The Mutronics Mutator is one of the most revered rack-mount stereo filters ever created. It had a short-lived production run due to a vital component in its manufacturing process being discontinued, but that didn't stop it from being embraced by everyone from Eric Clapton to Daft Punk. Softube has proven themselves experts in lovingly re-creating vintage gear in software form, so I was only too excited to check out their vision of the Mutator.
What it Does
Standard analog subtractive synthesis works in a pretty straightforward manner. You take a rich sound like a sawtooth wave or a square wave, then you have a big filter section that 'takes away' certain aspects of the sound like a sculptor might create a statue out of clay. Modulation sources like an LFO (low frequency oscillator) might also 'take away' a certain aspect of the sound, but at a certain rate (like how fast the LFO is moving). This concept has been a cornerstone of analog synthesis since its inception.
The Mutronics Mutator allows you to feed ANY sound source into a filter, not just a synth tone. Basically it rips out the tone generation stage from an analog synth and lets you use a guitar track, a drum track, a vocal track, and more as your sound source. You get the filter stage of an analog synth without having to use a sine wave as your source sound. You even get the modulation stage with the Mutator as there are 2 LFOs for you to utilize when crafting your sound.
The Mutator also includes an envelope follower, which is what allows the Mutator to detect the dynamics and sound energy of the non-synth sound sources you'll be feeding it, like drums or guitar.
Will It Blend?
After installing the Mutator, I immediately brought it up on a guitar track. I browsed through many of the factory presets and was able to get that familiar 'filtered guitar' sound I was looking for. I didn't *quite* get knocked over with sonic brilliance… until I found the mix knob.
The bottom row of buttons on the Mutator was added by Softube to enhance usability with modern digital audio workstations, and this includes the ability to adjust the mix ratio between your 'unaltered' sound and your filtered sound. After browsing through the presets and wishing the effect was a little more dramatic, I gave that knob a twist and… wow! Suddenly, I discovered what everyone loved about this little machine so much. It sounded like my guitar riff was routed through a Moog Modular and I loved every second of it.
The plugin was particularly efficient, too. I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary on my CPU as I added instance after instance to guitar, drum, and vocal tracks. One of the features I particularly liked was the ability to tempo sync my LFOs to the sequence, this way the swirling madness I had created didn't turn into a sonic mess. During my tests, I had 4 or 5 Mutators on different tracks all mutating in logical subdivisions of rhythm and it was all quite controlled.
I really liked the Mutronics Mutator, and I absolutely LOVED it once I fiddled with the 'mix' knob. It's an extremely creative plugin, a faithful recreation of a coveted piece of gear, and it's wonderfully efficient. Softube has priced it reasonably and if you're looking for a filter to open up your sonic landscape during mixing, look no further.
Pros: Easy to use, CPU efficient, great sound, and a delightful recreation of a historic piece of gear.
Cons: The presets aren't as drastic or aggressive as I'd like, but that's easily fixed by adjusting the mix knob and really saturating your tone with the filter.