Plugin Alliance: Elysia Karacter – Turbo Overdrive
It is a strange dichotomy in the modern studio, that we strive for ultra-clean and distortion-free recordings, only to then apply all manner of saturation and analogue emulations to make everything sound worse again. Sure, there are many sonic benefits to adding warmth and colour to a digital signal chain, but is there a need for yet another saturation plugin?
Updated Septemeber 2017
Some saturation plugins offer very little in regards to creative use, they largely sit tucked away on a bus channel somewhere and have fairly basic controls – mostly defining the overall amount of distortion and that’s about it. Karacter is a little unusual, crossing the boundary from your typical one-trick pony to something much more usable, in that it is begging to be used more as a plaything than to remain untouched. Karacter from Elysia features plenty of creative freedom for not only colourising tracks, but with tube-style distortion and high-end stereo and m/s mixing options, there is certainly plenty of bang for the buck here.
Elysia, of course, are well known for its amazing hardware devices, and this VST plugin version is directly modelled from the full rack and 500 series units, so you can be assured right off the bat you’re in good hands. The package comes with two Class-A emulated variants, a single-channel mix version (mono or stereo), and a dual-channel master version, with additional linked or unlinked m/s or stereo modes.
Easy-to-understand controls include drive (intensity), colour (brighter or fatter), gain boost or reduction and mix. A bypass switch, turbo boost, for more of everything and a FET Shred button which switches between hi-grade mastering style FET or fatter, tube-style distortion modes. The master version offers the same controls in duel mode, with stereo linking, individual switchable left or right channels and M/S mode.
The controls have a lot of gain and it’s very easy to overcook the signal if you’re too heavy-handed. At first, I felt both master and mix versions were too twitchy for my taste, it was difficult finding a sound that wasn’t totally destroying the source. A light touch is usually all that is needed for saturation effects, anything more starts crushing very quickly. I’m presuming this is a trait taken from the hardware, where tactile dials have much more resistance than a computer mouse on a screen. My initial trials were quite frustrating, mostly because I was approaching Karacter as a traditional saturator when in actuality this is more of a tube distortion style effect…that does saturation quite well.
In fact, Karacter’s more of an untamed beast just waiting to bite your face off if you get too close.
In a typical effect plugin, of course, you are best to avoid presets and start experimenting on your own to find new and interesting results, but the collection supplied with Karacter is simply incredible. Not only are the titles well described, they are usually right on the money in effect, only needing the slightest adjustment if any.
I went through a dry song mix I have sitting in my song ideas folder using Karacter on each of the instrument tracks, choosing presets that best matched the tone I was looking for described in the title – with outstanding results. Of course, over time you will develop a feel for the controls and character of the plugin, but to get you up and running from day one, for me at least, the well-crafted and usable presets are what sold Karacter as my new go-to mix effect.
All of the presets had interesting and often pleasing results on a variety of tracks, but following along with the suggested applications mostly sounded amazing. Great examples are ‘More Valves’ and ‘Snare Mojofier’, but ‘Dirty Bass’ is my favourite, one I’ve been trying on everything. Particularly on bass-heavy instruments, I found Karacter can really thicken up the sound and add nice harmonics and more zing. It is also surprisingly flexible, especially on drums if you want to bring out the low-end warmth or sizzle from the snare and hats, with the M/S mode being perfect for adding width and definition.
The more traditional saturation effects are nice and warm, usually delivering that creamy, large console bus sound, though of course there is a lot of skill required even with such a powerful plugin to get everything to sit just right. The colour controls are very intense, even just a few clicks, either way, resulting in dramatic tonal differences. The trick comes with the amount of colour, drive and then balancing the overall mix levels. Also, careful use of the drive control can supply a somewhat compressed effect on the transient peaks, a really cool alternative way to bring dynamics under control on your tracks while introducing some channel warmth.
Swapping over to shred mode imparts a lot more tube-style distortion, ideal for more upfront instruments like guitar, bass and lead synth lines – you would be brave to use this mode on a mix bus. The colour and drive have a lot more pronounced effect in this mode. The turbo boost is not a third mode, more it emphasises on top of what you have dialled in – for those times you just need more of everything.
A very surprising little package. Two variants of the same basic design, both with different usages in your mix – and both offering a lot more flexibility and creativity than the name hints too – ‘Character’ is the very least of what Karacter delivers. Really what you have here is a full-blown FET/tube style overdrive that’s capable of subtle saturation, but only if you’re very, very easy on the controls.
Karacter lends itself towards contemporary electronic music, rock, pop and anything requiring more edgy production qualities. Not that you can’t be gentle with Karacter, but if that’s all you want, there are more suitable, tamer saturation effects out there.
I’ve fallen in love with the sound of these units. While there are a number of equally excellent such plugins on the market, thanks to its hardware counterparts Karacter is by far the most simple to work with. It will bite you hard if you’re not careful, but sometimes that’s exactly what you’re looking for – a little bit of that ‘oooh face’ moment when you crank the drive control way past sensible.
Check Elysia’s website for full details www.elysia.com
Grab the 14-day full demo over at Plugin Alliance, you jump in and take advantage of the special $129 introduction pricing. www.plugin-alliance.com
Test Machine Specs
Core i5-6500 3.20 Ghz 16gig RAM. Library installed on secondary 7200 drive.
Windows 10, 64bit.
Focusrite Scarlett 214 Interface
Yamaha MOTIF and Roland Jupiter 80 controllers
Presonus Eris E44
Shure SRH940 monitors