Intro to Cableguys VolumeShaper 4
A while back I was perusing a Reddit where people were discussing the the sidechain compression effect heard in The Chainsmokers tunes Roses (ft. Rozes). Listen to the effect here. In a tutorial video, they mentioned they use the plugin Kickstart, which is made by Cableguys, co-branded with Nicky Romero.
Kickstart, as the name suggests, is designed to make room for a kick drum using a set of pre-defined, tempo-synced volume automation curves. While it has a nice interface and does the trick for four on the floor style beats, it lacks a lot of power features and is pretty limited in what it can do.
VolumeShaper is Kickstart’s much more capable big brother. Broadly, it does volume automation, but it’s much more full featured and has some serious power features lurking under the hood. As a sound designer, I’m excited about some of the expanded possibilities it’s feature-set offers for mangling audio.
Intro to VolumeShaper
Cableguys are well known for their advanced envelopes, such as in their Curve synth. VolumeShaper harnesses this same concept and at it’s heart is an incredible flexible envelope used for the volume automation. You can add stages to the envelope by clicking on it, similar to LFO Tool and Serum from XFer Records. The stages of the envelope can be linear/straight, curved, or stepped like a step sequencer. They can snap to a grid, or be unsnapped. You can even randomize them if you need some inspiration! There are nudge buttons to move the phase of the waveform. You can even right click and get a context menu where you can flip the entire waveform vertically and horizontally. I’ve become accustomed to this in the XFer synth’s LFO section and it’s a really wonderful feature to have.
You also get a whole selection of easy to use preset envelope shapes, which are ace because sometimes you just want to pick something quick and get back to making music. This visual selection is something I prefer about VolumeShaper over LFO Tool. When browsing presets or sidechain shapes in LFO Tool, you don’t know what they look like until you load them. Visual selection is much quicker and more intuitive.
VolumeShaper can create a ducking effect similar to sidechain compression, but without needing an audio input source. This gets other elements out of the way of your drums, or creates a rhythmic pumping effect. You simply select or draw a shape for the envelope, and pick your timing. In general, I find it much faster to get the results I want versus using sidechain compression. You can choose from beat synced rates, unsynced rates in hertz, or you can set up a MIDI trigger if you want to trigger the envelope manually. This is particularly useful if you have broken-beat style drums with a syncopated or irregular rhythm.
Trimming shapes are used to envelope sounds, for example, drums. You can reshape drum layers to remove or add attack, gate snare tails, edit percussion loops, and create compression and transient shaper style effects.
Think “The Performer” from Massive. Rhythm effects use the envelope to create a rhythmic performance that has more variation than a looped waveform. This is killer for making everything from glitchy gate effects, to stutters, to weird tremolo. Lots of possibilities here.
You can activate Steps mode to draw a step sequencer. This will snap each step to the grid.
For a lot of producers, the basic uses are more than enough to warrant picking up this plugin. However, for the proper audio geeks and fellow sound designers, your brain is already thinking about more applications for this tech. Let’s dig into some of the more advanced uses.
Audio Rate Modulation
The looping envelope is capable of running at audio rates, giving you access to full amplitude modulation effects. Unlike normal LFOs, VolumeShaper can run up to 1/128 beat synced, or 5.24 kHz in Hertz (Synced) mode. Depending on the complexity of the pattern you draw as your waveform, you can effectively multiply this speed even further. For example, if you draw three full triangle waves, then you’re effectively getting 15.72 kHz modulation.
Amplitude modulation is a great way to add buzz and digital sounding harmonics to the top end of your sounds. It’s perfect for today’s modern sounds. I use it on leads, neuro-style basses, processed sounding vocals, synthetic drums, and special effects.
Yes, multiband! VolumeShaper can run three bands, each with completely separate envelopes. It loads by default in single band mode, which I quite like for simplicity, but then you can drag sliders to create two additional bands for a low, mid, high split. You can choose from 6 dB or 12 dB per octave slopes for the crossovers. One click of a button and you can make the bands take up the full interface for better visualization. The bands also give you visual feedback of the amplitude modulation so you can easily see what’s going on with each frequency range. LFO Tool can’t do this as it’s single band, but FabFilter’s Saturn can create similar multiband effects using it’s internal modulation. However, Saturn’s LFOs only run up to 500 Hz so you won’t get the same amplitude modulation possibilities with it. The real power of this plugin, from a sound design perspective, is the ability to run amplitude modulation in three separate bands.
