Monthly Archives: January 2014

Review – Rob Papen Synth Bundles

 

Two synth bundles from Rob Papen nicely cover production needs for EDM and Urban genres and offer a good value in the bargain in our reviewer’s estimation.

by Jon Carroll, Jan. 2014

In the spring, Rob Papen released two ‘Limited-Edition’ synth bundles – the EDM Synth Bundle and the Urban Synth Bundle. In order to review the bundles, we’re going to need to look at what goes into both of them.

The EDM Synth Bundle is intended for artists creating Electronic Dance Music (henceforth, EDM) and includes three Rob Papen products: Predator, their front-line polysynth suitable for “analog” type timbres, Punch, their software drum synth, and Blade, their newer additive synth.

The Urban Synth Bundle is for… well… Urban genres. Like the EDM bundle, it has Predator and Punch, but trades Blade for SubBoomBass, Rob Papen’s bass-oriented synth.

Before discussing the bundles as a unit let’s look at each of the component synths.

 

Predator


Predator is a three-oscillator virtual analog synth.

There, that sums it up, OK, what’s next?

More seriously, that is the basic description for Predator, but it is so much more. The feature set for Predator can be – and often is – compared to an Access Virus and rightly so, because it can do anything a Virus can, and more.

 

Oscillator Section

Three virtual analog oscillators, each featuring 128 waveforms, ranging from typical analog-style saw, sine, square (with PWM) and triangle, to more exotic harmonic and inharmonic waveforms. This helps it to extend the sound available beyond standard “subtractive synth” sounds. All three oscillators can be set to be free-running, and oscillators two and three can be synced to oscillator one. Oscillators can be set to modulate other oscillators, giving classic cross-modulation effects, ring modulation, phase modulation and FM, as well as min, max and other modes. Each oscillator also has its own sub-oscillator, a square wave set one octave below the oscillator’s pitch.

The ‘Spread’ function gives you the equivalent of a ‘supersaw’ or ‘hypersaw’ on each oscillator and is not dependent on oscillator type. It can be adjusted from anything ranging from a very subtle thickening of the oscillator all the way up to a full-blown trance polysynth sound. This is on top of (and can be used in conjunction with) Predator’s 2, 4 and 6-voice Unison modes.

 

Filter

Predator is in possession of two multimode filters, with filter one having 6 dB low and high-pass  filters; two different flavors of 12 dB low, band, notch, and high pass filters; 18 dB low and high pass filters;  two different versions of  24 dB low, band, notch, and high pass filters; 36 dB low and high pass filters; negative and positive comb filters; a vox filter; and two and four band formant filters. It also has a pre-filter distortion stage with “Edgy” and “Smooth” modes plus an amount control. Filter two has all of the above filter modes plus two extra split modes where filter two operates separately from filter one.

 The filter section has its own dedicated, tempo syncable LFO with ten waveforms including sample & hold, an amount control that can be set to multiple different modulation sources including the mod wheel, midi CCs and internal sources like the noise generator, and three modes of operation. It also has its own dedicated envelope.

 

Amp

Located in one corner of the filter section is the amplifier section, with volume, pan, and velocity to volume translation controls, and the dedicated amp envelope.

 

Modulation

Predator’s modulation section is where you can really bring out the sounds you create in the synth.

First, there is a dedicated syncable Pitch Mod LFO, with Amount and an Amount Control that, like the filter LFO, can be set to a variety of sources, with the same variety of LFO waveforms as the aforementioned LFO.

 Then Predator offers two additional “Free” envelopes to be router according to the user’s wishes. Both feature a huge list of destinations above and beyond the two dedicated filter and amp envelopers.

Next, there are two “Free” LFOs that are routable just like the Free Envelopes, with all the same options as the Filter LFO.

Lastly, there is an eight-position modulation matrix with literally dozens of sources, destinations and available amount control sources. This can become very helpful if you need to  take something from one of the free envelopes or LFOs and route it to an additional destination because although there are some “group” destinations, those controls cannot be routed to more than one destination without using the modulation matrix.

 

Arpeggiator

Hidden on the flip side of the modulation section are the arpeggiator settings.  Predator features a programmable arpeggiator with between one and sixteen steps – so instead of the standard “up, down, up/down, random” arps, you can set it to play more complex sequences.  It can be adjusted to run at from ¼ to 4x the host’s BPM speed, programmed by key entry, and arp patterns can be saved separately to move between programs. The “Free” spot on the arp is a modulation output from the arp available for routing in the mod matrix, allowing you to set things like filter tweaks as part of your programmed arp.

 

FX

Tucked in above the mod matrix is the effects section, Predator has three effects channels and a variety of effects that can be applied. Some are definitely the standard effects you’d expect while others can be labeled as technically additions to the synthesis engine. Multiple types of delays, distortion, flangers, and others are joined by things like a waveshaper, another filter (allowing another filter to be applied after filter 1 and 2, a “Low Fi” effect that acts as both a bitcrusher and decimator, a separate comb filter, and both an amp sim and cabinet sim. Predator sounds pretty good sans effects (especially after using the “Advanced” menu to turn up analog detuning, letting the oscillators bead against each other, see below) There is also a two-slot mod matrix dedicated to routing external controls to the FX section. The fact is we’re used to hearing synths with effects and the presence of a generous and good-sounding effects section is a major plus.


Play Settings, Portamento, and Advanced Settings

And down in the lower right corner are the Play settings, where things like arp, unison, legato, and portamento are set. Predator supports 2, 4 and 6-voice unison – which when combined with oscillator spread, can give some truly massive sounds – three mono modes, two legato modes, and four different portamento settings.

 

On the flip side of the preset browser are the Advanced settings, where you can tweak the analog-style detuning of the oscillators (thus allowing oscillators and voices to be subtly detuned against each other, resulting in a richer sound), global tuning, oversampling rate (default is 4x, it goes as high as 32x, and 32x only increases CPU usage by about 25%), and the slope of various response curves. Adjusting the slope of response curves, especially on the envelopes, can be seen as a vital element in imitating the sound of certain synthesizers as their envelope shapes were rarely linear between stages, and their concave or convex shapes varied between manufacturers and the exact way the envelopes were implemented. You can also set guitar-like strumming here.

 

Preset Section and Preset Manager


The preset section and the preset manager feel like the weakest sections of Predator. Presets are stored in banks of 128, like the hardware synthesizers that Predator is trying too hard to emulate, with no less than forty-six banks coming with the plugin, with presets for various genres and types of sounds. To really browse the presets, you need to hit the “manager” button and view the complete file manager … and to look at what is going into that sound you have to flip back to the main window. Thank goodness the plugin can still be “played” while  browsing presets, so you don’t have to flip back to
hear it … and like the front panel, the file manager has a “preview” button that plays a C3 note so you can immediately audition sounds.

Back Panel


However, the system for organizing and managing presets has a purpose: Predator supports MIDI bank and program change messages. This feature would be very helpful in live setting if you’re playing Predator from a laptop and need to switch sounds for the next song – assuming you aren’t using something in the vein of Mainstage to handle your song presets. The back panel – made to look like the underside of a hardware synth – is where these features can be turned on or off. You can also set the tuning for A above middle C, and load alternate tuning scales here.

 

Morphing

Predator can create new sounds by morphing between two different presets, thus making a quick and easy way to create new sounds by creating a hybrid of two existing ones. A neat feature to include, but unfortunately the morphing is static and you can’t use it to dynamically move between two presets (like, for instance, an AN1X).

 

Summarizing Predator

Overall, Predator is a great sounding synth capable of an amazing variety of sounds. It features easy programmability, with deeper structures just a click away. At first glance, Predator may simply look like a poor man’s Virus in plugin format (specifically, it graphically seems intentionally reminiscent of a Virus C, but its synthesis features match up better with a TI), but there are points where it can go further. On a relatively modern CPU (I tested Predator on a Core2Quad 8300 PC) it isn’t very processor-intensive, so running multiple instances to get all of your synth sounds in a project is not unfeasible. Predator also comes with “Predator FX”, which is a version of predator designed to apply effects and filtration to external signals – a very tempting prospect especially for those of us with old filter-less digital synths that we still like the sound of.

 

Punch


Our look at Punch (and the other two synths) in this review is going to be brief because we hope to have a separate full review of it later.

Punch is Rob Papen’s drum machine.  It features both virtual analog and sample-based drum sounds, and you can import your own samples on top of that. Instead of the typical 12 drum sounds, it features up to 24. The step sequencer used to sequence the drums is reminiscent of the arp programmer in Predator, with the addition of the drum programming oriented ‘Flam’ setting.

Each of the drum types (bass, snare, etc.) features multiple models for the analog oscillators. These are likely to be emulating the characteristic sounds of certain analog drum machines, but I’d leave the decision of which is which to the reader (and to my associate doing the in-depth review of Punch.) On top of that, there are samples of classic drum machines, and additional drum samples … and your own samples … and filters of multiple types … and effects … oh my.

An interesting thing about how drum sequencing is implemented in Punch is instead of just having several linear sequences, Punch has four “Grooves”, and four “Breaks”, each of which has four tracks for separate Punch sounds. You can create, for instance, your basic bass drum/snare sequence on Groove 1, a hi-hat pattern on Groove 2, a different hi-hat pattern on Groove 3 … and then you bring these grooves and breaks in and out of your overall drum sequence just by holding the appropriate keys on your keyboard. Punch does also, of course, support playing the drums directly, responding to MIDI notes below the Groove and Break sequences for each of the separate drum sounds in the preset.

 

Blade


Blade is the newest of the synths included in Rob Papen’s bundles, and is a bit difficult to quantify – for good reason. Blade attempts to put a user-friendly face onto the difficult concept of additive synthesis. Since it includes a filter, it can be said to be both an additive and subtractive synth, but additive is its primary aim.

