Review: Surreal Machines Transient Machines for Ableton Live

Drums sound best with plenty of punch. We put Surreal Machines' latest Max for Live effects, Crack and Impact, through their paces.  

Following their acclaimed Dub Machines delay and reverb Max for Live tools, Berlin’s Surreal Machines is back on the scene with a pair of devices designed to punch up your percussion and give new life to your drums.

As the name suggests, Transient Machines build on state-of-the-art transient shaping technology to boost or reduce the sharp onsets of incoming audio to help it slice through your mix and to increase or diminish the sustain that follows the impact to provide more body (or less, as needed). 

Absolutely Cracking

The first device, designed primarily for single drum tracks that might only contain snares or claps, for example, is dubbed Crack – and crack it does, primarily by increasing the Attack amount.

Crack attack

Crack attack 

With a range of 15dB above or below the incoming transient volume, the Attack knob functions as advertised, delivering a clean boost to the initial elements of a sound, helping it slice through thick mixes and stand out against a busy backdrop. The Sustain dial features the same decibel range, helping provide more presence on the tail end. Using the two in concert could also provide a unique approach to compression, intensifying or attenuating the two stages of a sound as needed.

The output stage features a Wet gain knob that can adjust the effected signal by 10 decibels up or down, along with a Mix dial set all the way to wet by default. Clip mode puts a hard digital clip on the output, so you may want to watch your signals, while Limit mode provides automatic gain reduction via brick wall limiting.

In contrast, the Maximize output setting delivers the highest possible volume at all points of the signal, with the Wet dial converted to a percentage Amount control; I found amounts below 25% achieved the most musical results, while anything much higher than that tended to crush the sound, which could admittedly be useful in certain cases. A Thru mode bypasses any form of output protection, so you’d be advised to exercise caution when using it.

I tested Crack on a range of material and found it easily enhanced not only percussive material but bass tones, synth melodies, and just about anything with a distinguishable difference between impact and sustain.

Full Impact

Surreal’s flagship solution, designed for full spectrum material such as entire drum busses, is dubbed Impact and combines up to three bands of Crack’s Attack and Sustain transient controls along with four EQ bands, four saturation types and the same four output stage options found in Crack.


Impact – not just a font for memes.

Clicking the triangle above the Split selection reveals a full-spectrum realtime analysis display overlaid with the band crossover divisions, controlled by sliders beneath them. This allows easy identification of where the main elements fall in the frequency spectrum and rapid adjustment of the crossover values to contain them intelligibly. Two crossover modes deliver the option of smoother or more surgical results as needed.

The EQ can be set to Pre or Post transient processing, with each band by default set to a bell with adjustable frequency, gain, and slope while the first and last bands can be assigned to a low or high shelf respectively, allowing for ever more precise sculpting directly in-house. 

Meanwhile, the Saturation circuit can be routed prior to the crossover or following the EQ for a single band process, or before the Transient Shapers for up to three bands of discrete saturation. The two Console saturation modes infuse program material with useful warmth and presence, while the Folding and Broken Circuit modes provide unique distortion and extreme sound design possibilities at higher settings.


The end result is a distinctive dynamics processor that not only imbues source material with impressive force of impact, but also unique textural detail. Impact works particularly well with drums, but could be just as well suited to a wide range of other material. In combination with Crack, this pair of tools stands as an impressive second outing from the team at Surreal Machines.

Price: €39 EU

Pros: Intuitive, efficient interface guaranteed to make your drums “pop” like never before, combined with handy RTA and colorful saturation options at an affordable price.

Cons: May require an upgrade to Live and/or Max for some users.



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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