UNITED PLUGINS AUTOFORMER
Name: United Plugins Autoformer
Description: Three plugins in one - a warm preamp with three saturation models, paired with a volume rider and musical compressor.
Offer price: $95
Operating System: Windows/OSX
United Plugins and Soundevice Digital hit it out of the park with Autoformer. I feel this plugin would make a welcome addition to anyone’s tool chest that is working with vocals or live instrumentation.
- Warm, satisfying saturation in the preamp
- Multiple preamp models add depth
- Balancer replaces hours of automation work
- Simple yet powerful compressor
- No tooltips on the controls
Every time I start the process of mixing a new track I make a solemn promise to myself to use as few plugins as possible. I don’t always hold up my end of the bargain. Preamps, compressors, EQs, mastering limiters, etc., all in addition to myriad virtual instruments tends to weigh down even the fastest processors. Any time I have a chance to combine more than one vital effect into a single plugin, I jump at the chance to check it out. United Plugins’ newest addition from Soundevice Digital, Autoformer, promises to bundle a multi-model preamp, a compressor, and a volume rider all in one. Today we’re going to take a look at Autoformer, run it through its paces and hear what it has to offer.
Autoformer opens to a simple but elegant interface full of vintage-style knobs and a sleek brushed-metal facade. The controls are divided into four sections – Preamp, Balancer, Compressor, and Out – all flanking five LED-style meters. Each of the three main controls has an individual on/off switch, plus a main power switch for the whole plugin. At the top is a preset selector with arrows to cycle through all 27 of the plugin’s bundled presets; clicking the preset name opens a preset dialog with controls to load, add, delete, and overwrite any of the presets. All of the controls are available at-a-glance, have clear labels and there are no complicated menus.
Let’s take a look at the controls featured in each of the sections of this multi-effect plugin:
The Preamp section in Autoformer is both simple and powerful. Gain controls the overall signal, while Mojo controls saturation. Three saturation styles emulate three analog circuit designs: BR (British), US (American), and GE (German).
The Balancer section has two powerful controls: the Leveller and the Seer. The Leveller controls the amount of intelligent volume riding, while the Seer (pronounced See-er, I would imagine) controls the number of samples the plugin looks ahead to attenuate the output volume.
Autoformer‘s Compressor includes five controls: Gain, Squash, Time, Ratio, and Mix. Gain controls the post-Preamp and Leveller gain, while Squash sets the compression level. Time is an attack control, and, similarly, Ratio is a fairly standard ratio control. (See our article on How to Use a Compressor Plugin for more details on the controls typically found on a compressor.) Mix controls the dry/wet ratio of the compressed signal.
Each of the five meters in United Plugins’ Autoformer provides a look into the performance of each of the sections in the plugin. From left to right, the meters include IN (input signal), PO (preamp output), BGR (Balancer gain reduction), CGR (Compressor gain reduction), and OUT (output). Having 5 independent meters at-a-glance is a fantastic and greatly-appreciated feature that some multi-effect plugins I’ve used in the past were sorely lacking.
I was extremely impressed with Autoformer‘s out-of-the-box sound and usability. The Preamps add a very pleasing saturation and warmth that rivals channel strip plugins that cost hundreds of dollars more, and the multiple models add a notable depth to the use cases. Meanwhile, the compressor’s simplistic yet musical controls worked in tandem with the Preamp and Balancer to create sounds that sit extremely well in busy mixes.
Though I enjoyed the Preamp and Compressor controls in United Plugins’ Autoformer, the real hero in this plugin is the Balancer volume-rider. I found the Balancer to be useful for vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and drums, as well as for busses. Using the Balancer section, you could easily replace about 80-90% of the automations in a normal mix, saving tons of time and ending up with a better mix than most can achieve by hand.
Autoformer comes with 27 presets, including acoustic and electric guitar, kick, snare, drum buss, bass, mastering, and male/female vocal settings. Each preset provides a good starting point and displays the power of each of the sections. That said, with the highly musical controls I mentioned earlier I didn’t find that I needed to utilize the presets much in order to dial in extremely colorful settings for my sample.
As I found to be the case in my review of United Plugins’ FirePresser, there are no tooltips in this plugin. Since none of the controls require super-precise settings it wasn’t a big issue, but I have gotten used to tooltips in my other plugins and missed having them when tweaking settings. Not worth removing points for, but hopefully something United Plugins will consider adding in future releases.
Hear It in Action
Below is a sample of United Plugins’ Autoformer on two acoustic guitar tracks in one stereo sample. Both tracks utilize the German Preamp model at about 45% Mojo, Balancer at about 60% with Seer at dead center, with the compressor at 60% Squash, fast attack and a low-mid ratio at about 50% mix.
Here are the exact same tracks with Autoformer in bypass:
United Plugins Autoformer Review – The Bottom Line
Each of the sections of Autoformer is good on its own merits. The Preamp models are all rock solid and the Mojo control adds a ton of satisfying warmth to everything I tried it on. As I mentioned before, the Balancer is a welcomed replacement for hours of automation work on vocals, guitars, drums, and more. The compressor is simple in operation, yet complex in tone. When all the parts come together, this plugin is a knockout, and I consider it a steal at this pricepoint.
United Plugins and Soundevice Digital hit it out of the park with Autoformer. I was surprised at how good it sounded out of the gate with very little tweaking. I feel this plugin would make a welcome addition to anyone’s toolchest that is working with vocals or live instrumentation. I give United Plugins’ Autoformer 5 stars in all categories and my wholehearted recommendation.