FabFilter’s Saturn Review

FabFilter joins the multi-band distortion camp with its latest release, Saturn. Liam O’Mullane pays it a visit.

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We’ve covered quite a few products by FabFilter in the pages of MTM over the years and they’ve received nothing but glowing reviews every time. This is due to the plug-ins’ excellent sound quality, and consistently well-engineered interfaces. In fact, the approach of ‘use what you see’ employed by FabFilter for Saturn’s layout gives you an idea of how much thought the company puts into its GUIs. Saturn is a case in point, having a simple yet highly functional design and offering single or multi-band distortion in a way that visually speaking makes perfect sense.

Bands On The Run

As soon as you click anywhere in the multi-band display area (which has a graphic equaliser analyser display in the background) a plus icon appears. Clicking on it creates the second band, taking you from single to multi-band mode. Continue clicking to add more bands (the maximum is six).

Each band can have individual distortion types assigned to them, starting with the subtle, flattering and dynamic shaping offered by modes such as Clean Tape and Clean Tube. We managed to get some nice, round and fat drum tones from single hits and loops using these modes. A Dynamics control enables you to determine how squashed the dynamics are, so it’s easy to shape the sound as you want.

For more obvious distortion effects there are more extreme options, including hot-sounding tubes and tape, rectified and guitar amp tones to name just a few.

Each band has a Dynamics dial, distortion type, Drive, Pan and Feedback options, the last of which is good for howl-round effects. A three-band EQ enables you to shape the band, while a Presence dial adds some air. You can also use this with negative values, which we found helped in getting some lovely, cabinet-like voicing by rolling off the top end.

Mod, Mid and Side

If you’re into using distortion as a means of creating new sounds rather than enhancing existing ones, Saturn’s mod options will be most welcome. The same drag-and-drop modulation assignments are ported from previous FabFilter plug-ins, and this has always been our preferred way of setting up modulation – it’s more intuitive than dropdown menus and the complementary RSI that comes with them…

You can add numerous instances of modulation sources, maxing out at 30. These can be XY pads, envelope followers, LFOs, envelope generators and MIDI sources. Each instance can modulate two different aspects of Saturn, so there’s no shortage of options here.

As usual, although you have plenty of possibilities, a few well-chosen options will give better results than going overboard and creating a confusing sound – unless, of course, that is your intention.

In terms of the stereo behaviour of Saturn, you can flick the entire plug-in’s operation between left and right stereo processing or mid/side. These are controlled via an inner and outer dial on the Drive control, so you can pan a distorted band to one side and have the dry signal panned to the other for stereo width, which sounds nice and retro with the hard-panning approach. The mid/side processing is good for raising just one or the other or adding more harmonic information to them. We managed to get some very wide sounds working on the side information with medium distortion and then using the Presence dial to raise the high end of the wide signal – great for leads, vocals and drum hits.

In fact, throughout our tests on live and electronic-sounding drums, bass, melodic parts and vocals, we managed to create plenty of either musically suitable enhancements to sounds or use the more extreme settings of Rectify or Destroy as special effects, automating them to move from their cleaner settings through to complete break-up in the signal.

No matter what type of distortion you go for with Saturn, it always maintains a creamy and ‘produced’ sound, which in most cases is desirable. It certainly makes mixing an easy task as well. The only effects we struggled to find are sterile and sharp digital distortions, which can be needed for certain sounds in harder electronic styles of music. For overall distortion duties and sound-design, though, this plug-in is highly recommended.

+ Large range of distortion tones readily available
+ Includes mid/side treatments
+ Six bands of individual distortion types and parameters

– Click-to-open distortion types menu is a little fiddly
– Can’t quite achieve the grittiest of digital distortion tones

A very nice-sounding distortion that can also sound aggressive when pushed, while always maintaining a smooth, saturated character. The interface can’t be overstated in terms of how easy it makes getting the tones you want.



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