A drum buss enhancer for adding punch and power to your percussion.
Beatformer's UI is bracingly simple, consisting of just four large knobs, in addition to input and output gain controls. The four parameters available for tweaking are Boom, Punch, Air and Squash, which sound as fitting for drum mixing as they do for old-school cartoon sound effects. Much to my relief, distortion and over-saturation don't really come into play here—Beatformer is designed with musicality and subtlety in mind.
The parameters are likely familiar terms for most producers, but they are also troublingly vague for a plug-in with no fine control. Fortunately, Beatformer's manual includes reasonably thorough descriptions of what each parameter actually handles. The device's signal flow is straightforward enough: after the gain stage, a semi-adjustable crossover for low, mid and high frequencies routes each band to its own processing block. They're summed before hitting another gain stage and a limiter. The low-end is only treated with bass boost, controlled by the Boom knob, while the mids and highs each go through their own transient shaper and saturator, grouped together under Punch for the mids and Air for the highs. The midrange also passes through a compressor/expander in the form of Squash. The crossover frequency between the mids and highs is adjustable via the small High Split knob and can be set anywhere in the useful range of 4kHz to 12kHz. It's not stated anywhere what the crossover point for the low frequency band is, but some experimentation revealed this to be in the neighbourhood of 350Hz.
Boom, the sole low-end control, adds harmonics to the main low frequency, thereby boosting the perceived bass. Underneath the knob is a drop-down menu with a range of pitches between E1 and D2, or roughly 37 to 82Hz. Choosing any of these frequencies activates a tuned sub-oscillator that follows the envelope of the incoming low-end sounds. The effect works well, sounding more transparent than compression and more dynamic than EQ-based frequency boosting. I found between ten and one o'clock to be my personal sweet spot on the dial, but the Boom can definitely boom hard if you push it to the limit.
On the right side of the UI lies Air, which controls high-frequency processing. From the centre position to full-clockwise, Air adds harmonics to the incoming signal's high frequencies in the same manner as Boom. Turning the knob counter-clockwise from the centre position applies a gentle filter to the high frequencies instead. Punch works similarly, operating on the frequencies below the designated crossover. These two controls can be both practically useful and creatively interesting, individually and in tandem. For example, when turned all the way counter-clockwise, Punch can be used as a strange frequency-dependent ducking effect. Turn it all the way to the right and the decision to call it Punch becomes obvious, as it starts to function more as a beat chopper.
It's worth noting that Punch and Air are individually switchable between stereo and mid/side processing. This is particularly useful for drum tracks that incorporate some panning, or when there are stereo effects involved in the processing chain, like chorus or panned delay. It's not a feature often found in simplicity-minded plug-ins, and switching from stereo to mid/side processing can quickly add a different sense of width and space to a signal.
Squash, the last of the four primary controls, is a dynamic range processor, working as an expander when turned counter-clockwise and a compressor in the clockwise direction. It comes after Punch in the signal flow, meaning it only operates on the mid frequencies. It's a solid effect, acoustically transparent and easy to keep in check. Because it's only applied to the mid-range, unintended pumping or bass-dependent side-chaining isn't an issue. The idea of a single-knob, self-adjusting compressor might be off-putting for some, but in my experience, it worked pretty well, and it can be nice not to put too much thought into compressor settings.
I was skeptical when I first encountered Beatformer, assuming it would turn out to be another heavy-handed and overly simplified percussion enhancer. But after spending time using it on a wide range of drum tracks, I'm impressed. I rarely longed for finer controls than the ones available and found it to be extremely effective while staying transparent. The lack of visual feedback might bother some potential users, but it certainly keeps the focus on how the sound changes rather than whether levels are looking the way they're "supposed to." I'd be cautious about running more than a few instances of Beatformer at the same time, however, as it showed signs of CPU hunger, but this was never a big issue during the review period. Whether used as a set-and-forget rhythm processor or a sound-mangling tool incorporating DAW automation, Beatformer is equally exciting.
Ease of use: 4.7