Versus - API 212L, Neve 1073LB, Soundtoys Radiator, Manley Dual Mono Pre
Kush Audio have a good track record of creating some of the most innovative moves in audio hardware with genuinely original pieces of outboard gear like the Electra, Clariphonic, and Tweaker. This methodology has also carried through in their approach to plugins, with, for example the UBK1, Pusher and Hammer (and providing the world with software versions of the Electra and Clariphonic) and basing their gear on feel and trusting your ears rather than by numbers on the faceplate.
And now, Kush have also started another clever move (in our opinion at least) by creating the Omega preamp that directly interfaces with a range of transformer options to color your sound to suit your desires (the transformer plugins can also of course be used without the Omega in your DAW like any normal plugin). As many outboard lovers are aware transformers have a major influence on the sound of a unit, so having a range of dedicated plugins on hand to help capture those classic tones that people know and love and up the quality of a mix without having to sell a kidney seems like a good plan.
Models currently available are -
Model A - Which emulates an API transformer
Model N - Which emulates a Neve transformer
Model 458a - Which emulates tubes from the Altec 458a (see bottom of page for specs)
- So - how do these stack up against the actual hardware in a shootout? -
We’ve made a series of shootouts so you can decide for yourself and added in some things that we noted from our checks. Feel free to add to them from the range of other instruments available - Open them in a new tab so you can jump between the extra information below and the shootout.
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What we think . . . from our listening tests on ATC SCM110ASL Pro’s and Extreme Isolation EX-29 Headphones.
- Kush Type N vs Neve 1073 LB -
For the shootouts we think that the Type N at up to 50% and the Neve at +20dB gain are in the rough ballpark to compare characteristics. At 75% and 100% we don’t have a similar level of overdrive on the 1073LB to compare at the moment, so you’ll have to just enjoy the Type N at that level.
The Kush Type N has a more solid centre signal while the Neve gives slightly more width. The 1073LB also seems to have slightly increased harmonics (listen to the increase on the presence in the cymbals) or top end to the Type N plugin - but it is important to realise that this difference from the Neve may be a factor of other aspect of the circuitry, or the type of transformer that Kush modelled against.
We find that this extra width is a general characteristic of analog gear over their plugin emulations, and perhaps it could be a functional option that software designers could add in as a useful option (e.g. a minor chaos button).
- Kush Type A vs API 212L -
Kush really seem to have captured the character of the API sound, there are some nice similarities that will make you happy no doubt, espcially if you are already a fan of the API sound.
There are of course some slight differences with our test model API 212L unit as would be expected. The API has more punch in the low end on the kick (you can see this from the RX5 spectrogram) where as the Kush stays a bit more mid rangey (which can be seen in a bit more going on for the Type A in the 200 to 400 Hz range).
Here’s the Kush Type A
Here’s the API 212L
The API 212 when pushed to clipping starts to crunch up and clip mostly in the low end - whereas the Kush is a bit more linear across the spectrum when pushed to distortion.
- Kush 458a vs Soundtoys Little Radiator vs Manley Dual -
As said, the Kush 458a is modelled from an Altec 458a tube preamp. With that in mind we thought it would be interesting to compare it to the Soundtoys Radiator which is also modelled off an Altec preamp (although in this case the 1567a) and a Manley Labs Dual Pre, a top of the line Tube preamp.
There are some settings where you can hear the 458a and Radiator at similar characters, e.g. 458a at 75% and Radiator at 50% (input) and 100% output.
At lower levels of drive, to our ears the Kush 458a has the most presence in the upper mids and in the top end whereas the Soundtoys Radiator has a slightly softer feel for transients, or is slightly rolled off in the high frequencies. Comparing the 458a to the Manley we find that the Manley has more weight in the lower end, the kick sounds bigger and everything a bit ‘tighter’ and wider as you would hope with a top of the price range preamp. The Manley sounds like it has more harmonics in the low mids whereas the Kush 458a pushes more into the high mids - listen to the snare placement and the picking noise on the guitars.
Comparing the 458a and the Radiator at the higher levels of drive they really start to diverge in character as you would expect, (sorry we don’t currently have the Manley sampled in running that hot - we will aim to asap and update). The 458a gives a really smooth and complex distortion at full 100% and pumps a bit, compared to the Radiator’s distortion, which at the higher levels gets really aggressive and nasty. This is also to be expected as, from our research that is also a characteristic of the two Altec units (458a and 1567a) modelled.
So from a basic similarity of sound at lower levels of drive of the 458a and Radiator you definitely get two tools for two different needs as you drive it more.
- Summary -
From our comparisons of the Kush Omega plugins to the items they model (API and Neve) and two other tube amp systems (Soundtoys Radiator and Manley Dual Pre for the 458a comparison) you get something that stands happily alongside them as a high quality plugin that sounds a lot like the real thing it models for the shootouts at lower levels of drive and offers its own unique and useful character as you push them more.
It’s definitely really good value for money, and has a nice versatility and applicability in a mix.
Well done Kush.
* N.b. While the Kush 458a and the Manley Dual Pre are sort of different beasties we thought it would be useful to compare to an outboard tube type preamp. Ultimately the drive is what you are probably going to be enjoying most with the 458a plugin if you are anything like us, so feel free to just focus on that aspect. One day if we can track down an Altec 458a we’ll see about adding that into the shootout.
If you want to download demos of the transformer plugins just go to the Kush site by clicking here