Another major topic that seems to be very popular these days: saturation and harmonic distortion or whatever is able to give life to our recordings. The sheer number of plugins that claim to be the final solution to digital harshness is huge. The beauty of all this is that the problem itself ("digital") is offering you the solution. Can we trust it? If it was politics: would you trust the guy that caused the recession, for over 20 years, if he told you that - now - he was the solution to ..himself?

El Fatso JRMaybe the comparison is not spot-on, but: hope dies last.. and a lot of people have bought one product after the other, trying to achieve the ultimate magical life and vibrance in digital recordings. Experienced techs and engineers in the industry know that achieving a great sound in a music production is a combination of a lot of variables ranging from songwriting to final mastering. No single element can magically fix a train wreck.

This article is more directly related to such a topic rather than to the praise for the Fatso itself. We have to say we LOVE the Fatso. Even if we didn't know what it "really does", we love the way it works on pretty much everything. It's the good old "it just works".

El Fatso JRThis said, I wanted to gather a general idea of what this unit does. All files in this article are 44.1Khz, 24bit WAV encoded to MP3 at 320kbit/sec. No processing whatsoever.

Before we begin, credits for what you'll hear: the takes are part of Kevin Reeves' "Throw me a line", from his EP "It's about time". Drums, bass and guitars were recorded at Ian Baird's "Arjuna's Sound", Greenville (IL) (August 2005) - guitars, vocals and keyboards were recorded at Tracktion Studios, Antioch (TN) (August 2005-January 2006). - guitars, drum programming, mixing and mastering was done at BeSharp Studios, Astoria (NY) (October 2005-April 2006). We really wish to thank all the musicians, engineers and producers involved in this for letting us use their music for this article. Make sure you visit Kevin's site at: www.kevinreeves.net and Ian Baird's site at: arjunasound.com

INSTRUMENTS: The Fatso shines on drums and bass, everybody knows it. During tracking it has a success rate of 99%, if you know how to use it. It's really hard to make it sound bad and the only risk is to overdo something just to find out that you cannot remove it during mixing. At the mix stage, it's useful for the improvement in the stereo image, as well. You can hear the subtle yet important changes in the stereo field of the electric guitars. The versatility of the Fatso cannot be explained with a couple examples: for this reason we kept it pretty much at the same stage, with IN: 8, OUT: 2, Warmth 4, SPANK with TRANNY. We were getting around -10dB of gain reduction on all tracks..it's not "the way" to do it, it's just one way, but you'll hear how wonderful this unit sounds.

 OriginalProcessed
Drums
Bass
El. Guitars


MIX:
 The Fatso works great as a buss compressor and saturator. Once again, there are really no limits here. We processed a quick mix through the same settings (see above) and then tried two more things: one is a gentle kissing on BUSS mode (with around -1dB gain reduction, -2dB on rare occasions). The other one is the SPANK example (number 2 from the top) processed in parallel with the original mix. These are just two examples of how the big guys achieve a broader, wider and better palette of sound for mastering purposes, as well.

Original Mix (bypass)
Processed Mix: Fatso on Spank
Processed Mix: Fatso BUSS (-2dB GR max)
Processed Mix: Original + Fatso on Spank (parallel)

El Fatso JRUSING THE FATSO: To really understand how this unit in particular (and other analog gear) works, you have to GET INTO A STUDIO that owns analog gear and USE IT all along a production. Running one or two tracks into a piece of gear and expecting to "understand the weight of analog outboard in a recording studio" is always going to fail. With units like these, you track through them, you mix through them, you even master through them. Even if you could replicate the sound of outboard on one or more plugins, you have to ask yourself if you would ever react the same way, during the production phase. Cloning the sound of a unit is like learning to play a famous song: ok, you can now play it like the person who wrote it, but you NEVER WROTE IT in the first place. There is still a lot of difference. The other guy, he actually invented that tune. The same applies to outboard: during a recording session, you tweak some knobs, you get "that" sound you have in your head and you start tracking. Hearing that sound afterwards and spending two hours on a plugin to get close to that "instinctive reaction" of the recording engineer means pretty much nothing.

El Fatso JRA NOTE ON LEVELS: When conducting A/B tests, most people will tell you that you have to be careful not to alter the intensity in the processed clip. If you hear more information, more volume, you'll tend to think that the louder clip sounds better just because you are hearing more things. So, during tests, most people match levels in order to take the overall loudness out of the equation. I agree with this and I generally abide by this approach. However, when dealing with analog gear, you must remember that the output stage is still an analog one..meaning "output: 2/10" sounds different from "output: 8/10", not just louder. So, when performing tests, I would recommend you don't match levels AT THE OUTPUT STAGE of the outboard. With a fair amount of headroom, try and match levels in the box. For the Fatso, this is especially true. If you enter hot, let's say at "8/10", you will need to get out at around "2" to get to the same level as the original clip, when bypassing. Now, while this is ok for some applications, you are not taking full advantage of the headroom available and analog stages, because you're basically "holding the horse" on the output. Try and raise it to something like "5", print the processed audio, THEN match levels in the box, with the original clip and do the comparison.