Gear Reviews

Leapwing Joe Chiccarelli review: Legendary setup at your fingertips

Plugin wizard Leapwing Audio has once again collaborated with an absolute legend of the music recording world. After working with the late Al Schmitt previously, it has now teamed up with Joe Chiccarelli to deliver the Leapwing Joe Chiccarelli Signature Plugin. Like the multi-Grammy winning name behind it, the product is a versatile and innovative audio processor for recording and mixing. Does it live up to the name?

Which would be no small feat, by the way. Joe Chiccarelli is a Boston, Massachusetts native who has worked with artists such as Morrissey, Counting Crows, Elton John, U2, Tori Amos, The Strokes and The Killers, among many more. 

For his troubles, he has won three Grammy awards, seven Latin Grammy awards, and achieved a further 10 Grammy nominations. Suffice to say, if you’re going to release a plugin with this man’s name on it, it needs to live up to the hype.

Not that this is to suggest that Chiccarelli simply handed over the rights to his name and sat back to see what Leapwing would come up with. Leapwing and Chiccarelli worked together so that the former could identify the producer, mixer and engineer’s choice of tools and workflows that deliver his brilliant results.

If you’re going to release a plugin with this man’s name on it, it needs to live up to the hype.

The plugin boasts a number of features that include: 11 unique profiles to process kick, snare, toms, drum overhead, drum room, bass di, bass amp, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric piano and lead vocal. 

Each profile has a set of parameters controlling harmonics, EQs, compression and effects. The instrument profiles are low latency, making it suitable to use for recording as well as mixing and producing. And, as was a big selling point with the Al Schmitt plugin, the interface is sleek, minimalist and very easy to get around.

So when Chiccarelli describes this plugin as a tool for crafting “album-ready sounds”, it’s not pure bias. The (many) EQ options on offer are based on some of the best hardware from the ‘60s onwards. 

And after a quick bit of adjusting, you can quickly see that you have all the tools to achieve a sleek and professional sound, without being overburdened with unnecessary options. This is a common theme among Leapwing’s attractive and minimalist plugins.

And the options depend on which instrument profile you select, which is a very good thing in terms of getting brilliant results quickly and, again, avoiding decision fatigue during a session. Leapwing knows all too well that an acoustic guitar and an electric piano, as examples, don’t require matching profiles within the plugin.

As the first listed profiles are all drums, I stuck in a drum sample to see what kind of sound can be achieved and at what kind of speed. I first tried the Drum Room selection to get an overall feel for the acoustic drum beat I dragged into Logic. 

You can really add some extra bite by toggling up the Drive feature, while the Power feature is very impressive — by simply turning this right up, the sample I used suddenly sounded like drums being performed in a stadium or arena. 

If you crank both of those and the ‘Par Sat’ right up, you really do feel immersed in a live music setting with the best quality microphones imaginable.

You feel immersed in a live music setting with the best quality microphones imaginable.

I then zoned in on the kick sample with the matching profile in the plugin, which pleasingly has 10 EQ options available. These are really fun to mess around with; within seconds, my sample sounded like the foundation for a drum and bass track. 

And as you’d hope, you have all the possibility of making your kicks as vicious or as subtle as possible, especially with the ‘Par Smooth’ and ‘Par Power’ settings. There’s almost a danger of getting lost in EQing a single kick for an hour – it’s that effortless and enjoyable.

The snare profile takes this even further with four more EQ options, ranging from ‘EQ Low’ up to ‘EQ High’. And better yet, there are three reverb options — the ‘B’ option in particular can achieve a big, resounding reverb on your snare. 

Excellent stuff from a product that makes no claims of being a reverb plugin. The EQs are, again, wonderful, almost giving you the sense of loosening or tightening up a snare in real life. The “album-ready sounds” quote does come to mind, as I almost couldn’t believe how sleek and polished the snare sound I found on the internet was sounding almost immediately.

And finally, with there being an electric piano instrument profile, it would feel rude not to test out a synth sound. I fired up one of Logic’s Alchemy patches, so bear in mind this was a case of matching up a free synth sound with the Chiccarelli touch. 

With the EQ settings alone, you can almost pretend you have a lovely old analogue synthesiser in front of you and are manually adjusting its sound, or even flicking through a few of its presets.

Especially when I contrasted having the Drive, Power and Punch off versus fully cranked up, it’s truly impressive that you can achieve so much with the carefully curated, minimal options. I particularly enjoyed that I was able to mimic some analogue warmth to the instrument, especially when you emphasise the low frequencies with the EQ.

Chiccarelli himself recommends using this plugin first in a chain of effects, and this is solid advice. This Signature plugin works brilliantly also as a foundation for other effects to spring out of — just be sure to get the Chiccarelli sound you want first before moving onto the next plugin. That said, it can also excel as the final effect in a chain to apply that final touch.

This is another fantastic contribution from the small team at Leapwing Audio, and you can tell its earnest sessions with Mr Chiccarelli have paid off to the point of giving us laypeople something very close to his legendary setup at our fingertips.