Baby Audio BA-1 Review
Does Baby Audio's first instrument plugin need to grow up?
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The In-Depth Review
Baby Audio is a company known for creating easy-to-use effects with a twist. Plugins such as Smooth Operator, IHNY-2, and TAIP are examples of their philosophy. Their plugins don't break the bank either, typically priced between $49 and $99 each. So it is no surprise when I heard that Baby Audio's first-ever instrument plugin follows the same philosophy. Claiming to be easy to use, affordable, and with a twist. But do we need another analog emulation when we have thousands already? To start with, Baby Audio dug out a relatively unknown inspiration.
The muse for more
Baby Audio is not hiding that the Yamaha CS-01 was their inspiration. While the original looks like a toy, it has found serious musicians coaxing inspirational sounds from its tiny footprint. The similarities are unmistakable when looking at the design of both hardware inspiration and the plugin. A slew of sliders dominates both interfaces.
Under the hood, both are based on the same waveforms:
- Pulse Width Modulation
But there are several areas where BA-1 expanded the capabilities of the hardware inspiration.
- Two oscillators (instead of one).
- Two envelopes, one of amplitude, one of filter (instead of one).
- FM (Frequency Modulation) between OSC 1 and 2.
- Polyphony (instead of monophony).
Some of the hardware quirks made it into the plugin. You can in fact drain the “battery” in the plugin. Why? It is not just a gimmick. Reducing the battery power through another slider introduces warbles and glitches which add extra character, just like lo-fi plugins such as XLN Audio RC-20 Retrocolor, iZotope Vinyl, and other such plugins do.Baby Audio audio also added a built-in “speaker”. Switching it on seems to introduce an equalizer which sounds like a bit like listening through a small loudspeaker. A bit thinner and tinnier. I am not sure this quirk is that useful in practice.
When it comes to formats, there are no surprises: VST, VST3, AU, AAX are all available. Of course both major platforms are supported: Mac OS 10.7 and up (including Native M1 Compatibility), and PC Windows 7 and up.
The sound of simplicity
BA-1 comes with over 500 presets, so you will have plenty to play with, across the usual bass, synth, pad, lead and effects categories. The quality of the presets is high, and I found plenty of inspiration from the get go. As you can hear in the demo below, I appreciated how well the BA-1 blends into songs. You don’t have presets that are too crazy and “impressive” at first listen, but then in practice do not fit into any song.
The basses are warm and “fat”, the pads range from lush to glassy to subtle, and I came across raspy leads and plucky plucks aplenty.
The simple interface makes tweaking presets accessible to all. I appreciated that the sliders from the Yamaha hardware were transferred into the Baby Audio plugin version. Compared to circular knobs, sliders are much easier to discern, and I was able to graphically grasp each parameter more quickly.
If you get stuck for inspiration, the “regen” button below the output knob provides usable starting points for new presets. And for a black sheet approach, the reset button serves up a clean slate with an init patch to start your own creations from scratch.
The Yamaha CS-01 did not have any built-in effects. Baby Audio’s BA-1 however adds an effect section. First of all you find an equalizer with two simple faders for brightness and darkness. Next, a saturation stage, a delay, a reverb, and finally a simple chorus with just on and off. The quality is high throughout, as you can expect from the legacy of plugin effects which Baby Audio built in recent years. The parameters are usable and provide just enough “tweakability”, maintaining simplicity and speed of use.
Sound reminds me of the U-He Repro, one of my favourite analog emulation synth plugins. Repro is easy to use with a similarly warm analog sound. But while you can buy the BA-1 for $49 during the introductory period, Repro is priced at $129*.
I created a demo song to showcase a few preset in a musical context. The demo contains no effect plugins only. No EQ, no compressor, reverb, delay or such like were used. Apart from drums and percussion, the only sounds are from the BA-1. The only effect plugin is a limiter on the master bus. In total, I used 9 instances of BA-1, with a maximum of 4 instances playing at a time.
Presets used are:
- PL Baby Belle
- BA Babe Magnet
- BA Spoiled
- Fifth Swell
- PD Calling U
- PD Lively
- SY Altered State
- PD Muted Glass
- LD Bundle of Joy
Baby Audio BA-1 - Launch Video
Baby Audio BA-1 - Tutorial
The Test Rig
- Version Tested: Baby Audio BA-1 v1.0 (Pre Release)*
- Audio Interface: Universal Audio Apollo Twin mkII.
- Monitoring: Genelec 8020A Loud Speakers.
- Computer Used: Apple Mac Studio, M1 Max, 1TB SSD, 32 GB RAM, macOS Ventura 13.3.1.
The Pros and Cons
- Sounds great - warm and analog
- Simple interface with all parameters on one page
- Reasonable price for the quality offered
- Not very demanding on computer processing
- Beautiful simplicity for some means limitations for others
- A few functions such as the routing are hidden and hard to access
When you think every hardware synth ever invented has been emulated a thousand times, Baby Audio find this hidden gem and bring it back to life. True to the Baby Audio philosophy, a simple interface does not mean a simple sound. BA-1 provides plenty of options to create a huge range of analog sounds, from bass to leads to pads and effect sounds. The 500 presets are high quality and get you started straight away. Yet the simple interface, which graphically shows all parameters on one page, invite even novices to experiment in changing presets and starting from scratch. This synth is a great beginner synth but will also keep experienced musicians entertained for a while.
Get this if you love characterful analog synths that are easy and fun to use.
Don't get this if you love complex modulations and an all-in-one synth plugin.
Professional mixers, artists, musicians and engineers who use Baby Audio BA-1, include:
- Mike Schmid
- JR Rotem
- Jeremy Ruzumna
- Venus Theory
- Mick Schultz
- Bryn Bliska
- Jayce Lewis
Source: Baby Audio
The Other Reviews
"If what you’re after is a cheap, straightforward and charming virtual analogue synth that will put a smile on your face and deliver instant gratification, BA‑1 is hard to beat."
"Baby Audio’s first synth might follow in the footsteps of the CS-01 as an under-the-radar classic. It’s gritty, dark, twisted and charming, just how we like our synths."
30 May 2023
"This is a surprisingly wide spectrum of versatility for such a basic instrument and so, despite the oddities sprinkled throughout, we can’t help but love this baby beastie."
24 May 2023
"If you’re producing any sort of retro or lo-fi synth based music, the BA-1 may just be your new best friend. For everyone else, downloading the free trial might just cause you to have enough fun that you wind up in the previous category."
17 May 2023
"If you’re producing synthwave, lo-fi, or any type of 80s-inspired electronic music, the BA-1 is pretty much a no-brainer. If you’re into other genres, we suggest you download the demo and see if this is for you. There’s a good chance you will be pleasantly surprised! Oh, and stay tuned for an iOS version..."