Get your creative juices flowing with this bundle of effects that twist, mangle, and maim your sounds.
Modern electronic music production is synchronous with complex automation and modulations happening inside plugins as well as on the DAW level. And if your DAW doesn’t have modulators, you switch to MIDI sequencers and modulators. However, what if there were plugins that could handle both processing and modulation? Add one plugin, and it handles all of your simple ducking and intricate modulations for the drop. That is what ShaperBox 2 is all about.
After downloading the review copy kindly provided by Cableguys, I couldn’t wait to get started with ShaperBox 2. Installation was a breeze, and the only notable thing was the 170 MB noise library download, which happened in the background after the plugin was open. The library is for the NoiseShaper, which we will get to later.
ShaperBox 2 is a host plugin with a collection of eight Shaper processors. These Shapers are individual effects or modules that are dedicated to the following: time, filter, pan, drive, crush, width, noise, and volume. Each comes with a free-form LFO and an envelope follower or something similar. The movement from the LFO and the envelope follower creates dynamic and often complex variations in your audio that would otherwise require a lot of automation and/or external plugins.
Furthermore, you can split the frequency spectrum into bands to change the LFO and envelope follower per band. And if you need some inspiration, each Shaper comes with a variety of LFO presets that start your rhythm or glitchy modulation in full swing. Similarly, live performance is a breeze thanks to the ShaperBox 2’s MIDI switches.
ShaperBox 2 provides a sleek, modern user interface that makes the workflow straightforward. You can change the UI size from 75% to 200% to fit your screen. Furthermore, an information box at the bottom provides helpful tooltips.
The plugin is a truly comprehensive sound designer’s toolkit. Whether you want a simple compressor or an intricate LFO tool to twist the time, pan, width, and distortion, ShaperBox 2 has you covered.
The plugin provides as many variations of its Shaper effects as possible while staying true to its theme. Likewise, its modulations sound smooth thanks to the helpful smoothing features.
Value For Money
With so many features built into one plugin, it genuinely feels like your money’s worth, especially when you pick it up during a sale. Furthermore, you can purchase each Shaper individually to ease your investment.
Each Shaper in ShaperBox 2 features a very similar user interface. The only difference is the addition of a few controls or different color schemes, neither of which makes the learning part difficult. Furthermore, ShaperBox 2 allows you to resize the user interface from 75% to 200%. So, it’s ideal for both large, high-resolution desktop screens and below-FHD laptop screens.
Cableguys have divided the Shaper user interface into three main sections horizontally. The top section controls the global controls like the multi-band splitting and master controls, whereas the middle section is where all the action happens. So, you’ll find the LFO and the envelope follower in the middle area. And finally, the bottom section holds the performance stuff: LFO presets and MIDI triggering.
Below the three sections I described above, you’ll find all the Shaper modules you have loaded into your ShaperBox 2 plugin. Furthermore, you can toggle each of them on and off, reorder them by simple drag-and-drop, and remove the ones you don’t need. Likewise, you’ll find a Master Mix slider at the bottom right. And an options menu and a plugin preset browser are at the very bottom.
This options menu allows you to create and save new presets, change the startup presets, and change the plugin UI scale. Additionally, you’ll find an option to use OpenGL graphics, which I recommend if you have a discrete graphics card. And you can disable the option called “Always use 16 Samples of Latency” to make the plugin latency-free, except when you use the DriveShaper. Although, note that it will cause pops and clicks when you switch between presets with and without DriveShaper.
With so many features available in this plugin, we’ll first go over the global features. These remain the same or similar regardless of the Shaper you are using. However, the Shapers provide some exclusive features as well, which we will get to in the Shapers section below. Let’s check out the global ones:
Load any Shaper in ShaperBox 2, and you’ll find a frequency spectrum at the top right of the user interface. Here, you’ll find two arrows at the sides. Drag them towards the middle to reveal two more frequency bands, totaling three bands: low, mid, and high. Also, you can change the band crossover slopes into the following: 6 dB/octave, 12 dB/octave, and 24 dB/octave. Each band is essentially a new instance of the Shaper module.
