Review – Dagger by BeepStreet

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BeepStreet’s newest synth plugin is one of the newer contenders in a crowded plugin field. We take it for a test drive in this review.

 

by Rob Mitchell, May 2016

 

Beepstreet is a relatively new music software company, and they made a big impression with their brilliant synthesizer plugin named Sunrizer. I reviewed it in our November 2015 issue. Recently, they released a new monophonic subtractive synth plugin named Dagger. It is available for the PC and Mac, and boasts audio-rate processing, 8 times oversampled zero-delay feedback filters, and has a price that’s tough to beat.

For the PC, you’ll need the Vista operating system (or higher), a multicore CPU with SSE2, one gigabyte of RAM, and a VST compatible host. For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7.x (or higher), a multicore CPU with SSE2, one gigabyte of RAM, and an AU compatible host. The installation is simple, letting you pick the install directory yourself, and it just uses a serial number for the authorization.

After you have it loaded it in your DAW, you’ll see its main display. You can register the plugin by clicking in the upper-right on the icon with the three bars. This is where some extra settings can be found, such as loading an INT preset, a randomize feature, and a help menu. Just to the left of that settings icon is the MIDI-learn. After clicking on it, you just click on whichever control of the display that you’d like it to sync up with your MIDI controller, and then move a slider or knob on your controller.

To load presets that are included with Dagger, you use the preset browser in the upper-left corner. Clicking on the left/right arrows will navigate through the presets one-by-one. You can also click on the preset name, and it will drop down to show a menu. From there, you can select from All, Favourites, or Dagger. “All” will display all presets, either a standard Dagger preset, or one you’ve saved. “Favourites” are created when you click the star next to a preset name, and so if you click on Favourites, it will only show those that were marked in this manner. Clicking “Dagger” will show you just the original 40 Dagger presets that ship with the synth plugin. You’re also able to create an empty bank for your own presets, and load/export banks as well.

Below the preset browser is the section of the display where you’ll find the two oscillators. To adjust their levels, you have just one control that will change their output. When it is at the 12 o’clock position, both oscillators will play at the same level. A full turn to the left will only output oscillator one, and a full turn to the right is just oscillator two. Anywhere in-between is a blend between the two.

The Phase/Detune control is right below the oscillator level controller. A minor problem for me is that it only lets you adjust one or the other – the phase or the detune. Most of the time you’d probably just use one at a time, but it would still be nice to have them separated. To the left and right of this control are the two oscillator’s wave shape knobs, letting you choose between down-saw, triangle, up-saw, square, and pulse. The oscillators can be set to a re-trigger mode, and oscillator two can be hard synced to oscillator one.

Next we have the glide and modulation amount controls, as well as the octave setting for oscillator two (-2/+2 octaves). Modulation can be directed to oscillator one’s wave shape, phase/detune, or the pitch of both oscillators. To the right is the “Auto” switch, and if it’s enabled, the pitch glide is restarted when no keys are pressed.

Dagger includes a high pass filter, with standard cutoff/resonance controls and a switch for keyboard tracking. An added bonus for this filter is the “Spice” switch which adds some buzzy/aliased type of high end noise. It’s much more noticeable when you turn up the resonance, and it gives the sound a harder edged/brash type of character.

The low pass filter included with Dagger has standard cutoff and resonance controls, and four different filter types to choose from: Brute, Primal, Rogue, and Ronin. The “Brute” is set with a slope of 12 dB per octave, and modeled after the Steiner Parker filter type. The “Primal” is a non-linear ladder filter at 24 dB per octave. The “Rogue” is a transistor ladder type, and is set to 24 dB per octave. Finally, there is the “Ronin”, which is a modeled after a diode ladder filter type, and has an 18 dB per octave slope. I can’t go into too much detail here as these are all great filter types, but I’ll just say that each of them sound awesome in their own way. If I had to describe them (it’s tough to describe a filter sound), then I’d say most of them have a juicy and rich quality that is impressive for sure.  They’ve also included a drive control, and turning this up adjusts the amount of drive/distortion that’s added within the filter itself.

