This modern age of DAWs and audio plugins has introduced the idea of an “inside the box” music studio, which opened a whole new world of possibilities for home-based music producers. But as it usually happens, even the best of things come with certain downsides. Working with digital audio in a virtual environment gives us improved flexibility, faster workflow, lower costs, more portability, and yet again it takes away all those slight but ever so important imperfections we used to get from analog gear.
There are ways around this of course. Like recording your virtual instruments to analog tape and then feeding that signal back into your DAW, which is a nice idea, but tape machines aren’t exactly cheap. They are large and clunky too, and working with such a unit would be quite the opposite of working inside the box. So, is it possible to apply that characteristic coloration and texture to sounds, without them ever leaving your DAW? Well… it’s possible, and the following plugin is a perfect candidate for this.
Sonitex STX-1260 is best described as a compact virtual toolbox designed for adding various sorts of vintage hardware gear textures to digital audio. The plugin signal chain is split into six individual stages, all of which emulate the sound characteristics of different hardware units in a typical studio setup. These stages include emulations of vinyl playback imperfections, digital sampling artifacts, analog tape saturation, and so on.
This six-stage approach is a result of the developer’s wish to emulate the complete signal chain, rather than concentrating on one type of effect like vinyl noise or tape hiss for example. It is this sort of attention to details which makes the STX-1260 such a capable and versatile sound-processing tool.
The Six Stages
A three-way switch on the far right of the GUI allows us to toggle the order in which the six sound-processing sections are routed, but for the purpose of this review let’s take a little tour through the default routing setup and see what each sound processing stage is capable of.
- The mixing stage offers a good starting point, featuring a simple dynamics module suitable for working with transient-rich audio materials like drum recordings and such, and a nifty M/S processing unit capable of some basic centre/side separation tasks. The dynamics module can be used to easily add more punch and density to the audio material, as well as to tame some of the extreme peaks and prepare the material for further shaping in subsequent sound processing modules.
- Next in the chain is the distortion stage, offering a set of pre-filter controls, and a dedicated distortion sub-section. The pre-filter section offers standard LP, HP, BP, and NP filters, with slope settings ranging from 6db to as high as 48db per octave. These extremely high slope settings can be a useful tool for achieving some rather unique psychoacoustic effects, completely altering the original character of a sound. What really deserves the spotlight here though is the distortion sub-section with five different distortion types, including saturation, classic distortion, guitar amp emulation, and two digital distortion models. These different distortion models all sound very convincing and offer a rich palette of different settings to use in specific situations.
- The vinyl emulation stage allows us to liven things up with a bit (or a lot) of pitch inconsistency, a typical side-effect heard in samples taken from old vinyl recordings. Apart from the intensity and rate of the effect it is also possible to choose between several different shapes, like scratchy or extremely warbled records for example. I really liked the effect this has on synth pad patches, adding a nice extra taste of movement and a discrete sort of analog feel. The vinyl section also includes an optional sibilance effect, which simulates the distinctive hiss of old vinyl.
- The tone stage includes a set of controls for altering the bandwidth of the audio signal, thus emulating the frequency response of different audio systems. It consists of two simple roll-off units, and two separate knobs for controlling the wear effect of old vinyl records (which is caused by the physical contact of the needle on vinyl surface) and mid-frequency boost emulating the phone effect.
- The noise section really goes into detail, allowing separate controls for pops, clicks, an of course, the beloved noise. It is possible to choose between 25 different preset noise models ranging from vinyl record noise, to mechanical noise and movie tape hiss. And as if that wasn’t enough, it is also possible to load your own noise WAV sample and apply it to the processed signal. Finally, an integrated noise gate can be used to duck the noise effect when there is no signal on the input, which is a pretty handy option when using Sonitex STX-1260 in a mixing environment.
- Last in the chain is the sampling stage, allowing us to emulate the sound of some famous vintage hardware digital samplers. Last, but not the least as they say, as this technique can do wonders on drum tracks and individual drum hits, adding sparkle and some extra punch to the samples if properly tweaked.
Speaking of tweaking, each of the six stages comes with a set of specialized presets, which can be a good starting point when searching for a specific type of sound. The sampling section for example contains four different hardware sampler presets and two extremely gritty lo-fi ones, so it’s possible to try out a couple of characteristic settings before going into detail for some final tweaks.
