RC-20 (Quicker) Review
We've all heard of it… XLN Audio RC-20. It's the retro colour plugin that everyone, including your gran has – and you're late to the party yet again.
But is it really that good?
In this article we're gonna get our snorkels on together, and go for a beautifully deep dive on XLN Audio's RC-20 to find out what it does, if it's worth it & just how good it is.
❌ Distortion & Digital modules seem like they're there to fill space.
❌ 4k on Windows is a bit janky, but works fine after tweaking.
✅ Adds the perfect amount of color, warmth & grit to your sound – giving a beautifully vintage & nostalgic result.
✅ Beautiful GUI that's easy to use & navigate.
✅ Huge preset library with presets that actually sound awesome + cloud sync & tonnes of community built settings.
✅ 4k support for Windows (Mac always has this, Windows does not always have this).
What Is XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color?
RC-20 quick overview:
- XLN Audio RC-20 – Retro Color effects unit
- Used for warming up instruments, adding modulation & interesting, analog oddities that sound great.
- VST, AU, AAX – 32 & 64bit support
- 4k scaling support
- 4.3/5 (our rating)
- Best Deal
RC-20 (Retro Color) is a creative FX unit that packs a whirl of a punch.
It's the type of plugin that can inject that warm, cozy feeling of vintage equipment & add audio imperfections that are often missed in today's digital recordings of music.
If you have a love for dissonant, warping & evolving sounds – then XLN Audio's RC-20 is going to make you scream like one of those delicate anime girls.
RC-20 has 6 unique FX Modules that are a breeze to use & get you a sound (that's almost perfect) with just the tweaking of a few knobs.
Let's take a deeper dive & see what each does.
Believe it or not, noise used to be an absolute pain for recording and mix engineers. But, since we've advanced a lot with technology, humans have been hit by the Nostalgia Effect harder than ever.
And there's a reason for it.
Music just sounds better with some grit, warmth & imperfections.
Noise just so happens to be one of those imperfections that make music sound a whole lot more inviting, & XLN Audio have done extremely well on this front with Retro Color 20.
With RC-20, you can easily inject that beautiful nostalgia into your music with tonnes of different noise types to choose from & a whole load of options for modulation.
Here's what they include so you can continue living in the past 😉
- Vinyl 1 & 2
- 7.5″ & 15″
- & 9 more!
As mentioned above, the Noise tab also comes with a few extra knobs that give you a lot of control over how it reacts to/with your audio.
- Tone – controls the… you guessed it: tone. Any movement to the right of the knob gives more high end & less low end any movement to the left, gives more low end & less high end.
- Follow – Follow is a interesting feature that allows you to stop the noise after the audio of that specific channel stops. In a lot of instances, you don't want the noise running through the entirety of your track – follow is your friend here.
- Post – Post is a routing button & controls where the noise is placed in the chain of effects. At first, your noise will be affected by all of them, but if you click the post button – it will be added in after FX.
- Duck – This creates a similar effect to sidechain compression. It reacts to the audio coming in & ducks out of the way of transients in that signal.
- Big Knob (no not your search history) – This turns up the overall volume of the noise.
Pitch modulation is something that is also dearly missed from digital recordings.
The wobble module does exactly what you'd expect it to do – it creates all kinds of beautiful dissonant, pitch changes, wow & flutter that's similar to what you'd hear in tape deck pitch modulation.
Like with the ‘Noise' section, you have full control over how it sounds.
- Wow Flutter – gives you full control over how much wow or flutter you want in your recording. To the left is full wow, no flutter. To the right is full flutter, no wow. In the middle, it's a mixture of both.
- Rate – changes the speed of the flutter or wow & is measured in Hz.
- Stereo – puts the wow & flutter in the stereo field, creating a beautiful chorus like effect.
- Mix – changes how much of the effect is acting on the audio signal.
- Big Knob – controls the amount of wow & flutter added.
XLN Audio have hit the nail on the head with wobble, because it sounds nothing short of beautiful.
Just take a listen to how it changes this melody.
It's like you just put your cup of tea (or coffee) in the microwave for 15 seconds after it went cold… it's just at the right temperature to drink again.
The Distort module features 6 different types of distortion/saturation, which all sound absolutely fantastic!
Inside the Distort module you also have a few controls that change the sound slightly.
- Focus – changes the area of the frequency spectrum where the distortion is present/acting.
- The Big Knob – changes the amount of distortion being added to the signal
- Mix – allows you to control the overall blend of the distortion.
Although this sounds great & useful, in some situations to add extra character to your sound – it seems a little but rushed & feels like it was put in the plugin to take up extra space.
The distortion algorithms do sound awesome, but it's nothing to shout about & isn't much different to your usual saturation or distortion plugin.
Unfortunately, unlike the other beautiful animations, this section doesn't include one.
The Digital module is essentially a bitcrusher, with an awesome animation that shows you exactly how bit reduction/bitcrushing actually affects a signal.
With the Digital module you also have a couple controls which help sculpt your sound:
- Rate & Bits Slider – let's you set a balance between bit reduction & sample rate.
- Focus – changes the area of the frequency spectrum where the distortion is present/acting.
- Cut – removes the frequencies that aren't selected in the focus range.
- The Big Knob – changes the amount of digital bitcrushing added to your signal.
- Smooth – rounds off the digital peaks, so that the distortion sounds less harsh.
