Review – Exploring the World of Rob Papen FX, Part 2
Rob Papen, probably best known for his outstanding software synths, also produces FX modules, and does so with the customary aplomb we’ve come to expect in his designs.
by David Baer, Jan. 2018
This is the second installment on a review of the Rob Papen effects plug-ins. In Part 1, which you can read here, we looked at RP-Amod, RP-EQ and RP-Distort. In this concluding segment, we turn attention to RP-Delay and RP-Verb 2.
Let us start with my undisputed favorite plug-in of the group,: RP-Delay. As I related in Part 1, the FX marketplace is overflowing with attractive and desirable software. These days, even our DAWs are coming bundled with FX units of considerable sophistication. And for probably 90% of the times you want a delay, the one bundled with your DAW will be all you need to get the job done.
But delays are funny things. There are a number of high-end choices out there and almost all of them seem to do have some kinds of unique capabilities. In recent issues of SoundBytes, I’ve reviewed Objec Delay from AAS, MultiTap from Eventide and Late Replies from Blue Cat Audio. Throw RP-Delay into the mix for mutual consideration, and each of the four clearly can do some things the other ones cannot come close to doing. So, maybe the takeaway here is that there is no such thing as having too many delays other than the problem of learning to use so many of them. Of all the Rob Papen effects, RP-Delay is the one I think most merits your consideration, in spite of how many delays you may have already acquired.
RP-Delay has six delay elements and two reverser elements. These are divided up into two identical composite processing units. The two higher level units can be configured in series or parallel (assuming the second is not disabled). Within them, a variety of signal flows can be specified for the three delay elements (assuming, again, they are not disabled). We can have parallel, serial, the first feeding the next two in parallel, with stereo going to both or L and R respectively going to each. There are more possible layouts, but you probably get the idea. The number of possibilities is considerable.
The reverser elements do what the name says. They will, upon triggering, record a specified length of audio and then play it back backwards. This, more than anything else, are what make RP-Delay a unique device.
Below is the processing schematic, taken from the RP-Delay manual.
What makes the package even more attractive is all the on-board modulation capability. The lower part of the full UI image at the start of this section shows the Trigger definition panel. Triggers can be used for controlling the reverser operation, LFO cycle start, and more. They can be MIDI events or input signal strength exceeding a threshold.
There are several kinds of modulators available: four LFOs, four AHD Envelope Generators, and a Sequencer. The two partial screen shots below show their control parameters.
The above modulation all comes together on the modulation routing “tab”, seen below.
For the most part, setting up modulation signal creation and modulation routing is straightforward. Given the presence of an envelope follower, I thought: great, I can set up a ducking scenario. Ducking (only allowing the wet signal to be heard when the dry signal is at low volume) is something quite commonly used with both reverb and delay, so this would be a very practical application of the follower. Unfortunately, after 30 minutes or so of fiddling around, I had to give up in defeat. Maybe this was due to my own lack of delay-design chops, but the follower was the one modulation option that eluded me. In general, however, the modulation options available are rich with possibilities and easy to set up.
The actual delay controls are nothing too complicated. Each of the delay elements has an independent set of controls. We can host-sync or not. There is both low and high filtering.
There is distortion on tap. The filter types available are shown in the menu image to the right. The filters can be placed within the feedback loop or just at the output of the delay element. For distortion, the available types are also seen in the image to the right.
The reverser component (seen right) is reasonably uncomplicated. Clearly, some audio must be recorded before it can replay it backwards, and the length value (separate L and R length values for stereo operation) dictates the length of the audio chunks to be recorded and played backwards. The reverser can be free-running or triggered by one of the trigger controls defined on the trigger control panel mentioned above. Like the delay elements, the reverser has a filter component and a distortion component. The placement of the reverser can be anywhere in the signal chain: after the input, after any of the delay elements or after the final output.
There is a generous number of factory presets supplied – this is a Rob Papen product, after all, so what else would anyone expect? These are well worth exploring, even though some of the presets do some pretty strange things courtesy of the modulations employed and you might never find a use for them in your productions. They are, at minimum, instructive and are worth some of your time to understand the range of possibilities with RP-Delay. This plug-in is a real gem that merits your consideration.
RP-VERB 2 is the successor to an earlier reverb version (no surprise, given the name). Having never had experience with the first version, I won’t be highlighting what’s new or improved.
It seems to me there are several key qualities that define how this plug-in can be best used and who would benefit from having it available. As a conventional algorithmic reverb, I don’t find it to be particularly special. Put it on a master bus to supply some locational ambience, and it might get the job done adequately. But for me, at least, in this capacity it is not particularly noteworthy. I’ve already got several first rate reverbs that I use for this purpose (and I’ll be surprised if anything ever replaces Liquidsonic’s convolution reverbs as my undisputed first choices in this category). RP-VERB 2 could be used on the master-bus, but I’d never miss it being unavailable given the other reverbs I have at hand.
