Review: Surreal Machines Diffuse and Modnetic

Berlin-based Surreal Machines have come up with a couple of awesome new delay plug-ins and Noah Pred thinks they might be the last dub tools you ever need...  

Building on the success of their first Max For Live devices, Berlin’s Surreal Machines make their first foray into DAW-agnostic signal processing with a significant update to their acclaimed Dub Machines: Diffuse and Modnetic. What at first glance seems to be a faithful yet modern emulation of classic hardware delays reveals far more potential beneath a deceptively elegant surface. Let’s take a look under the hood.


Diffusing, effectively.

Diffusing, effectively. 

With a sleek, streamlined GUI, Diffuse combines vintage delays and classic reverbs into a single innovative unit. The interface is comprised of three main sections: input at far left, core effect settings in the middle, and output settings on the right. Preset management is governed by a drop-down menu up top. A handy A-B feature allows easy comparison between a pair of parameter settings, while Mix Lock ensures the dry-wet blend remains in place while switching between presets.

On the inbound path, the Input gain works much like a send dial: even if Diffuse is being used as an insert, it can be automated to splash momentary dub effects with tails that continue to decay naturally after the Input value is minimized. Rectify adds welcome crunch via inharmonic saturation gain, while Width controls the stereo image of the wet signal. A Hold button allows settings to be frozen with the exception of the Repeat value, allowing for unique rhythmic transformations within the held buffer state. The Pattern drop-down is where things get interesting, imposing nine different rhythmic attitudes on the selected Repeat interval, ranging from hefty swing to hypnotic bouncing effects.

Emulating vintage tape delay isn’t exactly unusual unto itself, but combining that emulation with classic ‘80s reverb puts Diffuse in another class. Repeats determines the delay time, measured in 32nd note intervals when synchronized to host; when set to ms, nudging the value via the horizontal arrow buttons just below conveniently skips through musical intervals while remaining in milliseconds for smooth knob glides between. Regen governs feedback, with values up to 150% allowing for extreme analog saturation and wild effects that require appropriate caution on headphones or loud systems – but of course that’s a big part of what you want from an authentic tape delay. 

Size and Diffuse dials control the primary reverberation element of Diffuse, with increasing values of diffusion gradually blurring the delay taps into an abstract smear – until hitting the 80% mark, signified by a yellow segment on the dial’s ring, at which point taps regain their resolution, along with a uniquely phased quality. Size allows you to control the distribution of delay taps, with 0% being a straight delay and higher values distributing the taps into progressively tinier smoothed out slices, eventually resulting in an atmospheric wash. Toying with these two controls allows for a wide range of echo-reverb combinations that should provide instant inspiration to anyone in the market for unique dubby ambience.

The output stage contains a stereo modulation with spread control for additional retro ‘80s sparkle, along with Low and High damping controls to hone the frequencies. A requisite Mix dial is accompanied by a unique Pump control with in-line dynamics processing to duck louder decay tails to the dry input, so the original impulse never gets buried in clouds of echo, no matter how stormy they might get.


Modulated echoes to infinity and beyond

Modulated echoes to infinity and beyond

While Diffuse remains a gorgeous sounding and highly useful echo/reverb combo, the real gem here is Modnetic. Combining classic tape delay, saturation, versatile convolution reverb and amp modelling with analog-based modulation, it’s a truly powerful multi-effect that delivers impressively unique echoes along with an array of options, esoteric and utilitarian alike.

Providing the same patch navigation, A/B comparison, Mix Lock, and momentary Input controls as Diffuse, Modnetic is comprised of a central Echo section, a Modulation area, a Routing scheme, and an output Mix stage. 

The convolution-based Reverb unit offers 26 types grouped into Springs, Plates, and Halls, along with nine Colors, which uses convolution for amp and other modelling options – all of which are controlled by a single Level dial. The crucial Character section provides four modelling options: Lo-Fi, 501, Old, and Dark – each of which drastically changes the behavior and tonality of the rest of the device by an amount determined by the Amount control below it. 

The core Echo section models a familiar multi-head space echo style, with seven head combinations providing different tap variations and combinations with in-line reverb. The Repeat control is identical to that of Diffuse, with the exception of enhanced timing selections from 1/8 notes to 1/64 notes, along with triplet intervals, providing for every possible range of rhythmic delay. Intensity controls the feedback, with a familiar 150% regeneration potential for extreme dub saturation, along with a handy Level control to tame or boost it as needed. The Wow dial provides additional tape control with convincing variability to enhance the vintage aesthetic, while somewhat to the contrary, a Reverse playback option allows for mesmerizing results that would be impossible in the analog domain. A Hold toggle completes the Echo section with just about everything you could ask for. 

Meanwhile, the rich Modulation section provides three options: Chorus, Flanger, or Phaser – each of which comes equipped with four different circuit models for a wide range of character from liquid to rigid, blurry to clear. Each comes with a Rate, Amount, and Spread control.

The Echo, Modulation, and Reverb areas can each be bypassed independently to use Modnetic strictly as a Modulation effect, or as a simple convolution Reverb. With two or more sections active, the dedicated Routing section comes in especially handy, as the Reverb and Modulation sections each get three signal path locations relative to the Echo.

Reverb can be routed in Parallel, in series Pre-Echo, or Post-Echo, yielding a wide range of options worth experimenting with. The Modulation can be placed Pre-Dry, so as to utilize the Mix control to blend between a modulated “Dry” sound and a Wet Echo Reverb, or, more conventionally: Pre-Wet (after the dry input signal but before Echo and Reverb), or Post Echo (placing it immediately after the delay so as to only modulate the resulting echoes). Just when you think you’ve got a handle on your patch, simply altering the path routing quickly provides radically different options worth exploring. 

Finally, the Mix section features the aforementioned send-style Input throw and Dry/Wet Mix control along with Bass and Treble dials to shape the tone, along with a Noise slider to enhance the amount of analog-modelled saturation and hiss introduced throughout, and finally a Width control for stereo imaging at the output stage.

Love Dub

Truly more than the sum of its powerful parts, Modnetic provides faithful vintage emulations and unusual sound design alike. As easy to use as it is on the eyes, it brings together the best of modern technology with classics from the past to create epic spaces with character as colorful as you might need.

Impressively priced as it is, combined with Diffuse it’s a powerful bundle – and quite possibly the last delay effects you’ll ever need to add to your arsenal. Whether you’re looking for classic tape-saturated delay or a modern take on echoes or modulation, Dub Machines should be a top option.

Price: €99 (Bundle) / €69 (Modnetic only) / €49 (Diffuse only)

Pros: Great sound, fantastic interface, unique controls, faithful emulations, flexible routing, well-priced.

Cons: Filtering options could be more powerful; Modnetic modulation rates not host-sync’able.



Noah Pred is a Canadian record producer, sound designer, technologist, DJ, and Ableton Certified Trainer living in Berlin, Germany. Releasing dozens of records and touring extensively since the '90s, he currently teaches a wide variety of techniques for stage and studio at the BIMM Institute. For more information, please visit: http://... Read More


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