Monthly Archives: November 2014

Picking the Right Synth for Rookies with Special Guest Joe Hanley from Audible Genius

With the bewildering number and variety of synthesizers available today, it can be a daunting task for the newbie to know where to start.  Here are some tips.

 

Soundbytes, Nov. 2014

 

Introduction by David Baer

Joe Hanley (pictured right) along with wife Simone are the folks behind Audible Genius, the company that brings us Syntorial, an innovative and effective interactive teaching tool for learning subtractive synthesis patch design:

http://www.syntorial.com/index.php

Check out the “about us” page on the site to learn of the interesting genesis of Syntorial (and by all means give the demo download a try if you think you might benefit from this kind of learning).

Joe wrote a piece for his website called “Picking the Right Synth”.  Since this seemed to be a perfect subject for an article in the Rookies series, we contacted Joe to see if he would allow us to republish it in SoundBytes Magazine.  He graciously consented, and it follows.

 

 

There are soooooooo many synths nowadays. It’s overwhelming really. So I’m gonna help you boil it all down by telling you what does and doesn’t matter.

 

Doesn’t Matter

1. If a synth is giving you the sounds you want, it doesn’t matter how much you paid for it. Whether it’s free, $200, or $3000, if you like the way it sounds, then you’ve chosen the right tool for the job. It’s easy to get caught up in feature lists and hype, but just remember, at the end of the day it’s the actual sound that matters, not the price.

2. If you can’t hear it, it doesn’t matter. Along with the obvious differences between synths, there are relatively subtle differences as well. Analog vs Digital for example. Or different types of filters (Ladder, Curtis, Steiner Parker…). And you may hear people talk about how important these aspects are, which will make you feel the need to choose the right one, which then might make you feel dirty and shameful for not being able to hear the difference. Well wipe away your tears because YOU are going to be the one programming this synth. And each little tweak you make is motivated by what you hear. So in your world, if you can’t hear it, it doesn’t matter. Besides, trying to purchase a synth according to features that you anticipate you’ll need in the future is like buying size 13 shoes for a toddler. And, in due time, your ears will become more refined and eventually start to notice this stuff, at which point it’ll probably be time for a new axe anyway (ME WANT GEAR!!!!! FEED ME GEAR!!!!!!)

 

Does Matter

 

1. Sound

Above all else, sound is king. I’ll be mentioning other aspects of synthesizers in this article, but they all pale in comparison to its sound. Seems obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up in feature lists, fancy interfaces and hype, and forget to just close your eyes and listen to the damn thing. I find that synths generally fall into one of the following four categories:

Bread And Butter: These synthesizers are usually subtractive and are responsible for most of the synth sounds you hear. Everyone should have one, and if you’re new to synths, you should start here. These synths started it all with the likes of the Minimoog and the Prophet, and they’ve maintained their head-of-the-table status in the synth world because the sounds they make are the backbone of synthesis. There are a TON of these, so I’ll just list a few. For soft synths, check out Sylenth1, Diva, and Synth1. Synth1 is not as nice as the previous ones, but it’s free, and highly underestimated. For hardware I recommend the Minibrute, Bass Station II, Prophet and Voyager. And for you iPad users, try Sunrizer. Again, I’m missing a lot here. These are just a few suggestions.

Style Specific: Some synths are particularly good at creating certain sounds and textures. This is mostly determined by the type of synthesis used. FM synths like FM8 or Operator are great for metallic, bell-like tones as well as electric string textures. Physical Modeling synths, like Logic’s Sculpture add a realistic element, particularly in a string-like acoustic way. In some cases, a synth is set up for a specific task, or develops a reputation for a certain style. For example, Omnisphere is a gigantic evolving-atmospheric-pad creator. And Massive has become synonymous with EDM, especially Dubstep, mostly for its aggressive and modern personality.

Beasts: Some synths come with A LOT of features. SynthMaster is a notable one. It’s got every sound manipulation you could imagine. Alchemy is another that involves multiple types of synthesis plus sampling and resynthesis, bringing in a whole other element of sound design. Zebra 2 is yet another. These are the big beasts of the synth world so I’d only venture here if you’re at least somewhat experienced and truly need one synth with many capabilities. Keep in mind though that these synths tend to have multiple personalities since they can do so much, and are often used by those who want one synth that can do everything.

Miscellaneous: These are unusual synths that don’t really fit into the previous three categories. The Swarmatron is a great example. No keys, two ribbon controllers, and 8 oscillators that can sound like the synthesis equivalent of a swarm of bees. Or Reaktor, which is a collection of synths that span all of the previous categories and more importantly, allows you to build your own synths.

Some synths can fall into multiple categories, but the general idea here is to figure out what you want. Do you need that traditional subtractive capability? Or is there a very specific task or style you’re going after? Are you ready to upgrade to a do-it-all beast? Or are you looking for something different? Once you figure that out, forums like Gearslutz, KVR and Vintage Synth are excellent places to ask people for recommendations based on what you’re looking for.

 

2. Features

The type of sounds a synth is capable of making is determined by two things: the guts and the controls. The synth maker decides what kind of oscillators, filters, envelopes, LFOs and effects will go into a synth. These are the guts. They then add the knobs, buttons, and sliders which will allow you to manipulate those guts. These are the controls. You can usually see a list of controls and guts on the synth maker’s website. But, if you don’t know how to program a synth, this list is meaningless. Why?

When you learn how to program a synth, you start to build up an intuitive sonic understanding of how each control truly affects sound. During this process you become attached to certain types of controls and guts, simply because you like what they do to sound. With this knowledge you can then start to understand what each synth is capable of by looking at its features, as well as whether or not it will suit your needs and make the sounds you want.

So if you can’t program a synth, its features are going to be much less relevant to you during the choosing process. In this case I would dial through a synth’s presets to get a good idea of what kinds of sounds it can make, Or, learn how to program. Here’s an article I wrote on that subject. And here are a few synths that lend themselves to learning: Synth1, Gaia, Basic, and (shameless self-promotion incoming…….) Syntorial.

 

3. Interface

The user interface varies quite a bit from synth to synth. Yes, the sound is what truly matters, but the interface will have a big influence on how YOU interact with the synth, and thus a big influence on the resulting sound. When assessing the interface, there are two important traits to keep in mind:

 

Usability: Some synths are more program-friendly than others. For example, in order to route modulation sources to their destinations (LFO to filter cutoff, mod envelope to pitch, etc.) many synths use a Modulation Matrix. This is essentially a grid in which each row represents a source, destination, and amount. Think Z3TA+ 2 or Thor. This is very common in today’s more feature-heavy soft synths. While this creates an easy-to-see set of modulation routings, a much more intuitive way to present routings is with a drag-and-drop system, like the one used in Massive or Twin 2. In this scenario, you drag the modulation source onto the destination, and in Massive’s case the amount of modulation is highlighted around the destination itself. This creates a very obvious and intuitive relationship between the source and destination.

Aesthetics: This is much more subjective. From how nice it looks, to how inviting the controls are, this superficial aspect shouldn’t be underestimated. Some instruments beg to be touched and tweaked and that extra appeal can help draw you in and make the programming experience more enjoyable. This one is unique to you, the user, and your general feelings of like/dislike will guide you here.

So, it’s important to try programming patches from scratch on a synth before you decide to buy it, as this will give you a general impression of its usability and aesthetic.

 

4. Digital vs Analog

As I mentioned before, this one only matters if you can tell the difference. But even then, you should still make sure that you NEED that difference before plunking down the cash.

For example, in a band I used to play in, one of my keyboardist responsibilities was synth bass, which I played on a digital synth. If I could do it again though, I would’ve bought the Sub Phatty just for that purpose, without thinking twice, because GOOD LORD THAT BASS. The analog-ness would’ve given it the balls it needed to compete with the guitarist and drummer in a live situation.

But, in the studio, everything gets recorded and mixed, and everything runs through a digital environment at some point in the process, so some of that analog benefit can get lost. Not to mention that some of the best digital synths are getting awfully close to sounding analog. And, if you can’t program the thing, you can’t really take advantage of it. Moral of the story: IF you notice the difference, AND you feel like your specific situation would really benefit from analog, AND you can program, AND you can afford it, go analog.

 

5. Chemistry

This is the intangible “Do I connect with this synth” quality. The only advice I can give here is that if you really like using a particular synth, it should be near the top of your list. So when you’re trying out a synth do two things: dial through its presets to get a good idea of the range of sounds and capabilities it has, and try programming some patches from scratch. During these two processes, pay attention to whether or not you’re enjoying yourself. You will naturally connect with some synths more than others.

 

6. Cost

Of course, how many Benjamins (or Washingtons for you working musicians) you have in your wallet plays a big role in all of this. But again, before you get that really nice synth, ask yourself if it will TRULY serve your needs more than a less expensive one, particularly if you’re new to synthesis. For you soft synth users, most of the synths I’ve mentioned in this article are under $200. For you analog hardware lovers, the new line of small analog synths like the Minibrute, Bass Station II, and MS-20 Mini, are fantastic sounding synths in the $400-$600 range.

 

 

Conclusion

There are hundreds of synths out there, and the ones I mentioned only begin to scratch the surface. But remember this: your tastes will change over time, so don’t feel the need to choose the PERFECT synth. Consider the previous criteria I outlined, try out several, and then go with your gut. One synth won’t be able to do everything you’ll ever need because what you need shifts over time. You’ll probably acquire at least a few synths over the years, and each one will have its unique place in your creative process.

And if you’re new to synthesis, do NOT spend a lot of money on your first synth. Your tastes are going to change a lot as you become more familiar with synth programming, and you’ll want to wait until you know yourself a little better before making the investment.

 

Lastly, some resources:

KVR Database. This is a fantastic plugin database that you can search by very specific criteria and includes tons of soft synths with reviews and technical info.

Vintage Synth Explorer. Library of mostly hardware synths with reviews and specs.

Gearslutz, KVR and Vintage Synth forums. People and their opinions.

 

Happy hunting!

 

 

 

Review – Groove Agent 4 by Steinberg

 

 

 

Finally we have a fancy virtual version of a drum-oriented Swiss Army knife, a magic all-in-all pack that could cover your every drum need – impressive functionality for a surprisingly low price.

by Alex Arsov, Nov. 2014

We at SoundBytes always talk about the software that we are working on at the moment. When I mentioned in an email how satisfied I was with a Groove Agent 4, Suleiman, our drum expert, wrote me that he hadn’t tried it yet. But in going through the specifications, he noticed that it has only eight layers per pad. He thought this could not be enough, at least for such a good instrument, as I claimed that Groove Agent 4 was.

More or less, this is the main story about Groove Agent 4. You can find better-equipped or more highly-specialized VST instrument for every particular section or function of Groove Agent 4 – e.g. Rayzon Jamstick mimicking behavior of a real drummer. Superior Drummer or Steven Slate Drums are a bit snappier when a rock kits start to groove. Fxpansion Geist has more advanced loop manipulation tools and so on. But all those tools cover just small specialized niche or function, all of which Groove Agent 4 has. Being a reviewer for so many years, you can imagine that I have all those specialized tools, but no matter. It happens that since I got Groove Agent 4, it has become my main tool for all percussion and drum tasks. It has proven to be the most complete drum workstation available at the moment, with a really big and versatile library, a great collection of MIDI grooves and an almost endless, deep collection of tools and controllers covering almost every aspect of drum manipulation and programming. It simply offers a great number of tools for working with drum loops, MIDI clips or separate hits and kits.

Groove Workstation

Installation is pretty straightforward. Of course, as this is a Steinberg product, you must have a USB licenser. If you own Cubase, then you already have it; if not, you can buy it from Steinberg. The only minus is that installation program doesn’t ask you where to install the VST 2 version of the program, so I’ve spent a few days trying to figure how to make it work with other DAWs. After finding the VST 2 version and copying it to my common VST directory, it worked as it should.

I’m not familiar with any of the older versions, but even being a novice in Groove Agent series, it is not difficult to figure how to get started. There are two facts that you will notice after first few minutes of toying with Groove Agent 4. The first one is that the included kits and loops sound really good: crisp on the highs, clear and “attacky” in the mid-range and having a fine defined, punchy low end, all in all fitting perfectly in a mix. The second fact is that the whole workstation is outfitted with a massive selection of options. Thankfully everything is logically ordered, so you can go deeper and deeper from one window to another one without losing yourself. Groove Agent 4 is obsessively detailed. Looks like Steinberg locked a few programmers in a basement for a year and half, letting them out only if a Steinberg inquisition inspector squad couldn’t find any bad spots. (OK, I found one, Groove Agent 4 doesn’t support MIDI out, so you can’t record your MIDI manipulations in real time directly into sequencer – but as the previous version supported that, according to some forum posts, I presume this is just a temporary fault that might be corrected in next update.)

All in all, it is very impressive that Groove Agent 4 not only covers every drum manipulation aspect that we can find in the market in various third party plug-ins (loop manipulation with slicing, and auto-classifying hits based on a frequency range inside the imported loop, MIDI pattern editing, building kits, sample editing, programming a virtual drummer, mixing kits or even separate hits internally with a great arsenal of implemented effects, and so on … ), but it goes really deep in every named separate aspect, offering a great number of additional controllers and tools which add plenty of new sub-windows, allowing editing of details that are mostly expected from specialized plug-ins. Groove Agent 4 is a drum Swiss Army knife. You name it and Groove Agent 4 will frame it.

