The best audio engineers are meticulous, technical editors. They know first-hand that seemingly tiny alterations to the attack or sustain of a sound can make a world of a difference. To do this, many employ the use of VSTs and plugins to help shape their transients.
However, it can be difficult to find the best transient shaper out there, and even more so to distinguish the capabilities of one from another. Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the most popular options and find the right one for your needs.
Kilohearts Transient Shaper
This transient shaper has a simple interface and cheap price point, making pretty friendly to producers across the spectrum. The appeal of this VST would be its versatility. The shaper is not just limited to tightening up percussion sections, but can also give synth signals the extra flare they need to shine through the mix.
The center of the plugin features an envelope visualizer so that you can see where and how your original signal is being altered. The plugin has an attack, pump, sustain, and speed knob. Other than that, Kilohearts shaper is mostly bare. Most notably, the “pump” knob allows the user to increase the energy directly after the transient without altering the overall amplitude.
You can sidechain and store presets within the plugin, which can help streamline your mixing process. For a more experienced producer looking to fine-tune transients in a very precise specific manner, Kiloheart’s offering may be too limiting.
However, if you’re in a pinch, or just want to get satisfying results quickly, this transient shaper is a great option.
Transgressor by Boz Digital Labs
A little more on the expensive side, comes Trangressor by Boz Digital Labs. This plugin is packed with controls to fine-tune your transients and has a couple of notable features hard to find otherwise. It is geared towards those looking to use the interface to pack an extra punch to their drum and percussion sounds.
Transgressor stands out from the pack mainly for one reason. The transient, or the beginning part of a sound signal, can be edited separately from the sustain, or the tail of the audio signal. The VST makes it easy to create a standout sound since, with this feature, you can now not only try-on different EQ patterns on your sounds as a whole, but explore within each signal independently.
The sustain and transient sections each include 3 filter shapes and customizable presets. The basic Q, frequency, and gain knobs are also present, and each section can be dialed into a specific level to achieve the desired blend. Another handy feature is the option to input a sidechain source. In case the VST needs a refresher, a retrigger button is embedded coupled with a simple level visualizer.
Although this plugin may take up a good amount of CPU and be a little more on the costly side, it’s definitely a great investment for those producers looking to take their transient crafting to the next level.
Neutron 3’s Transient Shaper by iZotope
If you’re looking to invest in a pack of mixing tools with a transient shaper in mind, iZotope’s Neutron pack is a great contender. This transient shaper has 3 general modes to get you the sound you desire quickly. The user interface is sleek, easy to use, and packed with visuals to help you see exactly what’s happening to your transients.
The plugin is split up into three modes- precise, balanced, and loose. Within each of the modes, the transient and sustain can be adjusted independently, but with less detail. However, due to the modes, the plugin may be better catered to creating sounds with a well-known technique in mind.
For example, for punchier kicks, a transient is shaped sharply, with a quick attack. Precise mode was built to optimize this effect. Its converse, loose mode, was built for sounds categorized by a long sustain, which can be used to build soundscapes/atmospheric tones. Balanced mode lies somewhere in between precise and loose. If anything else, these modes can be used as reference points and adjusted accordingly to taste.
This VST also has the standard controls and panning built-in. Although it is a bummer it cannot be purchased separately, for those producers looking to purchase a pack anyway, Neutron 3 with its powerful transient shaper is affordable and worth the investment.
Native Instruments Transient Master
Right off the bat, this plugin appears jarringly bare bones. That may be true, however, for an experienced producer who knows exactly what a properly shaped transient sounds like, this could be a time-saving dream.
Native Instruments gears this plugin to process drums and guitar sounds. Transient Master is best used on busses or track groups, to add an extra punch or calm down a harsh embedded percussion frequency. To add to its classic feel, the plugin appears much like a standard hardware rackmount. There are only 3 knobs- attack, sustain and gain. Moreover, there are 8 different built-in presets. The VST has no visualizers built in, so the producer must rely on a seasoned ear to produce the desired sound. Although the lack of knobs and visualizers may be limiting to those diving into the world of transient shaping, the simplicity and low CPU usage can allow for an experienced producer to save time and valuable power.
The plugin is affordable but seems to be most useful for those who have used transient shapers in the past.
