OTT plugin by Xfer Records is one of the most popular free VST plugins and has been for some time. It’s particularly popular with electronic music producers, some of whom wouldn’t even consider making music without it now.
With that in mind, this won’t be a blast from the past like our recent CamelCrusher review. But it’s a chance to look at the history of OTT, highlight its core functions, and maybe convince some newcomers to try it out.
What is OTT?
OTT is a multiband compression preset inside Ableton’s native Multiband Dynamics section. OTT, or “over-the-top” compression, is common in EDM, Dubstep, and most genres within electronic music production.
Ableton is the DAW of choice for many electronic producers. Luckily, for non-Ableton users, Xfer Records decided to recreate the much-loved preset in a standalone plugin and offer it for free.
It’s a multiband up/down compressor; as the name suggests, it’s not the most subtle effect. OTT aggressively squeezes the dynamic range into virtual oblivion (kind of).
What does OTT do?
In short, OTT splits the frequency spectrum into three bands (lows, mids, and highs) and applies downward and upward compression to each.
You can set the amount of compression applied and the lower/upper thresholds (per band) that define when the compression kicks in. Each band has independent output control, so you can adjust the balance to suit.
While that doesn’t sound too over the top in contrast to standard downward compression, you aren’t just applying gain reduction when the signal exceeds the upper threshold. The plugin’s simultaneous upward and downward compression squeezes the dynamic range from both ends, creating a more aggressive effect.
By forcing everything into a compact range, you are trading dynamics for a bigger, fatter, and more in-your-face sound.
Such harsh dynamic processing is not the way to maintain a natural/organic/emotive feel. However, it’s incredibly impactful on synth bass, leads, pads, strings, drums, and more within the electronic realm.
Why go over the top?
You don’t need the OTT VST plugin to over-compress, but one of the cool things about this plugin is that the upward compression can bring out things in the lower frequencies that would otherwise be inaudible. You can end up with interesting textures that alter the sound significantly.
Another cool thing is that it doesn’t slam the mids so hard that you lose all sense of detail. You aren’t left with a sound completely lacking character despite a lack of dynamics.
How good is the OTT plugin?
If we focus on its most popular use cases in EDM, it’s hard to argue it’s anything other than excellent because so many top electronic producers depend on it.
Addmitinley, I’m not an Ableton user, but the common opinion seems to be that the plugin mimics the original preset very well, albeit with slightly different controls.
The resizable and recently refreshed GUI has just a handful of simple controls. Beyond setting the amount of compression, thresholds, and the level (per band), you have Depth (Dry/Wet), Time (Attack/Release), and In/Out Gain.
The graphic display for each band is where you set the thresholds; it shows the signal before and after compression.
Although I said it’s not a subtle effect, and I threw words like aggressive and oblivion around, you can lower the depth and take a more cautious approach. However, for me, that’s not where OTT shines; if you use it, you should go all out! Just be mindful not to use it in areas where dynamics are vital.
If you want up/down compression with a more surgical approach, check out Fuse Compressor from Minimal Audio.
I like the simplicity of OTT, and while I wasn’t there at the start with Ableton, I can say I’m down with OTT.
OTT is available in AU, VST, VST3, and AAX formats for macOS and Windows.
Download: OTT (FREE)