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SubLab From Future Audio Workshop Review at Audio Plugin Guy

A product from

APG Score - 4.7

  • Sound quality - 5/5
  • Ease of use - 4/5
  • Interface - 4/5
  • Presets - 5/5
  • Value for money - 5/5
  • Thicc bass - 5/5

Pros: 

  • Tons of sound-shaping possibilities
  • Great preset library
  • Colourful and informative visuals

Cons: 

  • Colourful and informative visuals
  • Will wreck your mix if you don’t know what you are doing
  • Your neighbours will wish you dead

Bass is always hard to get right. It’s also the fundamental of your mix. If it’s big and tight, the room goes bonkers. If it sucks, it knocks the whole track over. Thankfully, plug-ins like SubLab make it easier to tame the beast. Time to fire up the subwoofer…

Low-end theory

Bass-heavy electronic music asks a lot of you. Getting the woofers to pump involves careful layering, creative distortion, proper balance and tight dynamics. The amount of processing that goes into a professional-sounding low end can be overwhelming. The lack of adequate monitoring can make it even more intimidating. If you don’t have a reliable pair of headphones, at the very least, you are in for some frustrating guesswork.

On the other hand, there are hardly any secrets to the craft. Unlike Coca-Cola and Kentucky fried chicken, the recipes for bomb-sounding kicks and bass lines are all over the internet. Developer Future Audio Workshop took the key ingredients, refined them, and packaged them into a single plug-in that covers almost all your… well… basses.

Preparation

After auditioning some presets (they are gnarly!), you’ll turn your attention to the sound generator that’s split in three layers – synth, sample, and sub-bass. The synth layer combines a four-wave oscillator and ADSR envelope. The latter can modulate the volume, filter, and pitch controls. The synth layer is where you get some initial boom and snap happening before you enter the sample layer.

Here, you can choose from a collection of 250 drum machine samples or import your own. The samples are well curated and there’s a decent amount of controls – start, end, crossfade, fine-tune, basic lo/hi-cut – the stuff you’d find on any decent sampler, really. Of note is SubLab’s ability to detect the root note and octave of your sample – very handy. There are also keytrack and loop toggles.

The third layer is Future Audio Workshop’s proprietary sub-bass and harmonics generator: X-Sub. You can choose separate root notes for your sub-bass (30Hz – 65hz) and lower bass (65Hz – 260Hz) regions. You can also balance the levels of the sub-bass oscillator and the harmonics generated in the lower bass frequencies. The goal is to dial in a solid sub that you can not only feel, but is also audible on regular speakers thanks to the lower bass harmonics.

Blending

Following the sound generator, SubLab has a multimode filter and mixer section where you blend the ingredients. The filter has keytracking to let it get triggered from notes. It also has frequency, resonance, and send controls to dial in how much of the synth and sample layers you want filtered. Next to it is a simple three-channel mixer to blend between the three layers. Thankfully, Gordon Ramsay won’t be showing up to scream and cuss like an angry toddler if you go overboard with the sub or whatever. 

Seasoning

Like most meals, every respectable bass sound needs a bit of sauce to really shine. To that, SubLab offers distortion and compression. Frankly, that’s the best sauce for bass. The distortion module has four types of the stuff, each with Drive, Heat and Gain controls to dial in a proper sizzle. There are also send controls for the Synth and Sample layers, along with lo and hi-cut filters. This way, you can distort only a specific frequency range.

The compressor is a no-frills affair with threshold, ratio, gain, and release controls. The attack seems to be self-adjusting, which is fine. You don’t really want some complex compression curves here, just a good tight squeeze to get the bass nice and even. There is a sidechain input, however, where you can feed the synth and sample layers to change the compressor’s behaviour.

Baking and delivery

Your tasty, crunchy bass is pretty much baked at this point. But there are two more useful tools in the SubLab kitchen. The Master section has a great color-coded spectrum analyzer that lets you see which frequencies are occupied by three layers. The frequency spectrum is split between sub, main bass, and harmonics. If there are any nasty frequency clashes anywhere, you will spot them immediately. Finally, a basic loudness maximizer lets you bring the bass to proper volume. Simply adjust the threshold and watch the meter.

Review

SubLab’s simple controls and fantastic sound engine let you accomplish a lot with very little. It’s remarkably easy to get monster bass sounds out of it. You can layer them behind kick samples or straight-up use SubLab as a bass-centric synth for grizzly bass lines and leads. The plug-in is well-thought-out and quite capable. The layered workflow is ideal for modern music production. It’s the kind of tool many of your electronic music idols would have killed for back in the 90s and early 00s.

There are only two things I can think of that could make SubLab better. First, the sub-bass engine is powerful enough to warrant some more control over the oscillator and harmonics generator. Second, an LFO or two to get the synth and sample layers moving is a good thing to have, but it’s missing.

Summary

SubLab will lay the bass sauce thick onto any modern electronic and hip-hop production. It puts all the tools of the trade in one place for everyone to enjoy.

Read more of this review at Audio Plugin Guy

 

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