|While Nomad Factory may be newcomers to the audio software market, founder Bernie Torelli has been perfecting his craft as an engineer, arranger and producer for some years now. Along the way he's also managed to train himself in C++ programming, and the new Nomad Factory VST effects bundles have come about as a result of him combining his interests. The Blue Tubes Bundle comprises six VST plug-ins (actually 12, since each one is provided in a mono and a stereo version), designed to cover a range of everyday studio tasks.
The first observation that must be made is that all six of these plug-ins look absolutely fantastic. This shouldn't really matter, of course — but there's no denying that a good-looking, approachable user interface is a bonus, particularly for 'utility' plug-ins like these which are likely to get a lot of use. The design is not only superficially attractive, either: three of the six feature excellent, large 'VU meter' displays, which provide useful, intuitive feedback about what the plug-in is actually doing to your signals.
What matters most, however, is the sound — and to my ears, the Blue Tubes Bundle sounds every bit as good as it looks. All the plug-ins seem to share a common characteristic, in that they colour the sound very slightly, but in a very pleasing way. It's quite difficult to pin down, other than to say that they tend towards warmth, adding a nice sparkle without any unwanted fuzz.
CH2S provides chorus and flanger effects that are lively without being overpowering, and even with the feedback control at maximum it still produces sounds that could be useful in a mix. The low and high Frequency controls provide an easy way to cut and boost the output and ensure that the effect sits where you want it to, without spilling out of control.
CP2S is a good all-round compressor, and very easy to use. There are Threshold, Ratio, Attack and Time Constant controls, as well as Low, Med and High switches affecting the 'severity' of the effect. A simple Volume control is the only other parameter. The output of CP2S can range from the very subtle to the very extreme, and watching the VU meter makes it easy to fine-tune the effect at the more subtle settings. The LM2S limiter is even more straightforward, offering just two knobs, marked Gain and Peak Reduction, and two switches for Attack and Release (each with three possible settings; '5', '8' and '10'). For all its simplicity, LM2S can be very effective, and its one and only preset ('Mix Limiter') is subtle enough that a whole mix can be passed through it without the result sounding unnatural. It can really bring a satisfying loudness and presence to a song.
The DR2S preamp simulator is the most 'confrontational' of the Blue Tubes plug-ins, and at its extreme settings can create some excellent overdriven distortion sounds. The high and low-pass filter controls can be used to either soften the high end when things are getting harsh, or roll off the bottom to create tinny gramophone and wireless effects. There's also a built-in noise gate, which is very useful for keeping the mayhem under control.
PEQ2A is the first of two EQs on offer, and offers the most flexibility. There are three EQ bands: low shelf (switchable between 20, 30, 60 and 100 Hz), mid-band (switchable between 0.5, 1.2 and 1.6 kHz) and high shelf (switchable between 4, 5, 8, 10 and 12 kHz). Each band can be switched in or out independently, and can be either cut or boosted. PEQ2B is a slightly simpler two-band EQ with a low-frequency section switchable between 20, 30, 60 and 100 Hz and a high-frequency section offering a choice of 4, 5, 8, 10 or 12 kHz. Unlike PEQ2A, there is no cut available; there are only boost and boost-'attenuation' controls for each of the two bands. There's also a bandwidth (Q) control, calibrated from 0 to 10 ('Sharp' to 'Broad').
Both EQs share a very similar sound: bright without being overbearing, and generally very easy on the ears. Neither is suitable for precise 'surgical' alterations, but that really isn't the point. Both PEQ2A and PEQ2B allow you to quickly tweak sounds to fit your mix, simply and without any fuss.
I have to say that I'm very impressed with the Blue Tubes Bundle. In the few weeks I've been using them, I've rapidly become an addict. I love the sound, I appreciate the minimal CPU load, and the simple, uncluttered user interfaces are a breath of fresh air. However, it's probably fair to say that these plug-ins won't appeal to everybody. Their simplicity means that they aren't the most flexible tools in the world, and they certainly aren't 'transparent' in the way that some effects try to be. Instead they impart a characteristic 'musical' warmth to your recordings, and allow you to make simple alterations to the character of the sound. If this sounds like something you'd enjoy, I'd highly recommend downloading the demo versions and taking them for a test drive.