Slate Digital has been around for a while now. They are known for making plugins that are faithful to the analog gear they are emulating, and recently released a new plugin emulating some more of that sweet analog goodness. It’s called “VMR” which stands for Virtual Mix Rack. Anyone familiar with the 500 series lunchbox will find that VMR looks strikingly similar. The plugin comes with 5 modules, 3 of which are based off well-known pieces of gear.
The FG-N is based off a Neve 1073 EQ, FG-S is based off a SSL 4000 console EQ, and the FG-116 is an FET compressor based off the Universal Audio 1176. The 4th module is the FG-401, which is not based off any one particular piece of gear – it’s more like a Frankenstein plugin compressor with different parts of it modeled off different pieces of gear.
The 5th module, called Revival, is a little different from the rest. Simply put, it is a sonic enhancer. I think Slate explains it best: “Revival borrows aspects of tubes, tape, transformers, and world class analog filters to create two processes. Shimmer adds depth, clarity, space, width, and air like you’ve never heard. Thickness adds warmth, punch, body, and fatness.” Oh, and I should mention it’s FREE. And you should totally go get it right now.
I am pretty familiar with the hardware the first 3 modules are emulating, and even more familiar with the dozen or so plugins out there that are trying to emulate them. Let me say right off the bat, when it comes to the sound and feel of those pieces of analog gear, VMR is king. I plan to get more scientific about it but that’s for another time.
If there is one thing that I have noticed with this plugin over any other plugin I have ever used, is that this is the first time I have ever heard a plugin add “depth” to the mix. Like, I mean, REALLY add depth. And it adds it in a way that I have only heard analog gear do thus far.
Having trouble getting your drums to punch through? Some parallel compression with the FG-116 will remedy that. Guitars need some EQing? Both EQ’s are great and the hardware they are based are well known for sounding great on guitars, both acoustic and electric, clean or distorted.
By the end of my testing, pretty much every single track had VMR as my main channel strip. It simply does the job better than other plugins, and sounds better while doing it. My drums were punchier and cut through better. My guitars were wide, heavy yet defined. The vocals were nice and up front. And I even added Revival on my master buss which gave the mix a whole a lot of depth and when it comes to Metal, it does a great job of getting things sounding heavy without overdoing it. I highly recommend giving it a shot!
When it came to performance. I ran about 20 or so different instances of VMR and my CPU was almost unfazed by it. They seem to have done a really good job of optimizing it. So even if you are running on a old computer, you should be able to use VMR with no problems.
Now is VMR perfect? No. For example the FG-116 cant have all ratio buttons pressed in for that “over-saturation” effect the original 1176 is known for having. They told me it would be coming in a future update though. Not a deal breaker but I know some people really like that effect. A few other things I found I was missing were a Trim Knob, Input level control, and Output level control. Without any of these, I did have to spend a little bit of time working on gain staging to make sure the signal was not entering VMR too hot or leaving it too hot. Only the 2 compressors had output level control (for obvious reasons). The 2 EQ’s and Revival have no Trim or level control whatsoever. I found this especially necessary for Revival, as the signal in general was entering it way too hot. Once again when I asked Slate about this, they told me that it was on their list of things to add in upcoming updates. A De-sser is also apparently in the works, which would round things off really nicely.
They have also said that they will be releasing new modules to be added to VMR as time goes by. Is there any piece of gear you would like to see get the Slate modeling treatment? Let us know in the comments below and maybe we can pass it along to them. Me personally, I’m dying for good Distressor plugin. And if anyone can do the Distressor justice in software, it would seem to be Mr. Fabrice Gabriel, Steven Slate and the rest of the Slate Digital team. Anyone that is even remotely serious about production needs to have this plugin in their arsenal. Especially if you are only going to be mixing in the box. At the very least, go download Revival. It’s one of the best free plugins available and even it alone will make a difference in your production.