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Joe Chiccarelli Signature Plug-in – A Real-World Review

Ever ask yourself what 10x Grammy-winner Joe Chiccarelli would do? With Leapwing Audio's new plug-in, you can find out.

Joe Chiccarelli Signature Plug-in
Joe Chiccarelli Signature Plug-in.
THE TAKEAWAY: “The Leapwing Audio Joe Chiccarelli Plug-in is a one-stop processor with so many uses—I’m finding new ones all the time.”
COMPANY: Leapwing Audio •
• Instant access to punchy, solid signal processing chains.
• I’d like to know the frequencies used in the 4-band EQ in a Profile.

What would Joe Chiccarelli do? The second plug-in in Leapwing Audio’s Signature Series was developed in hand with producer/engineer and 10-time Grammy and Latin Grammy winner Joe Chiccarelli. Compared to the first plug-in in the Leapwing series, focusing on Al Schmitt, Chiccarelli uses a more varied collection of outboard gear, which means Leapwing has analyzed many more and different EQs, preamps, compressors, distortion units, reverbs and effects to best represent the mixer’s engineering and mixing style.

The Joe Chiccarelli plug-in has 11 distinct Profiles, or processing chains, specifically designed for: kicks, snares, toms, drum overheads, drum rooms, bass DI, bass amp, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric piano, and lead vocals. The plug-in is intended to be an insert effect and comes with a resizable Retina interface. It works at up to 384 kHz (DXD) sample rates, and the instrument Profiles have low-enough latency to be usable in recording.


Each Profile has its own set of emulated (hardware) processors in specific chains that Chiccarelli would use on those instruments or vocals. Only the processors with available parameters show up when you select them, and there is no indication of the precise order. Typically, the chain order would start with Drive, then EQ or compressor, then parallel compression, then output. (The Drive control adds harmonic coloration based upon what is required for the particular instrument or vocal. Harmonic color comes from a blend of modeled Neve 1073 and API mic preamplifiers.)

From there, depending on the Profile selected, there are three different, emulated EQs used: an API 560 10-band graphic; a 4-band, proportional Q API 550B program EQ with different Profile- specific shelf/peak and frequencies; and a modeled Pultec EQP-1A only available in the Vocal profile, with notated 100 Hz and 10 kHz frequencies and up to ±8 dB boost/cut. I found myself wanting to know what frequencies were chosen in the 4-band EQ in each Profile.

Compressors and limiters also vary greatly between Profiles with different models of LA2A and LA3A in Optical Fast mode over to an UA 1176LN FET, or a dbx 160x VCA compressor/ limiter.

The available compressor/limiter parameters also vary according to the Profile. The prefix “Par” is added to the parameter name to indicate a processor that runs parallel. The control becomes a Wet/Dry balance.

The Sustain and Par Sustain controls model Zener diode-based limiters for adding warmth. Power and Par Power control a feedback-style 1176LN peak limiter, and Punch and Par Punch control the dbx 160 compressor. If Par Smooth comes up, then you’re driving a Neve 33609 stereo compressor emulation, and you’ll see and hear it in the Snare profile! Finally, Optical and Optical Fast Switch are available in some Profiles—I liked it in the Electric Guitar profile quite a bit. You cannot swap the compressors around from one Profile to another.

The plug-in also has specific reverbs set up with Chiccarelli’s settings: an AMS DMX 15- 80 digital delay, AMS RMX 16 reverb, Lexicon PrimeTime, and the echo chamber or one of the two EMT plates at Sunset Sound Studios in Hollywood, Calif. There is a simple fader to control the amount.


I had a pop song to mix in Pro Tools HDX where the producer was interested in getting a punchy drum sound to drive an aggressive overall feel. I started with a good-sounding drum kit recording and inserted Leapwing JC on the kick and snare The Snare drum profile will pop up ready to go if you name the track “Snare”—it’s called Track Name detection, and it’s supported in Pro Tools. I love it because it is one less thing to do!

The kick drum got the Kick profile with the 10-band graphic zeroed out and just 6.7 of Drive and 11.4 of Par Power. You can load a preset with different kick drum sound settings from a dropdown list, but I wanted to start from scratch and start building my own preset collection.

I removed a lot of “knock” (-3.5 dB) using the 500 Hz fader in the 10-band graphic EQ and pumped up 31 Hz to add some sub. I liked the Drive control way up on this kick—I was at 75 and Par Sustain, Par Smooth and Par Power were useful. Par Smooth added a nice attack that did not sound like just adding a huge high-frequency boost. I found that these Par controls should be cranked toward 100 percent wet to make a real difference.

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A great engineering feature with this plug-in is that both Input and Output levels are shown as instantaneous dBFS values.

The Snare drum track had both the 10-band graphic and 4-band equalizer. This particular track did not need a lot, but I loved a setting up to 50 of Reverb C (there are three reverb choices) effect on this stereo track, from Logic. I added a little 16 kHz and 2 kHz, Drive was set to 30, and Par Smooth was at 77. I had a snare sound in minutes without inserting more plug-ins after it!

Whatever Profile you have selected, an icon lights up in the center of the GUI showing input signal presence, and a surrounding variable blue glow indicates the amount of compression you’re using. It’s not too exact but looks pretty cool, and in a future update, the actual amount of gain reduction will be shown more conventionally.

A great engineering feature with this plug-in is that both Input and Output levels are shown as instantaneous dBFS and also K-Weighted LUFS values just below the I/O meters.


For my Pop song mix, both lead and backing vocals came together quickly with this plug-in. I put the Lead Vocal profile on the female lead vocal, with the EQP Pultec adding a smooth +10 at 10 kHz, otherwise flat in the EQ High section of the 4-band EQ. The Drive, Par Power, Power and Optical were at the default, and I just turned off the reverb, preferring my own external reverb treatment for this song. The singer stood out from the track with a unique presence!

The Pultec is numerical (like the hardware), while the rest of the EQs are calibrated in dB, also like the actual hardware. Other than to mouse down or option+click to zero out the boost/cut control, there is no way to bypass any of the individual EQ sections. The frequencies of each of the 4-band EQs are only listed as EQ Low, EQ Low Mid, EQ Mid-High and EQ High.

I particularly like the sound I got on this song’s stereo backing vocal track using the Female Rock Vocal preset. The backing vocals were the lead singer triple-tracked—three mono tracks panned out a little left-right. Each of the three tracks passed through an instance of Antares Auto-Tune Pro and was mixed to a stereo aux with one instance of the plug-in. I had Par Power at 11.4, Power at 100, and Optical at 100. EQ Low was only -1.8, Drive at 25.1, and Reverb C at 66. This was powerful and big-sounding for just three mono vocal tracks!

I took advantage of the Drive control a lot on this plug-in—it “jumps up” the overall level instantly to drive the compressors harder.


The Leapwing Audio Joe Chiccarelli Plug-in is a one-stop processor with so many uses—I’m finding new ones all the time for all the Profiles, even for instruments unrelated to the listed ones. The chain of processors is carefully tuned in these 11 Profiles to build a “produced sound” easily and fast! Now I know “what Joe Chiccarelli would do.”

Highly recommended! The Leapwing Joe Chiccarelli Plug-in is available at 64-bit in VST3, AAX, and AU formats for macOS 10.10 and higher and Windows 8 and 10.