RC-20 Retro Color by XLN Audio is a popular creative effects plugin. With its multiple parameters, you can quickly add character and vintage vibe to any sound source in your mix.
RC-20 Retro Color Overview
The idea behind Retro Color was to create a plugin capable of modeling the various ‘lo-fi’ characteristics of classic analog recording. The RC-20 Retro Color has 6 different effects modules which you can run separately, or all together, to achieve the desired effect.
It’s particularly great on virtual instruments, electronic drum samples, and loops. It gives sources from the digital domain that otherwise sound sterile a bit of ‘oomph’ and mojo. Effects range from subtle tape hiss or tube saturation, to massive ambient reverb and pitch-altering wow & flutter.
RC-20’s modules are as follows:
This is a fun module that emulates noise we associate with different types of analog gear. You’ll find just about any type of noise you could imagine, from vinyl crackle and tape hiss, to studio noise, electric circuit hum, and stompbox static noise. There’s even a VHS machine setting — remember those?
Using this module alone will definitely give your recording some character, especially if it’s a particularly ‘perfect’ sounding digital source. You might even try the noise generator on your mix bus for some subtle tape noise — just to liven things up a bit.
Wobble & Flutter
Wobble adds pitch inconsistencies associated with unstable playback on analog gear, like record players and tape machines. Again, this can be very subtle or you can push it to the extreme for some unrecognizable pitch-shifting.
You’ll find similar parameters on other tape machine plugin emulations. Wobble is also referred to as ‘wow.’
Saturation & Distortion
This one is pretty self-explanatory. RC-20 Retro Color comes with several different distortion types, like a pair of tubes and even a speaker cone being pushed to its limit.
The modular approach to RC-20’s layout makes it super versatile; if you want to use it as a standalone saturation plugin, for example, you can do just that.
- Related: A Few of the Best Saturation Plugins
Degrader & Bitcrusher
This is sort of the digital equivalent to analog distortion and saturation. The module lets you recreate the sound of vintage digital gear like old-school samplers.
It allows you to lower the sample rate and bit depth to add some unmistakable digital messiness to your recordings.
We all know and love reverb. This is a very simple module including decay time and pre-delay. You can very quickly add some depth and width to your channel using these easy-to-navigate settings.
RC-20 Retro Color is one of my go-tos on loops, for instance, because you can take them from dry to wet so easily. The reverb, in particular, sounds great!
Finally, we have the Magnetic section which reproduces the wear, tear, and volume loss associated with recording and playback on tape and tape recorders. Another excellent parameter to pleasantly mess things up on individual instruments, buses, or even entire mixes.
Of course, RC-20 Retro Color comes factory-loaded with presets for 808s, guitars, retro gaming sounds, vinyl and VHS noise, snares, you name it…
It’s an awesome creative tool for just about anything, and it weighs in at an affordable $99. However, there are some great (albeit less versatile) alternatives to RC-20 as well.
Free Alternatives to RC-20
They call it their ‘ultimate lo-fi weapon.’ Vinyl is a free plugin emulating the dust, scratches, warp, and mechanical noise from listening to music on wax.
You really can’t beat free, and if all you need is a little vintage crackle, this plugin does it incredibly well.
First and foremost, this plugin is Windows only. Sorry, Apple users. We have it pretty good when it comes to music production and other creative stuff, but Windows has us beat in the freeware department.
Unstable likes to mess around with your audio pitch, with 3 subtle pitch modulation modes to simulate the unpredictable, but lovable, pitch instability of an old tape machine or analog equipment. It doesn’t only do subtle though; you can also put it in ‘insane’ mode if you’d prefer to FSU.
It’s hard to find an actual description of what this plugin really does, but to my ears it’s a pretty wild pitch-shifting type…thing. I have to give it to Freakshow Industries for being, by far, the most entertaining plugin company I’ve ever come across. They genuinely seem like a great group of people, making insane creative effects.
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