Bible in Details

Groove Agent 4 allows us to load up to four different engines, or different kits or loops at once. Actually, it is four-channel multi-timbral, as we used to say in the old sampler days. That means that you can have a real drum kit with additional MIDI pattern on the first channel, percussions along with MIDI patterns that come with specific preset on a second channel and two additional loops on other two channels – or even loop elements ranked over the pads ready to trigger them through a Rex-like MIDI clip that you can drag it on a track. You just need to press a slice button after you import your loop and it is done – of course, all four channels could be independently controlled through four different MIDI channels in your sequencer and all four channels can carry any combination of the described elements, so, you can have four different percussion presets or two acoustic along with two percussions and so on.

The whole Groove Agent 4 structure is divided into three essential parts, or agents as they call them. Acoustic agent brings three different acoustic kits: Studio, Rock and Retro Kit. There are 55 different presets, styles for those three kits with appropriate preprogramed MIDI clips, bringing intros, ends, separate elements of the rhythm and whole rhythm patterns. Second one is a Percussion Agent bringing a large number of various percussion instruments along with 125 different presets, styles and great number of MIDI pattern loops. The last one is a Beat agent with 102 different presets and great number of (as far as I know over 100) different kits for all sort of electro RnB Dance and all other “beat machine” styles along with even bigger number of MIDI grooves. All three Agents have over 3800 various MIDI patterns, being divided into loops, intros endings and separate loop elements. Not to mention that you can drag and drop your MIDI patterns from DAW directly to any of the 128 pads saving them as a Pattern group for further use for any other song or a kit.

Every agent brings different set of controllers specific to that agent. In Acoustic agent, the most specific controller is a XY controller allowing you to balance between two parameters; intensity and complexity. The first one determines how hard the hits will be played inside the MIDI pattern. The other, Complexity, determines the pattern, adding or taking away some elements to the MIDI pattern, like additional drum hits, more hats for a chorus. It differs from pattern to pattern according to the selected style. There are a nice number of styles that determine that behavior and can be implemented to any pattern. Most are predefined, but with a single click you can open style window for any pattern changing that style.

Each of the three agents also brings a large number of additional controllers that you can reach through hierarchically ranked editing buttons. I have been using Groove Agent 4 for almost a month, using it daily, but I’m still discovering more new things. I’m not so sure what developer manager had chewed during the developing phase but I presume it was something extra strong (no offense please) because I haven’t seen so complex instrument for a long, long time. Thankfully the whole structure is logical and straightforward. So you can easily start using this instrument, finding all basic elements without any trouble, but when you start digging a bit deeper … it is like exploring ancient catacombs or sitting in a Jumbo Jet’s cockpit.

All Together

At the main window we can see two buttons that determine editing field, dividing all further editing depending whether you chose the Instrument or Pattern section. That is common to all three agents, the first one, the Instrument section, is a place where you can fine tuning all kit elements using a set of basic parameters differing from agent to agent. Acoustic and Percussion agents have a set of ADSR controllers for most of the kit elements along with additional room, tune, bleed and overhead controller knobs for every kit element along with a few specific additional ones for hats, like a knob for controlling the bow, tip and edge level, while most of the percussion instruments contain only tune and room knobs along with attack, decay and release knobs. Of course there is also an additional MIDI FX section where you can set some additional MIDI controlling elements for some of the kit elements.

The Instrument section becomes far more complicated for a Beat agent, where the arsenal of tools goes much deeper for any selected sample (or loop) from the kit. The editing window has got seven additional sub-windows where you can fine tune any aspect of the selected hit. Main, pitch, filter, slice, amp, sample and MIDI FX sub-windows offer a great number of editing possibilities that go far beyond just basic tuning every kit element. It is also pretty straightforward to set layers for a single pad, if you import up to eight different samples to one of the sixteen pads, all samples will be automatically ranked over the velocity range from the first to the last one. Of course, one preset can contain up to eight pad windows, so it is possible to load up to 128 different samples (without counting layered sounds) in one kit.

In the Pattern section, the main feature, at least for me, is a Pattern editor, a drum MIDI-editing-like window, where you can edit selected pattern changing, adding or deleting some MIDI elements. This pattern editing window is common to all three agents. There are also few other editors that can be found inside Pattern section, where you can edit some other parameters, like defining the swing amount or adding, deleting or saving some other patterns.

More and More

On the right we have another four buttons where the Edit button opens a different window depending on whether we are in the Instrument or Pattern section, while other three are common, no matter which section we have selected. The Load button opens a small but mighty browser where you can load kits, changing pattern groups getting new interesting combinations or even browse through separate kit elements replacing just a snare or any other instrument. The Next button opens a Mixer window where you can add up to 29 different types of effects to any of the selected output – as Groove Agent 4 offers up to 16 channels – right click on a drum pad and you get an option to select output to that pad or to select different effects for to any of the used Agents. Regarding effects – don’t make me start naming them as there are almost more effects than you can find on average DAW, and every effect has additional parameters for fine tuning the processed sound. The last button opens Options window for optimizing some essential parameters, like selecting how much RAM should be reserved for kit use, an optional bit rate, and few similar general things.

Virtually Everything

We should not forget one function of a virtual drummer, one similar to something we could find on Jamstix. With this function you can trigger patterns with your MIDI keyboard, setting auto complexity of how often some randomizing elements should apply, a number of bars before one of the breaks will appear, level of quantization, swing level, when crash should appear and similar things. More or less, it works as it should. I miss ability here to record the end result as a MIDI file, doing some further editing, changing this and that. But as we mentioned in the first part of the article, I presume this feature should appear in some future update.

It Could Become an Endless Story

This is just a review, so we really can’t go through all details that are implemented in this comprehensive workstation. It is a fact that Groove Agent 4 offers far more than just an essential set of options and tools for all sort of drum manipulation, no matter if we are talking about live kits, percussion, rhythm machines or even drum samples or third party loops. In most cases you will not run out of editing capabilities no matter how much picky you are regarding the end result. For me, it is an ideal tool to achieve end results in a far less time than I’ve become accustomed to. At the moment, it is the most complete drum workstation on the market. The main advantage is not just the level of editing possibilities, but also ability to work with different tools or even approaches and techniques under the same roof, being able to combine them without constantly switching between different tracks and plug-ins. In times past, I wasn’t especially keen to use just one tool for all those tasks, as there was always the problem of mixing all those different elements. If they were in the same box, having insufficient control over the separate elements was the price paid. But as most of the included kits, patterns and presets are already optimized in advance …

Groove Agent 4 sounds so good and offers an almost endless number of options in its menus, assembling so much diverse functionality under the same roof, that you could easily forget some extra abilities that you can find in some other, more specialized instruments or plug-ins. Actually, you can’t believe what everything Steinberg squeezed inside that small window of a Groove Agent 4 considering it’s more than reasonable price of €179 EUR.

Afterparty

At the time I’m writing this article, we already have gotten the first Groove Agent 4 extension. I presume there will be much more in a near future.

Until then, enjoy the first-class drum Babylonia, where thousands of different sounds sound like one drum pattern. Ladies and Gentleman (a short break with a drum roll at the end) – The Groove Agent 4!

More info on:

https://www.steinberg.net/en/shop/buy_product/product/groove-agent-4.html

Review – Diversion by Dmitry Sches

 

Diversion is a software synth that offers subtractive capabilities as well as some elements of FM, granular and RM synthesis.  Learn more about it here.

 

by Rob Mitchell, Nov. 2014

 

Diversion is a softsynth plugin by Dmitry Sches. In its basic form, it is a subtractive synth, but has some elements of FM (frequency modulation), granular synthesis, and RM (ring modulation) as well. 

It was first released in August of 2011, and the plugin received a lot of praise on many of the online forums. It wasn’t just another virtual analog type of synth, which has been done a million times over. It had a special character to its sound, as well as a great user interface, and many people took to it right away.

It started out as a 32-bit Windows plugin, but soon after that, a 64-bit version was available. Eventually, Dmitry also developed a version for Mac users. He added sample support and granular synthesis in a new release for December 2013, adding to its impressive feature list. I’ll get to those features soon, but first I’d like to go over the installation and system requirements.

The installation was very easy, and you just place the personal license key into the folder where Diversion is installed. For you PC users, one great thing about the plugin is that it won’t mess with your registry at all.

The system requirements are on the high side, as they recommend a “modern powerful processor”. It is available in 32-bit and 64-bit formats for both PCs and Macs. For PCs, it will run using XP, Vista, or Windows 7. For the Mac, you’ll need OSX 10.6.8 (or later). As long as you have an Intel i5 or i7 CPU, then you should be ok.

They do mention that most of the presets were designed to be playable using an Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor. That is pushing it though, as they also mention it will be around 50% CPU usage when playing most of the presets in Diversion’s library. You could always freeze tracks in your DAW, and it may be a good idea, especially if you’re going to use many instances of the synth plugin.

One reason they mention the higher specs is the switchable oversampling. If you switch it to one of the higher oversampling rates, such as 4X or 8X, it sounds great, but it will also use a lot more of the CPU.  The standard way it is set is 2X, so many presets should work ok on slower PCs or Macs, but a faster CPU doesn’t hurt either.  It also has up to an eight-voice unison, which you can adjust if things get a little out of hand. Some useful tips on how to reduce CPU usage are given in the manual.

Diversion is priced at $169 USD and includes nearly 400 presets. You can download the demo version from their website to try it out with your own setup. The only limitation on the demo is that it plays a noise every 90 seconds.

 

Oscillators

Diversion has four oscillators, and unlike many synths out there, the main waveforms are generated by the oscillators themselves. Each oscillator has a power button, so you can switch on just the ones you want to use. This can help when you’re creating your own presets, as you can easily isolate one oscillator’s sound.

Some of the oscillator controls are standard ones you’ll see in other synth plugins, such as tuning by octave, semitone, or percent. In addition, there is a phase control, a “free” switch to change the oscillator to free-running mode, and a switch to invert the polarity for the waveforms as well. The Vibrato control adjusts the pitch modulation amount from the LFO section. I’ll mention more on the LFOs later.

Each of the oscillators has its own X/Y controller. Depending on the waveform selected, movement in the X direction will brighten the sound, and changing the Y direction will manipulate the tone.

There are many waveform types to choose from, and as I mentioned before, their audio is created on-the-fly, with a few exceptions that I’ll get to in a minute.  When you click on the waveform name, a menu appears letting you select between the built-in waveforms, samples, or wavetables. Of course, the samples and wavetables are not generated like the built-in waveforms. The only built-in waveforms that are not created from scratch like the others are of the noise variety.

The oscillator section can also apply some effects to the signal. In total, there are seven different effects, and there are four controls.  Each of the four controls can be switched between the seven available effects, just click on its name below the knob to select one. 

Some of the included effects are feedback, a sub-osc, a boost for the high frequencies, and Chip, which is a Lo-Fi, aliasing type of effect.  Just for fun, I switched them all to Chip, set them to different amounts, and then modulated three of them using an LFO on each. It was quick and easy to setup, as you can just right-click on the control, and use the “Add Modulation” menu. Then it’s just a matter of going to the Modulation Matrix and turning up the amount to whatever level you’d like.

Speaking of the Modulation Matrix, there are 24 slots available, and as you change the level on one of those slots, the control that it is affecting will have a colored ring around it. For instance, if you turn the level halfway up (or down), that colored ring will go halfway around the control. This is a great visual feedback, and it helps to keep tabs on what’s going on during the preset design process.    

Ok, now let’s get back to the oscillators. If you load in a sample, a few things will change on the display. Those same effect controls I mentioned earlier will switch to either being inactive when in sample mode (if switch is set to “samp”), or they will change into controls for granular synthesis (if switch is set to “grain”). When the granular synthesis is enabled, you’ll see these controls:

“Dens” – number of grains

“Tune” – variation of grain’s pitch

“Size” – changes size/length of every grain

“Pan” – pan amount for the grains 

The first and third oscillators also have controls to add ring (RM) and frequency modulation (FM). The signal for the RM and FM are from the second and fourth oscillators.

In the upper right corner of Diversion, there is a record button. This allows you to record the output of Diversion, and then save it as a WAV file, or quickly send it to one of the four oscillators.

You also have access to a powerful, onboard wavetable editor. It has a total of eleven filters and distortion effects you can use to change up the sound to your liking. 

 

Envelopes, LFOs and MSEGs

 

There are four identical envelopes you can use, each with the standard Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release controls. They each include a Curve control for the Decay and Release part of the envelope. This lets you use an adjustable exponential or variable-slope mode. The Speed control lets you change the maximum speed that the Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release controls can use. The AMP envelope is used to shape the amplitude of the audio, such as setting it to a slow attack and release for a pad sound. It can also be assigned in the modulation matrix to other targets.

Just like the envelope section, there are four LFOs available to use. Each has controls for amount, rate, phase, and speed. There are eleven different waveform settings, and depending on the Trigger setting, it can work in three different ways: “Poly” mode is a per-voice setting, “Free” mode is monophonic in nature, and every voice has the same waveform. The “First-key” mode is monophonic also, but if a non-legato note is played, it will be re-triggered.

Four MSEGs (multi-stage envelope generators) are on board as well, giving you customizable envelopes to use for modulation. 64 nodes can be added per envelope, and it can be looped. There are controls to zoom in or out, scroll left and right along the length of the MSEG display, and the whole envelope can be made to fit on screen by double-clicking the top bar.

