Drop arrived, Cytomic, had only released a single plug-in, The Glue.
This was such an accurate recreation of the SSL bus compressor that
not only did thousands of producers rely on it as a secret weapon,
but Ableton licensed it as a permanent part of Live. So a similar
buzz surrounded The Drop: a CPU-friendly plug-in that not only
emulates seven of the most famous analog synth filters, but offers
modulation tools so deep it’s practically a synth in its own
right—just run a tone source through it. As an analog junkie, I had
to kick its tires really hard. Here’s what I discovered.
overall design is extremely sophisticated, with all controls
available from the main window. At the core are two filters—resonant
highpass and lowpass, each with drive—with an elaborate array of
modulation tools that combine familiarity with uncommon flexibility.
In addition to the filters and modulation, there are quite a few
amenities that enhance versatility. For example, the filter behavior
can be further modified with Shift and Spread knobs, which allow for
quickly setting up bandpass/notch configurations and radically
adjusting the stereo field, respectively.
addition, there’s a Preamp section that includes a pad, input and
output gain, and wet/dry mix for the filter section. This section
doesn’t directly add overdrive; instead it lets you tailor your
gain staging to maximize the performance of the various filters’
saturation and overdrive characteristics.
used a lot of third-party filters over the years and The Drop’s
feature set is extraordinary compared to the competition. A
visualizer at the center of the interface displays both filter curves
and modulation behavior, so if you start with the default and
experiment you can both see and hear what’s going on with your
highpass and lowpass sections of The Drop can be switched to one of
seven circuit designs. Six of these correlate directly to famous
synths including the Korg MS-20, Roland SH-101 and SH-2, Moog
Prodigy, Roland Jupiter-8 and Juno-6, and even the rare Oxford OSCar.
Each model sounds suitably distinct and as an owner of much of the
hardware represented, I can testify that The Drop’s models of their
filters are astonishingly accurate. It’s easy for cynics to doubt
Cytomic’s claim that The Drop’s models are true recreations of
the actual circuits, but I can attest that they have truly raised the
bar for virtualization.
includes independent oversampling for both real time and rendering.
So you can set a CPU-friendly 1x or 2x as you work, with up to 64x
for rendering your final tracks—while you run errands, because this
could take time even on a very fast computer. Cytomic recommends 8x
for renders and the results are well worth the wait.
approach to modulation may appear familiar at first, but after a
little digging, even seasoned users may reel at its depth and
complexity. There are two LFOs. The first is a stereo sine wave
affair that includes a spread control for offsetting the phase of the
modulation. It also includes options for triggering and switching
between unipolar and bipolar modes. That’s pretty standard until
you start playing with the Mult knob, which can multiply the LFO rate
far into the kHz range—with no aliasing or glitching at all.
LFO includes all of the those features, but ups the ante with the
addition of Asymmetry and Curve parameters, which allow for the
creation of classic waveforms like square and sawtooth, as well as
more unusual results like inverse exponential shapes.
envelopes are otherwise identical and can serve as classic envelope
followers or trigger when the audio crosses a set threshold.
Accordingly, the available parameters are attack, hold, and release,
along with sensitivity for fine-tuning. Rounding out the modulation
section are FM and MIDI tools for adding keyboard tracking, as well
as FM effects derived from either the source input or a sidechain.
Out with the Designer
Andrew Simper, developer of The Drop, what’s involved in modeling
synth filters at the component level to get such authentic analog
character. As you’ll see, his explanation didn’t spare the
major non-linearity of the original circuits is preserved, as are the
topological layouts, so each non-linearity applies to the right
voltage in the right place in the circuit. Each capacitor also has
the correct time-varying behavior. This is why it sounds so good and
you can modulate it smoothly at audio rate. To pull this off
efficiently, certain optimizations are required, so instead of full
component-level models of everything in the circuit, some groups of
components are lumped together into more efficient chunks called
macro models still yield very accurate results, but use less CPU. I
reverse-engineered the [Roland] IR3109 chip at the transistor level
and verified my full model by comparing it to the real thing with an
oscilloscope, but I then made a CPU-friendly macro model to
approximate the full model. So although the effect of each major
non-linear component is modeled, this is not always done at the
component level for efficiency reasons. In the end even a ‘full
transistor model’ is actually a kind of macro model, since the
model for each transistor could be viewed as a macro model of the
modified the existing circuits to make them more suitable in a
plug-in and DAW context, so if you directly compare The Drop with the
original synths there’ll be differences—the most basic being lack
of the amp stages of each synth. The behavior and curve of the
resonance knob varies between synths, so I standardized the gains for
the sake of consistency when switching filter models. I did go deep
in matching each model very closely to the original circuits in tone,
spectrum, and waveform before making any modifications, and have
posted several YouTube videos showing the results.”
is a success on so many levels, it’s a little mind-boggling that
it’s priced under $100. As an emulation of analog filters The Drop
is a stunning achievement. It’s hard to overstate just how accurate
these models really are. That The Drop actually models the circuits
down to the transistors means that its sound is 99 percent identical
to the real thing—and as someone with a studio full of the real
thing, I’m not exaggerating. The Drop is pure magic and I’ll be
using it daily for the foreseeable future. Get it now.
accurate analog filter emulations. Powerful and deep modulation
tools. LFOs extend into the audio range. Preamp allows precise
control of gain staging for optimizing overdrive. Up to 64x
oversampling. Great collection of presets.
the deeper features require careful study of the manual.
don’t need a standalone filter plug-in because your soft synths
have filters of their own? Think again —The Drop is that good.
street | cytomic.com