Are you looking for a tempo-locked, modulated digital delay that’s full of 80s character, or a performance tool that responds to knob tweaking with mind-bending, pitch-shifting “Freeze” style looping, or maybe both? Then PrimalTap has you covered and more. It sounds like a complicated tool, but PrimalTap pulls old-school hardware inspiration into the modern world and puts it into a plug-in that not only sounds great but is stunningly easy to get around in.
PrimalTap is a re-imagining of the unique sound and features of the late 70’s Prime Time delay, a classic dual digital delay with modulation. Like the original hardware, PrimalTap is a hybrid of that digital and analog inspiration, and it packs a surprising amount of grit, vibe, and character. In true Soundtoys fashion, they’ve also evolved, expanded, and enhanced some of the truly unique features of the original hardware to give you even more control and powerful performance and sound design capabilities.
PrimalTap does a nice job covering classic digital delay tasks, such as host-synced delays, modulated chorus delays, for vocals, guitars, and the sort. Sonically it has a personality that’s not a crystal clear digital delay – and that’s a good thing. Crystal clear we’ve got, so things with some character and vibe are always welcome mix tools. PrimalTap does indeed have plenty of character. From the lo-fi vibe of the “Multiply” knob (we’ll talk more about this cool feature in a bit) to the modeled input drive of the original with the roll-off filters for shaping, you have a wider palette than the front panel belies. But for a quick fix of a classic sound, try out some of the chorused delays and sink back into the decadent 80s.
To dig a little deeper, the truly unique and twisted aspect of this beast are the controls inspired by the original – the Multiply and Freeze controls. The Multiply knob cuts the sample rate in half with each of 3 clicks, doubling the delay time each time, degrading the quality each time, and causing some interesting pitch shifts with the delays. It’s just something you need to hear to know where you’ll use it to make that “what the heck?” moment in your track.
The Freeze button is a fantastic tool. You can grab a bit of the delay and lock it in a never-ending loop. The freaky thing? The buffer is all there. Then, if you change the delay time – in synced Beats or freeform Time – you get more of your loop or less. So weird, so fun. Combining the Multiply and Freeze for some pitch-shifted glitchy loops is just a massive rabbit hole of sheer sonic enjoyment. You know, if you’re into the unusual.
Ok, some history: The original Prime Time unit, initially released in 1978, was a favorite of some highly creative sonic pioneers like Daniel Lanois (who’s likely still rocking his Prime Time today), Brian Eno, David Byrne, Pat Metheny, and Peter Gabriel. Some creative users, like Mr. Lanois, even started using it as an instrument, tweaking knobs and pressing buttons while processing live audio.
The unusual lo-fi and pitch-glitching effects of the multiply knob were literally one of a kind at the time. It came stock with 128 milliseconds of delay and could be optionally upgraded to 256 (for a substantial fee). No need to get out your calculators; that’s not much delay time. In the case of the Prime Time, RAM was expensive, so in an attempt to get the most from the least, the engineers came up with the multiply function to increase delay time at the expense of sonic quality. Like many classic pieces of audio gear, over time, the limitations or imperfections are often what create the character that people come to love. That limitation is what was exploited to make this a highly sought-after sound, and that sound and quirky features are what drove Soundtoys to create PrimalTap.
Presets - It may be overkill to keep saying check out the presets – but, really, check out the presets. There’s a lot more to PrimalTap than you’d think, and it fits into more places than you’d think, too, and the presets will help you see or hear a wide range of possibilities. From very usable guitar effects to insane composite pitch-shifted glitchy loops.
Lo-Fi Effects - Using the sample rate reduction of the Multiply knob, along with the unique input drive and filters, yields some very useful lo-fi and grungy effects. As an effect or as some extra sauce to mix in behind regular tracks, PrimalTap proves it has a lot of sonic character, too.
Stutter Effects: Automating the Freeze button and the delay time in Beats mode can yield some amazing stutter/repeat effects. Great for vocals of beats to give a unique feel over the copy/paste techniques in DAWs.
Stutter Vocal tutorial
Looping and warping (PrimalTap and Little Plate)
Way out looping tutorial with PrimalTap and Effect Rack