Monthly Archives: July 2015

Review – CineBrass COMPLETE Bundle

 

Our reviewer says that the CineBrass Bundle is the best multi-mic brass library with which he’s ever worked in terms of ease-of-use, and it’s got a lot going for it sound-wise as well.

 

by Per Lichtman, July 2015

 

CineBrass Complete Bundle ($749 USD from CineSamples.com) is a multi-mic-position orchestral brass library for Kontakt Player/Kontakt 4.2.3+ from CineSamples. It’s part of the CineSamples CineSymphony line, which includes CineWinds, CinePerc and CineStrings CORE (which I had the pleasure of reviewing last year) and the entry level CineSymphony Lite. It’s made up of two sections, CineBrass CORE and CineBrass PRO, that can each be purchased individually but are most useful together (more on that later). CineBrass features great legato scripting (including polyphonic legato) and is extremely rapid to use with a shorter learning curve than any other brass library I’ve used, but that’s just one of the many reasons I’ve been using it as my main brass library ever since I started reviewing it. For more reasons, keep reading.

 

The Sound

The sound is great – balanced and full with lots of dynamic range. All the CineSymphony offerings were all recorded at Sony Studios on the Barbara Streisand Soundstage in Culver City and feature the same sonic signature. The CineSymphony libraries I have worked with so far all feature an up-front sound that emphasizes the body of the sound, rather than the grain and texture, making it easy to cut through a mix.  Most of the mic position options are the same as in CineStrings CORE, except for a Spot mic only featured for the string sections. Here we find Close, Room and Surround mic positions as well as the Full Mix created from the other sections. Much like with CineStrings CORE, I found I relied on the Full Mix by default during composing, only engaging other positions when I needed to sculpt the sound more. It served me well as the starting point for both pop and orchestral mixes since it’s not very ambient and could often be used rather up-front quite well once the Bricasti reverb impulse was disabled.

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I essentially always disable any built-in reverb FX in orchestral libraries and that holds true here as well. If you want additional reverb you’ll get the best mixing results using external processing, but the built-in reverb effect provides a starting point for those that don’t want to deal with either mixing plug-ins or hardware FX.

The tuba and trombones layer wonderfully together, forming a great low end. The solo trumpet and solo horn are each great for soaring lines (especially with additional reverb) while still having power in the low end, too. Note that the lowest trumpet sample has been mapped to extend downward to allow performance of the trumpet below the normally playable range (the same way that the string harmonic for the basses were in CineStrings CORE). Keep this in mind if when writing trumpet parts if you actually want them to be played later on.

 

No Nonsense


The CineBrass bundle allowed me to compose brass parts quickly, with fewer tracks and better sound quality than my previous generation brass libraries like EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra and the original ProjectSAM libraries. It was a real eye-opener to see just how much more quickly I could write brass parts with it than I ever could with my previous libraries. Many of the same things I enjoyed about working with CineStrings CORE are true here as well in regards to the main articulations patch for each instrument or section. This includes the default mapping where velocity switching is used to go between different length short note samples and that holding down the sustain pedal activates sustain samples with legato transitions. The big difference is that there’s no vibrato control this time around, but I doubt I would have found much occasion to take advantage of it if were included.

I found the default mapping very quick and easy to use, but it was equally quick and easy to change from the defaults using the simple Mapping tab or to configure dynamic and legato settings in the Settings tab. I really appreciated how things were really laid out to get things done.

The instrument mapping and scripting is really excellent – the sustains were a highlight and I was impressed by just how well they were programmed for the solo instruments (which crossfaded much more effectively than I’m accustomed to). While all the main articulations for a given instrument are normally found in an articulations patch, some also have additional patches for mutes or flutters, etc. and there are several FX patches.

 

PRO vs. CORE: Which Instruments in Each?


At the start of the review I mentioned that the bundle works better as a whole than it does when separated and that starts to make sense when you look at the instruments. Honestly, getting a clear understanding of which instruments were in each package (CORE vs PRO) was one of the parts that was least intuitive to me, so I’ll try to simplify it to others. Whether you buy both CORE and PRO as a bundle or individually, they install to separate folders by default and the patch names reflect this. If you read this section you won’t have to spend time understanding the organization the way I did.

All of the solo patches you’ll want to use are in CineBrass PRO – which isn’t entirely clear from looking through the product descriptions and manuals so I can hopefully save you some time right there. This is where you will find the fully sampled versions of the solo trumpet, solo french horn, solo trombone and solo tuba. The only solos in CineBrass CORE are a different set of legato recordings for the solo trumpet and solo horn not featured in CineBrass PRO – but these have a narrower dynamic range that basically feels like it goes pianissimo to mezzo piano. This makes them of much more limited use than the full dynamic range ones found in CineBrass PRO, even if you didn’t need the short articulations. Thus, if you are only looking for solo instruments, just get CineBrass PRO – the ones in CineBrass CORE are basically just supplemental ones for quiet passages that you could use for variation. The situation is much less clear-cut for ensembles.

The ensembles are split between both CORE and PRO. You’ll want to get the full bundle in order to use get the full experience since they basically interlock in terms of the sizes. For instance, the two horn and six horn ensembles are in CineBrass CORE but the four horn and twelve horn ensembles are in CineBrass Pro. And while the bulk of the trombone ensemble articulations are in CineBrass CORE, mute, Harmon mute and flutters for that ensemble are found in CineBrass PRO.

This was all a little counter-intuitive to me on my first day and I wish the documentation or other reviews had laid it out for me the way I have for you. But this was the only less than intuitive part of the library for me and it was no longer an issue once I got my template setup.

Here’s a breakdown of the ensembles and solos. CBC means CineBrass CORE and CBP means CineBrass PRO. Legato is used to designate both legato and normal sustains.

– Solo Trumpet: CBC (limited legato), CBP (legato, shorts, mute, Harmon mute)

– Three Trumpets: CBC (legato, shorts, FX), CBP (mute, Harmon mute, sustains and tenuto)

 

– Solo Horn: CBC (limited legato), CBP (legato, shorts)

– Two Horns: CBC (legato, shorts)

– Four Horns: CBP (stopped and fluttered, triad chords, seventh chords, rips, fff sustains and shorts)

– Six horns: CBC (legato, shorts, rips)

– Twelve Horns: CBP (legato, shorts, mute)

– Solo Trombone: CBP (legato, shorts)

– Three Trombones: CBC (legato, shorts), CBP (legato, shorts, mute, Harmon mute, flutter)

 

– Solo Tuba: CBP (legato, shorts)

– Tuba and Bass Trombone: CBC (legato, shorts)

– Cimbasso and Bass Trombone: CBC (legato, shorts)

– Low Brass: CBC (pads)

– Monster Low Brass: CBP (legato, shorts, scoops, clusters, FX)

– Full Brass Ensemble: CBP (high chords, low chords, FX 1-3)

 

The Competition

There’s a lot less competition in terms of current brass libraries than for string libraries. In the single-mic position category has VSL Dimension Brass (the only brass library I’ve encountered with recordings for each player in a section) and Kirk Hunter Concert Brass 2 (the only library with fast key-switching between four different ensemble sizes). But for multi-mic position libraries, the only other current generation multi-mic orchestral brass libraries are EastWest Hollywood Orchestral Brass, Spitfire Audio’s evolving stable of BML brass libraries and the recently released Brass Collection Symphony Series from Native Instruments and SoundIron. Since I have not completed reviews for any of these libraries (the Symphony series was released mere days before completing this review so I have no thoughts yet) I cannot offer my usual hands-on level of detail. However, there are certain differences and similarities worth pointing out on a conceptual level and some of my thoughts on the acoustic signature of each range based on how other sections were recorded.

On a sonic level, all of the above libraries were recorded in such a way that they sound very, very different from CineBrass – except Hollywood Orchestral Brass. While CineBrass and Hollywood Orchestral Brass do sound different from each other, there are certain similarities in their venues (the Streissand Scoring Stage and Eastwest Studio 1) and miking approach than the other libraries – something that’s been clear to me when I worked with their sister libraries, CineStrings CORE and Hollywood Strings. The Streissand scoring stage has somewhat longer tails than Studio 1 but both have a much more intimate sound than do a symphonic concert hall or Spitfire Audio’s AIR Lyndhurst.

If you want a huge hall sound without using additional reverb, look at Spiftire Audio’s BML range – neither the CineBrass Bundle nor Hollywood Orchestral Brass are targeting that recording style. If you’re looking for a drier sound, I would say that CineBrass cuts through the mix a bit more while (based on my experience with Hollywood Strings and Hollywood Orchestral Percussion) Hollywood Brass is likely to have a bit of a rounder, almost more vintage sound with a bit more grain.