 

Filters and Bus Processors

Next to each of the four oscillators is a multi-mode filter. There are tons of different filter types included. Some of these include an Analog modelled Low-pass, High-pass, Band-pass, Formant, Acid Low-pass (with its own saturation), Notch, Peak, Comb filter types, and more.

The filter section has some standard controls, such as Cutoff, Resonance, Key tracking, and Velocity. It also includes a Drive control, which can add a level of saturation. You’re not stuck with only one type of saturation though, as there’s a hyperbolic shaper, soft and hard clip, three types of asymmetric distortion, and a sinusoidal type.

At the bottom of the filter section for each oscillator is the output section. Here you can adjust the volume level, panning, and send the signal to either (or both) of the two bus processors.    

 

There are two identical bus processors in Diversion, and each can manipulate the oscillator’s sound even further. It is nice to have the added options here, as it includes a stereo filter (same types of filters as the oscillator section), distortion, and Lo-Fi sections.

The filter in the two busses works differently than in the oscillator section. There are actually two mono filters that handle the incoming stereo signal.  Using the Stereo control, you’re able to split the cutoff for the two filters. The stereo effect it can achieve through modulation is pretty cool, and there are many possibilities for tweaking here.

If you feel you’ve got a great sound already, you don’t have to process the sound through either of the busses at this point. You can just switch the power off for either bus. 

In-between the two bus sections, there is a bus mode switch: “Poly” uses per-voice processing, and “Mono” which combines the voices before processing. Finally, there is a send control which is lets you adjust the output going from Bus1 to the input of Bus2.

 

Trance Gate and Arpeggiator

 

The Trance gate has a 16-step editor in which you can make up rhythmic patterns for your presets. You change the amount of gating that is added to the sound with the Mix control, or taper off the attack part of each step with the Smooth control.  The Rate and Speed controls will change how fast the pattern plays, and the duration of each step.  It is very easy to use, but if you’re not feeling too creative, they also include a decent number of gate presets you can load.

In the powerful Arpeggiator section, up to 32 steps can used, and there are an ample number of controls to manipulate the notes. The modes include Up, Down, Up-Down, Down-Up, Random, Poly, and Mono. You are able to transpose the notes up or down, set it to play up to a four-octave range, and change the duration and velocity of each note.  If this wasn’t enough for you, how about being able to set a per-note gate time, and use a handy legato switch in-between each of the velocity sliders? They’ve also added a shuffle control, and a global gate setting to top it all off.

 

FX Matrix

 

Diversion has ten effects you can load into its FX Matrix.  The matrix has an adjustable amount of cells for the bus processors output. It can have up to seven effects for each of the two bus processors outputs, and still have one cell left over for an additional effect.

The standard way it is setup is with two rows of four cells each, and each cell can have an effect loaded into it. The output of those two rows then mixes together, and is fed into four more cells that can have effects loaded in as well. You could think of those last four as “master” effects.

The effects include reverb, delay, echoes (another type of delay with fewer controls), grain shifter, chorus, flanger, phaser, distortion, tremolo and an equalizer. You can load two of the same type of any one effect. Just for example, one row may have a reverb with a small-room sound in one of the cells. In the other row, you might have yet another reverb, but with a larger room size on it.

Even though Diversion has an impressive list of effects, one I’d still like to see added is a compressor.

 

Conclusion

As usual, I try to cover everything in a review, and end up adding in bits towards the end that are notable. I couldn’t think of too much else to add to Diversion, but here are a few things I’d like in a future version: 

In the preset browser screen, it would be nice to have a “favorites” type of setup, or some other rating system. 

For the granular synthesis, it would be beneficial if more options were added for the grains, such as speed and grain position.

I’d like to be able to use the X/Y section of each oscillator to optionally control other targets via the mod matrix.

The last request is the ability to save the settings of an oscillator, and then be able to load it into another.

Diversion definitely can get an edgier, sharper sound, and the main character of its audio output seems to lean in that direction. However, it can also pull off regular, old-style virtual analog types of presets as well. Just because it has a filter for each oscillator, and a bunch of different ways to distort/contort the sound, (plus the two bus processors for additional manipulation) that doesn’t mean you have to use all of its many assets at once.      

The higher CPU usage in many of the modern synth plugins seems to be the new norm, and that’s the case with Diversion as well. Most users of this synth plugin will be dealing with that, but they have been warned by the statement on Dmitry Sches’s website: “WARNING! Diversion’s audio engine may consume lots of CPU power”. It also goes on to state the recommended PC or Mac setup, and there is the demo version that people can try before buying.

For me, I think it is worth that extra draw of power, and it has that special “something” to its sound missing in many other synth plugins. That cutting-edge type of sound also makes it a “love it or hate it” type of synth, as some people have mentioned on various musical instrument forums. I happen to love it, and really think you have to try it for yourself, and you’ll be treated to a modern synth plugin in action.  As a matter of fact, after checking it out in detail, this is one of my favorite synth plugins to date. Try it out and hear the difference for yourself.

You can check out the demo version of Diversion by going to their website here:
 

Review – Orchestral Tools Berlin Strings with EXP A and EXP B

 

If you need strings with some of the most powerful scoring capabilities available (and have the budget for it), then the Berlin Strings Series could be just what you’re looking for.

 

by Per Lichtman, Nov. 2014

 

Berlin Strings is Orchestral Tools’ professional string library series using the Kontakt 5 platform that has one of the most diverse sample sets of any library I’ve reviewed so far. This review covers all three entries in the Berlin Strings line that Orchestral Tools have released to date: Berlin Strings, EXP A and EXP B. A roadmap is already in place for future expansions. The prices for those outside the EU (or otherwise not required to play VAT) are about €839.50 EUR for the main Berlin Strings Library, €209.24 EUR for EXP A and €158.82 EUR for EXP B.

The main library, Berlin Strings, will run with Kontakt Player 5.3.1 or higher. To use EXP A and EXP B you will need to own a license for the full Kontakt 5. The libraries are available for download at orchestraltools.com or can be shipped pre-installed on Samsung 840 EVO SSD. The review copy was provided via download. Thanks to use of NCW compression Berlin Strings samples take up 129GB, EXP A takes up 22.3GB and EXP B takes up 11.4GB. As reflected in both the price and the space requirements, the main library provides a larger amount of content than the expansion.

 

Dynamic Range and the Instrument GUI

 

First of all, let me just say that that I’m a big fan of the Berlin Strings GUI, which borrows many elements from Berlin Woodwinds. It’s elegantly simple, highly visual and well organized, displays the dynamic of the sample used and makes it easy to make tweaks without ever feeling like you’re getting bogged down in “engineering side” of things. For example, all it takes is a couple clicks to activate or deactivate any of the dynamic layers and the instrument intelligently modifies the crossfades to compensate – no gaps. In addition, you can toggle between velocity and modwheel control of the dynamic layers with the touch of a button and there’s a knob for controlling the additional volume range (what might be labeled “expression” in some other libraries) that gets mapped to the modwheel. It’s all intuitive, works very well and the default settings were a great starting point and never left me scratching my head.

The dynamic control (not to mention the tweakability and visual clarity of which samples are operating) is in my opinion among the very best offered in a string library today, taking its place alongside Hollywood Strings and CineStrings CORE as a personal favorite in that respect (as well as in the power of the legato programs, as discussed later). Like those other libraries, the most powerful legato or sustain patches in the library can be used to dramatically cover the full dynamic range of the instrument in a single note, through MIDI CC control alone. The process does not require using key switches or different patches. While the legato and sustains using alternate bow placements in EXP A and B have fewer dynamic layers, many still employ multiple dynamic layers – which was an unexpected (and pleasant) bonus.

 

The Recordings and Mic Positions

The library was recorded at Teldex Scoring Stage, in situ, using a multi-mic configuration. The wetter ambience of the library means that the sound has more in common with Spitfire BML than either Hollywood Strings or VSL (both of which were recorded in drier studios), though Teldex is a symphonic hall with very different acoustic properties than AIR Lyndhurst (which has longer tails). As such, BST is a ready to use solution: it does not require any panning or reverb setup in order to be used in most contexts since all the instruments are in place and the sound of a concert hall is already in the recordings.

The library has four mic positions for each section (Close, Tree, Surround and AB), while the 1st violins also have an extra concertmaster (section leader) mic. The Tree mic is the one loaded by default, getting its name from the Decca tree used to record it. The library supports routing each mic position to a different output. All of these areas are an improvement upon the company’s earlier Berlin Woodwinds, which offered Close, Room (called Tree in BST) and Mix and came with Mix loaded by default. Users looking to use BWW together with BST should just use the Room position mic in BWW to match the sound of BST – don’t be confused by the default settings or the mic position name change.

 

Section Sizes and Performance Style

The section sizes are eight 1st violins, six 2nd violins, five violas, five cellos and four basses. In other words, roughly the half the size of a large symphonic string section but close to twice the size of the sections offered in libraries like Spitfire Audio’s BML Sable or the divisi articulations in 8Dio’s Adagio series. The sections are large enough to fully register as a large ensemble sound rather than chamber sections but at the same time small enough that you could score two parts for each section without sounding like you’re using more players than a large symphony. The sound is both warm and detailed, effective in a variety of musical contexts.

The performance style is flexible, with the two or three vibrato types offered for each section’s legato patches (the number varies by section). The three types chosen from are “Without Vibrato”, “Romantic Vibrato” and “Strong Vibrato”. The vibrato types are switchable by MIDI CC, not crossfaded as in libraries like CineStrings CORE or Hollywood Strings.

The “Romantic Vibrato” is the bread and butter, offering a sweet but not exaggerated vibrato that sounds more “classical” than is often employed in Hollywood studio orchestras but never comes off as clinical. It’s as good for delicate passages as it is for louder ones and despite the small sections comes off as a unified sound (as opposed to the differing approach of the sections in 8Dio’s Adagio line, where the vibrato of certain performers comes across more strongly).

For passages where a “firing on all cylinders” level of vibrato is required, the “Strong Vibrato” option offers a more passionate take on things. Keep in mind, “Strong” is the operative word and this really is more reserved for specific musical circumstances than either the Molto Vibrato or Espressivo vibrato options in libraries like CineStrings CORE or Hollywood Strings. There’s not really a counterpart to Hollywood String’s studio orchestra vibrato style, or the Golden Age film scores it evokes. However, access to the more dramatic (and less commonly sampled) “Strong Vibrato” type may be something that draws composers in that have not been able to find it elsewhere.

The “Without Vibrato” type hardly bears much discussion since it’s exactly what you would expect, but I will mention that it has a pleasant sound that doesn’t come off as harsh and is a bit larger than the section size might suggest. Nonetheless, the other vibrato types will of course sound larger and lusher.

 

Just How Much Does the Library Offer?

There are a few different kinds of string libraries: the kind that offer only the most basic things (such as the strings tacked onto non-orchestral products), the kind that pair more advanced sampling techniques with an interface to make the core articulations as quick and easy to use as possible (like CineStrings CORE and Cinematic Strings 2.1) and the ones that aim to provide enough patches to do almost anything a composer might want (like Hollywood Strings Diamond, Spitfire Audio’s expanding BML line and many of VSL’s products). Orchestral Tools Berlin Strings line (referred to as BST) is squarely in the last category – it aims to cover all the bases for true power users. It just so happens to offer the sort of sound quality, unique sampling and great user interface ideas that a lot of other people might want it, too.

Complete articulation lists are available through Orchestral Tools’ site for your perusal on the product pages for each entry (look on the right-hand side), but I’ll hit a few highlights here. I’ll discuss the patches as they are setup for the first violins, since it has a few extra articulations compared to the other sections. First of all, there’s the Adaptive Legato patches which switch between three different kinds of legato performance intervals (slurred, agile and playable runs) as well as portamento intervals (velocity controlled). The Adaptive Legato patches also give you control of the sustain type for the first note based on your velocity (immediate, soft and accented). The legato type can be locked by clicking a solo switch, or temporarily activated soloed by depressing one of three key switches outside the range of the instrument (the lowest three keys on an 88 key keyboard). The same control for the sustains is also provided when they are played using the sustain patches with legato intervals – and both include crossfading between four dynamic layers. This holds true for both violin sections and the violas, while the cellos use three dynamic layers and the basses use two – an area where CineStrings CORE and Hollywood Strings Diamond exceed it.

There’s also the Ostinato Arp Legato [EDIT: unique to the 1st violins and the cellos] which provides six round-robins for the fast performance intervals and three for the slow ones – though it only has two dynamic layers (p and f) compared to the four of the main Adaptive Legato. Personally, I found I used the Agile Legato type in the Adaptive Legato the least – it felt just a little too “dry” to me compared to the others and I found I either usually opted for the extra “messiness” of the “Fast Runs” legato type or the richness and round-robins of the Ostinato Arp Legato when using the first violins. In fact, the Ostinato Arp Legato was so much fun to use, that I’d love to see Ostinato Arp Legatos for other sections in the future (at the very least the 2nd violins). Of course, personal tastes will vary and the agile legato can cater well to many other composers. Either way, the library provides some of the best options I’ve seen since Hollywood Strings came out in this area, going toe-to-toe with 8Dio’s new Agitato series (a library that eschews the round-robin of the Ostinato Arp Legato but applies the fast legato to violins, violas and cellos).

