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Soundtoys Decapitator – The Secret to Authentic Analog Tone

Decapitator by Soundtoys Settings and Controls

When it comes to adding analog warmth and saturation when mixing, Soundtoys’ Decapitator stands out as a top choice. This versatile plugin is more than just an effect; it’s designed to be inserted on every mixer channel, much like Slate Digital’s Virtual Console Collection or Sonnox Inflator, offering a level of analog authenticity that’s hard to match.

Since its release in 2010, Decapitator has set a high standard for authentic analog saturation. Its ability to maintain an analog feel even at extreme settings is a testament to its quality. While there are more comprehensive saturator plugins available, Decapitator’s analog character remains unmatched.

Decapitator’s user-friendly interface makes it easy to dial in the perfect amount of saturation. The Dry/Wet knob lets you control the effect’s presence in the signal. High-Cut and Low-Cut filters, along with a Tone knob, allow for precise frequency shaping. The Drive and Output knobs control the input and output signals, respectively, while the saturation modes are easily switchable via buttons at the bottom.

To get the most out of Decapitator, I recommend exploring the numerous presets provided by Soundtoys. These presets are well-organized by instrument groups, making it simple to find the right starting point. For instance, the “Angry Voice” preset works wonders on vocal tracks, adding a powerful, gritty edge.

Soundtoys Decapitator Plugin

The Five Saturation Styles

Decapitator offers five distinct saturation algorithms, each modeled after classic analog gear, bringing unique tonal qualities to your audio.

  • Style A: Ampex 350: The “A” mode emulates the Ampex 350, a single-track tape machine from the 1950s, renowned for its distinctive coloration. While modern tape machines offer greater dynamics and transparency, none capture the unique warmth of the Ampex 350. The Ampex’s tube-based microphone preamps, designed for ribbon microphones, deliver immense gain reserves and incredibly smooth tube saturation.
  • Style E: Chandler/EMI TG Channel: “E” mode is modeled after a Chandler/EMI TG channel mixer from Abbey Road Studios, famous for its full bass and silky highs. This mode excels at adding a touch of classic studio magic to your tracks.
  • Style N: Neve 1057 Channel Strip: The “N” mode replicates the Neve 1057, which uses Germanium transistors to create a unique, guitar-friendly sound with a rich low end and well-defined mids. This mode is perfect for adding a vintage flavor to guitar tracks.
  • Style T: Thermionic Culture Vulture Triode: “T” mode is based on the Thermionic Culture Vulture Triode, known for producing even-order harmonics. The Culture Vulture was the first studio-grade distortion unit designed to add warmth, grit, and punch to various instruments.
  • MStyle P: Thermionic Culture Vulture Pentode: “P” mode also models a Thermionic Culture Vulture, but this time a Pentode, which generates odd-order harmonics. This mode is often found in amplifiers and guitar power stages, offering a distinctive, edgy distortion.

Essential Parameters and Controls

Decapitator comes loaded with several parameters that offer deep control over your saturation effect:

  • Thumb Switch: This acts like the “Head Bump” on a tape machine, boosting bass frequencies between 30 Hz and 120 Hz depending on the device.
  • Steep Mode: Switches the slope from a gentle 6 dB/octave to a steep 30 dB/octave.
  • Punish Button: Adds extra 20 dB of gain to the input signal, allowing for extreme saturation effects.
  • Auto Button: Automatically matches the output level to the input level, preventing any unwanted spikes in volume.

Using Decapitator in Your Workflow

Below you will find listed some settings that provide a starting point and can be adjusted based on the specific needs of your mix and the character of the source material. Experimenting with different modes and settings will help you find the perfect sound for your tracks.

Decapitator for Vocals

Soundtoys Decapitator Vocal Settings

For vocals, the Decapitator plugin can be that secret sauce to make a vocal cut through the mix in a rock or pop song. The added warmth and slight grit from the Neve emulation help the vocal stand out and add character.