From every demo I’ve seen, CineBrass appears to be the quickest to work with in regards to the default mapping of all the libraries, so being able to work quickly is one of its big selling points. But the sound itself is holds its own against its contemporary rivals (each of which has its own style) and blows away older libraries. If you’re still working with EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra or the original Project SAM libraries, you owe to yourself to get a current-generation library – and the CineBrass Bundle is the very first one I’d take a look at.

 

Nobody’s Perfect

While the CineBrass Bundle features multiple ensemble sizes from soloist to massive, but only one soloist is included for each instrument. This means the library is less well-suited to close-position harmonic writing that frequently goes between small intervals and unisons. Unisons are best handled here by the ensemble patches, but sometimes the ensemble sizes and the number of players desired won’t match up. Granted, the French Horn Duo in particular helps alleviate one of the most common areas this would be a problem but a library with multiple soloists (like VSL’s Dimension Brass) doesn’t have that problem at all.
In addition while I praised the way dynamic were handled in the majority of the patches, the exception was the short notes mapping for the solo tuba. While the sustains for the tuba work as expected, you’ll find the tuba short notes louder at the quietest dynamic than at the middle one. Note, this was the only patch I had this problem with and I hope it gets fixed in a future update.

 

Conclusion

The CineBrass Bundle is the best multi-mic brass library I’ve worked with to date by far. It’s flexible in a mix, sounds great, has a powerful dynamic range, great programming, is extremely quick to work with and manages to hit pretty much every target it sets its sights on. It can do both huge ensembles and detailed solos and the legato transitions and dynamics are both handled very well. If your brass harmony writing frequently goes between solo voicing and unisons you might look at libraries like Dimension Brass with multiple solo players. But I found the library saved me lots of time while sounding great, and it’s been the first brass library I try on every project I’ve loaded for months. It comes highly recommended and is definitely worth taking a look at whether you’re looking for orchestral brass in a classical context or in a pop mix.

Review – Chromatix from Hideaway Studio

 

Chromatix is Hideaway Studio’s latest collection of marvelous sounds of antique electronica.  If such is your cup of tea, you will be most interested in checking this one out.

 

by David Baer, July 2015

 

Things were pretty quiet at Hideaway Studio during the first half of this year.  Did the normally prolific Dan Wilson decide it was time for a well-deserved break, or was he working on something special?  Well, you probably already know the answer to that or we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  Something special coming right up!

Hideaway has just released Chromatix for Kontakt (full version of Kontakt only, as usual), which offers a delectable selection of sounds from the Rhodes Chroma.  Typically, the library was the result of a loving restoration of an instrument much in need of refurbishing.  The story of the challenges presented by this nearly-deceased equipment is chronicled at the Hideaway website:

https://hideawaystudio.wordpress.com/

 

The Rhodes Chroma

 

The Rhodes Chroma (Chroma hereafter for brevity) was conceived in the design labs of ARP during the last turmoil-ridden years of that company’s existence.  The design can be credited to ARP, but the intellectual property rights were sold to CBS Instruments who manufactured the hardware roughly between 1981 and 1984.

The Chroma was very impressive technology for its time.  This was the era just prior to MIDI taking over the electronic keyboard world.  Although MIDI was not part of the story, the instrument was designed from the start to be tightly integrated with the Apple II computer.

The Chroma was an analog/digital hybrid.  The sound production was all analog, but the control of the sound production was fully digital.  There were sixteen polyphonic voices available.  The voice allocations could be doubled for richer sounding patches, however, leaving the polyphony at eight voices.

The keyboard was velocity sensitive.  But an even more advanced (albeit extra-cost) capability was an optional polyphonic key-pressure sensitivity.  Even today, polyphonic aftertouch is not a commonly found feature, so at the start of the 1980s, this must have been really something at which to marvel.

The Chroma cost a bit more than $5000 USD, or about the same price as a new middle-class family sedan at the time.  A keyboard-less expansion unit for the instrument (see image below) was also available costing roughly $3000 USD.  This could be used to stack voices for truly rich sounds.  Up to five of these could be chained into a single instrument.  A total of about 1400 Chromas were produced and a slightly larger number of expansion units were produced.


Lest we ever forget how good we have it these days, consider that for the price of a fully decked out Chroma with five expansion units, pressure sensitive keyboard and dedicated control computer, one could buy a decent middle-class house.  Today, that basic Chroma capability can be had for 25 bucks (thank you, Hideaway Studio), and unlimited expansions is free courtesy of the Kontakt multi capability.

 

Chromatix


The Chromatix Kontakt instrument conforms to what has become common Hideaway practice.  We have four parallel layers, all identical except for samples (more on which shortly).  In each layer, we have controls for level, pan and velocity sensitivity; course and fine tuning; a standard ADSR volume envelope; an LFO dedicated to vibrato.  There are no filtering controls present, but the samples are pre-filtered so additional filtering would largely be of no use.  A tone control, something else commonly found in Hideaway instruments, provides a continuously changing, seemingly (but not actually) random three-band EQ profile for each layer.

The only thing I regret not finding is an easy way to use the modwheel for controlling LFO depth.  But everything else is there for effortless creation of rich, complex sounds.

A global set of four effects rounds out the package.  Reverb, delay, flanger and chorus are on hand.  The reverb, as usual for Hideaway, uses the built-in Kontakt effect with a lovely set of Hideaway-supplied impulses for small to large spaces and everything in between.

If the UI has a familiar look to it, credit that to Anders Hedström, who has managed to channel the late and dearly-missed Stephen Howell in designing the interface panel.  Let’s hope this is the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with Hideaway Studio.

There are two banks of 28 sample sets (see image right, which also shows the available reverb impulses).  One of them is associated with layers one and three, and the other with layers two and four.  The names of at least half of the sounds will give you a pretty good idea at what to expect.

75 sample instrument presets are included, but really, roll-your-own is the way to go here, as is the case with a number of other Hideaway instruments.  Creating your own sounds hardly could be simpler.  Plus sound creation would be a most enjoyable way to spend a lazy afternoon.  Most of the presets have a healthy dose of reverb and delay, as we’ve come to expect from Hideaway libraries.  That means that they demo well but are not what I’d call mix-friendly.  No big deal, though –the “Amount” knobs are right in front of you to cut back any effect levels that are too rich.

 

Is Chromatix for You?

If you like Kontakt sample libraries of antique electronica and are familiar with Hideaway Studios, you probably reacted to the announcement of Chromatix’s availability just as I did: you clicked the Add to Cart button without even bothering to listen to the demo track.  If you haven’t yet encountered Hideaway instruments, you are in for a treat, and Chromatix would be a great way to test the waters without committing any sizeable amount of capital.

To restate, Chromatix does require the full version of Kontakt (4.2.4 or higher) and 1.35 GB of disk space.  The price is $25 USD.  Listen to the demo track and purchase here:

https://hideawaystudio.wordpress.com/

 

Essentials – 2C Audio Breeze and Studio Devil Virtual Bass Amp Pro

Essentials
 

What does a reverb plug-in and a bass amp plug-in have in common?  More than you might think.  Find out why here.

 

by A. Arsov July, 2015

 

This new Essentials column is about bringing back music to musicians. The objective is to find musical tools that can help us to concentrate on just music making – enough tweaking already! We look at gear that sounds better than most much of the competition, but which is also fairly inexpensive and always easy to use. Our motto: set it and forget it.

 

2C Audio Breeze and Studio Devil Virtual Bass Amp Pro

What do these two plug-ins have in common? Actually, it turns out to be more than you might think. But let’s start at the beginning. I get tired taking all my dongles with me whenever I go anywhere with my laptop. So, for that reason I started googling, trying to find some not-too-expensive, good-sounding, basic plug-ins that can give professional results on the go. Of course, being picky, I also wanted them to be simple to use and having quality suitable for use in a default template for almost any production. Move forward a few googling hours later (as it takes time to download all demos and to try them in various situations), I found these two. Back to beginning – what exactly they have in common? Both plug-ins are “plug and leave as is”. Both sound excellent even if you just leave them on the default preset and what’s more, both give better end results than many far more expensive competitors.

 

2C Audio Breeze

I’ve heard a lot of good things about 2C Audio reverbs in a past. After being frustrated with my dongle-dependent main algorithmic reverb, I downloaded selection algorithmic reverbs. I gave them a demanding audition, setting them in up in parallel as a main room reverb used for a whole arrangement, switching them on and off and listening how the whole picture was changing. This one was in the lower price range, but when I set wetness at 100% and just picked up the first appropriate reverb for that purpose, Rooms – Large Room 1, immediate gratification followed. That was exactly what I was looking for – a wide, finely-defined, smooth-sounding space without requiring excessive CPU.

