Released near the end of spring in 2016, IK Multimedia’s Saturator X is a new take on several classic saturation effects, mostly derived from tried-and-true analogue recording gear. It offers a diverse range of sounds and styles of analogue grit to help add warmth and color to any musical element, including the entire mix itself.
Saturator X features 10 modes of saturation that are laid out cleanly in its intuitively minimal GUI. Ready for immediate use without any manual-reading, it balances a variety of flavors, including two options each for Tape effects, soft-curve “Master” saturation, Tube, Solid State, and Transformer modes.
IK Multimedia’s “Magic Eye” metering is a modern twist on old school indicators that helps users see the amount of saturation being used on the incoming signal. There is also a “Brickwall” limiting option, which ensures that the saturation never overdrives the signal into harsher clipping territory that could potentially ruin your mix. They’ve also thoughtfully provided an “Oversampling” feature, which provides are more detailed rendering of the harmonic textures added to your signal for a bit of extra processing power.
Upon testing, I found Saturator X to be quite versatile, and equally useful on vocals, drums, as well as on the master fader. A few handy presets are also included if you are looking for a quick starting point or are working in a hurry. Additionally, Saturator X does a fine job of basically preserving the linearity of your frequency response, which is important if you’ve applied it after you’ve carefully sculpted your EQ.
Adding harmonic saturation to your signal can be a complex task, but IK Multimedia have made it very simple with Saturator X, and that is one of the winning points of this plug-in. The controls and layout are simple, and allow you to get right down to business.
When in use on elements such as drums, synths or vocals, it provides the sought-after, warm analogue sound of circuits being “pushed,” and IK Multimedia has done this impeccably well. (Imagine some of that 70’s Toft-style analogue push and warmth.)
It sounded especially wonderful on all kinds of FM Synthesis-style pads and bell-shaped synths, and really opened them up, and providing that familiar kind of modular warmth when you are working in the box. I tried it out in Ableton on an FM Bell pad-style soft synth in forward and reverse and it sounded great. I was also able to achieve a nice, rich “modular sound” straight away by using either of the Tape settings or the Push Pull Tube setting.
Lastly, it’s a nice added touch that you can set the Input Gain and the Output Drive to “Inverse Linked” or Independent (although admittedly, at first I didn’t realize that the link icon was actually a button). This allows you to easily increase saturation without altering output gain, when desired.
To Be Critical
If I were to be really nit-picky about this plug-in, one note I would add would be that “Undo” feature doesn’t operate the way one might expect when you are working within a preset (though this varies depending on your host DAW).
If you are making changes while in a preset, for example, and you use the standard keyboard shortcut “command+Z,” it will undo whatever changes you have made to the preset, but won’t count your choices of navigating in and out of different presets as layers of undo.
In other words, if you keep going through layers of undo by utilizing “command+Z,” it will take you through all the moves you’ve made, but not take you out of the preset you currently have loaded up.
This seemed strange to me as it would let me reach layers of undo that were in a prior preset, but the preset I was in stayed the same even though the changes I had made were in a prior preset.
I would consider this counterintuitive, however depending on others’ workflow or way of thinking, some people may find that this design feature makes sense to them.
(This undo behavior was experienced in Ableton. As expected, if you use Pro Tools or the standard undo option in Cubase, it applies only to moves outside of the plug-in, and doesn’t affect moves made within the plug-in, so it is a non-issue there.)
Summing it Up
While the plug-in marketplace is rife with saturators, IK Multimedia has done a superb job of injecting just the right amount of features into Saturator X, making it a solid companion to anyone working in audio or sound design. It’s flexible enough to offer a wide variety of useful saturation tones, simple enough to reach for as a quick-and-easy option. The 10 modes of saturation and simple controls make this plug-in easy to use, and definitely worth considering as part of your arsenal if you don’t feel like you have your saturation options covered just yet.
This is a powerful plug-in, and as such, you can really take your sounds a long way quite quickly. If you want a bit of dirt, grit, grime, or all-out distortion, this plug-in can do it—and with high quality emulation of analogue warmth. Think of it like hot sauce: You can add a tiny dash, or go all-in and make it really burn.
Saturator X is available in the IK Online Store and the T-Racks Custom Shop for $79.00, and can also be operated as an unrestricted demo for up to 14 days for free. With that being the case, go get your grit on. If you’re looking for more choices for your saturation toolkit, this may be one of the more cost-effective and satisfying options around.