  • Mode: N (Neve 1057)
  • Drive: 3-5 (for subtle warmth), 6-8 (for more grit and presence)
  • Tone: Adjust to taste, usually towards the brighter side for more presence
  • Mix: 30-50%
  • High-Cut: 10 kHz (to tame excessive high frequencies)
  • Low-Cut: 100 Hz (to clean up low-end rumble)
  • Punish: Off (unless you want aggressive distortion)
  • Thumb: Off or low settings for slight bass enhancement

Decapitator for Drums

Soundtoys Decapitator Drums Settings

Apply these settings to a drum bus to give the entire drum kit more cohesion and impact. It works especially well in genres like rock, hip-hop, and electronic music where punchy, prominent drums are essential.

  • Mode: T (Thermionic Culture Vulture Triode)
  • Drive: 4-7 (for punch and harmonic excitement)
  • Tone: Neutral or slightly darker to add weight
  • Mix: 50-70%
  • High-Cut: 8 kHz (to avoid harshness)
  • Low-Cut: 50 Hz (to retain low-end punch)
  • Punish: On (for aggressive drums, particularly on snare and kick)
  • Thumb: On for a bass boost around 60-80 Hz

Decapitator for Guitars

Soundtoys Decapitator Electric Guitar Settings

Add a Decapitator instance on electric guitars in rock, blues, or alternative music to enhance the natural character and add a touch of analog warmth and edge. The Chandler/EMI TG Channel emulation adds a nice harmonic richness that’s perfect for guitars.

  • Mode: E (Chandler/EMI TG Channel)
  • Drive: 5-8 (for noticeable saturation and warmth)
  • Tone: Slightly towards the bright side for clarity
  • Mix: 40-60%
  • High-Cut: 12 kHz (to maintain clarity while taming any harshness)
  • Low-Cut: 80 Hz (to avoid low-end muddiness)
  • Punish: Off (unless you’re going for a heavily distorted tone)
  • Thumb: Off or low settings to retain natural guitar tone

Decapitator for Piano

Soundtoys Decapitator Electric Piano Settings

You can use the Decapitator plugin on a piano track in genres like jazz, classical, or singer-songwriter music to enhance its warmth and depth. The Ampex 350 mode imparts a vintage tape-like quality that makes the piano sound more lush and rounded.

  • Mode: A (Ampex 350)
  • Drive: 2-4 (for subtle saturation and warmth)
  • Tone: Neutral or slightly dark to add depth
  • Mix: 20-40%
  • High-Cut: 10 kHz (to smooth out any sharp transients)
  • Low-Cut: 50 Hz (to avoid low-end buildup)
  • Punish: Off (to maintain a clean sound)
  • Thumb: Off or very low settings for subtle low-end enhancement
  • Preset: “Warm Piano” for a lush, enveloping tone

The impact of the Decapitator effect can range from subtle enhancements to drastic overhauls, making it incredibly versatile. The Mix knob allows you to blend the wet and dry signals, enabling precise control over the effect’s intensity.

If you already own this plugin, here you can download some of my custom Decapitator presets for free: SMM Decapitator Presets. Copy the presets here: (C:) > Users > Public Documents > Soundtoys > Soundtoys 5 > Decapitator > User

Is Soundtoys Decapitator Worth It?

Soundtoys Decapitator is a staple in many professional studios and for good reason. Its ability to impart authentic analog warmth and grit to digital tracks is unparalleled. I find myself using Decapitator a lot, particularly on bass and vocals, applying it lightly and blending it seamlessly into the mix. The versatility and depth it adds to these elements are truly remarkable.

Also read: The Warm, Expansive Sound of Analog Summing Mixing

Final Thoughts

Decapitator is an essential plug for anyone seeking that coveted analog sound. With its range of saturation modes modeled after legendary hardware, intuitive controls, and powerful presets, it has rightfully earned its place as a go-to plugin in many professional studios.

However, the price tag can be a bit daunting at $200. Fortunately, Soundtoys frequently offers substantial discounts, especially during their holiday sales. I got the Soundtoys Bundle from PluginBoutique a few years ago for about $269. So, keep an eye on the Deals at Plugin Boutique.

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