The funny thing is that 2C Audio Breeze doesn’t have many functions. Actually you get nine basic controllers that you can tweak with appropriate buttons, additionally setting dry/wet ratios, width through a slider at the bottom and a cross slider for controlling how much of input signal will bleed from the left input to the right output and vice versa. Actually it controls the stereo effect, making it far more realistic. Those nine basic controllers are Time, Predelay, Contour, Size, Shape, Density, Diffusion, Depth and Rate – actually, a very standard set of controllers that we can find on many well-known reverb plug-ins. In the upper part of the UI, we can find a nice equalizer where we can set few basic curves for low and high shelf. More or less, that is everything. Of course there are few other nice details, not so obvious at the first glance, like hi and low settings for Density and Diffusion, offering different results that are mostly noticeable on a tail of the affected sound. Also there’s the dump slider for equalizer and the not-so-hidden main meter and time display that shows you what is happening with your affected signal.

Actually all those things are explained in a very detailed manual that you probably will never need, as all you need is to set the dry/wet ratio along with choosing one included preset. At least, this is the main purpose of this reverb. Set it and forget it.

In a left upper corner you will find three main buttons, the second of which opens a browser where you can find a quite impressive number of presets, sorted by more or less familiar groups: Room, Ambient, Plate, Vocal, Drum and few others. There are enough presets to make most users happy for a long time, but not me. I never have enough so I googled around to see if there are any additional presets in additions to the ones that you can buy on 2C Audio site (the Simplicity expansion for $24.95 USD offering almost 200 additional, fine-tuned presets). After modest research I found some excellent free Lexicon simulation presets for Breeze compiled by some Breeze user called Den.

I found that some of those presets added even better and cleaner definition tracks, so one of those Lexicon presets ended in my default template project.

Regular price of 2C Audio Breeze is $124.95 USD and for that price you get something that proves to be fairly essential for all genres and is a great choice all less-than-expert users. It doesn’t use much CPU, it is ultra-easy for handling: set wet/dry ratio and then choose a preset, maybe tweak the predelay, and that is all you need to achieve very professional-sounding results.

At the moment 2C Audio is running a “Midsummer Dream Sale” discount offering you a fantastic price drop for all their products including Breeze. It can be yours for $74.95 USD. So, it is now or never. Take it and run as fast as you can – highly recommended even at the regular price.

 

Studio Devil Virtual Bass Amp Pro

Here is another “set it and forget it” essential product that I picked from a large number of similar products. I own almost all virtual amps that are on market at the moment, many of them having specialized Bass amps included and having an impressive numbers of presets. But somehow I remained unsatisfied with my live bass sound. Don’t get me wrong, they all sound good, but not so good in a crowded arrangement and not nearly the similar-sounding to many professionally recorded records. I was quite happy with all other instrument but bass was never right. If it sounded right on near-field speakers it became a bit too boomy on HiFi and almost totally disappearing on small speakers. Don’t preach to me about mixing techniques, I have tried them all. If the source sound is not OK, than all those techniques are mostly mission-impossible tasks. I know most of the theory, how to equalize bass in order to being at least a little present on a small speakers, how to cut it to being not too boomy on big speakers, etc. But after trying plenty of amps and additional effects, and plenty of them at that, still no joy.

I downloaded this plug-in just out of curiosity, inserting it on a bass channel on one of the songs from my last album. Without tweaking anything, suddenly it sounded right. Not to boomy, nicely present in the midrange, fat enough on a low end without being too far from the sound of all the other electric guitars, interacting just right with the live drums. For me, this was more than enough. I tried some presets, they are nice, but for me, the default one is just the right one.

This is a similar story to the case of 2C Audio Breeze: just the right amount of well-organized controllers. The main window is divided into several different sections. The majority is reserved for three main functions: Compressor, Preamp and Power Amp Limiters with additional drive that are set in two rows, every row being used for one of the two channels. Channels can be used separately or in parallel. Every of those three sections has basic controllers that are more or less standard on every virtual or real amp. In the lower part we can find a twelve-band graphic equalizer for fine tuning or even fixing the issues with your original tone. Then there are two effects, Bass Chorus and Reverb, and one of the most important elements, cabinet emulation with five different cabinets. We can also access a tuner. That is more or less everything. Actually it is more than enough to fine tune or tame some details. The most important thing is the main sound. Studio Devil Bass Amp Pro actually sound as those expensive real bass amps that you can hear on some live gigs. Bass is constantly present, without cluttering other instruments and without being lost during some extreme tonal fluctuations.

For $99 USD it is ideal solution for any bass needs. I used to have between six and eight effects in a rack for bass guitar, now there is just this one. After the first couple of hours of use, I replaced all effects on a bass track with just this one, mastering the whole album again.

And here is another similarity. Studio Devil is also having a Summer Sale discount, so during this month, it could be yours for just $59 USD, a bargain for such fine results.

 

Essential Summary

Both effects proved to be the best in their range, even among much more expensive ones. It is not true that quality should be complicated and expensive. Both plug-ins offer fully professional-sounding results that can be achieved absolutely no effort. This is what music is supposed to be. Just plug and play. I hate the fact that I become a sound mixing and mastering engineer, a label manager, group manager and PR person, when all I wanna do is just to be a musician chasing girls. Those two plug-ins are a step closer to my primary goal. Plug and play, just plug and play.

2C Audio Breeze more info and demo clips here:
http://www.2caudio.com/products/breeze

Studio Devil Bass Amp Pro here:
http://www.studiodevil.com/products/virtual_bass_amp_pro/

 

Abletonalies – Summer Vacations

Abletonalies-art

 Why should you provide yourself with vocal packs and what else do you need to get your production to the next level? Abletonalies: from the old plug-ins to the new ones.

 

by Alex Arsov, July 2015

 

Ableton Live

Out of all these little things, this one is absolutely the biggest: Ableton Live finally fixed its latency issue with the new 9.2 update. It is so refreshing to record audio or even MIDI without battling with latency, and the same goes for automation. I tried it and it worked like a charm. Thanks Ableton (not mentioning that this should have been fixed years ago, eh… ).

We’ve got a pile of fresh things that are not strictly Ableton Live related but can still make our lives much easier and help us become better producers. So let’s start with…

https://www.ableton.com/

 

jBridge

https://jstuff.wordpress.com/jbridge/

jBridge is not an instrument, nor an effect. It is actually a tool that will allow your old 32-bit plug-ins to run smoothly with your 64-bit DAW. Lately I started to miss some excellent old freeware I had in the past, or even full versions of plug-ins that I’ve been using for years, but which don’t work with the new 64-bit DAWs. I had heard about jBridge before but never thought it could come in handy for me, but I decided to try it anyway. After a bit of trial and error I figured out how to set it up, and asked the developer if he could provide me a version without the annoying message that pops up for every plug-in whenever I start Ableton Live. He told me that I should run my DAW with administrator privileges. In under an hour I got a personally adapted jBridge and also the developer’s assurance that he’s willing to personalize similar versions for any other user with same needs (we should not pretend that we, as reviewers, are not privileged).

I never run my DAW with administrator privileges and hadn’t spotted any issue regarding this until now. For €14.99 EUR you’ll get all your memories back. For me, this is a priceless tool. When I got it I realized that there were so many useful plug-ins on my old back-up disk. Baxxpander, Sypan, Samplelord, Genesis CM, mda ePiano, Rez 2, Delay Lama and many others. Welcome back.

After getting jBridge I even decided to buy an old “new” plug-in. A uber fancy blast from a past.

 

Broomstick Bass

http://www.bornemark.se/bb/index.htm

This is not a new plug-in and it comes only as a 32-bit version, but it’s still very useful (and it works perfectly with jBridge). It is a virtual bass instrument, and what’s more, a virtual bass player. Broomstick Bass comes with a large number of preprogrammed bass phrases that are sorted by genre and then by technique or sub-genre, where every subdirectory uses a different bass instrument according to the style. Every instrument can also be replaced with other ones as the plug-in comes pre-packed with a nice number of different sampled bass instruments: Acoustic (mostly cool sounding double basses), Synth basses, Pedal basses and Electric basses. The quality of the included instruments is actually quite good, but of course not exactly on the same level as those from your big, fancy, expensive virtual instruments or sound libraries. Never mind, this is not the main purpose of Broomstick Bass. By first choosing an appropriate genre you can start browsing through many preprogrammed groups of presets with many internal variations. Press the root note of the currently played chord and in just a minute your song’s bassline will have been accomplished, as the internal phrase will change according to the root note. All you need to do is to record a short root note at the start of every new chord and Broomstick Bass will autoplay the phrase until the next note. One option is to use internal instruments, the second is to simply add a new MIDI channel setting into Broomstick Bass, as the MIDI input records all MIDI notes that Brooomstick Bass generates according to your root note (or to say more simply, Broomstick Bass supports MIDI out).

