fragments, and I’ll refer you to those reviews since the two new distortion units added to FX3 have taken me a lot of time to characterize and understand, so that I can help any readers understand just what they can do. See the links at the end of this review.
New Under the Sun
Actually, the two new distortion processors are based on hardware first developed back in the 80’s and 90’s and as Arturia always do, add features while emulating the analogue nature of the originals. I’ll take these one at a time, starting with the oldest unit, the Dist OPAMP-21 which models the classic 1989 Tech 21 SansAmp, which itself was an attempt to emulate a tube preamp using cascaded transistor op-amps to generate a wide range of saturated tones.
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. . . . The OPAMP-21 basic panel has the same knobs and switches as the original plus a Dry/Wet control.
The original SansAmp had Presence Drive, Amplifier Drive, High control and Output level control. OPAMP-21 labels these Presence, Drive, High and Output and of course adds a Dry/Wet control. The SansAmp also had a tiny 8-switch module (DIP switches) that enabled a wide range of FX since you could use any one, two, three, etc. switches at the same time. The switches were Mid-Boost1, Mid-Boost2, Low Drive, Clean Amp, Bright Switch, Vintage Tubes, Speaker Edge, and Close Miking – and OPAMP-21 has the very same switches, in the same order, under the Character label, but they are marked graphically rather than named (though I find the graphic icons pretty easy to understand). You can use these in any combination, which results in 256 different settings!
The original SansAmp also had an input switch to choose between LEAD (a Marshall® style pre-amp sound with mid-range and highs emphasized), NORMAL (a Mesa Boogie® style pre-amp sound with relatively flat EQ), and BASS (a Fender® style pre-amp sound (aimed at rhythm and bass guitars).
OPAMP-21 has these choices and adds a Modern pre-amp sound, very clean with very little EQ colouration. If that were all, it would be an excellent distortion “pedal”, but there is the usual Arturia Advanced panel which adds a few more tricks. As usual it pops open a lower panel with more controls. There is a Pre-Drive EQ with Low and High Cut Filters, a Curve function that reduces low end distortion, and the ability to process Stereo, Mid, and Sides. There is also a Post-Drive (output) Pultec-style 3-band fully parametric output EQ, with graphic display of spectrum and EQ settings. Lots of possibilities, and I must admit I spent far more time than I had planned, running both analytical tests and listening to many sounds sources while tweaking controls. The results range over a wide range and are certainly not limited to guitar sounds.
Note that the Pre-Drive filter provides low pass and high pass filters with 24 dB/octave slopes – quit steep. This filter is applied before the signal enters the distortion stages and not only shapes the EQ, but since it is before the distortion “circuits” it can affect the colouration of the distortion.
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The Post-Drive EQ at the lower right is turned on and off with the switch by the label and has three bands: a low shelf, a mid “Bell” filter and a high shelf. You can set frequency, gain and bandwidth (Q) for each. This EQ affects the final output signal after the distortion processing.
Frequency response varied from flat +/- 1 dB to oddly spaced dips and peaks of 6 dB or more depending on combinations of settings (and that is before using the Pre-Drive or Post-Drive EQ in the Advanced panel). All the controls interact to some extent so it is best to use your ears with a given source sound, although the factory presets can be very helpful to reach a combination of setting appropriate for your use. I also found OPAMP-21 acts as a compressor – though for the most part it’s more like a limiter with a range of thresholds from about -15 dBFS to -60 dBFS – although there is no direct control for threshold! Again, it’s the result of Drive, Presence and even the Output settings, among others. This is a distortion unit, and limiting can certainly create notable distortion!
Using the various combinations of levels, Modes and Character I saw a wide range of harmonic distortion characteristics – with different relative levels of odd and even harmonics at THD levels from less than 0.000001% (using Normal/Clean setting) to 40% or more (Modern/Edge seemed highest). I found some settings with the same THD can produce very different harmonic content which colours sound differently. Again, using your ears is the way to proceed.
Speaking of Ears
I spent a lot of time testing (and some words above describing) what the controls do and some idea of frequency and dynamics effects, but to really appreciate what OPAMP-21 can do, I’ve included audio examples using some bass guitars and a drum kit. Each example file starts with a clean bass guitar or drum kit sample, and then after a few beats, switches in one example of a distortion setting. There are three different distortion settings used in each example file. I was impressed with the range of effects that this simple 30-plus year old pedal can create. However, FX Collection 3 includes a more modern and even more complex distortion unit which is not based on a pedal, but on a famous and much sought-after rack unit (one I’ve dreamed of for years) – and it’s what I’ll describe next.
A Vulture with Culture
Everyone in the audio business knows about the Culture Vulture from Thermionic Culture – introduced in 1998 it is one of the most amazing and flexible distortion units on the planet. The original rack-mount unit used vacuum tubes (valves) to create very musical (and beyond!) harmonic distortion. The Culture Vulture earned a reputation for bringing back “life” to music recorded with the digital technology of the time – and was so flexible that even mastering engineers equipped their studios with them. After several updates, Thermionic Culture introduced the Ultra Vulture with expanded features, which is what Dist TUBE-CULTURE emulates.
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. . . . Basic panel of Dist TUBE CULTURE.