There are dynamic bowings in various guises (with pre-recorded dynamic bowings in the vein of VSL and 8Dio’s Adagio). There’s a multitude of short bowings, and the first violins have the most with two kinds of spiccato, two kinds of staccato, an FFF martele, two kinds of portato and both standard and snap pizzicato. There are also so called “blurred” articulations for spiccato, staccato, portato and sustains. The harmonics, col legno and alternate bow placements (sul tasto and sul ponticello) are saved for EXP A and EXP B, but a variety of tremolos, trills, double strokes and triple strokes are on offer. In addition to the “playable runs” legato type mentioned earlier, there are pre-recorded octave runs with time-stretching that follows the songs tempo. Bow noises are also included.

The library also includes (for the first time that I’ve ever seen) playable glissandi for the first violins. This rather impressive (and unusual) feature allows you to start a glissandi by running your fingers across the keys of the keyboard and to change direction at any point and have the glissandi move that way as well. It’s a gestural rather than specific performance process that really got my attention the first time I encountered it. It’s not something you’ll be using all the time but there’s really nothing like it that I’ve ever seen in another library before and I found the process of using it made me feel a small part of the fun I have doing the same thing on my real violin.

[Update: In place of sordino recordings, BST includes sordino modeling that can be switched on or off as an effect. I have avoided discussing this in any detail because I consulted on Numerical Sound’s Universal Sordino, which is designed to do something similar using convolution in a library agnostic way so I didn’t want to be accused of passing off a biased opinion as an objective one. If you still want my biased opinion anyway, I would say that BST’s sordino effect is much better than the similar switch offered in Hollywood Strings. Of course, I cannot objectively compare BST’s modeling to Universal Sordino and leave that to others to do.]

The Kitchen Sink Approach Continues With Exp A and B

There’s only a handful of companies that really aim to provide “comprehensive” as opposed to “bread and butter” string articulations on the market today, with a handful of developers falling somewhere in between. In terms of those that have dedicated significant attention to alternate bowing placements (such as sul ponticello and sul tasto or flautando articulations) the only ensembles released had come from VSL and Spitfire Audio – and now Orchestral Tools. And with Expansions A and B (A covering the high string sections and B the low ones) Berlin Strings goes after the sul tasto and sul ponticello bowings with a vengeance (with some harmonics and col legno battuto added in for good measure). [EDIT: It should be noted that these alternate bow placements cover the same range as the primary bowing. Some libraries may cover a reduced range.]

For those less familiar with the sound of the bow placements, here are some of my brief observations from my time playing them on my violin. Sul ponticello brings out a sort of primal edge to the spectrum as compared to the normal placement – it can be played quickly and loudly as desired and can cover a wide dynamic range. Conversely, sul tasto bowings lend a soft and warm texture that’s normally played at quieter dynamics (both for aesthetic and practical reasons, as its difficult to produce the same volume as with a normal bowing). They can provide textures that are difficult to achieve with standard bow placement, whether a mute is used or not and regardless of how much the bowing is varied using standard placement. As such they are very important textures to the composer looking for the fullest possible orchestral palette – and I’ve already talked to at least one composer with tons of other string libraries that opted to buy Expansions A and B before trying the main Berlin Strings library.

I wanted to draw attention to a very important fact: at the time of writing, the sul tasto legato articulation provided in any competing library. Interval legatos are often recorded in a variety of ways, but this really is the first time that it’s been applied to either a sul tasto or flautando performance in any commercial library I’ve encountered – and every other developer should aim to remedy that as soon as they can.

One of the lovely things about the sul tasto legatos on offer here is how smooth, warm and blended each line can be. While the timbre itself is wonderful (and it’s been good to see similar sustains offered in other libraries before), the ability to play connected melodic lines with the bowing really enhances the utility a great deal. I’d be surprised if this didn’t become a favorite for other composers as it has certainly become one of mine.

The sul tasto legato patches are less elaborate and complex than the main legato patches in the core library: they offer one legato type instead of three and one vibrato type instead of three. The legato that is on offer is of a smooth and flowing variety not unlike the “slur” type in the main legato, meaning that the more rapid lines possible using “agile” or “run” types cannot be rendered well here. From my perspective that this isn’t much of a loss, since more rapid lines often benefit from the definition offered by the core legato patches in the main Berlin Strings library anyway.

There are also several more patches (staccato harmonics, sul ponticello staccato, sustains, etc.) that you can find listed at the Orchestral Tools site.

 

A Little Bit More about the Library in Use

In the process of reviewing a large array of string libraries recently, I’ve seen a lot of different ways of approaching instrument organization. Berlin Strings, like Hollywood Strings and 8Dio’s Adagio series before it, relies more on different instrument patches than it does on key switching. If you use it in the default fashion (as I did) you’re going to need a lot of tracks in order to get access to all the sounds. This is balanced out by just how powerful some of the individual patches are (like the Adaptive Legato ones), so the library is both easier and more complicated to use than some of its competitors all at once. Suffice to say that you’re definitely going to have to spend a little longer getting to know it than you would with Cinematic Strings or CineStrings CORE – but you’ll also be able to use a wider array of articulations once you do. In addition, the default sound and default settings work really well – this is one of the libraries where I rarely found myself wanting to tweak default settings and found it easy to do so when I did.

The library worked very well for me on a wide variety of material, excelling (in particular) on very delicate passages as well as ones that required uncommon articulations. It was balanced and well-rounded enough that I could use it on pieces that needed to feel both small and large and I never felt that I couldn’t use it for a given piece because of the performance style. There were a handful of pieces I worked on during the review that benefitted from a drier sound than BST’s more ambient recording environment provided (situations where I opted to employ Adagio or CineStrings or Hollywood Strings instead) but the overwhelming majority of the time, the color and blend of the hall proved an asset to my composition.

 

The Quibbles

My main quibble is that given the fact that smaller section sizes are perfect for writing two part divisi and that the library was recorded in situ … it would have made things easier if there were second, equally sized sections recorded as well. Of course, the library would have double in size, but then they could either be stacked to create a full symphonic section sound (which wasn’t on my mind that often) or to use as separate divisi sections without re-positioning using a virtual placement plug-in (which is something I would very frequently use). Admittedly, I can’t help but think that this would have drastically increased the price of making the library and the final cost – but it would be something that I would have loved to use.

There were a handful of minor bugs or inconsistencies that I passed along to Orchestral Tools team. Most notably, the sul tasto legato patch for the second violins operated as a single dynamic layer despite indicating that two were present. However, I’ve been assured that this will be corrected in the very next update whenever it’s released – and even one dynamic layer of interval legato for the second violins is still more than any other library I’ve used.

 

Is the Library Right For You?

Berlin Strings doesn’t skimp on articulations or features and has the sound quality and scripting to satisfy many power users. If you want a lot more than a budget offering can provide and you’re more concerned with having some of the most powerful scoring tools than having the simplest and quickest setup, then the Berlin Strings Series could be great for you. I really like the sound and unless you want the largest ensembles (or conversely, a very dry sound) there’s a good chance you will, too. No library I’ve encountered can do “everything” but the Berlin Strings is one of the ones that come closest. If you already have Kontakt 5 and mainly want the less common bow placements, the EXP A and EXP B packages are a great place to start – the sul tasto legato patches are very warm in particular.

If you’re on a very tight budget, rarely want the symphonic hall sound that Teldex provides, need your strings very dry or only want the largest string ensembles, then you might want to look elsewhere. However, you’ll be passing up one of the best string libraries I’ve reviewed to date.

Review – PPG Wave 3.V by Waldorf

 

Back in the day, you’d have to spend around $7,000 USD to acquire a PPG Wave synth. Fortunately, this software plugin version is much easier on your budget.

 

by Rob Mitchell, Nov. 2014

 

Waldorf is a music software and hardware company based in Germany, and has been around for many years. They’re the makers of some of the best hardware synthesizers around, including the Waldorf Wave, Waldorf Q, Blofeld, and many others. 

In this review, I will be covering one of their software synthesizer plugins called PPG Wave 3.V. The original version of the software (2.V) was produced in 2000, and was an emulation of the PPG Wave hardware synthesizer.  The original PPG Wave (developed by Wolfgang Palm) was used by many artists during the 1980’s, such as Trevor Horn, Tangerine Dream, Rush, and many others. Back in the day, you’d have to spend around $7,000 USD to acquire one. Fortunately, the software plugin version is much easier on your budget.

The PPG Wave 3.V continues on with the legacy, adding more features, many more wavetables and presets have been added as well.

Here is a brief overview to describe PPG Wave 3.V: 

It is a two oscillator wavetable synthesizer plugin, and has up to eight stereo outputs. It can be used with all eight layers playing at once on a single MIDI channel, or you can have it function as a multi-timbral instrument, using your DAW to control each part.  Six effects can be used for each of the eight parts, and there are a total of 256 voices available.

 

Installation

The minimum system requirements for the PC are a Pentium IV or AMD Athlon CPU running at 1 GHz, Windows XP or later operating system, 64 megabytes of free RAM, and it runs in both 32-bit and 64-bit hosts.

The minimum system requirements for the Mac are an Intel 1.5 GHz CPU, OSX 10.6 or later operating system, 128 megabytes of free RAM, and you must run it within a host program.

Installation does require at least the software e-Licenser to be installed, and you must enter an activation code when prompted. You will need an internet connection for the activation to work correctly.

If you want to play it safe, I recommend that you get a USB e-Licenser to save the licenses on.  They mention in the manual that the license/activation code can only be used once. After that first use, it becomes invalid. That’s why it’s good to copy the license over to a USB e-Licenser. After it has been transferred over, you have to keep it plugged into a USB port or PPG Wave 3.V will not run.  One nice advantage to using a USB e-Licenser is that you can use it on more than one computer.

 

First Impressions

When you run it for the first time, you will see a blank, dark area at the top of the display, the Analog control panel section in the middle, and a keyboard along the bottom. The Edit and Browse buttons at the top left are exactly that:  When “Edit” is selected, you are able to get to all the controls to edit and create presets. The “Browse” button will bring up the built-in browser, which covers that blank part of the GUI that I mentioned before, as well as the editing section in the middle.

 

It also has a menu to load or save individual presets, or banks of presets, and an additional “Edit” menu that has extra functions, such as initializing a preset or bank, and copying/pasting programs. The left/right arrows let you step through the presets one at a time. Alternatively, you can use the arrow keys on your computer keyboard to step through them.

At the top-left part of the browser you can load up to eight presets, and each part has its own volume, panning, detune, mute and solo controls. In addition, each of these parts can be set to a different MIDI channel.

Another way it can be setup is with multi-samples (drag and drop is supported), and you’re able to use key zones to divide them up across your keyboard. Below that section you will see all the presets that are within the loaded bank. The right side of the browser is where you can select from different banks or single programs.

 

Editing and Modulation

To start setting up a preset from scratch, which I like to do much of the time, you can use the Edit menu and select Init Program.  

In the Analog Control panel, the “BASIS” control on the left side will change where the voices fall from left to right. The way it works depends on what the keyboard mode is set to. If it is set to “Poly”, and you turn up BASIS to the 12 o’clock position for instance, the notes will alternate from left and right if a melody is played. When a chord is played, the notes in the chord will be panned left and right.

When the other modes (Dual, Quad, or Mono) are used in combination with the Basis control, the notes that are played do not alternate from left to right, but they are spread out equally.

To change to one of those other modes, you click the “DIGI” button. This is also where you can load in a Transient (i.e. sample), or a Wavetable.

The Poly mode will generate one voice per note played. If you use the Dual mode, it creates two voices for each note played, while Quad mode creates four voices for every note. Mono mode just lets you play one note at a time, but it creates eight voices for each note you play. 

For each of the modes I just covered, you can change the tuning of the individual voices. To make some adjustments to those tunings, you click on the “TUNE” button. If you have it set up with the Mono mode, you’re able to use the eight individual Semitone controls, and tune them however you’d like.

The LFO (low frequency oscillator) is on the right side of the Basis control. True to the original hardware synthesizer, it is pretty basic, with just a control for the delay amount, the waveshape (four waveforms), and the rate amount. It can also be synced to the host.

You optionally can adjust the waveshape and rate in the “Graph” menu. That same Graph menu is where you can also make adjustments to the other envelopes, filter, and oscillators. Changes made in the graphs will also change the regular controls in their respective sections, and vice versa.

 

PPG Wave 3.V includes three ADSR envelopes. The first of these is for the filter section, the second is for the amplitude, and the third is user assignable for various targets. In the Modifiers section, you can adjust the two wavetable oscillators, and change the low pass filter’s settings. The filter has cutoff, emphasis (resonance), and drive controls. The slope amount can be changed from 12dB to 24 dB per octave. The drive can be used as a type of distortion, as it adds saturation to the signal.

Right below the Modifiers section, there are controls to change the filter slope (12 dB or 24 dB), drive type, and a “True PPG Mode” is included. This mode will add certain characteristics that were in the original hardware PPG Wave. These include varied filter tuning, playback of transients in 8-bit or 12-bit mode, envelopes will act more like the original synth, and the LFO will vary slightly in its timing.

The wavetables in PPG Wave 3.V have 64 waves, and you are able to playback the sound from any of those waves, or have it cycle through them over a period of time. This will create a kind of stepped morphing sound, going from one wave to the next. If you want to manually select a certain wave, crank up the Decay control all the way for Envelope 1.  You can then use the “Waves” control in the modifiers section, and as you turn the control, it will step through all of the available waves in the wavetable.

