NATIVE INSTRUMENTS CRUSH PACK
The follow-up to Mod Pack puts a bargain-basement price tag on a trio of powerful, characterful distortion plugins
Adhering to the stylistic template set by their excellent Mod Pack (10/10, 256), NI’s Crush Pack comprises three circuit-modelled distortion plugins (VST/AU/AAX), designed with musicality and immediacy at the top of the agenda. Let’s dive straight in…
Dig the Dirt
The most ‘general purpose’ distortion in the Pack, Dirt is a stompbox-style effect modelling a pair of diode clipping stages: A and B. These can be routed in series in either direction (A to B, or B to A), or parallel, whereupon the dry/wet Mix knob becomes a Blend control, mixing the A/B outputs to taste. Each stage has its own input Drive control, with output gain compensation active by default but defeatable if required, and can be set to one of three increasingly heavy distortion modes. The Amount control dials in saturation for the first half of its travel, then begins to fold the waveform back on itself for the second half, dramatically increasing crunch; and the Bias and Tilt knobs work in harmonicsboosting asymmetry and see-saw equalisation (high cut/low boost or low cut/high boost).
Dirt’s polychromatic dual-stage architecture and earthy analogue sound make it particularly well suited to warming up or brutalising bass and guitar, gluing drum busses and heating up vocals. It’s also fiendishly effective on synths and drum machines, delivering everything from presence-enhancing bite at low levels to screaming serration when pushed into the wavefolding range.
Bite the dust
Bite serves up digital distortion to emulate the ever-in-vogue sound of vintage hardware samplers by the likes of Akai, E-MU et al. What that means in practical terms is bit depth and sample rate reduction, the first accessible on the left-hand side of the interface, the second on the right. The big, self-explanatory kHz and Bits spinners roll down from 44.1kHz and 16-bit to 100Hz and 2-bit, but there’s more to this filthy device than just that, of course.
The Jitter parameter randomly fluctuates the sample rate around the specified value independently for the left and right channels, not only messing up the signal quite delightfully but also widening it. The Pre and Post low-pass filters do away with aliasing by sitting at the Nyquist frequency (half the sample rate) at their
“Everything from bite at low levels to screaming serration in the wavefolding range”
centre detents, but can also introduce it for creative purposes when twisted clockwise.
Over on the right, the DC function prevents bit depth quantisation to zero, smoothing (for want of a better word!) the sound out to some extent; and Crunch attenuates the input level, thus reducing the quantisation range, for continuous resolution changes without stepping. Dither and Expand, meanwhile, add stereo noise and adjust the bias of quantisation resolution towards low-level signals, ultimately turning them into square waves for a less detailed, ‘nastier’ sound.
Lastly, the Saturation knob applies gaincompensated analogue-style distortion; the HP filter cuts the output off at 5, 100 or 200Hz for low-end control; and the dry/wet Mix knob enables parallel processing, which this fantastic sound design tool would be far less practical without. Again, it’s the scope and versatility of Bite that sets it apart from other, similar plugins: whether you just want to infuse a beat with a touch of old-school hip-hop flavour or shoot for full-on chiptune digitalia, it walks the spectrum.
Modelling a diode ring circuit, Freak offers three fundamental modes of operation – Oscillator, Radio and Sidechain (the last two are discussed in Radio star) – each one changing the functions of the three contextual knobs on the left. For all modes, the Type knob morphs the modulation style smoothly from Amplitude through Ring to Frequency shifting. Amplitude modulation involves wobbling of the volume level, for tremolo effects at low frequencies and the generation of audible ‘metallic’ sidebands at high frequencies. Ring modulation is similar, but replaces the input with sidebands rather than adding them to it. Frequency shifting is rather different, offsetting the frequency content of the input signal in linear fashion – a bit like pitchshifting in that it makes the whole sound go ‘higher’ and ‘lower’, but far more destructive, colourful and creative, as the relative spacing of frequencies isn’t maintained.
In Oscillator mode, modulation for the Amp and Ring Types is controlled by a sine wave running at up to 5kHz (positive or negative), the speed determining the frequencies of the sidebands. With the Frequency shifter Type, Freq sets the amount by which the input signal is shifted in Hz/kHz. For an increase in perceived stereo width, the bipolar Stereo knob dials in phase offset between the modulation of the left and right channels; while the Antifold knob thins out the distortion by preventing sidebands from folding over at 0Hz.
Common to all three modes, the Feedback and Harmonics knobs route the output back into the input, and add even harmonics. Feedback is particularly useful for emphasising phasing treatments, creating the ‘barber pole effect’ with low-speed frequency shifting, and various other kinds of transformations.
A rich source of inharmonic noises, sci-fi burbles, detuned sweeps, crazy frequency wanderings and so much more, for us, Freak is the jewel in the Crush Pack crown. That’s not to say that its stablemates are in any way ‘lesser’, though – all three of these stellar soundmangling plugins sound wicked.
Dirt and Bite would benefit from the addition of an envelope follower or two, but at this price, we really can’t complain, to be honest. Go get ’em now.
“Infuse a beat with oldschool hip-hop flavour or shoot for full-on chiptune digitalia”
DRIVE Boost the input into each of Dirt’s saturation stages AMOUNT Push the distortion from saturation into wavefolding BIAS AND TILT Boost harmonics and filter the distortion A/B ROUTING Set up serial or parallel routing for the two stages MOD TYPE Morph between three amplitude modulation styles MODE CONTROLS These three knobs change function depending on mode FREAK MODES Choose Oscillator, Sidechain or the wacky Radio FEEDBACK Send the output back to the input for various effects
SAMPLE RATE Reduce the sample frequency from 44.1kHz to 100Hz JITTER Independent stereo fluctuation of the sample rate FILTERS Counter HF aliasing – or make a feature of it! BIT DEPTH Drop the quality all the way down from 16-bit to 2-bit
Each of the three Crush Pack plugins comes with an extensive array of task-specific presets