In the past I played bass guitar, so it is not big problem for me to program or record one, but I still found this plug-in very useful, as every phrase is programmed by great professional bass players.

For €49 EUR you can treat yourself to your very own personal bass player. And a very good one at that.

 

Audiomodern.com Glitchee and Sync 2

http://audiomodern.com/shop/instruments/sync-2/

http://audiomodern.com/shop/instruments/glitchee-ii/

Glitchee is a Kontakt instrument, while Sync 2 comes as Kontakt library and is also accessible in WAV, AIFF or REX format. The bad news is that both drum loop libraries run only with the full version of Kontakt. The good news is that both libraries are one of the most impressive that I heard lately. Both of them bring pretty similar content – a ton of glitchy futuristic drum sounds and loops. It is hard to describe, but as soon as you hear a demo clip you’ll recognize those pleasant Bjork sort of distorted sounds, blips and rhythms that you hear on some of the best electro albums.

Sync 2 offers 300 loops and 36 construction kits and will cost you €29 EUR, while Glitchee 1, 2 or 3 cost €12 EUR each or €36 EUR all together.

Maybe not so interesting for Dance and EDM music, but if you are into Electro then these libraries / instruments are almost a must buy.

 

8DM Deep House Groove edition 1 and Deep House Synth edition 1

http://8dm.me/instrument/deep-house-synth-edition-vol-1/

Unfortunately, this is also a full Kontakt version only, but otherwise a very up-to-date collection of basses, leads and pads. As the name suggests, it is Deep House oriented and it shouldn’t be hard to find the right sound for your song as they are all carefully chosen for that genre, having some sort of attacky, analog and aggressive vibe that’s really common for House music and relatively hard to find in a world of virtual instruments.

116 synth patches are packed into a nice browser window that offers some controllers for taming the sound. There are ADSR knobs, a glide knob and a Stack option to connect a few sounds together when playing them in unison. For every preset there is also a pitch modulator with pitch sequencer editor, and at the bottom we can find a switch that will open an effects window with Sequencer, Arpeggiator, Filter, EQ, Degrader with bit crusher and distortion (my favorite), then Trace-gate, Side-chainer Transformer, Delay and Reverb. All the effects have a huge number of controllers related to them. Some of them also have a sequencer editor for controlling and fine tuning some of the parameters.

For $49 USD it’s a good buy, especially considering the unique, niche sound character that this Kontakt instrument / library brings, and taking in consideration that all the effects are intuitive and easy to handle, achieving good results even if you’re not a skilled programmer.

http://8dm.me/instrument/deep-house-vol-1/

This one comes as a Kontakt, Maschine or even WAV edition. It comes with a very similar set of effects, the main difference being a Keycontrol effect instead of the first one from Synth edition – Sequencer effect.

Every kit and loop comes in four groups, as separate hits ranked along the keyboard and as loop elements ranked lower down the keyboard. The last two groups are a special bonus – various synth and effect sounds in one group with an additional group where you can change the pitch of the samples and effects. All in all there are around 60 different high quality Deep House kits with all the appropriate loop elements, and the only drawback is that loops can’t be dragged or exported in the arranger window as MIDI clips.

$49 USD for the Kontakt version, $39 USD for the WAV version and $49 USD for Maschine. Or $69 USD for all three.

 

VOCAL PACKS

I have already written about some vocal packs in previous Abletonalies, and the reason for so many reviewed vocal packs is quite simple. You see, I’m not a newcomer, I have recorded several albums with various vocalists, and trust me, it is always almost impossible to find a decent vocalist for a specific project. If they are good they are already involved in some other project. If they are bad, well, you don’t need them anyway. When I talk to a few friends from various countries they have same issues. Looks like it’s a bit of a common problem, no matter from where in the world you are.

I reached a point where I had had enough and decided to try out those vocal packs. Not only is it quite possible to make a good song just by combining vocal parts from two or three vocal packs, but it is also possible to get a record deal with those songs. I told my label that I use vocals from vocal packs and they wrote back to me saying that this is perfectly OK with them. So, if you are doing instrumental music then you should try these packs, as just a few words can bring your song up to a whole new level. Secondly, songs with vocals, even if it’s just a word or two, are and always will be more popular than just instrumental ones.

 

Productionloops – European Pop Vocals Vol 1  & Hubert Tubbs: Soulful Dance Vocals

http://www.producerloops.com/Download-Producer-Loops-European-Pop-Vocals-Vol-1.html

Brings five construction kits with corresponding loops, drums, guitars, even MIDI clips, and of course – the main reason for providing this pack – soulful male vocals. Every construction kit contains two complete verses, a chorus and in some cases even background vocals. If I complained in the past that some vocal packs include only a few words inside each construction kit, this is not the case with this pack. You get a good number of vocal lines for your money.

Vocal lines come in Dry, Wet and even Octaved versions. Usually I don’t use wet versions, but these ones are really well processed, so maybe I’ll make an exception this time.

€31.18 EUR

http://www.producerloops.com/Download-Producer-Loops-Hubert-Tubbs-Soulful-Dance-Vocals.html

A vocal sample pack containing short, soulful, deep and rather rough and sexy short phrases. Maybe there’s not enough material to fill a whole song, but it is so specific, recognizable and full of character that it would be a sin not to use it to spice up some instrumental track or to combine it with another vocal pack. Phrases are recorded at 80 and 90 BPM, but our good old Live can easily handle this, stretching it to a more normal EDM speed (especially as the new 9.2 version brings an updated stretching algorithm).
€31.18 EUR

 

 

Function Loops Deep House Vocal Sessions

http://www.functionloops.com/deep-house-vocal-sessions.html

My favorite “sample-vocal pack” lady vocalist, Tonka, has once again joined forces with Function Loops to bring us another Deep House vocal pack. 109 vocal loops, dry and wet, along with 41 vocal shots.

You can’t miss with this one – it is Tonka after all. She’s my EDM, Dance, House, and Trance queen. With her deep, sexy and very melodic voice she can make your song shine. Each phrase is very short – one or just a few words mainly – but still very useful. (One day I really hope to use some longer phrases recorded with her voice.)

$19.90 USD

Till we meet again. Have a great summer.

 

Review – Gravity by Heavyocity

 

Heavyocity set a new cinematic standard with Gravity. Does anyone know how big impact all those hits, impacts, risers and all other out of this world sounds will have on cinematic market?

 

by A. Arsov, July 2015

 

A New Standard in our Cinematic World

This time I will not try to convince you that Gravity can be used for all genres and for all purposes. Heavyocity decided to make a niche product dedicated to one and only one purpose: it is strictly a cinematic tool. A very diverse, impressive sounding instrument / sound library, strengthened by a wide range of additional controllers offering various cinematic effects, atmospheres and textures that can be tweaked beyond recognizability. Maybe it seems a little pricey, but I’m sure it’ll become a bestseller anyway. I intend to go through some options and functions that Gravity offers, but to “hear and believe” you should definitely go through the demo songs and representation video to convince yourself how Gravity nails this dangerously trashy, morbid, but surprisingly clear and well-defined hi-fi sound that you hear in new Hollywood blockbusters. (OK, regarding all genres and all purposes, if you are brave enough you can still use those hits and risers in EDM productions, but EDM is supposed to be on the bright side, while Gravity is definitely on the dark side.)

 

What It Is and What It Is Not

The first thing that you notice is the outstanding sound quality – all the sounds and presets are extremely well-defined, punchy and kind of futuristic – those sorts of sounds that evolve from one basic sound source to a combination of a few different ones (for example: “Hit” that starts with a single rising sound and ends with a punchy hit underlaid with a human scream, explosion and “hell knows what else”), offering perfectly recorded samples that are already pre-produced for final use. A pleasing collection of distorted hell.

I presume the main advantage of this library is that it brings all those sorts of effects and atmospheres that used to be recorded, compiled and combined from various sources by skilled sound designers in big Hollywood studios into one package. But is has one big advantage: it also offers an abundance of additional tools, controllers and editing options, giving the media composer a huge amount of freedom, allowing him not just to adapt the desired sample to his needs, but also to make it unique by changing its speed or any other aspect of the sound. He can do this by changing some key sound parameters or even by putting the sample through some implemented sequencing tools that can be linked to any of a number of parameters, drastically changing the character of the chosen sample.

