With the increasing popularity of Lo-Fi Hip Hop the demand for colorful degrading audio plugins has increased in recent years. Bit crushers, vinyl and cassette tape emulations are just a few types of plugins that deliver Lo-Fi sounds. One cassette tape emulation that gained popularity among Lo-Fi beat producers is Sketch Cassette II. Let’s have a closer look in this Sketch Cassette review.
Who is Aberrant DSP?
There is not much info about Aberrant DSP. According to their website the company is run by two young men – and a cat – called Ben, Dan – and Jon.
By the time of this writing they offer two plugins, Sketch Cassette II – which we’re gonna review – and ShapeShifter, a rich sounding dynamics processor with it’s own spin. Both plugins aim to add a lot of color to your sound. Obviously the guys at Aberrant are not about neutral, transparent plugins but all about character and attitude. In their own words:
If you want something strange, exciting, and entirely different in your mixes, you’ve come to the right place.
What Is Sketch Cassette?
Sketch Cassette II is a Cassette tape emulation plugin for Lo-Fi beat makers and producers who like color and movement in their mixes.
Apart from being a cassette tape emulation the plugin is also a compressor and you can mix both the tape degraded and the compressed audio separately into your mix. But more on that later.
Cassette Tape Styles
In Aberrant DSP Sketch Cassette II you can choose between 12 cassette tape styles, that range from cheap to kind of Hi-Fi. Hi-Fi in the sense of the cassette tapes world of course, which means higher frequency range but still a limited dynamic range due to the tiny tape width of cassettes.
Wow And Flutter
With wow and flutter you can introduce pitch modulation to your beats. They emulate inconsistencies of the tape speed typical for old cassette decks and degraded cassettes, resulting in a vibrato like sound.
Wow and flutter are basically the same, only that wow introduces slower modulation than flutter. I found that the difference between wow and flutter is not big enough to make me feel like I have a set of two different controls. Instead it’s a bit like having two of the same control. But it makes sense to have both, as we’ll see further down the road, because there’s more to wow and flutter and how they interact.
There are up to four different waveforms to choose from, four for wow and two for flutter. They determine the character of the vibrato effect and give you a wide range of combinations and effects.
A cool addition is the ability to tempo sync wow and flutter. Have your synths, pianos, guitars etc. vibrate in sync with the beat, for a more rhythmical effect.
To round off the wow and flutter section of Sketch Cassette II, wow can modulate the frequency of flutter, so the vibrato effect changes it’s frequency, depending on the wow settings.
This is truly beyond the standard wow and flutter you’ll find on other similar plugins.
Age, hiss and saturation are more basic controls. Age is a low pass filter, simulating the high frequency loss typical for old cassette tapes. Hiss introduces cassette tape hiss and saturation adds cassette tape saturation that can range from subtle fattening to total distortion. There are two saturation types to choose from, one with a brighter the other with a darker character.
The dropouts section introduces dips in the audio level, typical for bad, old cassette tapes. With the depth, intensity and width controls you can fine tune how rotten your tape should be.
The flanging section mixes the dry signal with the processed one – yep, it’s nothing else than a dry/wet control. But as the name suggests it results in a beautifully flanging tone due to the frequency modulation introduced by wow and flutter.
A lot of cassette decks came with noise reduction systems like Dolby B or Dolby C. But a lot of people just used these systems without caring how to use them properly, resulting in tonal shifts. At least we as kids didn’t care. We just pushed buttons until it sounded best to us.
The compression section in Sketch Cassette II emulates that sound. To be exact it emulates the effect of recording with noise reduction engaged and playing back without the noise reduction, resulting in a brighter sound. Just as we liked it as kids:-)
There’s not a lot to be tweaked here, just the amount of compression as well as the amount of brightness. Under the hood however there’s a multiband upwards downwards compressor doing its thing. I love the sound of the compressor, especially on the drum bus and the master, for a beautifully squashed, pumping sound when cranked.
Lo-Fi Fun Factor
Is It Fun To Use? Oh yeah, definitely. Despite many functions that interact with each other, Sketch Cassette II never gets in the way. The layout is clear and the controls labeled so that they are pretty much self explaining. It’s a breeze to degrade sounds in a beautifully musical way. At the same time Aberrant DSP Sketch Cassette II lets you go beast mode and totally destroy your audio.
The plugin comes with 60+ presets to get you started. When you open the plugin for the first time and step through all the presets you’ll get a good idea of the wide range of sounds you can get out of Sketch Cassette II.
The compressor is a cool addition all the tape degradation and is worth the modest price of the plugin alone. It can really fatten drums in a unique Lo-Fi-ish way, quick and easily.
If you are looking for a plugin that adds texture and movement to your sounds in an easy and fun way, then don’t hesitate and try out Aberrant DSP Sketch Cassette II for yourself.