When discussing reverbs, I like to emphasize that if a reverb is being used for the full mix on the master bus, its wet signal is probably down somewhere around 18 dB from the dry one, so nuances are not likely to be noticed by the typical listener in the first place. In this application, a reverb that calls attention to itself is probably being used incorrectly, anyway. So, low-profile here is a good thing most of the time. RP-VERB 2 can certainly operate in this manner, but that’s not its forte.
There are two things that do make this plug-in of interest; they have little to do with supplying full-mix ambience and glue. The first is the case in which the producer/engineer very much wants the reverb to indeed call attention to itself – the case in which the reverb is decidedly a special-effect application.
The second case is using RP-VERB 2 on individual tracks. Like RP-Delay, there is a generous supply of factory presets on tap. A fair number of these are clearly intended for specific track applications, with words like “Vocal” or “Drums” in the preset name as the giveaway. This is the other possible specialty of RP-VERB 2. The producer who really wants to impart a custom sound, especially a custom sound for drums, might have just what they need from the presets. The image just below lists the factory drum and vocal-specific presets available; click on it to see it full size and actually be able to read it.
I didn’t mention it elsewhere, but demo versions of all these plug-ins can be downloaded and used in full capacity for 30 days. This would be especially useful for someone who wanted to evaluate the instrument-specific possibilities.
So, with the above in mind, let us take a quick tour. For starters, it should be noted that there’s something a little bit unique here. Like most reverbs, early reflections are part of the design and there are a section of controls dedicated to them. But there are also late reflections, and I’m not talking about the reverb tail (the tail being the dense wash of sound that constitutes the main body of the reverb sound), which is something separate from late reflections. The best I can tell is that the late reflections are essentially like early reflections but come … ahem … later (although, importantly, their timing can be synced to host tempo which isn’t an option here for early reflections).
There are ten reverb algorithms from which to choose. These are listed below (lifted straight from the manual) along with a sometimes-amusing description of their intent.
In addition to reverb itself, the processing suite includes EQ, Ensemble (a multi-chorus thickener), distortion, and a reverser component similar to that just discussed in the RP-Delay coverage above. There are six configurations of signal flow that place these components in various order within the signal flow. Additionally, the configurations allow the early and late reflections to either bypass the reverb section or to be fed into it. Below are two of the six possibilities, the diagram once again having been taken directly from the manual (the Mix component is for the reverb and reverser, not the overall dry/wet balance).
I am not going to dissect the various reverb controls. Anyone familiar with reverb programs will readily understand what most are all about without even needing to read the manual. Things get more interesting with modulation options. The lower band (see the full UI image at the start of this section) presents a simple LFO, a three-slot modulation matrix, and two controls for specifying what the envelope trigger and the LFO trigger is. These last two controls really don’t belong here, but it looks as if lack of space elsewhere necessitated this layout.
Two other tabs exist for this lower band: Envelope and Envelope Follower. The Envelope tab is fairly straightforward. This is an AHR envelope that may be looped, but unlooped it’s: gated reverb, anyone? The envelope may be triggered by a volume threshold crossing, a MIDI event (CC or note event) or a host event (presumably playback started, but the manual really doesn’t say). Go to the previously mentioned Trigger specification controls on the LFO/Mod/Trig tab to select your type of MIDI trigger choice.
The Env Follower tab controls just what it says. As with the delay, my attempts at setting up envelope-following modulation met with disappointment, but I’m quite willing to blame that on my own possible lack of understanding of how to effectively employ this feature.
Lastly, consider the reverser. This is the big gun when it comes to RP-VERB 2 as a special effect module (not that the modulation options don’t also supply a great deal in this area as well). The reverser can be applied to just the output of the reverb section (excluding early and late reflections) or can be inserted as the last thing in the wet signal chain. I’ll leave an explanation of the rest of the controls to the manual, which does a pretty good job of explaining this and all the other aspects of this plug-in.
Are the Rob Papen Effects for You?
At the start of part 1 of this survey, I offered the opinion that the plug-in effect market is currently crowded with top-notch contenders in pretty much every category, and that it takes something pretty special to compete for your FX budget dollar. RP-Delay might be able to do that on its own. It’s really that good. The other four plug-ins: the modulation unit, the distortion unit, the EQ and the reverb – these are all quite decent as well, but do they have the mojo to stand out in a crowded field? Everybody will have their own opinion of course, but I will hazard a guess that they do not enjoy all that much visibility given the amount of and the quality of the competition. I base this speculation on the fact that I rarely, if ever, see Rob Papen FX plug-ins come up in music forum discussions. But then, maybe the Papenites just hang out on some other discussion board.
Whatever the market penetration of the RP effects, there’s no question that Rob Papen has some absolutely top-notch synths, all of which can be had for an attractive price in the eXplorer4 bundle. And it just so happens that the five FX units we’ve looked in this survey are included in the bundle as well. I know that when I first installed the eXploerer 4 bundle, I was so excited about the synths that I completely ignored the FX modules. Don’t make that same mistake. Think of it this way: eXplorer4 – come for the synths, stay for the FX.
More information on Rob Papen products can be found here:
Rob Papen instruments and effects can also be purchased through any number of independent music-software retailers.