RC-20 Retro Color by XLN Audio is a nifty little plugin. With six different types of color to add to your source sounds, plus a magnitude slider, high and lo cut, and a width knob, this analog color plugin offers no shortage of options.
What are the 6 effects in RC-20?
NOISE: RC-20’s Noice effect lets you flip between different noise sources, adding some hum or crackle to your track. This is super useful when I’m working on something that’s meant to feel lo-fi, and the follow and duck knobs allow you to turn off the noise during silent portions of your track. This is a great way to add texture to something that’s meant to feel vintage, lo-fi, or extra analog. The vinyl settings are especially great on pianos and acoustic guitars!
WOBBLE: Simulate the gradual speeding up and slowing down of tape, with pitch variations included! Adding a bit of wow and flutter to something like a keyboard is an easy way to give it that analog feel. This allows you to add texture and some tape vibes quickly and easily. I won’t typically use this on vocals since it does effect the pitch and speed.
SATURATION AND DISTORTION: Flip through different types of distortion to add some sauce to your track. This is a great way to get a vocal or lead to cut through a dense mix.
DEGRADER AND BITCRUSHER: This takes down the quality of your track, similar to 40 (Drake’s producer)’s signature sound. Reduce the sample rate of audio quickly with this effect.
REVERB: The RC-20 has built in retro reverbs. Add depth and a long tail to your track with this effect!
VOLUME DROPS: Another simulation of the flaws that tape players have, this randomly changes the volume of your track, adding an interesting dynamic.
Best uses of RC-20 Retro Color
I like to use RC-20 to add some vibe to a track that’s a bit too sterile for my liking. When working with VST synths, stems that were recorded super cleanly by someone else, and digital samples, sometimes all of that cleanliness adds up to a boring, colorless song. RC-20 is a quick way to get some movement into your song.
While RC-20 comes with six effects, the ones I use the most are noise and wobble. These are typically added to guitars, keyboards, synth leads, and sometimes even backing vocals. The distortion is something I find useful on drums as well as leads. I personally don’t use the reverbs as often, since I prefer to add them on busses. However, it’s nice to have the option.
If a track is lacking color, but I don’t have any specific ideas, I’ll often flip through the presets until I find something that adds the right level of sauce to the mix. In rare cases, I’ve used RC-20 on the master bus of a song that just needs to be a little more “out there”.
Interface and usability
The RC-20 Retro Color interface is super aesthetically pleasing. There’s something charming about watching the waves and squiggles move around on your screen, and the color scheme is super pleasant. I like that the knobs and buttons are all labeled clearly. A lot of “vibe” plugins make up silly names for their settings, so it’s nice that RC-20 Retro Color accurately describes everything that’s going on. Obviously, sound is what matters the most, but it’s nice to have visually interesting plugins as well.
Is RC-20 worth it?
Considering the cost of the plugin, and how useful it is, I find RC-20 to be 100% worth it. If you’re a producer or engineer who likes the vintage vibes of tape machines, guitar pedals, and vinyl records, you’ll have a blast adding retro color to your tracks.