Hence, you can change the master parameters at the top of the UI, LFO, and the envelope follower of each band individually. The result is complete control over your frequency spectrum. For example, suppose you are mastering a song, and the ride cymbals are rather loud. So, you could create a MIDI triggered envelope to process just the high frequencies only while the ride cymbals are playing. Similarly, you could get creative with bizarre LFO shapes and movements to create complex sound designs.
The LFO editor is the most significant feature of ShaperBox 2. The graph shows the time horizontally (X-axis), whereas the mix value of the Shaper is displayed vertically (Y-axis). Furthermore, you’ll find various tools and editors you can use in this editor at the top. These include selection tools, pen tools, etc. Let’s go over them briefly:
- Selection Tools
The mouse tool is probably the most versatile, allowing you to create and move individual points on the LFO freely. Once you’ve clicked on a point, you can press Shift on your keyboard to snap to the grid. Similarly, the box selection tool allows you to select multiple points simultaneously. Shift-clicking on the box selection icon selects all of the points in your LFO, whereas holding Control temporarily changes the tool into the mouse tool. Furthermore, you can use the box selection to transform the shape of your curves.
- Pen Tools
There are three pen tools available: pen for lines, pen for arcs, and pen for S-curves. As you probably expect, each tool creates different types of curves. ‘Pen for lines’ makes straight lines by clicking and dragging across the LFO editor, which may start and end at any location on the graph.
Conversely, ‘pen for arcs’ creates arcs that start and end at the same point in the Y-axis (horizontal position). Of course, you can change the height and direction of the arc as you draw. This tool is useful for creating LFO shapes like sine waves at varying speeds.
Finally, ‘pen for S-curves’ creates S-shaped Bezier lines that can start and end at any point on the graph. It creates four points when you draw a curve. And you can move these points later to modify the curve shape. Hence, I find this tool quick for making volume ramps and ducking effects.
- Move Buttons
These aren’t quite tools, per se. However, once you have selected multiple points using the box selection tool, the move buttons allow you to move the points horizontally. It moves the nodes snapping to the grid by default, but you can press shift and click on the move buttons to make fine adjustments.
However, you could do all of these by dragging the points with your mouse. For example, pressing Ctrl + Shift on your keyboard while dragging forces it to move the points horizontally only. So, these move buttons aren’t essential to your workflow, as long as you remember the keyboard shortcuts.
- Randomize & 2X
The “shuffle” icon next to the move buttons randomizes the existing points on your graph. Furthermore, you can hold Shift before clicking on this button to randomize the vertical position only. This feature helps you retain the rhythm of your LFO while changing the mix values.
Next to the randomize button, you’ll find a 2X button, which multiples the curve by two. Suppose you have a volume ramp happening once over a span of one bar, and you want it to happen twice. In that case, hit the 2X button, and the curve will physically multiply by two. Of course, pressing the button again makes the ramp happen four times in a bar.
Understanding the tools and keyboard shortcuts help you get creative faster with ShaperBox 2. Similarly, some other features worth talking about are the LFO parameters at the top right. You’ll find an LFO Mode option that switches between beat, hertz, and pitch. The beat and hertz modes are fairly self-explanatory, but the pitch mode is something new: it changes the LFO rate based on the frequency of the MIDI note you play. For example, if you play an A4 on your keyboard, the LFO is set to 440 Hz. This feature results in strange ring-modulation effects.
Next to the LFO Mode option, you’ll either find Length or Speed, depending on whether you’re in the beat or hertz mode. Either way, it controls the LFO rate. Then, you’ll find a MIDI trigger option, which makes the LFO reset every time you input a MIDI note when set to ‘On.’ Similarly, set it to ‘On (1-Shot)’ to make the LFO play only once and stay at the final value of the curve.