Let’s look at some practical examples of use here:
Multiband Ducking / Dynamic EQ
Let’s say you have a big synth bass with lots of mid and top end in it. If you use traditional sidechain compression to your kick, it’ll duck the entire synth bass and you’ll noticeably hear the mid and top missing. For an “invisible ducking” effect, you could use VolumeShaper to just duck the bottom band. That would attenuate the dominant sub frequencies where the kick would be competing for headroom, and leave the mids and tops untouched. Alternatively, you could use a heavier envelope for the bottom band, and less aggressive envelopes on the mid and top. This is similar to the effect of a dynamic EQ, such as you will find in the new iZotope Ozone 7.
Multiband Amplitude Modulation
On my synth sounds, I often times find myself wanting to add some bite to the top end, while leaving the bottom end clean. Using VolumeShaper, I use the top band and select one of the waveforms from the Basics tab. You can choose from typical waveforms like sine, triangle, square, saw etc. Then you can apply the amplitude modulation just to the top band for the perfect amount of top end sizzle.
MIDI Trigger Modes
You can route a MIDI track to VolumeShaper to manually trigger the envelope. There are 1-Shot modes that run like a standard envelope, and MIDI Triggered modes that loop the waveform like an LFO. There’s even a special Pitch to Rate mode, where the pitch of the incoming MIDI note will set the rate of VolumeShaper’s looping envelope. This means you can also do ring modulation effects. Epic!
Note: When routing MIDI to VolumeShaper, Cableguys warn to only use the VST and not the AU version of the plugin.
Grammy Award winning engineer, Chris Shaw, uses MIDI from his drums to trigger VolumeShaper in Midi 1-Shot mode. This allows him to use the plugin as a precision noise gate with a fully custom envelope. I just love this application of VolumeShaper because I write future bass and glitch hop with broken beats, so the standard 4/4 tempo synced automation doesn’t work for me. This gives me full control.
Normally I wouldn’t put parameter automation under advanced uses, but in this case it warrants it. Not only can you automate all the regular parameters you’d expect, like Rate, Wet/Dry and the like, but you can also automate the waveforms and breakpoints within the waveforms. You can, for example, change the slope of a breakpoint so that it makes more room for longer kick drums and less room for shorter kick drums. That’s noteworthy in my books. LFO Tool can also do this, while Serum synth and Serum FX LFOs can’t.
Online Preset Library
Cableguys provides a useful sync feature, where you can sync your library of presets to the cloud for backup purposes (privately). You can also publish your presets publicly so other users can see them, as well as download presets from other users. This feature is optional, however, as we know many of you have studio computers that you’ll never want to connect to the internet. VolumeShaper comes with a lot of presets and you never have to use the online feature if you don’t want to.
Intuitive, visually appealing, clean interface.
The looping envelope operates at audio rates.
Capable of amplitude and ring modulation.
Multiband setup with three bands, variable crossovers and slopes.
Can automate breakpoints & waveforms.
Visual waveform presets allow quick selection of envelope shapes.
MIDI trigger 1-Shot modes are great for precision gating and ducking.
- MIDI triggering only works with the VST version of the plugin. Not a big deal, but if you forget and use the AU version, then you’d have to drop in a new instance and copy settings.
- No smoothing function. You can sometimes get clicks and pops if there are rapid changes in volume with low frequencies especially. LFO Tool offers a convenient smoothing function that alleviates this. VolumeShaper requires you to manually tweak your waveform. Not a deal breaker, but it would be nice to have smoothing.
- You can’t type in parameter values. I like being able to do that for quick, precision editing. Although you can hold the SHIFT key for finer parameter changes, I prefer typing in my values exactly (yes I have OCD).
Try or Buy
Buy VolumeShaper 4: $40 USD / 30 Euro ***Read below to see how you can get 25% off!
Try the free demo: The demo is fully functional and has no time limit, but you can only use one instance per song and you can’t save settings.
In your interested picking up a copy of VolumeShaper 4 or any of the other above products for 25% off, go to Members Discounts page and read how.
We go into all the ninja tricks and pro tips for making hard hitting, heavily engineered bass for electronic music. I have a whole playlist of free videos on the course page, including 3 full length tutorials on xFer Records Serum Synth. So head here to watch them!