Review: Softube Valley People Dynamite

Some people swear by it, other people hate it, and sometimes both don’t understand it’s full potential. The Valley People Dynamite is a very polarizing piece of hardware from the days of yore that incorporates all sorts of patented transient enhancing wizardry to perform just about all of your dynamic needs.  Softube saw this and decided to give the world a plugin based version of this all-in-one cult classic processor.
Valley People actually came about from two companies joining forces to build the pinnacle of  pro audio equipment. The two companies catered personally to the likes of Frank Zappa, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys; and quickly became a staple in the recording community. So it was no surprise when co founder Paul Buff incorporated his infamous 1980’s patent on the “electronic gain control device” into a very clever piece of gear that soon became known as the Dyna Mite.
The Softube version is pretty much identical to the hardware unit with the exception of Softube allowing the “Range” knob to work on both the expanding and limiting modes. The interface is very comprehensive and very cool looking to boot. My only gripe in the interface is the same as the Slate VBC in that the controls are too small when using it on a retina display. I find myself leaning towards to screen when tweaking controls and reading numbers. Other than the small text, the controls give you ample description of the various functions via the window below. More plugin companies should take note of this but maybe with an option to hide the window. As we all know, the listener doesn’t HEAR how the interface looks so lets dive into what this unit does.
The Dyna Mite is by any stretch of the word a workhorse. You can limit, expand, de-ess, gate and duck until your heart’s content all from one window…(just not all at once of course). I really like how all functions can be performed without a veritable space station of controls. Everything is laid out right in front, giving you ease of switching between the different styles dynamic control. Now this can be attributed to the original design but Softube added the window underneath to help guide you through the process of learning this processor.
Now something else that is attributed to Valley People is the initial response to this processor. This thing is very intimidating at first and you will at several points question why you just spent money on something so difficult to use. Softube playfully warn of this and encourage you strongly to read the manual before tearing your hair out. The manual lays out the functions very straight forward and in a very entertaining manner. Once you learn each of the functions and how the controls respond, you will feel a sense of accomplishment, then that of awe over the versatility of this plugin. While we’re on the topic of versatility, lets take a look at all of the controls.
Who knew 4 knobs and 3 switches could do so much right? The Dyna-Mite is centered around 2 main principles: Limiting and Expanding but these 2 functions expand way beyond the basics and applications. The threshold goes from +20 to -40.5 DB, the release goes from a slow 5.08 seconds to a snappy .05 seconds, the range knob goes from 61dB all the way to 0dB (more on what that is in a few), and the output knob can add up 15.1dB. Your switches control how these knobs are supposed to work by either selecting the MODE to LIMIT, OUT (Bypass dynamics but leave the output engaged), or EXP (Expand). From there you have a choice on the let hand side to select the DET (Detect) to Int (Internal), DS-FM (a high frequency injected into the detector), and EXT (Externally Keyed). The DS-FM is the more unusual out of the three but serves a very useful purpose. A high frequency boost is placed in the detector stage of the signal to aid in limiting high frequency sounds like cymbals or a vocal track. The boost doesn’t affect the EQ of your track because it is placed only in the part that detects transients. From these two switches, more options become available with the DET (Detect) switch to the right of the MODE switches. You have a choice of Gate (a which is available in both LIMIT and EXPAND modes), PK (peak or fast attack), and AVG (average or slow attack). Something different that Softube added from the original hardware model is that the Range knob can work in all modes.
So now you might be wondering exactly what the Range control is. The most simple explanation is that this controls the maximum amount of dB either Limited or Expanded. It acts almost as a wet / dry zone knob where you can pick what areas are limited. In limit mode you can control the maximum amount of gain that is reduced.  Something else you may be curious about is why you can select gate and limit at the same time. This is where something called “negative limiting” comes into play. With negative limiting, the ratio is set to 1:-20, meaning that even 1 dB of increase will cause the limiter to decrease the signal by 20dB. Its a very tough mode to master as it creates a lot of static sounding artifacts but if that’s what you’re looking for to create unique effects, then you’re in luck!
So with all of this considered, lets take a look at how this beast works in practical use. It is definitely not a modest dynamics tool, most everything it does is done in a way that lets you know its “there”, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
LIMIT MODE:
The limiter has an infinity:1 ratio and is definitely not subtle. I’m sure you can use it that way, but when you have something that simply wants to pummel dynamics, why not use it that way? The two main modes you can use are PK that will smash transients with a fast attack or slow it down with the AVG setting. The AVG setting will allow that “pop” to come through on a snare that will make your eyes squint. The PK setting will utterly smash drum tracks beyond belief. I like throwing it on an auxiliary track and blending it with the other drum tracks to give the drums more room sound. On the DS-FM side of things, if your cymbals are too piercing, simply set the detect to DSFM and limit to tame them.
Some of us like to push things to their max, and when this processor gets pushed, it produces a very nice pumping that works very well on electronic drums. As always you can set the Detect to external on a synth bass or keys and sidechain the limiter to trigger to a kick drum to give you the ubiquitous “rhythmic pumping” used in a lot of electronic music. On the other side of the same concept, you can use sidechain, keyed limiting to duck a backing track behind and announcer in voice-over work. The Range knob really comes into play and allows you to tweak how much lower the backing track goes behind the vocal.
EXPANDING MODE:
This setting can be used in its traditional form and it works just as good, if not better than any other gate. You don’t get that skipping, crackly sound that other gates get in some situations. Of course using things in their traditional sense is all good and well but why not push boundaries and live a little. The EXP mode uses the same types of detection as the limiter but only in the reverse sense. The GATE setting is the most harsh of the modes and works with a very fast attack and considered your “hard gate.” The AVG is the most soft form of the expander, with the PK being in the middle of the two other settings, but slightly closer to the “harder gate” settings. I usually use this to pull the room out of drum tracks or take a rhythmic synth track that needs to be tightened up and really take the tail end off of them. One of my favorite things to do with it is, insert the Expander mode with the gate setting on a synth pad and key the input with the external detect to a drum loop, and… tada!.. the synth track now rhythmically moves with the drums. You can even do a more subtle version with the AVG switch while controlling the Range to layer a sense of movement to the pad without being so extreme. The possibilities are only limited to your creativity.
Overall, after a slight learning curve, I love using this very creative tool. For years I’ve incorporated the SPL Transient Designer into just about every drum track I use, but sometimes having only two knobs can hinder your intended result. I can do the exact same things that the Transient Designer does but with more flexibility. The overall result even comes out better with the Dynamite, plus you can easily externally key the dynamite. I really recommend this plugin for anyone who wants a totally new approach to standard dynamics control. This will open up your creativity very quickly and give you a new tool to use to break out from the norm. The guys at Softube really did a great job at taking a cult classic and bringing it into the digital realm. Their added improvements on the former design only made this tool even greater and although at first, you may be staring blankly at a screen wondering how a threshold knob can cause so much trouble, once you master this tool, you won’t look back.
Available in VST, AU, RTAS, AAX, and very soon AAX64.
For more info, visit http://www.softube.com/index.php?id=dmite

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