Blade’s “oscillator” is called the Harmolator, and builds its waveform off of up to 96 partials. Unlike other additive synthesizers which allow you to set the level and motion of each separate partial, Blade uses a set of different timbres, including vocal sounds, to give you your starting sounds, plus 12 controls for shaping the timbre, including a sub-oscillator that can be set to several different positions both above and below the primary timbre. The timbre can then be animated using the “ripple” (not an LFO, the LFO is separate), and run through a distortion, multimode filter, and two-slot effects module. The additive oscillators can be further shaped and animated using the huge X-Y pad that dominated Blade’s interface, which can be set to modulate the oscillator and filter in different ways, and then play recorded X-Y motions with each note, or respond to live movement. If you even needed a touch screen for your PC … anyway, it keeps the sound from being very static.

Blade also gives you a representation of what the harmonics (or the waveform, if you prefer that setting) looks like for your sound. If you set this to “Dyn” it even shows that representation in full motion, so you can see what the animated changes to the timbre is doing.

Blade also has an envelope and LFO that can be routed to various timbre properties in varying amounts (hence the little bank of knobs under the more traditional envelope and LFO settings) and on top of that it has both a complex (multi-page) modulation amounts section and a four-slot mod matrix.

Blade excels at creating the kind of sounds that additive synths are probably best known for – glassy sounds, long evolving pads, and the like – but also can be made to sound surprisingly analog if that is what you’re looking for. The presets seem to come with a large number of dubstep-oriented “wobble” sounds, but those are contrasted by “trancey” contributions from authors like Rob Lee, and more industrial sounds from other contributors.

 

SubBoomBass


The Urban bundle replaces Blade with SubBoomBass, a two-oscillator VA bass synth. Its interface is an orange-yellow color that may possibly be taken as a reference to a recent analog monosynth … or not.  Though similar to Predator superficially, it does have some features that Predator does not (and vice versa) so the two complement one another. It has one less oscillator and lacks many of the filter modes of Predator, and lacks many of the spectral waveforms, but includes several sampled waveforms that Predator does not have. Both the filter and the amplifier have their own dedicated envelopes, the filter has its own dedicated LFO, and then there is a “Free” Envelope and LFO not dedicated to anything.

SubBoomBass has two sequencers instead of predator’s one, and Osc 1 and 2 can be sequenced separately. So you can make a squelchy 303 bass line with Osc 1 and use samples playing on Osc 2 to play a  drum loop… there are a couple presets that literally do exactly this. SubBooomBass’s flip panels on the front can also expose of hide the more complex parts of the interface as required, which can give it a cleaner and simpler feel.

And is it very good at basslines. Seriously. But don’t discount its ability to do leads, or to create synthesized drum sounds either, as it is also clearly made with those in mind.

 

The Bundles

The two bundles have minor differences – namely, Blade in one and SubBoomBass in the other – but either one represents a very good deal. The bundles are $349 for a $179 synth (Predator), a $179 drum synth/sequencer (Punch), and a third synth that is either $119 (SubBoomBass) or $139 (Blade). You’re paying less than the price of Predator and Punch for all three together!

As for the sound?

   Rob Papen Bundle Demo

This is a quick test track created using Punch and Predator. The pad, bass line, and drums are all slightly tweaked presets. Effects are the ones that come with the plugins, with some EQ applied (Reaper’s ReaFIR in EQ mode). Nothing amazing but not to shabby for a couple hours’ work.

The items in each bundle complement each other and while yes they are genre-targeted, it was done by people with a good grasp of the genres involved. They represent a good packaging and good value for great sounding plugins that can be used for any genre not just the ones listed… just making up your mind which ones you want may be difficult. Of course, if you’re really having that problem, you may want to look at Rob Papen’s Explorer II bundle, which has all of his products in a single bundle.

  

 

Ginno’s Sound Investments


 

Gino Legaspi looks at four libraries from Zero-G and Black Octopus in an ongoing series of such reviews.

by Ginno Legaspi, Jan. 2014

Cyberstorm from Zero-G

Since the release of suberb Zero-G titles Perception and Deep Impact, I’ve been a fan of Frederic Devanlay’s work as a sound-smith specialist. He has once again teamed up with Zero-G to produce what they describe as “huge toolbox of sounds” called Cyberstorm. It doesn’t matter if you’re a game or film/tv composer, Cyberstorm offers just about every sci-fi & futuristic sound imaginable.  In fact, there are 1300-plus epic sounds divided into 14 folders. Categories include Doors, Drones, Explosions, Machinery, Soundscapes, Mecha, Hi-Tech, Servos, Electronics, Impacts, Voices, Weapons and Whoosh. The samples in this library are delivered in 44.1kHz/24-bit WAV and Apple Loops format, plus soft-sampler patches for EXS24, Kontakt, HALion and NN-XT instruments. According to Frederic, the technology used in the creation of this library includes lots of synths, such as NI Skanner, Bass Station Nord Lead and Virus, as well as recordings of engines, metal scrapes and other sound source sampled. I reckon there has to be plenty of processing, morphing, looping and torturing of the original source materials involved because the sounds in this library are very intricate and out of this world, but at the same time beautiful and inspiring. If you’re a composer and movies such as Transformers, Battleship and Pacific Rim are your “thing”, then this library will not disappoint.  A great buy.    

 

WEB:

www.timespace.com

FORMAT:

Acid Wav, Apple Loops, EXS24, Kontakt, Reason NN-XT 

LIST PRICE:

60.96 £ including VAT

 

The London Sessions from Zero-G

The London Sessions from Zero-G is a sample library that was recorded in one of the most popular recording studios in the world, Dean Street in Soho, London. Top-notch British session musicians in London were brought in to record drums, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, piano, organ and synthesizers, live strings, percussions, brass, woodwinds, vibraphone, clarinet, music box, Mellotron, harp, etc.  Even a surprising vocal FX and turntable scratches are also thrown in for good measure.

As the title and DVD cover suggest, this sample library is suitable for all types of music, especially contemporary pop, funk, rock and soul. But as a producer, you use this as you see fit. The library comes with 1700 samples included, all recorded in 24-bit format. It contains 16 construction kit folders that can be mixed and matched to form a basis to your own new production or simply use the individual samples as an inspiration for song starters. The loops play well together and are great to listen to. A lot of thought and masterful skills & techniques have been poured into the production of this library by Jake Carter (producer, programmer and engineer).  When I auditioned the loops in ACID, I find the guitars just wonderful sounding. The drum loops are very fresh and organic. You can’t go wrong with the strings either – very well recorded.

I find The London Sessions useful in your everyday sampling need. It has great selections of loops – whether you need a snippet of brass or a 4-bar guitar riff you can find what you need. Make this library a part of your list of future things to buy.  

 

WEB:

www.timespace.com

FORMAT:

Acid WAV, AIFF Apple Loops, Reason NN-XT, EXS24 and Halion

LIST PRICE:

60.95 £

 

Siren by Veela from Black Octopus 

Every producer out there knows that it’s hard to find a decent vocal sample library: one that is well recorded, with plenty of useful loops and a killer performance by the vocalist. If you’re a producer looking for such library, then welcome to a world of quality vocal samples in Siren by Veela. This vocal sound-ware by Black Octopus comprises many beautiful vocal hooks, angelic vocal phrases and even random weird vocal performances are included.  Veela, of course, is a good vocalist in her own right with plenty of chart topping tracks in Beatport under her belt. So the idea of sampling her pipes is only appropriate.  Stat-wise, this library features 15 construction kits with the samples labeled accordingly with key & tempo info. Format delivery is in 44.1/24-bit WAV file. According to Black Octopus, her vocals were recorded using some of the best gear available, such as a Neuman TLM103, Studer A800, Empirical Labs Fatso, LA2A compressor and SSL E Channel Strip.  Samples were recorded dry, but that’s good if you want to add own effects processing or twistedly mangle them into oblivion. And believe me, with the amount of included samples it will take years to exhaust all of them.  In this collection, my favorites are the “Vocal FX” folder. Those vocals reverse with lots of dense reverb are so awesome for intros. Overall, this is a good sample pack especially if you’re looking to add a vocal flare to their productions. Sexy!

 

WEB:

http://www.resonance-sound.com/

FORMAT:

24-bit WAV Stereo

PRICE:

36.95 €

 

Corey Friesenhan Vocal Sessions Volume 1 by Black Octopus

Also in this installment of Sound Investments is a vocal library from Black Octopus called Vocal Sessions Vol. 1. Just like Veela, Corey Friesenhan is a professional Canadian singer/songwriter with a powerful, wide vocal range. If EDM is your area of production, then take note what this library has to offer. Vocal Sessions consist of twelve construction song-type kits that are oriented toward anyone who is into trance, house, pop, dubstep, pop and more. There are 540+ WAV files weighing at 1 GB.  These range from soft to melodic to hard performances. There are Tones (vowel recordings), Swells (choir-like swells), Vocal FX (great for transitions) and many more. Parts include a variety of takes, harmonies and double tracked vocals – all labeled with key and tempo info for flexibility. Most of the samples are recorded in 135 BPM.  But by chopping them up and manipulating them, you can create an endless supply of vocal licks for future use. Of the samples included, my favorites are the vocal “Swells” folder because they are great for fills and they can add drama to sections of your songs.  The mutated loops are also great if you’re looking for a gated, robotic effect. Overall, this is a nice collection of samples worthy of checking out.    

 

WEB:

http://www.resonance-sound.com/

FORMAT:

24-bit WAV Stereo

PRICE:

36.95 €

 

 

Ginno Legaspi: www.facebook.com/ginnolegaspi

 

Review – MIDI Guitar and MIDI Bass by Jam Origin

If you have great guitar skills but not-so-great keyboard technique, then maybe this software is just what you need to quickly lay down MIDI tracks for your arrangements.

by A. Arsov, Jan. 2014

MIDI Guitar is definitively one of the most useful pieces of software that I’ve gotten in last few years. I’m a guitar player and my piano technique is not among the best (to be gentle with myself). I can play keyboard, but it is always a challenge for me: finding the right melody, the combination of chords, and the appropriate finger placement to play it all. I used to have one MIDI guitar back in the day, but it was an old technology – almost useless – so I disconnected the MIDI pick up and so I still use this old Casio Guitar as a normal electric guitar. New MIDI guitars, or even just MIDI pick-ups are a bit too expensive and if you even get one you should spend some quality time to integrate it to your setup. Not my cup of tea anymore.


