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In the late 60s, the Level-Loc was introduced by Shure. It was a consumer-grade brickwall limiting amplifier that was designed to keep audio in a PA system level. Unlike some other gear that modern audio companies try to re-produce in plugin form today, the Level-Loc did not become popular for what it was designed to do, but for the side effects that came with its usage: Intense, nasty, chunky, and yes, beautiful distortion. Over time, the Level Loc became an especially popular tool to dirty up drums in subtle and not so subtle ways.
Sounds like an interesting piece of gear to try out, right? Well, both original models and reproductions of the Shure Level-Loc are pretty expensive at this point in time – and maybe you don’t want another piece of hardware anyway. This is where Soundtoys comes in.
In 2011, Soundtoys released the minimalistic Devil-Loc plugin, and followed it with the premium version Devil-Loc Deluxe a little later. And even though these plugins are pretty old by now (the world of audio effects changes quickly), they are still widely used by many composers and producers – which is exactly why I wanted to review them here.
Both Soundtoys plugins are not intended to be used in the original intended way – so it would be silly to think of them as limiters. Instead, their real strength is compressing and saturating the signal in an interesting, musical way. This is done with the “Crush” and the “Crunch” knob.
Turning up Crush will increase the compression of the signal. But that’s not the only thing that happens: If you turn up Crush high enough, a saturation effect is introduced, which changes the release time (up to 22 seconds!). In practice, this can introduce a pretty intense but musical pumping effect.
Only using the compression part of the Devil-Loc (by only using the Crush knob) would defeat the purpose of this plugin, though. So let’s talk about Crunch. With the Crunch control, you can determine how hard the output amplifier stage is driven. This will add the distortion that gives the Devil-Loc (and Level-Loc) its signature sound.
Devil-Loc does not have any other controls besides Crush and Crunch and that’s one of the things I like about it. This way I can simply load the plugin, play around with the two knobs for a few seconds and see if it’s the right tool for what I had in mind. I don’t have to think about different distortion profiles or presets (even though some presets are available) – it either works or doesn’t. All I have to do is dial in the amounts. And if I use Devil-Loc on an effects track, I’m not even missing a mix knob.
If you need a little more control, that’s what Devil-Loc Deluxe is here for. Besides Crush and Crunch, the Deluxe version offers a convenient mix knob, a “Darkness” control and a release switch. The Darkness knob controls a high-cut filter that shapes the signal after the distortion. The release switch allows you to choose between a fast and a slow release of the compressor. The exact release time also depends on the Crush control.
Working with Devil Loc and Devil Loc Deluxe is fun. Both plugins are easy to use and deliver a beautiful, unique and chunky saturation that I found hard to re-create with other plugins. While I personally enjoy the simplicity of both plugins, it means that they are less versatile than other plugins. Instead of thinking of Devil-Loc as an all-in-one saturation/compression solution, think of it more as a flavor that might be interesting to add to some of your productions.
Adding Devil Loc (Deluxe) to drums and percussion often feels instantly gratifying to me. I love how I can completely mess up a signal or simply add some subtle presence and warmness. Bass guitar is another instrument that can benefit from the crushing and crunching that Devil-Loc has to offer (obviously, this will depend on your taste and the style of music). Of course, there’s a lot more you can do with Devil Loc, especially when using it lightly.
One thing that would make both plugins a little easier to work with is an additional gain knob. That’s because turning the Crush and Crunch knobs inevitably changes the loudness of the signal. A/B testing with different loudness levels can be pretty tricky and re-balancing the volume sliders in the DAW manually is something I’d prefer not to do. Apart from that, I don’t have any complaints.
(Listen on headphones or on a good monitoring system.)
Wet: Crush: 4.5, Crunch: 2.5, Darkness: 0, Mix: 5
Wet: Crush: 1.5, Crunch: 2, Darkness: 0, Mix: 10
Wet: Crush: 9, Crunch: 9, Darkness: 0, Mix: 10
Wet: Crush: 10, Crunch: 10, Darkness: 0, Mix: 2.5 (notice the subtle high-end distortion)
Wet: Crush: 10, Crunch: 2.5, Darkness: 7, Mix: 7.5 (notice the long tail)
Here’s a more in-depth video by ARTFX about how to use Devil Loc on drums:
Here’s another video that shows how you can use Devil Loc Deluxe on drums in the context of a mix:
Soundtoys Devil-Loc vs Decapitator
This section is for those who have been wondering whether they should get Devil-Loc or Decapitator (both are Soundtoys products). While they both have in common that they’re adding distortion/saturation to the signal, they are actually quite different from each other: Devil-Loc has been described as a “one-trick pony” by some while Decapitator is a much more surgical distortion toolkit. Decapitator comes with five different saturation models and has no built-in compressor algorithm. Devil-Loc creates a special sound on drums because of its compressor, while Decapitator is more of a saturation allrounder. The best way to understand which is the better choice for you is to test out both with the free 30-day Soundtoys Trial.
Cost and Value
As an owner of Soundtoys 5, which contains both plugins, I was a little surprised to see how much Soundtoys is charging for this. The regular price at the time of writing is $79 for Devil Loc and $129 for Devil Loc Deluxe. In my opinion, that’s quite high for a plugin that’s not that versatile.
I feel like Soundtoys thinks so, too, because I’ve seen quite a few sales on the website. I’ve seen Devil-Loc for as low as $9 and the Deluxe version for as low as $39. My suggestion is to simply wait for a sale on this plugin. Getting the Soundtoys 5 bundle is a great option as well if you are looking at several of their plugins anyway.
Soundtoys is a niche compression/distortion plugin that works especially well on drums and basses. While it’s not as versatile as Soundtoys Decapitator or FabFilter Saturn, it’s a great sounding plugin that will add character to any sound.
- Easy and fun to use
- Unique, awesome sound
- Pretty graphics
- Regular price is expensive for what you get
- Not very versatile
- No gain knob
Devil Loc Rating
User Interface 8/10
Value for Money 3/10
Overall Rating 8/10
Value for Money (at $79): 3/10
Devil-Loc Deluxe Rating
User interface 8/10
Overall Rating 9/10
Value for Money 4/10