Do you enjoy flicking through plug-in presets? We are not asking for your opinion on whether you think plug-in presets are useful or not, that's a different debate. We are asking whether you enjoy the overall experience of browsing through presets and auditioning them?
Many plug-in preset menus are list-based. These can take time to surf through, which is to be expected as some developers provide hundreds of presets, but they can threaten to break our creative flow. We often need to focus when reading through these long lists of descriptive preset names. Working this way doesn't exactly promote creativity. When we do end up with a shortlist of likely options, we audition them to see if any fit the application, but what if none of the presets we find work?
In such cases, we end up exactly where we started and have wasted precious time in the process. We have nothing to show for our efforts and can feel let down. Are these failings caused by list-based plug-in preset menus in general? Possibly. The process we have just described is what many follow when working with presets. It's not perfect yet we accept it for what it is, but should we? Are there better ways to work with plug-in presets?
In this article we explore five time-saving ways that several plug-in developers have conjured up that improve the experience of browsing through plug-in presets. First, we show you some simple tricks you can apply in Pro Tools and Logic Pro X.
How Do You Surf Plug-in Presets?
When you toggle through plug-in presets in your DAW do you rely on your mouse? If so, stop now. There are smarter ways to work.
This Pro Tools quick tip is essential. Learn how to switch between plug-in and virtual instrument presets using just the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard. This technique will speed up your workflow no end and save you several hundred mouse clicks in a session.
Logic Pro X
Logic Pro X has two great ways of navigating presets without using the mouse. The first involves key commands. By default, there is a factory assignment for a consolidated key command to navigate linearly through either plug-in presets, patches (presets that contain channel strip settings and routing assignments,) or EXS 24 instruments. There are also separate commands available for these individual functions. The default assignments for the consolidated functions are the left bracket key and the right bracket key. One caveat though; the plug-in window needs to be open and selected for these to work.
The second method of scrolling through presets is more flexible. With the Library pane open, and the plug-in field in focus on your channel strip, use the left and right arrow keys to navigate up and down through your presets. The plug-in window does not need to be open for this function to work.
In addition to scrolling linearly, use the left and right arrow keys to move horizontally in your preset library to navigate to different preset folders you may have set up. This movement allows you to jump between different preset folders/categories/hierarchies. Once in the desired location, use the right arrow key to move back to the actual presets contained within. And the up/down arrow keys to once again move linearly through the individual presets.
Alternative Ways To Search For Plug-in Presets
Plug-in presets are a great source of creative ideas, but there’s often a catch. Plug-in developers typically include huge numbers of factory presets in their software titles. On the face of it, choice is a good thing right? Not always. Having a massive selection of presets to trawl through in a mix can make it near impossible to find specific sounds we hear in our head. Time is money. Many of us simply don’t enough of it to sift through pages of presets. There must be better, smarter, more intuitive ways to preset surf?
Luckily there are. Many third-party plug-in developers have addressed the traditional plug-in preset list menu and reimagined preset management to help their users find cool sounds and stay in the creative sweet spot. Below we take a whistle-stop tour of some smart plug-in preset managers.
Blue Cat Audio - Preset Map For Comparing Similar Sounding Presets
Blue Cat Audio recently released new updates of their popular guitar amp and effects plug-in Axiom and distortion plug-in Destructor. Both introduce powerful features enabling users to browse the massive preset libraries in both these plug-ins effortlessly. A new tag and search menu is present and two-dimensional preset navigation and morphing universe called Tone Maps. This display is handy as it bunches presets together which share similar qualities enabling users to compare apples with apples. If you find a preset that almost sounds perfect, you can use Tone Maps to browse other presets that sound ever so slightly different quickly.
See both these new plug-in preset menus in action by watching the short Blue Cat Audio videos below.
Exponential Audio Reverbs - Focus Search With Keywords
Exponential Audio plug-ins, which recently became part of the iZotope family, provide powerful preset systems. Just as well, plug-ins developed by Exponential Audio have a least 1,000 presets each. All of these presets are searchable by production keywords such as “large” to help engineers compare similar-sounding reverbs in one place. If these plug-ins didn’t have a keyword function users would find it near impossible to browse through all of the available presets.
iZotope - Why Bother With Presets At All?
In recent years iZotope completely turned the whole concept of plug-in presets on its head by introducing machine learning Assistants. Their mastering suite Ozone, audio repair RX, mixing system Neutron and vocal production plug-in Nectar all feature powerful A.I. assistant components. These listen to the incoming audio and suggests mixing starting points that users can either consider expanding on or reject altogether. With any of the iZotope assistants, you no longer need to browse through long lists of static presets. The A.I. in essences tailor-makes presets for you based on the unique characteristics of your source material. We’ve tested all of the iZotope assistants and have been very impressed with what each can achieve.
Watch our videos below to see each of the assistants in action.
UVI - What If Presets Where Presented At Random?
Presets in UVI’s Sparkverb are presented in what UVI call a Preset Voyager display. Users can click and drag between preset nodes to freely change between sounds. Controls update in real-time when moving between nodes. This makes it easy to see what’s happening during preset surfing.
When considering presets, we can make our decisions based on how certain presets are named. These brief descriptions provide us with a sense of what to expect in terms of sound, but is this subtle form influence always helpful when preset surfing? What if some elements of a preset could be randomised? There’s also a neat feature called Mutate which does just that. With a click of a button unlocked controls in Sparkverb change, providing you with different sounds you probably were not expecting.
Waves - Let The Plug-in Do The Browsing While You Play
It’s a real drag browsing through guitar amp presets, especially if you are the one responsible for recording and playing the electric guitar parts at the same time. If you want to test different tone in amp sims before hitting record, you need to take one of your hands off your instrument, put your pick down, reach for your mouse to toggle through presets…. it’s repetitive and can interrupt creative focus and flow. Is there a better way to do this? Yes, Waves PRS Supermodels has a neat solution that enables us to keep playing the guitar while auditioning different amp sounds.
If you want to test different cabinet sounds in PRS while playing you simply hit the play button in the UI which makes the plug-in automatically swap between presets for you at a user-specified speed. When you find a sound you like you simply take your hand off your guitar, reach for the mouse and hit stop within the plug-in. How cool is this? There are only a handful of plug-ins that have this kind of feature, there should be more as it’s rather useful.
Should Plug-in Developers Do More To Help Us Use Their Presets?
These five examples demonstrate that preset surfing doesn’t need to be a painful pot luck experience. Many plug-in developers pride themselves on massive preset counts. Why then do they not provide us with better ways to use these preset libraries? As we stated earlier, preset surfing in list-based systems isn’t perfect, yet we accept it for what it is. Clearly, there are there better ways of working with plug-in presets, shame then that in most plug-ins, presets management comes across an afterthought,