Sonic LAB: Steinberg Backbone - Not Just For Drums

US Drum Re-synthesis plug-in and more      23/06/20

This is the new Backbone plug-in from Steinberg, billed as a Drum Re-Synthesis instrument. The re-synthesis engine has some commonality with the Padshop plug-in, but actually offers a deal more parameters.

Installing was made a lot easier by using the Steinberg Download Manager and Library Manager helper apps (I tried without, trust me), and once the account was setup, just needed a couple of clicks to choose what and where - there is no standalone version of this btw.

Each instance of Backbone (which comes in AU, AAX, VST3 Mac/PC) allows you to create up to 8 layers of samples with extensive manipulation of the sound, editing of loop, start and end points etc. The re-synthesis engine gives a pretty in-exhaustible set of possibilities on its own, but you also have a pitch envelope, multi-mode filter and drive and amplitude envelope per layer. There's also a two engine, each with four slots Effects section. Separately buss-able via the Amplitude section of each layer.

You can just drop a sample from the finder or timeline in your DAW - if you use in Cubase natively, regions can be dropped in too. Then messing with the re-synth parameters gets you into a massive rabbit-hole of extremely rich and complex wave forms. With control of wave start, overall sample playback speed, purity for pulling out fundamentals and harmonics, scale and formant controls.

Then the, pitch, filter and effects take you into all kinds of interesting places. The FX being pretty tasty, and yes there is a massive modulated reverb - which is weird if it really is aimed ad drums. However, you might need your close up specs, some menus and icons are really very small indeed and don't scale with the interface.

Decompose - this feature lets you separate the noise and tonal elements of a sound and splits them into separate layers for more finessed editing, particularly useful on drums for pulling out the whack and body, See some of the backbone tuts for this kind of thing.

However for me, the real strength lies in the manipulation of regular sounds, you can find loots of hidden gems inside previously uninspiring sounds and snippets, enough to keep you busy for ages.

And this is where I am slightly confused - each of the 8 layers per instance will only trigger from a single MIDI input, no velocity layering or setting note specific triggers for each layer - as you would wish to make up a kit inside Backbone. For that you would have to put an instance on each pad in say Ableton Live's Drum rack or similar, which makes editing a "kit" a bit of a faff.

Backbone comes with a decent set of sounds, though browsing is a little slow as its essentially one sound per instance and using your own sounds, you will find your own way pretty quickly.

Additionally, if using more for synthesis, there are no modulation sources apart from velocity into the envelopes. Even one LFO would make this a monster for movement and harmonic shifting.

But, it sounds great. I only used a handful of samples (including the intro from an entire mix) to open up some excellent harmonic source material for those filters and effects.

I really enjoyed messing with this plug-in despite the limitations I mentioned. You can download a trial version and I would recommend at least giving it a go.

Backbone is available at £128/€145/$145 and is around 1.5GB of download.






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