"Be careful what you wish for" is a much-heard warning, and it's certainly applicable to the recording industry. Throughout the '60s and '70s, what some engineers craved more than anything was a transparent, pristine-sounding recording medium that bypassed the hiss of tape. The '80s provided a solution via digital recording. But as we know all too well, recorded music actually sounds good with the grit of analogue circuits, tubes, noisy pre-amps and warm valves. So it's no surprise that plug-ins emulating this side of vintage hardware have become popular. SoundToys is among the most respected developers of such software, and the latest title to exit SoundToys' stable is Radiator, which models the input channel and EQ of the Altec 1567A tube mixer designed in the '60s.
The original hardware offered five mono inputs with removable transformers, but its selling point was its incredible 97 dB of gain boost, achieved through a combination of the input stage, a two-band EQ and then a separate output gain control. Cranked to the max, all of these dials could significantly increase volume, and SoundToys have pulled no punches with an emulation capable of similar brutality. Of course, such gain increase in hardware terms comes at a cost—plenty of noise—and this stage of Radiator is faithfully modeled, too. But this one has a 21st Century twist: you can dial the noise out altogether if you choose.
The dials provided are input, output, treble, bass and mix, where you decide whether to use a completely wet output treatment or treat the input source in parallel by balancing between an unprocessed and processed blend. The EQ is generous, offering a pleasingly musical response capable of significantly rounding out bass tones or adding clarity and brightness. At a glance, you might consider Radiator a rock plug-in, perfectly suited to guitar, electric bass and drum sounds. While these instruments will certainly benefit from its capabilities, it will prove hugely useful for electronic producers, too, adding dirt to rasping basslines, helping vocals cut through a mix, parallel-processing a drum group or even adding weight and warmth to a whole mix. So despite its modest parameter set, Radiator will give you plenty of sonic options. The final feature is a toggle switch between line and mic, providing faithful reproduction of the differences in response between the hardware's input sources.
A free version, the Little Radiator, became available for a short time last year, and an updated version of it is included with each purchase of the full Radiator plug-in. While its name suggests a kind of Radiator-lite, this isn't the case at all. It's been updated to offer both a new core sound or the option to use the version released last year via a bias toggle switch. It's based on another Altec design, the 1566A, which is a single-stage tube pre-amp unit offering an even simpler control set. Again, noise can be switched in or out at will, while the "heat" control does what you might expect, warming the sound via a continuous rotary dial. Again, parallel processing or whole treatments can be set from the mix dial.
As a pair, both Radiator and Little Radiator offer a sound distinct from other emulating plug-ins. If you need the warmth, extended gain and musical EQ of a hardware classic, this bundle will give you exactly that.