Review of Sidsonic Tubes! Tubes is a sample library specially designed for sounds passing of old dusty vacuum tubes. As with all products Sidsonic - Tubes is not for the person who enjoys tubification in small, well constrained, amounts. Ass-Blasters set to burn!
Tubes, tubes, tubes. They are all the rage and fashion and have been popping up in all kinds of instruments, mixers and pedals, but also in quite unexpected gear, such as the 2002 Aopen PC mainboard with a built-in russian-made tube to ensure your pleasure while listening to Gorillaz.
It's all - of course - about distortion.
As with recording to magnetic tape, distorting a tube doesn't clip in the nasty way it does with a/d converters and transistors. The headroom brings something extra. You've all heard about the wonders and magic about TUBE SOUND that brings WARMTH to your mixes. If I sound less than convinced - let me explain my cynicism here. When I read about some hot-shot dance producer talk themselves wet over the WARM sound of their latest gear, I get so tired I cannot finish reading. You wanna hear the truth? You damn morons hear what you want to hear. Period.
Get me right here. I'm not saying it doesn't bring warmth or does work. Oh my, it does. But as tubes bring a seductive glow to your studio, as a girl get an expensive cream packaged in a beautiful box. We expect it to work miracles - and so it does.
In all fairness, I need to stress than I've come to enjoy digital distortion as much as overdriven tapes and tubes. Yes, now I've said it. I'm out of the closet. I am a heretic and I'll probably burn when the time comes, but there you have it. I like digital distortion. Bit crunchers and sample rate munchers - all cool. But I damn LOVE pushing things into the red with any of my daws and pushing the a/d converters of my samplers. Captain Crunch says Oh Sweet Mama. Need some Hank Williams to cool down.
While tube distortion are on the other side of the destruction coin, and while gentle tubification can give a nice fuzzy coating to your digital recordings, as with digital distortion, the really fun stuff begins when you push it.
Say hello to Sidsonic Tubes.
Sidsonic is a group of german enthusiasts and samplists that were behind the Circus Circuit Bending library for Kontakt. In their follow-up library - Tubes! - they explore the world of vacuum tubes according to Eric Barbour. Eric Barbour is a name that will be mentioned a couple of times during this review, so it's a good idea to introduce him right away. Without knowing the man, you can confidently put him in the box labeled Odd. In five foot letters.
Eric Barbour runs a company called Metasonix which specializes in music instruments and effects that are built around tubes. Stomp boxes, multi effects, synthesizers and drum machines. All with tubes in them.
Some people consider Metasonix stuff to be gimmicky, one-trick ponies that serve little purpose than empowering the myth about Eric Barbour, and his wild experiments. While I personally cannot shake the feeling he craves attention, product titles such as Ass-Blaster, Butt Probe and Scrotum Smasher comes to mind - with some agonizing cartoons on the casings - but why bother to care? Every good producer of anything knows that a well designed product is something you can distinctly separate from others and you can also tell when it's being used. Metasonix succeeds with fulfilling both of these criterias so from the Mighty Plughugger HQ we salute you. Blast your way into eternity, friend.
Sidsonic Tubes! is a collection of sound sources that have been treated with a handful of the Metasonix Apparatus. All the way from analog modular synthesizers, via digital synthesizers, to software.
Sidsonic Tubes! by the numbers
Acoustic like: 8
Total number of sounds: 131
Total size: 16,3 gigabyte.
The box (yes yes, box!) is grey and constructed in a folder-like manner. Although not as strikingly cool as the box for Circus Circuit, it's a well-made package.
As with Circus Circuit, there is a 36-page booklet partly describing the instrument itself, plus some history of vacuum tubes - all the way from Edison inventing the lightbulb to the nasty perversions of Eric Barbour/Metasonix. All of this makes some seriously interesting read - even the part where the technical minds of Sidsonic explains how tubes actually work.
But let's not waste any more time - and let's dive right into the distorted world of vacuum tubes.
