Review – Stradipad Platinum Collection
In need of a different and unique solution to string sounds in your mixes? Maybe the Stradipad Platinum Collection is what you’re looking for.
by Per Lichtman, Sept. 2014
Stradipad Platinum Collection (€99 EUR download only from www.acustica-audio.com) is a plug-in from Nebula and AlexB that samples a variety of recording chains used to record string sections, pads and particular string instruments – and you select whether you want the 44.1 KHz or 96 KHz when you install, but both are included in the price. During the review period it’s been Windows only and OS X support will likely be added in the future but isn’t promised or guaranteed. It provides one (or in some cases two, via toggle) of these per plug-in: Orchestra, Strings (Classic or Modern), Swedish (Tube or Solid State), Background (Tube or Solid State), Pad (Analog or Warm) and specific ones for Violin, Cello and Bass – but no viola. The plug-in shares the latency and gain-staging workflow considerations of the Nebula products (since the underlying AcquaVox engine comes from Nebula code) but comes without the rest of the learning curve and complexity that Nebula can have. Make sure to download a recent version as the stability greatly improved in the months since the product was released. If you’re interested in using the underlying Nebula platform, I wrote a very long review and introduction to it for the magazine back in November.
What Sounds Does It Offer?
Let’s look at the sound of each of the plug-ins in the Stradipad Platinum Collection. The Swedish Strings plug-in (apparently inspired by several ABBA mixes) is good at helping strings stand out in a mix by making them very bright and up-front. As a result, it’s often too bright for use in a more exposed context, except on recordings that really lack brightness to begin with. But that extra edge can help the strings to find a place in a dense pop, rock or EDM mix. Meanwhile, the Pad plug-in goes in the opposite direction, emphasizing the low end, making things thicker and providing a more rounded color.
The Strings plug-in is one of my favorites, providing a warmer, smoother color in Classic mode and more detail in Modern. Both color proved useful on a wide variety of material, including marrying well with a variety of string sample libraries. I use these very often in my final mixes.
As mentioned before, there are Violin, Cello and Bass plug-ins, but oddly no viola. I found myself experimenting with using these on solo strings in a sampled quartet, trying either the Violin or Cello plug-in to see which worked best on the viola. I often opted for the cello, as I had a preference for the way the lower frequencies responded most of the time, but I hope a dedicated viola plug-in will make its way into the cards in the future.
When Should I Use Stradipad?
Adding Stradipad increases track latency, so I would generally save it for the mixing stage of a project. However, with flexibility that the automatic plug-in delay compensation offers in many DAWs, I would sometimes run Stradipad instances on the string sections I wasn’t currently tracking, bypassing it on each as it came time to track it.
Now the obvious question is “why bother”? Why would I even deal with a latency inducing plug-in at that stage of the process. The answer is that I tended to bring it in earlier on tracks where the timbre and dynamics played an especially critical role, especially on soft material.
Using different Stradipad plug-ins tended to result in a more dramatic shift in sound than many of the dedicated console and preamp libraries available for Nebula, and they are well suited to acoustic, sampled and synthetic strings. However, I would sometimes apply them to other material in a mix, in a manner I doubt the developer intended, as anything that noticeably colors the sound like this has many potential applications.
There are several purchasing options available for Stradipad, ranging from a la carte to the Platinum Collection, so I made an effort to see if I could narrow down my favorites in the hope of helping budget users choose the option most useful to them. With that in mind, I will say that orchestral composers will probably get the most out of Orchestra and both versions of Strings: these are the plug-ins I use the most overall. But Background is useful for helping music slip in under dialog (as the name implies) while Swedish Strings can help focus the sound of an orchestra in the differing context of a more up-front mix with electronic or pop elements.
The developer’s suggestion that there was no need to use multiple Stradipad instances on a single audio track was consistent with my own experience. The most difficult thing for me to sort out was when to use Violin, Cello and Bass plug-ins vs. Strings or Orchestra. The manual and developer website didn’t really provide any thoughts on the pros and cons of one vs. the other when you had access to the strings section by section (or instrument by instrument), so I basically found myself using trial and error with both to see which worked better in a given context.
Stradipad Platinum is great for adding color to your string recordings and has enough variety to help take your strings in a few different directions (and even your synth pads). It’s something you use when mixing or mastering only, not while composing, but it’s great for changing the color of your final product and the coloration is from a whole signal chain, so it’s more dramatic than using just one piece of equipment alone. If you like the overall sound of your strings but feel like it good use a little more warmth, or oomph, or punch or a little different texture in the final mix, this is a good place to look.