Parallel distortion has been a technique used in the recording of bass guitar for a long time. It’s a method that allows the low end to stay compressed, smooth and clean while another track has a distorted tone but no low end to it. That’s a very basic way of explaining it and it’s a pretty easy technique but where there’s a need for simplicity, there’s a plugin. There are many YouTube videos that explain parallel compression, distortion and saturation for those that wish to do it on their own.
To some, a distorted bass tone might be a pretty new concept because many don’t know how much distortion is on the bass tones they hear on their favorite records. It can seem harsh, overly modern or coarse at first. However, even subtle distortion on a bass tone can go a long way to making guitar tones way more full or generally fill up a mix in many nice ways while going almost undetected. Distorted bass doesn’t always have to be about being grindy and way up front in a mix, it can be used in subtle ways that can make a world of difference in your mixes.
Neural DSP came up with a way to give you all of the things you need for parallel distortion in one plugin that goes on one track (or as a standalone). The modern style of bass can be real tough for beginners or even intermediate home recording enthusiasts to really nail down. This plugin is designed so that anyone can get a nice mid-driven modern tone to cut through a mix. You don’t even need a DAW with the standalone.
At first, the controls are going to seem like the furthest thing from any amp sim you have ever seen. The GUI looks like something you might see in a cool synth plugin of some sort. The graphics are simplistic but exactly what’s necessary in this situation. I believe it’s what’s necessary because it shows the user the EQ curve they are creating right in front of them.
It definitely took me a few sessions to get a really solid grasp on how to use the plugin effectively but once I did, it became like the cross between a scalpel and a wrecking ball. You get enough low end to smash through a building with the ability to shape your mids and highs with laser focus. Go into this plugin understanding that there may be a small learning curve but I will say, learning how to swing this weapon will pay off.
When it was rolled out, I felt like maybe it was just going to be for very straight up modern tones and yes, Parallax does in fact RIP up modern tones but it’s more than that. The plugin allows the user to acquire everything from crystalline but powerful cleans to slightly gritty punk tones, distorted grindcore and it even delivered some perfect funk tones as well. With a good ear and a careful hand, there’s not really anything that can’t be done bass wise with Parallax.
While in a marathon testing session I came across a way to make this plugin sound even more crushing. I was testing fuzz pedal plugins and I had left one in a signal chain before Parallax. When I started playing, I literally said “WOW” out loud. After harnessing things a bit with some tweaking, it sounded like a mountain and became my new first reach for stoner/doom type bass tones. I used a number of fuzz plugins with great results. I’d just be careful how much gain you are adding and work to stack the two together gain/drive wise, also watch the low end in the plugin. When you start adding lots of fuzz you may have to adjust the low end in Parallax or make some cuts in post-EQ.
The cabinet section is pretty cool and if you want to use your own impulse responses, I strongly suggest loading them into the Parallax cabinet section’s impulse loader instead of your own on this one. To ensure low-end tightness, the low end of Parallax is designed to operate without a speaker impulse and so by bypassing it, you are eliminating a key feature in the plugin. Impulse responses come into play in the mid to high frequencies and I had a ton of success loading my own collection into Parallax.
I really preferred the plugin with any pickup switch position across two basses with 4 different kinds of pickups. I like to use the bridge pickup and then scale up the low end of the tone to compensate a bit, mid gain half way up and poof, mix ready. The other way was running the drives almost all the way down and using the onboard controls to accent the low mids.
Modern bass mixing seems to be going in a weird direction. Bass players are relying on their sub woofers to handle the low end while scooping out the low mids and jacking up the high mids, sound about right? I really don’t like this method because when the mix gets played through anything without a sub, it sounds like it’s coming out of a tin can. The low mids are where the power is and where your tone really breathes. Parallax has a world of great ways to accent and enhance your low mids rather than relying on a sub.
The high drive for me was pretty well always nearly off or off as I just couldn’t deal with the amount of fizz that it was giving off. I found more uses for the plugin’s mid-distortion and awesome low compression when it came to my needs. If you are playing and you find things a bit hissy or fizzy, it’s easy to make a one second adjustment to the high drive to clear up the issue. Different pickups and players like different things so the high drive could be right up your alley but if it’s harsh to your ears, there are a few quick fixes if you experiment. I found that all the mid and high controls did after about 5 on the dial was make work for me in the post EQ stage.
The EQ allows the user to alter and shape the tone even further. I would typically leave the EQ flat until it came time to actually start mixing my track. I used the EQ to change the tones subtly to fit into spaces in the mix that would benefit the bass tone and overall sound. I found trying to use the main controls and EQ trying to make tones just ended up with too much tweaking and not enough playing so I would just listen for spaces that might need to be filled or parts that needed some more space and then felt around with the band EQ to make adjustments.
I want to be very clear that this is not a shot on the plugin, it just notes that the plugin, like many, is more effective with good pickups. This is worth noting because of the main modern style of bass tones Parallax is meant to provide. Bad pickups can cause inconsistencies and weird spikes in various areas and in my case it was the mids and so when I increased the mids in the plugin for a modern cutting tone, it exposed the poor signal even more while also exposing the lack of low mids in the pickups.
On the downside, I want to note that to get the best out of any plugin, pickups are a factor and Parallax does sound considerably better with better pickups. When I used it with stock Ibanez pickups, the response was much different across the board and the plugin sounded hollow and thin. I had to work harder inside the plugin to get what I wanted and the end result wasn’t nearly as impressive as the results with my other bass that has a nicer set in it.
A makeshift solution to bad bass pickups would be to compress or EQ before the plugin to try and remove some of the pickup’s lesser qualities or boost where it’s lacking so that the plugin gets at least the illusion of a better signal to work with. This does not always work too well. Better pickups go a long way and can be found used on a really low-budget.
UPS / DOWNS:
Give Parallax a good signal and let it do what it does is the simple recipe here. You end up with really nice tones to work with in a mix, jam on, perform with and beyond. Subtle tweaks make a world of difference but if you go slow, there’s no way you won’t find a space for your bass in any mix you are working with.
It’s more than a metal plugin, a lot more and players in the blues, jazz, country, rock, punk rock and every other area could benefit from using Parallax to help your bass playing stand out or blend in just the way you want it to. Extra points here for the innovation and creating something that boasts convenience but doesn’t sacrifice quality to do it.
On the downside, parallel distortion is a pretty easy technique so before buying this plugin, I would give it a stab yourself first. Additionally on the downside, I felt a lot of the ways to boost the mids and highs just ended up causing noise and work to do in the post-EQ. The internal gate could also use some work given the plugin’s distortion abilities.
See more: Neural DSP intro video