The purpose of the XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color plug in is in the name: Add color and a retro vibe to any sound. And while there are many good and bad plugins out there with the same purpose, most of them specialize on one task, e.g. saturation or tape emulation. Sometimes this is exactly what you want. But what if you had a full-blown sound color box?

This is where RC-20 Retro Color comes into play. Let’s see how good it is in this XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color review.

First Impressions

When you open the plugin, you’ll notice how clear the user interface is. It’s horizontally divided into 3 sections.

In the Top Section you’ll find the preset browser and the Magnitude slider. The latter determines how much of the processed signal is applied to the sound, similar to a dry/wet control.

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color Overview
The RC-20 Retro Color comes with a clear user interface.

The middle section is the heart of the RC-20 Retro Color and it’s where the six FX Modules are located. The layout reminds me of a pedal board for guitar, with all modules sitting side by side to each other.

The bottom of the RC-20 contains the master section, consisting of input and output gain, a simple eq/filter and a stereo width control.

FX Modules

FX Modules is the section where most of the tweaking is done. So let’s have a closer look.

The 6 Modules located in the middle section are as follows:

  • Noise
  • Wobble
  • Distort
  • Digital
  • Space
  • Magnetic

Each FX Module has an on/off switch and a Big Knob that determines how deeply the effect is applied to you sound. Each module also has a Flux slider, that introduces random artifacts tailored to each FX Module.

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color FX Modules
Six FX Modules build the heart of the RC-20 Retro Color.

Unfortunately the order of the effects can’t be changed, so you have to run your sounds through the processors in the order, that the people at XLN Audio thought would be best.

All modules come with just a handful of simple controls, another thing that reminds me of guitar pedals. Just the essential controls that allow you to quickly dial in a sound, without having to think a lot.

So, let’s examine the modules one by one.

Get Noisy

Noise is – unsurprisingly – a noise generator. Unlike classic noise generators, that typically create white and pink noise, plus maybe some basic waveforms, RC-20s Noise module creates all kind of “retro” noises like vinyl crackle, tape hiss or stomp box static noise. You can choose from 16 different noise types which you can then shape with the plugins controls.

You can change the tone and the routing as well as tweak how much the noise follows the audio or is ducked by it. With a drum beat it would work like that: When you turn up the Follow control the noise gets mixed to each drum hit but not in between the hits. This is useful to make thin drums sound fatter – or any sound for that matter – with whichever noise you choose. A more subtle effect than ducking.

When the Duck control is turned up, the noise is boosted between the drum hits and lowered during the hits. This leads to a more obvious effect, noise pumping in exchange to the drum hits.

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color Noise Module
16 retro noise types can be
shaped to taste.

Wobble Like Jelly

Wobble creates wow and flutter. Both wow and flutter modulate the pitch of the incoming signal. The difference is that wow is a slower pitch modulation than flutter. You can seamlessly blend between wow and flutter

With the stereo switch engaged wow and flutter are spread into the stereo field, Wow to the left and Flutter to the right channel. The result is a wider but also somewhat less stable sound, similar to a chorus.

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color Wobble Module
Add pitch modulation with the Wobble module

Distort With Focus

The distortion unit comes with 6 distortion types to choose from. With the mix control you can determine how much distortion is applied to your audio. And then there’s the Focus control, which is a filter, determining which frequency range is gonna be affected by the distortion.

This is especially useful for distorted basses, where you can keep the low end clean and fat while the mids and highs can be distorted to taste. That way the bass doesn’t lose its punch, a problem often found with heavily distorted basses.

But the focus control is not restricted to shaping the distorted sound with basses. It’s a surprisingly powerful tone shaping tool for all kinds of sounds, from synths to guitars to drums etc.

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color Distort Module
Define the distorted frequency range with Focus control

Digital Degradation

RC-20 Retro Colors Distort module is a bit crusher and sample rate reduction processor. It can add subtle digital crunch similar to vintage samplers, but it can also totally degrade your sounds to a point where the only thing left of your sound are harsh glitchy digital noises.

Like the Distort module, Digital has a focus control, which makes Distort way more versatile than a simple bit crusher as you can choose which part of your audios frequency spectrum gets affected by the digital degradation. On top the digital harshness can be tamed with the Smooth control.

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color Digital Module
Emulate the grit of vintage samplers with RC-20s Bitcrusher.

Into Space

The Space module in XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color is reverb with simple controls and a lush, warm sound, more on the Lo-Fi side of the spectrum. Space’s controls are reduced to Decay, Pre Delay, again a Focus control, and a stereo/mono switch.

Other than in the Distort and Digital modules, the Focus slider in the Space module controls the damping of the reverb itself and not the incoming signal.

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color Space Module
Space is a simple, beautiful sounding Lo-Fi reverb

Magnetic Magic

RC-20s last module in the effects chain is called Magnetic and introduces volume modulation and drops, typical for old, worn out tape played back on old, rusty tape recorders. With the Wear/Flutter slider you can seamlessly blend between the two effects. Wear introduces slower volume modulation and Flutter a faster effect.

Dropouts introduces random, short volume dips and like in Wobble there’s a stereo switch, this time spreading Wear and Dropouts to the left and right channel.

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color Magnetic Module
Magnetic adds volume modulation typical for old tape recorders.

The RC-20 Retro Color In Use

Using the RC-20 is fun! It’s super easy to dial in warm, musical sounds or go straight out crazy and destroy any audio you feed the plugin with. The layout is clear and the number of controls in each module is well-thought-out, so the RC-20 never gets in the way of the creative flow.

And it just sounds so good! Breathing life into the most anemic sounds is a breeze. And even used with dope vintage sounds, the RC-20 is capable of adding even more mojo, so when you turn it off the RC-20 you’ll find the initial sound not so dope anymore.

The Magnitude slider can be easily overlooked while being sucked in playing with the FX Modules. However, it adds tremendous value to the RC-20 as you can quickly adjust the amount of the overall effect, without having to adjust each FX Module. This is especially useful when you dialed in a good sound, but went a bit too far. Or if you found a preset that you like, but which you find is too extreme for your purpose.

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color Preset Browser
The 60+ Presets are good starting points and show the versatility of the RC-20 Retro Color.

The master section with the filters and the stereo width control is another very useful addition to further shape the overall sound quickly, without having to pull out another plugin.

And last but not least, the Flux engine…this is truly the icing on the cake of an already very tasty plugin. Being able to introduce a random factor tailored to each FX Module is just nuts. At least the results are! As with everything in the RC-20, you can go from subtle to mayhem with the Flux.

It’s that random factor that we love from the vintage analog world, just that with the RC-20 Retro Color you have control over the amount of uncontrolled randomness affecting your sound.

Final Thoughts

XLN Audio nailed it with the RC-20 Retro Color. The plugin breathes life into the most boring sounds and makes already dope sounds even better. The layout of the Retro Color is clear and focused, never getting in the way of creation.

A cool addition would be the ability to change the order of the FX Modules which would make the RC-20 Retro Color even more flexible. But the fixed order has also a big advantage: ease of use and quick results. And despite the set order of the FX Modules the amount of tones and colors you can get out of RC-20 is near infinite.

It’s not often that you find a plugin that is so versatile, while being so easy and intuitive to use AND delivering musical results, regardless how crazy you go with the settings.

If you want to add life and character to your sounds, the XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color is IT. I highly recommend you check it out. I bet you’ll have a damn good time.

Do you have any questions about the XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color? Which is your favourite Lo-Fi multi FX plugin? Please leave your comments below!

PROSCONS
Fun Factor
Great Retro Sound
Versatility
Ease Of Use
Order of FX Modules can’t be changed

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