The envelope follower modulates the Shaper based on the level of your audio. For example, if you are using the WidthShaper, the envelope follower could make the audio wider as it gets louder and narrower as it gets softer. And its controls are quite similar to a compressor:
- Threshold controls the minimum level of audio required before the envelope starts acting.
- Amount controls how much effect is applied to the audio in ratio to the signal above the threshold.
- Attack controls the time required for the envelope to act once the signal crosses the threshold.
- Hold controls how long the envelope keeps operating regardless of the signal level after crossing the threshold once.
- Release controls how long the envelope takes to stop working.
- Shift changes the global amount of the effect.
- Depth multiplies the envelope modulation to get more mix amounts.
Other than the controls above, you’ll find an input option that switches between the band and free mode. The band mode sets the plugin to use the band as an internal side-chain filter, whereas the free mode ignores the bands and offers a set of low-pass and high-pass filters instead. Similarly, there are add and multiply modes, which change how the envelope works alongside the LFO.
Setting it to the add mode makes the envelope add modulation on top of the LFO. Conversely, the multiply mode multiplies the LFO and envelope to generate the modulation amount. So, if either of these two modulators is at zero in this mode, you’ll hear no modulation.
Last but not least, you can assign an external side-chain input for the envelope follower. This feature makes creating ducking effects a breeze, but it would be remiss in using an external side-chain for that alone!
Note: Some of the features I’ve described above may not be available in all Shapers. For example, the VolumeShaper renames the envelope follower to Compressor and doesn’t provide add/multiply modes.
The MIDI Switch controls at the bottom right of the Shaper user interface allow you to assign LFO shapes to nine MIDI notes. Furthermore, these MIDI notes range from C# to A in any octave. Creating a MIDI assignment is straightforward: draw or load an LFO shape and click on the save icon that appears when you hover over a MIDI switch.
Note that each Shaper you load in the plugin shares the MIDI switch slots. So, if you assign the E note to a particular shape in the VolumeShaper, you cannot use that note for another Shaper anymore. This feature lets you set individual waveforms to each Shaper, although it does limit the number of MIDI switches you could use.
Furthermore, the gear icon next to the MIDI Switch section label provides a few controls. You can set the MIDI input for the plugin to a MIDI device instead of your DAW, which allows you to set a MIDI channel. Similarly, the Trigger Smoothing option ensures you don’t get clicks or pops when switching from one LFO shape to another.
The features I’ve talked about so far are all global and work on each Shaper. However, ShaperBox 2 provides many unique and helpful features inside each Shaper. So, in this section, I will go over each of the nine Shapers available in this collection. And note that you can purchase each Shaper individually too.
TimeShaper is an excellent tool to create stutter effects, half-speed effect, reverse, tape fluctuations, tape stops, and more. It works by storing the input audio in a 50-second-long buffer and using that to scrub/scratch backward and forwards in time. The LFO controls how the scrubbing occurs.
Modulations: cutoff, resonance
This Shaper allows you to assign various types of filters, including clean, Sallen-Key, and phaser. Under the clean category, you’ll find a high-pass and low-pass with a 6 dB/octave slope and a low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, notch, and peak with 12 dB/octave as well as 24 dB/octave slopes. Similarly, there are low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, and notch filters with 12 dB/octave and 24 dB/octave under the Sallen-Key type. And lastly, you’ll find 2, 4, 6, and 8-peak notch and peak phaser filters. In total, there are twenty-eight filter types.
PanShaper lets you control the panning position of your audio using two methods: general pan and Haas effect. The Pan/Haas slider allows you to set the Shaper to blend the two modes, which provides authentic panning movements. Furthermore, you can control the Haas range from 0ms to 40ms.
This Shaper is for distorting your audio. It includes an animated distortion visualizer next to the frequency spectrum and some master controls for the distortion. You can change the accent fader to make the distorted audio louder or softer as the LFO modulates it, and the tone fader adjusts the brightness of the distortion.
