Monthly Archives: March 2014

Review: Live 9 Suite by Ableton

Ableton Live can’t be compared with any other DAWs that are on the market at the moment. They are simply not the same. See what’s behind our reviewer making such an assertion.

by A. Arsov, Mar. 2014

This review could be done in just one sentence: “Trentemoller” uses Live as his main DAW, so if it is good for him, then it should also be good for us.

I presume that some of you haven’t heard of the musician and producer performing under his real name “Trentemoller,” so we should do it in a bit more proper, profound way.

In most reviews I’ve read about Ableton Live I’ve noticed two main points: The first one is about the fact that Live is a bit different compared to other DAWs, and the second one is that all reviewers try to compare Live with some of the other main DAWs. After spending a month with Ableton Live, watching almost a zillion tutorials which I found on YouTube, I became a bit addicted and have already made a few songs. After all that quality time, I figured out one thing – Ableton Live can’t be compared with any other DAWs that are on the market at the moment. They are simply not the same. During all those years of making music, I came to the conclusion that the work-flow has the biggest influence on the end result. Different approaches and different tools will simply lead to the different results.

Ableton Live is a DAW for the 22nd century. If you intend to record a country band or a symphonic orchestra, then choose Cubase, Logic or Pro Tools. It can be done also with Ableton Live, but this is not the point of that software. If you want to write a whole song on a plane, from a sketch to the finished product – the professionally produced, up-to-date modern song – then Ableton Live is your tool.

Ableton Live is absolutely the most advanced tool for modern contemporary production. Cubase, Logic and Pro Tools are the most advanced recording studios that money can buy, and they offer everything you need to start and finish your song on a highest possible level, but for all sorts of modern mixture of electro genres (Hip hop, IDM, Electro, Dance, Trance, Chill, Dubstep etc.) Ableton Live is unbeatable. At the end of the line, if you are listening to the UK Top 40, you will notice that those genres occupy more than 3/4 of the chart. One thing is for sure, Ableton Live is not just a four-on-the-floor machine. You can produce anything you want with it, the sky is the limit; it just offers a different working approach and different tools and a very adorable, handy work flow that will bring fresh air into your production, where everything can be done more intuitively, without breaking your creative process.

Intro, Suite and Standard

I got Ableton Live 9 Suite, which is a bit pricey, but when you sum up all the things that you get along with main software, you will soon figure out that it is very fairly priced. Ableton packed all things that you will ever need in Suite, a whole symphonic orchestra that doesn’t sound cheap at all along with all sorts of live and dead drum packs, a zillion loops, various retro and contemporary instruments, and Max for Live with an impressive arsenal of tools along with two convolution reverbs. Also the Suite version brings us some additional Live instruments that really make a difference – Operator and Sampler. All in all you’ve got 54 GB of included material and 3000 sounds instead of 4 GB and 700 sounds in the standard version. After browsing through those packs, I’ve noticed that you actually get everything you need to start production. So, if Ableton Live Suite is the first thing that you have ever bought, it could easily became also the last one, not to mention all those free packs that comes almost daily on Ableton blog site. Some of them are really good. All included tools, effects and instruments are high-quality enough so that you don’t need any third-party things to achieve professional results.

Getting Started

Most of you have probably heard about the Scene view in Ableton Live, which is always pointed out as the main difference compared to other DAWs; but to tell you the truth, most producers don’t work much in the Scene view. It is the perfect tool for live playing; also, it is unbeatable for trying different combinations, but the main strength lies in the arrangement window which at first sight looks similar to the other arrangement windows in other sequencers. When you start layering things you will notice the difference very soon.

After watching all those tutorial video clips, I made my first composition in a less than half an hour. I browsed through my base of free drum loops that I have compiled over the years, and after finding the right one, dragged it to the MIDI track. Ableton asked me if this is a harmony, melody or drum clip. After I selected the “drum” option, Live converted the loop into a MIDI file adding a TR 606 drum rack as a starting point. I dragged the same loop to an additional audio track (all loops are automatically stretched to the sequencers speed), pressing the button for converting the speed to half time, then cut some low ends with Live EQ, making a nice background rhythmical noise out of a normal rock loop. (You simply cannot believe what you can get out of a boring drum loop.) I dragged Operator onto a new lane, and using the default settings, playing some bass line, then added another plucked preset from the Sampler, making some sort of lead line. After that I made additional copies of the MIDI drum loop I’ve imported before, arranging it over the time line (you can’t make variations if you just stretch the loop) while adding some snare variations on the way. In the end, I spiced up the arrangement with a few additional sound effects, put a few effects on the main output, added a ping-pong delay to the default reverb and delay send section, and that’s it. My first Ableton piece is done.

   My first Ableton song ( done in less than half an hour)

You could even try to make a song without touching the keyboard: Convert one orchestral loop to a MIDI clip, taking the lower part for the bass in combination with Live arpeggiator and taking the mids and highs for the lead line Operator. Spice it up with one drum loop, also converted to a MIDI clip (till now, it is a two minute business and the background is almost done), then add a few appropriate additional chords. Now add a catchy vocal line and…. Does it sounds familiar to you? Maybe, like a number one U.K Top 40 hit from January 2014? Like Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glyne in the song Rather Be?

Work-flow

Ableton Live has a bit different approach to the MIDI and audio lanes. You can simply select any part of a loop or phrase, then delete or just copy and paste it anywhere else in project. It is like ripping a piece of paper out and gluing it onto some other place. This method allows you to fine-tune any loop, combining various parts together on different lanes. If you use a drum rack, then you can just select the appropriate pad and add any effect you want to just that pad. Reverb and compressor to snare, EQ to hi-hats, EQ and bass buster to kick, along with shaping every separate hit in very tiny detail with the included controllers inside the drum rack. Contemporary music is all about the beat, but this is not big news; that is the case with all music for the last 50 years. Good drummer, good band; bad drummer, bad band. With Ableton Live you can really make your beat rocking.

Sidechaining in Ableton Live is pure joy. Just add a compressor and choose which track will be the carrier. That’s all. In less than a minute you can sort all sidechains for all tracks. Ableton Live 9 brings one additional compressor, Glue Compressor, which I initially thought is just another toy with a fancy name, but after seeing it in action (video tutorial) and trying it inside my arrangement, I figured out that it can really add a pro-sounding touch on a drum group channel (yes, you can group tracks in Ableton) or on a buss channel, the same as on the main channel.

The most interesting thing with most of the Ableton Live effects is that all of them give great results even with the default setup. Ping-pong delay is already filtered properly, so in the most cases you just need to set up the amount of the effect, and the same goes for all other effects. I’ve collected so many different pro reverbs during the years and ended up with the Ableton one.

The next extraordinary and unique feature is the way you can manipulate audio or MIDI sounds. Doing a standard pop production, your vocalist can save the day, but when you try to make some instrumental stuff, you suddenly find how some static background can sound so uninspiring and dead. With Ableton Live you can go absolutely crazy filtering, automating, changing and evolving sounds from second to second. Everything can be linked to almost anything, and if you are too lazy to do some automation, just insert an LFO Filter effect as an insert effect, set the treshold frequency and rate. Your basses, pads or whatever will go crazy, rhythmically filtering to create a desired sound. Adding any effects is a one-second job. Just drag it to the arrangement lane or to the bottom of the main window. At first glance, you’ll get the impression that there are too many parameters in every tool that Live offers, but soon you will realize how handy are all those knobs. The most used ones are always close to the main graphical window, while lesser used and additional ones are in a rank after the most used, so if you just grab the first one near the main window, you will do the job, at least in most cases.

O.K. Here we come to the point where my dear fellow David always asks the critical question: “And what about MIDI?” At first, I was a bit disappointed, as you definitely can’t do all the tricks and things that we are used to from some of the other before-mentioned DAWs, but after spending some time with the MIDI editor, I’ve realized that I can do things much faster than I was used to in other sequencers. Also, I found some unique functions like reverse all MIDI notes in a clip, allowing me to record a MIDI loop, reverse the loop with one click, render as audio, then reverse the audio back to normal getting sucking sounds where attack is at the end of the note. Simply brilliant, and it is a matter of a less than a minute. Also, it takes one click to halve the speed, another to double the speed. Drawing one note over another automatically deletes overlapped notes (very handy for making pads out of some syncopated notes). The Legato function makes all notes legato with one press. There is an Invert function and various others like selecting a range and changing it with one move. The most fascinating MIDI function is the Stretch note function: Select few MIDI notes and you’ve got two markers between them, and if you press somewhere between the notes at the top of the editor window, you can drag those notes like bubblegum. A handy trick for the 22nd. century. So, all in all, not your everyday beggary of MIDI tools you are used to, but pretty different ones that you need some time to learn. As I told in the first part of this review, you simply can’t compare Ableton Live with other DAWs.

In the past, I was never to keen to program synths, but after I saw a few video clips about Operator, I changed my mind and started tweaking various things inside this simple-looking, ultra-powerful synth. Creating crazy, Skrilex-like pulsating, evolving, wobbling basses is shamefully easy with Operator. (For a pure wobbling bass, you can always use an LFO limiter as the audio effect on any instrument or sound.) So drag Operator onto a MIDI lane. The default sound will be just more than perfect. Record some simple bass line, and then just start moving the level knobs that are nearest to the main window. There are four level knobs for the four oscillators. You don’t need to move the one which is at the bottom, as this is the main, first oscillator. A few trials and errors later, you will have your first Skrilex-style bass line.

Sampler looks simple (not so simple as Simpler) but please don’t be fooled with your first impression. It is a fully featured sampler where you can go mad multi-layering various sounds, just to get more buffed sound or to rank them through various velocity ranges. Making all sorts of gymnastics with samples is pretty easy, selecting the loop range or toying with start, decay, release or anything else sample-related.