 

Contents

By starting at the main Gravity directory in Kontakt player it all looks pretty simple, as it seems that Gravity offers just a few basic groups of sounds. Hits, Pads, Risers and Stings, but then it starts to go deeper and deeper – while Hits contain just hits, you’ll realize that Pads has a few additional subgroups of sounds – Complex, Element Menu, Elements Shorts. The next one is Risers that are divided to 15 Second Risers, 30 Second Risers and Organic Risers while Stings are divided into Elements and Menus. Trust me, this is only the beginning, as most of these directories have subdirectories, like Aggressive, Ethereal, etc. The whole contents, the quality, quantity and structural organization reminds me of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Unique, well-organized, endlessly deep and with a recognizable style. Seems that Heavyocity just skipped the “Paradiso” part – everything else is there.

 

Cockpit

I will try to be brief here, otherwise I’d need a longer vacation to describe every detail of the Gravity interface, not to mention every detail inside all the sub windows that can be reached through the simple menu at the bottom of the main window. Step by step, further and further – I presume that the programming manager’s surname is Alighieri ( or “Dante Junior” for friends).

At the center of the Gravity interface we find a big Punish central tab. It originates from the Spanish Inquisition era and it gives us suffering, distortion, gain and compression. The Punish tab could be replaced by three other tabs: Pitch, Mix and Twist, which can be reached by the buttons arranged around the main central tab. With Pitch you can control pitch band range for any of three possible channels, or separately tune any of those channels. The Mix tab will allow you to set volume independently for any of three channels, while the Twist tab determines the relationship between equalizer and filters. Some groups of presets also bring a Sample tab, where you can set pan, level, tune, start or even randomization of a sample.

To the left of this central tab we find an array of controllers for up to four effects that can be used with every sound. The first one is Reverb, with an additional drop down menu where you can choose between a nice number of reverb spaces. The other three are chorus delay and distortion. All four effects are equipped with four basic controllers corresponding to each effect.

Going right from the central tab is an ADSR spot where you can set all four parameters along with velocity range for the current preset.

Actually, this is just the main window, an introductory part – Inferno. As we all know, the devil is in the detail – so ladies and gentleman, it is time for…

 

Purgatorio

The content of the additional windows changes from category to category, but mainly every category has the EQ Filter window where master and channel EQ can be fine-tuned, as well as the central Filter window, bringing together generic controllers with a standard set of LFO curves. Actually, the main sound is already so fine-tuned that this part is reserved purely for control freak maniacs and ladies with very special wishes.

Next is a Trigger Effects window where some of the effects parameters presented on the main page can be triggered live, or even by setting them in advance. Of course it’s not just an ordinary set of parameters, as for every effect two basic parameters are chosen that can be changed dynamically through the additional Editing window that can be opened at the bottom of the Trigger Effects window (Dante, Dante!!), opening a sequencing window where we can draw a curve or use some of the preprogrammed lines. I hope that I don’t need to explain how drastically the sound can be changed by adding drive and brightness sequencing curves for the Distortion effect. Gravity looks like one of those Electro kits that we had as children, where the basic elements are presented with just a few tools allowing you to create all sorts of things just using the included material.

The last one is a Motion window where all sequencing gymnastics can be repeated for Pan, Level and Pitch. Of course, there are other controllers sprinkled around, for adding or changing or just fine-tuning the sequencing parameters, the numbers of steps (up to 64) or smoothness and so on. All those controllers are just an add-on for good measure, because, as we pointed out before, the main advantage is a really big number of pre-produced and pre-programmed samples that brings those “top studio, top audio engineer” combination of skills, equipment and sound sources which can’t be reproduced at home. Flexibility is another option if you really need to adapt anything directly to a picture.

 

Paradiso

It costs $449 USD, but if you are serious about your cinematic experience, then the main button for controlling your cinematic future is the one with the “Add To Chart” sign on it. I thought I wouldn’t do any cinematic music this summer, but this library is so appealing that I’ve changed my mind. It’s definitely a pro tool that’ll become standard in big studios. For a little less than 500 bucks you can emulate big Hollywood studios. Quality has its price. It’s up to you.

http://www.heavyocity.com/product/gravity/

or

http://www.bestservice.de/gravity_modern_scoring_tools.html

Review – Fl Studio 12 by Image Line

 

 

One of the most fascinated DAWs has reached and impressive version number: 12. Obviously, Image Line never gets tired improving their main product, adding new features and capabilities.

 

by Alex Arsov, July 2015

 

FL Studio has massively gained popularity in the last two years. I joined some EDM related groups on Facebook lately where members are showing off what they are doing or what they have done, exchanging tips and tutorials or simply asking for advice. The most fascinating thing is that more than 90% of them use FL Studio as their main DAW. Somehow FL Studio has become the number one DAW where EDM music is concerned. Of course, by searching for additional tutorials I found that people use FL Studio for almost all genres. Endless numbers of Hip Hop producers use it, even Metal folks, and all other genres and subgenres. I presume the main reason for such popularity is the fact that Fl studio is very flexible, well equipped and relatively easy to use, and what’s more, it’s so easy to get excellent results in no time, just by drawing clips in the arrangement window with the paint tool and deleting them with a left click. If you are skilled, you can finish the basic arrangement in 15 to 30 minutes.

The truth is, especially if you’re familiar with another DAW, that you’ll need a bit more time to get familiar with FL Studio as it doesn’t run exactly on the same tracks as some others. It is definitely not just another variation on an old story. It’s certainly one of the most unique, interesting and unusual DAWs on the market. It has quite a different workflow compared to most other digital audio workstations. Different, but still very detailed, with an enormous quantity of implemented options, an impressive number of tools such as automation curves, and many other goodies hidden in the submenus. There are also all sorts of MIDI tools inside the Piano Roll editor, some of them allowing you to build interesting and fairly professional harmonies, even if you slept through all your music theory training.

FL Studio always was and still is one of the best tools for manipulating loops and combining them with MIDI clips. The only drawback is that it still has problems recognizing tempo for non-Acid loops. In the past I also missed having the tools for fine-tuning longer audio clips (pitch editing or audio clip quantization in the arranger view), but with the Newtone plug-in that comes with Signature Bundle this is finally solved. Even if you don’t have Signature Bundle there are still more than enough additional tools inside FL Studio for manipulating shorter vocal clips. Actually, there is no better tool on market for getting all sorts of impressive, wild or even silly results out of separate vocal samples. There are a bunch of video clips where users have sampled words from popular TV shows or even from real life, turning them into whole songs.

 

So, What’s New?

The most noticeable thing is a fancy new modern look. FL Studio 12 is eye-catching and up to date, and what’s more, the whole graphical interface is scalable. It is possible to scale the whole DAW or just a few elements. This especially comes in handy with the mixer, which now looks much better, having the option to automatically show or hide certain elements just by resizing it vertically. Also, it has a fancy new ability to show various routings between channels with virtual patch cables shown at the bottom of the mixer window (similar to those in Propellerhead’s Reason). There is also an option to separate groups of channels with new lanes, called separators. Also, we can now select channels and group them, and adding a group channel automatically routes all selected channels to this new channel. One of my favorite new additions is a row of switches for bypassing insert effects. More good news is the option to select and change the volume for any number channels with just one click. FL Studio had and still has one of the most advanced MIDI editors on the market (I know, David, I’m also an old Cubase user, and yes Cubase has every possible MIDI tool, but trust me, FL Studio goes even further, offering many solutions tucked away in lots of Piano Roll menus and submenus, all of which can drastically speed up your workflow).

There are also a few changes to some of the other FL Studio windows and menus. Some options have been switched between windows and it takes some time to get acquainted with these new locations, but I presume Image Line know why they did it this way. Also, no longer are there two different windows for imported samples, so now each parameter can be set in a new, unique window. Click on any sample on Channel Rack… Well done. Not to mention that FL Studio 12 gives us a pile of new or redesigned colored buttons for additional editing windows that are shown almost everywhere, in every FL Studio editor, providing a much more pleasant and user friendly working experience.

The next noticeable thing is a redesigned Tool Bar with some new buttons and the option of adding extra ones. That feature was missing in previous versions, while many other DAWs already offered it.

I forgot to mention that FL Studio uses ASIO drivers, offering the same low latency as is the case with the “ASIO For All” driver – with one significant difference: FL Studio doesn’t lock audio exclusively to your DAW, allowing you to use other audio programs at the same time. So, we are no longer forced to quit FL Studio whenever we want to watch a tutorial video clip or listen to an MP3 through Winamp or some other player. Maybe this doesn’t sound revolutionary for you, but after some time you will wonder how you could ever have lived without this solution.