AtomicTransient by MolecularBytes
AtomicTransient is the first transient shaper to take tone into consideration while crafting the mix. For these reasons, it’s a great plugin to use amongst instruments such as piano/key sounds and the guitar. The user interface is inspiring and packed with controls to keep you creating.
The VST can handle 3 different channels at a time, each with separate parameters. Along with the standard controls, AtomicTransient has integrated filters/envelopes, panning, and a separate mixing section to clarify further within the plugin. Most notably, the polyphonic processing section (section dedicated to crafting based on a specific tone) offers an algorithmic approach, where the sound will be shaped according to the interface and adjusted to taste. With this feature, it is easy to mimic the sustain of a piano that wasn’t present in the first place, or create a stronger picking noise that flows naturally with the guitar. This is especially useful in post-processing, or for those engineers who don’t have control over how something was recorded initially.
The plugin is a little more on the pricey side and may take up a bit more CPU than its simpler competitors but for those looking for an ornate transient design, AtomicTransient is a fun tool with loads of options.
Softube Transient Shaper
Softube’s Transient Shaper is a dual-band control unit with a rack mount appearance. The double band feature allows for shaping with more grit and weight, making the processor best suited for beefing up sounds that need that extra spice.
The VST is laid out in a very simple way with the usual controls (Sustain and “Punch” otherwise known as Attack), a level visualizer, and blending/amplitude knobs. One of the defining features of Softube’s transient shaper is the ability to create an edited section within the signal. For example, a tail of a transient can be expanded and processed as a smaller signal all on its own within the plugin. This allows for instruments with a heavy retro influence, as well as intense punch in percussion sections. The Sustain and Punch bands each have a low, wide, or high-frequency option to help your shaped transients flow more naturally in context with the rest of the mix.
Unfortunately, the dual bands are not processed separately from one another, which some may find limiting. Moreover, there is no visual component to accommodate transient shapes themselves, so visual learners may have a difficult time with this plugin. All in all, it is very affordable and allows for an impressive amount of control and authority for the price.
TransReckon by EAreckon
For a producer with a trained ear, TransReckon excels at getting you that curated sound in a jiffy. The plugin is focused around two huge and obvious transient shaping knobs: Attack and sustain. Although simple, there are a couple of distinguishing features that help TransReckon stand out.
For one thing, the VST has separate controls for the left and right sides of a transient. By clicking the “link LR” button you can process in stereo, however, the ability to adjust independently opens a world of possibilities. Moreover, the length of the transient processing time itself can be adjusted.
Besides altering the sound of your desired signal, this feature can help CPU overloads if needed. The interface has a built-in limiter to ensure a sound that is powerful, but not overbearing. Cost wise, the VST is pretty cheap, especially for its capabilities. However, for those new to transient shapers, it may be difficult to acclimate to, due to the plugin’s lack of visualizers.
All in all, this a good buy for engineers who have used transient shapers in the past.
Imprint by W.A Production
Imprint is extremely affordable and has a cool, modern look to it. It is packed with 20 factory presets, which can act as great reference points for producers new to transient shaping.
Most of this VST is taken up by the interactive visualizer of the audio input signal. From there, it is broken down into 3 subset frequencies bands, which can all be altered by clicking and dragging the spectrum or adjusting the input values manually. This hands-on approach allows for visual learners to get a grasp on frequency shaping quickly. Moreover, you can easily select crossover points between the bands and maximize the organic flow of your sounds. Imprint has panning/width selectors within the plugin, making beefing up your sound simple without having to compromise the amplitude or frequency.
The only downside to this plugin is that attack and sustain cannot be toggled exclusively. Moreover, the visual-focused interface may make achieving precise parameters for transient shaping more complicated. However, for those just getting into transient shaping, it is a great option. With its extreme affordability, it’s even worth to invest in purely as a learning tool.
Spiff by oeksound
Spiff by oeksound is a very modern looking transient shaper based around a detailed central visualizer of the input signal. This 5 band interface is focused on detailed editing of the isolated transient, so not necessarily including the tail of the sound. With its precision, it has the added bonus of adding depth and smoothness to vocal takes, setting it apart from other transient processors. This plugin is best used in pop music or highly polished, curated sounds.
