In the dynamic world of film scoring and trailer music production, the quest for unique and captivating soundscapes is always a priority. Enter the Strymon Deco plugin, a digital resurrection of the widely acclaimed Deco guitar pedal, renowned for its tape saturation and double-tracking prowess. Originally designed for guitarists, the Deco Plugin transcends its roots, offering composers and music producers a versatile tool to infuse their tracks with rich, organic textures.
This review delves into how the Deco plugin, emerging from the legacy of its hardware ancestor, fits into the modern digital workflow of a composer. It’s not just about replicating the warm, analog tones of yesteryear but about harnessing these qualities to create soundscapes that resonate with today’s cinematic demands.
The Strymon Deco plugin brings the essence of the original hardware into a flexible digital format, offering a plethora of features that can profoundly influence creative sound design.
- Tape Saturation: This feature provides the warm, analog richness of tape. It ranges from light, transparent saturation to heavier, overdriven tape distortion, ideal for adding grit and warmth to a score or creating intense, dramatic moments in trailers.
- Doubletracker: A tribute to studio tape machines, this feature offers echo, flanging, and chorus effects. It’s perfect for creating spatial depth, from subtle, ambient textures to more pronounced, dynamic echoes that can define a track’s mood.
System Requirements and Installation
Deco is available in AAX, AU, and VST3 format and is compatible with most modern DAWs, making it easily accessible for most composers and music producers. The plugin requires an active iLok account to store the user license on.
The installation is straightforward, involving a simple download and plugin installation routine. Once installed and activated within your iLok account, the Deco Plugin is ready to be used in your DAW, bringing the beloved tape effects of the hardware into your projects.
The user interface of the Strymon Deco Plugin is a digital bridge connecting the tactile charm of the original hardware pedal with the efficiency and versatility of the modern digital world. This transition from physical controls to virtual knobs and buttons is not just a change in form but an enhancement in functionality, particularly for media composers and trailer music producers.
The plugin retains the intuitive layout of the hardware, making it accessible for those familiar with the original pedal. At the same time, it introduces new elements that are innate to digital plugins which enhance the user experience. Composers can make real-time adjustments and apply automation to any control, an essential feature when timing and precision are crucial in scoring to picture.
In terms of appearance, the plugin interface closely resembles the clear, silver design of the original guitar pedal but doesn’t seem to be able to retain the hardware’s premium-quality look. The controls look rather flat and the general design feels a bit outdated, which somehow reminded me of mid-2000s Pro Tools plugins. Apart from that, the GUI makes a tidy and uncluttered impression though.
SOUND DESIGN CAPABILITIES
The Strymon Deco Plugin’s sound design capabilities are a gateway to creating rich, nuanced cinematic textures. Its tape saturation and double-tracking effects are great tools for creating interesting audio landscapes.
The plugin brings the smooth and warm qualities of analog tape to digital productions. It allows composers to imbue their tracks with the dynamics and harmonic richness characteristic of classic tape machines. Deco’s tape saturation offers a spectrum of tonal possibilities. At lower settings, the saturation enriches the emotional depth of an instrument or vocal, lending a vintage or gritty feel that can be particularly effective in crime dramas or period pieces. Pushing the limits of tape saturation, the plugin can achieve a tape-style overdrive. This effect is perfect for composers looking to add a gritty edge to their music, especially in genres like crime, thriller, or action, where a raw and intense sound can elevate the overall impact. You can switch between two tape saturation flavors, where the Classic mode emulates a studio tape machine and the Cassette mode replicates the tape saturation qualities of a high-end cassette tape recorder.
The Doubletracker control provides a range of effects from mind-bending tape flanging to spacious chorusing and classic slapback tape echo. These effects can be employed to create a sense of space and depth, ideal for atmospheric or suspenseful sequences in films and trailers.
Deco stands out by accurately recreating the studio workflow of two tape decks working in tandem, a method historically used to create phasing, flanging, chorus, echo, and double-tracking effects. The two virtual tape decks are called “Reference deck” and “Lag deck”. This feature not only provides an authentic sound but also inspires a creative approach to using these effects in modern compositions. With controls for Lag Time, Blend, and Wobble, composers have full command over the timing and pitch relationship between the Reference and Lag deck. This control enables precise modulation effects, catering to the specific needs of a track.
The ability to dial in tape flanging and chorusing effects is particularly useful in crafting atmospheric soundscapes. These effects can turn ordinary sounds into ethereal sonic experiences, fitting for scenes requiring a surreal or dream-like quality.