The original Vulture had three distortion modes (Triode, Pentode 1, and Pentode 2) plus adjustable drive and bias. The Ultra Vulture added a third mode, Pentode 3, that enables more extreme distortion. As you can see the TUBE CULTURE has the Ultra Vulture controls plus a Mix control (dry/wet). There is also the Presence control of the Vulture, except expanded with two amounts of high-frequency boost (Presence and Air) rather than just on-off. And there is more, of course, when opening the Advanced panel.
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. . . . Advanced panel with the Input/Output ladder meter view – there is an alternate spectrum view available.
Where the Ultra had a fixed lowpass filter on the input engaged with a simple on-off switch, TUBE-CULTURE has highpass and lowpass input filters with variable cutoff frequencies (24 dB/octave). This trims the frequency range before distortion is applied and thus interacts with other controls to affect the distortion level and character. And of course there is also the ability to process stereo or mid-side options. And a feature I found especially effective, a one-knob compressor/expander/gate. I have a Yamaha board with one-knob compressors that are effective, but Arturia’s approach is fantastic. The Advanced panel also has an output EQ with highpass and lowpass filters (24 dB/octave) and a neat tilt EQ, centered at 630 Hz, where turning it "down" (negative dB) boosts the low end and drops the high frequencies, and turning it "up" does the opposite, dropping the low end and boosting the highs.
What does It Do?
Like the OPAMP-21, the TUBE-CULTURE affects frequency response (even without using the input and output EQs), creates harmonic distortion (from less than 0.0001% THD to an astounding 83% THD in my tests), and acts as a compressor, even without engaging the one-knob compressor! And it can create some astounding compressor transfer functions – like none I’ve ever encountered. The Plugin Doctor dynamics plots below show some curves like a typical compressor, the light blue curve with a threshold about -12 dBFS and the dark green curve with a threshold around -45 dBFS, but take a look at the pink curve. It seems to have a threshold at about -40 dBFS, then changes its mind as the signal level increases, but a threshold and gain reduction appear again at about -15 dBFS. And that’s the least of the weird curves – the dark orange curve displays a threshold at about -30 dBFS, but goes “overboard” with gain dropping rapidly for higher input levels, with the output down 100 dB (essentially ‘off’) for a 0 dBFS input! And check out the light green curve! I won’t try to describe it – you can see it – and you will definitely hear its effects if you crank both Drive and Bias to 11 (an ode to Spinal Tap!) and use P3. TUBE-CULTURE is not your father’s (or mother’s) distortion box (unless you are under 30 and they had a real Vulture!)
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. . . . Some of the dynamics transfer functions I found – and these are without even using the Gate/Compressor Dynamics control!
Controls all interact to some extent, yet a little experimentation will give you a good feel for how the controls affect sounds – as I’ve said before, using your ears (and trying the factory presets) will get you excellent results very quickly. And as with OPAMP-21, I’ve included audio examples of what the Dist TUBE-CULTURE can do, some of which really surprised me.
Common to All
These new distortion modules (as any current Arturia plug-in) let you browse, search, and select Presets using Types and Styles, as well as names, from a browser inside the plug-in. Of course you can also create and save your own Presets in the User Bank. And as any good plug-in the state of any instance of the plug-in is saved with your DAW project. TUBE-CULTURE has 51 factory Presets covering effects from subtle to drastic while OPAMP-21 has 59 factory presets. There is also A/B comparison, a resizable GUI (from 50% to 200% of normal), DAW automation, selectable oversampling, and built-in tutorials.
I tested these emulations using a PC Audio Labs Rok Box with Intel Core i7-4770K CPU @ 3.5 GHz, 16 MB RAM running 64 bit Windows. CPU usage varied from model to model, but with OPAMP-21 I found under 0.3% for oversampling off and under 0.5% if it’s on. Latency varied from 96 samples to 100 samples with oversampling off and on. The TUBE-CULTURE ran a bit higher which is not surprising – latency of 112 samples independent of oversampling, and CPU usage was 0.7% or 1.1% with oversampling off or on. Pretty low latency and CPU needs for the complexity and quality I found.
Arturia have again added great value to their FX Collection with the new distortion modules, and the tape emulation and granular processor. While I don’t use all of its processors every day, I do find many of them about the best of their type, and the four newly added plug-ins are really excellent accomplishments. And at a “ridiculously” low cost per unit, especially during the intro price (until July 6, 2022). Highly recommended.
An amazing set of studio gear, based on the sounds of classic gear that few of us could ever afford.
Excellent sound quality and comprehensive enhancements to the features of the original classic hardware.
Arturia provide “in-app” tutorials with each processor.
Great value for money in this collection, even if you already own some of the included gear – Arturia have deals for everyone.
The Arturia Software Center is the best user-focused software delivery system I’ve ever used – it knows my system and what updates are available, and will download and install whatever is needed automatically.
Nothing that I could complain about!
Product info at https://www.arturia.com/products/sof...ction/overview
Original FX Collection review: Arturia FX Collection
FX 2 review: Arturia FX Collection 2
MELLO-FI review: Arturia Mello-Fi
Efx Fragments review: Arturia Efx Fragments