Along with the usual use of adding in transients to add punch or life to a mix, Spiff also focuses on removing targeted, smaller sections of the audio signal to achieve a softer and smoother sound. Each band has a solo listening feature that does not affect the delta signal visualizer. This feature is especially helpful as it allows the engineer to see exactly where he/she is shaping the sound wave. It has Q like filter under the knob “sharpness” and 4 different wave options within each band.
The VST is packed with possibilities, and can easily transform the entire character of a sound- oeksound claims any guitar can become lap steel, and so forth. Although it is a bit more on the pricey side, this plugin is a great tool for any producer looking to beef up their transient game.
Entropy EQ+ by Sonible
This plugin is part of a larger series called Smart EQ with Entropy displaying an impressive section dedicated to transient design. With its ability to isolate single sounds in a multi-layered signal, Entropy excels at creating crystal clear products with vocals and other commercial uses, along with the usual transient applications.
When placed into the interface, Entropy automatically detects transients and micro-transients. This feature is especially useful for applications where a sound is multi-dimensional. For example, other plugins may have difficulty isolating different instruments within a drum loop. Entropy analyzes the differences between the transient patterns of a kick, tom, and high-hat, and will separate them as such. This feature alone makes the plugin ultra versatile and makes it relevant in other disciplines like isolating speech from background noise in film. Entropy is an 8 band EQ and is laid out on a frequency spectrum for clear visuals. There is also a built-in limiter to prevent clipping.
Although this plugin is a bit more on the pricey side, its numerous applications and equally stunning/power interface make it a good investment for a committed producer.
PUNCH by Mastering the Mix
PUNCH is part of a larger pack called ANIMATE by Mastering the Mix. The plugin can be purchased on its own at a very affordable rate. This plugin is marketed as a “transient booster” making it best suited for adding strength to drum signals, and sounds needing a punchier attack.
This series has a fun, inviting interface complete with slightly curved, but fully functional level indicators. The transient designer is pretty bare bones. It’s focused around 3 main controls- sensitivity, attack, and release. These dials are fully visual, with no numeric component. Hence, it may be difficult to use if you’re looking to dial-in specific parameters. Moreover, the attack and sustain are on the same band, which can aid in creating a more natural sounding product, but may be limiting in overall control. Transient processing can occur in Mono/Stereo, and PUNCH has a central visual field so that you can toggle exactly where the sound should sit in the mix.
Although the lack of controls in PUNCH may be limiting, it is certainly easy to get to a stronger sound efficiently. Its extreme affordability makes this plugin worth giving a shot.
UNCHIRP by Zynaptiq
UNCHIRP is another highly detailed sound processor, capable of removing the smallest imperfections in a mix. It requires a bit more upfront financial investment, but its power makes it useful in all genres of music.
The user interface is very mechanical and has its 5 bands laid across a numerically labeled frequency spectrum. This detail makes it easy for engineers to curate exactly what sound they are searching, especially if they have numerical settings in mind. Along with the usual controls, UNCHIRP has a couple of unique knobs: Unchirp, Snap!, and The Shining. These knobs are as powerful as they are colorfully named- Unchirp works to reduce “tweeting” or harsh, barely audible frequencies that come as a result of using higher pitched sounds. Snap! applies a form of transient synthesis to boost signals in an organic way. The Shining inserts sub-harmonics to beef up a sound. Crossover points between transients can be toggled through clicking and dragging on the main graph.
In addition, UNCHIRP has a powerful reference algorithm embedded that enables the user to get an objectively clean and polished sound. Although the plugin is certainly more on the pricey side, its precision and variety of resources make it a worthwhile investment for the right candidate.
Smack Attack By Waves
If you’re looking for a plugin catered specifically to creating punchy drum transients, the search is over. Smack Attack by waves is made with this purpose in mind and is best used on drum busses and individual percussive instruments.
Smack Attack is centered around the two main cornerstones of transient shaping: Attack and Sustain. Along with these knobs, there is a reference visualizer displaying the original signal, editing signal, and a reference wave. The attack and sustain knobs each have individual sensitivity settings, which is extremely helpful if you are looking to make one more prominent than the other. Another notable feature is that this transient shaper allows you to select premade transient shapes as a guiding tool. This allows you to get results quickly and may be useful for someone new to transient shaping to learn about its general capabilities. Smack Attack has a built-in limiter under the knob “guard” to ensure your newly adjusted enthusiastic drum sounds aren’t going too far.