 

The Modulation panel is where you can assign sources to targets, such as the LFO changing the oscillator pitch. To get to the panel, click the “MOD” button. Some of the configurations were not included on the original PPG Wave. To access those additional modulations, you have to click the “Fine” button at the top.

There aren’t too many modulation choices in the panel to pick from, but this is an emulation of that classic synth, so it is expected. The additional modulations Waldorf has added are a nice touch however, and help expand its sonic capabilities. Besides enabling the newer mod configurations with the Fine button, it also adds more control in general. If a selection in the Modulation panel has the choice of being On or Off, clicking the Fine button changes it so it will have an adjustable amount from 0 to 100%. 

One configuration I liked was being able to map KEY to WAVES. This makes it possible to play a different wave from the wavetable for every key that is played. The way it works depends on the percentage you’ve set it to, so to play a wave for each key, you’d set it to 100%. 

 

Arpeggiator and Effects

The PPG Wave 3.V arpeggiator is in the Digital section, so you just click the “DIGI” button to get to its controls. It has five modes, including Up, Down, Alternating, Random, and Moving. The other controls are for Arp Rate, and Arp Range.

The arpeggiator seems to work correctly, except one thing. If it’s set to the “Up” mode, the notes in the chord should go from the lowest note of the chord to the highest (like the manual says), but it is just the opposite. The same thing happens with the “Down” mode, it goes up instead of down. Maybe this is the way the hardware synth worked, but I don’t have one to compare it to.

 

There are six effects included: Equalizer, Overdrive, Phaser, Chorus, Delay, and Reverb.

The Equalizer is 4-band parametric, with frequency, Q (frequency range), and gain controls. There is a graphical representation of the EQ curve that changes as you make adjustments to the gain. I love parametric EQs, and graphs are high on my list too, so this is a win-win situation.

With the Overdrive effect, you have five drive types to quickly get the “crunch” that suits your preset. The settings include Light, Medium, Hard, Clip, and Tube, and it has a decent amount of additional controls to contour the tone to your liking.

The other effects all work well, and have a good number of options. I especially like the delay. Among the delay’s many controls are modulation speed and depth, low and high cut controls, as well as low and high damping.  My only complaint is that I wish there was a way to save each of the effect’s settings. Maybe we can get that in a future update?

 

Conclusion

I must admit, I am a tad bit lazy, and so I think it’s great when synth plugins have a built-in MIDI-learn feature.  Unfortunately, MIDI-learn is not included in PPG Wave 3.V, but it’s pretty easy to setup in most hosts. Since I used Sonar X3 for this review, I used its ACT (active controller technology) to set it up, and it only took about five minutes. 

Waldorf has done a great job of keeping the old style of the original, while improving on it in the right places. If I were to make some suggestions, I’d just mention a couple things. The browser could use a little update. It works well enough, but it would be nice to have it categorized by the type of preset. Also, I’d like it if they could add some sort of “favorites” functionality in there.

The other suggestion is more trivial: In some of the newer synth plugins, we have an option to hide the keyboard. I’d like this added, as it can definitely save space on a crowded monitor. However, a keyboard can be useful for some situations. If you’re on long airline flight or on a train, for instance, it would be nice to have that keyboard if it’s needed. Unfortunately, you can’t carry an actual MIDI keyboard everywhere you go.

Just recently, there have been some new wavetable synthesizer plugins released. They may have a few modern features thrown in, but they can’t substitute for the classic sound of the PPG Wave. There is just something about it that makes it unique, and at times, even magical. Despite its little quirks here and there, the sound is still great. Maybe I am nostalgic, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Go check it out for yourself to see why so many great artists used this classic.

I just wanted to also mention that they’ve included the Waveterm B sample library, all of PPG Wave 2.3’s presets (and many more new ones), as well as 164 wavetables. Altogether, it is a huge number of presets, wavetables, and library sounds to choose from. 

PPG Wave 3.V retails for $211.50 USD, and you may find it for around $180 USD at some of the music dealers out on the internet.

You can get more info on PPG Wave 3.V here:

 http://www.waldorf-music.info/overview

There is an evaluation version available which you can use unrestricted for 100 hours over a period of 100 days here:

 http://www.waldorf-music.info/ppg-3-evaluation

 

Renowned synth programmer Rob Lee has programmed a sound set for the PPG Wave 3.V, and he has graciously offered it as a free download to SoundBytes readers.

 

We will add a link to download the sound set in the next issue’s announcement letter.  Be sure and add your name to our mailing list to get this (and quite possibly other free goodies in the future as well).

 

Here some examples from the soundset:

 

https://soundcloud.com/soundsforsynth/blue-wave-soundset-for-waldorf

Review: REmatrix by Overloud

 

Imagine one really good convolution reverb.  And now close your eyes and imagine five of them. Add some extra features and you get REmatrix, an endless amount of space packed into one box.

by Alex Arsov, Nov. 2014

Some time ago I discovered a virtual reverb that I thought would be my mix partner for the rest of my life. OK, it was at least for a year or two. Then in comes a guitar. I had one crowded mix and wasn’t so pleased with the sound of the guitar. Equalization was just perfect, panning position also, but somehow the presence and wideness wasn’t quite there, something was wrong with the space and some extra juice was missing. It crossed my mind that I saw some video clips recently about a new convolution multi-layer reverb, representing a plentiful number of various presets that are included with the product. I downloaded a demo copy of REmatrix from the Overloud site, while trying to figure out how this will work with my guitar.

I have to confess that I have never been a wise geek when it comes to a reverb programming. I need at least a good starting point. First thing that draw my attention was a browser outfitted with 400 presets. In most cases, I know how to set up general room reverb or Hall reverb, but was never so sure about guitar reverbs or how to set things up for some other live instruments, e.g., which reverb should go with a brass section or a string section. REmatrix had me from the start with big collection of guitar reverbs, both acoustic and for electric. I’ve tried it and it works really great, giving my guitar take a nice presence, making it more defined and wider, fitting it nicely in a mix. I’ve tried it also on a string track; it proves to be even better than my “chosen” preset from one of the string libraries that I had used it with my old convolution reverb. At first I thought that Room presets are a bit too sharp for general use with live arrangements, then after watching video tutorials again I realize that I should maybe switched off distortion inside a selected preset if I wanted to achieve a less sharp, more natural, soft effect appropriate for airy mid tempo arrangements. A clever combination of few parallel reverb spaces along with a set of additional effects – modulation section definitively brings a new winner for that “give me some space and let me breathe” field. This is a bit pricey of a winner as it will make your wallet lighter for €299 EUR or $399 USD. As you know, there are plenty of other reverbs on market at the moment, costing half much as this one, but it is up to you to decide. I have not toyed much with Lexicon, but as far as I remember the sound, this one definitively has some of the airy, real-space feel that I’ve heard in pro studios years ago, allowing you to use fewer instruments in your arrangement without getting this “something missing” felling that you have if the space is not right.

What Do We Get for That Money?

Actually, the main difference is a live vivid sound, being a combination of up to five different real spaces along with clever usage of different effects that can fix all the weak points that convolution reverbs could have. Let’s start with a few facts. REmatrix comes with a more than adequate large and versatile library of reverb impulses compiled in a monster patch library containing 400 presets, nicely organized in various categories. Thankfully, there is not much abstract naming here, so if you are looking a reverb for specific instrument, you will find it under the general group to which that instrument belongs, choosing from clearly-presented space variations for that group. I know that all producers constantly repeat that presets are only a good starting point, but you can’t imagine how long-and-windy a road it can be when you start with a preset named Aurora and try to adopt it for a string or guitar purpose, as it is the case with some other reverbs. Actually this preset library, presented in a browser on a left side, is one of the most to-the-point collections that you can find in any reverb. Plates, halls, big venues, special plates, vocal, orchestral, extra rooms, digital, dirty are just a few main categories among many. It is a big time saver having such a library in which a final solution is just a few clicks away.

Five

After finding your starting point, it is a time to start tweaking one of the five individual impulses with faders at the bottom half on the left side of the UI, setting the gain balance between them, or even changing the impulse by clicking on a button under the fader, picking one impulse from included library or even loading some external impulse. (There are a few great free libraries laying around on the net).

This “under the fader button” opens a new window in a browser place allowing you to fine tune the impulse setting the low and high filter with two equalizers along with additional four faders for pan, stereo, length and early delay. In upper part is a sample window, where we can see the shape of the impulse along with a slider for controlling the reverb time. Maybe this doesn’t look like much, but actually those are more or less all controllers that you need to fine tune the impulse.

Deeper and Deeper

This is the point where usually convolution reverbs end with their arsenal of tools and this is the point where most of the fun begins with Rematrix with a carefully collected set of effects adding some extra life to the set of convolutions. Each set of effects could be implemented on any selected impulse. Just choose the impulse clicking on appropriate fader and press the Master button under at the bottom of the upper sample window. You will get an effect diagram in which you can switch on/off the desired effect while getting some additional controllers for the chosen one: a compressor that can tame the affected sound, adding a bit more stable, full signal along with original one, Drive for adding some additional overtones that can make some instruments shine (or make the whole mix too aggressive, so Careful with that Axe, Eugene.), Reverb, actually the algorithmic reverb for providing more natural, musical tails (a weak point of many convolution reverbs), Delay for subtle additional effects and Equalizer for fine tuning impulse responses.

Sum of All Parts

Actually, not the functions but the sound is the factor that tells us how good this reverb is. Visit Overloud site and watch demo video clips. All I can say, everything you see and hear is pure truth. Five carefully selected and well balanced Impulse Responses with some additional effects sounds ten times better than one, no matter how carefully selected, Impulse Response. In addition, the presets, given their quantity, and the quality of implemented Impulse Responses, along with all additional effects, can really improve audio, bringing an additional dynamic. Considering that the whole package is user friendly, all this makes me saying that €299 EUR is maybe not so much as we thought initially. After all, REmatrix is a plug-in that can easily satisfy professional audio engineers, convincing them with the functionality and the sound quality, allowing them to speed up their work-flow. The can be as much of a real lifesaver for reverb bozos like us, allowing us to set appropriate reverb for our tasks in the same way that we order coffee on a drinking automat. With or without sugar, milk maybe? That’s all we need. One with a sugar, extra-large for acoustic guitar please. And don’t forget to add few overtones please, as my friend really likes it this way.

More info about the product: http://overloud.com/products/rematrix.php

Review – Hollywood Orchestral Percussion by EastWest

 

Eastwest’s Hollywood Orchestral Percussion is a grade A, great 70GB percussion library that completes EastWest’s Hollywood Series with a bang.

 

by Per Lichtman, Nov. 2014

 

First of all, let me not keep you in suspense: this is a grade A, great 70GB percussion library that completes EastWest’s Hollywood Series in the way a whole lot of us wanted. The standards have been maintained for both sound quality/sampling and playability. So if you’re an avid user of the EastWest Hollywood series (or a QLSO users looking for a drier sound), that might be all you need.

For everyone else, EastWest’s Hollywood Orchestral Percussion is the newest Hollywood Series library for the PLAY platform. The sampler is playback only and is included for free when you buy the library – with HOP being officially supported on PLAY versions starting with 4.2.2. The library requires an iLok (an old version 1 iLok is fine, the 2 is not required) and the MSRPs for the full Diamond version are $599 USD download or $698 USD pre-installed on a hard drive. You can buy either one at SoundsOnline.com and there are often extensive sales (17% off at the time of writing) and bundle offers to take advantage of, so expect to often pay less.

HOP targets orchestral percussion, covering most of the instruments you would score for in a symphonic context but going lighter on ethnic percussion and working great with just about any other library I tried as long as you have a reverb that blends well. It doesn’t emphasize the “larger than life ensembles” approach of some Storm Drum entries or Spitfire’s HZ series.

Nonetheless, it has a massive amounts of more low end “boom” options than you would expect and some unusual additions (like the Marching Band Ensemble), and it often offers several different instruments for the same type (cymbals, snares, tambourines, bass drums, etc.) making it easy to layer your own ensembles. It’s definitely capable of creating powerful “epic” percussion once you know how to wield it, but it can do the tiny intimate stuff, too.

So if any of that sounds like you, let’s get into the details.

 

Installation

For this review I was provided with HOP via download and the 70GB download was split into 20 individual ZIP files, each of which downloaded very quickly. The expanded library took up roughly the same amount of space on my hard drive as the download did, so users should plan on keeping 150GB of space free during the install process (before deleting the ZIP files if desired). The instruments are organized into Combo Kits, Cymbals, Drums, Metals and Wood. The Combo Kits are a great starting place and their contents and mapping are clearly laid out in the manual (which you can currently find and read by pressing the “Manual” link at http://www.soundsonline.com/Hollywood-Orchestral-Percussion). The setup program works fine as long as you’re already using PLAY 4 for all your libraries, but users needing to keep PLAY 3 running will have to reboot (the program won’t always prompt you to, but you need to) and reinstall PLAY 3 after they finish installing PLAY 4. I tested using Windows 7 64-bit with PLAY 4.2.2.

 

The Mics

The library divides the samples into 5 mic positions: Close, Mic, Main, Surround and Vintage. Surround and Vintage are mutually exclusive so only one can be loaded at a time. The most dramatic difference is often between the Close mic and the others, especially for instruments like the celesta. The Mid, Main and Surround have different colors and placement, but none is super ambient like you’d find in libraries recorded in more reverberant spaces.