The (Jam) Origin of the Denmark Revolution

I didn’t even know that software like MIDI Guitar existed until I was browsing through some tutorials for Samplitude. There I found a video explaining how to connect a sequencer with this piece of software that comes from a Denmark – a MIDI Guitar. Five minutes later I’d already played my guitar through the demo version of MIDI Guitar, recording some MIDI clips. There are still few things that you can’t play or record with MIDI Guitar, but even with this first version, the end result is quite similar to the one that you can get with the newest Roland equipment (that I tried at my friend’s house). Quite impressive.

MIDI Guitar can transform your guitar signal into polyphonic MIDI data. Pitch bend recognition works perfectly. Playing lead is more than solid if you don’t push it over the limit, playing dirty, fast or moody parts. I discovered that it works better with my second, Casio guitar, since my Tele has strings too close to the neck and the software had problems recognizing note off on occasion. After I switched guitars, everything worked as it should. You still must take care about your playing technique, but having all those chords and melodic lines at the reach of your guitar neck and being able to record it in real time as a MIDI track, or simply by controlling the synth or sound library, is a real bonus. I was always a bit jealous when I see keyboard players recording chords and solo in one take, but now I’m also there.

It works great on not so fast solos and even better on slow arpeggiated chords. So, no fast strumming, this is still just a MIDI guitar and not a Wonderland contrivance, but I have to admit that I was amazed how accurate it detected all MIDI notes when I strummed a few chords slowly. If you are a lousy keyboard player, than this could be just the right thing for you. Even if you are moderately accomplished keyboard player, this software could be still useful, as licks are pretty different for guitar as they are for the keyboard.

What Does It Look Like?

For $99.95 USD you get a nice piece of software. Connecting it with DAW is straightforward, as you can find video instruction on Jam Origin site for almost all sequencers that are on the market right now. So, five minutes later, the adventure begins. Of course you need a decent ASIO audio card with latency 512 ms or less (recommended by Jam Origin) for plugging a cable into your audio card. Part of the adventure is trying all the options to get results that are as good possible. The user interface is nicely designed, so you can’t really lose yourself in it, in spite of their being plenty of controllers. On the first Essential window you can set sensitivity and pitch band range along with Output and basic Mixer setting. Nothing fancy there. The mixer offers an input sensitivity slider along with a MIDI velocity slider. It is really nice how everything is arranged in order. After a little trial and error I got nice dynamic response on the MIDI side along with optimized sensitivity. We all know that guitarists are ladies and not ones smart enough complain too much when spending hours tweaking three knobs trying to get “that” sound. So, those five or ten minutes spent on this piece of software are just an intro for a long period of acclimation for finding “that” sound. “You know” (with a gazing pinky).

The next window is a bit trickier, as there is not only a gain, bass, treble, and mid knobs, but much more. It’s similar to the first window, but in this Advanced window you will find sliders for fine tuning your pitch bands, or even to deselect them. (Did I mention that pitch bend works as a charm?) Use it for selecting the general sound of your guitar, default, bright or dark. You can also select polyphonic or monophonic (no, it is not a bigamy issue, my dear guitar fellows, it is about one string as opposed to many of them.) Third is a plugin window upon which I haven’t elaborated. At the end of the day I’m a guitar player, so I spent whole day toying with this and it doesn’t leave much time to discover all the tiny things.

Play, Play…

The whole thing is “set it and forget it”, because when all the settings are decided, all you have to do is to finally record twenty seven songs in the first day. You can now accomplish all those things that you left for another day, one when you’ve finally learned to play those bloody keyboard parts well enough to record all the things that easily come under your finger on the guitar. Trust me, this plug in will postpone the day when you will learn to play your keyboard from the soon to the never. As quickly as I discovered what could be done and what couldn’t, I spent hours playing and recording – believe it or not, just download demo and try it yourself. It is such a joy to play all those synths competently in real time, not just banging with three fingers on a keyboard as we did before.

Yes, now I’m a keyboard player. And how am I playing my keyboard? With a guitar of course.

So, I had never heard of this company and this plug in before, but now I know them. And now you also know them. Share the knowledge, my dear fellow guitarists!

P.S. MIDI Bass is still in the test stage, I’ve tried it, found few drawbacks, talked with Ole. It will be fixed, and at the moment looks promising.

More info and demo along with a video presentation on:    http://jamorigin.com/press/

 

$99.95 USD. Almost no space used on your disk, light on CPU and very addictive.

Voices of Prague & Soloists of Prague by Virharmonic

Voices of Prague and Soloists of Prague offer some possibilities that can even come remarkably close to credible singing of words, at least in our reviewer’s estimation.

by A. Arsov, Jan. 2014

There are only two kinds of sound libraries: The ones where programmers did the all programming for you, and you can just enjoy using them, and secondly are the ones where you should program all sorts of things because the developer didn’t do it. Thankfully Ondrej did the job. Neither library is a one-hundred-percent substitute for real vocalists, but both are easy and fun for use, offering many tools for fine-tuning the details (not that you need to do that). The text editor is simple and pretty self-explaining; all you have to do is to write some text, copy it between various voices and start toying with a keyboard and mod-wheel.

Voices of Prague

Voices of Prague is a UVI Workstation-powered Choir library with a text editor where you can add your lyric for the choir. Surprisingly the whole thing doesn’t sound like Yamaha Vocaloid (in translation).

As we said before, you can’t replace a real choir with this library, mainly because of an accent, as a real vocalist can pronounce words more logically than programmed samples, especially if we consider that humans pronounce some words a bit differently in a sentence according to the other words used in the same sentence. But the truth should be said: Most of the time it is hard to understand the words sung by real choirs unless you already know the song from before. So, if you give this Czech Choir a few sentences from your chorus, adding a line or two of a live vocalist on top of it, you can make wonders. This is a common trick used with string libraries, and it provides even better results with this vocal library.

What Do We Get?

The whole library is divided into three basic windows: Mixer, Settings, and Libretto engine, the last one being the default window which we get when we start the library. At the right side of the Libretto engine window is a voice selector where we can assign the desired MIDI channel for each one of the four basic voices: Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, and Basses. UVI really nailed this one, as usually articulations, or different voices, are ranked on key-switches. For example, in Kontakt you should load another instance of the same instrument (which doesn’t use any additional memory resources) selecting another key-switch, while here is everything so straightforward, at the reach of your fingertips. This is just one of the many user-friendly additions offered by this library.

In the middle there is a score and stuff like a window where you can write your lyric from bar to bar. When you reach the last bar, you can press the next-page arrow at the top of the window, selecting a new page, so there is no quantity limit here; if you have enough time you can write the whole Bible here. There is also a Presets drop-down menu where you can find a nice number of various Latin words for some quick, instant results. The library is mostly adopted to the English language, but thankfully there is such a big number of letters and syllables available on the typewriter sort of keyboard under the score window, that you can easily make some sentences in your native language.

At first I was a bit confused about finding the right letter, but after some time, especially after I finally printed all letters and syllables explained in the manual, everything comes to its place. All available syllables and letters are also explained with some examples, so it is not hard to figure how to use them to get better results.

At the right side is a Copy/Paste window which allows you to copy all the text or just a selected part to other voice, so making a whole libretto is almost a piece of cake.

For all trial-and-error types of works there is an erase button for erasing the last letter and the most desired knob in such sort of libraries – the Restart button – which will bring the next MIDI note to the start position. I have one similar library and had enormous problems pressing keys on my keyboard over and over, browsing through the lyric to bring it back to the start position. At first you may get the impression that writing words phonetically is a defect, but after some time you will notice that it is really joyful and funny to do things that way. After all, making a music should be a pleasurable, funny thing.

Mix

The next window, reachable through the mixer sign at the right upper corner, is a mixer where we can fine-tune the general sound. There you can find a volume slider for every voice along with microphone volume. Every voice is recorded with three microphone positions, close, decca, and far, and choosing one of those positions may reduce the memory load. Microphone positions can be switched on and off through the small buttons under the volume slider. I’m a bit old, and as my computer is also a bit old, this came as a lifesaver for me. And this is only the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the controllers that are accessible here, panning and stereo width controllers for every voice, Ensemble, Poly legato along with presets containing various microphone positions and auto-split function for the keyboard, stab link and Ensembler which activate the ability to play chords.

A Picky Not

For all those unrealized programmers, picky warriors and other demanding fellows, there is also a settings window where you can fine-tune specific vowels from the specific voice. It is divided into a few separated windows: Vowel Sequencer and Ensembler are the first, most noticeable ones. In the Vowel Sequencer, you can choose any letter or syllable from specific voice, fine-tuning it by changing the attack, release, adding delay or volume. The Ensembles section will allow you to tweak the spread, time, tuning and volume along with a tempo of the selected voice. There is also a Reverb with two main controllers, mix and size; the latter is for changing the size of the room. There is a Legato section for controlling the volume and time of the legato and the Sustain section, with a hold-vowel function along with switching on of the poly legato mode. The last one is Auto Split which works only if the Auto Split function is selected in the main window, splitting the keyboard into various voices and defining the keyboard range for every voice.

With all those controllers you can fine-tune and humanize specific vowels, adopting them to your needs. Thank Zeus I’m picky on some other fields, and, therefore, I didn’t use this section too much, but all in all, only the sky is the limit.

Both libraries also have some additional functions for controlling the dynamics of the used parts. With a keyboard’s mod-wheel you can change the dynamics from pianissimo up to fortissimo.

If you still have somewhere your old sustain pedal (I have to dig through the old boxes for mine), then this is the right time to use it. It can nicely tighten the transition between syllables inside the played word.

