A few of our recent blog posts have discussed of minimalism in the design of the Valhalla plugins. Minimalism is a big goal for us at Valhalla DSP. It’s reflected in the GUI style of the plugins, and increasingly in the design of the algorithms themselves.
The drive for minimalism for the Valhalla plugins goes hand in hand with the concept of modularity. Modularity, for plugin design, is the idea that a plugin should focus on the task it is best at, leaving other tasks to other plugins. A plugin can be viewed as a module, that is used as part of a larger system.
Plugins are used within a DAW, or within some other form of plugin host. Most DAWs come with a fairly extensive suite of plugins: EQ, compressors and limiters, simple delays, utility modules; all that good stuff. In addition, the average plugin user owns a fair number of plugins from different companies.
We’re Focusing On What We’re Good At
From our perspective, it makes sense to continue to work with and improve the things we are good at. My experience largely lies with reverbs and delay based processing, as well as modulation effects. I’ve been designing these every working day for the past 18 years. I’ve designed compressors, limiters and EQs in the past, but I don’t consider myself an expert in these types of effects. Meanwhile, there ARE folks who have worked with compressors, limiters and EQs for several decades.
This is where modularity comes in. The Valhalla plugins are designed to focus on the things we are good at. We don’t include EQs, because you already have an EQ. Probably a ton of EQs. And many of these EQs are designed by people who are as fanatical about equalization algorithms as we are about reverbs and delays. Same thing with compressors and limiters. Lots of smart designers out there.
Modularity Aligns With Our Core Beliefs
Our belief in designing plugins as modules for a bigger system ties into several other core beliefs of Valhalla DSP:
- We don’t think that this is a zero-sum world. Just because you use the Valhalla plugins, doesn’t mean that you won’t use plugins from other people. We feel that if we focus on our specialties, we can happily coexist with other developers that are as equally as passionate about what they do. As we say to each other around here, we don’t need to be the only or the versus. We want to be the AND.
- DAWs and other plugin hosts are usually designed around the concept of modularity. The plugins included in your favorite DAW are expected to be used in a modular manner, as are 3rd party plugins.
- People digest ideas easier if they are broken up into smaller chunks. It is tempting to write the Grand Unified Theory plugin, that wraps everything up into one singularity of All Powerful Do Everythingness. These sorts of plugins are fun, but it is often hard to figure out what is going on. It’s like reading a giant run-on post with no paragraphs or punctuation. By breaking out plugins into more atomic units, things become easier to use.
- Stomp boxes are AWESOME. I love love love effect pedals. Part of this love stems from the simplicity of using effects pedals, as they usually have a small number of controls. Another part of this comes from how using discrete stomp boxes splits up different concepts into different pedals (see above for why chunking up ideas is often a good idea).
- Send busses are AWESOME. The idea of sending part of an audio track to one or more sends, and running one or more effects on these sends, dates back to the reverb chambers of the 1950s. By running effects on a send bus, you can balance your levels better, send different amounts of different tracks to the same send bus, and use EQ and dynamics processing to shape the sound to your heart’s content. Don Gunn has a great video, showing how to use the Valhalla reverbs on a send bus. This video is useful for ALL reverb plugins, and is also a great illustration on how using several sends to the same reverb can create a better drum sound.
There are limits to modularity. Some signal processing blocks can’t be broken out of the higher level algorithm. For example, many of the Valhalla plugins have filtering blocks (low cut, high cut, damping) that are part of the feedback paths of the plugins. These couldn’t be parted out to external plugins without including an external feedback loop, which would make things far more complicated than just adding a few tone controls.
In general, though, the Valhalla plugins try to keep things as minimal as possible, with the assumption that other functions can be shouldered by other plugins.