The most am­bi­tious con­vo­lu­tion plugin yet from these im­pul­sive de­vel­op­ers aims to bring the leg­endary SSL sound to your desk­top

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Acus­tica Au­dio are on some­thing of a roll right now with their rapidly ex­pand­ing Ac­qua range of con­vo­lu­tion plu­g­ins, de­liv­er­ing sam­ple­based em­u­la­tions of all man­ner of clas­sic and high-end hard­ware ef­fects units. The lat­est, Sand, is a de­par­ture from the usual for­mula, sam­pling the preamps, EQ, fil­ters and com­pres­sors of the SSL 4000 G+ and 5000 se­ries con­soles into 1GB of im­pulse re­sponses, and rolling them all into a uni­fied chan­nel strip plugin. It comes as the head­line act in the Sand Fab4 bun­dle, which also in­cludes in­di­vid­ual plugin ver­sions of each mo­d­ule: the Sand EQU4 EQ, Sand Bus4 com­pres­sor and Sand Pre4 preamp. We’re re­view­ing the full strip here, but there are no sur­prises with the sep­a­rate plu­g­ins – they’re iden­ti­cal to their ganged coun­ter­parts.

Kick­ing Sand

The EQ is a four-band model, and each band can be switched to ei­ther of the two sam­pled SSLs – A (4000) and B (5000) modes. In A mode, the Low and High bands are shelves, and the Low Mid and High Mid bands are bells with ad­justable Q. In B mode, the two Mid bands are also vari­able-Q bells, but the High and Low bands sweep smoothly from shelv­ing to bell-shaped as the Q knob is turned clock­wise. The 21 fixed fre­quen­cies of each band dif­fer be­tween A and B modes.

Sand’s low- and high-pass fil­ters oc­cupy their own pro­cess­ing block, rather than be­ing part of the EQ sec­tion, en­abling them to be po­si­tioned in­de­pen­dently in the sig­nal flow. Again, both SSLs have been sam­pled to cre­ate two modes, A (4000) rolling both fil­ters off at 12dB/oc­tave and B (5000) up­ping the high-pass to 18dB/oc­tave. In terms of range, the high-pass sweeps from 16-350Hz and the low-pass cov­ers 3-22kHz.

The Com­pres­sor also fea­tures two modes: mode A is the SSL 4000, while mode C is a cus­tomised al­ter­na­tive with an at­tack speed more com­pa­ra­ble to “some other fa­mil­iar soft­ware com­pres­sors”. Fur­ther be­havioural tweak­ing is on of­fer with the Shape Mod­u­la­tion (SHMOD) knob, which sweeps the at­tack re­sponse curve from ex­po­nen­tial to log­a­rith­mic – very use­ful in­deed. There’s also an ‘In­sane’ mode, which raises the over­sam­pling for greater ac­cu­racy at the ex­pense of CPU cy­cles.

Sand is an­other im­pres­sive achieve­ment by Acus­tica, bring­ing the sound and char­ac­ter of its sam­pled source hard­ware to the DAW in real style. The EQ is tight but mu­si­cal, while the com­pres­sor ab­so­lutely nails the trans­par­ent ‘glu­ing’ for which the SSL is known. The preamps are less pro­found in their im­pact, but cer­tainly make a dif­fer­ence when it comes to pro­cess­ing vo­cals in par­tic­u­lar.

As with all of Acus­tica’s con­vo­lu­tion-based plu­g­ins, the price you pay for such ex­cep­tional qual­ity is a hor­ri­bly laggy GUI (in terms of the time it takes for mov­ing a con­trol to have any au­di­ble ef­fect, and the low-fram­er­ate me­ter­ing) and very high CPU us­age. One an­noy­ance that can’t be blamed on the com­pu­ta­tional de­mands made by the core tech­nol­ogy, how­ever, is the de­tented knobs (com­pres­sor Ra­tio, At­tack and Re­lease, Con­trol rout­ing, etc) twist­ing smoothly then snap­ping to the near­est value when re­leased, rather than just step­ping be­tween val­ues. Ul­ti­mately, Sand and its com­po­nent mod­ules can be a pain to use, but, man, they sound in­cred­i­ble.

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