Review – Objeq Delay from Applied Acoustic Systems
Objec Delay is a plug-in like no other from the folks who know a few things about complex mathematical modelling to produce audio; it is so not just another delay.
by David Baer, July 2017
The Objeq of my Affection
This is review of Objeq Delay, a plug-in with a two-part name, the second of which is “Delay”. This is perhaps unfortunate. The computer-music-production community is already awash with brilliantly capable delay plug-ins – so does the world really need another one? If there’s never been another plug-in like it (and Objeq Delay absolutely qualifies for that designation), then the answer is probably “yes”.
Applied Acoustic Systems (hereafter AAS) has long been known as a preeminent producer of virtual instruments that utilize complex mathematical computations to produce their sound. One of their most highly acclaimed instruments is Chromaphone. A little review of Chromaphone will be helpful in setting the stage for explaining what Object Delay is all about, because much of what is at work in Chromaphone has been brought to Objeq Delay.
But first there are a few essentials to get out of the way. Objeq Delay is available to run as a hosted plug-in in any mainstream DAW, PC or Mac, 64-bit or 32-bit. The list price is $139 USD, but AAS is known for periodic sales with generous (often 50%) discounts. Licensing is user-friendly (no dongle requirement) and a purchase buys the right to use it on two computers concurrently.
Anyone who knows Chromaphone and who takes a look at Objeq Delay will have an immediate realization of how much the plug-in effect has inherited from the instrument. So, let’s start with a very brief review of Chromaphone, after which explaining what’s going on with Objeq Delay should be easy. For anyone with burning curiosity, I wrote in some detail about Chromaphone’s approach to sound production here:
Chromaphone gets its sound from a simulation of one or two resonators (things that vibrate when excited). The resonators include string, plate, membrane (as in drum head), two kinds of tubes (open on both ends or closed on one end) and two kinds of rectangular solids (think xylophone or marimba).
The resonators can be excited in several ways. A mallet strike (a virtual strike via computer simulation, of course) is one way. The mallet has a variety of characteristics that can be set, most obvious being how hard the mallet head is (drum stick: very stiff; palm of hand: not nearly as stiff). Many MIDI modulation options are offered so that velocity, for example, can influence any of the mallet characteristics on the fly.
The other direct excitation can come from filtered, modulated noise. By modulated, I mean using an applied envelope that is triggered upon MIDI note-down. Again, many MIDI modulation options can allow for performance-time shaping of the resultant sound.
So, the exciter gets the resonator doing its thing. How resonation proceeds is controlled by a variety of factors, again with MIDI performance-time factors being able to influence the results. The material setting (denseness of the resonator) governs the relative speed with which partials decay: how much faster higher partials disappear than lower ones with material controlling just how much faster. The position that the resonator is excited (e.g., near the end for a string vs. near the middle) is another huge influence on the sound. And there are still others.
Lastly, we have the ability for one of the resonators to be the exciter of the second. Then the second resonator, once it’s doing its thing, might return excitation back into the first one.
Chromaphone is not something one can learn to program with only casual diligence. This is a vastly capable instrument but a complex one as well. The craft of programming Chromaphone sounds, while not exactly a dark art, nevertheless requires dedicated study.
The great news that Objeq Delay is a whole lot less complex that Chromaphone. For one thing, there is only a single resonator to worry about (I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I just want to offer assurances that Objeq Delay is a far more comprehensible piece of gear than is Chromaphone). For another, the exciter cannot be programmed at all: it’s simply the audio coming into the plug-in. But the main thing is that at the heart of Objeq Delay is the notion of a simulated resonator, and that is what makes it so unique in the world of audio effect plug-ins.
The Signal Path: Filter, Object, Delay
At the top of this article you will see a full screen UI image. Everything is there on that page – no tabs of buried settings to worry about. The basic signal flow is shown below. This image and similar ones are taken from the user documentation, which conforms to the usual AAS standard of excellence in this area.
There are four modules of consequence, three in the signal path and an LFO that can effect various operations in the signal path modules. Each can be individually enabled/disabled.
Things start with the filter module, which is quite simple. We have a low-pass and a high-pass filter, each of which can have a 6, 12 or 24 dB/octave slope. Either cutoff frequency can be modulated with the LFO. It should be obvious from the signal flow diagram that these filters affect only the wet signal.
Next we come to the heart of the action: the Object module. We start with a selection of resonator type:
- String – a perfectly elastic string
- Beam – a rectangular beam with constant cross-section
- Plate – a rectangular plate
- Drumhead – a circular membrane
Four parameters control the sound characteristics. Frequency is fairly straightforward: the primary resonant frequency of the object. This one is oft-chosen as an LFO modulation target. Decay is also easy to describe: it controls the decay time of the partials in the sound created through resonation.
Material is a little more complex, but also relates to decay time. At a low setting, the low partials decay more slowly than the high ones. As the setting is increased, the higher partials take more time to decay, resulting in a metallic quality.
Finally there’s Formant, which is probably a term familiar to many when applied to filters but doesn’t necessarily have the usual connotation here (or maybe it does but in some abstract mathematical way). Simply stated, it controls how where the simulated excitation is applied edge-to-center-wise and affects the spectrum of the audio produced in the simulated resonance.
The final module in the signal path is the delay. There are two stereo delay lines. The first, cleverly labelled “First”, produces the first audio repetition. The second, labelled “Echoes”, can be used to produce additional fed-back repetitions. The strength of the fed-back signal is controlled by the Feedback knob. When this knob is fully counter-clockwise, feedback is completely silent and the Echoes line is effectively disabled. A simple filter low-pass and high-pass filter can be brought in to soften the repetitions, but which does not affect the initial (First) repetition.
