Magnetic, the latest plugin from Nomad Factory, is a versatile addition to the growing list of tools that recreate the classic sounds of analog tape warmth and saturation. Useful for sweetening up tracks or as a vintage effect, this plugin works well on a variety of sources and also functions as a respectable master buss compressor.
Nomad Factory has outfitted the plugin with a number of features to help dial-in your desired tape characteristics. The Reel Speed control sets the tape speed – lower speeds will decrease the fidelity of the audio and sound more like a cassette or AM radio effect. The Saturation knob adds harmonic distortion, which you can select to emulate tube circuitry, analog tape saturation, or a combination of both. Handy Low and High EQ knobs are also present, each with three different frequency curves to use: Body, Warm, and Lush for the Lows – Detail, Focus, and Brilliance for the Highs. All of the controls except Reel Speed also have individual in/out switches, so you can easily A/B and hear exactly how they affect the track.
Magnetic has a couple of options when it comes to compression. The Tape Color knob selects the amount of tape compression added to the signal, allowing you to hit the virtual tape as hard as you like. Gain and Ceiling knobs control Magnetic’s mastering section, which includes “multiple stages of limiting and a look-ahead brickwall limiter.” A Boost button engages and disengages limiting: when it’s not activated the Gain and Ceiling knobs function as input and output gains for the plugin. Also when using the limiter, the VU meter smartly measures the amount of gain reduction taking place.
Working with the plugin hands on, I was immediately comfortable with the simple control layout, and the many, many factory presets made it easy to find a good starting point. A little saturation and tape compression brought my guitars alive, and I found that I could warm up drum overheads without making the cymbals sound dull by adding back in some highs using the Brilliance setting. On lead vocals that same setting on the EQ added a little extra sheen, and on male vocals I always went back to the Body setting on the low EQ to thicken the track up.
Unlike other tape emulation plugins, where I find most of the usable settings are only in the lightest 1/3 of their range, Magnetic really delivered in that wide middle ground between light and extreme – where you want to moderately affect the track without obliterating the tone. That’s not to say that you can’t use it on higher settings too. Between the Tape Color and the brickwall limiter, you can get some heavy-handed compression going, and the Saturation control adds lots of grit when you really push it.
One oddity on the plugin is the DASH setting on the Reel Speed control. DASH is a digital audio tape format developed by Sony in the ’80s. While it may seem strange for a plugin that advertises analog warmth to have a digital tape setting, it functions more like the off position for the Reel Speed, with very little decrease in the fidelity of the audio. This is useful in itself, as I found myself using DASH on lighter settings, and dialing back the tape speed when using the plugin as an effect or to get a more vintage sound.
Finally, as a mastering compressor Magnetic held up very well: strapped across the mix, it made the tracks sound more glue-y and rounded. The only additional feature I would liked to have seen in this section is a release control.
Now at a reduced price of $129 (down from$199), Magnetic is a great buy. Compared to similar plugins, I found it to have a wider usable range, and having another flavor of mastering compressor doesn’t hurt either. If you want to tweak the saturation on your snare track in ten different ways, this may not be the plugin for you – but as a well rounded tape emulation tool, you’ll want to use it on almost every track in your mix. Check out Nomad Factory’s downloads page to try it out for yourself. -Mike Bauer