Soundtoys Crystallizer, a Granular Echo Synthesizer? What is a Granular Echo Synthesizer? When I first played with it, I must admit I wrote it off. It seemed like one of the least useful plugins in the Soundtoys 5 bundle. I’m glad that I revisited it, because I judged it prematurely.
If you aren’t already familiar, some of the Soundtoys developers were previously at Eventide, and helped create the legendary H3000. The famous “Crystal Echoes” preset from the H3000 Harmonizer was the inspiration for this unit.
The Crystallizer takes a slice of the input audio and then affects it in a few ways. When it plays it back, it can play it back in reverse. It can be shifted up or down in pitch by 3 octaves, and delayed up to 2 seconds. The Recycle features allows for regeneration, where the output is fed back into the input.
To give you a sense of what it does, check out this guitar application. If you want ethereal, complex, spacious type effects, then this is a no brainer as a guitar plugin. But don’t hit the back button just yet if you aren’t a guitarist. It is just as magical on vocals, and works with most material, and even can be used on the mix bus.
Soundtoys Crystallizer Interface
You have the standard Mix knob, which allows you to use the plugin on the track “in-line” and adjust the amount of dry vs. wet signal. The Input and Output knobs only affect the wet signal and not the original signal level.
The Pitch knob allows you to alter the pitch up by 3 octaves or down by 3 octaves, and anywhere in between. You have the ability to fine tune in cents, offering lots of detuned options. You can click inside the readout and type an exact number if you desire a precise value.
The Splice knob lets you control how long the slice of audio is that gets captured for playback. If you set it to 2 seconds, it will be 2 seconds before it gets played back. Flipping the toggle from forward to reverse will result in the slice being played back in reverse. The MIDI toggle will convert from setting times in milliseconds, to the MIDI clock. In other words, times will be shown in note values, synched to the beat.
The Delay knob lets you specify how long a delay there should be between the source signal and effect signal, up to 2 seconds. The Recycle knob controls how much feedback goes back into the input signal. Combining this with pitch can create a spiraling up or down effect.
Here’s an example of using -500 cents detuning the pitch, 2.5ms of delay and 6.3 ms of Splice to create an affected sound on the claps.
The threshold knob is the level of signal that must be reached before the Gate/Duck effect kicks in. Keeping the signal below this threshold will result in the Gate/Duck never being activated. The Gate/Duck knob controls the Gating (turning to the rigth) or Ducking (turning to the left.) Gating will increase the sound level and Ducking will decrease it.
Here are 4 notes, each will progressively lower velocity. By setting the threshold, I can have the Gate Kick in on, and be progressively less for each note, until the last note has no effect at all. Likewise, by turning it to Ducking and using the same threshold, I start out with no effect on the first note, and it gets progressively more pronounced until it’s entirely active on the 4th note.
Here’s a more useful example. Using a Serum patch and some claps to do an EDM style track, you can add in a Ducking effect and adjust the Threshold to only kick in when the note dies off. This will give you an extra rhythmic element, making it more interesting and even give a bit more swing to the track.
Now for a Trap type example. The built in Logic Pro X Electric Piano sounds pretty flat. Using the Dubbler preset with some ducking applied, it makes a big difference.
The tweak button reveals a hidden screen full of extra settings.
The Pitch Offset will detune the left channel down and the right channel up, relative to what the main pitch knob is set to. This knob allows for up to a 4 octave difference.
The Splice Offset will short the right side of the signal, and only the right side. The amount shown is in percent. The Delay offset, in a similar fashion, only affects the right side of the signal, and in percentages.
The Smoothing knob affects the crossfade speed. This can really help if the sound gets too choppy or if you want more of a swooshing effect.
The Low Cut and High Cut knobs are both 12db rolloffs, and if used together can act as a bandpass filter. High Cut ranges from 500Hz to 20KHz.
The Attack and Release knobs can tweak the Gate/Duck effect. Attack will control how quickly the effect kicks in once the threshold is met. Release controls how quickly the effect is released and returned back to normal.
The Feedback Mode controls how the feedback is panned. Mixed blends the left and right channel, Dual puts them in left and right independently, and Ping-Pong will bounce the repeats between the left and right side.
Ducking Mode can fine tune the ducking/gating effect. Out will duck the signal before the feedback, Feedback only ducks the feedback and Both will affect both the output signal and feedback signal.
Here’s a clip with Crystallizer turned off for every track, and then turned on for every track. And then off on all tracks, but the FastLoOct preset used on the mix bus. That really adds a nice twist to the final mix. The Doubler preset thickens the mix as well.
Here is a cool effect on the vocals using the Crystal Builder preset, which makes the price of the plugin look like a steal. You may recognize the effect from several hit songs. It creates a chopped vocal effect without doing much in the way of actual chopping, and by using the Gate the re-tuned repeats are only played back when the vocals aren’t going. How cool is that! Very little effort to get a polished radio hit effect.
I tried the Koursar preset on the mixbus, which sounded great. It really thickened the whole mix. The only downside was that the kick was a bit boomy. So I sent everything but the kick to an aux with the Koursar preset so that I could keep the kick dry and here’s what it sounded like.
This is definitely a no brainer for recording guitar. It seems like distortion/saturation/overdrive is what gets all the love as far as guitar effects. This can make your guitar sound modern, or like something Jimmy Page would have played back in the 70s. This is also a no brainer for vocals, especially if you are doing EDM Pop type of tracks.
Some of the doubling effects are not only useful to thicken up individual tracks, but can be used on the whole darn mixbus. And since Soundtoys had the good sense to put a mix knob on there, you can blend it with the original signal until it sounds right.
Boiling it down, Soundtoys Crystallizer basically takes a sample, delays it, and optionally pitches it up or down. That sounds too simple. The Gating and Ducking take it to a whole new level though, which is where it really shines. Additionally, the ability to fine tune up and down simultaneously left and right really adds some practical uses for doubling and thickening. Unless you like dry tracks, I would definitely add this to the must buy list.
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Make sure you check out our other Soundtoys Reviews.