Nomad Factory is known for their innovative and great sounding plugins. With the passing away of founder Bernie Torelli, the company lost some direction and headway, but has since been picked up by Plugivery, and the company is currently being restructured. In that sense, Garbage LSD came out at a rather difficult time in the evolution of the company, but has, despite this, garnered some important industry awards, including the “Best Alternative Effect Plugin” at the Technofile Awards.
The team at Technofile had this to say about the plugin:
“When it comes to creating really messed up sounds, the aptly named Garbage LSD takes some beating…and dishes one out too. Although to some extent it crosses over into iZotope Trash 2′s sonic territory, it is not intended as a distortion plug-in per se and offers facilities not found in Trash such as a ring modulator and a dual modulation matrix. There are also 6 filter types, 3 distortion modes, convolution reverb, transistor radio style EQ, compression, bit depth and sample rate reduction, a noise source, dual LFOs and excellent presets. By the way, in case you’re wondering, apparently LSD stands for Lethal Sound Designer, though we think that if you use Garbage Factory to its extremes, you might think that LSD stands for something else. We had great fun playing with LSD and we’re sure you will too, as long as you use it in sensible dosages.”
Interface Layout and Navigation
The interface is gorgeous, very industrial looking, and laid out in an easy to understand format that belies the complexity under the hood. The modules, which can be turned on and off from the Master page (the default page on the UI), are editable by going to one of four pages represented by buttons for “Master,” “Trash,” “Lofi,” and “Radio.” The relationship between the modules and the corresponding pages is not immediately intuitive, but it is not hard to learn once you start playing around with the plugin. All of the knobs are large, retro looking, and easy to read. Additionally, each module has a small window that shows what is happening to the signal at that stage in the chain. The edit windows on each page often provide additional visual feedback that lets you know immediately how your choices affect the sound.
On the Master page, you have access to all the available modules across the top, which include “Filter,” “Lofi,” “Ring Mod,” “Conv,” “Radio EQ,” and “Comp.” While you can’t edit them from this page, you can turn them on and off and adjust the input and output for each module in the chain. Below them is the modulation matrix, which allows you to visualize at a glance the modulation settings and levels as well as the sources and targets. The nice thing is, the modulation matrix is available on every page so if you tweak a setting and right away want to modulate it, you can do it without having to leave where you are. The downside is that the retro style displays don’t provide the exact value of what it represents. You can sync to the host tempo if you’d like, but your selections will always be done largely by feel.
One thing to note is that while each module can be turned on and off and tweaked to your heart’s content on the corresponding pages, the plugin is not modular in the sense that the modules can be rearranged. It is good, perhaps, to think of the available effects as being a series of blocks that can be used in the processing chain and the master page as the place to see what modules are turned off or on.
The Trash page is where you’ll find the filters and distortion settings. There are six different filter types, four of which are based on a Moog filter (two types of low pass filters, a band pass filter, and a high pass filter). The remaining two are “Scream LP,” which creates a screaming sound effect, and “Dirty LP,” which creates an over-saturated sound. These filters are really fantastic sounding, fat, warm, and very musical. The remaining controls are for the cutoff frequency and resonance of the filters and a boost control (the boost is pre-filter).
In addition to the filter settings, you can choose one of three different distortion types and tweak the drive and color. The graphic below the distortion settings shows the “harmonic profile” of the distortion mode. For those of you familiar with additive synthesis, this graph is very similar to how you perceive the partials in the signal. The drive setting controls the post-filter gain.
The Lofi page is where you’ll find settings for lofi, ring modulation, and a specialized convolution reverb processor. The lofi settings include adjustments for bit depth, sample rate, and noise. The first two of these are pretty standard in terms of knowing what will happen to the sound. Reducing the amount of available bits distorts the frequency across the entire spectrum. Downsampling most notably affects the higher frequencies (in a kind of “plastic” way). The interesting thing about the noise setting is that it follows the input amplitude, so there is no sound when there is no input. It’s more like a form of generated lofi noise texture that doesn’t get in the way when it is not needed. It’s just there, really, for bulk.
There are four ring modulation settings: frequency, drive, feedback, a selectable hi-range switch, and a mode selector. The mode selector switch enables you to choose between RM (ring modulation), which is the metallic sounding inharmonic overtones, and AM (amplitude modulation), which mixes in the original signal. When the “Hi Range” button is not active, the circuit functions more like what Nomad Factory calls “a dirty tremolo,” a kind deep warbly sweep in the .5 – 50 hz range. This switch, then, determines what frequencies are available to be controled by the frequency setting. With it active, it “becomes a traditional ring modulator” and nearly the entire frequency range is available. Drive increases saturation amount and feedback controls how much of the output is fed back through the circuit.
The third module on this page is a rudimentary convolution processor with just gain and mix levels. Garbage ships with around 40 cabinet impulses and 30 specialized, mostly mic impulses. You can also add your own impulses by dropping additional folders in the installer’s impulse directory. Obviously, convolution impulses add a lot of character to the sound, but I really wish there were a few more controls. While you can add your own impulses, you have to bear in mind that this is really geared more for cabinet and mic emulation than for special effects and reverb, which are better handled by a traditional convolver.
