Beloved boutique plug-in house Audio Damage has found a heck of a retirement for 33 of its vintage plug-ins: it’s giving them away for free for macOS and Windows. Here’s a complete guide and an ill-advised test scenario.

Audio Damage’s Chris Randall explains in a blog post:

Everything Old Is New Again…

Here’s the skinny:

  • Complete plug-in history, back to 2002’s debut Mayhem
  • Access to plug-in installers that had been inaccessible
  • Fully licensed (some just have a paste-in code; others are unlocked… so use these and not cracks, please!)
  • Completely unsupported; you’re on your own
  • macOS AU (nearly all) and VST2.4; Windows AU and VST2. Mostly 64-bit, some 32-bit only. (More on that below)

There are some other details in that blog post, but that’s the main stuff.

Download the plug-ins here – plus Rough Rider 3, a superb free compressor, for Windows + Mac + Ubuntu Linux + iOS:

If you’ve been producing since the 2000s – I guess that’s a thing now – you may find some of these effects trigger genuine nostalgia. The folks at Audio Damage have just steadily churned out clever, inventive, seriously fun effects and instruments. And in an industry that frankly can become both drab and mercenary, pummeling us with DRM, subscription services and planned obsolescence, marketing from some industry heavyweights talking about how compressor X won them a Grammy, and then still delivering the exact same channel strip for the eleven-hundredth time, AD has been a stalwart breath of fresh air.

You can also see some of the impact they’ve had on other developers – a license to be equally creative with making stuff we actually want, with interfaces that are free to have some fun. You see it in iOS apps, Reason Rack Extensions, the lot. And it sure hasn’t hurt that AD’s public personality Chris Randall is a regular presence on the Interwebs, broadcasting from Satan’s Taint.

So the freebie giveaway is great on a few levels. It’s a chance for some of us to revisit plug-ins from years past. And it’s a chance for other folks to see them for the first time. That’s something that happens in gaming a lot (erm, also buggy and unsupported some of the time cough Nintendo), so why not in music?

*.zip* filter with the DownThemAll extension is a quick way to grab everything. And if you’re me, you do really want everything.

Here’s a stupid way to test this

Okay, so the whole point of this is that they’re legacy plug-ins. The one thing you should definitely not do is try to run all these plug-ins on, like, an M1-based Mac with the latest Monterey build.

So, of course, I tried to run all of these plug-ins on an M1-based Mac with the latest Monterey build. Now, honestly, if you’ve given a bunch of money to Apple, you should give some money to Audio Damage. But in credit to AD, the vast majority of these plug-ins worked perfectly.

There were only a few I could break:

Installers didn’t run: 907A, BigSeq, Deverb, Kombinat, Mayhem

Plug-in didn’t run: 914, Filterstation, Ronin, RoughRider Pro

32-bit plug-ins were clearly the problem with most of those. I haven’t gotten to run on Windows yet, but there my suspicion is everything will work (once you have a plug-in with a 32-bit bridge, so something like Reaper or FL Studio or Bitwig).

Even these weren’t big losses – Kombinat and 914 have modern versions, Rough Rider’s modern update is even free.

The usual macOS advice applies – open up System Preferences > Security and Privacy, and be prepared to do a lot of clicking to convince your Mac that you’re totally okay with installing this.

Yes, “Open Anyway.” I’m in a hurry; I need to get back to running with scissors and tearing those little tags off pillows. Will it work? I don’t care. I want to try the installer anyway.

FuzzPlus3 and RoughRider3 both work without restarting. For everything else, though, you’ll need to restart your Mac, and then they’ll appear.

I didn’t even have to force Ableton Live into Rosetta 2 compatibility mode for AU plug-ins. Nearly all the plug-ins were there and loaded perfectly using Apple’s default compatibility layer.

It just didn’t dangerous and stupid to me yet, though. So the next challenge was, naturally, to stick as many plug-ins as I could on a single channel for no reason. I did that, and – no problems whatsoever. (I got up to 19 plug-ins, figuring I would limit myself to a single sound source – here, Tattoo.)

Again, let me be clear that – this is neither a musical nor a good idea. But it does prove that this stuff works:

What’s in there

Let me just call out a few favorites here, plus some of what you might try from the current AD catalog:

Tattoo remains a very serviceable percussion synth with a nice pattern editor.

Automaton is a sort of instant-IDM-factory based on Conway’s Game of Life; it’s tough to beat that clean UI and the attractive modules for slicing and dicing. It’s nice to see it back, as it doesn’t to my knowledge have any direct replacement from AD or anyone else, though you’ll of course find plenty of vaguely related devices.