Soloists of Prague

The main difference is that you get a soloist in this library and not choir sections as they are presented in Voices of Prague. The main result is a bit less authentic when you listen to just one solo voice, isolated without any background. But when you put it in a content with a music, or when you use more voices together, all those imperfections become far less obvious. So this one is also not meant as a full replacement for a live vocalist, but if you want to add a Soprano or Alto voice, or even my favorite from this library – Tenor, or even maybe Bass vocal part to your Choir arrangement or even pop arrangement, then this is one seems as almost a perfect solution for such a task.

All other components and controllers are pretty similar to what they are in Voices of Prague. Maybe the main difference is that you will need to use much more your mod-wheel to achieve better results, as a solo voice is far more sensitive regarding the dynamic range than the choir. This is not a programming issue, but it is related to the natural differences between the solo voice and the bunch of them.

All Together

Most of the controllers in this library can be controlled through the MIDI continuous controllers, and the end results could be fine-tuned with many additional parameters, but mostly all you have to do is to toy with syllables, trying to teach your soloist or your new domestic choir to talk properly. As with teaching kids, it is a funny adventure which brings you plenty of joy when you achieve the final results. Voices Of Prague and Soloists of Prague are two of the most user-friendly libraries that I have had the honor to play with till now, and secondly, the end results are very impressive. When I pressed a few chords for the first time my whole family goes: “Wow, what’s that?”

So, no matter that it could happen here and there that some word could sound a bit odd, as a whole it is pretty damn impressive.

Voices of Prague will cost you $399 USD, but for that money, you get the whole choir; it is less than a C-note per separate group of voices. (If cars can be sold by advertising them as: “Pay five dollars a day,” why shouldn’t we separate those Choirs on voices?)

Soloists of Prague is just $199 USD, (less than 50 bucks per voice).

No (more) iLok required – just register and enjoy your new products. 

More info about libraries can be find on http://www.virharmonic.com/

and the main impression can be heard on https://www.youtube.com/user/Virharmonic

Pimp Your Plugin

Do you feel envious of those with access to full-featured, high-end plug-ins? Here are a few tips on how you can bring high-end functionality to your inexpensive low-end units with little expense.

by David Baer, Jan. 2014

Lexus Features on a Kia Budget for Your DAW Effects

Home studio producers who are just getting started or who are operating on a tight budget may occasionally feel envious of those with access to full-featured, high-end plug-ins. I’m talking about effects that commonly support independent stereo channel control, Mid-Side processing and/or multi-band capabilities.  Fab Filter plug-ins, to name one example, nearly always offer independent stereo and M/S capability and have several modules that do multi-band as well.  But this kind of quality and control is rarely found in the modules that come bundled with a DAW or those that are free (or very low cost) independent effects.  High functionality usually comes at a premium price.

Granted, any simple plug-in can be drafted into M/S or multi-band service within a DAW using send busses.  But doing this not only takes a fair amount of time to set up and is cumbersome, such configurations must be built from scratch each time you want to set them up.

However, there is a way to achieve this goal without spending an inordinate amount of money.  It involves acquiring a VST “rack” module that can host VSTs in parallel fashion and which has (or can host) M/S conversion modules.  Blue Cat Audio’s MB-7 Mixer is such a plug-in.  It appears to be highly capable, but its $129 USD price is a bit too much to allow a “low-budget” label.

Another possibility is DDMF’s Metaplugin.  It can do everything we’re talking about here and its everyday price is $49 USD (with brief occasional sales offering significant discounts for those who are decisive and who are on DDMF’s mailing list).  We’ll be using Metaplugin in this tutorial to illustrate how easy it is to put together both M/S and multi-band composite plug-ins in no time at all.

Metaplugin can host most VST plug-ins (and AU on the Mac), with a few exceptions.  If your DAW offers some older Direct X plug-ins, you can forget those.  Waves plug-ins, with their unique underlying technology will not work, nor will plug-ins that are restricted to running only within a host DAW.  Finally, for now anyway, Metaplugin does not support the VST3 format, although Metaplugin’s developer, Christian Siedschlag, promises that VST3 compatibility will be forthcoming when the C++ JUCE class library (a free technology widely used in multimedia applications) adds VST3 support.  Metaplugin comes in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, with the 64-bit version able to host 32-bit plug-ins via JBridge.

Metaplugin actually has three components: the plug-in host itself, a simple L/R to M/S (and vice versa) module, and a four-band splitter module.  To use Metaplugin, simple put an instance into your DAW as you would any plug-in.  The initial interface looks like this:


Right click to load a hosted effect (or drag from file browser window).  Double click the icon to see the effect’s UI.  If you’re plug-ins are scattered about in many directories, navigation to them can be a little tedious, but once you’ve got one loaded, you can easily get more of the same with a context menu option.

Use the mouse to create connections by dragging an output to an input (or vice versa).  The white “terminals” are audio and the yellow ones MIDI.  Metaplugin supports MIDI input if you need that level of control.  In fact Metaplugin can host a synth as easily as an effect.  But you do have to make sure MIDI is getting routed to the Metaplugin instance, which is sometimes easier said than done, depending on your DAW.

But we’ll be focusing exclusively on audio routing in this tutorial.  You can just host plug-ins in parallel and serial combinations or you can get really fancy and introduce M/S or multi-band processing.

To convert an L/R signal pair to M/S, include an instance of the companion MidSide helper plug-in prior to the effect you want to operate in M/S mode (and presumably include another after the effect to convert back to L/R).  For multi-band, use the companion Crossover plug-in.  You’ll see an example of both techniques below.

That’s all there is too it.  When you’ve finished your creation, you can save the preset for effortless reuse elsewhere.  Easy-peasy!

We’re going to look at two roll-your-own effect examples here: a multi-band delay effect, and an effect that applies reverb to the side signals only, leaving the middle crystal clear. I am not going to demonstrate how one can expose controls in the hosted effects to automation, but it’s rather straightforward and the documentation clearly shows how it would be done.  Just consider that an exercise for the reader to complete.  😉

I used SONAR X2 to host these two projects, but I used non-SONAR effects to include within Metaplugin.  In one case, a SONAR delay was direct X, and a SONAR-bundled reverb I might have otherwise use was hobbled outside of SONAR (that is, it works only when directly hosted by SONAR, but not indirectly hosted via Metaplugin).

First, let’s build a multi-band delay.  I wanted a three-band effect with different delay setups within each band.  The illustration below shows the Metaplugin interface and the accompanying crossover UI.  I’m not using one of the available bands (three was plenty in this case), but could have added a fourth.  In fact I could have added even more bands by cascading the crossover plug-ins within Metaplugin.


 

Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge

For the delays, I used the highly-qualified Fab Filter Timeless 2 effect, ignoring all but its most fundamental features.  You can see the three instances in the images to the right.  I enabled the HP filter for the lowest frequency band and the LPF for the highest.  No other filtering was necessary.  From there it was just a matter of dialing in the desired delay parameters for each band and setting the wet-dry ratio.  I controlled the ratio within Timeless 2, but could have as easily done it at the higher Metaplugin level.

You can listen to the results in the brief clip below.  An Omnisphere factory preset was used unaltered and with no other effects in the processing chain.  The clip contains a short passage with Metaplugin disabled followed by one with the effect doing its thing.

   Multiband Delay Demo

The wet level was set little higher than it would want it in normal circumstances to be more easily heard.  All in all, I was quite pleased with the results, and I could easily see coming back to use this effect in other contexts.

Building the M/S reverb composite effect was even easier than the multi-band delay.  For this I used the Nomad Factory Blueverb effect, which has a pleasant vintage style (I was not after a breathtakingly realistic reverb by any means).  The idea in this case was to add some aural haziness to the side signals while maintaining complete clarity in the center.  The Metaplugin interface used for this, along with the two MidSide helpers, is shown below.


And here is the Blueverb setting used.


As you can see, this is all very straightforward – something you could do yourself in no time at all.  The results can be heard below.  This time, there was one additional plug-in added inserted before Metaplugin: an instance of Melda Production’s MStereoSpread.  This was done because the Omnisphere preset didn’t have a lot of inherent stereo content, so MStereoSpread was employed to add some.  Otherwise, there is nothing else in the mix.

   MS Reverb Demo

Once again, I was very pleased with what this effect added, although, again, I was a bit more heavy-handed with the wet signal for illustration purposes.

Now, even if you think these particular usages in my examples here are boring or unsuitable to your style of music, I have a hard time believing anyone couldn’t find dozens of uses for M/S and multi-band extensions to their plug-ins if these capabilities were readily available.  Certainly, there are more prosaic applications that involve compression and/or EQ you could envision, things that your listeners might not even notice due to tasteful subtlety.  But whether you’re going for understated refinement that’s not obvious to the listener, or instead looking for some “in-your-face” alterations to your sound, this approach offers a limitless range of possibilities.  Oh, and by the way … it’s a whole lot of fun putting these things together in the bargain.

 

Review – Sonokinetic’s Toccata for Kontakt


When you consider that the price of a real pipe organ instrument would be prohibitive, assuming you even had a place to put it, this Kontakt incarnation has much to recommend it.

by David Baer, Jan. 2014

In a departure from what this column normally covers (interesting electronica content for Kontakt) today we’ll be looking at a library of an acoustic instrument: the grand and glorious pipe organ.  These instruments have always fascinated me and I have a substantial collection of CDs containing organ music from the Baroque period through modern times.  On the other hand, as a hard-core synth aficionado, it’s hard for me not to think of pipe organs as something other than massive multi-timbral acoustic poly-synths.

Pipe organs lend themselves to encapsulation into sample libraries for a number of reasons:

  • They are huge and immobile; the organ doesn’t go to the gig – the gig must come to the organ.  They are also hella expensive.
  • Many acoustic instruments require much finesse in capturing articulations.  For example, a good violin sample instrument should provide articulations like sustain, slur legato, bow-change legato, staccato, and more whose names non-violinists would not even recognize.  An organ note has but one articulation: on.
  • Organ pipes sound at one volume.  There is no need for velocity layers nor is there a need for tricks like sympathetic string layers when the sustain pedal is down on a piano.
  • Much of the grandeur of a pipe organ comes from the spacious environments they reside in, but with modern convolution reverb technology, that quality is realistically reproducible.
  • Did I mention that they are hella expensive?