The next thing that is very user-friendly (after you get used to it) is the browser where you get all your sounds, internal tools, external tools, or whatever you define, ranked in a very tidy way. All loops can be previewed at the host tempo, and all sounds can be previewed before you drag them in, the same for drum kits where you can even hear some basic drum loop to listen to the various elements in the kit as you audition it.

Anything Missing?

I’m surprised that Ableton Live doesn’t have any audio pitch-correction plug in implemented, as obviously they developed very powerful algorithms for that purpose, according to the audio-to-MIDI converters. I presume this will be implemented in the next version. The only other function that I miss is a “comp” function for choosing the best take out from your recordings, but the truth is that Ableton Live has such a powerful warp function implemented automatically in every audio clip that you can make your best take even out of your worst take. I nailed my bass and guitar take with Complex Pro warp algorithm so heavily that my sloppy playing skills ended like a Van Halen line in a Michael Jackson’s album. Very impressive – my playing skills, of course. 😉

Impressions

Yesterday I tried to make a mastering rack out of Ableton Live’s included effects and ended up very close to the results that I got with Izotope Ozone. I use compressor (Mix gel preset), EQ Eight which has a very nice mono – stereo option where you can fine-tune separately the mono and stereo signals using up to eight bands for every one (preset that I’ve downloaded for free), Multi-dynamic compressor, where you can easily see what it is doing so fine-tuning is a piece of cake, along with Limiter. I put in group all that and added it to my user library directory.

Obviously Ableton Live 9 is a tool that invites you to start your traveling without any idea what you will do during the flight, lending with a mastered masterpiece two hours later at some other destination. Just you, your notebook and Ableton Live 9 suite. It is a full-featured DAW which brings a total different approach to the world of music making, a tool which can inspire you even when you don’t have any inspiration. With Ableton Live you can do literary everything, but not in the same way as you are used to doing. Different approaches brings different results. A perfect tool for the next century (and we barely started this one). It is like a Mary Poppins bag. Everything you will ever need is there. The only third party addition that you will need is you.

What’s Next?

Ableton developed Push, a good-looking, handy pad controller for Ableton Live which could possibly be the only controller that you will ever need. It has a bunch of small pads and various menu buttons aside which allow you to attach various functions to those pads, like choosing a tonal scale, so you can even play keyboard solos with it. Programing new drum patterns is a piece of cake, the same for adding new scenes or tracks, recording and manipulating clips, and adding or even deleting notes.

It looks very impressive and as soon as my bank account shall recover, I promise that you will get a detailed review. It is a piece of hardware that makes you slobber.

Third-party Heaven

At the Ableton site you can find the Packs directory where you can hear demo clips for more than one hundred packs. Some are free, other are cheap, a few are more expensive, but all in all there is a bunch of a good choices for every taste. From orchestral through the exotic ethno ones, then on to drums and ambient sounds, real instruments, fake instruments – it is almost like being in a supermarket. There are even packs from well-known sample companies like Project SAM, Soundiron, Soniccouture and few others.

The truth should be told, that there are many more additional Ableton Packs which are not presented directly on that subsite, but you can find trails through the Ableton blog. Some of them are really adorable, so it is not such a bad idea to spend some additional time searching around the site.

Fourth-party Heaven

Liquid Notes for Live

A few days ago I got a new toy from my friends at Liquid Notes. It is a version of their harmonizing software specially made for Live.

Upon installing the program and copying two files into your Max directory, you get a new powerful tool integrated directly into the sequencer. Following the instructions from the video tutorial, I got my first results after a few minutes of suspense (did I set everything right or not?). Actually when you got it, it is really easy. So, what is it all about? Liquid Notes is a harmony assistant which can analyze your file, implementing harmonic changes on the fly following your commands while you tweak using two sliders and pressing two knobs. All you need to do is to create some simple phrase using a chord or two, and then add a bass line along with any other instrument. Liquid Notes will analyze that, and then you are free to go. I’ve recorded a few of my manipulations, and after few trials and errors, I got some very interesting results that exceeded my average knowledge of harmony. So, it is an ideal tool which can help you to develop your few-bar loop into a full composition. No, it can’t make Beethoven out of you, but it can give you a good starting point where you will need to change this and that, adding few things on a top; but all in all, it can take you far away from where you first started.

The only thing I miss in this Liquid Notes for Live version is the ability to define the number of bars for unchanged harmony, but knowing the team, I’m sure it will be in a future version.

Liquid Notes also have a version that works with all other sequencers that are on market.

7Aliens Catanya 2

This one is not strictly made for Ableton Live, but Ableton Live is just the most perfect match for this piece of software. It is a pattern generator. Add Catanya as a plug in to the MIDI track. Play four long chords, add four legato notes for bass, open an additional MIDI track, add an instrument of your choice and then connect it with Catanya 2. Open Catanya 2, browse through the impressive number of presets, and ten minutes later you will have your first Trance, Dance, Rave, Pop hit. Catanya 2 brings patterns for bass (from Blues, pop till techno, dance trance), drums (a bunch of nice hi-hat grooves among other ones), Piano, Strings (very good ones, specially staccato phrases), Synth (various phrases and lead lines for many genres), Pads, Brass and Guitar patterns. You can modify those patterns, adding new ones and then saving them in the User directory of the browser or just abusing them, using them for some other instruments. I made a basic Trance song in less then five minutes using just Catanya 2. It is also a perfect tool for adding some patterns to your existing song, finding a solution that you would never think of yourself.


Prices and links:

https://www.ableton.com/en/

Ableton Live 9 Suite €599 EUR / $749 USD ( Max for Live included)

Ableton Live Standard €349 EUR / $449 USD

Ableton Live Intro €79 EUR / $99 USD

Ableton Push ( the controller ) €579 EUR / $599 USD special normally $698 USD

Max for Live €149 EUR / $199 USD

https://www.ableton.com/en/shop/

Re-Compose Liquid Notes for Live €69 EUR/ $69 USD until 16 March 2014, normally €79 EUR/ $89 USD
http://www.re-compose.com/
 

7 Aliens Catanya €45 EUR / $68 USD
http://www.7aliens.com/

A good starting-points tutorials from Justin Sadowick that will lead you from start to final composition:
https://www.youtube.com/user/SadowickProduction?feature=watch

Book Review – “On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music” by Hermann von Helmholtz

 

Is a 150-year-old book that was to be the foundation for modern acoustics really still relevant today? You bet it is! Find out why.

by Dave Townsend, Mar. 2014

(Original title: “Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik”)

SoundBytes endeavors to suggest essential resources for the serious student of audio, but none merit the adjective “essential” quite as literally as this book. Published in 1863 (translated into English in 1875), “Sensations of Tone” is no less than the foundation of modern acoustics. Is a 150-year-old book really still relevant today? You bet it is!

I once read an online forum thread in which the subject of a particular plugin’s response to sine wave test tones was being discussed. One poster indignantly interjected that “I deal with music, not sine waves!” I just sighed to myself, thinking “this guy really needs to read Helmholtz.” I refrained from replying that whether it offends your artistic sensibilities or not, music is indeed sine waves, as is all sound.

This, in a nutshell, is the knowledge Herr Helmholtz bestowed on the world: that all sound, no matter how complex, can be mathematically broken down into constituent sine waves. Whether you know it or not, you’re applying that principle every time you insert an equalizer, examine a spectrum analyzer or shape a waveform in a synthesizer.

In 1863, this was a new and fairly radical concept. Helmholtz therefore wrote his treatise using plain language for a broad, non-technical (but musically-knowledgeable) audience. That’s why it still works as a primer today. Even if you are completely new to the subject, just remember that in 1863 so was everybody else.

Now some really good news: Hermann von Helmholtz is dead. OK, not so great for Hermann himself, but for you and me it means his work is in the public domain and can be had for cheap or free – which happens to be right in this cheapskate’s price range! You can read it online here: https://archive.org/details/onsensationston02helmgoog, or download a pdf here: http://books.google.com/books/download/On_the_sensations_of_tone_as_a_physiolog.pdf?id=x_A5AAAAIAAJ&output=pdf&sig=ACfU3U2hxgQKq3rkOJvMod4NDYMQz7iIXg

Helmholtz was a professor of anatomy, and it was his interest in human physiology that led to studies of sensory perception, initially ophthalmology and then hearing.

In the mid-19th century, a lot of research was being dedicated to drawing lines between the mechanics of the universe and aesthetics. It was an attempt to reconcile two spheres of intellectual pursuit that had, since ancient times, been treated as completely separate and incompatible realms. But in the 19th century the hunt was on for physical explanations and scientific descriptions for everything, even the arts. Why, for example, are some sounds pleasant while others are irritating? What really distinguishes music from noise? (OK, we’re still struggling with that one!) Helmholtz believed that such questions could be answered via the scientific method, through experimentation and observation.

Now, if you want to study sound, it follows that you’ll first need to make some sound. Specifically, sound whose amplitude and frequency can be controlled. Helmholtz began by using hand-cranked mechanical sirens, similar to a WWII-era air-raid siren. That must have made him real popular on campus.

Later, he invented a more practical device that came to be called the “Helmholtz Resonator”. You’ve probably heard that term in reference to an acoustical treatment (more on that below), but the “resonator” described in his book wasn’t an acoustical device at all. It was actually an electronic tone generator, what we would today call an oscillator.

With this resonator, he was able to generate consistent sine waves whose frequency did not depend on a student’s tireless arm to turn a crank. After building a bunch of them, he discovered that he could make complex sounds by combining multiple frequencies. He was even able to mimic vowel sounds.  

A case could be made that Helmholtz was the father of additive synthesis! Sixty years later, Laurent Hammond would employ a similar technique in the invention of the tone wheel organ.