FL Studio also brings many changes to the browser, making search more advanced while remaining user friendly at the same time. The great news is that now you can select several streams or audio clips from Windows Explorer and drag them directly to the Playlist. There they will be automatically sorted onto different tracks. Those tracks can then be routed with one click to a different output in the mixer.

As soon as you become familiar with the various options that FL Studio has to offer, you will be able to finish your track far more quickly than in most other DAWs.

 

Is There More?

Some effects and instruments are redesigned, some just improved. Almost everywhere you’ll find something added or at least slightly changed. At first glance you might get the wrong impression that this isn’t such a major update, but the list of small improvements, along with the big changes, can almost go on forever. New colors and icons in the Mixer window. In the Channel Rack editor, swing settings are now available for every separate channel. Changing the view in Channel Rack between Piano Roll and note sequencer is now just a click away (those are just two of many other improvements inside Channel Rack). Workflow is now much more user friendly. Deleting notes in the step-sequencer will now affect notes directly in Piano Roll, where they’ll be shown as muted (letting you experiment with different rhythms or melodies). A nice new feature is the option to insert markers inside the Piano Roll editor to define a new loop. Some functions are now updated with new additions, like the ability to edit ghost notes even without bringing up the ghost channel and making it active – of course, we are talking about Piano Roll editor. Those are some of the new functions that just crossed my mind while writing this article – there are plenty of other small improvements literally everywhere inside FL Studio 12.

 

The End of the Endlessness

Even in previous versions, FL Studio was a very powerful DAW. Now, with all these new features it has become even better, more user friendly, and with a very polished futuristic look. In FL Studio 12 we get most of those functions that maybe some users yearned for after seeing some of the other bestselling DAWs. It is not my first version of FL Studio and have to say that from version to version it has become harder and harder to find flaws. The only thing that annoyed me at first was the fact that FL Studio doesn’t use the standard set of shortcuts that most other DAWs use, but when you become familiar with the FL Studio shortcuts there are no other bigger differences. For newcomers to the DAW world such things don’t matter. For others it can take a week or two to adapt to the inner logic of this DAW. After all, there is an impressive number of video tutorials at the Image Line site, same as on the YouTube channel. It so happens that I didn’t find a video that explains if it’s possible to freeze tracks, so I asked about this option on an Image Line forum and got an immediate response with link to a video.

If you’re ever thinking of changing your main DAW I recommend you check this one out. It is almost impossible to find another DAW having such an enormous number of options, tools and included high quality effects and instruments. Fruity Parametric Equalizer 2 and some internal synths, like BassDrum and Sytrus, are actually on the same level as some well-known third party tools that cost almost the same as the entire FL Studio Producer edition. The other high quality tools that were already in previous versions are Maximus – a top notch multiband mastering multieffect – and Vocodex – one of the best vocoders on market and, as far as I know, there is only one better and it’s the same price as FL Studio Producer. Talking about the price, at least in my honest opinion, Logic is the only other DAW that offers so much for such a low price. Of course, there is one main difference – Logic is Mac only and FL Studio is supported only on the PC platform for now.

FL Studio Fruity edition costs $99 USD, but it doesn’t support audio recording.

FL Studio Producer edition costs $199 USD. It has everything you need to produce professionally sounding tracks (including a lifetime of free updates – for all versions actually).

Fl Signature Bundle costs $299 USD, bringing some extra tools like Newtone for audio pitch editing and Fruity Video Editor, Hardcore (a rack of guitar effects), Gross Beat (a glitch, scratching and repeat tool) and Harmless (a very powerful virtual synthesizer). (But you still get enough quality instruments even in the Producer version. The only thing I couldn’t live without is Newtone. If you are working with vocalists it’s a pure lifesaver.)

https://www.image-line.com/flstudio/

That should be all. I know that you remember this DAW from the early days of Fruity Loops, but don’t overlook it or underestimate it. I will definitely use my spare time this summer to finally finish off a few songs with this DAW. I like the sound, I like the workflow, and finally I also like the brand new up-to-date look of FL Studio.

 

Studio One 3 by Presonus

 

Presonus finally released new version of Studio One. Is Studio One 3 a revolution or just evolution? Find what is new and how it stands compared to other DAWs.

 

by Alex Arsov, July 2015

 

The previous version of Studio One was a very pleasant surprise for me. A very powerful DAW offering most of the things the other popular DAWs have, along with bringing some really cool, unique new features, like audio quantization directly in the arranger window, or the ability to establish a new group just by selecting a few channels, causing all selected channels to be routed to the new group channel. Not to mention MIDI loop preview in a browser that works directly in correlation with any currently selected instrument. Those are only three of many new features Studio One brings to the DAW market, but then it somehow happened that Studio One was stuck on version 2 for a few years, while in the meantime other competitors updated their versions with new features, and suddenly this revolutionary DAW is yesterday’s news.

Browsing through all the new capabilities in Studio One 3, it becomes obvious why it took so long for Presonus to release a new version – they decided to rebuild it almost from scratch. This may not be so obvious at first glance, but they made the whole DAW more stylish, adding multi-touch support and developing their own sampler and very flexible virtual synthesizer – they clearly aim to distinguish themselves from other DAW companies. Some of the built-in editors are also heavily redesigned and we even get some totally new ones like Scratch pads for rearranging the score. All these changes give the impression that Presonus is really determined to fight for their place back at the top. This new version comes with a pile of new features, nothing revolutionary really (except maybe the effect and instrument chain rack) but enough in any case to put Presonus Studio One 3 back in line standing shoulder to shoulder with the other big players. Obviously Presonus has decided to build a solid base for future development, and if they manage to release a new version within a year then Studio One could really shake up the market. However, at the moment Studio One 3 is simply a matter of choice. It’s no better or worse than any other DAW on the market. Like all the other big names it has its advantages: it offers a very intuitive workflow, it is very user friendly, it’s not overpriced, it has great included content, it is very powerful, and it has all the tools you’ll need for music production, mixing and even mastering. That’s Studio One 3. I realize it wasn’t so easy for a relative newcomer on the market to arrive at this position, but after all that hard work this is only the beginning of the race to turn the planet Presonus. So, Mayor Tom, take your protein pills and put your helmet on. 3… 2… 1…

 

Fresh Meat

The first impression is very satisfying. A modern colorful look, which is not just a “cosmetic improvement” – all those different colors can be very handy, especially during those memorable moments when you get lost in a huge number of tracks, trying to find a particular one in on crowded mixer. At last we get an option to set the color for the whole channel and not just the top or bottom part, also changing a color for specific mix channel effects and the track color in the arrangement window. A simple but very effective solution that can save you many hours during the mixing stage. Also, mix faders are now scalable, so you can set the value much more precisely, and there’s also a gain reduction meter showing you how much your effects are affecting the signal – the drawback there is it only works with Presonus plug-ins.

Studio One already had one of the best browsers on the market and in this new version they bring even more advanced solutions. Finding the appropriate tool or sound has become even easier, with expanded and better positioned categories: Instrument, Vendor, Style, Character, Type and Product. Also, there’s an option to update a plug-in’s thumbnail, so you can have small icons for any third party plug-in. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but we all spend more than a quarter of our time searching for an appropriate sound, instrument or effect.

Every DAW already has some sort of rearranging tools. Studio One 3 brings one such tool under the name Scratch Pad. It’s a similar solution to that seen on some other DAWs, with one main difference: in Scratch Pad you can set a few different combinations of alternative arrangements, ranked in a row, so you can work simultaneously on different versions of your song, preparing a variety of mixes, not just fiddling with the main arrangement. That’s very handy for doing various Radio versus Club versions, or different length versions of the same song, such as when preparing material for a Stock library. You can hide or expand those alternative mixes with just one move, making space for the one you’re intending to work on.

 

Where the Fun Begins

Of course, as this is a major update there have also been some fairly big changes – not just cosmetic ones or workflow improvements. The first thing that caught my eye was multi-instrument capability – layering of synthesizers in one common window allowing you to set the key range for every instance of an instrument. Not a revolution, but still quite a cool solution that can make your project much cleaner and better organized. The same goes with the ability to rank and connect effects in parallel or in series. This is quite similar to chaining them in IK T-Racks, but here in Studio One 3 this ability is way more flexible and advanced. It isn’t a must have for everyday use, but still, very nice to have.

