When it comes to music software, I have always had a soft spot for applications that test boundaries, explore new sonic territories, and provide the user with a great workflow in a visually attractive interface. Frostbite 2 by AudioThing is undoubtedly one of these applications.
But for you who are new to this plugin, what is it really? Well, in practice, it’s sort of an epic reverb, a delay, and a ring modulator, plus an LFO that can be assigned to one (but not more) of the others’ controls. These can generate some unusual sounds, some of which may be usable in pop or rock productions.
Frostbite 1 was released five years ago, and Frostbite 2.0 in November 2019. The version reviewed here is 2.1. It was released earlier this month with introductory pricing (39 instead of 59 euros) throughout May.
AudioThing is known for both somewhat novel takes on traditional plugins – EQs, compressors, and what have you – and for a few more quirky ideas. Frostbite definitively belongs to this latter category. The individual parts of the application may not seem so exciting, but in this case, it’s rather about usability, workflow, and – above all – results.
Taking a bite
First things first. For me, installing Frostbite 2 went without any problems or unnecessary steps. As expected, there are VST, VST3, and AAX versions. The demo is limited by an audio dropout every now and again. CPU usage is low enough.
Once installed and inserted on an audio or virtual instrument track, what you’ll see is a preset browser, the three effect panes, the LFO pane, and the master section. The effect panes can be arranged in any order.
Much more potent than in the old version, the Freeze section has a choice of three modes: reverb, convolution, and spectral. Depending on the audio source, these settings may yield different results. Set correctly, the Fade control can give some very lush spaces, à la Eventide’s Blackhole. When turned to max, the Fade control freezes the signal infinitely, thus creating more or less noisy soundscapes, which, in turn, can be affected by the other two effects and the LFO (see below). It should be added that the freeze function applies to what is currently fed into it, so even though it’s called “Freeze,” it changes over time.
The Freeze button, new for Frostbite 2, seemingly affects everything in the Freeze section but the EQ. Therefore, for clarity, I’d rather have seen the Freeze and Clear buttons on the top row and the EQ spanning the entire middle row.
The feedback (delay) section is more traditional: it’s a syncable delay that can be set in a ping pong fashion. What makes it cool is the filter, which makes for a surprisingly neat sound experience.
The ring modulator adds a lot of the “craziness” of this application. Though it isn’t that much to write home about in itself, it’s the use of its filters that makes it shine. As Bryan Lake wrote in his review of Frostbite 1 on Bedroom Producers Blog: “in pursuit of otherworldly sounds, it never fails to produce unpredictable results, and if used discreetly, you can produce some modest inharmonic overtones.”
The LFO is assignable to just about any subcontrol of the effect panes and the master section. What I like about it is the fact that it is so clearly laid out. Even a novice could see precisely how control by LFO works, and learn from it.
The Master section, finally, lets one decide whether to run the three effects in parallel or in series. Thus, you have a somewhat flexible setup: do you want all three effects or only one or two of them? In what order should they be put? And finally: should they affect the previous effect(s), or should they all use the original audio source? Reordering the effects does not usually make much sense (as most of the times, it would muddy up the mix), but if you try the demo, be sure to change between parallel and serial mode, since it can give quite different outcomes.
The Master section features two dials for volume: Dry and Wet. This design choice is perhaps not so common in effect units (TAL Reverb-2 is a free reverb that has it), but I like this: it gives one the possibility to add a little more or less dry or effect signal without affecting the other. One downside with this approach in this particular application is that the LFO cannot control the output mix, probably as that would mess with the overall output volume of Frostbite 2. In other words, if you would like to control the dry/wet output of Frostbite 2, you would have to do it via your DAW.
The same thing goes for running two LFOs at once (say, one for delay time and one for ring modulation frequency). You just can’t make it happen from within Frostbite 2. I understand there is a trade-off between usability and control, and though this is a limitation, I think AudioThing made the right call. (A more powerful, still non-intrusive approach would have been to feature an LFO section at the bottom for each of the three effect panels as well as in the master section.)
Frostbite 2 is mainly a sound-mangling application, so it shouldn’t typically work as a traditional reverb. A dedicated and more elaborate reverb would give you more options than what is offered here. On that point, I wish AudioThing would have divided their presets – greatly expanded in Frostbite 2 – in two categories, basically to separate a preset named “Monster” from the one called “Nice verb,” and perhaps added a few more (almost) bread and butter reverbs or delays.
Speaking of which, the delay is versatile, and I very much like it. I am contemplating starting to use Frostbite 2 also when I just need a stock delay: the tempo sync and the ping pong features are, of course, useful, and the filter and LFO options make it a bit special. There are plenty of delays, also free, that offer these (and more) options, but the addition of ring modulation and the freeze functionality makes this approach tempting enough.
But as said above, Frostbite 2 is mostly about manipulating sounds. I have tried Frostbite 2 on voice, piano, drums, synth leads, synth pads, sampled strings, and industrial sounds. The journey has been as surprising as exciting: the sounds come alive, and Frostbite 2 has made just about everything I put through it sound better.
Since the unit has plenty of parameters, it made sense to start browsing the presets and change bits and pieces throughout the process. It has become evident that some presets are better suited to, say, piano, than others. Having worked with Frostbite 2 for a while, I tried browsing through every single preset for every single sound source mentioned above. Doing so, I noted that there is consistency at play: though most presets sound off for a specific instrument category, every instrument category benefits from, say, two or three of them. This conclusion also points to the value of dividing presets into categories.
With the combination of the reverb, spectral and convolution freeze modes, ring modulation, and filtered delays, you can undoubtedly do extreme things with Frostbite 2, such as “monster,” sci-fi, or atmospheric sounds. However, I think its real power lies in adding a touch of interest and movement to your everyday sounds. For me, this is an important matter. I mainly make pop music, so though a complex plugin may make very cool and otherworldly sounds (and I have several such effects), they get very little mileage in my productions, because they don’t fit in the mix. Frostbite 2, on the other hand, could be put on any track of my mixes and, with the right combination of its powers, improve them. And what’s more: it can do this in a minute or two. If you prefer fast results over minute-detailed tweaking, then this plugin should appeal to you.
On paper, I don’t think that Frostbite 2 is fantastic, especially as it is not a new concept. For example, MSpectralDelay has more powerful sound-sculpting capabilities in its particular area, and a few free and low-priced reverbs have Infinite settings. However, it’s not what Frostbite 2 is about, or what differs between Frostbite 1 and 2 (and in fact, the new unit is so much more powerful than its predecessor that it would have made sense to release it under a new name). The value of Frostbite 2 lies in the combination of an attractive user interface and a highly usable output.
Even more importantly, when I explore it and try to use it, from time to time, it does make me smile and go wow. For an effect unit, I don’t think you can get much higher praise than that.
So, is Frostbite 2 worth 59 euros (or the introductory price of 39 euros until May 31)?
Well, it depends on how you approach your music and what tools you already own. If you have never explored Frostbite or have only tried Frostbite 1, it is certainly worth checking out the demo and hearing what it can do for your music. Remember to try to use it in your productions – if your experience resembles mine, then you’re in for a good time!
Also try the free FilterJam plugin, a ring modulator-ish effect with a twist!
More info: AudioThing Frostbite 2 (30% OFF until May 31st, 2020)
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AudioThing Frostbite 2 Review
When I use Frostbite 2, it does make me smile and go wow from time to time. For an effect unit, I don’t think you can get much higher praise than that.