So creating a pipe organ sample library has much to recommend it and Sonokinetic has done a superb job of doing just that in Toccata.  It’s available for the price of about $54 USD.  When you consider that the price of a physical instrument would be seven figures (in most any currency), assuming, of course, you even had a place to put it in the first place, this is a terrific bargain.  There are more complete sampled organ instruments out there, at a correspondingly higher price.  But Toccata will deliver sufficient capability for all but the most demanding applications.

 
The samples were recorded at the Bartholomeus Basilika in the Netherlands.  The instrument, while magnificent, is somewhat modest in comparison to some organs found in concert halls and grand cathedrals.  It is nevertheless more than adequate to produce a truly full-on organ experience.  The Toccata organ sports in excess of 1500 pipes (all individually sampled and beautifully tuned by Sonokinetic).  By comparison, one of the organs used on a CD of Dupré compositions in my collection lists around 10,000 pipes.  But trust me, 1500 pipes is plenty to work with for most purposes.

I knew embarrassingly little about pipe organs when I started this review (other than I adored the music made by them).  So I undertook a little study and will present an introduction to the instrument in what follows.  I owe many thanks to my friend, John Walko, for much guidance in compiling this information.  John is one of the finest organists in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

Pipe Organ 101

First, there is no such thing as a standard pipe organ.  When it comes to the larger organs, each is unique.  Physical attributes of the installation will be dictated by the structure in which they are installed.  Budgetary constraints will certainly dictate the number of pipes.  A composer of organ music can, at best, suggest registrations when composing, unless it’s for a specific instrument.  Organists must wear an orchestrator’s hat when adopting a piece for the instrument available for the performance, making the piece work with whatever is at hand.

Nevertheless, there are many common attributes and we’ll consider those in what follows.  I’m going to use the term “grand organ” here to denote a large custom instrument like those found in concert halls, cathedrals and the like, as distinct from smaller one-manual instruments with a modest collection of pipes.

Grand organs can have anywhere from two to five keyboard manuals that span four and half or five octaves (C1 to C6, C3 being middle C).  There will be pedals that offer two and a half octaves (C1 thru F3 or G3).  Each manual and pedal will have a number of ranks of pipes available to it.  The ranks are tied to a manual, but manuals (keyboard or pedals) can be coupled in order to build up ever larger masses of sound. 

Sometimes ranks are “unified” (several stops of different pitches obtained from one rank) or are “duplexed” or “borrowed” from one division to another.  This is a type of permanent coupling that is done with individual stops to cut costs.  However it is not always budgetary, as space constraints or simply a desire for more flexibility can also dictate when this done.

Let’s talk about the pipes.  Mostly these will be metal, but some pipes can be made of wood.  For a given pipe type, longer pipes produce lower tones, as would be expected.  The composition of metal pipes is normally mostly tin and lead, with the proportions varied to control the brightness.  Other metals can be used for both visual and audio esthetic purposes.  The thickness of the metal (or wood) is also a factor in the timbre.

Pipes always have a designation of 16’, 8’, 4’ and so forth.  An 8’ pipe plays at concert pitch.  A 16’ pipe is an octave down, a 4’ pipe an octave up, and so forth.  Some pipes, known as “mutations” provide upper harmonics of the unison pitch that are other than an octave relationship to the unison (and these have a fraction in their “length” designation).

Pipes come in several basic types.  A pipe will either produce sound due to the resonance produced by air blowing past an aperture with a lip or due to a vibrating metal reed-like tongue.  The former are called “labial” pipes and the latter “lingual”.  If those terms have connotations that are a bit too salacious for your taste, you can also use the alternate respective terms of “flue” and “reed”.

Labial pipes can either be open at the top, covered at the top, or partially covered (with a small cylinder emerging from the top “cap”).  The covered pipes are physically half the length of the uncovered variety to produce the same pitch (which incidentally makes them less expensive to build).  Covered pipes have only odd overtones … square wave synth oscillators, anyone?  In addition to being covered or uncovered, pipe shape governs the timbre.  Most labial pipes are cylindrical, but conical shapes for all or part of the length are also possibilities.  Wind pressure is also important – higher pressure usually equates to more power but it also changes the timbre of a given stop.

Labial pipes can also be twice the normal (i.e., nominal) length, with a hole pierced midway; these are overblowing “harmonic” flutes, which are very full and speak with a trace of the sub-octave harmonic.

Lingual pipes of the Trumpet/Tuba/Trombone variety are always uncovered; specialized “color reeds”, such as Oboes, French Horns and English Horns may have covered or odd-shaped resonators which color their sound to imitate the instrument that gives the rank its name.  The tongue is (normally) at the bottom of a cylinder or conical or hybrid “horn”.  Cylindrical configurations have the effect of covered labial pipes, with odd harmonics being emphasized (such as the Clarinet).  Resonators may be full-length, partial-length (which reduces both cost and fundamental pitch and power), or – as with labial stops – harmonic, or double length.

The illustration below (courtesy of organ web site http://www.die-orgelseite.de/pfeifenarten_e.htm)  shows the considerable variety of shapes in a dozen labial pipe types and a dozen more ligual types.


When you see pictures of grand organs, you usually see a number of impressive ranks of uncovered labial pipes.  These are called “principals” (or sometimes “diapasons”).  But there are far more pipes that you normally do not see hiding behind the façade.

A façade is often made up Principals, but often has other types of pipes as well.  Principals/Diapasons are used throughout an organ – their chief characteristic is that they provide an entire chorus of “normal” organ tone at every pitch (the backbone of the organ’s sound).

The organist combines pipe ranks to create the sound they are after.  Dynamics are accomplished either by adding more ranks to the registration, or using an “expression shoe”. Most organs after the baroque era have at least one “expressive” division – the pipes are situated inside a box or room; the volume is modulated by venetian-blind-like shutters that the organist controls with a foot pedal.

The knowledge of how to effectively select what ranks to include in a registration is an essential skill for the organist.  You can equate it to the painter’s palette – there is a vast variety of possibilities.  How the organist chooses registrations will depend upon the type of material being played.  A “plenum” registration is used when all voices in a piece are of equal importance.  Plenum registration is appropriate to both hymn accompaniment and the fugal masterpieces of Bach.

Another common scenario is where a lead line (melody or whatever) is played on one manual while another manual and pedals provide accompaniment.  Now we start to need differentiated dynamics or timbres.  The organist has two alternatives: play the lead line more loudly or more brightly than the accompaniment.  One way is to add more stops (a stop being a rank of pipes) at the same pitch.  But adding higher pitched stops will provide additional brightness.  Lingual pipes are more “cutting” (in a good way, be assured) and will usually easily be heard over a thick accompaniment of labial stops.

Do not assume that the pedals are just there to provide a bass foundation.  There is much in the organ literature in which the pedals supply the lead line, often a languid melody accompanied by “busy” accompaniment supplied by the organist’s hands.  This is why pedal stops will include not only 16’ and 8’ stops, but 4’ and 2’ stops as well.  One of the most glorious aspects of a large pipe organ are the sub-octave pedal stops of 32’ pitch, which can be felt through the foundations of the floor.  These can purr seductively (soft flue stops) or can rattle the windows (full-length reed stops).  

Finally, there is the trio sonata form (made immortal by Bach) in which three independent voices are participating.  This is another case where the pedal rank is hardly playing a secondary role, doing a necessary but boring job.

We’ve only scratched the surface here.  For those wishing to learn more I recommend a modest (and inexpensive), but fact-rich, booklet called An Introduction to Organ Registration by James Engel.  Wikipedia is well worth a look as well.

Toccata

OK, now that we’ve laid some groundwork, let’s examine the library at hand.  Toccata supplies an interface that includes two keyboard manuals and a pedal.  The keyboard range is C1 to G5, and the pedals range is C1 to F3.  There are twenty stops: six for the lower manual, five for the upper, and eight for the pedals (see, no second class citizenship for pedals on organ!).  One of the upper manual stops combines an 8’ and 4’ rank.  All other stops are individual ranks.  Finally there is the “tutti” setting where all guns are blazing.  This is done with the organ sampled as such as opposed to enabling all the individual sample layers.

Each manual can be controlled by a separate MIDI channel and there is a “Link to Lower” switch that couples the pedals to the lower manual.  Each of the stops can be selected with buttons on the interface or with key switches (using notes outside the keyboard/pedal range).  All in all it’s a very flexible and convenient interface.  Tutti can be controlled several ways, the easiest being the sustain pedal, which on an authentic organ recreation is obviously of no use for its normal purpose (however, Toccata has an alternate configuration where the sustain control does what it normally would do).

I have put together audio clips of each of the stops below.  For the lower and upper manuals, there is a simple four-octave pattern that covers most of the range; for the pedals, the range is two octaves.  The purpose of the clips is illustrative, not artistic – so, no complaints about them being boring, if you please.  The tutti clip is my humble attempt at recreating some Bach magnificence.

Lower Manual

   Principal 8’

   Principal 16’

   Trompete 8’

   Gedeckt 8’

   Gemshorn 4’

   Klarinet 4’

 

Upper Manual

   Holzgedeckt 8’ + 4’

   Krummhorn 8’

   Praestant 4’

   Schwiegel 2’

   Cymbel 1’

 

Pedals

   Principal Bass 16’

   Subbass 16’

   Violon Bass 16’

   Posaune 16’

   Gedeckt Bass 8’

   Trompete 8’

   Praestant 8’

   Choral Bass 4’

 

Tutti (as in ala-root-tee … baby!)

