The initial clutch of plugins to come out of Mixland, the brainchild of Grammy Award-winning mix engineer Jesse Ray Ernster, landed very much at the quirkier end of things. This quirkiness culminated with Steamdriver, a preamp and saturator controlled via a madcap steampunk interface, but it seems Mixland may now be backing away from such visual extremities. Its two latest plugins looking, well, normal, came as quite a surprise. Thankfully, this newfound visual sobriety has not extended to the concept underlying Subloom, the plugin we’re looking at here, which is, if anything, Mixland’s most inventive creation to date.
Subloom is an audio processor that takes a number of existing processing tricks and techniques that are used for adding thickness, shape and colour to kick drums, and wraps them together into a single convenient plugin.
But the plugin’s talents aren’t limited to kick drums. You can feed other drum sounds through it, with its tools doing particularly interesting things to toms and snares, and it’s even able to give useful results when applied across a drum submix or even a full mix. Given the overall concept and the tools on offer though, Subloom’s particular speciality is individual drum sounds, with kicks being the main focus.
Unfortunately, we first had problems running Subloom on two of our Intel macOS testing systems. This manifested as Subloom hogging the graphics pipeline when the plugin is enabled and has its window open, reducing to a crawl of all graphic updates and mouse interactions with the DAW and other plugins. Audio performance is unaffected, and Subloom itself runs just fine. To be fair, the affected systems are both older Macs running a few versions behind the current macOS (Sonoma), but both are capable machines and are within the published system requirements. The issue isn’t being widely encountered, though, and Mixland is aware and working on a fix.
The plugin splits its operations into two main sections, Kick and Sub. These operate in parallel, with each section sporting a fader and mute and solo buttons to control its contribution to the overall effect.
The Kick section starts with a filter stage comprising a resonant high-pass filter feeding into a non-resonant low-pass filter. This is a common arrangement for a drum synth, with the high-pass and attendant resonant frequency spike allowing a deep boom or thud to be dialled in without overpowering the frequencies below it, and the low-pass acting to gently roll off higher frequencies. That said, we’d prefer the low-pass to also have a resonance control to increase its sound-sculpting scope.
The filters are followed by a three-band (so-called) ‘British’ EQ. Low and high bands are shelving, while the middle is a peak band, and all provide up to 12dB of cut or boost at their selected frequency.
Each band has a choice of three frequencies – 30Hz, 60Hz and 120Hz for the low band, 400Hz, 800Hz and 1.2kHz for the mid band, and 3kHz, 6kHz and 12kHz for the high band. These are useful frequencies when working with kick drums, and can bring out some nice details, but this is a very broad-brushed EQ with gentle curves and some big gaps in the frequency coverage, so isn’t suitable for precision work. The frequency selection toggle switches can be a bit fiddly to use as well.
Mixland Subloom plugin
The EQ can be switched to be pre or post the Kick section’s final stage, which provides transient shaping and saturation. A simple dial is provided to soften or accentuate the attack of sound passing through, and this can be switched to be applied pre or post the saturation stage, with which it interacts in interesting ways.
Mixland offers three flavours of saturation. The first gives a warm saturation similar to tape, the second a more intense but flattering tube-style drive, and the third an aggressive and dirty distortion. Whichever you choose, the strength of the effect can be fully controlled, from subtle right through to extreme.
There’s also a Wrap dial that alters the way the transient and saturation processing interact, and though it isn’t entirely clear what it’s doing, the results are easy enough to hear. You can vary the effect from a flabbier, fuzzier distortion to a tighter, more focussed crunchiness.
Subloom’s second section, Sub, is an analogue-style kick drum synth similar to that of the Roland TR-808 or Arturia DrumBrute. The synth is triggered by incoming transients (the sensitivity being easily adjusted) and is ideal not only for thickening an existing kick drum, but also for replacing an acoustic sound with a synthetic one.
The synth produces a sine wave pulse with the dialled-in pitch, attack and decay characteristics. An optional super-fast pitch attack envelope – Pitch Dive – can also be enabled, and this can do a fantastic job of enhancing and/or emulating the natural pitch envelope of an acoustic drum. It’s also perfect for creating classic disco tom sounds, a prime example of where Subloom’s toolset can become useful beyond just kick drum processing.
The Sub section is rounded off with the same transient and saturation stage as the Kick section, but here it can produce a much wider variation of tones due to the nature of the synthesised source. The third saturation mode, in particular, can completely reshape the sine pulse into much more complex and harmonically rich waveforms.
On its own, with the Kick section muted, the Sub section acts as an excellent drum replacement tool, whether the source is an acoustic drum, a sample or another electronic drum. Sub’s repertoire is somewhat limited to drum sounds that can be derived from a sine wave, but it nonetheless has vast sonic scope, and the saturator opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities.
The plugin’s full power comes when combining both sections, Kick and Sub. The former lets you easily enhance and accentuate (or indeed subdue and reduce) sonic components of the source sound, and the latter gives you a tool for adding weight, depth and colour.
This adds up to the ability to completely reimagine and reconstitute any kick (or other percussive) sound, making it easy to banish clichéd and overused samples and infuse your drum parts with truly original sounds and textures. Even the most flaccid and insipid kick can be turned into a thundering, booming, explosive event. Aside from complex and unruly processing-plus-synthesis chains, there’s nothing else that can do what Subloom does, and what Subloom does is sublime!
Effect plugin for AAX, AU, and VST3 hosts
Windows 7/macOS 10.7 or higher
Filter, EQ, transient-shaping and saturation of source sound
Transient-triggered drum synth engine
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