As I perpetually fight temptation to buy all kinds of software and hardware I really don’t need, I’ve found that one avenue for sating that particular urge is exploring software that generous people have been so kind to release on the internet for free.
A while back, I encountered a particularly prolific example of this: Chris Johnson of Airwindows, who has been releasing his catalog of interesting and often very quirky plugins for free with Patreon support. I believe I was first introduced to Airwindows in this post on The REAPER blog, if I’m not mistaken.
Airwindows plugins are a bit unique in that they don’t really have GUI designs as such, just sliders, some numbers. No meters or visualizations. No knobs. Indeed, some have no controls at all. Being a regular user of various ReaPlugs effects plugins, I’ve never been terribly attached to nice graphic design in audio plugins anyway. The sound is what is most important, and these plugins sound very good.
As I think a lot of Airwindows users (and Chris himself) are mostly focused on applications for music mixing and mastering (like the post above), I thought I would cover a few plugins that I’ve found very useful specifically for sound design.
ADClip is a clipper and loudness maximizer. Pushing it hard works particularly well on impacts and really any atonal sound with sharp transients, but it can be very transparent on a more complex mix as well with more conservative settings. If you want something to be loud and punchy, this will do that.
It also features 3 different modes that allow you to really dial in exactly the desirable balance of loudness and distortion, and get a good sense of what the Boost, Soften, and Enhance controls are really doing.
Normal is the normal clipped output you would expect.
The Attenuated mode matches the output gain to the input gain and allows you to listen to the results without the increased loudness color your perception of the results.
Clip Only mode allows you to hear, well, only the clips. This allows you to get a very clear sense of the artifacts the clipping is introducing to your sound.
FathomFive is a powerful bass enhancer which generates a “controllable tape-like fullness and bass depth.” It features quite a few controls that allow you to really dial in an organic low-end presence to a specific sound or a full mix.
I’ve found it very useful for adding a bit more low end to sounds that might lack it or making up for other effects that might eat up the bass frequencies.
Point is a unique little transient designer and, really, you can never have too many of those. It only has 3 controls Input Trim, Point, and Reaction.
Unlike a lot of other transient designers, it doesn’t quite operate with straightforward Attack and Sustain controls. Instead, you have Point, which is roughly equivalent to attack, ranging from -1.0 to 1.0 (don’t set it to 1.0 unless you are prepared for it to get REALLY loud).
Where it gets interesting is with Reaction, which as far as I understand it determines where in your transients the Point effect engages. You can get extremely precise with this and find some very small windows with unexpected, but very interesting results.
Voice of the Starship is a simple plugin with two controls for generating and filtering a wide range of algorithmic noise, that I’ve found to have very pleasing sonic characteristics. This could be used on its own for subtle ambience (such as starship engine rumble) or as a sound source at the beginning of a more complex effects chain.
StarChild is a very unusual delay/ambience effect with a distinctly and intentionally unnatural character. It’s unique and fun to use. Apparently inspired by the Ursa Major Space Station, this plugin doesn’t really try to create a sense of organic space, instead creating a weirdly tonal, lo-fi, otherworldly kind of sound.
Turn the Sustain up for something resembling a reverb effect, keep it low for a fast stereo delay.
The Grain control is interesting, and not really explained, but values below 0.5 result in a bit-crusher-like grit and choppiness to the sound, while values closer to 1.0 sound are much smoother.
That’s not all
This is really only a very small selection interesting Airwindows plugins I’ve used, and Chris has released dozens of useful and often very unique plugins, including a wide selection of tape, saturation, and analogue emulations.
There’s a lot to like over at Airwindows.