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Sugar Bytes WOW

Jan 11, 2008 - by sleepless
Even if Sugar Bytes hasn't a long history in audio software, the company has made its mark with a few products, such as Artillery, the Effect Keyboard (effects are triggered by MIDI notes) or Unique, a virtual analog synth, which includes a very efficient Vowel Filter, allowing to apply vowel formants, modulate them, "morph" from one to another, etc.

Sugar Bytes new product is WOW, a multimode resonant filter with a difference, its Vowel Mode, which seems to become the editor's trademark. Clever modulation capabilities are included. Let's see what we've got there.
Introducing WOW
    WOW is available for Windows and MacOS X in VST and AU formats, and can be downloaded from the editor web site. A serial number is required for installation, which is a no-hassle process.

    Review specs
    Sugar Bytes WOW 1.0.1 (Sugar Bytes)

    Mac PPC G5 2 x 2 GHz
    OS 10.5.1
    4 GB RAM
    Logic Pro 8.0.1
    RME HDSP Multiface

    The user interface is clean and lays out information in easy to read way, making it easy to understand and use, and is divided in four parts. On the top, a drop down menu gives you access to the presets, and you'll find two buttons, one for an info screen, the other for the Bypass. On the bottom is the Master section: a Mix parameter controls the relative levels of the wet signal and the dry signal, so you could use it anywhere (as an insert or on a Bus), and a Master parameter adjusts the final level, useful in case of extreme settings.

    A little screen, Scope, monitors the audio waveform in order to see how loud the signal is. This is not a precision tool, but it may help to avoid distortion.
    One thing to be aware of is that only the Bypass will give you total sonic transparency. The plug slightly colours the sound (not a problem in itself), even with neutral settings. The reason is that the Cut Off doesn't cover the entire frequency range of human hearing (from 20 Hz to 20 kHz), but only from 44 Hz to 16 kHz. If you don't bypass the plug, it will always cut some low or high frequencies.

    In the middle of the interface, you'll find WOW's most important sections: the Filter section and the Modulation section.
Choose a filter
    As it's a multimode filter, WOW offers 10 filter types : Low, High and Band Pass, 2nd or 4th order (12 or 24 dB/oct), Comb Filter (ideal for flanger or chorus effects, and is very good when used with high resonance), Band Reject (cut a band of frequencies around the Cutoff Frequency and creates two peaks when you use high resonance), Band Crusher (blend of a bandpass filter and a samplerate converter working at the same frequency) and LF Crusher (same as Band Crusher with a LP filter).
    This is a whole battery of filtering tools, including classic filter topologies but also very original design, such as the LP and Band Crusher.
    Then you'll find a Resonance parameter and a nice pre-filter Overdrive, which seems to become usual on nowadays filters. The resonance isn't the most aggressive I've ever heard, but it can produce nice sounds, sometimes close to auto-oscillation sinus or, conversely, with a lot of textures. There's a last parameter in this section, the Vowel Mode on/off. We'll talk about it later.
    Filtering is nice. Automated filtering or "moving" filtering are better. That's why Sugar Bytes has included three modulators (and a control screen): an Envelope Follower, A LFO and a Step Sequencer.

    The first parameter is Freq Range, which sets the frequency range of a band-pass filter included in the sidechain circuit (from 46 to 7244 Hz, off when full left). The Env Follower will extract amplitude information from this range of frequencies, this information being send to any WOW parameter, making it able to follow a precise instrument or event. Attack and Release control the rising (up to 1,15s) and falling (up to 2s) time of the detected signal. Gain will adjust the level (from -160 to 6dB).

    The first LFO control is Rate (from 4/1 to 1/128T). This choice to parameter the LFO by time divisions rather than by hertz guarantees sweeping effects to always occur in sync. There's no free run mode, but the large choice of divisions and a random wave should do the job. Regarding waveforms, all classics are there: Sine, Saw, Pulse, Triangle and Random.
    There's a bug: the wave name doesn't always match with the waveform in the control screen (which shows the good waveform). Sugar Bytes has been informed about that, and is already working on the fix. That's what I call tech support.
    LFO can be retriggered, thanks to AutoTrig function. You can set the threshold with Sens while monitoring the correct setting with the Trigger red light. Thus you're sure that the LFO will react the same way on a recurring event.