The Radio page has a unique “radio” type EQ and a compressor. In the “Radio EQ” section, there are three EQ settings, bass (low shelf at 362 hz), mid (bell at 1.02 khz), and treble (bell at 8.1 khz). The three controls below the EQ knobs are for a damping section that “filter[s] the low-end/high-end and adjust the
resonant peaks at their respective center frequencies.” This is intended to mimic the sound of old transistor radios and I have to say that it does a spectacular job. It’s a lot like a traditional 3-band parametric EQ, but with the addition of filters to alter the character of the sound.
The last module on this page is a compressor. It is a very simple bus type compressor with only three settings: threshold, ratio, and release. It does its job well, but is essentially limited to its role as the final shaping unit at the end of a chain that is built to mangle and destroy your signal. There is no attack, for example, and nothing that will alter the character of the sound.
One very cool feature of Garbage LSD is that the modulation matrix is available on every page. You don’t have to hunt for it in some obscure menu or tab. If you are tweaking a setting and want to hear immediate results when you modulate it, you can just drop down to the bottom of whatever page you are on and off you go. There are two modulators, which can modulate any available source (basically anything that is not stateful, such as a mode selector or switch), the other modulator, or itself. You can even use an LFO sidechain. The destinations include “Master,” “Filter,” “Dist,” “LoFi,” “Ring mod,” “Convolution,” “Radio EQ,” “Compressor,” “Mod 1,” “Mod 2,” and are available from a simple dropdown menu. The individual parameters are on submenus that open up like a tree.
In Practice / Use
Although I am sure that every effort has been made to conserve resources, this plugin can be very CPU intensive at times, especially when things like convolution impulse responses are used. The concept of this plugin is very cool, and I would describe the sound as a kind of “high definition lofi,” which sounds like a contradiction, but you would have to hear what it does to appreciate just how unusual, defined, and cool it is. It’s very flexible, sounds great, and can be tweaked in radical ways from very simple precepts. From light saturation to fatten the harmonics to brutal destruction of drums, there isn’t much this plugin cannot do. It is similar to plugins like Trash, but with the ring modulator, Radio EQ, and other unique features, you can get as creative with your destruction as you like.
Having said this, I really, really, really want a mix knob on this plugin. I found that it really shines when used judiciously as a parallel processing effect. Yes, you can use it as a send effect, but because there are so many ways to sculpt, destroy, and augment almost every aspect of the sound it gets hard to know how it will impact your mix, and it would be nice to be able to just throw it on a track quickly and adjust the mix knob to see how it affects the overall sound. More often than not, I find myself routing all the tracks I want to effect to a submix, send the submix to another track and run both to the master with the parallel processed track about 30% (post-processing, after all insert effects are added). Of course, there are many ways you can use this as an insert effect—to trash up a snare, for example, or roughen up a bass line, both of which this plugin can easily do—but it’s the unexpected results on submixes and parallel processed groups that really become fun.
Presets vs. Sound Design
Unfortunately, Garbage LSD ships with very few presets: 18 by in-house Engineer / QA Manager Ashley Smith (which cover the “rock” instruments and a few specialized settings) and 25 by Lead Software Developer Dmitry Sches (which are uncategorized, though many are geared for drums). The reason for this, the manual states, is that “Garbage is designed as an audio tool to be tweaked by the user, to create sounds that suit and manipulate their material.” Yes,I get that. But in theory won’t any DSP tool be used to manipulate sounds on the artist’s own material? And won’t this material, by nature, be different from producer to producer? The more presets, the better., regardless of the product or situation. Certainly, this is what end-users want. They get a tour of what the plugin can truly accomplish, learn it by adapting the presets to their own material, and then move on to create their own (if indeed, they even take this last step—many don’t). If your development company doesn’t want to hire preset designers then open up a beta release from which to cull settings, have a user-exchange forum or a contest or some other method to swap ideas. Give the end user the opportunity to use or not use presets, but make them available. To not have them available really feels like a missed opportunity. A video series of some basic “tips and tricks” or insight into the reasoning behind each of the circuits would have really brought this product into the forefront.
The plugin is very stable and I didn’t experience any hiccups or bugs with it. I love the Radio EQ and the entire chain of effects seems logical. I mentioned the lack of a mix knob. I wish there were a little more finely grained control on the convolution processor, and I wish there were an attack setting on the compressor—either or both modules could be inactive and replaced with individual third-party plugins in your processing chain if you want more control. The biggest problem, though certainly not insurmountable, is the lack of MIDI learn. I guess they figured everything would be handled with the modulation matrix. Most of the parameters can be automated, so I am not really sure why this was not implemented.
A Few Last Words
Interestingly, because it seems like such a specialized plugin, I’m not sure who the target market is other than industrial, post-industrial, and aggrotech producers and the like. I can see it being used for sound design work or to fatten up a lead or glue together percussion and bass, but unless you are an aggressive or experimental artist, I’m guessing you may be scratching your head on this one.
Here is a good reason to pick it up. When Garbage LSD first came out, it was pretty expensive, around $129. It went on sale for around $49 shortly after it won the tech award, and now you can pick it up for around $30. At this price, it is a complete no brainer. It does take some time and experimentation to imagine how this plugin can be used. If you are a producer who needs all out aggression, you can just pop it on a track and start messing around. If you need some character, saturation, filtering, and sound design, then there is no substitute for sitting down with this plugin and figuring out what it can do. The filtering and radio EQ alone are worth the price of admission. My complaints are few. This is a gorgeous plugin that contains many ways to turn your music into a beast.