Al Schmitt Signature

We put Leapwing's Al Schmitt Signature plugin through its paces on a variety of different instruments in our Headliner HQ studio... 20 Grammy Awards and collaborations with Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Madonna and Michael Jackson — this is what comes with the name attached to Leapwing Audio’s first signature plugin. Al Schmitt is a recording legend in every sense of the word - and Leapwing Audio, who entered the plugin game in 2015, have done extremely well to work with the recording engineer to recreate his brilliant sound in this new plugin — ‘echo’, not reverb, to use Schmitt’s terminology.

Leapwing spent time with Schmitt with a view to getting to the essence of his work and to try and come close to replicating his sound that has been so abundantly successful in nearly seven decades at the top of the music industry. A tidbit that must be mentioned: at the very start of his career and 19 years old, Schmitt found himself alone at Apex Studios with Duke Ellington and his orchestra. Unable to reach the studio owner or head engineer, he said “Mr Ellington, I’m not qualified to do this.” Ellington patted his leg, looked him in the eye and said “It’s okay sonny, we’re going to get through this.” They then cut three songs in four hours.

Al Schmitt's Workflow

With deep attention to detail, Leapwing looked very closely at Schmitt’s studio gear, workflow, and the characteristics of his sound; the subtle harmonics, the echos, compression and EQ. They describe the process as an “incredible journey” — meticulously going through his mixes and analysing many multitracks. The team quickly realised Schmitt had a few distinctive traits that defined his legendary sound. And the main thing they honed in on perhaps comes as a surprise: a unique simplicity. Al Schmitt doesn’t use lots of processing, and has a restrained approach to adding just the right amount of texture to the music he works on. So with that being said, when you open up this plugin in your chosen DAW, you might be struck by a particularly sleek and minimal design. In honour of Schmitt’s less is more approach, this plugin makes a point of not bogging users down with loads of presets or unnecessary options. The main variations you’ll see upon opening up the plugin are the ‘source’ options: Piano, Vocals, Bass, Strings, Mix, Brass. The options within each source vary depending on the needs of the instrument. For example, the piano has compression that you can adjust, whereas the strings do not. This is to reflect the piano being a much larger instrument with more harmonic characteristics to play around with. If you select Mix, you will see the most options, including Sub Boost, Mid Level, Air Boost and several more.

How Does It Sound?

So how does it sound? In a word, stunning. I have no doubt that Schmitt will be very proud of what Leapwing Audio have achieved here in a digital plugin. I first tested it on one of my absolute favourite VIs, the Soft Piano from Spitfire Audio's LABS range. This particular piano plugin sounds pretty good without reverb, however, I always do add some reverb to enhance and experiment with the sound. And as I toggled the Al Schmitt on and off while playing, you really do notice a difference with the richness and depth being offered here. Especially when you sustain the notes, it sounds wonderful. If you want your piano to sound like a recital in an opulent room in a stately home, look no further. Sticking with Spitfire LABS instruments, I wanted to hear how it sounds on something totally different, so went for the Dulcimer this time (emulating the stringed instrument from the 1900s). This time I even tried using the Leapwing reverb versus one of Logic Pro X’s stock reverbs, Enverb. And sorry to all the bedroom producers out there who love making music with a zero pounds budget, but you really do notice a significant difference. With Leapwing, the music feels much more organic and authentic, and switching to the Enverb it does suddenly feel a bit more synthetic. Very impressive results on a free virtual instrument. Sticking with the theme of stock sounds from Logic, I opened up a square bass synth sound. I’m sure you’ll agree the stock instruments often do need an extra bit of love and attention to get them to sound how you want, so I was very interested to see what results I could achieve with the Al Schmitt Signature. And I was instantly impressed — with virtually no tweaking at all, I’d gone from a laptop sound to a Moog in seconds! This time I set the source to Bass and enjoyed toying with the compression, body, and air level. Again, you really get to experience the varying harmonic characteristics in this process. On vocals, unsurprisingly, this plugin shines particularly bright. On an intimate performance with an aspiring folk artist, a touch of Al Schmitt on the acoustic guitar added flavour, while a wide and airy reverb on the voice added a truly ethereal quality to proceedings; and on a more compressed and in-your-face 'belting' vocal, a shorter plate kept everything tight and up, close and personal. If you’re looking for a very high-quality plugin that will take little to no time at all to add to your workflow, Al Schmitt Signature deserves a close look at the very least; it’s fully refined down to a beautiful simplicity in both design and accessibility. Goodness knows there are a lot of reverbs out there, but this plugin fully justifies entering the market, and it could just be the missing piece to your sonic arsenal.

"If you want your piano to sound like a recital in an opulent room in a stately home, look no further..."