Although some may find that the plugin is fairly pigeon-holed in use, it certainly lives up to its name and produces the punchy percussion it promises. This VST is super affordable and worth its price.
TransMod by Sonnox
TransMod is a straightforward plugin focused around bringing sounds more forward and present in the mix. With its clear user interface, this plugin makes it easy to get results fast.
TransMod is centered around its attack capabilities and has a corresponding ratio and overshoot fader. The signal can be adjusted from the input or output end, expanding leveling possibilities. Similar to Smack Attack, TransMod has a deadband knob to add in subharmonics to a sound to boost its power within a transient. The VST does have a rise and recovery time knobs that can be adjusted to produce more ambience and hence enhance the sustain, but it seems like this plugin is more geared towards strengthening transients rather than softening them. That being said, it is still pretty affordable and a great deal for the price. The VST certainly adds girth to your transients without overcomplicating the process.
Some producers may find the controls limiting, but if you’re looking for stand-out percussion, TransMod is an excellent choice.
Oxford Envolution by Sonnox
Sonnox also released a comparable option to TransMod with more transient design features. The VST is a little more expensive than its cousin, but with good reason.
When an input signal is entered into Envolution, it is automatically analyzed by the interface’s powerful algorithm. The knobs are adjusted as a result and show a predicted optimized shaping of the sound. The parameters can, of course, be further altered, but this feature allows the user to learn more about ideal transient design. Moreover, the VST has a couple of built-in presets to further guide the user. The central display has 3 different viewing possibilities including an oscilloscope, simple envelope view, and a frequency spectrum.
Envolution is divided into a section dedicated to the attack (Labeled Transients) and Sustain. The two can be mixed and analyzed independently. Moreover, there is a basic limiter, mixing and warmth knob within the plugin so you can cut down on your post-processing time.
It definitely takes more initial time investment to master Envolution, but if you’re looking to get a firm grasp on transient design, this VST offers plenty of learning opportunities and solutions.
About Transient Shaper Plugins
To get the most out of your transient shaper plugins, it’s important to have a firm grasp on the concept as a whole. Let’s make sure we have our bases covered, and dive deeper on some general technique tips and tricks for best transient design.
What are Transient Shapers?
A transients shaper is a mixing tool used to highlight or alter the articulation or general expression of a sound, specifically the transient. Transient refers to the early section of a sound wave that does not have any tone/frequency to it. The transient can be broken down into the beginning hit of the sound, sometimes referred to the attack, or just “transient”, and the tail of the soundwave, called the tail or sustain. Transient shapers alter the attack and sustain to adjust the energy of the sound, without affecting the actual amplitude, unlike compressors.
Using Transient Shapers
In general, to use transient shapers start with a soundwave that you’d like to boost or soften the attenuation of. Next, adjust the attack and sustain to taste. Generally, a stronger attack will give you more intense transients, and produce a beefier beginning. A more intense sustain is used to create ambient, soundscape type noises.
Many of these plugins come with pan position, sensitivity, and standard ADSR knobs, so how in-depth you go with transient design is up to you. As you learn how to use shapers, it may be helpful to study the parameters of different presets and see how they shape the transients of your sound.
If you’re using a compressor on the altered input, make sure you have your shaper placed before the compressor- Since the transient affects the shape of the soundwave, you will want the altered shape to be compressed and not the other way around.
Another helpful tip to take into consideration is that transients hold higher frequency energy easier that low-frequency energy. If you have multiple bands within your transient shaper, dedicating more attention to the lower frequencies of the transient makes the most sense.
How to Choose the Best Transient Shaper
Finding the best transient shaper is different for everyone. First of all, different plugins are made for different uses. If you’re looking to boost your attack frequencies to add girth to your electronic music, you probably won’t need to have a VST that has precise, generally more expensive, transient removing features.
For beginners, it may be nice to consider acquiring a VST with presets and visualizers so that you can get more of a handle on what shapers should look like while you’re starting out.
For more experienced producers, a simplistic design that will get you to the sound you need quickly may be much more ideal.
All in all, transient design style is as unique as the producer itself. They can be used on percussion, vocals, synths, etc., each style with its own shaping techniques. Try one of these plugin options out to find what works best for you.