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True Iron Transformer Emulation HELP!

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Here is the link to the plugin.

True Iron Plugin Link

Let's pretend I don't know anything at all about transformers (I don't). Haha, I have only heard about the movie. lol

First off, I can really hear a BIG difference of warmth and presence that this plugin "demo" adds to my sound.

I have a lot of questions.

Question number 1: Why?

Question number 2: How?

Question number 3: Is this what the built in pro channel tape emulator and/or the console emulator is trying to do?

Question number 4: Why do I not really hear a difference like this with the console emulator? 

Question number 5: I am convinced I should buy this plugin for my songs... Should I?

Please explain how transformers work on sound and it this not just adding noise to my music. How can noise be good?

Shouldn't I try to achieve this with eqing and mixing techniques instead?  

Question number 6: I recently bought the Scheps channel strip by Waves. It has a saturation preamp section and odd, even and heavy harmonics. Is that the same kind of thing?

What about Cakewalk's pro channel tube saturation is that the same kind of thing and then Ozone also has saturation units...

This True Iron plugin seems to have saturation done in an extensive and exhaustive way that appears to supersede any of the other methods. 

I am REALLY confused... Please feel free to write a book in your comments you leave. No amount of info on this topic is too much or too technical.

Why add these harmonics? Why is music lacking these? When to use odd, even etc or what transformer models work best for which types of sounds? Those are questions too. :)  

How do harmonics change the wave file themselves are they additive or are they like modulators... distortion? Is it like Photoshop filters? (analogy) 

I am sure blown away by the fatness this True Iron plugin adds to my songs and it seems inevitable that I will soon be adding this to my effects library.

It works even though I don't know why. I would like to know a lot more about this...

Thanks in advance for any responses Cakewalk by BandLab peeps!

Edited by RexRed

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Hi RexReed,

A good article about audio transformers, but technical:


In order to fully appreciate answers to some of your questions (and to ask more informed ones), you'll have to understand at least some of this material.  Suffice it to say for now that the saturation of an audio transformer is fundamentally quite different from the saturation of other nonlinear devices such as transistors, diodes, and tubes because it arises from completely different physical mechanisms.


Dave Clark

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In answer to your questions...

1 & 2 - it adds harmonic distortion to your material, which makes it sound warmer. 

3 - yes

4 - The console emulator is very subtle, but is cumulative (i.e. adding it to every track does have an effect). It's modelled on different components than TrueIron, which results in different harmonics added at different levels. TrueIron can be turned up to be not so subtle.

5 - I've got it, and I love it. Buy it if you're already convinced - the price is very good.

6. Yes, but pretty much the same answer as 4.

As far as which one to use and when, that's too subjective to answer. The best answer is to use your ears - whatever sounds best, is best.

One thing I would say, is that you may want to back off on the TrueIron effect once you start having lots of things in your mix. I tend to add it to almost every track, but then turn it down as I add stuff. Too much of it will make your mix sound muddy.

I normally it in as the first thing in my effects chain (on tracks anyhow), especially if I'm using a DI'd signal. 

For buses, it's up to you which sounds best.



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Wow, I hit the mother lode in this thread! Lots of great info that has helped clear things up quite a bit! Thanks for the responses!

Msmcleod, your answers help me get quick answers to my questions and progress my understanding in a fast way. .

I use the True Iron on a vocal track after the Waves Vocal Rider in the track view fx rack. It seems My logic is that I will get a more even harmonic distribution. (does that make sense or sound right to you all?)

Dave, the book you  shared is really great! I am actually going to try and read "study" it. It is way over my head as an artist but I still need to learn this stuff.

I assume this will teach me to understand the difference between tube saturation and transformer saturation.

Are these harmonics additive or are they modulated?

If you turn them up, they cause distortion so it seems more like modulation rather than simply adding a new frequency tone to the sound.

So (correct me if I am wrong) it is driving the sound with harmonic frequencies much like an FM synthesizer works with modulator feedback loops.

Modulation with analogue warmth. These transformers are instruments in themselves.

Alan, I am looking into some transformer preamps and mics but they are way out of my range price wise. Sadly, my mics are in the Audio Technica  $100 dollar range not the Neumann and Manley $1000 dollar and up range. But I may save up  for them, it is worth investing in the right gear. With the price also comes the delicacy of the diaphragm and  chance of  singing the mic to a premature death. That sucks. Used mics are out.

The same would be with the tube saturation in the channel  strip. Again, correct me if I am wrong, the channel track would be the carrier and the saturation unit would be the feedback modulator.  It seems as if the sound is being driven by these analog wave forms. This would also be the case with the  Console Emulator subtly feedback modulating the track carrier. Or is the transformer wave simply being added to the sound? 

I need to get a handle on the frequencies these tubes, transformers, consoles etc are modulating the tracks with. They seem to excite the track carrier and create a fatter warmer end result. It is like a clean guitar with modulated distortion, one amp distorting another.

If i were to use analogue gear then the transformer distortion cannot be removed later. 