- Mix – allows you to blend the bitcrushing in.
This is a great bitcrusher sound, but there's not much else to say about it.
The Space module is a very simple reverb, that sounds pretty amazing.
When I was using this particular section of the plugin, I was extremely impressed with how simple it was to get a reverb sound that worked with the sample/instruments I was using.
In fact, most of the time, I chose to opt for the RC-20 Retro Color reverb over other reverb plugins, because it just sounded right & didn't need changing.
This is a great enhancement to workflow. And, using it alongside the other built-in effects helps to make RC-20 an all in one effects unit powerhouse.
With the Space module you also have a couple options for control including:
- Decay – this changes the length of the reverb & decay time.
- Focus – is an EQ like control which allows you to focus the reverb on 1 area of the frequency spectrum.
- Pre Delay – lets you add some delay, so the reverb acts after the sound – preventing mudiness.
- Stereo – changes the sound from mono to stereo & also expands the reverb space.
- Big Knob – changes the amount of reverb added to the signal.
Although the Space module looks fairly unremarkable, don't let it fool you.
It's not going to beat your Valhalla Verb plugins (included in our best vst plugins list), but it does a great job at dialling in a quick, great sounding reverb.
The Magnetic module simulates all the crazy imperfections that are applied to audio when recording on a magnetic tape.
Here are the options for control:
- Wear & Flutter – changes between wear (dropout/slower volume modulation) & flutter (faster LFO that creates almost robotic like effects).
- Stereo – lets you choose whether you want the dropouts to be mono or in stereo. You can have dropouts happen in one side of your headphones for instance.
- Dropouts (no not you & your mates) – similar to wear, but are more chaotic & intense volume drops.
- Big Knob – controls how much the Magnetic modulate affects the sound.
It's essentially a randomised volume modulation, that's pretty chaotic.
One thing I tested it out on was vocals, using the Flutter option. Doing this produced robotic like effects on vocals that I can see being interesting in EDM style tracks/chant or pre-drop phrases.
On melodies it added an extra layer of spice to the sound. Random fluttering produced extra warmth, while the wear function was almost pointless in my opinion.
Wear could be used in situations where you want a bouncier sound, but it's not much different to just using auto-pan at 0 degree phase, or other LFO tools.
What makes RC-20 different from using other LFO tools or distortion plugins, is the FLUX slider.
Flux is a control that fluctuates the modulation of a particular effect randomly.
If you put the slider to the right, it increases the amount of random modulation applied to that particular effect & creates extremely interesting results that would be hard to replicate with other plugins.
RC-20 Retro Color How Does It Really Sound? (Review)
So… the sound.
XLN Audio Retro Color's sound is impeccable. The color, warmth & grit you can add to your tracks with just a few knob twists is an absolute dream, not only for workflow, but for giving sounds that little bit more.
One of my favourites things about RC-20 is the quality of the presets.
Usually, I find myself opening up FX plugins & never touching the presets, because they're not that great.
But with RC-20, I can't stop myself flicking through them, with a child-like grin on my face.
I'd highly recommend trying out the preset ‘no more boring pads'… wow.
The color it instantly adds to your audio, is nothing short of phenomenal.
And what's more, is that the preset list syncs to XLN Audio's cloud server. That means, you, (and other users) can share your settings & contribute to a pool of community built presets that sound incredible.
On top of all that the GUI is drop dead gorgeous, easy to use & has a handy magnitude slider that affects the signal of all the effects turned on.
This can be used in a similar way to how you'd use a filter sweep & you can create some fascinating sounds, among other things like, being an awesome workflow tool.
There's a reason so many people own RC-20; it's a stellar effects unit that breathes life into digital, static music.
As much as I loved using this plugin, there were some issues using it on Windows & a 4k screen (Mac this is fine due to native scaling).
Something I've noticed since upgrading my screen real-estate is that, a lot of plugins don't support the higher resolution for Windows (which tbh, when you're paying the price – really sucks).
XLN Audio are actually one of the few companies that provide 4k screen support for Windows.
But even so, there were still some issues with compatibility & getting the plugin to work properly on a high definition screen.
What I do want to say here, is that their support on this issue has been the best out of any plugin company I've ever contacted.
For instance, when I contacted iZotope – they told me to “change my screen resolution to 1080p”.
Yes, you heard that right…
When you spend a lot of money on a plugin, you expect it to work or at least get some good support & answers that help you solve your problem.
XLN Audio's support was extremely rapid with replies, & worked with me to help solve the issues I was having. Because of this, RC-20 works an absolute dream on my 4k + looks as sharp as a knife.
I'm extremely pleased & impressed with this, and other plugin companies need to follow XLN's footsteps.
4k screens have been around for a long time, and it sucks that a lot of plugin developers don't even bother to fix the issues they have with people running this setup.
Is RC-20 Worth It? (Verdict)
RC-20 (Quicker) Review
For a vintage effect that sounds as good as it does, it's definitely worth adding to your collection.
It's something I've had my eye on for the past couple months & I should have pulled the plug sooner if I'm honest.
The improvement to my workflow is beautiful &, RC-20 is my go-to effect when I want to add a little bit of extra depth to my instruments.
The Distortion unit & Digital unit seem like they're there just to fill space, but when you add in the FLUX feature, it becomes a much more interesting choice than your regular plugins.
With all things considered; RC-20 is an astronomically good effects unit for old school, vintage sounds.