Lowbit Records Erik Pettersson road tests the latest from Softube – Heartbeat

Heartbeat is Softube’s latest plugin and a first for the Swedish company. Renowned for their high end software plugin effects and hardware plugin emulations; Heartbeat is their first synthesiser plugin.

A complete drum machine synthesizer with 8 parts consisting of 2 kick drum generators, one snare drum/rimshot generator, one snare drum/clap generator, one hi hat generator (doing open and closed hi hats simultaneous), two percussion generators and one cymbal generator. There are also individual volume controls per generator, effect sends, solo & mute buttons, an overall saturation effect & EQ section and the ‘auto layer machine’ (more on that later).

The first drum generator ‘bd 1’ creates a very 909 style kick drum with decay, attack, attack type, pitch and bend controls. The harmonics knob adds extra drive and crunch to the sound and is able to create tight Linn drum style drums to super heavy hardcore kicks. The second kick generator simply named ‘kick’ is more modelled from the 808 and has only attack, pitch and decay controls. It’s able to create tight punchy kicks to rumbling long decayed kicks. The additional harmonics knob adds overdrive and top end to the kick.

The snare/rimshot, snare/clap and hi hat generators all work on a hybrid sample based & synthesised approach where you have a slider to control the amount of blend between the two parts. They all have a ‘type’ knob that will cycle through the samples and synthesis used to generate the sound, separate knobs for pitch and decay are also present. The snare drum generator is versatile enough to create 909 style snares to the more timid 606 style snare and snappy rim shots. Similarly the snare/clap generator is equally flexible with the ability to create light snappy claps and snares to dark and chunky ones.

The hi hat part uses one section to create two variants of open and closed hi hats which have that very distinct 808 & 909 feeling to them. The two decay controls allow you to combine the decay of the sample based and synthesised sound giving you a lot of control of the sound and a lot of sonic possibilities from clicky type sounds to long tailed hi hats.

You get two percussion generators based on the same algorithms and are the most unique generators of them bunch; allowing you to create some very interesting toms and percussion sounds using the noise, FM, FM+Noise, single and dual oscillators. You have a lot of control over the percussion generators with decay, pitch, tone, time and sweep range controls. Finally the cymbal generator can create some light and airy cymbals and rides but has limited control to decay, ring and pitch. It has a quite metallic ring to it which is controller by the ‘Ring’ knob.

Effects Hearbeat has three built in effects taken from their high quality range of effect processors, the first is ‘dyna-mite’ a limiter/expander with a unique sounding character. ‘dyna-mite’ features a limiter mode, an expander mode and a gate mode. The range knob controls maximum amount of expansion of limiting. It can be used to do do some ducking style compression with the ‘DUCK switch set to on, using the kick drum generators as trigger. The ‘TSAR-1D’ reverb is a modified version of Softube’s ‘TSAR-1’ algorithmic reverb. The ‘TSAR-1D’ is easy to use with its four controls; pre-delay, time, density and tone but don’t get fooled by the simplicity as the reverb sounds great and can easily create tight dense rooms to long
hallways. The additional low and high cut allows you to keep the mix from getting too messy.

Finally the ‘FilterEcho’ is a easy to use echo/delay unit with a built in filter with cutoff and resonance control. The delay can either use ms timing or synced timing from 1/2 to 1/64 with dotted and triplet support. Heartbeat also has a general saturation knob that affects the whole mix giving that extra drive in the sound as well as a basic three band EQ allowing you to cut or gain low, mid and highs.

Auto Layer Machine
Heartbeat does not have its own step sequencer but it has the ‘Auto Layer Machine’; a unique take on generating fills and layers. The ALM consists of four parts and each part can trigger 4 sounds from the generator sections. Joining the sounds is a knob going from ‘layer’ to ‘fill’ and determines the delay on when the next sound in the chain is triggered. This allows you to either layer sounds with one key or trigger a sequence of sounds. The aptly named ‘chaos’ slider determines how the chain is continued over to the neighbouring ALM part or onto itself. You can slide the ‘chaos’ slider between ‘down’, ‘down-up’, ‘down-left’, ‘down-left-right’, ‘down-left-right-up’ and in doing so can create some crazy rhythmical patterns that would have been impossible to program by hand.

Heartbeat is a fantastic sounding drum synthesiser with top quality effects built in. It is easy to use and inspiring, but priced relatively high at $219. There are quite a few alternatives out there today at a lower price point like D16 Nephaton, Audio Realism ADM or even the built-in drum synthesisers in Native Instruments Maschine (v2.0). However, the quality of the sounds and built-in effects make up for it. The ALM is tricky to get any good results with quickly but when you do you will have something truly unique sounding.

In a recent move Softube has moved away from requiring an iLok dongle as copy protection on their software, however you still need the iLok software with a license on the computer to be able to run Heartbeat. Heartbeat is available in VST,VST3, Audio Units and AAX Native.

About the Author

Sweden’s Erik Pettersson is better known as DJ/producer Sonic Union, one half of prolific progressive house pair Bastards of Funk and Sonic Union and co-founder, label owner and manager of Lowbit Records.