FXpansion makes a number of plug-in and standalone instruments as well as some great effects and its latest offering is Maul, a multiband distortion and tone shaping plug-in with advanced modulation capabilities. It comes in all major formats for Mac and PC and in 32 and 64-bit versions, with installation and authorisation taking just a few moments from download to being up and running. It costs $99 / £69 and is download-only.
Maul can work in a couple of different ways. Its three drive stages can each use one of 32 distortion types, freely selectable from a dropdown menu and can work in parallel or serial multiband mode, or indeed as a single distortion by activating the Single mode, at which point the central section controls the effect. You will probably want to use Maul in multiband mode to get the most out of it, and in this mode each drive stage works on a filtered part of the input signal split into low, mid and high. Each one is isolated with a filter and their bands can overlap, and the cutoff frequency of each one be altered.
Process three bands of distortion separately, or use it as a single band effect.
Each of the three bands is highly configurable and the idea is that you can add everything from gentle warmth through to heavy sound destruction, with the added bonus of being able to process different parts of the sound in different ways. This makes most sense on sources like drums and beats but can also be employed with pretty much anything : the presets are sorted by categories including vocals, bass, synths, guitars and more. There's a Saturate button available on each band.
Each band can be muted or soloed and this really helps with figuring out how you're affecting the sound. As well as a range of distortion types for each band you can also choose cutoff, Q and tone, in and out gain and how much effected signal for that band is mixed back in with the dry. As well as pushing the Drive knob you can choose dynamics too, specifying whether the band has more bite or more body. If the sound is snappier or bigger, in other words. The different distortion types sound very different from one another and you can achieve everything from gentle punch to shredded crushing of your sound with just a few clicks. The DCAM distortion algorithms sound particularly good.
Here's a very pedestrian sounding, clean drum beat without any processing….
… and here's the same beat with some Maul multiband destruction applied:
Maul also uses FXpansion's TransMod system as found in Tremor and various other of its tools. This is a clever way of easily assigning modulation sources to any variable control by selecting the source then “painting” a degree of change onto the desired knob. In the Modulation view at the top you can tweak the mod sources and there's also MIDI learn and the ability to use velocity, pitch and a random MIDI input to control TransMod as well. The whole thing passes to a Master output stage where you get a three band EQ as well as level meters for each band.
Set up TransMod to make the effect animate in realtime – it's quick and easy.
Maul is a really clever distortion that goes beyond just crunching your signal and provides some very adept sound-shaping tools. The fact that it is multiband means you can independently alter the volume and processing of different parts of the frequency range, which is particularly good on beats. Often, passing the whole beat through a single band distortion will adversely affect the top or the bottom but here, you can shape and tweak as much as you like. Adding some Maul to sounds really helps them to cut through the mix, to stand out and grab your attention. It's not just for electronic music either, and would sound great on vocals, guitars and many kinds of other tracks.