Tubes! is an instrument built upon Native Instruments Kontakt engine. All the pre-made sounds are divided into six categories; ACOUSTIC LIKE, BASS, FX, LEAD, PAD and SYNTH. As often with categories, they shouldn't be taken too strictly. In the right context, a sound from the PAD category will work excellent as a bass.
While Kontakt is far from a favorite of mine, I think Sidsonic have done as well as they can. My personal single biggest issue with Kontakt is that it's too damn big for handle. It's like that Carbon ensemble for Reaktor - fantastic. Just too damn many parameters anyone less that a parameter freak can handle. Why is that the Minimoog is still one of the coolest synths ever made? Or OSCar/ImpOSCar? Complexity is rarely a good thing while being creative. Thankfully, you are not forced to wade through all the endless menus of Kontakt just to be able to adjust the envelopes a bit - most of the most important parameters are accessible from the front end of the library.
Without going too much into technicalities, but there are five tabs of parameters: main, insert fx, send fx, envelopes and lfos. Main is where you adjust the filters (there are two of them), speed and grain (more about them further on). Insert fx offers a more distortion in form of a cabinet and amplifier, rotator (leslie) and a stereo modeller. Send fx is where you find classic modulation effects, such as phaser/flanger, chorus and delay. The envelopes and lfos can control volume, tune, the cutoff for filters one and two, plus resonance).
Kontakt is no favorite of mine.
Apart from the normal subtractive sound shaping you can do - filtering, envelopes, lfos etc. The two more interesting features is the playback speed/grains and the cabinet/amp. As you might have guessed, the playback speed/grains is a way to change the speed of the actual sample - granular synthesis. It's a way to radically change the character of the sound - quickly. The cabinet/amplifier serves as a last final stage of distorting. I must say that I enjoyed the sound of the cabinets here - they work very well together with these sounds, and the leslie adds a very nice touch.
Although I really really don't want to go there, spreading my own incompetence by dropping catchy adjectives, but I sort of can't avoid it. If I were to describe the sound of Tubes! it would be if you would imagine a hellfire-digital-distorted drum'n bass bass, not sounding that damn digital, but rather analogue. Warm and a bit organic - but very very nasty.
Even though you can use this library for anything - I would say this goes perfect with techno, modern electro, minimalistic styles and for those moments when you need to scare the hell out of your audience or grab them by the proverbial balls. It's excellent for movies where a humongous lizard-godzilla-thingy emerges from the fog.
After playing around with just a four-note sequence in Numerology - it immediately became nasty techno, french style. Something that definitely would please Mr Oizo. There are quite a few Chemical Brothers moments in here as well.
But it's not all instant coolness - you do have to shape the sounds a bit, which leads me to my second criticism of Tubes! I do wish for a bunch of more refined sounds. I get the feeling that Sidsonic basically have sampled a good source of sound, then setting it up in a fairly general setting, then moving on to the next - with basically the same methodology. Being a not too mediocre sound designer myself, I tend to notice things like that. It's not a major criticism, but still. I would love to hear what emerging sound designers such as Rob Lee and Xenos, or for that matter Ben Crossland or BigTone.
Before signing off, I'd also like to point out that the library also comes with a couple of short videos that guides you through the elemental parts of Tubes! There's also one quite entertaining animation well worth checking out.
As with Circus Circuit, Tubes! is not suited for everyone. Even though it's been sampled and set up in the most accurate of fashions - it's not a calm, well-behaved shiny rainbow-pony we're dealing with. It's unruly, mental, odd, unpolished, dirty and absolutely nothing you would add as a last ingredient to a finished upbeat trance mix. That would be like cutting up slices of cake with a chainsaw. These sounds demands a lots in terms of energy and space in a mix - which is a good thing. Lovely sounds with serious character. My only major complaint does not lie with the content, but rather of the vessel, Kontakt. But apart from that - it's a fantastic library that shouldn't be missed.
Sidsonic Libraries Tubes!
Price: 189 euro.
Good: unique sound, unique sound, unique sound.
Bad: Could have done with more designed sounds. Uses Kontakt as the engine.
Review copy: a huge thanks to Sidsonic for NFR review copy.