Monday, March 28, 2011

Review: The SFX Machine Pro

Every now and then you discover a tool that is so useful, easy to use and productive you wonder how you ever managed without it. And that’s exactly what happened when I tried out the SFX Machine Pro for the first time. As a sound designer I often have to work at speed, often just can’t get the ‘right’ sound or sometimes just can’t muster up enough creativity when the pressure of a job starts kicking in. And that’s exactly when the SFX Machine Pro came into its own! 
What is the SFX Machine Pro?
The SFX Machine Pro is a multi-effects plug-in offering all your traditional effects including reverbs, delays, chorus, flanger, pitch changers, filters, dynamics processing, ring modulation tremolo, vibrato and a whole lot more. But where the SFX Machine Pro is different from your normal multi-effects plug-in is that it operates much like a modular synthesizer, allowing flexible routing of modulation sources via an easy to use Preset Editor that turn a simple effect into a much more powerful and creative tool.

Getting Started
With its aesthetically pleasing design and simple layout, the user interface on the SFX Machine Pro requires no explanation. I was able to start using the plug-in instantly without the need for reading any documentation. Simply load up an audio file into your host software or on an available channel, load up the SFX Machine Pro and away you go!
To the left hand side of the plug-in window is a comprehensive bank of categories that include all the traditional effects and much more. Within each category are presets and a handy description of each show up on the bottom pane of the main window. 
Each preset contains a number of parameters that are easily controlled with a blue slider that turns yellow the more ‘depth’ it applies. As an example for this review, I am taking a look at the ‘Feedback’ category. Selecting the ‘Echo/Feedback 1’ preset and am presented with 7 parameters to play with:
1. Echo Time
2. Low Pass Frequency
3. Feedback
4. Filter LFO
5. Filter Modulation Depth
6. Wet Mix
7. Dry Mix
With clear minimum and maximum value displays and parameter names, the interface is clearly thought out and makes working with the presets a pleasure. But don’t be fooled by the simple design and layout.

The Preset Editor
Although the sound produced by each preset is incredibly high quality and interesting, the SFX Machine Pro doesn’t stop there. Clicking on the ‘Preset Editor’ button at the top of the interface screen and you’ll be at the helm of the amazingly flexible yet simple modulation control and routing system for each preset. Up to 8 modules are available and each preset will already be utilising some or all of them. To the novice, this may be a little daunting but each module is identical so once you’ve learnt one, you’ve mastered them all. Essentially, each module consists of; a source signal, digital signal processor (DSP), modulation block (with 2 modulation routers) and output.

The source signal can either be set as the audio loaded into your host software or one of the built in waveform generators. This signal is then passed to the DSP and is modified or analyzed using filters, envelopes, pitch analysis and more. Once the signal has been ‘shaped’ the modulation block then allows the signal to be routed to another of the 8 modules and act as the modulation source of that modules signal. The output for each module can be activated or deactivated thus turning a module into just a modulator, carrier or both. With the ability to send and receive modulation via the 8 modules, this is a very powerful system.

Also in the Preset Editor a ‘Tempo Sync’ button that allows the low frequency oscillators and delay lines to be synchronized to your host software’s tempo (most useful if you’re using a sequencer).
Another very useful feature is the ability to link the sliders on the main preset window, to multiple entry fields within the preset editor. Setting this is simply done via an ‘Edit Parameter’ button located in the Preset Editor itself and pressing this shows the slider that is assigned to each module’s controls. This hugely opens up the possibilities of the SFX Machine Pro and allows a much greater degree of control and flexibility. 

The ‘Random’ button makes random changes to all parameters within a preset and can be very useful if your experimenting with a sound or aren’t 100% sure what sound your trying to create.

In a Nutshell
The SFX Machine Pro is feature rich and in all honesty, I could go on writing about it all day and night. As a sound design tool it has proven to be indispensable and gets used on a daily basis. Its interface is clean, good looking and easy to use and the documentation online is well written and worth a look through. I was running the SFX Machine Pro on an Apple Mac 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB of DDR 3 Ram in Bias Peak and didn’t run into any problems with performance.
The SFX Machine Pro comes in VST, AU or RTAS versions and with a price tag of just £124, it’s a worthy investment. 

There is a free demo of The SFX Machine Pro that can be downloaded here

Full system requirements can be found here.

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