Below the main filter controls are the Mod, Env, and Osc2 controls. Each of these adjusts the amount that the filter cutoff will be affected by the LFO (Mod), Envelope (Env), and Osc2. These are pretty much self-explanatory, except for the Osc2. The documentation is very sparse, and doesn’t mention anything about the Osc2 setting except “Beware!”.  To me, it sounds like whichever way you have set the second oscillator is affecting the filter in different ways. What I think is basically going on is that it’s feeding the second oscillator’s output into the filter cutoff setting. I was having fun adjusting the amount of the Osc2 control in combination with changing the waveform types of oscillator two. Turning up the resonance and drive, and then playing around with the cutoff control can yield many hard driven and crazy sounds using certain settings.

To the right of the filter settings are the modulators, which include the envelope, LFO, and velocity settings. The envelope is the standard ADSR type. The LFO controls are below the envelope settings, with a rate control and wave form selection knob. It doesn’t mention what the LFO’s range of speed is, but it sounds like the frequency can get up into the audio-rate territory. The wave form types included are sine, square, SH (sample and hold), and noise. There are two other choices, ENV and VCO, which work in a different way. The ENV setting works as a one-shot decay envelope which can be adjusted with the rate control. The VCO setting uses a sine wave and tracks the second oscillator’s frequency. Lastly, there is a velocity range knob.

There are some other ways to get different results from this section of the synth. Using a few extra switches, you’re able to change the way the envelope works, the LFO operation, and change the velocity settings. Above the ADSR envelope is just one of these switches. It can be set to Gate+Trigger, which will give a complete envelope for every key you play. The second position (Trig) makes it so when you play a note, and then play another, it will only have a full envelope if you release the first note that was played. When you set the switch to “LFO”, the envelope repeats at whatever rate the LFO is set to.  Below the LFO frequency knob is another switch. When it is set to “Key”, every key that’s played will re-trigger the modulation, and in the middle position, called “Free”, the modulation is not started again with each key that’s played (i.e. free running). When you use the last position named “ Tempo”, every cycle is synced to the host tempo. The last switch in this section is for the velocity settings. You can set the velocity to affect the filter, the amplifier stage, or both at once.

The last section in Dagger is the Amplifier stage. From here, you’re able to dial-in an amount of distortion that they describe as an asymmetrical diode clipper type. Basically this means it will have a more aggressive type of drive. It sounds excellent, and adds a rich, overdriven sound. Below that is the main amplifier level, and finally, the modulation amount knob. This brings us to the last switch, which will change between different types of envelopes: Partial (zero attack and full sustain), ADSR, and a Partial envelope with sustain.

Even though it is not a complicated synth plugin, it would be nice to have regular documentation of some sort.  It is easy to use, sounds very good, and has just enough modulation choices to keep me happy. However, it would be an added bonus to have a couple more features added, such as an additional LFO, or maybe an effect or two. I do like it the way it is now, as sometimes “less is more”, as you can get to work quickly and easily. The smartly designed display doesn’t get in the way of your creativity.

It could use more presets, as 40 is a very low number compared to other synth plugins that are out there. On the other hand, it is so easy to design your own, and you could put together a large number of presets in no time. One more quibble: It would be better if a few of the numerical displays were shown in different ranges, such as the LFO rate. Right now, it shows the rate range as 0.00 – 1.0. For others such as the ADSR controls, I’d like time amounts ranging from milliseconds to seconds, as they are in the same format as the LFO.

If you’re looking for a high quality monophonic synth plugin, this one should be high on your list. It has a nice amount of modulation choices for the price, an excellent sound, and it’s easy to program patches with it. Dagger retails for $40 USD, or you can get Dagger and their Sunrizer synth together for only $70 USD. To me, that price really is a steal. The demo versions of both synth plugins are on their website located here:

http://www.beepstreet.com/plugins/dagger

 

 

 

 

 

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