NOTE: One of Helmholtz’s students was Heinrich Hertz, who went on to make great contributions to the field of electromagnetic physics and for whom the standard unit for frequency is named. Max Planck, who originated quantum mechanics, was another famous student of Hermann von Helmholtz. Walter Schottky, who invented the pentodes that power your Marshall stack, was in turn a student of Max Planck. The reach of teachers can extend across generations and centuries. Just one reason I respect teachers far more than rock stars.

Right from Chapter One, the reader is gently eased into the notion that all sounds, even the most majestic musical compositions, are in fact comprised of sine waves and that they are broken down into their constituent frequencies by the inner ear. It was a tough sell in 1863, and remains a tough sell to some musicians and audio engineers to this day. Helmholtz, however, slowly and logically builds his case for a logical connection between physics and music.

The first two sections of the book deal primarily with mechanics and physics, or “natural philosophy” to use the term of his day for the “hard” sciences. He makes general observations about the sensation of sound and the nature of periodic vibrations, with extensive explanations of the workings of the human ear. Helmholtz, knowing it would be a challenge convincing readers to connect the dots between physics and music, carefully avoids anything too radical or controversial in the first two sections.

The connection to aesthetics is gradually sneaked in later, when he begins talking about musical scales and notes, the relationship between pitch and frequency, and the mathematical relationships of notes in a scale. By the time he gets into intervals, harmonies and intonation it all just seems like a perfectly logical progression of ideas. With the possible exception of a few references to obscure composers, you’ll have no trouble following along, even if you’re better versed in musical terminology than mathematics.

When “Sensations of Tone” was originally published, some musicians took offense to its mechanical explanations of music, a resistance that persists even now. Musicians don’t want to think of what they do as being equivalent to a mechanical engineer’s constructs.

There is some merit to that prejudice. There are indeed things that can be heard but not measured or quantitatively analyzed. However, no evidence exists to suggest that ignorance of the physics of music somehow promotes better music. Even non-techies can benefit from this knowledge, which is why I consider this book to be essential reading. Helmholtz’s book will help you to better understand filters, synthesis, acoustic treatments, speakers, acoustical instruments and most important, the ultimate terminus of the signal chain: ears.

Helmholtz Resonator

 

This term has come to have a different meaning today than it originally had in Helmholtz’s book. Nowadays, it refers to a resonating cavity that effectively isolates one particular frequency (and its harmonic series) from broadband sound. Modern resonators are based on designs by Helmholtz that came after the publication of “Sensations of Tone”. Those designs, by the way, are quite similar to devices dating back to ancient Greece, where large pots (amphora) were used as acoustical treatments in open-air theaters. Archeologists, however, did not know their purpose until Helmholtz explained it in 1863.

 

The specific term “Helmholtz Resonator” is most often used in the audio world today to describe a type of bass trap that can be tuned to a specific frequency for absorbing problematic bass. Google “DIY Helmholtz Resonator” for instructions and formulas for building your own!

 

Helmholtz resonators also have other applications beyond acoustics, from internal-combustion engines to airplane wings. Fun fact: the loud whistle you hear when you roll down your car window slightly, or the tone you get by blowing over the top of a soda bottle are both demonstrations of Helmholtz resonance.

Review – Digital Sound Factory Ultimate E-mu Ensoniq Rack


 

The 1990s was the “rise of the rom-plers” era. Ensonic and E-mu were major players. DSF let’s us revisit tht time with Kontakt libraries that sound like the real thing because they are the real thing.

by David Baer, Mar. 2014

Today we’re going to look at a bundle from Digital Sound Factory (hereafter, DSF) of sounds from the first decade of rompler instruments.  Ensoniq and E-mu are both represented here.  This bundle is absolutely massive in terms of the number of sounds, with over 5000 programs included.  The whole bundle has a list price that may scare you away, but be aware of two things: a) DSF has frequent sales offering substantial discounts from list prices, and b) the individual components of the Ultimate bundle can be purchased separately.

I know from personal experience that it would be difficult to find a company with a more customer-friendly attitude than DSF.  The following quote from the DSF web site says it all:

We offer a complete Satisfaction Guarantee. If you are not satisfied with a product you may choose a different one of same or similar price, or, ultimately, have a refund. We also offer our customers a Lifetime Replacement Warranty. If for any reason the sounds purchased are deleted, misplaced, become corrupt, or the dog gets a hold of the computer hard drive, we will replace them absolutely free.

All the bundle components require the full version of Kontakt 3.5 or higher (although DSF also sells these sounds in several other formats like Soundfont).  The bundle is comprised of three Ensoniq instruments and either two or seven E-mu instruments depending on how you characterize them – six are different models of the Proteus 2000 line.  Importantly: all the sounds are first generation data.  The content was not created by re-sampling the hardware devices.

Origins

Before we get into the instruments in the bundle, let’s look at a little history of where the sounds came from.  The 1990s was the “rise of the rom-plers” era.  Sample playback had been a possibility before that time, but it was impractical for live performance.  Sample players had limited memory and content had to be loaded from diskettes, a process that took far too long for gigging musicians.

With the arrival of relatively inexpensive ROM (read only memory) storage, devices could be manufactured which held sample data in immediately accessible memory, either in on-board ROM or in expansion cards that could quickly be inserted.  No more long load times – the market was poised to take off.  But even though ROM storage was cheap enough to be viable for “prosumer” instruments, it was still expensive enough that sample data was constrained to 12-bit depth in all but the more expensive devices.

Two companies at the forefront of these developments were Ensoniq and E-mu.  Ensoniq was notable for having been one of the first companies to bring an affordable sampler to the marketplace, the EPS in 1988.  E-mu went on to be regarded by many as the premier practitioner of sampling craft in its day.

E-mu was acquired by the parent company of Creative Labs (known primarily for their PC sound cards) in 1993.  Five years later Creative bought Ensoniq and combined it with E-mu.  Musical instrument production continued for a few more years.  But eventually Creative Labs turned its full attention to the lucrative PC accessory market and the musical instrument manufacturing ceased.

E-mu’s chief sound designer, Timothy Swartz, had been with E-mu twenty years.  He acquired the rights to most of the E-mu/Ensoniq sample data and went on to start DSF.  So not only is he responsible for packaging all the content in this bundle, he was the principal engineer of the team that created the majority of the original sounds in the first place.

As to the source instruments, let’s start with the three from Ensoniq, the debut dates of which were 1993, 1996 and 1998 respectively.  The Ensoniq ASR-10 was a sampling keyboard that offered sample playback along with synthesis (and sample playback through the synthesis engine).  This was still a pre-ROM instrument, loading samples from external media.

The Ensoniq MR came next.  It did not directly accept sample data via diskette, but did allow for an expansion card (that could be custom loaded with sample data).  Other advances like an on-board sequencer were present.

This was followed by the Ensoniq ZR, which sported an at-the-time stunning 1200 on-board sounds and more available via expansion cards.  The Perfect Piano samples in the ZR were highly regarded, but this piano is absent from the Kontakt version because the rights to this were not acquired by DSF (a Kawai grand sample set is substituted as a replacement).

Let’s move on to E-mu.  The bulk of the offerings in this bundle are a set of Proteus modules.  But before the Proteus line came the E-max.  This was initially 12-bit but evolved to be 16-bit, with a correspondingly high price. The Emax II cost from $3,500 on the low end to $8000 for a fully decked out model, and these numbers are not adjusted for inflation.  As a result, it was limited to strictly professional use.  However, it delivered high quality sound and enjoyed a long life span (that is, long as far as electronic instrument life spans go).

Throughout the 90s, E-mu developed a series of rack-mount ROM-based modules called the Proteus.  This line culminated in the Proteus 2000 which debuted in 1999.  Priced as around $1200 (in 1999 dollars), it brought E-mu quality to the masses.  The Proteus 2000 allowed for expansion cards, of which E-mu provided a number having specific orientations: orchestral, ethnic, etc.  But E-mu also saw fit to produce a number of variants with the expansion data pre-loaded as ROM (but using the same base Proteus 2000 technology).  The five specialty models included Xtreme-Lead-1 (techno/electronica), Mo’ Phatt (urban hip-hop, if was even called that at the time), Virtuoso (orchestral), Planet Earth (ethnic) and Vintage Pro (electronic pianos, etc.).  All six models are represented in the DSF Kontakt incarnation.

The Instruments – So Much to Cover – Where to Begin?

There is so much content here that we won’t be able to do more than scratch the surface.  But let’s start with a generality common to all.  Each instrument has a main page and an advanced page.  The advanced page isn’t particularly intimidating.  In all cases you have two envelopes, one for filter and one for amp, and a knob to dictate how much velocity will affect each envelope. Also present are filter cutoff and resonance, and, depending upon the instrument, one or two other controls.  Anyone with rudimentary synth programming skills will make short work of program customization (in the event you even want to do that in the first place).  Below we see the two panels from the Ensoniq ASR instrument.


 

The sample content here is 1.4G in size.  Let’s just say that the sounds represent extensive diversity, with a bit of everything on hand, from synth sounds to acoustic sounds to animal sounds … you get the idea.  A full listing of the sounds, for this and all the other instruments under discussion here, is to be found on the DSF web site.  Find the page dedicated to just the Ensoniq ASR to see them.  Many are self-explanatory, including the all-important “Cowbell” program.  But as is so often the case, you’ll have to intuit names like “Afterthought” and “Ageless” as best you can.

Moving on to the next Ensoniq offering – below is the front panel of the Ensoniq MR.  This one comes in at a little more economical size of 57M.  We have the same general diversity of sounds (but this time three different cowbell programs!).  Seriously though, expect to find quite a few programs that are pretty corny sounding.  You won’t be buying a library like this for realistic, modern audio.  The MR package, like all its Ensoniq siblings, recreates an era, and it does so with considerable panache.

 

Rounding out the Ensoniq line is the ZR, this being delivered as 91M of sample data.  Again, we find much diversity with an emphasis on various forms of piano and related keyboards on offer.  As stated earlier, the ZR’s Perfect Piano is the one element from the original that is not duplicated in the Kontakt version due to licensing issues.

