Kickstart – Nicky Romero & Cableguys (Plugin Review)

Right out of the gate, the Kickstart website says it best: “Sidechain compression: no top-notch EDM, house or R&B production can do without.” Sidechaining allows many instruments or parts to play at one time while not sounding crowded. The attack of one sound forces another sound to drop briefly in volume, creating the kind of full-on, aggressive pumping sound we’ve come to expect in modern dance music.

Historically, setting up sidechain compression involved complicated bussing and routing. Going on the idea that something so crucial to dance music shouldn’t be so complicated, dance music master Nicky Romero teamed up with plugin manufacturer Cableguys to create a plugin that made the process fast and easy. With the support of artists like Vicetone, Madeon, and Showtek, the plugin is already making a splash, just days after its release.

Setup

There isn’t much to say here, setup is a breeze. Purchase a license and an account is created for you. From there it’s as simple as downloading the plugin and following the drag-and-drop instructions to install it. Input your license information and you’re good to go. No complicated registration procedures or inconvenient iLok keys.

Interface

kickstart-plugin-screenshot

The Kickstart interface is wildly simple. A large “Mix” knob takes up the better half of the left side, allowing you to dial in just the right amount of sidechaining. To the right there is a simple panel of controls: a Grid adjustment (to change how often the sidechain happens every measure, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1/1), a high quality oscilloscope to see the plugin’s effect visually, and 16 pre-fabricated sidechain curves. In addition there is a Shift Left and Shift Right button to adjust the overall position of the curve. The oscilloscope visualizes the sidechain effect rather nicely, overlaying your selected curve on top of the post-sidechain waveform.

Field Test

Given that sidechaining is so integral to all types of dance music, the only real test of such a simple plugin is how well it fits into a mix. So how does it fare against classic sidechain techniques? One thing that can’t be denied is the speed at which sidechaining can be achieved. Placing a simple kick pattern on one track, we were able to make a basic synth line, place a Kickstart plugin on it, and have it pumping in under two minutes. No more routing a kick drum’s buss to a compressor. And because the plugin isn’t actually triggered by the kick track, the sidechain effect exists independently of what kicks are playing at the moment. This can be used to great artistic effect and, since all the parameters are automatable, very complex sidechain maneuvers are possible with relative ease.

The 16 pre-made sidechain curves are versatile and fill most needs easily. There are even a few reverse and rhythmic FX that really shine when fed the right material. The ability to shift the entire curve left and right also helps the effect sit properly in the mix, though we found ourselves trying to slide the curve on the oscilloscope rather than clicking left and right arrows. This fact, in addition to a lack of any fine control over the curve itself, means that you sometimes find yourself with a sidechain that’s almost perfect, but never quite dials in, leaving you to revert back to more conventional means of achieving the desired effect.

One touch we loved was the ability to change the way in which the sidechain effect is triggered. By default, it is triggered by the host DAWs tempo grid, but enter the settings and you’re treated to two other options – retrigger and one-shot. In Retrigger mode, the sidechain effect resets every time a new note is played. One-Shot mode is similar, but with the added twist that for each note, the effect only happens once. This is especially useful for long, held-out notes, so they can be ducked once and then maintain their full volume until another note is triggered.

Summary

Kickstart can be thought of as an auto-sidechainer, a fast and easy way to achieve a crucial effect without going to the trouble of complicated plugin routings. Its simplistic control scheme hides surprising depth, and it will be a boon for busy producers and beginners alike. Its lack of any fine-tune controls over the curve itself means that it isn’t quite ready to tackle all your sidechaining needs, but it will fulfill most common tasks quite nicely. With the addition of even a modest amount of curvature control, this plugin could replace almost all non-multiband sidechain compression setups, but for now it still succeeds in making a mix pump infinitely faster.

Available for PC & Mac | 32 or 64-bit, VST / AU | $15 / €10

You can purchase Kickstart or try a free demo here: http://bit.ly/17UqWF6

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