The Nomad Factory BT Analog Trackbox is part of the Blue Tube series of plugins from the prolific plugin manufacturers.
The Blue Tubes series is designed to have the sonic character of valve (o.k. tube!) gear, although they are original ideas and not emulations of famous hardware.
The BT Analog Trackbox can best be described as a channel strip, with all the features of a large mixing console channel strip and a little mojo of it’s own. The top section houses the input and output level controls, large switchable vu style meters, frequency selectable push button high pass and low pass filters, a polarity button (marked “Phase”) and a limiter with it’s own on/off button and an overall Bypass button underneath that. A handy feature is that the status of the control knob or button you are adjusting appears in the top right hand window of the plugin.
The lower section houses four more modules. The first, from left to right is labelled “Tube” and has controls for Amount (drive), Color, which speaks for itself and Triode. The Triode knob is continuously adjustable from Single Triode mode through to Dual Triode mode. This is where much of the character and sonic colour lives.
Starting from the bottom knob, turning clockwise from Single through to Dual mode increases the density of the tube “saturation” or distortion. I prefer to think of the word saturation in terms of analogue tape saturation rather than circuit overdrive, but most people use it these days to describe overdrive, so I officially give in! Dual mode produces a thicker and perhaps smoother overdrive than Single mode and the desired effect can be easily tuned in with the continuous control. Same with the Color control, which adjusts the tonal character of the effect.
The Amount control is the most critical, allowing the user to select the ideal amount of overdrive for the job. In most cases I find that I mostly use the range from the second mark (10 o’clock?) as in the picture above, to halfway or just over, depending on the sound source. There are a lot of distortion plugins out there, but this is one of the most fully featured and can produce a huge range of results from adding a touch of nice harmonic distortion to basses, acoustic guitars and vocals to total full on distortion. Excellent.
Following the Tube module is a very workmanlike Gate, with the both attack and release controls. Then we come to the Compressor, which is fully adjustable and can be set, using a high ratio, slowish attack and fast release, to really slam snare drums, for example, as well as handling more gentle compression duties. If you also add some “Tube” treatment to the snare in slamming mode, the results can be really aggressive. It does a great job and is very handy as part of a processing chain. That’s the whole point of channel strips. In many situations, I only ever need to load this one plugin into a channel to get great results, instead of having to deal with four or five plugins. The sum of all the parts can be very effective.
The last module on the right is the EQ panel, which provides 4 fully adjustable bands in standard high end console format – low shelving covering 40 to 600 Hz, with the added bonus of a continuously adjustable bandwidth control, as do all 4 bands, a low mid band ranging from 200Hz to 2.5KHz, a high mid band covering 600Hz to 7.5KHz and a high shelf ranging from 1.5KHz to 15KHz. Plenty of overlap there and all 4 bands have a gain range of + and – 15dB. Can’t complain about that!
All modules, of course, have their own on/off buttons. There’s all the ingredients needed to make a very useful and great sounding channel strip and then some.
Nomad Factory have created the Blue Tubes series to have that lovely vintage analogue tubey sound character and it works very well, especially with the added modern features like comprehensive overdrive control and parametric eq. I have a lot of more famous plugins that I reach for to do a job, but a lot of the time I find myself tossing them aside and just going with the TrackBox.
It’s a well designed workflow, is quick and easy to set up, does the jobs of many plugins at once and has heaps of character.
I use the Trackbox regularly on acoustic guitar tracks that need some beef or magic to overcome less than ideal recordings. It always delivers good results quickly and easily.
What’s not to like? Another highly recommended plugin.
It sells for $149 US, but if you keep an eye on places like JRR Shop you might find it on special now and again very cheaply. I’ve seen it as low as $9.99 US. An absolute steal.