Presonus finally made its own sampler, Presence XT, a powerful tool with the standard set of controls that most advanced new hybrids between sampler and synths have. It brings an advanced modulation matrix window and very good filters with two LFOs that come with the standard set of curves. Presence XT also reads various common sampler formats, like Kontakt, Giga, soundfonts and EXS files. It allows scripting for instruments, so some included instruments already come with their own set of controllers. It also comes with serious sound content – 15 Gb if we are precise – and most of it is high quality, bringing a very versatile groups of instruments, from orchestral, rock to some electronic ones. Of course, the quality is not on the same level as you get with some sample libraries that cost as much as the whole Studio One 3 package, but all in all, most of the instruments are useful, covering most of the popular genres and groups of instruments.

The next addition is Mai Tai. A virtual analog synthesizer that fits somewhere in a category called “better than most of the built-in synths in many other DAWs, but not as good as some well-known third party virtual synthesizers.” It’s quite flexible and highly capable, but most of the included presets are a bit on the attacky side. Nevertheless, it offers plenty of useful sounds. The truth is, most of the well-known third party synthesizer developers pay very well-known patch programmers good money to build their bank of sounds. As I tweaked Mai Tai, I got the impression that it’s capable of producing better sounds than those presented in a user library. Propellerhead Reason and Image-Line FL Studio have slightly better synthesizers, so this one comes somewhere between those two DAWs and all others.

One of my favorite new additions is Macro Control. It is an editing window that every channel or instrument and effect has, where you can assign up to eight parameters to your hardware controller. You can find similar things on some other DAWs but I have to admit that this is an essential addition seeing as there are more and more controllers on the market.

 

It Goes Down to the End

For previous users of Studio One “Note FX” is quite a useful addition. It is actually an editor with a set of MIDI effects. So far, Studio One has been one of the few big DAWs that hasn’t had MIDI effects. Actually, this release seems to be dedicated to filling in all the missing parts, laying the groundwork for a bright future. Don’t get me wrong, the previous version, Studio One 2, used to be a really great DAW bringing some revolutionary solutions along with a great set of included tools, even a basic Melodyne editor and all sorts of high end effects that could only be found on the very best DAWs on a market (multiband compressor, excellent convolution reverb, advanced equalizer and many more). Studio One 2 used to be a very capable DAW, able to handle very demanding production tasks, but it still had some blind spots that hadn’t been covered until now, things which have become standard for some other well-known DAWs. So, with all these improvements, the ones we went through and even some others that we haven’t mentioned yet – like improved automation with various implemented automation curves, or maybe the High DPI user definable interface, remote option for iPad, or some other smaller, detailed improvements – along with a lot of high-quality additional content – over 4000 loops and a massive bundle of sounds and instruments – and considering all the capabilities already implemented in previous versions, this DAW is a quality alternative to any of the biggest names in the field. As I said, at the moment it is a matter of choice. Live, Cubase, Logic Pro, Fl Studio or Studio One 3, it’s up to you. With excellent audio quantization directly in the arrangement window and a highly advanced browser with great time-stretching algorithms, it is an excellent choice for all genres – from rock and orchestral to electro and EDM. It is perfectly suited for all sorts of live recordings. As one of my colleagues said to me: I used to sell cars in a past, I would talk with a man about the engine and all the other stuff, but if their wife didn’t like the color they didn’t buy it. It happened all the time.

So, it’s all about the color. If you like it – use it. Engine is top notch, nobody ever questioned that.

Studio One comes in a three shapes. Firstly, Studio One Prime, the free version, is quite cool, but there’s no VST support and quite a limited set of included effects. You can get Studio One Artist for $121.94 USD, while Studio One Professional will cost you $487,94 USD.

Fairly normal prices for that range of digital workstations, so it’s all down to the color. Ask your wife if you are unsure. In any case, you will not be disappointed.

Review – Rapture Pro by Cakewalk

 

Cakewalk’s Rapture synth has enjoyed a lot of popularity over the years and to a lesser extent so has Cakewalk’s Dimension Pro.  Now they have become one in Rapture Pro.  Find out more here.

 

by David Baer, July 2015

 

The Rapture synth has always had a special place in my heart.  It was the first software synth that I got to know really well.  I studied it intently to learn more about what synthesis was all about.  So, I was especially eager to get my hands on the new incarnation: Rapture Pro.  And although there is little in the new version that adds to the originals additional sound production capabilities, it is nevertheless an interesting story.

Specifically, Cakewalk integrated the Rapture Synth with their rompler software Dimension Pro (hereafter DP) to very good effect.  DP was somewhat of an also-ran in the rompler marketplace, with Kontakt undisputedly acting as the gorilla in the room and several other offerings fiercely contending for second-place status.  But Rapture had a lot going for it and adding a healthy amount of sample content and a few additional capabilities to it has made a good synth even more attractive.  We’ll discover how in what follows.

 

The Lay of the Land

First let us explore the basic architecture of Rapture for those unfamiliar with the synth.  I will defer a discussion of what’s new to the section entitled “So What’s New?”.  Those who are already familiar with Rapture may wish to skip ahead.

Rapture has always called itself a wave-table synth, but there’s some question as to how valid that designation is.  Most synth enthusiasts think of wave-table instruments as ones having two or more waveforms in an oscillator that has the ability to morph between those waveforms.  Rapture oscillators, which reside in sound production structures called elements, hold only one waveform at a time.  However, they can also hold samples in the form of wave files (of several varieties including rex loops) and SFZ sample sets.  A sample file of less than 3000 samples is considered to be single-cycle.  Anything more is a conventional sample.  This in turn dictates whether several features are available, most notably multiple detuned oscillators (unison mode), offered only for single-cycle waveforms.

Rapture has six identical elements, each with plenty of capability, so rich and complex sounds are certainly achievable.  The UI for an element is seen below:

 

The basic signal flow within an element is as follows:

  • The oscillator originates the sound
  • The signal then is passed to a filter/DSP section in which two filters (of the usual types), and three DSP units can be configured in a variety of ways. The DSP units are mostly various types of distortion.
  • A three-band EQ section comes next.
  • An insert effect follows (more effect slots are available further down the line). We will look more closely at FX later.

Per-element modulation is abundant.  We have an LFO, a multi-segment envelope generator and a step generator each for pitch, pan and amp.  We also have these three modulators for the cutoff and resonance level of the two filters.

 

Modulation

Modulation is done is two ways: using the per-element LFOs, etc. and using the modulation matrix.  We’ll get to the modulation matrix later.  One of the most appealing aspects of Rapture is all the modulation capabilities in each element.  Let’s start with the envelope generator:

 

Basic ADSR is available and more.  There’s nothing especially exotic here, but one piece of advice is to read the manual.  There are several keyboard assists available for defining envelope behavior (such as velocity effect on envelope segment duration) that are neither obvious nor intuitive.

The LFO is likewise reasonably standard.  The LFO shares a tab with key follow.

 

20 LFO waveforms are supplied, with 80 more slots available for user-supplied waveforms.  Two slots don’t hold a waveform but supply a random signal, one bipolar and the other unipolar.  One complaint of sound designers has not been addressed: a third-party sound developer cannot distribute custom LFO waveforms safely since there’s no way of knowing how a user has allocated his free slots.  Both delay and ramp times can be specified, and of course, the rate can be synced with host tempo.  So in all, there’s nothing exceptional but neither is anything lacking.

The key follow modulation shares the same graphic space.  It will be in effect whether or not the LFO is enabled, although that’s not clear from the UI.  We’ll look at this a bit more closely when discussing filters.

Finally, there’s the step generator.


The step generator is quite powerful, offering up to 128 steps, the speed of which can be synced to host tempo.  A smoothing parameter can make the stepwise jumps more gradual.  Depth controls the strength of the modulation, the units being dependent upon the target.  For pitch and filter cutoff, it is cents; for resonance it is dB; and for pan and amp, it is percent.

 

FX and Filters

There are plenty of FX capabilities on board, with 31 different possibilities.  Note that although an element can contain only one insert effect, more slots are available further down the line.  The image at the right shows what’s available.

With respect to filters, once again there’s nothing particularly noteworthy but neither is there anything lacking except perhaps for some “character” filters like a Moog-ladder emulation.  However, the filters are bundled in to the same section with various types of distortion, so if you are looking for less-than-polite filter behavior, this is gives plenty of opportunity for filter assertiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to the Mixer


The element outputs can be serial (an element output is mixed into the output of the next) if it is desired to share the insert effect of the last element in the chain.  But normally, the element outputs will go to straight the mixer stage where final polishing is accomplished.

One omission I find a little bit annoying is that the mixer tab does not duplicate the element level volume controls.  To balance multiple elements, you must visit each element tab to set its level.  This is the one feature of the original Rapture that has been withheld, probably due to the lack of space on the Mixer tab courtesy of everything else that’s now present.