The Vintage mic position sounds rather different from the others (as might in part be expected from the use of 1940s RCA44 ribbon). Interestingly, though the Vintage position is switchable with the Surround, it sometimes sounded like it was positioned closer than all but the Close mic. Load up the orchestral chimes to see what I mean. By contrast, for the tam tam instruments it was much further away and the left to right energy was practically reversed compared to the other positions. Basically, this is a position to check out on an instrument by instrument basis.

Be aware that most ribbons (exempting certain uncommon new ones from AEA and Royer, for example) provide a very quiet signal, so the line noise level is higher for this position than the others. This is mainly on consideration on quieter instruments than loud ones, but it’s audible and worth keeping mind. For some instruments, the Vintage position came with the level really cranked up (compared to the other positions) so this became apparent more quickly.

Most instruments load the Main mic position by default. This gives a bit of a sense of the studio, clear stereo placement and a bit of ambience. I would characterize the sound as rather open, without either claustrophobic early reflections and exaggerated bass or much in the way of tail but never feeling sterile. It’s a balanced and pleasing sound that can easily be EQed for greater drama. The celesta is the only instrument I noticed that differed, coming with the close mic loaded in and mixed with the main mic. This is a great sound and can be applied with similar effectiveness to some of the other pitched percussion, like the crotales and glockenspiel.

 

What’s It Like?

 

EastWest long-awaited Hollywood Orchestral Percussion (HOP) is a pleasure to use. As a Hollywood Strings user, I figured the first thing I would do would be to load it into an existing composition I wrote and see how the two married together. Well, that was my original plan. What actually happened is that as soon as I loaded the sounds from HOP, I felt compelled to use them to write new material and to jam off of that. I found it difficult at first to pin down exactly what it is that I liked so much about them until it hit me in a single word: effortless. That’s pretty much the word that best describes so many aspects of working with the library for me.

The library is really easy to load and play and the default “main” mic position works very well in a variety of contexts. Honestly, just playing the sounds without a hint of mixing work was a lot of fun and I got lost for hours riffing off of it. Just for the heck of it, I pulled EWQLSO Diamond to see how HOP compared to EastWest’s older library – the improvement was immediately evident. Setting aside for a moment the wildly the differing recording and environments and sonic characters of the two libraries, the more extensive sampling in HOP rapidly becomes evident as you are playing: the additional velocity layers and superior programming really make a difference. Then swinging back around to that sonic difference for a moment: HOP is a much drier library with a great deal more transient clarity and mixing flexibility as a result. But there’ll be more on that later.

The library strikes a wonderful balance in the recordings between color and flexibility, really making the most out of the many positions in terms of the palette of colors available and at the same time working really well when just one is used at a time. It’s interesting just how much more dramatic the timbral differences are between each of the mic positions for HOP than in Hollywood Strings (owing to the nature of the instruments I would infer) and is very much to HOP’s credit. At the same time, users wanting a larger or more epic sound can easily toss on additional reverb to good effect, using any choice of mic positions. The library really sounds great.

There’s a real sense of realism and immediacy to the library: when I was playing the felt timpani hits, for instance, some of my favorite moments where when I could feel and hear the player digging in more on the low C and C# fortissimo hits with a satisfying extra “thwack” at highest velocities that provided extra energy without being at all unmusical. You can make the percussion quite large (a great many instruments are included) but between the recording venue, performances and sampling here there’s everything you need to get very specific, detailed and authentic in your rendering of both modern material and more classical repertoire.

Now for existing users of EastWest’s Hollywood Series that have been waiting for the fully integrated percussion installment in the series, I would say that HOP represents a slam dunk. It maintains the things I liked best about the sound and approach of Hollywood Strings while being much quicker to learn, load and use with significantly lower system requirements. I didn’t even bother to transfer the library from my hard drive to the SSD: it worked fine already.

 

The Instruments

I’m going to take a slightly different approach to how I talk about the instruments than the manual’s organization (since you can get the basics from that anyway) by looking at how many of the instruments are used (chromatic and pitched vs filling in the low end, for example). A more comprehensive and traditionally organized list can be found in the manual. I won’t go into the “lite” version patches since the system requirements were so low for the core ones that I never had call to use the lite versions in my projects. However, more information on them can also be found in the manual.

 

The Low End

There is a wealth of percussion that is either explicitly designed to fill the low end (like the bass drums) or can do so as one of its applications (like the concert toms) so here’s my list:

  • 32, 36 and 40 inch Bass Drums
  • Brake Drum and Anvils (includes 4 anvils – mainly high but some of the notes have a lot of body)
  • Concert Toms (6 toms and 2 floor toms)
  • Mahler Hammer
  • Marching Drum Ensemble
  • Tao’s Drum (struck with mallet)

Obviously, the timpani could also be used but it’s pitch specific. Since the library maps the main hit of each of these other instruments (except the Brake Drum and Anvils, as even the Concert Toms have the lowest note mapped here) to the same note, you can route the same MIDI pattern to all of them at once for a huge ensemble sound – and I often did. The sound is really big, even without reverb, but when you throw some reverb onto it – it practically explodes. This is light

For the low percussion, I generally found that the most usable bass came through in the default Main mic position, with the close mic often having appeared to have been targeted to capture the rest of the frequencies of the transient rather than a boom exaggerated by a proximity effect. The Vintage mic, on the other hand, often acted as a good supplemental mic to fill in the bass and mids for these instruments. For the roundest sound I tended  to use either just the Main, or the Main and Vintage combo and leave the rest unused for these instruments – but a fuller sound could be achieved by filling with Close and Mid positions. I don’t see most people using the Close and Mid position mics as their primaries here – they are more dramatic for the instruments with less low end.

As mentioned before, the room doesn’t have a lot of reverberation so to make the most out of the low end percussion I would suggest adding additional reverb to taste – as such large percussion often sounds a little out of character without a larger space to fill. Luckily, the recording environment and technique makes this a great option for the library. In addition, you can make the low end much more dramatic by boosting the low-frequencies with EQ.

 

Cymbals and Tam Tams

There are eleven cymbal crashes (with 3x round-robin) and three tam tams (2x round-robin), ranging from 12 inches to 38 inches. There are also six suspended cymbals (2x round-robin) ranging from 14-22 inches, with one unspecified. The manufacturer and size are specified in the name of each cymbal, while the tam tams have size only.

 

Field Drums, Snares and Tambourines

There’s a huge variety of snares and field drums on offer: five snares and four field drums. They sound great and I often layered them in dense orchestrations for an ensemble sound. There are also three different tambourines on offer.

 

Pitched Chromatic Percussion

HOP has a lot of chromatic pitched percussion: celesta, crotales, glockenspiel, marimba, orchestral chimes, timpani, vibraphone and xylophone. Off the top of my head, that excludes rototoms and handbells, and the harp hasn’t shown up either here or in Hollywood Strings (marking the most notable omission from the series). All of the instruments sampled have a lot to offer, especially because of the miking choices.

The celesta had been sampled both in a more staccato fashion and with longer sustain. The longer sustain version was a real highlight for me and can work wonderfully with lush reverbs for some truly evocative cues. As mentioned before, the choice to make the default mic mix settings have a lot of close mic (unlike the other instruments in the library) is a surprisingly good one – it caught me off guard seeing the settings but when I listened to the Main mic alone (the default for other instruments) I understood just how important the Close mic was in this context. This is a truly sweet instrument.

The vibraphone is played differently from the other instruments in that holding down the sustain pedal triggers different sounds than when the pedal is raised. The tails on the orchestral chimes are great, the xylophone and marimba sit right where I want them. Most of the single-hit chromatic instruments patches feature round-robin samples (2x to 4x) for greater variation, except for the celesta, crotales, glockenspiel and orchestral chimes.

For the timpani I suggest loading the KS patch for each set of mallets (hard and felt). These patches allow you to switch between 5 playing techniques instead of dedicating a track to each. Everything I tried sounded great and the low end was never exaggerated (nor the “thwack”) for the instrument – making it easy to place in a mix and to EQ. Note that the timpani has two round-robins each for both the left and right hands on the hits in the full programs.

 

Remaining Percussion

Filling in the rest, we’ve got sleigh bells, two castanets, claves, finger cymbals, two  mark trees (the small suspended chimes you run your fingers across), Pu`ili sticks (a Hawaiian instrument I had previously composed much for), a ratchet, shakers, slapsticks, temple blocks, triangles and woodblocks (both large and small). Seriously, I had difficulty remembering a lot of these because there’s a lot on offer.

 

For Those Coming From QLSO

If you’ve previously used Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra and want to get an idea of what’s changed, here are a few things to think about. Instruments that were sampled in both libraries have a very different character here – the close mics generally capturing a fuller sound in HOP than they did in QLSO, for instance.

As an example of the differences, let’s look at the Mahler Hammer in each. The Mahler Hammer is a personal favorite in terms of the change in sound, now providing far more definition and body, more hit variations (5 that range from deeper to full cracking sound vs. 3 less varied ones in QLSO). HOP hammer also has more flexible sound that works in a greater variety of mixes. There’s a surprisingly long release recorded for the Mahler Hammer in HOP considering the size of the space – it doesn’t feel truncated at all and is very dramatic. This also an instrument where every single mic position brings something really useful to the sound – you can really alter the character by dialing in or muting each one. The QLSO instrument is far more obviously colored by the sound of the hall – even the close mic selections have a great deal of tail. This make QLSO great if you want the hall sound (with no additional verb or EQ required) but also more difficult to really bring out the “thwack” without the “boom” if you wanted to (aren’t those great technical terms?) or to put in any other environment. I would say nine times out of ten, I would prefer the HOP sound for all the deeper instruments, often applying a lot of reverb.

For the pitched melodic instruments, both HOP and QLSO sound great. There’s a real sweetness to the QLSO Hall (which has generally believed to be Benaroya Hall in Seattle but that has not been officially confirmed) that adds something to instruments like the vibes, meaning that in terms of pure color, HOP and QLSO offer equally desirable but very different options. But on a technical level, the sampling is superior for HOP, with both switchable sustain and staccato samples as well as triggering different samples for repetitions.

In fact, instruments sampled in both quite often had more playing options (such as flams) when they appeared in HOP.

There are a small number of instruments that were included in QLSO that weren’t sampled for HOP, so I’ve included a list.

 

Cymbals and Gongs

   – Larger gongs (QLSO went up to 60″ but HOP maxes at 40”)

Drums

   – Roto Toms (so there’s no way to play melodic tom lines)

   – Taiko Drums (These can be found in the Storm Drum series)

Metals

   – Artillery Shells

   – Bell

   – Bell Tree

   – Bowed Crotales (normal is still included)

   – Hall Noise

   – Steel Plates

   – Waterphone

Wood

   – Guiro

   – Steinway B

   – Washboard

   – Windmachine

 

By contrast, HOP includes certain instruments not featured in QLSO, such as the Marching Drum Ensemble and Tao’s drum. Both of those are really great additions that I found myself using on the majority of HOP pieces I composed, so I think it’s a fair trade. Instrument selection varies more from one percussion library to another than for practically another section of the orchestra, so it’s worth taking the time to go through the manual to make sure that your needs are covered or whether you’ll need to supplement.

 

Minor Niggles

When using the library I encountered a handful of oddities, all of which EastWest quickly sent responses to.

– In the patch Spectrasound Mark Tree 1 Dbl Length.ewi, MIDI note 60 had artifacts. Within a day of mentioning this, EastWest sent me a beta of the instrument update that fixes the issue, so this should be resolved soon for most users.

– Occasionally PLAY 4.2.2 gives license errors when I open an instrument. It’s not consistent about when this happens or with which instruments, but it pauses the loading process and sometimes required me to load an instrument twiceThis is apparently an issue affecting a small number of users, but EastWest is working to resolve it.

– The manual mentions a separate 8 inch. tom patch – however, it’s actually included in the combined concert toms patch, not a patch of its own.

I would say that these are fewer issues than I normally encounter on the first release of such a large library, so that no one gets surprised by them. None significantly impeded my use of the library.

 

Conclusions

The library has a great, flexible and balanced sound that works well without EQ but can be easily tweaked with EQ or verb. It goes together well with the rest of the Hollywood series and it has lower system requirements, too. It works well with other libraries, has a great deal of variety, modern programming and kept up with me wherever I wanted it to go. Uncommon inclusions like Mahler’s Hammer, the Marching Drum Ensemble and Tao’s Drum are all great additions that serve to expand the library’s low end power quite effectively (and even worked well together with the Storm Drum and HZ line).

I’m really struggling to think of reasons not to recommend it when my experience with the library was so positive. The only big one is that users of Hollywood Strings that hoped they would finally get a harp are left out in the cold. Basically, unless you have an aversion to having to add additional reverb when you want a more epic sound, don’t like iLoks or PLAY…  or have less than 70GB of free space on your drive, there’s not really much to fault the library for. I suppose if you are a round-robin junkie then you might want even more round-robins, but I found the current amount was a big improvement over most of my previous libraries.

Basically, whether you’re linking to get your first percussion library, wanting to add more detail to a library geared towards a purely “massive” sound or just supplement your percussion with yet another color, HOP delivers a great sound, lots of options and a great playing experience.

Review – Bazille by u-he

 

There’s a new synth from u-he – that statement alone should have gotten your attention.  This one is a virtual analog model with 80s digital twists, and very flexible patching.