 

Turning Attention to E-mu

Let’s look next at E-mu’s Emax, weighing in at 81M of sample data.  The program list, while diverse, is a bit more businesslike in terms of usable musical programs as opposed to novelty sounds.  There are an impressive number of instruments in the Emax.  Naturally for this to happen in just 81M, expect the samples to make economic use of space.  In other words, you’ll get a vintage sound and you should expect little else.

 

Finally, let’s look at the Proteus instruments, all pictured below in one big stack.  With the Proteus we move into a transitional stage of sampled sound, at least to my ears.  Whereas everything else so far sounds like it originated on devices from the 90s, with the Proteus, some of the content is indistinguishable from modern offerings created with state-of-the-art technology.  Obviously that won’t be true of every program, since we are coming from ROM-based samples in the first place.  But some of it is quite fine.  You won’t want to use the Proteus grand piano in preference for the New York Grand that comes with Kontakt (unless you’re producing the “The Disco Concerto” or something equally period-vibe-oriented).  But you could easily feature some of these sounds front and center in your mixes and few listeners, if any, would be aware of the dated origins of the sound.  Some of them are that good.






 

The six instruments collectively weigh in at just under 500M.  There are some interesting side stories about some of them.  Frank Zappa percussionist Frank Mann has his signature all over the Planet Earth sounds.  It was he who lobbied E-mu to create an exotic sound collection that he could use on gigs.  With Virtuoso, it took some effort for E-mu to find a suitable and willing orchestral organization for the project.  They ended up in Seattle for what turned out to be a major recording project.  Timothy Swartz (at the time E-mu’s head sound designer) says the Vintage Pro is a favorite of his.  He fell in love with the Susnset Sound studio in LA, and had to drive up to San Francisco every few weeks in a truck to pick up two or three synths to carry back to LA for sampling just so he could do it in that studio.

Each of the full program listings can be found on the DSF site, but you need to look on the pages dedicated to the standalone packages, not the combined bundle.

 

Are These Sounds for You?

Let’s face it, there are simply so many sounds in the Ultimate bundle that it’s a little intimidating just to try to get your arms around everything that’s at your disposal.  The list price of the Ultimate bundle is $479, but as I write this, there’s a sale going on with the price considerably discounted to $199.  For over 5000 programs, I’d say that could fairly be called a bargain.

Although you can probably get the most bang for your buck by purchasing the Ultimate bundle, I suspect many buyers will prefer a more conservative approach by either picking up individual instruments or opting for a smaller bundle.  To me, the sweet spot is the bundle of the six Proteus modules, priced at $99 (as of today) and containing 3500 sounds.  The Emax full bundle is priced (not on sale today) at $199, the same as the Ultimate bundle price (on sale today).  But prices and sales may vary.  The best plan would be to get on DSF’s mailing list, exercise a little patience, and keep your eye out for the right sale.

While this collection offers a vast variety of content, it’s not going to satisfy someone looking for a soup-to-nuts state-of-the-art samples solution.  It’s not about that.  If you want the full orchestral package of sounds slimmed down to fit into the Proteus Virtuoso, you might instead be interested in DSF’s 2G Studio Orchestra collection.  For getting the full collection of original samples taken to create Vintage Pro, they also offer the Classic Keyboards package. 

This collection is all about being able to recreate the sounds of cutting-edge bands of the 90s and early 2000s.  Marketing maestro Don Draper from the TV series Mad Men might put it this way: when you purchase these libraries, you’re not buying sounds, you’re buying memories.

http://www.digitalsoundfactory.com

Review – Strum Electric and Strum Acoustic from Applied Acoustic Systems

The wizards at Applied Acoustic Systems have a way with math. We look at how mathematical simulations can conjure up an impressive pair of guitar instruments.

by David Baer, Mar. 2014

A PhD in physics and a PhD in mathematics walked into a bar.  Well, OK, maybe it wasn’t a bar, but in 1998 the two PhDs, both also musicians, got together to found a company to produce music creation computer software.  And if that amount of mental fire-power weren’t enough, a third PhD joined the team later that year.  So it should be no surprise that Applied Acoustics Systems (AAS) turned out to be other than your typical soft synth development operation.

What AAS specializes in is acoustic modeling – generating sounds that have the same characteristics as the real-world behavior from formulas.  From that as a starting point, one can also generate sounds that have no equivalent in reality by altering some of the parameters used in the sound generation.  AAS’s Chromaphone, which combines various models to produce the sound of drums, mallet-played instruments, and more appeared in 2011 to high acclaim.  Although I’ve had no experience with Chromaphone, AAS’s Ultra Analog, a decade-old virtual subtractive synth, has long been a personal favorite.

I had somehow completely overlooked AAS’s two guitar modeling instruments, Strum Acoustic and Strum Electric, introduced in 2008 and 2009 respectively.  But when Cakewalk bundled the former with its latest release of SONAR, Strum caught my eye and I though a closer look would be in order in spite of them being a half-decade old.  So that’s exactly what we’ll do right here.

Read the Fine Manual!

It’s convenient to discuss both of these instruments by separating the keyboard-to-note translation function from the function that produces the sound.  So from here on I’ll cleverly refer to those aspects as the front end and the back end .  While the back ends for both Acoustic and Electric have much to admire, to my mind the most innovative thinking went into the front end, which is essentially identical in Acoustic and Electric.

It’s clear from the get-go that AAS’s intent was to provide a piece of software that allows a keyboard player, even one who has never even held a guitar, to realistically produce music that sounds like it is being played by an accomplished guitarist.  What they devised to achieve this basically discards all conventions for how a software instrument uses keyboard MIDI input.

And because this is so, it is more vital to read the manual than any other instrument I’ve encountered.  Approximately one-third of the superb documentation is devoted to explaining this.  One might be able to understand all this by trial and error, but trust me – it will be far faster just to RTFM.

AAS almost certainly had a guitar player on staff or brought one in as a consultant when designing Acoustic.  While there are endless varieties of music that could be played on a keyboard but not a guitar, it’s all but impossible to play something through Strum that could not truly be played on a guitar.  I’ll attempt to explain briefly, but there’s far too much detail to adequately cover everything in a review.  With Strum, the documentation will be your friend.

Here’s the basic concept.  Just like a guitarist, the keyboardist uses the left hand to control the notes in a chord (i.e., how the fingers would be positioned on the guitar neck) and uses the right hand to pick the strings.  A range of keyboard notes is dedicated to the neck hand and another range to the picking hand.  Below is a diagram from the documentation (it’s the same diagram in the Acoustic and Electric manuals) that will help explain.

 

MIDI notes 40 thru 70 are “neck hand keys” or “note keys”, if you prefer.  MIDI notes 71 thru 84 are “picking hand” keys.  An option is provided to add an additional octave of note keys.  I’ll explain the picking hand keys in more detail shortly, but let’s first concentrate on the note keys.

There are two modes in which to play: Auto-strum enabled causes notes to sound when the note keys are played (we’ll get to Auto-strum disabled in a moment).  However, they do not have a normal keyboard response.  Play one keyboard note, the note sounds – nothing unusual so far.  But play a note, and while keeping the first note depressed, play a second.  You’ll hear the second note sound.  Now add a third note and you’ll hear a chord in which all three notes sound.  Strum really, really needs to … well, strum!

Want to play that pretty little Bach prelude on your keyboard that you took so much trouble to learn but have it sound as if played by guitar?  Strum is not the right tool for the job.  Yes, you could probably work out how to do it, but it would likely be a tedious and frustrating process.  Strum wants to keep you authentic as a guitarist and there’s not a lot to be gained by fighting that tendency.

The note mapping function translates three or more notes into a chord (usually successfully unless you’re doing something far off the beaten harmonic track), and then translates that information into a configuration of notes that a guitarist would be able to play.

And that brings us to the picking keys.  As can be seen in the diagram above, C5 is labeled Downstroke and D5 Upstroke.  When you have a chord selected by playing some note keys, pressing C5 produces a strum in which multiple strings (low to high) are picked in quick succession – which is a lot of words to simply say a strum happens.  With D5, the sequence is high to low.

There are several variations on the strum.  One is the palm-muted strum – a term guitarists will know but which the documentation fully explains for non-guitarists.  And there’s the alternate strum, using different (fewer) strings in the strummed chord.  White keys in the range E5 thru C6 can be used to play individual notes in arpeggios.  But they don’t translate directly to the six strings on the guitar.  The low note will be determined by the note-translation function.  One or more of the high arpeggio notes may repeat the same highest string note.

Now, finally, we return to Auto-strum.  As explained above, when Auto-strum is enabled you get sounds as you play note keys and you also get sounds as a result of using the picking keys.  But when Auto-strum is disabled, playing note keys produces no sound.  That only happens when playing picking keys.  I have a feeling that a lot of first-time Strum users will have the same initial reaction that I did.  At first, you feel the need to have Auto-strum on – you play keyboard notes, you expect to hear sounds.  But I also expect that many Strum veteran users will prefer to have it disabled.  Enabled or not, the picking keys are always active, and they do a much better job than your left hand fingers in producing a guitar-like sound.  That’s my guess anyway … your mileage may vary.

Next, let’s consider the on-board sequencer.  Guitar stylings can involve complex repetitive patterns.  When using Strum within a DAW, this is no big deal.  But playing live is another matter.  Guitar patterns can be complicated and requires good keyboard technique.  With the MIDI loop player, this challenge can be circumvented.  Strum comes with a good selection of pre-programmed patterns.  Even for those not wishing to use these in performance, they offer an excellent reference or starting point for developing one’s own stylings.  In Acoustic, there are sibling patterns, one of which contain both chords and “picking notes” in the sequence and one without the chords.  The former is useful as a learning tool to get an idea of how the pattern might be applied to your own music.  In Electric, the patterns all are fully fleshed out demos.

There is much more detail – too much to mention here.  For those curious to learn the full story, the manual for either instrument can be downloaded from the AAS web site.  You don’t need to install a demo version just to get your hands on the documentation.

The Might of Mathematics

Time to turn our attention to the sound production technology.  If the front end is inspired in design, the algorithms used to implement that design are probably relatively straightforward.  The back end is likely the opposite.  The design appears to be rather conventional, but it’s fair to assume that the mathematics required to implement sound production are scarily complex.

Let’s take one aspect as an example of something that’s common to both Acoustic and Electric: modeling the plucking device, which can be a flexible object (e.g. a thin plastic pick), a non-flexible object (e.g. a metal pick) or a finger.  The following illustrations from the documentation illustrate the parameters involved in setting up this aspect of the model.

Add to this the need to incorporate string characteristics, bridge characteristics, body characteristics (Acoustic) and pickup characteristics (Electric) and you might begin to appreciate what a triumph AAS’s software programming was.  As can be heard on the demo tracks available on the AAS web site, they really managed to make mathematically-generated guitar sounds authentic.

Of course, it doesn’t sound quite like sampled guitars.  There are no fret board squeaks.  The tuning is perfect.  Overall, maybe it sounds a little too clean to be completely realistic.  Some will consider this an advantage and others maybe not so much.

Then there the on-board effects.  These differ somewhat in Acoustic and Electric, as might be expected.  For Acoustic, we have a multi-effect module that offers delay, chorus, flanger, vibrato, a couple of “wah” effects, a notch filter and reverb.  Electric has most of that plus a module for specifying amp and cabinet characteristics, with a spring reverb thrown in for good measure.  Reverb is replaced with tremolo in Electric.

Acoustic and Electric both have a generous selection of factory presets allowing one to rapidly set up both guitar sound and playing style.  If upon first reading through the documentation you feel a bit intimidated about how you’d program the instrument (and there is quite a lot to digest), just relax.  The factory presets give you enough to work with that you may never feel the need to create your own sounds.  And they certainly can serve as starting points for a bit of modest tweaking when you can’t find the exact sound you’re looking for.  For Electric, AAS has thoughtfully provided DI (direct input from the pickup) presets.  Owners of full guitar packages such as Amplitube or Guitar Rig will probably prefer to go with the amps and cabinets of the guitar package rather than the more limited on-board options, and the DI presets are just the ticket in this case.

Is Strum for You?

If you are a keyboardist with little or no guitar skills who wants to sound like an authentic guitarist, then there’s no doubt that either Strum Acoustic or Strum Electric is worthy of your consideration.  Do you want to be able to blast out a brilliant riff that sounds like it was played by Eric Clapton?  Then maybe a better solution would be to buy a guitar and practice for, say, 10,000 hours.  But if your aims are only a tiny bit more modest, Strum is going to be a much quicker way to achieve your goals.  Make no mistake –  it will take some effort to learn to use Strum effectively.  But Strum will probably get you to an authentic sounding style more quickly than learning to mimic a guitar player with convention keyboard “moves”.

It’s amazing just how much an accomplished Strum keyboardist can actually pull off using this technology.  AAS has a video in which a professional player demonstrates what can be achieved.  The video is embedded here for your convenience:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcnLvav8h9Y

 

In my opinion, the Strum instruments are great pieces of gear.  The only thing I’d like to see that’s not there would be the ability to use just the front or back ends independently, especially with Acoustic.  For example, using the front end to output guitar-like MIDI to a clavichord or buff-stopped harpsichord sample player could be magical.  And, yes, it might be very nice to be able to play classical favorites on the keyboard and have the back end treat the MIDI input like a conventional MIDI instrument would.  Bach preludes on an acoustic guitar would sound quite appealing.

Both Acoustic and Electric are available as VST and RTAS formats on the PC and VST, AU and RTAS on the Mac.  At this time 64-bit versions are not available for the Mac, although 64-bit versions are promised.  AAS software does not require a dongle, but activation is easier if the computer has an internet connection.

Both instruments have a list price of $199 USD and a bundle with both lists for $299.  However, AAS has been known for the occasional sale in which the prices are reduced by as much as 50%.  A little patience would be well-rewarded in this case.

For further details and to purchase Strum, visit the AAS web site here:

 https://www.applied-acoustics.com/

Ginno’s Sound Investments

Gino Legaspi looks at four libraries from Zero-G, Sounds-of-Revolution and Sample Magic in an ongoing series of such reviews.

by Ginno Legaspi, Mar. 2014

 

Zero-G Critical Mass – Audioscape

Critical Mass, from Zero-G/X-fonic is a massive collection of twisted cinematic sounds and cutting-edge audioscapes that are suited for the production of soundtrack, cinematic, ambient, electronica and experimental music. As the title suggests, it is geared for high-end, modern use.

This library weighs in at 3.6 GB of 44.1KHz/24-bit audio and sampler patches. Supported formats include Acidized WAV (700+ files) and Apple AIFF for audio and EXS24, NN-XT, HALion and Kontakt for sampler players. The download or DVD version also contains a PDF file of “Production Notes” about the library, in which it gives you a detailed description of all of the sounds plus the equipment used in the production process. Basically, Critical Mass’ content is categorized and broken up into 4 separate folders of Production Kits, Sound Design Elements, Looped Sounds and Textural Beds. There are various sub-folders of sounds under the 4 main folders, except for Textural Beds. You’ll find high impact hits, industrial, deep space, SFX, horror, abstract, swells, drones, pads, organic ambiences, nocturnal noises and background bed samples. Upon auditioning the sounds, I can say that these are some of the most highly inspiring samples I’ve ever heard. Now, this is given that I’ve reviewed tons of libraries in past.  For the ambient producer who wants to take their music into the unknown, you’ll find plenty of obscure samples made with field recordings, CSounds/MaxMSP and various synthesizers such as Roland and Waldorf. If you’re a game composer who wants to push your soundtrack/composition to the extreme, there are countless of extraordinary, esoteric materials specific to the TV/game genre. The Production Kits folder is a goldmine to start with.

Building upon the success of coveted Dark Skies and Alien Skies libraries, Zero-G has once again upped the ante with Critical Mass – Audioscapes. Overall, this is a good sample pack with tons of quality sounds. I highly recommend this title. 

WEB:

www.timespace.com

FORMAT:

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

LIST PRICE:

59.95 £ including VAT

Sounds-of-Revolution Minimal Techno Revolution Vol.3

 

A film executive knows that if a good movie series is a constant box office hit, he or she will continue that series for as long as it draws millions and millions of ticket-buyers with each release.  If you’re successful with the first part, why not add a second or a third?

What we have here this month is Sounds-of-Revolution’s (aka Oliver Schmitt) third installment of the Minimal Techno series. The MTR series started back in 2010 and each release is, dare I say, getting better. Firstly, Volume three’s content of 1.4GB is in the same ballpark as its predecessors. In fact, you’ll find over 1400 stereo samples in 24-bit format. The full package includes WAVs, REX2 and sampler patches for Kontakt and EXS24. It features loads of synths, kick-free, atmosphere, bass (live & synthetic), percussion, drum and kit loops. You’ll also find effects, vocals, one-shots, SID and processed live audio samples. So don’t let the name “minimal” fool you, because the variety of samples is staggering. Secondly, we all know that it takes time, patience and technical skills to build a decent sample library. Well, MTR Vol. 3 was created with great detail, focus and Oliver was able to create the samples true to the genre.  The samples are very well programmed, organized neatly in folders, and the loop points are as smooth as a ripe mango skin. My favorite materials in this collection are the synths, the lo-fi sounding SID and the live basses. But even the live basses do not sound live as they have been heavily processed. It’s a good thing, though. Overall, I like MTR Vol. 3. Along with its predecessor, I am highly recommending this.

WEB:

http://www.resonance-sound.com

FORMAT:

24-bit WAV Stereo, REX Loops (Stylus RMX ready), EXS24 & Kontakt Patches

PRICE:

57.11 € full package

 

Sample Magic SM34 Drum Hits

One thing about producing tracks is that you want the best sounds you can get your hands on for your composition. Sounds that are production-ready and professionally polished so you can rest easy without worry of tweaking samples to perfection. Sample Magic’s Drum offers just that – a one-stop shop of high quality “one-shot” drum samples. This library is huge! We’re talking 1300+ of kicks, snares, hats, crashes, percussion, claps, hits and slams that you can think of. After auditioning, the focus here is definitely dance and electronica because of the how they sound and how they were programmed. The 44.1kHz/24-bit WAVS are very punchy, strong and very modern-sounding. What I like about this collection are the “Mid” Kicks folder. In it are bright kicks that are just punchy and can slice through a mix. The inclusion of 28 custom-programmed drum kits patches for sample player/drum racks such as Battery, Kong, NN-XT, EXS24 and Ableton Drum Rack is also a nice addition. Overall, the variety is great. This will last you for a long time.    

WEB:

www.samplemagic.com

FORMAT:

24-bit WAV one-shots, 28 x Battery, Kong, NN-XT, EXS24, Ableton Drum Rack sampler

PRICE:

34.90 € full package

 

Sample Magic SM White Label Organic Deep House

Organic Deep House from SM’s White Label is an ambitious take on that classic deep house sound. It is a mini sample pack weighing in at 435MB, but don’t let the size of this pack fool you. It has the different elements to feed your inspiration to make deep house compositions as well as other house sub-genres. Deep House includes drum, synth, bass, music, tops & percussion loops, as well as drum hits, chords & synth stabs. The samples themselves are true to the genre as they have that organic, lo-fi kinda feel. I love Sample Magic when it comes to their dance sample releases – no doubt about that – but I wish there were more loops in the “Music” and “Synth” loops folder as these are strongest of the bunch. The bass loops are kind of okay – not much excitement there. But when I was continuing to audition each of the folders, things picked up quickly with the 100+ “Drum” loops. The programming is superb and the grooves are a blast to listen to. They’re very impressive as they are, or if you want to add you own spin to the drum loops, there always the “Top” loops you can layer with them with. If you’re looking for organic samples that are deep-house tinged, and without breaking the bank, then Organic Deep House by SM White Label is something to consider for.

WEB:

www.samplemagic.com

FORMAT:

24-bit WAV

PRICE:

16.90 €

 

Ginno Legaspi: www.facebook.com/ginnolegaspi

SoundBytes Magazine on NAMM 2014

Intrepid SoundBytes writer Jon Carroll braved the freeways of Southern California to attend this year’s NAMM show. Here are some videos he captured while there.

Mar. 2014

SoundBytes Magazine’s Jon K. Carroll brings us a short overview of Nord Lead A1 by Clavia.

SoundBytes Magazine’s Jon K. Carroll brings us a short overview of Beatstep by Arturia.

SoundBytes Magazine’s Jon K. Carroll brings us a short overview of Spark 2 by Arturia.

SoundBytes Magazine’s Jon K. Carroll brings us an overview of a Bob Moog Foundations.

SoundBytes Magazine’s Jon K. Carroll brings us an overview of Sub 37 by Moog instruments.

SoundBytes Magazine’s Jon K. Carroll brings us an overview of Analog Keys and Analog Rytm from Elektron.

SoundBytes Magazine’s Jon K. Carroll brings us an overview of Rob Papen’s new Blue II virtual instrument.

SoundBytes Magazine’s Jon K. Carroll brings us a short overview of Korg’s hot new RK100 keyboard.

Review: Punch by Rob Papen

Punch is a drum synthesizer from Rob Papen. For some, that will be enough information to warrant to putting it in their shopping cart. If you’re not in that group, you may be interested in finding out more.

by A. Arsov, Mar. 2014

To say in a Biblical manner: “Rob Papen is sound, and sound is Rob Papen.” Years ago, I had Access Virus B. That was the first time that I had heard about Rob Papen. His sounds are all over Virus B. It was a very popular synth at that time – whenever I would turn my radio on, I heard those sounds. At least fifteen songs from the U.K 40 were buffed with those recognizable Rob Papen presets. A few years after that, we’ve got Albino, then Blue, and now Punch. I have to admit that I was a bit curious about what Mr. Sound can offer us in the drum field.

In a previous issue, we said that every drum machine has his own character, that FXpansion Tremor sounds like Sly Dumber in action (if that makes any sense). So, this one is more on the Stewart Copeland side – versatile; after all it is a drum synthesizer and sampler at the same time. It has its own sequencer, which is used in a pretty innovative way. It sounds very modern, with very well-defined sounds, and many of them. Finally we have a drum machine containing a really great number of presets (drum kits) along with a big array of separate drum sounds. All those sounds and presets can be manipulated with a carefully chosen set of controllers which can all be linked to any MIDI controller. With all those qualities and additions, Punch proves to be a highly recommended addition to any modern production. Sound-wise, Punch is a very “up-to-date” drum machine, achieving a nice balance between a top-sounding workhorse collection of various basic drum elements and a more exotic, effected one.

What and Where

Punch provides a nicely designed, clear graphical interface, being big enough so that you can work comfortably without gluing yourself to the monitor. The interface is divided into four parts, where the smallest one – sound browser – is always visible, being centered in the upper part of the graphical interface. There you will find two drop-down menus, allowing you to search through all the kits and hits. If this is a bit uncomfortable for you, then you can press the tiny green button near the Manager menu item under the upper “browser” part, bringing a much bigger browser window to the central, main window. Nice and clear. The only problem is that after I have spent some quality time, how to leave that window? (A little hint – small green dot on a right side.)

I’m talking so much about presets simply because they are one of the best parts of the whole story. Don’t get me wrong – not that I miss anything in the controller section – but all those included samples and MIDI loops are more than inspiring, and the fact that they have such a good range of different sounds and kits is a blessing. I simply can’t imagine myself starting every song by programming drum sounds from scratch ever again. With Punch you can start producing in a minute, as all presets are named and ranked by genre, so finding the right one is just a matter of asking yourself: “What shall I do today?”

Middle Until the End

The middle part of the graphical interface is buffed out with all sorts of controllers. They are arranged under the upper menu, the one that is under the upper browser. The first menu button, the default “Easy” one, offers just a few essential controlling faders that allow you to tweak the various drum modules on-the-fly: Pitch, Decay, Q and similar “sample, filter, LFO” essentials, along with four additional Mix faders for controlling the level ratio between the four essential parts of a full loop of the internal sequencer. (More about that later.)


The next one is the Pad menu, opening a whole heaven of parameters that you can tweak. At the left is the Quick Edit control panel with just four knobs for the main parameters of the chosen pad, while all the other space is occupied with a bunch of other controllers. All parameters and controllers are set for the selected pad in the pad section that is at the bottom part of the graphical interface, below the central window.

Before you go mad with all that tweaking, it is recommended to choose the “model” first. Actually this is a basic sound that will be the base for your editing. You can find it in a small window below the rank of controllers (actually it is a drop-down menu with an array of sub-menus). There is a bunch of various drum sounds, so even at this raw stage – before starting any further tweaking – you get a great number of variations for all the basic elements of a kit. After choosing a base sound, you can go mad tweaking and tuning, changing some parameters in the amp section, selecting the velocity, or changing anything in the very well-represented filter section. There are two basic models of controllers: 1) Default or “user” model and 2) “Tom model” for shaping Toms. In the middle part of the window we have a small “choke” section where we can select which sound will cut the other (usually a combination of open and closed hat), along with adding distortion and shaping volume and velocity.

At the right corner is the effects section, where you can add up to four different effects. The effects section shares one similarity with the preset section: There are too many effects to name them all. Maybe I just should stress the excellent reverb, containing the same model of reverb that is present in Rob Papen’s other synthesizers. The truth is that even most of the DAWs don’t have such a big array of effects included: Mono Delay, Stereo Delay, widener and so on and on.

Next is the Mixer menu, offering volume and pan knobs for every pad, ditto for all four effects. Nothing fancy really, but very useful for taming the balance between all drums in the selected preset.

The Mod / Fx menu is also filled with solid numbers of modulation options, very similar to what can be seen on many virtual synthesizers, so all sounds can be linked / modulated with a standard set of parameters and – as an additional bonus – can even be linked to one of the MIDI CC controllers.

The last one is the Manager window, the browser that we have talked about at the beginning of this article.

Further Up the Road

The bottom part is divided into the pad section on the left and the sequencer window on the right. Those parts are visible all the time (except in a Manager submenu – as this one covers the whole window).

The first two columns, containing sixteen pads, are occupied with synthesized drums that can be triggered with the keyboard, starting from C1. The third column, with an additional eight pads, is for sampled drums. Punch comes with a nice number of pre-installed samples, but you can also add your own sounds.

To the right of this three-column set of pads is another vertical column of eight pads that are a bit wider, belonging to the sequencer to the very right of this column. Every preset contains a set of eight preprogrammed drum patterns made specially for this internal sequencer. The eight patterns are Groove1 through Groove4 and Break1 through Break4, the latter containing breaks and some variations. Each of these eight patterns are divided out into four tracks, T1 through T4. For any particular groove or break, the first track is usually a kick pattern, the second a snare, the third a hi-hat and the fourth is for percussion. By holding down one or more keys on a MIDI keyboard, you can trigger one or more of the grooves and breaks to be played at the same time, providing many different full loops which use the same preset.

All the sequencer patterns are also available in a MIDI clip form that you can get from your registered profile on the Rob Papen site, and you are free to use them in your sequencer. The reason why you simply can’t drag them directly into the sequencer is the fact that Punch’s internal sequencer offers some unique options that cannot be emulated in a DAW’s MIDI editor. Every note in this step sequencer can be pitched and panned, and you can also set envelope speed, flam, velocity and disable the exact time.

Some of those functions are unique, but I would like to see a drag-and-drop option anyway, even if the exported file wouldn’t be exactly the same as the one in the sequencer. Anyway, the truth should be told that there are also some additional options that can make every desired part that is edited in those sequencer windows pretty unique: Flam, humanize, swing, or even changing the speed by multiplying or dividing it by the host BPM.

This Is the End

All in all, Rob Papen Punch is almost a must-have tool if you are doing any sort of modern production. There are plenty of good points (presets) for starting to build your tracks for almost every contemporary genre, even for cinematic music. A great set of modern sounds and samples, made by sound gurus, along with wide array of included controllers, make this one a life-saver in many production situations.

The sequencer is a bit different from the ones that you are used to, but the included patterns will make you forget that you can’t add more than one sound at a time on the pads connected to the sequencer. So, enjoy Punch. And how does it sound? Punchy!

For 147 EUR ($179 USD) you get a drum machine that could cover all your contemporary drum needs. Not bad at all.  

More info at http://www.robpapen.com/punch.html

Review: Cubase 7.5 by Steinberg

Alex Arsov left Cubase some while ago for another. But in a chance encounter with Version 7.5, his old steady won him back. He tells us all about his change of heart.

by A. Arsov, Mar. 2014

I grew up musically with Steinberg, but because of some money issues I stuck with version 5. And last year I decided to switch to a competitor’s DAW, as they offer some better solutions for some details that bothered me with my old version of Cubase. Obviously the Steinberg team took very seriously that decision of mine, taking a deep breath, rolling up their sleeves and nailing all the issues that bothered me. Not only that, they even implemented some really new elements that I hadn’t expected, and, what’s more, they made me feel like I was being an idiot, as they changed so many things that I didn’t even know how to use the sequencer I knew for so many years. So, it was my turn to roll up my sleeves, take a deep breath, watch various “what’s new” video tutorials…. And a week later I’ve decided to switch back to Cubase. Not that I necessarily had to do that, as at the end of the line I just got it for reviewing purpose, but seeing all the improvements and new additions, I knew that this will not be just a one-night adventure.