   Tutti

 

Reverb

Toccata makes use of Kontakt’s excellent convolution reverb technology, user controlled reverb in a straightforward window.  Hall sizes can be selected from four choices, such as Basilica as shown.  Then the user can dial in a dry/wet ratio and room size.  The mp3 examples in the previous section use the default reverb setting on all but the tutti, for which I cranked up the room size quite a bit.


 

Is Toccata for You?

When I downloaded Toccata, I was quite curious and was interested in exploring what it had to offer.  It wasn’t until I started playing around with it that I started to get more than a little excited.  And what excitement there is to have an instrument like this at one’s beck and call!  This thing is a blast – both figuratively and literally.

Whether your goals are to do some Rick Wakeman covers, add a perfectly realistic pipe organ to a sound track, recreate the awesomeness of a Bach fugue, or just conjure up some Olde Time Religion, Toccata can deliver, and in spades.  Highly recommended.

But just be careful.  Once you get the grand pipe organ bug, you may well start fantasizing about owning an even more extensive organ sample library that could cost you eight or ten times the price of Toccata.  Who knows … after that you may be trying to figure out where to put a three manual plus full pedal MIDI organ controller that will cost 50 times the price of Toccata.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Toccata can be purchased and downloaded at:

http://www.sonokinetic.net/

It requires the full version of Kontakt 4.1.1 or higher.

Review – Steinberg’s Halion 5


If “God is in the details”, then it’s fair to surmise that the design engineers of Halion underwent a profoundly religious experience when creating this instrument. See why.

by David Baer, Jan. 2014

Noted 20th century architect Mies van der Rohe famously stated: “God is in the details”.  If this sentiment is correct, then it’s fair to surmise that the design engineers of Halion, Steinberg’s powerhouse hybrid synth/sample-player, underwent a profoundly religious experience when creating this instrument.  The details in Halion are uniformly elegant and impeccable.  We’ll take a close up look at Halion 5 in this review.

Before I go further and say nice things about Halion (and I will be saying many nice things), it’s reasonable to point out up front that the instrument requires an eLicenser dongle.  For users who already have one in place (a group that includes owners of Steinberg’s Cubase DAW) this won’t be an issue.  For others, however, this may be a show stopper.

Two (of Many) Fine Details

Before we look at the overall instrument, I want to substantiate the above assertion about excellent details with two specific examples, the LFO and modulation matrix implementations.  First the LFO.

Much of the function of the LFO, of which there are two polyphonic units per zone, can be gleaned from just looking at the interface.  All the typical LFO capability is there and then some.  In addition to the usual collection of wave forms, there are two sample and hold random shapes and a log shape.  The function of the Shape control is dependent upon the wave selected.  For example, with one of the sample and hold choices, it varies the response between abrupt and smooth.  Five different envelope modes are provided, such as Sustain and Fade Out.  We not only get separate delay and fade-in settings, we also have a fade-out parameter.  All in all, this is as complete an LFO implementation as I’ve ever encountered, and it’s all completely straightforward to use.

Let’s move on to the mod matrix.  Again, the interface clearly illustrates the function.  For each entry (there are thirty two available), we not only get a source/destination combination, but also an adjacent slot to designate another modulator controlling the depth of the primary source.  A classic example is an LFO modulating pitch with the mod wheel modulating the LFO depth.  Modulation can be bipolar or unipolar.  The range of modulation is right there in front of you and you have the option of using other than linear response curves.  Again, this is as good a scheme as I’ve seen anywhere.  A few other synths have equivalent level of control, but rarely is it so straightforward to harness.


Superior design choices like this are found everywhere in Halion.  For example, any place there is a key-follow control (and there are quite a few), you also have the opportunity of specifying the center key … no more guessing or needing to do experimental calibration measurements.  I could go on, but I suspect you’re getting the idea.  There is an abundance of well thought out design in this instrument.

The Big Picture

Now let’s take several major steps back and look at the overall capability.  Halion 5 has four separate sound generation engines: a highly capable sample player unit, a three-oscillator (plus) subtractive synthesizer, an organ device that produces the sound of a classic drawbar organ, and finally a granular synth engine.

Comparisons to two other high-end instruments beg to be made, those being to Kontakt and to Omnisphere.  Halion 5 has immensely powerful sample playback capabilities that rival those in Kontakt.  And like Omnisphere, there is both sample and synthesis capability under the hood.  Like both, Halion provides an extensive set of on-board effects and a multi-bus architecture for broad flexibility with effect sends.  Also like both, Halion 5 is multi-timbral, capable of running multiple programs responding to different MIDI channels and producing multiple audio channel outputs.  And most importantly, like both Kontakt and Omnishpere, the sound of Halion 5 is glorious.  In other words, Halion 5 is a major league player all the way.

Halion provides a hierarchical program structure in which programs are comprised of layers, and layers are comprised of zones.  The zones are where the sound-engine type comes into play.  Layers help to organize programs by grouping zones.  Programs are at the top level and multis (multi-timbral patches) are comprised of multiple programs.

We could devote an entire article to a discussion of the Halion 5 sample playback technology and just begin to scratch the surface.  Suffice it to say that it’s very complete.  You have velocity layer crossfading, round robin playback (with multiple sample selection strategies), exclusion groups (e.g., no simultaneous open and closed high-hat), and so much more.  Halion offers import capability on a number of “foreign” formats including sound fonts.  Sadly, support for SFZ files is inexplicably lacking.  But that’s a small complaint about an otherwise splendid implementation.

With the synth, we have a reasonably complete implementation of a three-oscillator subtractive instrument.  This doesn’t quite compete with some other synth-only instruments like Synthmaster, but it’ll take you quite a ways, given that it includes features such as oscillator hard-sync capability, a sub-oscillator and multi-oscillator (unison) mode.  While you’re not likely to be abandoning your DIVA or LUsh-101 instruments after you install Halion, you’re nevertheless likely appreciate this synth for the ability to layer synth and sample sound production so seamlessly.


Next let’s consider the two sound production capabilities new to Halion in version 5.  We’ll come back to the organ sound engine shortly.  That leaves the granular synth engine to discuss.  Granular synthesis seems to me to be of primary use to producers of soundtracks and soundscapes.  It’s one of those capabilities that you’ll either appreciate a lot or hardly at all.  Maybe it’s just me, but I find granular synthesis of limited value in musical applications.  All of this is to establish my disclaimer that I’m not the right person to ask about an opinion of granular synthesis features.

All that being said, Halion 5 certainly seems to have an extensive set of capabilities in this area.  This is another topic on which an entire article could be devoted and we don’t have space to cover it deeply here.  But this subject is also a good time to introduce Halion’s “macro” instruments.  These are Steinberg-supplied GUIs which “front-end” Halion’s low-level controls with a GUI representing a virtual instrument.  The technology used in doing this is not documented, so this would appear to be a Steinberg-only play (kids, don’t try this at home!).  One of these instruments is called Auron, and it is an encapsulation of a stand-alone granular synth.

But there is no better illustration of how useful the macro-instrument feature can be than the virtual organ pictured below.  Yes, you could construct identical sounds in the basic Halion editor pages, but with the virtual instrument, it’s all in front of you.  The native Halion sound editor is for the organ engine is not as intuitive.

Halion ships with eight prepackaged virtual instruments, including a Mellotron-type instrument, two subtractive synth implementations, the aforementioned Auron, B-Box which is a drum machine, and others.  The virtual instruments work a little differently than those in Kontakt in that you cannot save presets within the instruments.  Rather, you configure your settings and then save the Halion program which retains them as a whole.

Special Effects

Between the extensive bus capabilities and the on-board effects on offer, Halion has the feel of a mini-DAW.  There are two main types: MIDI effects and audio effects.  We’ll look at audio effects first.  If you are the developer of a high-end sound module, it probably doesn’t hurt that you have a full-blown DAW development operation in-house, given the body of effects source code you probably have at your disposal.  Steinberg has not been stingy in spreading that wealth around in Halion 5.

Briefly, here’s what’s there by category:

  • Reverb and delay
    • Convolution reverb
    • Algorithmic reverb
    • Multi-delay
  • EQ
    • Parametric EQ
    • Graphic EQ
  • Filter
    • Auto-filter (most impressive – just read the documentation on this one!)
    • Morph-filter
    • Wah-wah
  • Distortion
    • Amp
    • General distortion (tube, clip, bit reduction)
    • Tape saturator
    • Octaver (additional voices)
  • Modulation
    • Chorus
    • Flanger
    • Step flanger (sample and hold responses)
    • Phaser
    • Tremolo
    • Ring modulator
    • Rotary (Leslie speaker)
    • Vibrato
    • Vintage ensemble
  • Dynamics
    • Compressor
    • Limiter
    • Expander
    • Gate
    • Envelope shaper
  • Panning and Routing
    • Stereo pan
    • Surround pan
  • Halion 3 legacy effects (a lengthy list as well)

But just listing the effects doesn’t tell the whole story.  Many synths have a notable list of effects, but individually they can be rather unimpressive.  Not so with Halion’s effects.  You’d be able to use many of them as your bread-and-butter DAW effects and not feel compromised.

The other effect category is MIDI.  There are fewer of these than in the audio effect collection but several are consequential.  FlexPhraser is one of those.  It provides the user with a flexible and powerful arpeggiator and phrase player (i.e., sequencer).  The documentation on FlexPhraser goes on for thirteen pages; that’s how much functionality is there.

Then there’s MegaTrig, a super-powerful mechanism used for controlling playing styles and articulations.  It provides Boolean conditions (and, or, not) to be used with events (note-on, sustain-on) to tailor a program’ sample playing response to an exacting degree.  As far as I know, Halion does not provide a scripting language (at least one that’s documented), but MegaTrig largely eliminates the need for one.

And there’s more: the MIDIPlayer module, the Drum Player Module, the MIDI randomizer and modules dedicated to unique situations like the True Pedaling module.  All in all, this is an impressive and powerful lineup.

Is Halion 5 for You?