 

by Warren Burt, Nov. 2014

 

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, (MY version of the “old analog days”) one of the joys of hardware synthesizers was seeing what capabilities engineers put in each module.  Not only, because of the nature of the circuitry, would each module be slightly different, but each designer would build different abilities in.  A Moog, Buchla, or Serge envelope generator each had their own unique characteristics.  So each module had different musical potentials and one of the strategies you developed was asking, what are the potentials of each module?  What unique compositional possibilities does it represent?  This was the pleasure of the (analog) hardware synthesizer – of sinking deeply into each module – asking what unique sounds will it produce, unfettered by commercial or “normal” musical desires.

I’ve admired the products of Urs Heckmann for many years, but never had the opportunity to use any of them until now. One of my main interests is in controlling pitch as many ways as possible, so when I saw the multiple methods of controlling pitch offered by Bazille’s oscillators, I was sold.  Like many u-he products, it had an extended beta period (They like getting things right at u-he!) but finally version 1.0 was released.

Bazille (pronounced “bat-zilla”) is an analog-style VST2 and AU and AAX format (32 and 64 bit) plugin synth.  It is patchable and modular, although it consists of just one non-reconfigurable set of modules.  That is, for example, there are four envelope generators, and you can’t pop a fifth one somewhere onto the desktop.  This is indeed just like an old hardware synth. However, also like a hardware synth, each module can be used in multiple ways, so what at first seem like limitations are in fact opportunities to indulge in clever patching.  This kind of cleverness is one the designers of Bazille encourage, all throughout the manual.

This is a synth which invites patching experimentation.  Any output can go to any input, and the results from doing that are sometimes quite surprising and useful.  There is no modulation matrix in the machine.  Patching happens either with patch-cords or with drop-down menus and control knobs allow for scaling of the inputs instead.

There are four oscillators (which offer a number of abilities of the digital oscillators of the 1980s) and four envelope generators.  Each receives the same pitch or note-on information from MIDI.   There are two output amplifiers, which can be triggered on from a gate signal or any of the envelope generators.  What there does not seem to be is any way to have the synth ON without having an external midi in.  If you want to treat the synth like an old-fashioned keyboard-less analog synth, you’ll have to either wedge a key down, or set up a patch which sends a single MIDI pitch with an off/on switch in some MIDI program like ArtWonk, Max, or PD.  Although I understand the logic of this, it does strike me as curious that an analog model would not have included the option to do without MIDI altogether.

When you first install it, and play with the presets, you’ll notice that it is rather CPU intensive.  The presets are usually where sound designers strut their stuff (Is your CPU big enough to handle THIS one?)  However, as they say in the manual, a single layer patch should play OK on just about any modern hardware.  I used two machines for my testing.  First, an ASUS Tab Vivo Book Windows 8 netbook, powered by an Atom processor.  Not the most powerful machine in the world.  I also used an ASUS notebook computer with an i5 processor and lots of RAM.  This is a considerably more powerful machine.  With the netbook, I was able to set up a single layer, monophonic 4 oscillator patch and it used between 25-50% of the CPU.  So for using Bazille as an analog emulation, a small computer is indeed fine.  I was even able to push it up to two-voice polyphonic operation, and use about 90% of the CPU.  Longer envelope tails, resulting in de facto three or more voice polyphony, proved too much for the netbook, even with just a single layer patch.  On the other hand, no matter what I threw at the i5 machine, especially with the “Multicore” switch turned on, it handled it with ease.  Multiple layer patches with long envelope tails, played polyphonically, seldom used more than 60% of the CPU, usually around 40%.  And for a more “normal” use of the machine, CPU usage stayed around 15-25%.

The oscillators have four different ways to control their pitch.  There is MIDI in, of course, which also accepts Scala .tun files, so your MIDI input can be either normal 12-note tuning, or any other exotic tuning you wish.  In addition, the “Tune” knob on the oscillators can control the oscillator in semitones, overtones, undertones, and hertz.  There is also a “Modify” knob, which can multiply the frequency, or detune in Cents, or over a 5 Hz range.  Then there is a Frequency Control “CV in,” which can control the oscillator over a 50 semitone range, or a 5 semitone range, or in Cents.  Additionally, “MIDI Learn” can be applied to the Tune knob, or the Modify knob, or the “CV in” scaling knob.  Interestingly, when an external control is applied to the Tune knob with MIDI Learn, the result is tuning in semitones (or other equally spaced intervals), even if the Tune knob is set to control the oscillator in overtone or undertone steps.  This is an interesting resource, to be sure, but I would have thought that external control on the Tune knob would produce the kind of effect the knob was set to.  Apparently not.  Perhaps this might be a feature to incorporate into a future update.

The oscillators then have four different ways of modifying timbre.  First is Phase Modulation, as in the “Frequency Modulation” of the Yamaha DX-series of instruments.  There are seven different varieties of this to select from.  Then there is Phase Distortion, as in the Casio synths of the 1980s, with eight different waveforms to distort the phase.  There’s a unique kind of modification called “Fractalize” which is uses a windowing operation (three different flavors of that), then there’s good old garden-variety amplitude modulation.  The basic waveform is a cosine wave, however, with the Phase Distortion settings, this can be modified in many ways, and additionally, the waveform can be set to either of the “Map” settings (more on these later), so the oscillator can work with any waveform specified with up to 128 points. In terms of timbral and pitch control possibilities, this really is one of the most powerful Oscillators available today.

The front panel of the synth is laid out to suggest two sets of two Oscillators controlled by a Low Frequency Oscillator which would go into a Filter and a final Amplifier and an Envelope Generator.  But the modules are also designed with many other kinds of modulation controls.  Each of the Oscillators, for example, can also function as a Low Frequency Oscillator, and the two Mapping Generators mentioned above can provide very interesting patterns.  There’s also a nifty and moderately complicated sequencer for more complex control, and two additional Ramp generators.  Plus, one should remember that every single control has MIDI-learn capabilities.  So the possibilities of external control are also immense.

In Bazille, what look like duplicates often aren’t.  Variations exist between some of the modules.  This hearkens back to the old analog days when each hardware module has its own characteristics and abilities. The four Filters, for example, are all made on the same design, but there are three slightly different control capabilities with them.  Filters 1 and 2 provide four low-pass, one band-pass and one high-pass filter out – each at different slopes.  Filter 2 also provides three different ways of controlling the cut-off frequency.  Filters 3 and 4 are duplicates – they only have one output each for low-pass, band-pass and high-pass, and have a slightly more limited set of options for controlling cut-off. 

The GUI is rescalable to fit a number of screens.  There is also an alternative skin which shows both pages of the normal GUI on a single screen, at the expense of detail.

 

The Mapping Generators deserve special mention.  These are two tables of 128 values, which can be freely drawn or generated with a number of tools.  They can be used a number of ways.  First, they can function as a drawable waveform for the oscillators.  Then, simultaneously, they can be used as control signals, clocked either by incoming MIDI notes, or internally by any number of sources. These Maps can then be used to control most of the parameters of the synthesizer, available either in drop-down menus, or connected with patch-cords. 

As well as the Mapping Generator, there is a rather special Sequencer.  It’s not designed to act primarily as a normal sequencer, although it can be patched that way, but rather to provide a very complex set of control signals which can work in synch or independently from each other.  There are eight sets of sixteen levels which can be alternated between, and the sixteen levels can be divided into a number of subsets to control different things simultaneously. And each voice in a polyphonic patch can have its own instance of the sequencer.  There are so many possibilities here you’ll have to play with it to appreciate just how flexible it can be.

In the design of the synth, one can see reflected the dialog between in-sync controls and the desire for all controls to exist at their own rate, making a less-than-predictable composite whole.  Fortunately, both options are provided for every control where one might want things either in or out of sync.

At either side of the panel is a small area devoted to auxiliary functions.  These comprise two inverters, two Rectifiers, one Sample and Hold, one Quantizer, and four Lag Generators. The Rectifiers make all negative values positive, and can be used to provide interesting distortions if two or more waveforms at different pitches are fed into them.  The Quantizer will break a gliding signal into discrete steps, and the Lag Generators provide glides between discrete levels of a stepped signal, with both rise and fall rates independently controlled. 

At the bottom of the front page is a panel called “MIDI & More.”  This is a group of outputs (and two inputs) which make available a number of MIDI signals for patching, as well as noise, steady state control signals, outputs from the Maps, the Ramp Generators (two auxiliary trapezoid generators), and others.  There are also two inputs labelled CV1 and CV2, which make any patch-cord signal available for modulation in the drop-down menus.

Next to the “MIDI and More” panel are four Multiplex modules.  These are a combination of unity-gain mixer, controlled gain mixer, CV processor, ring modulator and amplitude modulator.  It sounds more complicated than it is – reading the manual will quickly make the function of this very useful utility module clear.

Mention should be made of the Oscilloscope in the top middle of the GUI.  More than just eye-candy, I found it to be incredibly useful in designing control sequences, and for seeing that there was a signal when suddenly the sound disappeared – I’d just turned things down into the sub-audio.  Oh, if only I could have afforded an oscilloscope during the old analog days!

At the bottom of the second page are four Effects units.  These can be arranged in any order, and can be turned on and off at will.  The effects are Distortion, Delay, Phaser and Spring Reverb.   I’m usually not a fan of amp-modelled distortion units, but this one pleased me greatly. The distortion effects were tasty, and the filterings were effective.  I especially liked the “Rectify” setting with the “Guitar Cab 4×12” post-filter setting for (contradiction though it may be) its clean dirty sound.  The Delay provides a maximum of 2 seconds delay for left, right and center delays with separate level controls for the side and center channels.  The Feedback can be set to 100% for infinite delay repeat without building into distortion.  The Phaser is quite effective and can be set to be either in sync or not with the main tempo.  The pride of place for the effects though, has to be with the physically modelled Spring Reverb.  It really does sound like the spring reverb units in the old analog synths.  And best of all, it has a “Shake” control, which really does provide a convincing emulation of that old trick of slapping the side of the synth case to get a “thunder-reverb” sound.

There are so many little tweaks and tricks in each module that reading the manual, slowly, is highly recommended.  And the “Tweaks and Tips” section at the end is especially valuable as it contains ideas from lots of users for unorthodox ways to use the machine, or ways to get orthodox sounds which might not appear possible at first glance.  And the Manual, by Howard Scarr, should be mentioned.  It’s very clearly written, with a welcome sense of humour, and with a lot of information to encourage experimentation with the modules.

What does it sound like?  Using the presets on my more powerful machine, it sounds strong, beefy and with a bit of strength and edge.  But of course, a synthesizer can sound like anything, so those characteristics probably say more about the sound designers than they do about the machine itself.  Some of the presets favor a Europop Kraftwerk kind of sound – understandable, as the machine is a result of Urs Heckmann’s desire to re-create the synths he admired during his adolescence.  But many different kinds of sounds are represented in the presets.  Once we cast aside the presets and begin to tweak the oscillators, the results give the sense that the machine is solid, stable and clear, no matter what machine it is used on.  Even in the densest of cross-modulation textures, I didn’t get the sense that things were “fuzzing-out.”

Overall, I found the sound palette to be very pleasing.  I was able to focus on the details of the sound very well – even over headphones and using underpowered loudspeakers.

In sum, this is a very nicely designed machine with a lot of possibilities that you won’t find put together like this anywhere else.  It’s clearly a labor of love from an enthusiast. It’s sturdy, well-thought-out, and a delight to play with.  It sounds great, and it will encourage you to think cleverly and creatively about how you use its resources.  And at $129 US, it is very reasonably priced.  I’m going to be having a lot fun with it, and so, I’m sure, will you.

 

U-He Systems: http://www.u-he.com/cms/ 

 

SoundBytes Freebies of the Month

Produce and mix your music with best freeware tools. Tomislav Zlatic shows us what some of these treasures are and where to find them.

 

by Tomislav Zlatic, Nov. 2014

 

The holiday season is coming closer and discounts for various commercial audio tools are becoming more and more common each week. But even with so many commercial products available at discounted prices as we approach the end of the year, nothing beats downloading a fantastic sound library or a piece of software for free. And we have four amazing new freebies for you once again!

 

MT Power Drum Kit 2 by Manda Audio

If you produce rock music, you should definitely take a look at the MT Power Drum Kit 2 virtual instrument by Manda Audio. Originally released as a commercial product priced at $39, this high quality acoustic drum module is now available as a free download from the developer’s website

 

The plugin offers a standard pop/rock drum sound, which sounds great right out of the box. It will fit most rock mixes with ease and it can also be used for more aggressive music genres such as hard rock and metal. Multiple audio outputs are also supported, so the included drum samples can be processed with external effects in order to fit them into your mix perfectly.

If you’re happy with the default sound of the drum kit, you can use the built-in mixer to adjust the volume of the individual drum elements. The sounds can also be processed with the built-in compressor effect, which works surprisingly well for changing the character of the bass drum and the snare.

Perhaps the coolest feature of MT Power Drum Kit 2 is that in includes a huge collection of drum grooves and drum fills in MIDI format. These can be used inside the plugin, but they can also be exported into the host application’s sequencer and used to trigger other virtual instruments.

Please note that you will need to activate the plugin before it can be used in your host application. The activation process is completely free (further instructions available on the product page linked below).

MT Power Drum Kit 2 is available as a 32-bit and 64-bit VST and AU plugin for Windows and Mac OS X based DAW applications.

 

Download: http://www.powerdrumkit.com/support.htm

 

A1StereoControl by A1AUDIO

A1StereoControl is the first plugin released by Alex Hilton, who is also known under the pseudonym A1AUDIO. This fantastic freeware tool offers all the controls you may need for controlling the panning and stereo width of individual channels in your mix.