The first thing that sold me on Cubase 7.5 was a new mixer: It gives you the impression of being in a real recording studio; actually the whole new version gives that impression, the feel of a really big recording studio. It is mainly a matter of work flow. To be honest, that is the only thing that I’m interested in – achieving the best results in the minimum time. So no more clicking endless buttons to see insert or send effects. Also, the possibility to have a row with a track equalizer where you can quickly fix some settings, or just copy it with a right-click and paste it onto any track, is a real bonus (or maybe I should misspell it as a “boner” as I’m not a native English speaker 😉 ). There is a Q-Link button for temporarily linking the channels, all varieties of buttons for quickly selecting or deselecting various things, and an easy way to add or dismiss parts of the mixer window, along with the ability to hide some channels with just one click. All that makes this part of the sequencer very usable and user-friendly. And almost not to mention is the channel strip where you get all the essential controllers designed in an old-school, classic studio console style: EQ, compressor, noise gate, EQ position, Envelope shaper, Saturation (using Magneto 2 plugin) along with a limiter. You can activate or deactivate them with just one click. Nice and easy.

The new, simple, one-click audio quantisation is a heavenly addition for such a skilled instrumentalist as I am. Every new audio track is automatically blessed with hitpoints (hitpoints are markers separating audio signal relatively to the attack).

Instrument Track 2.0 fixed something that bothered me with Cubase for a long time: Finally I can load multitimbral instruments directly into the arrangement window, adding a new track, selecting the input and using other instruments on other channels, or track lanes, without leaving the main window.

The “good” old VST Channels window is now only for fine-tuning some parameters. I read something about that, but I haven’t opened it too much, as I did that so many times in the past that I have fulfilled my “VST Channel” quota for three next lives.

The View Agent works also in the arrangement window. In the past I always made some folders, calling them “unused” or “already used.” Now I can just disable the track in the View Agent window, and it is not presented in the arrangement window any more. Nice and easy. Suddenly my songs look far less crowded, as I disabled the view for a whole group of MIDI channels.

Track version is another “thank you, Steinberg” solution, as my CPU always went crazy when I copied a track with all virtual amps and effects just to record some new alternative version of the phrase or the whole track. Now you can just click on a track name, adding the new track version on the same lane, using the same effects and instruments. It works for MIDI tracks the same as for audio tracks.

Maybe all those things don’t sound important for you, but finally I’m not a problem solver any more. I can finally concentrate on music production. (With a little help from the new Cubase addition called “ASIO Guard” – “Nomen est omen” or “The name is the sign.”)

There are also big improvements in the Score field. You can now use almost the same functionality there as you have for MIDI: audio arrangement part, quantizing, changing note length etc..

VariAudio 2 allows you to build additional harmonies automatically, adding transposed track versions of your original audio take. We even have the option to make additional harmonies that follow the song harmonies, which brings us to the new harmonisation tool, the chord track. At this point I should tell you that some of these things are added in version 7, while others are added in the newer version 7,5. But for me, as I’ve missed two upgrades, everything is fairly new.

The chord track is a tool that can help you find a new chord or develop your harmonies, leading your song into a totally new direction. Chord Assistant offers you plenty of additional tools, even suggesting to you a chord between two other, taking into consideration only the first one, or alternatively, both of them. Dragging a chord from the Chord track to a MIDI event on any other channel leads to a harmony change according to this dragged chord. Actually you can rearrange the whole song using the Cord track. Err… not that I need this, but err… ah… it is a fantastic feature for all of us that thought that music theory has some sort of an unpleasant smell. This way or another – Chord track has become my good friend.

Effects and Instruments

Halion Sonic SE brings plenty of new useful sounds and instruments. Due to the fact that Steinberg was bought by Yamaha, Cubase brings a bag of new sounds and instruments from version to version, and most of them are fairly far away from being there just for increasing the numbers. Halion Sonic SE also brings the feature that I’ve missed for years in all samplers, from hardware to software: A sound preview before you use it. Every sound is automatically loaded when you press it, so finding the right instrument is not a nightmare any more. Halion Sonic SE brings a very impressive number of all sorts of instruments, from various drum kits, through some atmospheric ambient sounds, basses, guitars till my favourite, a beautiful collection of electric pianos. Halion Sonic SE also offers some additional functions that are not usual for sample players. Actually it is also a synthesizer, as it offers, for some synthesized sounds, almost all the controllers that average virtual synthesizers have. Secondly, on the sampler side, it offers to you the selection of a playing range, layering some instruments, along with ability to add internal effects on every channel and essential ranks of filter amplifier controllers. Anyone familiar with Yamaha instruments will know what to expect from this big little fellow.

Padshop is a pleasant surprise as it comes with a full bank of inspiring, nice-sounding, evolving pads which can be used in almost any production. As it is a sample-based synth, it offers a big number of additional controllers, so you can even further manipulate those sounds, no matter that they already sound surprisingly good.

The next new instrument is Retrology, a beefy retro synth, nothing revolutionary really, but far from being useless. I found some nice basses, unusual synths and similar retro bestiary.

Groove Agent SE4 brings fresh air, adding plenty of new options for taming every separate bit in every provided drum kit. It is an MPC sort of drum sampler, and with this new version it is absolutely one of the most advanced in the market with new kits and a new editing window on the right side where you can fine-tune drum hits by changing the pitch, shape, filter, amp, ADSR, and layers. The previous version was pretty useful, but was somehow limited in the editing field, while this one proved to be the ultimate MPC substitution.

More and More

There is also a new convolution reverb, ReValation, adding some additional controllers that we’ve missed in the old ReVerence, putting the whole thing on a whole new, more professional level. We got back Magneto, this time coming in an even better shape as Magneto 2, and if you count in the new Re-record mode which allows you to immediately start recording again from the same position as you started before, you’ve got a full bag of tools that makes a producer’s life much easier.

I still haven’t tried VST Connect SE 2, a tool that offers synchronisation between two computers running Cubase, allowing you to cooperate in real-time with other musicians working on the same project in real time, including recording a vocalist on other side of the globe.

More or less, those are only new things that come with this and the previous versions. Cubase had already offered some unique tools: A very advanced option for finding the best take out of various versions of the same recording, extra expressions inside the MIDI editor which allow you to add various expressions only to the chosen note inside the chord, a list editor where you can go into the tiniest detail inside your MIDI track, multitrack audio quantisation, advanced tempo detection, a browser with excellent search options, and an audio editor where you can fix a great number of issues.

Talking about audio, I almost forgot new life-saver issue: Detect silence under the Audio/Advanced menu. I imported audio steams from another sequencer and suddenly got an ugly mess of tracks inside Cubase. (It happens that some sequencers don’t have an option for exporting clips in a compatible format that another sequencer can read. Cubase supports all sorts of formats, so it is not a Cubase fault.) A few googled moments later I found this Cubase option, and after selecting it and applying it to all tracks, I got a very well-structured arrangement in a tiny little moment. It saved my day, as I’ve decided to import the whole new album back to Cubase.

Producer’s Choice

That’s what they say on Steinberg site. It is not far from the truth. Cubase offers all the tools that you need for recording, mixing and mastering your projects. So far, so good, but the problem in the past was that you have to do some workarounds and even use some third-party tools for fulfilling your tasks. Not that Cubase doesn’t have such tools, but they were not on so professional of a level. The main thing that Cubase 7,5 offers is the improved workflow with improved basic tools. It has become a mature professional studio. It gives the impression of big old recording studios. The new instruments could be the ones and only ones that you would need to make a song, and the same goes with effects. Also, it brings more and more things directly to the arrangement window, adding some really exotic but very useful ones to the upper menus.

Is there anything that could be better? Anything that some other sequencers have and Cubase still doesn’t? Of course, but I will not write about that, as I figured out during all those years writing about various sequencers, that all those companies are like those young girls at a party. They are always looking discretely at each other under the skirt, trying to find out what the competition is wearing, so they will figure it out for themselves, implementing those things in future updates. But at the moment, Steinberg convinced me to switch back from “we will not talk about this girl here at this party now,” and I’m back in the saddle. Time is money and with Cubase everything could be done as it was back in those days when we were hanging around in various recording studios. Even better and faster now. When I’m doing my songs, I want to record things and not to browse through the menus, trying to solve the bottomless bag of so called “issues.”

That’s why I like Cubase, and that’s why I like Ableton Live. They don’t cover the same field, and they have very different approaches and intentions, so they could live cheek by cheek, happily ever after without being direct competitors. But when you use them, it is like driving a Cadillac. Pure joy. Everything can be done on a very pro level in no time, leaving you enough spare time to spend with your family instead of sitting in front of the screen repeating nonsense tasks over and over (like doing an old-school audio quantisation, note by note).

Cubase 7,5 is THE recording studio, a workhorse that can swallow the whole symphonic orchestra without making a single hiccup. Making a project with the new version of Cubase is like listening to Ramones album. 1, 2, 3…. Do you want one more? Let’s go 1,2,3….

More info at http://www.steinberg.net/

Cubase 7,5 could be yours for 599 eur  (full version)

SoundBytes Freebies of the Month – May 2014

What’s better than free? How about free and really cool? Tomislav Zlatic presents four notable freebies in an ongoing series of such coverage.

by Tomislav Zlatic, Mar. 2014

Introducing a new series of articles about freeware tools for musicians, my name is Tomislav from Bedroom Producers Blog. I keep track of the latest freeware releases on the audio software scene and I’m looking forward to sharing my opinion about some of the latest releases from this category with SoundBytes readers. With so many freeware releases happening almost daily, it’s easier than ever to build a powerful software studio on a budget. Hopefully, this series of articles will help you, dear readers, add some great new tools to your plugin arsenal without spending a dime.