    The last modulator of this complete section is a Step Sequencer with 8 steps. You'll find the same Rate as in the LFO, a Smooth parameter that modify the square period to a triangle and Style, where you choose the reading direction (forward, backward, back and forth). You simply draw the steps curve with the mouse, it's that easy.

    To map a Modulator to a parameter, just make a right-click (or a ctrl+clic) on a button. This will open a Modulation Mixer window (each parameter has its own). There you'll set the positive or negative rate for each Modulator. Very powerful, bravo!

    And that's not all: each parameter of a Modulator can as well be modulate. So you can imagine the Env Follower Freq Range being modulated by LFO or Step Sequencer, while the LFO's Rate is modulated by Env Follower. A Reset All button set all modulations to zero (but not the modulator parameters).
    If internal modulations aren't enough for you, all parameters (except Bypass) are automatable. Endless creative possibilities...
A mode to follow
    Last but not least, the Vowel Mode. When it is activated, two new parameters appear and the text around the Cut Off knob changes. Vowel A and Vowel B allow to load, for each, one among nine vowels (U, O, A:, A, , , , E and I), and the Cut Off knob will set the balance between the two vowels.
    The filter will accentuate vowels formants, so the best results are achevied with high resonance and the following topologies : Band Pass (for nice talkbox effects), Comb and Band Reject, the latter being certainly the most spectacular if it is properly set. However, you may want to experiment, and try combinations with other filter types.
    The Vowel Mode is really WOW strong point, and used in conjonction with all modulation capabilities, it allows you to make all kind of sounds, from soft and musical filtering to extreme FX. In this respect, the 39 presets perfectly show the plug-in's potential.
Listening session
    Rather than describe the sonic capabilities of WOW, let's listen to some audio examples. I've used a drum pattern (all drum parts send to a Bus, WOW on this Bus), a synth bass line, kind of a "vocalish" lead and a pad with lot of moving elements.

    This is Band Reject filter in Vowel Mode, modulation between A and E being controlled by the Env Follower set to react to the snare.

    This is LF Crusher filter in Vowel Mode, modulation between A et I being done by LFO with Random waveform.

    This example uses the 24dB HighPass filter. Env Follower modulates Cut Off and Overdrive. Resonance is set to 100%.

    The Comb Filter in action : its Cut Off is modulated by the Env Follower, while the latter's Freq Range is modulated by LFO.

    24dB LowPass in Vowel Mode. The Step Sequencer quickly but softly modulates mix between A and U. Overdrive and Resonance are set to 100%.

    24dB LowPass 24 dB in Vowel Mode again, with mix between A and I being at 50/50. No modulation, Overdrive and Resonance set to 100%.

    This is an harmonized lead, coming from an already recorded sessions. I don't want to record it again, just enhance the "vocal" timbral quality of the harmonies.

    Here is the result, with an emphasize on the A vowel.

    A complex pad, no WOW.

    The same pad, once "WOWized". The LFO modulates the Cut Off during two measures, in order to sweep the entire range of the Band Reject filter. Trigger is on, set to make the LFO restart on low F notes coming on the 1st and 3rd beats of measures 1 and 3. The Env Follower modulates the Overdrive, making it more active on the sustained notes.
In conclusion
    First of all, WOW is a very good "classic" filter, with obvious sonic qualities. However, even if LF and Band Crusher modes are unusual (and very good sounding), its Vowel Mode and modulation capabilities make the difference. Of course, you may reproduce vowel resonators and other timbral characteristics with parallel filters and others plugs, but why would you want to loose your time when everything is already in WOW ? Not to mention its easiness, when you compare it to frequently over complicated plugs that make you loose your first idea: filter a sound.
    If "vocal" filtering effects are what you're looking for, and if you want an easy to use, versatile and modulation capable filter, at such a price (99$/79€), well, just say: WOW, I've found it !


    WOW is a Sugar Bytes product
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