Arturia Dist Coldfire may be the only distortion plugin you need

Arturia has built up its collection of effects plugins over the past few years. One notable blind spot is distortion. It was until FX Collection 3 launched in June where the company will introduce its first dedicated distortion plugins. Dist OpAmp-21 and Dist Tube-Culture are solid, if glassless entries in the world of dirt effects. But the new one Dist Coldfire is something different. It might just be the coolest and most versatile distortion plugin I’ve ever used.

Where OpAmp-21 and Tube-Culture are emulations of classic effects units, Coldfire is something completely new. It adopts the same everything-and-kitchen-sink approach as the company’s Pigmentation (still my favorite soft synth on the market). It’s a dual distortion engine – meaning you can combine two different drives simultaneously. There are 11 distortion algorithms ranging from the subtle warmth of ice to the shrill howl of a wave directory. Many of them even have multiple modes, giving you a total of 33 variations to play with. And you can play any of them independently, or in series, parallel, stereo split, mid/side, or split.

That alone is pretty solid. But there’s also a multi-mode pre-filter and a simple two-band post-filter per channel, a three-mode dynamics module (limiter, compressor, multi-band) that can pre-deform or after and a feedback unit (basically a very short delay) to generate the hum of cascading noise. Plus many (not all) parameters, however, can be automated using a powerful six-slot modulator that is any combination of LFO, function generator, follower and more. envelope tracking or 16-step sequencer.

If that sounds like a lot to worry about, I don’t blame you. Arturia includes over 150 presets with useful categories and tags as a highlight. Plus, there’s plenty of instructional content to help familiarize you with the different sections.

However, once you start exploring, Dist Coldfire is surprisingly simple indeed. At least if you’re familiar with Arturia’s general interface practices. Features clearly labeled and color-coded buttons and buttons. The modules are laid out in a fairly intuitive way, and modulation is easy to assign and reduce (click the assign button, then dial by clicking and dragging around the parameter you want to target).

While it can be easy to sever the company if some sounds don’t match, given the wide range of options available, I’m happy to report that almost everything looks pretty good. Some distortion algorithms have smaller sweet spots than others. And not all will suit everyone’s tastes, but they are quite successful in achieving the vibe they’re looking for.

For example, the Gentle Lo-fi preset is one of those that can be used right out of the factory. It adds a healthy amount of saturated ice, a bit of grinding, and just a little tweaking to give you a classic and wild sound. It’s also easy enough to enhance the modulation, to give it an even more wearable character. But hey, maybe not everyone is like me and is looking for a way to make everything they record a bit stale and stale. Maybe you want the harsh digital sound of mid-’90s industrial metal – a good mix of tube actuators and waveforms can help you get there.

Or heck, maybe you want to completely forget about digital. Combine multiple bit crushers with some random LFO and you get what looks like a malfunctioning computer. Take it even further by adding modulated bandpass or groove filters. The point is, there’s probably something here for everyone.

Now, are the same distortions here 100% accurate and indistinguishable from their real world counterparts? Absolutely not, despite Arturia’s TAE marketing claims. The company’s technology is still far better at capturing the vibes of classic analog synths than recreating the warmth and growl of a beloved lamp amp. That being said, it’s not bad and is hardly noticeable in a complete mixed track. Just don’t go crank most of them.

Among the similar simulations – tape, tube, transformer, transistor, germanium and force – I found only tape and force really usable with the actuator set to maximum. In particular, transistors and germanium have a slightly annoying digital harshness at their highest. Some modes are also better suited to specific instruments and sounds. While you can obviously slap a wave on a complex piano tune if you like, the results may not always be ideal.

Dist Coldfire is flexible enough to be your only distortion plugin. But it probably wouldn’t be my aim looking to add some warmth or saturation – though I could easily find myself slapping Gentle Lo-fi on everything and calling it a day. It’s a complex plugin whose real power lies in its more capabilities. It also takes a bit of resources – at least for a distortion plugin.

Still, for $99, it’s a pretty great deal. And, if you don’t already own FX Collection 3you can basically download it for free that comes with that set of plugins for $299.

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