Similarly, you will find the following distortion styles: soft clip, hard clip, soft square, hard square, soft rectify, hard rectify, skew fold, sine fold, triangle fold, and extreme fold.
Modulations: crush, bits, resample, FX mix
CrushShaper adds Lo-Fi crunch to your mix. These include wave-wrapping distortion, bit reduction, and resampling (sample rate reduction). Furthermore, bit reduction provides a Push control, which adds DC offset to preserve low-level sounds. Similarly, you can enable Dither to prevent quantization distortion by adding noise.
The resample section provides a Jitter control to add random modulation around the resample value (new sample rate set by the resample section). This feature emulates vintage samplers.
This Shaper controls the stereo width of your plugin. My favorite use of this Shaper with modulation is on synth pads and leads to change their width dynamically. The result is super immersive. However, another really neat use is for setting stationary width amounts across the frequency spectrum when mastering.
NoiseShaper adds noise to your audio, and it’s a great tool to use alongside CrushShaper. As mentioned earlier in this article, it comes with a library of noise samples. Furthermore, you can load custom noise samples in WAV or AIFF formats by placing them in the user noise folder (available in the options menu).
The built-in library provides over eighty noise samples categorized across thirteen groups: simple, modulated, rough, broken, fizzy, scrapping, outdoor, bubbling, weird, vinyl, tape, preamp, and hum. The first four groups are synthetic noises, the next five are organic noises, and the last four are analog noises.
VolumeShaper is likely the simplest yet the niftiest tool in this collection. From the simplest modulations like ducking the bass on the beat to a rhythmic gating on the synth, this Shaper does everything related to controlling the volume. Furthermore, try the pitch LFO mode to create bizarre ring modulations as you play a melody using your keyboard.
Most of the Shapers in ShaperBox 2 are fully transparent. However, you’ll find a few Shapers that color your sound. These include the FilterShaper, DriveShaper, and CrushShaper. FilterShaper provides clean, digital-style filters as well as Sallen-Key analog-style filters. The latter adds a slight saturation to your sound.
Similarly, DriveShaper provides multiple types of audio distortion, although none of them are designed to emulate any specific hardware. You could say the same about CrushShaper, which offers numerous types of Lo-Fi effects. However, combining the CrushShaper, TimeShaper, and NoiseShaper results in an awesome Lo-Fi effect. You can use the TimeShaper to create slight tape/vinyl wow effects, whereas the other two add noise and crush.
Overall, ShaperBox 2 is an invitation for any sound designer to create unique effects with a full-fledged modulation system. Something as simple as adding a bit of TimeShaper’s time modulation and reducing the master mix value creates an unheard-of chorus-like effect. So, exploration leads to rewards, and every experiment sounds high-quality.
Value For Money
ShaperBox 2 is a one-of-a-kind collection of effect processors that has everything you would need for sound design and more. It comes with eight Shaper modules, each with unique and useful features. Furthermore, the user interface design makes the plugin feel straightforward and friendly. So, you could get started with it from day one regardless of your experience in music production.
The plugin also provides a collection of presets from the Cableguys preset cloud, which adds various packs and presets created by fellow users. These are excellent for saving time and getting started as a beginner. And of course, you could use this plugin without any modulation too. The Shapers provide high-quality sound and are perfectly capable of handling general mixing tasks. So, you essentially receive eight plugins when purchasing the collection, including a compressor in the VolumeShaper, not to mention the plethora of effects that you could create or find in the presets by using multiple Shapers.
ShaperBox 2 is an outstanding set of tools that feature both stationary effects and dynamic ones. It comes with a freeform, node-based LFO engine, where you can create rhythmic envelopes, glitches, or simple waveforms. Furthermore, it features an envelope follower that supports external side-chaining and internal filtration, thanks to its multi-band functionalities. The plugin provides Shapers to manipulate time, pan, drive, width, and volume, alongside adding a filter, Lo-Fi crush, and noise.
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K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica.