Soundtoys PanMan is one of a kind. In typical Soundtoys fashion, rather than model a particular piece of hardware (many others do that) they study many aspects of classic hardware and come up with something original based on the best ideas from the classic gear.
The interface changes slightly depending upon the options selected. Offset can be used to give one side preference. For instance, say you want to pan from left to center instead of left to right. This can be really useful if you are trying to add in a little motion without being overwhelming or taking up too much space. You can send it to the back (with reverb perhaps or lowering the volume) and have it just pan from left to center left, or center left to center. Sometimes subtle is all you need.
The width control lets you decide how drastic you want the panning to be. While most people think of something like Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be” or psychedelic headphone music when they think of panning, it can be very useful in a less obvious way. A lot of music today really fills in the sonic landscape in a more subtle fashion. While is might not sound like a lot is going on instrumentation wise, there’s not a lot of silence. There’s always some kind of motion in the background. Setting a narrow width can really help with that.
Smoothing is crucial when trying to synch with the beat. A hard pan will snap it from one side to the other, so it’s more rhythmic, but it can “slur” the sound. This can be a great effect, or really ruin the sound. This knob lets you tweak it to get it just right.
There’s several options for Modulations as well. LFO gives you the ability to tune the knob for precise control of the panning. It you use the Tweak button, it reveals more options. The Threshold is the signal level required before the LFO kicks in. There’s also Attack and Release so that you can control how quickly the effect kicks in and how slowly it is released.
One nice bonus, if you don’t already own a Decapitator or other saturation effect, you can select an analog style to dirty up the track. (Check out our review of the Soundtoys Decapitator.)
While LFO gives you nice control, the Rhythm step mode will let you synch up the effect to beat. You can pick how many steps to have and how frequently to adjust the pan. For example, you could have 3 steps at 1/4 note intervals, which would pan left on the first 1/4 note, center on the 2nd quarter note, right on the 3 quarter note, and then back to left on the 4th 1/4 note.
You can also select panning direction. Left-to-right (better described as left then right, as it starts over or snaps to the left) then there is right-to-left we well as back-and-forth.
Let’s play around with some sound clips to give you an idea of what it does. This first clip is just a simple quarter note piano piece run through the TickTock Pan preset.
This yields a bit of a warbly effect, almost a Leslie effect. It’s not first thing that jumps to mind when thinking of panning.
Changing from the Rhythm Stepper to the LFO will offer finer control. Then adjusting more the the right creates a faster Leslie or tremolo style effect.
Turning it to the left allows the panning to be more in time with the beat, almost creating a delay effect. The cool thing though is that rather than a repeated note, it’s the next note that sounds like the repeated delay. This can be quite creative.
A quick mix example
Let’s throw together a quick mix to see what we can do on a few different tracks. I’ll try the Pendulum Pan preset on the main piano riff, and then I’ll duplicate the piano two octaves higher on a separate track with the Spaz Pong preset.
Now we’ll add in a Kick, and for the heck of it, let’s see what some panning can do. I’ll select the Hard Bounce preset and will also select the Crunch Analog Style to see if we can dirty it up a bit.
To show how it can really spice up some stale Trap style hats, let’s put it on the closed hats. Even spaced identical velocity hats are the standard in Trap, but can get stale. Some producers do pan them left and right. Let’s see if PanMan can add some interest for us.
Here are all of them together so you get a sense of what could work for in a complete mix. Obviously you won’t put this on every track, but this gives you a sense of what works and what doesn’t. I’ll also run this through Ozone for a quick mastering polish.
One of the features they took from the original PanScan was the Trigger Divider. First, you set the trigger knob to what volume threshold that you want to trigger a count. You then sent the Divider knob to the number of times, or counts, that need to occur before the effect pans to the other side.
Here is an open hi-hat added in to the mix. The Divider is set to 3, so after the 3rd time the, the panning effect switches to the other side. The Divider count will be reset, and the panning will now be on the right side, if it was on the left prior. So the 4th time the hi-hat plays, it is now panned to the other side.
Final Thoughts on Soundtoys PanMan
At first look, a panning plugin doesn’t seem all that useful, but once you play with Soundtoys PanMan, you can’t help but see how it can add interest and motion to your tracks. When trying to spice up a track, this plugin is definitely worth putting on and demoing. It offers rhythmic options that can be used to alter the feel of the entire mix. It also adds motion to fill in gaps that exist in your mix, definitely check out this plugin!
Don’t forget to check out our other Soundtoys Reviews.