LFOs And Envelopes
Apart from the six different sound processing stages, Sonitex STX-1260 comes with an internal modulation system which can be used to automate most of its parameters. The parameters which support modulation can easily be spotted by a blue light indicator on the plugin GUI. Right-clicking such a parameter will show a drop-down menu with an option to engage the modulation settings window.
The modulation system consists of two global modulators, an LFO and and envelope follower. Both come with a standard set of controls and can individually be applied to each parameter.
My STX-1260 Experience
So, after this overview I guess it’s pretty obvious that STX-1260 packs quite a lot of sound processing power under the hood. Browsing through the default set of presets may give you a general idea of what can be achieved with the plugin, but from my experience the most rewarding way to use Sonitex is to take some time to experiment and tweak it so that it exactly fits your needs. Even though juggling with six different stages and their individual sets of controls might seem like an overwhelming task, the clean and user-friendly interface actually make this a joyful and fun experience. Also, with lots of available presets to be used as a starting point, achieving good results is quick and fairly easy.
My two main impressions while testing Sonitex STX-1260 were the facts that it is such a fun plugin to work with, and that it enhances the processed material in a very convincing way. Don’t get me wrong here, if you push this plugin too hard your audio will easily begin to sound like a warbled noisy mess… but even so it will sound like a noisy mess that came as a product of messing with different pieces of hardware gear rather than some virtual digital effect. And if used with taste and proper sense of measure, it can perform as a perfect tool for adding texture and a sense of movement to the otherwise sterile digital audio.
STX-1260 can also be observed as sort of a multi-effect plugin. The distortion unit is of such high quality that I could easily see myself reaching for it even if I’m not going for the whole vintage gear modeling concept at that particular moment. Same goes for the sampling stage with its powerful bitcrusher unit and a great set of filters .
The only downside I have to point out is that the CPU consumption can be quite large if the STX-1260 is pushed to its extremes. With all six stages engaged it easily becomes somewhat of a CPU hog, but this is actually understandable, since working with six stages actually means applying six or more different effects to a sound. Also, thanks to the fact that most modern DAWs come with a freeze option, this is just a minor setback and one that’s easy to overcome.
Sonitex STX-1260 covers an arsenal of different techniques to add texture and movement to digital audio, and does so in a convincing and great sounding way. It is fairly easy and lots of fun to use, with a somewhat larger CPU consuption as its only potential drawback. Priced at $74, it is a must-have plugin for home producers looking for a way to spice up their mixes with a touch of grit and imperfection.
A free 30-day trial version is available for download on this page. Sonitex STX-1260 is available as a VST plugin for Windows XP, Vista and Win7 users.
Main features of Sonitex STX-1260:
- Dynamic processing to add initial punch and density.
- Mid/Side stereo adjustments.
- Distortion with pre-emphasis circuit and dry/wet control.
- 5 Distortion types (Saturation, Distortion, Amplifier, Digital 1 + 2).
- Flexible distortion pre-filter.
- Vinyl pitch instability with multiple warp shapes, and speed control (syncable).
- Sibilance processing to emulate high frequency distortion on vinyl playback.
- Overall bandwidth control with separate high & low frequency roll-off and “bump” control.
- Additional processing to mimic vinyl groove wear and the “phone”-sound on early systems.
- Flexible control over density, level and stereo spread on both vinyl “pops” and “clicks”.
- Optional program dependant density for pops and clicks.
- 25 noise types ranging from vinyl noise and tape hiss to mechanical noises.
- Option to load custom wav files with noise or other sounds. (syncable).
- Adjustable gate (with syncable delay) on noise channel allows many ways to integrate noise.
- Flexible sampling section allows emulation of many types of sampler configurations.
- Bit-depth reduction and 3 types of samplerate reductions (with adjustable antialiasing filter).
- Dynamic lowpass filter section.
- Adjustable built-in compressor on output.
- Modulation system allowing mixed LFO & Envelope Follower modulation for selected parameters.
- Midi Learn on selected parameters.
- 3 internal routing configurations.
- Intelligent design to reduce CPU on disabled sections.
- “Subsets” offers 6 fixed sub-presets on each page to allow fast workflow when experimenting.
- Broad selection of categorized presets.