It seems nice to be able to add it after to my own taste or even in some cases, for lead instruments in particular or more clarity, to leave it out...

I have always loved FM synthesis because if you have high bit sine waves you can create unique crystal clear sounds that lend themselves well to analog warmth added after.

I think I will be learning this new saturation kick of mine for a while to come.

I am sorry if I am all over the place with my understanding of this topic I am not bothered by not knowing this yet, this is how I learn stuff by not being afraid to appear dumb in front of a lot of people. lol

Edited by RexRed

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+1 on the suggestion of using gear with (real) analog transformers while recording.

This is part of why I like Neve preamps.

The transformer gives the sound some "girth"... but in a different way from a tube (not as "soft/squishy").


You can over-do harmonic distortion from either tubes or transformers... making the mix muddy.


Newer Neve models (Portico-II or Shelford Channel) have a knob that lets you dial in the desired level of transformer distortion (they call it "Silk").

The "Red" Silk setting adds harmonic distortion that enhances higher frequencies.

The "Blue" Silk setting adds harmonic distortion that enhances lower mid frequencies.

As with a sonic "Enhancer" or "Exciter", it's all too easy to over-do the effect.

I make use of the Silk function if the track needs some extra "sparkle" on the high end... or needs filled out in the lower mids.

For many tracks, I leave the Silk setting off.



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Hi RexReed,

If you must think of transformers or transformer simulators as “instruments,” and I’m not really objecting to that, I would encourage you to think of them as not being instruments such as an FM synthesizer, but rather as instruments like a trumpet or clarinet, or even a microphone as used by a vocalist. These latter instruments require a source of sound; FM synthesizers contain their own sources. Because there is no source, transformers don’t have the ability to self-modulate as can be done with FM synthesizers.

In addition, from your comments it appears that you may be under the impression that the transformer simulator analyzes the incoming signal, then directly creates and emits corresponding harmonics. This is almost certainly not true. There are equations which govern how real transformers work. A model of this can be created in software which indirectly or passively creates appropriate harmonics. The harmonics (and what you have described as their modulation) is a result of properly modelling the physics, not a result of running more oscillators, LFOs, or anything like that.

Regarding the “warm” sound: As the article I referred you to describes, the physics of transformers, therefore the models used in the software, create less intermodulation distortion compared to other devices, resulting in a “warmer” sound. From the article (Whitlock, page 10):

“Distortion in audio transformers is different in a way which makes it unusually benign. It is caused by the smooth symmetrical curvature of the magnetic transfer characteristic or B-H loop of the core material shown in Figure 9. The non-linearity is related to flux density which, for a constant voltage input, is inversely proportional to frequency. The resulting harmonic distortion products are nearly pure third harmonic. In Figure 18, note that distortion for 84% nickel cores roughly quarters for every doubling of frequency, dropping to less than 0.001% above about 50 Hz. Unlike that in amplifiers, the distortion mechanism in a transformer is frequency selective. This makes its IM distortion much less than might be expected. For example, the Jensen JT-10KB-D line input transformer has a THD of about 0.03% for a +26 dBu input at 60 Hz. But, at an equivalent level, its SMPTE IM distortion is only about 0.01% — about a tenth of what it would be for an amplifier having the same THD.”

As the article also describes, there is less of a rolloff at the critical frequency than exists for a simple RC filter, so there is also less phase distortion at rolloff. From the article (Whitlock, page 11):

“This results in an actual roll-off rate less than 6 dB per octave and a corresponding improvement in phase distortion (deviation from linear phase). Although a transformer cannot have response to 0 Hz or dc, it can have much less phase distortion than a coupling capacitor chosen for the same cutoff frequency. Or, as a salesperson might say ‘it’s not a defect, it’s a feature.’”

Taken together these result in a more pleasant type of distortion than the kind of devices that we often utilize for creating distortion. A lot of listeners may even respond, “What distortion?” because it may not even sound like “distortion” to them.


Dave Clark


Bill Whitlock. Audio Transformers. Focal Press, 2006. Formerly published as Chapter 11 in Glen Balou, editor, Handbook for Sound Engineers, Third Edition, 2001. On the web:


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Wow this info takes me right over the edge of absolute non comprendo  (in a good way).

I would really love to understand this stuff. I think it would take me weeks or maybe longer. All I know is I turn up the big knob and it makes my track sound pleasantly warmer and gives it a fiery presence. I sorry to sound so ignorant.

I did notice that True Iron has a "morph"  button under the "strength" knob and when i hover my mouse over it it says, enables harmonic structure morphing during strength changes. It would seem that this plugin does actually analyze the signal and morph the harmonic content depending on the strength of the signal.

Once again I have no idea how this works but I can hear a more balanced signal when it is on. I am sure this comes with some computational cpu cost to the overhead.  

I will take the time to try and study the article you sent Dave, it seems to really explain the issue very in-depth. 

Magnets can make particles of metal arrange into pretty shapes and music is also particles of charged electrons. So it seem that magnets/coils/transformers are arranging the sound electrons into more symmetrical patterns and shapes. (just a guess)  


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