Slate Digital Virtual Console Collection Review
Company: Slate Digital
Plenty of software manufacturers have released products claiming to add the magical “glue” or “intangible qualities” of hardware to a digital mix. So many plugins are built around the idea of removing digital “harshness” from in-the-box mixes and adding analog warmth – for instance tape and tube emulators, saturation plugins and mix bus compressors – but fail to truly deliver on that promise. Slate Digital’s team has gone to great lengths to recreate the vibe and nonlinear qualities that some of the best hardware consoles have to offer, and they’ve succeeded without making any compromises. Their creation, the Virtual Console Collection, adds that special something without utilizing CPU-intensive processes – allowing it to be used on every track of a mix without computers bursting into flames.
To be clear, the Virtual Console Collection is not a magic plugin – you need to know how to mix and have well-recorded tracks to begin with. But the pros love to mix through hardware consoles, despite the fact that it’s much more of a hassle than simply mixing in the box, because of the intangible qualities it adds to a mix – fatter low-end, a more three-dimensional sound, and a glue that just ties everything together well. Analog summing produces nonlinearities such as noise, component saturation and harmonic distortion that our ears find sonically pleasing and that digital summing doesn’t reproduce. While the emulations in the Virtual Console Collection won’t make or break your mixes, they can add a subtle punch and glue that wasn’t there before.
The plugin works a bit differently that most other audio software – you instantiate it on every single track of your mix from the outset and mix into it. The VCC Channel plugin goes on every individual element of the mix, because each track’s varying dynamics and volume will drive the virtual consoles differently. Then you drop the VCC MixBuss on the master fader, which can be grouped to the same console emulation as the individual tracks or something different entirely to create a completely unique sound. There are two knobs – the input knob essentially acts as a trim plugin, affecting the volume of the track, while the drive knob is linked across all of the VCC Channel instantiations. Drive affects how much of the console saturation effect is audible, but doesn’t affect the volume in any way.
There are five virtual consoles here, each with their own unique sonic qualities. The Brit-N, which is modeled after a Neve desk, adds weight to the low-end of the bass and kick drums, while tightening up the sound of the guitars a bit. The Trident model greatly affects the top end, and the most noticeable differences in sound will come from switching between these two consoles. The others, modeled after an API, SSL and a 1950s tube broadcast console, all affect the mix in a different way, and it will take some time to figure out which console works best in each mix. Grouping certain elements, such as the drums, vocals and guitars, and using different consoles for each allows for a more precise control with the overall sound. On the downside, adding VCC to every individual track can take some time when setting up a project, and every track needs to be renamed within the plugin, unless you’re fine working with ‘Track 1’, ‘Buss 2’, etc.
Slate Digital’s Virtual Console Collection adds depth, warmth and life to digital recordings, and mixing becomes easier when you mix through VCC from the outset. It’s easy to set up groups that can then be independently controlled, and the plugin isn’t overly taxing on the CPU. While it won’t make a bad mix sound good, it can make a good mix sound great – and I’ll definitely be using the Virtual Console Collection on every one of my mixes from now on.