The two lines can have separate delay times, which can be individually synced to host tempo or linked. The time is set via the First and Echoes knobs. The little box to the upper left of each knob, upon being clicked, calls up a menu of note-duration values (eighth-note, sixteenth-note, etc.) and has a multiplier to further alter the selected note-duration value. If the Linked indicator (a small “LED” between First and Echoes set/reset via mouse click) is on, the First and Echoes times are locked at the same value. They will stay so if either First or Echoes is the LFO modulation target.
The Ping Pong switch turns on that mode, which operates in the usual way bouncing the repetitions between the left and right channels. The diagram below explains all.
The delay does one nifty trick that most standard delays (one that likely comes bundled in your DAW, anyway) cannot do. Separate times can be specified for the first repetition and the echoes. For example, you could have the delay produce the first repetition after a quarter note and have the echoes appear at sixteenth note intervals thereafter.
Modulation and Mixer
A single LFO is onboard to perform modulation services. Just one LFO might seem inadequate, but the factory presets (of which we’ll talk momentarily) aptly demonstrate how much mileage can be gotten from it. Another thing to observe is that Objeq Delay is not capable of processing incoming MIDI. That means there is no MIDI-learn and no point in providing a modulation envelope capability since there are no note-on events to trigger an envelope.
The simple interface of the LFO belies its flexibility. The Rate control does what you’d expect. Here again we have the little box to the upper right that can reveal a note-duration menu and a multiplier can be selected. Sync locks the rate to host tempo. When off, rate selection is a time value, and in non-synced operation the little R button will reset the LFO wave to its initial phase position. Not that this would be needed in all that many situations, but using this button to alter performances would only be available via mouse/automation.
There are the following wave forms:
The PW (pulse width) takes care of lack of a ramp-up and ramp-down waveform option. Its normal position is at 50%. Moving the setting away from that neutral position causes the selected wave form to be squeezed at one end and elongated at the other. At 0% (fully counterclockwise), a triangle wave becomes a ramp-up wave and at 100% a ramp-down wave.
Phase controls the waveform starting position, of significance only when operating in tempo-synced mode. The modulation can be unipolar positive, unipolar negative or bipolar. The Amount knob controls the modulation depth.
The available LFO modulation targets can be seen in the menu image to the right. All but two destinations are controls in the filter, object, delay and Mixer modules. The Wet VCA option acts something like a gate that controls the amount of the wet signal allowed out, and Input Gain is just what it says.
Finally, the simple mixer module offers a dry/wet control labelled Balance. Output controls the overall output. The Out/In switch prohibits/allows an input signal into the processing line. If disabled while audio is coming in to the plug-in, whatever is in the delay feedback line will be allowed to play itself out.
AAS has done well in this regard. There are seven banks with over 225 presets that nicely showcase the range of capability with Objeq Delay. The bank names give a pretty good clue as to what they are all about:
- Echoes (35 presets)
- Modulators (44)
- Rhythmic Loop Manglers (36)
- Kick Track Enhancers (25)
- Snare Track Enhancers (20)
- Drones (24)
- Richard Devine Signature (42)
The last one, the Richard Devine Signature collection is probably the most far-out and adventurous of the lot. For my own tastes, I found the presets in Echoes and in Drones to be the most intriguing (although I’m not a drums/percussion guy so won’t attempt to offer any judgement about the presets clearly targeted to such purposes).
Many of the presets in Echoes, although somewhat rhythmic in character, can add a rather delightful, scintillating quality to a track. Modulators presets are more down-to-earth, offering various chorus variations and the like. I suspect the Drones presets will offer much inspiration to composers of cinematic/soundtrack material. There are some wonderful abilities to produce a suspenseful or mystical ambience to otherwise plain, sustained sounds. Some of these sounds … well, I cannot think of another way in which they could be produced. Objeq Delay truly is a unique effect.
Is Objeq Delay for You?
Hopefully if you’re still with me here you don’t need to be convinced that Objeq Delay is just another run-of-the-mill delay effect. If you are intrigued, your curiosity is easily satisfied. The AAS Objeq Delay web page is full of excellent audio demos that nicely show this plug-in’s range of capability. Even better, there is approximately 45 minutes of video demonstration featuring the estimable Eli Kranzberg. The final and longest of these videos, entitled Presets, does far more than run through a selection of factory presets. Professor Kranzberg starts with several factory presets and modifies them as you watch. I think it will convince you that Objeq Delay will be a fairly easy device to program on your own, one upon which you can come up to speed in no time at all.
What’s missing? Well, I would probably put a second LFO at the top of my wish list. I also would like the plug-in to be able to receive MIDI and use it for a second modulation type, a note-triggered envelope. I also have to wonder what note-number modulation of the Object Frequency control could lead to – maybe absolutely nowhere, but it does sound intriguing.
In any case, I think you’ll not be disappointed with all that is there. Objeq delay is a plug-in like no other. It’s a marvel of innovative thinking that may or may not inspire you, but I heartily recommend checking it out so that you may decide that for yourselves. Some of you, I can almost guarantee, are going to fall in love with it. It’s all there on the web site for your perusal. You may also download a demo version, although I could not find a list of demo limitations for the plug-in at the AAS Object Delay web page.
For more information and to purchase, go here:
AAS gear is also available from a variety of music software retailers.