 

Nabla (Full Bucket Music)

Nabla by Full Bucket Music is an interesting emulation of the Korg Delta analogue string machine. The plugin really nails the vintage string sound of the original instrument and adds a couple of unique features which weren’t included in the hardware version of Delta. Same as with the original instrument, the sound engine of Nabla is split into the synthesizer and string machine sections which can be mixed independently.

  

The synthesizer section of Nabla lacks a bit of mojo in the bass department, however the rest of the sound is modeled with great precision. The addition of delay and phaser effects adds a new dimension to the sound of this instrument and expands the sound palette. The instrument is 64-note polyphonic and comes with an optional “God Mode” which enables true polyphony.

 Nabla is released as a 32-bit and 64-bit VSTi plugin for Windows hosts.

 Download: http://www.fullbucket.de/music/nabla.html

 

 

M-Phasewave by TubeOhm

 If you’re interested in adding some variety to your synthesizer plugin arsenal, the brand new M-Phasewave by Tubeohm is certainly worth a look. Based on the commercial Phasewave instrument by the same developer, this freeware synthesizer comes with the exact same set of features except for the polyphony.

 

 

M-Phasewave is a monophonic phase distortion synthesizer which will remind you of the famous Casio CZ product line in terms of sound. The factory preset library containing 64 preset sounds offers a nice kick start when playing this instrument for the first time.  However users who have experience with subtractive synthesis won’t find it difficult to program their own patches. Phase distortion synthesis may sound similar to FM synthesis, but it is easier in terms of programming by a large margin.

Other features of M-Phasewave include a set of two powerful arpeggiators and a handy effects section with chorus, delay and reverb modules. Being a monophonic synthesizer, this great sounding freeware instrument works great for programming bass and lead patches.

M-Phasewave is available as a 32-bit VSTi plugin format for Windows hosts and was developed with SynthEdit.

Download: http://www.tubeohm.com/TubeOhm/Phasewave.html

 

 

PhreePhuzz by LVC-Audio

Having a large set of features on disposal is often desired, however on certain occasions a simple and easy to use tool is exactly what we need. PhreePhuzz is such a tool, a streamlined and great sounding saturation effect designed with ultimate ease of use in mind.

 

The streamlined design doesn’t mean that PhreePhuzz lacks in the sound department. The plugin was developed by LVC-Audio, the acclaimed software developer behind the highly praised ClipShifter clipper plugin. PhreePhuz borrows its saturation algorithms from PreAMPed, which is another well regarded commercial product by the same developer.

PhreePhuzz features four different saturation mode.  Each of the four saturation modes uses a different multiband saturation algorithm. The integration of 4x oversampling reduces the aliasing effects of saturation. Ranging from subtle analog saturation to aggressive overdrive distortion, this is a great plugin to have as an option in your software studio.

PhreePhuzz is released as a 32-bit and 64-bit VST/VST3/AU plugin for Windows and Mac hosts.

Download: http://lvcaudio.com/plugins/phreephuzz/

 

 

SynthMaster Player Free by KV331 Audio

If you’re more of a preset user than a knob tweaker, then SynthMaster Player Free will be right up your alley. This freeware instrument packs an impressive set of 150 presets hand-picked from the SynthMaster factory library. The presets were provided by a group of top of the line sound designers like Rob Lee, Aiyn Zahev, and others.

 

Each of the 150 included presets features eight editable parameters which can be tweaked on the go. These editable parameters have been assigned by the sound designers who have worked on each individual patch. SynthMaster Player Free is also capable of loading patches from any commercial SynthMaster sound bank released by KV331 Audio. This means that the factory library included with the free version of the instrument can be expanded with dozens of economically-priced sound libraries which are available for purchase at the developer’s website.

The interface looks clean and it’s easy to browse through the presets quickly. The right side of the interface features an effects section which offers an arsenal of handy built-in tools like chorus, delay, reverb, etc. The effects can be bypassed with a single click, in case the user prefers using 3rd party tools to fatten up the sound of the instrument.

SynthMaster Player Free is released as a 32-bit and 64-bit VSTi/AUi plugin for Windows and Mac hosts.

Download: http://www.kv331audio.com/

 

Tomislav Zlatic: http://bedroomproducersblog.com/

Virtual ANS – Rebirth of a Classic, with New Bells and Whistles

The ANS Synthesizer was the most successful of the “light-controlled synthesizers” of the 1950s. Check out this emulation that extends the principles of the original in many new directions.

by Warren Burt, Mar. 2014

The ANS Synthesizer was the most successful of the “light-controlled synthesizers” of the 1950s.  There were three main synthesizers of this type; Percy Grainger and Burnett Cross’s “Electric Eye Tone Tool,” and Daphne Oram’s “Oramics,” and Evgeny Murzhin’s “ANS.”  In fact, although each of these machines used light in some way, they were all very different.  Grainger and Cross’s machine used light into photocells to voltage control the frequency of seven oscillators (this a good several years before Bob Moog patented the VCO!), and the Oramics machine had the waveforms drawn directly on 35mm clear film, while Murzhin’s machine used spinning disks with 720 different sine wave patterns on them (similar to an optical film soundtrack) to make waveforms which the ANS mechanism selected from and shaped with light-controlled amplifiers.   Of these machines, the most long-lived and successful was the ANS, which worked for many years in Moscow, and was used by a host of Russian composers, among them Eduard Artemiev, who used it to make soundtracks for a number of Tarkovsky’s films. 

There are a number of articles on places like Wikipedia about the original ANS, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ANS_synthesizer) and Stanislav Kreichi,who worked with the ANS for over 30 years, has a very descriptive article about his work with the machine at http://www.theremin.ru/archive/ans.htm.

For those of us who were unable to work with the ANS in its heyday (and that includes just about everyone), Russian software developer Alexander Zolotov has made the Virtual ANS, a software emulation of the original, which actually extends the principles of the original in many new directions.  For example the original machine was strictly a synthesis only machine.  Zolotov’s realization allows one to load sounds into it, and manipulate them with a full range of image processing tools.  Plus, it has one of the best sounding time-manipulation facilities I’ve seen in a sound-to-graphics-to-sound program.  Those of you enamoured of scrubbing, and freezing sounds at a particular spot, look no further.  I’ve been using the machine as a live performance tool, slowly moving through already time-stretched voice samples, and the results have had a liveliness and a live-ness that I hadn’t encountered in graphics-to-sound programs before.  For pure synthesis, the program has a number of drawing and shading tools, and if you want to use a more elaborate and finely-controlled program, such as Photoshop or Gimp, to make your drawings, it will import graphics in a wide variety of formats.   (I can foresee another round of puppy-photos-turned-into-sound-pieces, here!)

The program is inexpensive, too, or free, depending on its platform.  On March 8, 2013, currency fluctuations being what they are, the iOS version was $5.99 USD, the Android version was $6.01 USD, and the PC, Linux and OSX versions were free.  I very much like Alexander Zolotov’s policy of trying to release software in as many formats as possible.

The program is monophonic, unlike some other graphics-to-sound programs, but that’s not really a problem – and besides, all sorts of post-production panning programs are available.  Here’s a shot of the main screen of the program.

In this picture you can see a pitch ruler on the left, and a time ruler on the top, while a full range of controls are at the bottom of the screen.  In this picture, the sound (a stretched voice) at the left of the picture was selected with the select tool (the dotted line square icon), and then copied.  A similar sized box was drawn on the right of the screen, and the copied sound was pasted into the new box, and turned upside down with a tool on the “Effect” screen.  All sorts of manipulations of parts of the sound are possible with the Effect screen.  The play (forward and backward) controls are at the lower right of the screen, and if you put your finger or your mouse (depending on your platform) in the time ruler at the top of the screen, you can drag the sound-selection at any speed you like, or stop the sound, or leap around the sound to different parts.

When you create a new screen, either for drawing or for importing a picture or sound into it, you get a screen like this:

 

On this screen you can set the fineness of resolution of the various parameters of your drawing or sound.  As I’m going to import a vocal sample, I’ve set the Beats Per Minute to 300, the maximum, and the Pixels Per Beat to 50, almost the maximum, so that I can get a pretty fine-grained sampling.  This will allow me to slow the sound way down, and still maintain quality.  And during the course of working with a sound, you can re-set these controls to produce all sorts of effects.

Speaking of effects, here’s the Effects window:

 

Many different effects are possible here.  These can be applied to the whole screen, or to any area of the screen that you select. Most of the effects are controlled by the sliders on the bottom of the screen.   Alexander Zolotov says that more capabilities will be available in future updates of the program.  For example, he recently added the ability to grab a part of an image to make a brush which can be used to paint with part of a picture or sound-spectrum.

This picture shows the program in the act of playing a sound:

 

Notice the illuminated cursor which shows where the sound is being played.  And if you place your mouse or finger on the far left of the screen and drag it up and down, you’ll be able to hear the individual sine wave pitches that make up the sound at that moment.

The program is very inexpensive (or free), and it’s very powerful.  I’ve barely scratched the surface of its abilities here.  I can recommend it highly.  I’ve already been using it in my pieces, playing it live on iOS, PC, and Android platforms, and using it in a studio environment as well. Its usage has been very clean and trouble-free, allowing me to do things I’d wanted to do previously, but hadn’t been able to, and I’m very happy with it.

  

http://www.warmplace.ru/soft/ans/

SoundBytes mailing list

Browse SB articles
SoundBytes

Welcome to SoundBytes Magazine, a free online magazine devoted to the subject of computer sound and music production.

 

If you share these interests, you’ve come to the right place for gear reviews, developer interviews, tips and techniques and other music related articles. But first and foremost, SoundBytes is about “gear” in the form of music and audio processing software. .

 

We hope you'll enjoy reading what you find here and visit this site on a regular basis.


Hit Counter provided by technology news