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Analog Warmth from ColorTone

Impulse-based audio plugin comes in two versions -- one for free! By Frank Moldstad

They say the best things in life are free. But when it comes to professional audio software, you dont necessarily want something just because its free. Free and good, now thats another story -- and thats exactly what TriTone Digitals ColorTone-Free plugin is (right up there on my shelf of honored free plugins with SSLs LMC-1 compressor).

In fact, I liked ColorTone-Free so much that I bought the upgrade, ColorTone-Pro ($129 USD), which has far more extensive parameters. So this review will cover both ColorTone-Free and ColorTone-Pro. That way, youll know what youre getting with the free version, and what you could get with the upgrade.

ColorTone is available in VST, RTAS and AU plugin formats for Mac OS X and Windows XP. The Windows versions were just released, while the Mac versions have been available for about six months.

Using convolution and ?various proprietary non-linear processes, both ColorTone-Free and ColorTone-Pro add analog-style coloration to a signal via impulse captures of some classic analog hardware devices. These include original versions of EQs and compressors that are no longer made (although some have been reintroduced), such as the Teletronix LA-2A and LA-3A compressor/limiters, Drawmer's 1960 compressor, and the TAB V76 mic preamp. There are also impulse captures of an SSL EQ and a Fairchild 670 compressor.

ColorTone-Free running as AU plugin on a Mac
All of those impulses are included in both versions of the plugin, but as you would expect, ColorTone-Pro has a far deeper selection 29 in all,  compared to 10 for ColorTone-Free. Among the additional impulses in ColorTone-Pro are 15ps and 30ps analog tape machines, and a number of settings bearing vague clues to their origin, such as SpaceyTape (Roland Space Echo?) and FF8 (Focusrite RED 8?).

But the real fun of ColorTone is finding different tonal colorations by adjusting the intensity and harmonics of the presets. Theres a virtual fader called Color in both versions of the plugin that increases the intensity of the selected impulse. ColorTone-Pro adds a Warmth fader, which introduces rich harmonics the farther up you slide it. Manipulating the Color and Warmth faders presents many different colors within the same impulse. ColorTone-Pro also provides a Blend mode for adjusting the wet/dry ratio, which can produce some interesting results. When the wet signal is lower than the dry signal, ColorTone-Pro functions as a compressor, but when the wet signal is higher it becomes  an expander. A graph at the top of the interface reflects the changes made to the frequency curve with the wet/dry trim knob and the Warmth fader.

ColorTone-Pro has two other major talents the ability to load impulses, and the ability to create impulse files of the users own hardware units. A chapter of the downloadable manual called ?Sampling Your Own Equipment lays out the procedure for producing impulse samples in three basic steps. There are four source impulse files included with ColorTone-Pro, for 44.1k, 48k, 88.2k and 96k sampling. After choosing the appropriate one, you load it into a DAW program, and play it back through the external hardware that you want to sample while recording the resulting impulse back into the DAW program. Then you save the new impulse file into the ColorTone-Pro impulse folder, and its ready to use.

Impulse selection in ColorTone-Pro
ColorTone-Pro users have posted quite a few impulses sampled from their own equipment on TriTone Digitals ColorTone forum. These third-party impulse captures can be saved in ColorTones impulse folder and loaded just like the included impulses.

Samples can only be created from equipment that is stable/linear in the time domain. That rules out fluctuating sources like choruses and distortion as impulse sources, and because ColorTone uses short impulse responses, it cannot create good reverb samples. Its strength is EQ and the signal path of compression. Compressor impulses are best created  without triggering the compressor because of the variable impact of attack and release over time.

But ColorTone lives up to its billing as a serious coloration tool that can turn a harsh and rough-sounding DAW track into a full-bodied gem that exudes tone and attitude. Its great on individual channels or busses. One way Ive been using ColorTone-Pro is on the stereo master bus with the 15ps tape impulse, followed by an EQ to restore some high end. It really brings presence and life to a mix.

No matter which version of ColorTone you get, I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised. ColorTone-Free has an amazing range for a free plugin, and is absolutely worth the download. But heres a fair warning: After using it, and realizing the possibilities, youll probably end up shelling out $129 for the upgrade. A demo version of ColorTone-Pro can also be downloaded from TriTone's web site, which is fully functional except for an annoying beep every 15 seconds. This beeping disappears when the plugin is authorized -- TriTone sends a response code that unlocks purchased versions.

ColorTone-Free and ColorTone-Pro both require the Cycling '74 Pluggo runtime environment in order to function. The ColorTone installation process points you to a link on the Cycling '74 web site where a small file can be downloaded. I did this without a problem on both a Mac and a PC.

TriTone Digital founders Salvator Vouakouanitou and Damon Whittemore are active participants in their ColorTone forum, giving users a direct pipeline for requests and questions. Both founders are professional audio engineers. Whittemore runs ValveTone Mastering in New York and also does freelance engineering. Vouakouanitou has a full-time job running Trinity Studios LTD in Paris, France. They began collaborating on plugin development three years ago, with a shared interest in getting more character from digital processors. Their first product was the ValveTone '62 EQ, and with the addition of ColorTone, they now have four plugins in their line, with two in development.

Heres hoping they have many more.

For more information, go to

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Related Keywords:ColorTone-Pro, plugin, professional audio, VST, RTAS, AU, EQ, compressor, analog, TriTone Digital, OS X, Windows XP


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