Well, let’s address the elephant in the room before anything else.  Even if Steinberg loses the dongle requirement, Halion is not going to supplant Kontakt any time soon as the preeminent sample player software.  Kontakt is simply too well-established.  It’s not that Kontakt is necessarily a better technology.  Instead, I would suggest that the network of Kontakt sound developers which has evolved (like Hollow Sun, Soniccouture, and many others) are not likely to abandon their position without very compelling reasons.  Halion has little third-party sound development happening and I see no signs of that changing.

Now, if your interest is in doing your own sample/sound development, that’s another matter.  I think a good case could be made why Halion is a better choice than Kontakt (all those Godly details, remember?).  Also, Kontakt is just a sample player and Halion has other attractive capabilities.

And this brings us to the one significant negative thing I have to say about Halion, which will be relevant to those wanting to do their own sound programming.  The Halion 5 documentation, as far as it goes, is excellent.  The two-hundred-fifty (or so) page manual is detailed and clearly written.  Each editor is described with clarity and the text is easy to comprehend and well-illustrated.

What’s missing, however, is some information on how all the pieces fit together.  For example, I looked in vain through the documentation for a description on how to initialize a patch.  I found out eventually, but only from a Groove3 video.  And the image of the organ instrument “macro” included above?  Once again, I had to go to Groove3 to learn how to create an instrument that had it.  Halion is a magnificently deep instrument.  The documentation is only about two-thirds of what is needed and what it deserves.

Halion 5 currently has a retail street price of $350 USD, with academic versions available for $209 (I’m not sure how carefully one’s academic credentials are scrutinized by some of the sellers on E-bay).   $350 is a lot of money, but then it’s less than the price of Omnisphere, so draw your own conclusions.

I got my own copy of Halion bundled with Cubase 6.5 for just about the current price of Halion alone, so I know that significant savings are occasionally available.  Were it not for my interest in Cubase, I would have ignored Halion in the first place due to the dongle requirement.  To me, dongles are (barely) acceptable when it comes to DAW software because a DAW is what ties everything else together.  Halion would not have made it onto my machine if the dongle hadn’t already been present for Cubase use.

At the time of my Cubase purchase, Halion seemed to be just frosting on the cake.  My eye was initially just on the cake, but I’m delighted to report that the frosting turned out to be most excellent indeed!

Review – XLN Audio’s Addictive Keys Studio Collection

XLNAudio has expanded the sound capabilities of Addictive Keys to include the Electric Grand, Mark One, Modern Upright, and Studio Grand. Find out more in this close-up look.

by Rob Mitchell, Jan. 2014

XLNAudio is a software company based in Sweden, and they’re the makers of the award winning plugins Addictive Drums and Addictive Keys.  They have expanded their total group of sounds for Addictive Keys to include the Electric Grand, Mark One, Modern Upright, and Studio Grand.

Recently they have put together the Studio Collection, which includes the Mark One, Modern Upright, and the Studio Grand.  These are virtual reproductions of actual keyboards, for each of which the sound production starts with sample playback.  Samples are taken along in the signal path, where you can modulate and modify them the way you want. It works much the same way as a synthesizer’s oscillator, where you can filter its audio, and add effects to get the end result you’d like.

Using these methods to change the sound of the sampled instruments, you can alter the signal into something entirely different than the original sample.  Once you have fine-tuned your sound, completing the picture is a virtual recording environment, replete with a variety of mics at different positions relative to the instrument.

The Mark One is sampled from a Fender Rhodes Mark I, the Studio Grand is from a Steinway Model D grand piano, and the Modern Upright is sampled from a Yamaha U3 upright piano.

Each one of those is also available separately on their website. This collection is a great deal though, as individually they retail for $69.95 USD, but this trio of keyboards goes for $179.95. They also offer an upgrade path for $130 if you already own the Studio Grand.

The minimum requirements for running Addictive Keys are:

Mac Intel CPU, OS 10.5 or higher, 32 or 64bit

PC  Intel or AMD CPU, Windows XP, Vista, Win 7,  32 or 64bit.

You must have an internet connection.

For this review, I tried the standalone version, as well as the VST plugin within Sonar X3 Producer. Both worked fine.

 

Installation

The installation requires an internet connection. After installing using the XLN Online Installer application, you will find you now have a standalone version, as well as the plugin version to load into your DAW.

When you first run it, it starts with the Studio Grand, and brings you to the Gallery page. You can also select the other two instruments that ship with the Studio Collection from here.

Explore Maps are where you can select different presets, and they are spread out across three pages. Each preset loads in very quickly, and you can click a preview button to hear a bit of how it sounds.

You can change the way the instrument sounds using the macro controls on the first Explore Maps page, or really change it up by clicking the Edit button in the upper right. I’ll get to how you can edit a preset (and create your own) later in the review.

 

Preset Browser


In the upper left, you can load the presets for any of the three instruments by clicking on the name of the preset. If you click on one that is for a different instrument, it will still load rather quickly, and you can continue playing. I thought it might take longer when switching to another instrument, but it is really is quick.

There are controls to filter the presets so the browser will just show your own creations, or show all the product presets at once. Also available in the upper left is a selection menu to filter results down to just one type of instrument. The preview musical clips can be dragged into the host from here also. Click and drag the icon that says “MIDI” on to the track you’d like, and then you’re able to play it from there.

When you’re making your own preset, click the floppy disk icon to save it. Doing so brings you to a screen where you can add additional notes about the preset, if you’d like. You could notate what microphones were used, or some other detail that might have inspired the preset. Then you can also name the preset, and clicking the REC button lets you record your own preview for it.

The Memo Record is a handy feature they’ve added. It lets you record an idea whenever you want by clicking the red record button in the upper left. You can also rename the recording, and even upload it to My Cloud.

 

 

Editing a Preset

Clicking the Edit button brings up to the page where you change the characteristics of the sound. If you try to write over a factory preset, it won’t let you do that with the same name. You can rename it though, and save it after you changed it around to your liking.

There are many microphone types and placements available. For the Studio Grand for example, there are six different microphone placement settings you can choose from. Each of those settings uses various simulated microphones. Addictive Keys includes a M269, M250, Ribbon 6203, Tube T25, PZM MKE212, and a Ribbon 4038, among others. The types you can choose from depend on which keyboard you have loaded. For instance, the PZM is included in the choices when you load the Mark One or the Modern Upright, but it’s not included with the Studio Grand.


They’ve included nice controls for the pedals to give a touch of added realism. There’s a “softness” amount for the soft pedal, pedal noise, and sustain noise. These pedal controls are not available for the Mark One.

 

Envelopes and Effects

Go ahead and tweak the sound with pitch, filter, volume envelopes, and EQ control. If you’d like to give it some of that old school audio-realism, different types of noise are available for your preset. Some of these include a simulated vinyl record, 7ips and 15ips tape hiss, even a Big Muff stompbox simulation.

For effects, XLNAudio has added a chorus, phaser, tremolo, and even a compress/distort effect.

The chorus has a feature called “Octave Mode”. It will change the five-voice chorus so each voice will be going at a different rate. The chorus has a frequency filter as well.  The compress/distort effect has some great distortion types, which include Tube Pair, Iron Transformer, Crunch, Zap, and Air Pressure.

One of the two MultiFX slots is pre-EQ, while the other is post-EQ. Each slot can load one of the four effects listed above. For instance, you could have a phaser on the pre-EQ, and a chorus in the post-EQ slot.


You can pick a different microphone type for each of the first three channels. Plus, each channel can have its own effects setup for it. They’ve also included volume, pan, solo, and mute buttons for each of those channels. Select the first channel by clicking on it, change the microphone, switch the effects around, panning, volume, etc., and then move to the next channel. 

There also two FX slots, which have a delay and reverb. You can easily route different microphones to these with sends (FX1 and FX2), and each of the two slots also has its own three-band EQ.


If all that wasn’t enough, there is a Master FX section which has its own two-slot effects setup. You can choose from all the same effects that the two MultiFX slots can use. You also have the same choices for Noise to pick from, and a three-band EQ is added here as well.

In a nutshell, it is very flexible! You can make it sound subtle with a slight chorus, or distorted and raunchy with some EQ and a distortion effect. With the pitch, filter, and volume envelopes, you can make it sound nothing like a piano if you want.  I experimented with those controls (plus some effects) and made the Studio Grand more like a synth-pad type of sound.

 

Up in the Cloud

If you are connected to the internet while you have Addictive Keys loaded (to install, you have to be anyway) any presets or memos you save are uploaded to My Cloud. It can sync up with another computer you might be using it on, so you have access to your saved presets on each one.

It also saves different versions of your presets as you go, and even the deleted presets and memos. There’s a way to share presets from My Cloud as well. You just click the “Share” button and it will create a link for that preset, so you can send it over to a friend of yours. Then they can access it from their computer, and add it to their own XLN account.

 

Session Settings

Performance settings for the instruments are specified on the Session Settings page. These include such settings as pitch bend, velocity response, X-modulation, Master tune, and Temperament.


There are 30 different temperaments available. The Session settings on the page won’t change from preset to preset.

The X-modulation can be set to affect certain settings within Addictive Keys. You can set these up using a mod wheel, aftertouch, or MIDI CC.

 

 

Conclusion

There are a good number of sampled piano plugins already on the market, but this one is so flexible, it really deserves special attention.

The basic sound of each of the keyboards included is excellent. On top of that, there are seemingly infinite ways to combine the different microphones, EQ, filters/envelopes, and multi/master effects that are available. You can also use automation on some of the settings of Addictive Keys. These include the X-mod, channel volume amounts, FX sends, and the master channel filter.

The high quality sampled sounds of the three keyboards are really top-notch. I can’t really think of anything negative to say on this collection of great sounds. I do think that it could use a few more presets, but that’s about it. Nothing else jumps out and makes me think…”If it only did this, or that, or maybe…”. They have really thought this out very well.

One thing that would be cool (and this is a stretch!) is if they made it so any microphone could be at any placement. The way it is now, the microphones are not interchangeable in the placements. The microphones they picked are well suited to where they are located, so this just nit-picking.

