Nebula is a VST plug-in that uses a unique sampling and playback method to achieve very high quality emulations of many types of analog hardware. There are several versions of the plug-in available, I am reviewing the Nebula 3 Pro version.
The technology used is called Vectorial Volterra Kernels, current types of hardware that can be sampled, with varying degrees of accuracy, include:
You can download a basic free fixed library version of the program to check out from the companies website
All the best sampled hardware programs are supplied by 3rd party developers and are usually very inexpensive. Here are some of the most well known ones:
Hardware by all the big names like Neve, API and SSL have been sampled. Often they are refereed to by cryptic names to avoid copyright problems, but its very easy to work out what is being emulated with the Nebula Universal Program Explorer!
How Does It Work?
The most similar technology you may have experienced is convolution reverb. Programs like Altiverb work by sampling a snapshot of a real acoustic space, they use an impulse sound like a popping balloon. This impulse response is then loaded into your player software and you can use it to emulate the room you sampled.
Nebula is not limited to reverbs, and it is far more advanced. Instead it takes multiple snapshots using its own test tones from its sampling software N.A.T.
The major technical advance in Nebula is that it takes many snapshots at different volumes, and can also sample and re-create distortion. This creates a dynamic model of the hardware including its distortion characteristics. The results are the closest software emulation of the original hardware available on the market today.
How Is It Different To Other Plugins?
- Nebula uses a ‘brute force’ approach to emulation, so takes a lot of CPU power to run. It samples hardware rather than attempting to emulate it using algorithms.
- Nebula ships with its own sampling tool, N.A.T., so you can have a go at sampling your own hardware and share it with the community.
- The fact that it is sample based means that the sampled controls (if there are any) are limited. For example, for an EQ, each band must be sampled separately. In practical use this means you must run a separate instance of Nebula for each band.
Nebula can emulate reverbs very well, and works best on analog reverbs like plates and springs. The EMT140 program plate is worth the price of the whole Nebula plug-in! Best plate emulation ever, makes others sound like a joke in comparison.
There are some problems with the reverb emulations, in that certain bass heavy and transient rich sounds can create unwanted artefacts. You must be wary to listen carefully to your results. This is not mentioned in the sales literature, and it’s things like this that bring me onto…
What’s The Catch?
Before we get to what is great about Nebula, lets talk about a few things that might put you off.
- High CPU use. This is due to the technology used, so it won’t be going down until you get a new computer.
- The GUI is outdated and cumbersome.
- At this point in its development, it can only emulate subtle saturation, so full on distortion effects are not yet possible.
- Compression emulation is in its infancy, not recommended for now.
Other than the plug-in itself, Acustica Audio the company creates some controversy in the way it operates.
On initial use of the software and browsing their web forum, it would appear that the entire experience is designed to be confusing, annoying and counter productive. Its more like dealing with a group of cool underground hackers than a business. Developers are friendly and dedicated, but their focus is on the software, not on customer service.
There is no official documentation for half the features, no automatic email notifications of updates, it just seems a gigantic mess. It has been like this for years, and judging from the developers replies to forum posts, there seems no desire to change.
On the plus side to the lack of official information, there is a very active, helpful and enthusiastic membership of the forum that are always keen to help you out.
Why Use Nebula?
However frustrating and seemingly pointless all the hassle of setting up and using the plug-in is, the main thing that makes it all worth while is the AMAZING SOUND QUALITY.
There is nothing else that sounds this good anywhere. It’s emulations of EQ’s and Preamps are fantastic and amazing value for money. They can add a three dimensional quality that makes it sound like its been processed by high end hardware costing a fortune!
How Can Nebula Owners Learn To Master Nebula?
After spending so much time discovering the hidden depths of this plugin, and getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of clear and easy to understand information, I decided to create my own full length course!
If you own this plugin, or are even thinking about buying it, please check the Nebula Explained product page. It has everything you need to know about the course and tells you how to get a 50% discount!
If you can live with all it’s limitations, and are willing to climb the steep and often frustrating forum based learning curve, you will be rewarded by a level of sound quality that is truly amazing.