The Strymon Deco plugin, a digital adaptation of the renowned Deco guitar pedal, offers an array of sound design capabilities that can significantly enhance the sonic landscape of almost any music project. Deco is more than just a tool for replicating vintage effects, though. Its ability to faithfully emulate tape-based effects while providing modern control and flexibility makes it a valuable component, especially in the toolkit of film composers and trailer music producers.
DECO ADVANCED FEATURES
Expanding upon the tape saturation and double-tracking abilities, the Strymon Deco Plugin offers several nuanced features that provide users with additional creative control. These include the Blend control, Lag Time adjustment, and Wide Stereo mode, each offering unique ways to sculpt soundscapes.
The Blend control sets the mix level between Deco’s Reference and Lag Decks. Lower settings favor the Reference Deck for a more subtle doubletracking effect, while higher settings enhance the doubletracking effect by emphasizing the Lag Deck. This feature allows composers to fine-tune the balance between the original and affected signals. For instance, a composer might use a higher blend setting to create an unsettling, echoic background, or a lower setting to add just a hint of depth to a tense, ambient score.
The Lag Time control is a key feature that adjusts the delay offset between the Reference and Lag Decks. It ranges from creating tape flanging (-0.3 to 3ms) to lush tape chorusing (3 to 50ms), snappy slapback delay (50 to 150ms), and expansive tape echoes (150 to 500ms). This function is particularly versatile, allowing for the creation of everything from the eerie, undulating sounds ideal for a sci-fi or horror film to the rhythmic, pulsating echoes suitable for an action-packed chase scene. The Deco plugin also features a Tap Tempo function and a tempo control that syncs to your DAW’s host tempo.
The Wide Stereo Mode in the Deco Plugin provides an option for extremely wide stereo imaging. This mode sends the mono input to the Left channel through the Reference Deck and to the Right channel via the delayed Lag Deck, creating an adjustable stereo spread. It can be used to enhance the grandeur of an instrument section or to add a sense of spatial vastness.
These additional features of the Deco plugin not only contribute to its versatility but also empower composers and sound designers to craft unique, compelling soundscapes with depth, dimension, and character.
DECO HARDWARE VS. PLUGIN
In terms of sound quality, the Deco Plugin comes impressively close to the beloved character of the Deco hardware pedal. Users will find that it retains the soulful, nuanced sound that made the original Deco a favorite on the pedalboards of countless guitarists and music producers.
While the hardware pedal has its unique charm and a better sense of haptics, one of the significant advantages of the Deco Plugin over the hardware pedal is its ability to be used on various channels simultaneously. In the world of film scoring and trailer music, where complex layering is a staple, this feature is invaluable. It allows for diverse applications across different elements of a score, from applying subtle tape saturation to warm up certain instruments to more pronounced double-tracking effects on vocals or lush synth pads.
The plugin’s seamless integration with all major digital audio workstations streamlines the workflow. It eliminates the need for routing signals through hardware, thereby saving time and reducing complexity in a busy scoring session. Deco fits effortlessly into the digital toolkit of a composer, complementing other virtual instruments and effects.
The ability to quickly switch settings, save presets, and apply the effect across multiple tracks simultaneously enhances the efficiency of the scoring process, allowing composers to focus more on creativity and less on technical logistics.
The Deco plugin by Strymon is not just a faithful digital representation of its popular hardware counterpart but a versatile, creative tool in its own right. It offers a unique blend of vintage charm and contemporary functionality, making it an interesting addition to a music producer’s palette of effects.
Deco’s Tape Saturation and Doubletracker algorithms provide a range of sonic textures, from subtle warmth to warbling modulation and delay, suitable for various musical contexts. The plugin’s intuitive design, coupled with the ability to apply it across multiple channels simultaneously, enhances creative workflow and efficiency in a DAW environment. In terms of sound, the Deco plugin successfully captures the character and warmth of the original hardware at a fraction of the price, offering a sound that is both authentic and adaptable to the demands of music producers of all genres.
Deco extends beyond just emulating a vintage studio effect, providing composers with a tool that not only replicates classic tape sounds but also inspires new creative approaches in sound design. Priced at $79, Deco brings the nuanced, warm textures of tape into the digital domain making it a standout choice for composers looking to expand their sonic palette at quite an affordable price point.
With the abundance of all the great-sounding (stock) plugins we have access to today, one could undoubtedly achieve a similar type of tape saturation, delay, and modulation by combining different processors in a chain. However, Deco offers a recognizable and flexible range of effects from within a single, convenient plugin. Deco bridges the gap between the analog past and the digital present, opening up new possibilities for crafting compelling, emotionally resonant music.
The Deco Tape Saturator & Doubletracker plugin is available as a download through Strymon’s online shop for $79.