And while you’re slicing and dicing, there’s this:

Replicant also falls well into the instant-IDM category, and seems to have even inspired a few knock-offs here and there. There is a modern version, too.

Bitcom is a digital beast – a binary-style bit banging step sequencer fed into a unique and brutal bitcrusher. It’s intensely destructive. There’s not to my knowledge a direct successor from AD, but the funny thing is, we’ve seen some other third parties pick up the concept. Bitcom is uniquely devastating, though, and with that distinctive AD UI clarity.

ADverb for me is just pure nostalgia, as I used it a lot when it came out. It’s been modernized and the UI flattened, but it’s nice to see the original here.

Ditto vintages Dubstation. Dubstation 2 is a much more capable design and now is modernized and runs on Linux, but I’ve got a soft spot for the vintage UI.

And then there was that time when Audio Damage decided to try comic shading as a look. It didn’t last, but PhaseTwo is adorable. PhaseThree is more practical and more powerful, and sure, this kind of perspective is a ridiculous idea when you’re looking at a plug-in window, but it warmed my heart to fire up the old one again for a bit. Anyway, yes, then after that wears off you should probably upgrade to PhaseThree.

But by the way, on both I really love how Audio Damage adapted the MuTron Bi-Phase, and gives the Arturia version of the same a run for its money.

Hey, Fuzzplus 3 is still kind of great – it’s a vintage fuzz model, stomp-style, with a modeled MS20-style filter.

If you enjoy this sort of thing, check out AD’s Grind, a far broader wavetable and distortion plug-in with multiple algorithms.

Plus Kombinat (also included amongst the legacy stuff) has a gorgeous multi-band distortion refresh, which is just the thing if the two I mentioned recently – Rift and Trash – feel like they’re overdesigned and you crave something with a one-window UI. (I can go either way myself.)

Okay, you may notice a certain similarity between this and MangledVerb (note the ‘d’) from Eventide. I love MangledVerb, but whether it’s me just setting the controls differently or something else, MangleVerb sounds really quite different to me. Plus it is actually easier to see what you’re doing on AudioDamage’s plug-in thanks to those two heads-up displays. Anyway, now I’ve got both.

RatShackReverb sounds and looks absolutely terrible – by design, just like the original. I overused this one too some years ago, so it’s nice to get some plug-in nostalgia for the hilarious skeumorphism. Again, once you’re over that, get the new one, with modern host support, Linux, and stereo – it’s up to Ratshack Reverb 3.

Of course, we could all lobby AD to go back to the skeuomorphism in Ratshack 4 and add authentic “Radio Shack’s cables are shite I can’t believe I spent six bucks for this 12″ RCA cable” option where the phono cables on the back start to fail.

Vapor and Liquid are simple but beautiful diffusors and phasers, respectively. Suddenly actually I’m happy to have them back in my world.

Ricochet is a dead-simple multi-tape delay, but – if you ever furiously tried dragging on the taps in other plug-ins and wondered why you couldn’t move them, this one has let’s you do just that. And its simplicity makes it one of the more useful of the legacy bunch. I almost could see an argument for a modern refresh of this one, especially since Panstation got one.

RoughRider 3 is not part of the legacy collection; it’s a no-brainer must-have compressor for everyone, on macOS, Windows, Linux, and even free on iOS.

But yeah, how about that modern-vintage charm of its predecessor?

Basic is a really nice and approachable soft synth, and as it has no direct replacement, I think well worth a look. It could be a good quick-and-dirty instrument and a nice one for beginners. (Phosphor in there is playable, too, but doesn’t really hold up against the beautiful Phosphor 3.)

The neural drum synth Axon is arguably one of the best tools Audio Damage has ever made, capable of organic and complex rhythms and some absolutely delicious-sounding drums. Axon 1 is actually not a bad starting point to learning this before you delve into Axon 2, and in any event, it’s a nice window into where the wonderful modern instrument got its start.

Support each other

Since these are unsupported plug-ins, and YMMV, I’d be interested to know what you do with them. Which plug-ins were you able to get work? Has anyone tried WINE on Linux? And most importantly, which do you find useful?

I do think it’s a great way to support old stuff, provide some freebies for folks, and a terrific entry point to AD’s paid iOS and Mac/Windows/Linux stuff. Plus, if you need an endorsement of a company, this kind of behavior can’t be beat.