I think the ultimate channel strip plugin for many engineers has always been one of the variants of Neve’s legendary 80 series consoles. There are certainly some really good versions of the hardware now available (some closer to the original sound than others), and I think even the pickiest mixer can find one that satisfies. That said, the plugin sound totally depends upon the console that’s being modeled. Mediocre console = mediocre plugin. It’s when you have a special sounding console that a plugin version can really shine, as is the case of the new Blackbird Studio BB N105 channel strip from KIT Plugins.
Blackbird Studios in Nashville is known for being as meticulous about sound quality as you can get, and their Neve 8078 in Studio A has long been praised as one of the best sounding consoles ever built. It’s far from stock in that there’s been extensive tweaking that has taken it another step beyond the normally excellent sounding 8078. Blackbird owner John McBride has made sure that duplicating its sound in a plugin went above and beyond the norm, paying special attention in capturing the desk’s saturation, noise, distortion, depth, width and musicality.
The BB N105 is basically an extension of the Neve 31105 module found in an 8078 but with a few twists. At the top of the plugin, a Preamp Sensitivity control allows you to dial in the appropriate amount of natural sounding compression and harmonic content. Below that is a Mic/Line switch that changes the input impedance and bypasses the Preamp Sensitivity, and a Saturation switch to turn the natural saturation on or off.
Next comes the 4 band EQ that emulates what you find on the 31105 module in terms of frequency selection and peak/shelf switches. At the bottom is the dual High and Low Pass filters, followed by a Phase switch and a Channel Bypass switch.
Where the plugin gets interesting is on the right side of the module. There’s an output gain fader that’s adjustable from -40 to +20dB, but below that is an Analog Hum on/off switch and a Hum Level control. This is the secret sauce that gives the plugin its realism. I remember a plugin developer who specialized in guitar amp simulators telling me that it’s the imperfections that make the sound real. In this case it’s the omni-present analog hum in the real thing that you can dial in here to get “that” sound.
The KIT BB N105 plugin is available in VST3, AU and AAX plugin formats, and can be used as either a standalone or a DAW plugin in most any DAW on a Mac or PC. The price is only $99 and there’s a free 7 day trial available. You also get a free years subscription to other KIT plugins that will be launching soon.