Review: Softube Tube-Tech Classic Channel, By Chris Zane

First things first, let me get this out of the way: I love analog gear. I do.

I feel strangely guilty saying this, but so many of my peers are wholly ITB (“in-the-box”) or have slowly gravitated towards it, that suddenly I feel like I’m standing out in the cold by myself for wanting (needing) to use a big desk and a ton of compressors to making something sound good.

Ok. Not really, but you get my point. I’m 33 years old, and am caught right in the middle of the laptop generation and the “old school” guys. I’m not going to go down the ITB vs. analog road here, but I just wanted to preface that I do rely mostly on hardware as opposed to plug-ins. I should also mention that I love Tube-Tech stuff. A lot.

I love just about every piece of theirs I’ve ever used: I have 2 MP1As, 2 MEC1As and my personal favorites: 2 PE-1C equalizers. I’m pretty familiar with the sound of these boxes and lean quite heavily on the PE-1Cs in particular.

So when I saw the announcement that Softube had developed a software version of some of Tube-Tech’s choice tools, and packaged it together as a channel strip, I was certainly intrigued.

Softube’s “Tube-Tech Classic Channel” is a bundle of the following four plug-ins:

· Tube-Tech Classic Channel plug-in

· Tube-Tech CL 1B Opto Compressor

· Tube-Tech PE 1C “Pultec” Equalizer

· Tube-Tech ME 1B Mid-range Equalizer

IN PRACTICE

Bass: I don’t know why, but whenever I see a Pultec style EQ, I think bass. Maybe it’s the big knobs, maybe it’s the fact that the frequency curves are made for this kind of broad sweetening, but either way, it’s the first thing that I went for.

As expected, using the PE 1C, I was able to beef up the bottom with a nice boost of 4 or 5 @ 60Hz, and tighten it up with a cut at the same place. I then opened up the ‘teeth’ of the bass with a nice broad boost @ 3kHz, again boosting to somewhere between 4 and 5, and the bandwidth around 7. Just to be safe, I usually then experiment with where I want to ditch extraneous high end by cutting to about 2 or 3, and A/B’ing @ 5kHz and 10kHz.

With the ME 1B midrange EQ, I tend to leave the high mids and low mids alone unless there is something specific I feel I’m not getting from the PE 1C. But my favorite thing to do is yank all the mids out around 7 or 8, sweep through a couple frequencies, and when I hear something that ‘could’ be useful, back the attenuation way down to like 2, and then A/B it in and out a few times to see if I like what it’s doing.

Then, just cos’ it’s there, I’ll pop on a little light compression. I usually start with the default-medium attack and release times, and just bring the threshold up till I get the reduction I want. I tend to lean towards lower levels of compression with the CL-1B; maybe just somewhere between 1-3 db.

At this point, I gave the “compressor before EQ”/“EQ before compressor” switch a couple flicks to see which I like better (a nice touch, rather than having to go and change patches around in the middle of a mix).

I’ll do some more global bypassing comparisons, and possibly back some settings down a tiny bit. As opposed to a lot of gear/plug-ins, I kept coming back to the idea that a little goes a long way on this particular piece.

Drums: Another place that I find Tube-Tech gear to shine, is on kick and snare, so I was excited to see if the same would be true for Softube’s plug-in. In the hardware there is something about the way the high end rolls away that sounds very pleasing to me, and Softube seems to have captured that here in the digital domain.

The PE 1C portion sounded killer on a kick drum with liberal amounts of 60Hz boost and cut (I actually deviated a little from the standard ‘Pultec trick’ by not cutting as much as I’m boosting) and fairly heavy on the 8kHz or 10kHz boost (again, with the bandwidth around 7 or so).

On the snare track is where the beauty of having all of these pieces together really starts to become apparent. Being able to pull out the horrible midrange of your liking with the mid-band, and add a little low-mid punch, and high-mid punch, all with the ME 1B, is great. I then used the PE 1C to ‘exaggerate’ the highs anywhere from 4-8kHz, and maybe even a little 100Hz push.

The compressor portion seems a little too slow and/or colorful for me on close mics like a kick and snare, so I may skip it, or just barely touch it with some medium attack and release times, but I will say that for overheads, or room mics, it’s lovely.

Vocals: The vocal tracks that I threw this plug-in on, were approached basically the same way. Sweetening with the PE 1C, and corrective stuff with the ME 1B. I think the compressor excels more on a vocal track here than a kick or snare, but even then, I liked it more for “sitting a vocal down” than “making it pop”.

I found myself going back again and again, giving things a nice smiley face on the program EQ, dealing with any annoying stuff on the midrange EQ, and just touching the compressor with medium attack and release times simply because it’s easy to grab. The overall effect is not dissimilar to when you have the real gear sitting in your rack. Sometimes a little bit is just the right amount.

In a digital world where everyone is looking for one magical thing to make their work sound better, it may not be some saturator, or multi-band limiter at all, it might very well be Softube’s Classic Channel.

Softube’s Tube-Tech Classic Channel plug-in bundle ($699) runs on any VST/AU/RTAS compatible host application. iLok required. Visit the Softube website for more information and to demo or purchase.

Chris Zane is a NYC-based producer and engineer who’s worked with Friendly Fires, The Walkmen, Passion Pit, Holy Ghost!, Ruby Frost, Les Savy Fav, Asobi Seksu, Suckers, and Heartsrevolution (among others) He works out of Gigantic Studios in Tribeca. For more on Chris and to get in touch, visit http://chris-zane.com.

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