Before buying some other similar plugin, make sure to check out the Studio Collection. It’s very easy to use, presets load quickly, has a great interface, excellent sound, and the price is right.

You can check out the Studio Grand demo version on their website:

http://www.xlnaudio.com/

 

Review – Chromatic Harmonica From bestservice.de

Need a realistic-sounding harmonica with an plenty of articulations and controllers tol help you to mimic a live player’s behavior in every aspect? Maybe this is the solution.

by A. Arsov, Jan. 2014

This is a library made by a Chris Hein. If you know Chris Hein’s previous works, then you already have a picture of what you will get for your money: A very realistic-sounding instrument with an endless number of articulations and controllers that will help you to mimic a live player’s behavior in every aspect. The only small drawback with the Chromatic Harmonica library is the fact that it has one characteristic in common with country guitar – most of the interesting things are built from melodic licks. If you want to play blues or country with this one, it could be a bit tricky, as you will need to be a hell of a good keyboard player to recreate those licks. But most of the time, especially if you are in any cinematic, game or any sort of stock music business, making a Sergio Leone sort of basic lead melody could be easily done without too much effort. And that’s the field where Chris Hein’s Chromatic Harmonica library really shines, with all those dirty details which only a real player can add, or Chris Hein with his German sense for Ordnung und Disziplin. You name it, Chris will implement it.

Controllers, Controllers and Key Switches

That is a short description for Chromatic Harmonica Kontakt window. It will eat 3.5 GB of your disk space; it will cost you €129 EUR, and it will bring you four octaves of full-octane chromatic harmonicas. Of course if you don’t own the full version of Kontakt, you will need to pay a few hundred more as this is not a Kontakt-player library.

In the manual, it states that there are only 14 articulations, so it looks like there is something wrong with my eyes, as I got the impression that there are 26 of them, according to the list which is presented in a second, Basic window. They are all sorted in the lower part of the keyboard, so you can change them on the fly. There is also a window where you can tweak some parameters for the implemented convolution reverb. The next window, Articulations Presets, is a whole cockpit where even jumbo-jet pilots could feel a bit lost. It looks like a mad scientist’s room. There you can set various parameters such as setting the crossfade values, attacks, speed detection and all other “good to be there but hope that I will not need them” stuff.

More or less every articulation can be fine-tuned when adopted to your playing style. The main point with all Chris Hein’s libraries is that after setting some parameters, you can get excellent results playing them live by changing articulations with your left hand. So noise, sustain, attack and legato, glide mode and all other things can be tuned, and I have to admit that it could take you some time even to go through the manual to figure what you can do and how to do that. Sometimes you can even feel bad as you don’t have three hands to press all those hot keys a second after you change the articulations. The hot keys are special effects that could be achieved if you press the hot key note just before you press the next note or while the note is played. Various blows, attacks, falls and ups, along with a hot key for repeating the last note (very appropriate for fast parts) are here. Press the articulation overview and you will get the picture.

The next cockpit is the settings menu: ADSR, dynamics, fader settings, release variations, pitch bend and micro-tuner. You can also go mad setting and drawing curves for vibrato, or use auto vibrato. In the settings menu is also a section where you can tweak various parameters for a whole bunch of effects: Chorus, delay, flanger and similar things.

All in all a bit too much of everything if you ask me, but if you are into details, then you will feel like being back at home; but if you want just to plug and play, that can be also done. Right hand for a melody, left hand for the key switches and hot keys, and you are in the saddle.


Time To Say Goodnight

So, if you are in the music business, making cinematic music in search of some old-fashion memorable melodies, then this is definitely the right thing for you. You can’t get better virtual chromatic harmonica than this library. If you want to hear dirty licks, then you should hire a real player, but for everything else, you will get your boxed player for the price of an average virtual synth. You can’t miss with Chris Hein’s libraries; the only question is: Do you need a chromatic harmonica? If you do, then this is the real solution. I’ve tried to play a real one, after all a good friend of mine is one of the most cherished harmonica players in Slovenia, but I would rather stick with this one. So don’t stare too much in all those controllers, buttons and menus; they are there just to frighten you. It is much easier to get solid results than it looks. Just put your hands on the keyboard and blow.

More about Chromatic Harmonica and how to spend €129 EUR or $149 USD you can find on:

http://www.bestservice.de/en/chris_hein_chromatic_harmonica.html

Ditto for audio clips.

Review – Poetic Guitars II by Bestservice.de

Our reviewer looks at Poetic Guitars II and finds much to appreciate, which is no small matter since he’s an accomplished guitarist to begin with. Find out more in this review.

by A. Arsov, Jan. 2014

To Be or Not To Be …

This library is a bit tricky. First of all, it is important to know what you can do and what you can’t do with it. Poetic Guitar II is represented as an overall replacement for a guitar player (according to the demo video clips), but this is not totally true. Once everything comes to its place, you will figure that it is not an overpriced product, no matter that you can’t really play fast guitar solos with it, and that for playing realistic guitar rhythm patterns you still need to be a bit more than a solid keyboard player. It is not overpriced because the overall sampling quality is great. If you are playing some arpeggiated chords or some slower guitar patterns, it is easy to fool even guitar players into believing that they hear a real guitar. The same goes for the rhythm patterns, which are an especially great spicing tool for any sort of arrangement, especially if you are not a guitar player. I’m a guitar player, and I have to admit that I’m impressed with these rhythm patterns, but it looks like I’m a bit too lousy of a keyboard player to recreate them live (but a touch of programming can make wonders;) ). Also, putting the whole thing through some guitar amp can bring a whole new life into this library, no matter that the source is an acoustic guitar tone, not an electric one.

Complaints, Complaints …

I presume that at this point the developer has already stabbed some needle into the voodoo doll with my name on it, so I should substantiate my charge regarding the fast solo parts. Playing a guitar solo is not so straightforward a thing. As far as I remember, only two or three guitar players play almost every note with both hands: John Williams, Paco de Lucia, Joe Pass and maybe some other jazz guitar players that I’m not aware of. Most others use many tricks, like hammering, playing with plectrum or finger just the first note and then hammering all the other notes at the same string just with fingers from the left hand, banding and many other dirty tricks. Nevertheless, even if you play all notes of the phrase, the attack is not always the same because the angle of the finger on the right hand is not constantly the same. Also, if you play fast parts with a plectrum, every second note is played from down to up making a different tone, and the same goes for the attack on every second note when you are playing with fingers. If you play phrases with two fingers, every second note has far less attack than the first one played with the index finger. Even more tricky is when guitar is played with three fingers of the right hand.

Guitar is a very dynamic instrument, so every played phrase contains far more dynamics than is represented in this library. The first note is almost always played a bit harder — not just the first note of the phrase, but almost every first note whenever you change to a different string. And then if we again consider the fact that every second note has a different character from the first one, you will soon notice that almost every guitar library needs some additional heavy programming to simulate this playing technique. Till now, I haven’t found any guitar library that sounds like a real guitar when you are playing fast solo parts through a keyboard. The machine-gun effect can sound good on a banjo, but it is a no-go with a guitar.

OK, here comes the moment where I hear the developer screaming that his library contains all those techniques and that all those techniques are explained in the user manual. It is true, but somehow no matter how much programming you put inside fast solo parts, the result still doesn’t sound natural, at least to my ears, as I’ve been playing guitar for almost all my life.

Praise, Praise …


For €149 EUR you will get very realistic acoustic and classical guitar, that can add some live feel to your artificial arrangements, while rhythm parts can shoot your choruses directly up to the sky. I’m more than a solid guitar player, and I even toyed with the thought to use this for my choruses as it sounds really good, realistic with a very tight timing — perfect for pop production. Also some slowly played arpeggiated chords could sound really beautiful, ideal for intros, middle parts or anywhere else where you need to calm down things in your arrangement. After all, the whole thing costs the same as some average VST instrument or effect, so for that money you can buy yourself something that will bring some difference into your analogue modeling world.

The Facts

The whole library takes less then six GB of your disk space, and you get three general guitar modes: Acoustic guitar played by pick, Acoustic guitar played by fingers, and Classical guitars played by fingernails. It is a matter of taste, and I prefer the first one, but as I say, generally the sound for all three models is very realistic. There is also fret noise which is automatically added when you change some notes, so it is really hard to distinguish between the real guitar and Poetic Guitar II, even for me, and I have been playing guitar for almost all my life. The graphical interface is pretty straightforward, but as there are many key-switches, you will need to pinch your nose in the manual to get an idea how everything works. There are plenty of guitar techniques placed on the lower keys such as harmonics, hammer-on technique, pull off, slide up and down for chords, while muting and strum modes are on the upper keys of the keyboard. The general idea and the whole setup for playing strumming chords is excellent, but as I wrote before, you should be more than a solid keyboard player, or you should spend some extra time inserting notes manually for achieving realistic-sounding rhythmical parts. After some practice I got some decent results playing live, but we should be fair and admit that the whole strum system technique is a god’s gift anyway (even for us solid atheists) and it can really make madness out of your choruses adding some extra live energy. You can even fine-tune your strum patterns in the Strum sequencer where you can define the way in which the chord will be strummed.

There is also a nice bank of additional effects, most of them pretty solid. Distortion is only one, let’s say a bit less solid, but I presume that you will use some third-party virtual amp for that purpose anyway, so having one not-so-inspiring effect among bunch of useful other ones is not such an unforgivable thing.

Conclusions

The whole library offers a great number of controllers, for my taste even too many, but if you take some extra time, you could easily get some realistic results. Just don’t try to overdo it. Poetic Guitar II has its drawbacks, but at the same time it offers a few such almost unmissable additions to your arrangement that it is worth every penny you pay for it, especially if you are not a guitar player. So far, no matter how much I complained at the beginning, it is one of the best libraries for arpeggiated guitar intros or backgrounds, and the same for strumming chords, that can be heard in many choruses in numerous Top-40 songs.

For more info, demo audio and video clips, visit Bestservice.de

http://www.bestservice.de/en/poetic_guitar_ii.html

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