After half a century of attempting to increase fidelity and quality in search of the pristine, the arts have turned pretty quickly in the other direction, haven't they? The photography world has been taken over by the resurgence of the lo-fi Polaroid format and the ubiquity of vintage-style Instagram photos. Movies are being made on 8mm film again. The music production world is no different, with the number of effects promising vintage warmth and tube-style distortion increasing every day.
These effects usually fall into one of two categories. The first are the amp simulations that cater towards guitarists—allowing them to pick and choose their ideal setup from a virtual environment of amplifiers, cabs and microphones. The second category could be described as the sound sculptors. These usually include some sort of multiband processing engine that allows producers to isolate and distort certain bands of the frequency spectrum individually.
Within the second group, there are a few good options out there. Ohm Force has their respected Ohmicide distortion plugin. The d16 crew, makers of the great virtual Roland hardware recreations, has their Silverline group of effects like Devastor that would qualify as well. Beyond those, one of the most interesting and affordable sound sculpting distortions was released initially in 2008 by the two-man operation of Audio Damage. They called it Kombinat (Russian for "conglomerate") because in addition to the distortion engine it included a grouping of effects: a DJ-style EQ, lowpass filter and a compressor.
A little over three years after that initial release, Audio Damage has released an overhauled new version of the plugin and called it Kombinat Dva (dva is Russian for two). In this new version they packed in five new distortion engines, a feedback loop, new presets and—perhaps most importantly—a complete visual makeover.
Kombinat Dva splits the incoming signal into three bands using a traditional DJ-style ISO EQ—meaning the signal in each band can be adjusted from complete silence to a boost of 7db louder. The gain amounts for each band can be controlled via mouse, MIDI CC or via automation. The width of the EQ bands is adjustable in the same way, making it easy to zero in on a specific part of a track's sound.
Once the signal is split into those three bands—that's when Kombinat Dva starts really earning its money (taking nothing away from the quality EQs). For each band, you can choose from 13 different effect types—which Audio Damage call "distortion engines." These can be broken down into a few different categories. You'll find the typical fuzz-style distortions, one of which was culled from Audio Damage's popular Fuzz+ plugin. Then there is a bit-crusher/sample-rate reduction engine with an innovative control that introduces random bit errors into the algorithm—a nice touch.
You'll also find what I consider "additive" engines, like ringmod and wavy, which modulate the original signal with built-in signals like sine waves and noise. Finally, there is a chaotic buffer-style engine called Nerd Rage (one of Dva's new effect types) which is part distortion and part delay, repeating back portions of the original signal in reverse. Watch out for this one, though: it can be a bit unpredictable and will continue to spit back the buffered signal if the band is turned off or if transport is stopped.
As expected, the normal routing behavior for Kombinat Dva is that after the signal is split up by the EQ, each band is processed in parallel. However, if you want the distortion engines to act on the entire frequency spectrum at once, or if you feel like one engine will do the job, you can also switch the routing to "series" mode. In this mode, the signal flows from the EQ and then through the high, mid and low engines, in that order.
No matter which routing option you have selected, once the signal has passed through the three engines, it hits the filter and the compressor. The filter can either be turned off, or can be switched between 4-pole and 2-pole lowpass filter modes.
The compressor is a delightfully simple one-slider operation, which will even out the dynamics of the affected signal, squashing it more and more as the slider moves right. Finally, the Kombinat Dva allows for the signal to be fed back into the input, creating some even more unpredictable noise.
So how does it compare to the other options like Ohmicide and Devastor? Overall, Kombinat Dva has enough flexibility and effect types to provide a huge amount of sound sculpting power. The d16 plugins don't have the same effect algorithm choices of Kombinat Dva—so Ohmicide, with the same multiband processing and large amount of distortion types to choose from, is probably the closest comparison. Ohmicide does have some additional features like the Melohman preset morphing engine, but the tradeoff is a price that is roughly three times the amount of Kombinat Dva's affordable $49.
When you consider that price, you're reminded of the strength of Audio Damage's business model. They make high quality plugins at accessible prices, and treat their customers like adults—not submitting them to restricting DRM policies. That makes them a go-to whenever they release new effects. In general, if you're not married to another plugin that does the same job, it's a good bet that the Audio Damage version is worth the money. When it comes to distortion, giving your sound the rough edges it needs, from subtle exciters to wall-of-sound destruction, Kombinat DVA is absolutely recommended.
Ease of use: 4.5/5