 

 

The so called “easy mode” offers all the basic panning controls, along with some useful additional buttons for flipping the phase of the processed signal, swapping the left and right stereo channels, and so on. Another cool feature available in “easy mode” is the so called “safe bass” control, which forces all audio content under a certain frequency threshold to mono.

This feature is incredibly useful for controlling the low end of your mix and making sure that there won’t be any unpleasant surprises in the bass frequencies when the project moves to the mastering stage (or if you’re sending your mix to the mastering engineer). Many electronic bass patches nowadays come with loads of chorus and stereo delay effects, so it’s a good idea to make sure that the lowest frequencies in your bass instruments are converted to mono.

The “expert mode” reveals several advanced futures for panning, including several different pan laws and slope settings. All things considered, A1StereoControl is quite probably the most useful panning tool currently available on the market.

A1StereoControl is a free 32-bit and 64-bit VST and AU plugin for Windows and Mac OS X host applications.

 

Download: http://a1audio.de/index.php/a1stereocontrol

 

FilterCrusher by Audio Assault

Combining an emulated tube circuit with a pair of great sounding filters, the brand new FilterCrusher dual filter plugin by Audio Assault is a rather useful and somewhat unusual tool for sound coloration and creative sound design.

The emulated tube circuit can go anywhere between the mildest possible saturation and full overdrive. When used at reasonably low settings, FilterCrusher adds a bit of analog mojo on top and helps even out the dynamics of the processed signal. By engaging the “crush” mode, the plugin steps into distortion category, which is perfect for getting more aggressive sounding results.

 

The same goes for the filters, which can sound very transparent at very low settings and quite aggressive when the resonance as boosted. The low resonance setting works great for cleaning up the low end of the processed signal, whereas the higher settings can be quite useful for sound coloration purposes.

Under the hood, the plugin features the same tube modelling that is used in commercial guitar amplification software by Audio Assault. It is pretty cool to get such great sounding virtual tubes for free.

Audio Assault has recently released another interesting freeware plugin called Transient. It is a simple transient shaper tool which works great for controlling the envelope of percussive sounds. The plugin is available for free download at the Audio Assault website.

FilterCrusher is released as a 32-bit and 64-bit VST and AU plugin formats for Windows and Mac OS X based host applications.

 

Download: http://bedroomproducersblog.com/2014/10/14/filtercrusher/

 

SGA1566 by Shattered Glass Audio

Another interesting tube amplifier emulation comes from Shattered Glass Audio. Their brand new plugin named SGA1566 is definitely one of the most impressive virtual tube amplifiers in the freeware market and it is comparable to some very expensive commercial plugins in terms of sound quality.

SGA1556 is an incredibly detailed emulation of a vintage single channel tube preamp, featuring two 12AX7 tube amplification stages and a two-band Baxandall equalizer which can be placed either at the input or the output stage. The sound of the plugin comes very close to that of a real tube preamp and it works absolutely great for adding a bit of color to your recordings.

Users with less powerful computers will definitely see a high CPU hit when using this plugin, which is definitely a significant drawback. On the other hand, the developer has included an additional “Low CPU” mode which will use less CPU cycles while offering similar sounding results. Things can be improved even further performance-wise by lowering the oversampling settings.

Perhaps the best way to use a CPU-intensive plugin such as this one is to render the output inside your DAW and use the static WAV file in your mix. If you need to make any changes, turn on the plugin again, make the desired changes and repeat the process. Either way, a high-quality tube amplifier emulation similar to this one is pretty hard to find.

SGA1566 is a 32-bit and 64-bit VST and AU plugin for Windows and Mac OS X based digital audio workstations.

 

Download: http://www.shatteredglassaudio.com/product.php?id=104

 

 

Tomislav Zlatic:  http://bedroomproducersblog.com/

Abletonalies – November 2014

Check out a new set of various editions for Ableton Live along with beat tools, vocal packs, some free goodies and two sets of sounds for our beloved Sylenth 1.

by Alex Arsov, Nov. 2014

 

Indian summer has left us behind, so we finally have some additional time during those rainy days to dig deeper into our beloved DAWs, finding some more new, useful and attractively-priced tools, packs and other remedies that could make our life with Live even more joyful. But enough babbling – it’s time for action.

 

Nicky Romero Kickstart by Cableguys.

http:/www.kickstart-plugin.com/

This is a very ingenious tool: a sidechain compressor simulator. It’s a plug-in that you can put on your track and it will duck your signal in a tempo-synced signature interval that you can set in a plug-in general window. You have one big mix knob for setting the level of “compression” and number of various “compression” curves. Choose a time signature and off you go (it can be even triggered through MIDI if you are not into four-on-the-floor).

I thought that I’m sufficiently well-equipped when it comes to a “sidechain field” and that I don’t really need a tool of this type. But after spending two minutes with Kickstart, I changed my mind. It is dead easy to achieve great results, far better than you can get by just tweaking settings on your beloved sidechain compressor.

Cableguys made this plug-in in cooperation with Nicky Romero, so it is fancy, very effective and very cheap. It will cost you €10 EUR or $15 USD.

 

Samplemagic

https://www.samplemagic.com/

Samplemagic have a really impressive number of Sylenth, Massive and Machine patches (at least register to download some excellent and free Sylenth patches, compiled from few of their patch packs). Included are Ableton racks, MIDI files and sample packs, a great number of things for all sorts of modern electro, EDM, Dubstep and similar synth based genres and subgenres.

They have an abundant number of sample packs, but I was curious about vocal samples this time, since good vocal phrases can always put your instrumentals closer to the charts.

White Label Dance Vocals 1, 2 & 3 are three from eight vocal packs, costing €23.81 EUR or $30.41 USD per pack, while Dance Vocal 3 is a bit cheaper (€21.31 EUR or $27.19 USD)

Vocal 1 & 2 brings around 160 vocal samples and phrases while Vocal 3 will bring you 102 vocal samples, phrases and hooks. All samples are very uplifting, divided into groups being key- and tempo-named. One way or another, if you are a Dance/ EDM producer, it is fairly essential to have some good vocal packs. One word is worth 1000 pictures and at least 3000 notes. Putting a vocal phrase in any instrumental song will make a significant difference.

https://www.samplemagic.com/details/162/dance-vocals       

https://www.samplemagic.com/details/246/dance-vocals-2-

https://www.samplemagic.com/details/311/dance-vocals-3

 

Percussive Techno will bring you a 292 percussive loops, synth lines and effects along with 325 one-shots for €21.34 EUR or $27.34 USD, while Latin Percussion with 282 loops and one-shots open a whole percussive heaven for €15.03 EUR or $19.25 USD.

I found these two packages pretty irreplaceable for those “middle 8” parts in arrangement or long breaks in EDM songs, not to mention how many of these loops can add that summer feeling in your House arrangement. I use percussive loops in almost every song, in a break before the climax or simply to inject a new life in a loop somewhere in a mid-part of the song.

https://www.samplemagic.com/details/313/percussive-techno    

https://www.samplemagic.com/details/358/latin-percussion

There are even more various sample packs, from excellent kick samples to all other drums, percussions, synths and sounds to the genre specific effects, but I decided to try the three Ableton Racks.

Ableton Magic Racks – Mix Essential, Creative FX and Mixing & Mastering.

Mix Essentials is $16.01 USD, while other two are $20.87 USD each.

https://www.samplemagic.com/product-listing/9/racks/

All three packs use only internal effects and tools. Mixing & Mastering covers some essential needs in that regard, cleverly joining some common techniques without going overboard in detail. My mastering rack is totally different than the one used here, but if you are a novice, those tools could be the perfect solution for achieving some normal mastering results just tweaking a few knobs getting instant results. The same goes with other mixing elements from this rack. If you are a novice in music production process, then actually all three packs are just right thing for you. Mix Essentials offer some tools aimed for channel use. (The first Mixing & Mastering rack is more channel strip oriented, where you can control mainly a group of instruments and not separate ones.) You could find some interesting solutions for Kick, Snare, Synth and percussions while Bass Toner presets could serve as a general effect rack for all non-bass and kick instruments. Again, this a bit too general for professional users, but at the same time, it could be a life saver for novice producers. The third rack, Creative FX, offers some tools that even more advance producers can use. I found myself toying with this rack until my wife asked me if I could stop making all these odd noises. In the end, we have a clever use of many internal effects that I never devoted enough time to in order to better appreciate previously.

In a next issue we will take a closer look at the Magic AB plug-in from the same developer, an excellent plug-in that is a truly live saver during the mastering process.

 

8DM

http://8dm.me/

8DM offer a “try pack”: samples and loops from eight EDM libraries;  Animalix (Big-Room), Dubstep Vol. 1, Dubstep Vol. 2, Electro House Vol. 1, Electro House Vol. 2, Progressive House Vol. 1 and Progressive House Vol. 2. There is three GB of material all in all, offering 1870 samples, and they are absolutely free. All you need to do is to register and to add this Trypack to the cart and it will be all yours.

http://8dm.me/#instrument/8dm-try-pack/

Why did they do that? The reason is simple. 8DM is a part of  8DIO company, which I know from the old Tonehammer days;  8DIO producers are masters of sampling, one of the best in the market. In downloading this Trypack, you will realize that for yourself and maybe you will be compelled to buy some of these reasonably-priced, top-sounding 8DM libraries.

This 8DM EDM packs represent just a small part of 8DIO product range, which includes orchestral, ambient, percussion and other sort of instruments and sound libraries. Take some time and you will be surprised, as you will be with those fourteen various kits and loop combinations.

So, price is $0 USD/ €0 EUR. Take it and run.
 

AfroDjMac

 

http://www.afrodjmac.com/

Brian Funk, better known as AftoDjMac is giving away a new free sample pack almost every week. All in all, at the moment there are more than 100 free packs on his home page, some of them are really great – actually all of them; you just need to find some that suit to your taste and needs.

I also enjoyed his Two minute Ableton Live tips video tutorial series, where you can learn some interesting things whether you are a novice or pro Ableton user.

Brian also has some sample packs and racks for sale, where for the price of a coffee you can get packs and racks that obviously take more of his time to do than the freebies (containing more presets or are simply far more detail).

One way or another, I’m a regular user of his free packs from my day one with Ableton Live, so if it happens that you haven’t heard of his offerings, now it is the time.

 

SynthMaster Player in No Brainer Deal

One of the best virtual synthesizer could be yours for just $9 USD. Not the full version of course, but still – 800 presets, access to all essential parameters you will need during your production, and an easy-to-use browser. This deal will last until January 1st, so don’t lose a minute.

SynthMaster doesn’t require any dongle, it sounds fantastic, and it is ideal for any genres in need of unique-sounding presets. And if that is not enough, you can buy additional sound banks directly on the SynthMaster home site – and yes, they work also with Player version.

So, don’t think about it – just do it. Available at:

http://www.synthmaster.com/synthmasterplayer.aspx?referrer=ymlp

After you buy SynthMaster, it is time for some extra beats. I discovered this excellent free EDM preset bank from G0ko, that could make this awesome synthesizer even better.

Download it here:

http://patcharena.com/free-synth-patches-gokosouls-edm-presets-volume-1-for-synthmaster/

 

Wave DNA Liquid Rhythm

http://www.wavedna.com/

Usually we don’t write about the things that cost over $100 USD in this column, but this liquid rhythm thing from Wave DNA is so integrated with Ableton Live that would be pity to ignore it (of course if you have Max for Live installed, then that as well). For $129 USD you get the full version of the plug-in that has the ability to change notes inside your MIDI clip. This is some kind of MIDI beat maker, containing great number of patterns with a wonderful ability to change and mingle those patterns on the fly. All in all, this is a very complex and versatile plug-in, so I’m still in the learning process, trying to figure out what can be done and what cannot be done with this all-around MIDI beat maker. It is even somewhat of a sample player, since it comes with a preloaded set of various drum kits.

The main issue with Liquid Rhythm is that it can recognize MIDI names, offering you an appropriate set of patterns for every external kit element that you load in your MIDI clip in Scene wiev. So feel free to load your favorite kit and start toying with Liquid Rhythm.

If you still don’t know what it is all about, there are plenty of video tutorials on the Wave DNA home page, so take your time and educate yourself.

 

Dance MIDI Samples

I didn’t intend to write about Dance MIDI Samples in this issue, but they’ve released two new Sylenth 1 preset banks and one of them is so up-to-date that it would be pity not to present it in this issue, since it might happen that it will be dated by the time of the next issue. Actually this Sylenth 1 Plague Big Room Leads brings only 25 patches, but the fact is that they are those ones that you can hear in some top-of-the-pop Beatport Big Room charts at the moment. Every Big Room producer knows that those sounds are changing every other month. So, now is the time.

http://www.dancemidisamples.com/sylenth1-plague-big-room-leads.html

Of course, you can’t do wonders with just 25 leads. You will need some additional EDM banks for completing your job. So, here is one fresh one, covering all additional sounds that you will need. A collection of 140 fresh presets, also very up to date, but not so hot. These are not hot like the Big Room Leads pack, but still very useful and very up to the task. A Bigger Than Ever – Sylenth 1 EDM Edition Vol. 2

http://www.dancemidisamples.com/download-bigger-than-ever-sylenth1-edm-edition-vol-2.html

That’s enough for this issue.

There will be more… sun after the New Year.

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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. .

 

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