Plugin Alliance Sandman Pro Delay – Infinite Possibilities
At first glimpse, I thought this would be a fairly easy review, it’s a delay plugin, right? How complex can it be? As it turns out, I completely underestimated Sandman Pro…quite a lot.
Updated Septemeber 2017
Sandman Pro is the big brother to Sandman, a single modulator version of Unfiltered Audio. The pro versions expand on the theme with unlimited modules, more delay modes and better Sleep buffer controls. The interface is clean and quite stark, with the developers opting for a high-contrast minimalist look.
Sandman Pro is a fairly plain-Jane-looking device when first installed, you’ll see your usual controls and a few extras you’ll ignore at first to cycle through some presets to see what it can do – then all of a sudden things get very crazy quickly.
I would highly recommend if you’re brand new to Sandman, spend a little time with the manual and work out the basics first, once you get a feel for the controls browsing patches is a little less intimidating.
The included presets nicely showcase the device, and it’s not difficult to deconstruct the routeing setup and follow along once you know the operating basics. Some of the artists’ collections are simply out of this world, I’m a huge fan of all the Simon Stockhausen patches particularly. The experimental section is a little out there, as most of the other presets – it’s a shame there weren’t a few more ‘basic’ presets available, but curating a good set of user presets doesn’t take long.
Unfiltered Audio is an effects plugin company based in Santa Barbara, California. Headed by Joshua Dickinson, Dr Michael Hetrick and Dr Ryan Michael McGee, Unfiltered Audio is well known for its radical effect devices in Reason and VST formats.
At its basic core, Sandman Pro acts like a traditional delay. Other than the Sleep controls in the centre of the UI, everything will make sense to you. You’re presented with all the usual delay controls you’d expect – a giant delay time knob, feedback, diffuse, high and low-pass filters plus mix and width controls on the output section. The more advanced modules are hidden away for later, more adventurous projects.
The ultra-modern minimalistic UI initially made me think all the results would be very contemporary and aimed mainly at the EDM market.
Each of the 6 delay modes sounds great, with a big tone difference particularly between classic and modern. You get unique controls for each mode selected, offering plenty of creative inspiration. The rather interesting multi-tap mode, for instance, allows up to 16 delays at once, which rapidly gets out of control if you’re not careful, but sounds brilliant when kept in check. The duel-mono pitch shifter features individual pitching control over each input channel, and the Glitch Shifter lets you totally destroy the signal in a fantastic way.
So yes, EDM guys will be in heaven with Sandman Pro but don’t think this is all for making club bangers. The modulation section is where things get really interesting, hold onto your hats.
Digging deeper, Sandman Pro features a brilliant modulation section with 7 unique modules available to insert, somewhat like a euro rack-style modular synth. Once you enable a module, virtual patch cables allow you to connect CV ports around the plugin. The nifty cabling is a nice touch over a matrix grid, and very familiar to us Reason users out there. While some will cautiously approach the cables, ensuring the correct lead goes to the recommended connection, modular synth buffs will tell you the best results come when you throw caution to the wind and just plug any cable into any hole and have fun. In testing some of the most radical results were found by randomly throwing stuff around, it’s kinda fun and you’ll find plenty of happy mistakes (make sure you save the patches).
The Sleep Buffer is the centrepiece of the plugin UI, which is an input sampler that will loop a section of audio until you either kill it or resample a new section. Once some audio is in the buffer, you can affect the start and end points, reverse it, change the sample rate or apply HP and LP filters resulting is some cool results.
The advanced features of the plugin for me lean more towards soundscape designs, but Sandman Pro doesn’t beat you up if you only want to use more simplistic traditional delays for a vocal line for instance. The signal workflow is more complicated than a factory plugin that came bundled with your DAW, but not in a way that will make you cross-eyed if you just wanted a hint of width for your guitar line. The really weird stuff is tucked away out of sight, ready for the day you need to dig deeper for some more crazy ideas.
As a traditional delay effect, I found the classic tape and Modern Instance extremely useful for pushing a little further into creativeness with the wow and slew controls, taking a simple effect and introducing a little more movement. Also, interestingly, I found applying some of the more wacky effects to a subtle level, maybe 10 – 15% mix, added really cool distant movement in the tracks that just sits under the mix imparting interest and movement. Great stuff.
I absolutely love the high feedback presets when used on pads, strings and piano instruments, offering otherworldly randomness that only comes with modular analogue effects. Anything from a moody reverb to totally bizarre chopped and reversed effects can be made by simply playing with the cables, randomly plugging this into that and seeing what happens.
It’s difficult to find much wrong here, especially considering the price. But I will nitpick; I’m not a fan of the design. It looks more like a student project and makes the device look less serious than it really is, which is a shame as I think a lot of people will pass this up as some DJ effect or, yerk….an Ableton plugin. Kudos, I guess, for avoiding the ultra-realistic look most developers choose, but it does look out of place next to my Pultec and Neve plugins.
To say Sandman Pro is brimming with features is the understatement of the year. Is this the ultimate delay plugin? I’m not sure what else you could ask for, and at only $99 it certainly delivers outstanding value. The lesser non-pro version is also pretty good, offering much of what the full version can do at half the price, but I think if you’re looking for creative freedom, it’s hard to pass up unlimited modulators and extra delay modes found in the pro version.
I have seen similar effects achieved using combinators and clever programming in Reason, but certainly nothing like this as an all-in-one plugin. There is a world of creative possibilities here with a device that is also happy to settle down and provide solid, day-to-day effects on call.
Sandman Pro is a powerful, yet controllable enough device to serve as your daily go-to delay in the studio. Of course, all the controls are totally MIDI-mappable, so you can certainly use the plugin as a live performance effect, great if you’re in a Sigue Sigue Sputnik tribute band, or maybe you’re the next Beardyman. This is the plugin you didn’t know you needed so much until you tried it, then I think you’ll wonder how you lived without it for so long.
Sandman Pro has a 14-day trial demo available, so it’s well worth downloading and playing with yourself (Plugin Alliance throw in a bunch of free plugins on your account when you join, which is pretty cool of them). Make sure you have room on your credit card, because trust me, you won’t want to give it back!
Test Machine Specs
Core i5-6500 3.20 Ghz 16gig RAM. The library is installed on a secondary 7200 drive.
Windows 10, 64bit.
Focusrite Scarlett 214 Interface
Yamaha MOTIF and Roland Jupiter 80 controllers
Presonus Eris E44
Shure SRH940 monitors