Once the element outputs reach the mixer stage, there are several more types of processing.  We have two more FX slots available, which can be used as sends or as serial inserts (more on this shortly). 

Below that, we have the master three-band EQ.  This shares the same real estate with a tab offering a stereo step generator pair controlling amplitude (one for each stereo channel).  The modulation matrix also shares this space on its own tab.

Finally we have one final global FX slot.

 

The Modulation Matrix

Although the elements have plenty of modulation capabilities, modulation via MIDI CCs, performance properties (e.g. aftertouch, keyboard note-on gate), random values, two X/Y pads and eight macro knobs are set up using the modulation matrix. 

 

It’s not for the faint of eyesight given its tiny size, but it is reasonably capable and offers much flexibility, with a vast number of modulation destinations.

 

So What’s New?

So we finally get to what a lot of Rapture fans have been waiting to find out.  Many of them may be disappointed because there’s not a lot that wasn’t already there in either Rapture or DP.  But Rapture and DP, although they had many similarities, were not completely compatible.  Rapture could not handle rex loops, for example.  DP’s effects were send-effects, Rapture’s were insert effects.  DP had a vector mixer which Rapture lacked.  There’s more, but you get the idea.

So, obviously, one of the initial challenges facing the design team was how to reconcile the architectural differences between Rapture and DP so that they could become a single instrument that could play the legacy content of each.  The thorniest of these issues was probably solving the FX insert discrepancy, and this was done in a fairly clever fashion.  Note the lower corner of the mixer tab pictured right.  In Send position, the send level controls to the right are enabled, otherwise the series sends go to shared inserts.  The result is that both Raptures and DPs FX legacy architecture is accommodated.

But we actually do have a few new features.  For one thing, there are four new filter types: variable state LP, HP, BP and BR (band reject) 2-pole filters.  Is the “variable state” attribute significant?  Not in any way I can tell.  But the filters do offer a different character than the original 2-pole alternatives.  In designing sounds, I would suggest trying both and choosing whichever tickles your fancy.

Also, there are new options in the filter/DSP topology.  Originally, we had two filters and two DP slots serially available in several different orders.  We now have a third DP slot and more routing options of which some are parallel.  Three of these (out of a total of fourteen possibilities) are shown to the right.

We have a few new FX types, primarily some new reverb options.  We have the ability to have the step sequencer trigger envelopes.  We have a new browser (shown at the very top of this article), which is nothing special but a moderate improvement.  The overall interface of the element tabs and the mixer are both somewhat crowded, but nevertheless they offer about 50% more screen area than the original Rapture.  And finally, we have the instrument performance tab, pictured below.  In it we have a second XY control and a vector mixer that gives easy access to element relative-level setting.  Additionally on this tab we have macro controls not found in the original Rapture.  The vector mixer is a welcome addition but it lacks the automated movement capabilities we’ve seen in some recent synths like Rob Papen’s marvelous Blue II.  Something like that could have turned Rapture Pro into a powerhouse contender to true wave-table synths with their waveform morphing capability.

 

I have one small complaint.  I often like filter cutoff to be modulated by keyboard tracking – move note number up one octave and the cutoff responds likewise.  In Rapture (both original and Pro), to get cutoff to track 100% (i.e., the cutoff is always a fixed distance from the note) you need to set the leftmost position at 25% and the rightmost at 75%.  In Rapture we had grid lines (see small image to right).  Now, you’re on your own.  I would very much like those grid lines back or some tool-tip help added to display y-axis values for precision key tracking specification.

 

Factory Sound Content

Cakewalk claims there are over 1000 presets and 10GB of samples – not something I cared to take the time to verify.  That preset number probably includes the “Rapture Classic” and “Dimension Pro” libraries, and the 10GB of samples is probably mostly the newly-included DP content.  But no matter – there is a boatload of sounds, quite a few brand new, and the there was nothing wrong with the “classic” content to begin with.

I found some early third party Rapture libraries I had acquired (too long ago to remember where they came from) seem to have showed up in the Rapture Pro browser with no additional effort on my part.  All in all, Cakewalk has done nicely with the factory content, and if you have other legacy libraries, you should have full access to them as well.

 

Is Rapture Pro for You?

Rapture Pro is available as VST 2, VST 3i and AU formats in both 32- and 64-bit.  For Windows, a standalone version is also supplied.  The current pricing is $199 USD for a new license or $99 for an upgrade from several qualifying Cakewalk software products.  I think it likely we’ll see some price reduction down the line.  At the $200 level, there is some awfully compelling competition for musician’s dollars in the crowded soft-synth marketplace.  For upgraders, I don’t believe there are enough new features to induce a lot of current Rapture owners to spend $100.  Cut those prices in half, however, and there’s a persuasive argument to jump in.  So, stay tuned – it will be interesting to see how the pricing story develops.

Although I think it’s a tad overpriced currently, I’m certainly not suggesting that there’s little to like in Rapture Pro.  I always found Rapture to be a favorite go-to synth for electronic piano sounds, but I generally overlooked it otherwise after my early infatuation – so many synths, so little time!  With this update, I have realized (or remembered) that this is a wonderfully capable instrument worthy of some love.  There’s a lot going on and Rapture Pro is worthy of considerable respect.

What makes it even more attractive is that we can now easily make excellent use of all the included DP content to create hybrid synth/sample sounds.  There’s enough here to keep a dedicated sound designer busy for months if not years.  Hopefully some A-list sound designers will sign on to create some new, must-have third party content.

My installation experience had a few rough spots using the fairly new Cakewalk command center.  But all was good after a little patient coaxing.  There is a lot of sample content, so expect a somewhat lengthy download session.

The initial release of Rapture Pro had some significant issues, the most obvious being a painfully long load time.  A maintenance release (V 2.0.2) appeared only the day before I’m writing this.  For the most part, this release seems solid and reliable on my PC, although a few minor issues are still awaiting resolution.  Maybe Cakewalk took Rapture Pro out of the oven a little early, but it’s well on its way to being a nicely baked, thoroughly tasty concoction.

For more information and to purchase Rapture Pro, go here:

http://www.cakewalk.com/products/rapture

 

 

Book Review – Words without Music by Philip Glass

 

Here we look at a memoir by one of the most famous contemporary composers, the prolific and widely-appreciated Philip Glass.

 

by Warren Burt, July 2015 

 

Philip Glass is, of course, one of the most famous of contemporary composers.  His name is known widely, whether from his early repetitive pieces, mostly performed by his own ensemble (Music in 12 Parts, Music in Fifths), his many film scores (Kundun, Koyanisqaatsi), his symphonies, or his operas (Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, Kepler).  Now we have a memoir from him, mostly covering his early years, but dealing with recent matters as well, and it’s a total delight.  Glass in conversation is very clear, down to earth, and engaging, and his writing is the same.  If I say this is a very breezy, conversational book, that is not putting it down at all, and among the cheery anecdotes are some real serious nuggets about the function and nature of listening, the life of a composer, and the way music works.  I found the book to be a real page turner – Glass’s way of writing was both engaging and riveting.  

The book concentrates mostly on his early years, from his childhood in Baltimore, through his student years in Chicago, New York and Paris, through the early years of his career in New York.  Along the way, we meet a veritable who’s who of figures in the arts in those years.  Theatrical people such as Richard Foreman, Richard Schechner, Joanne Akalaitis, choreographers such as Molissa Fenley and Lucinda Childs, fellow composers such as Vincent Persichetti, Louis Hardin (Moondog) and John Cage, his mentors Ravi Shankar and Nadia Boulanger, his Buddhist and Hindu teachers, artists Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra, writers such as Allen Ginsberg, and a host of others.  As well, we meet Glass’s family – his record store owning father, his mother, worried about her son’s career prospects, his brother and sister, and his friends.  About each of these, Glass writes with characteristic sympathy and generosity.  Indeed, from the book, one could gain the impression that Philip Glass is basically a nice guy.  Knowing him slightly, I can say that the book is not misleading; this is indeed the case.

Glass has never held any major teaching position.  All his life he has worked very basic jobs to keep body and soul together (taxi-driving, plumbing, working in a record store) until the point where he was able to earn a living from his music.  In the book, he is quite open about the many jobs he has held, and how mostly, he found the experience a positive one.   This identification of the composer as a worker, as a member of the working class, is a very refreshing one, especially in an era where the mythology of the pop star and celebrity culture is so dominating of popular consciousness. 

As an example of Glass’s serious writing on listening, for example, there is this paragraph:

The activity of the listener is to listen.  But it’s also the activity of the composer.  If you apply that to the performer, what is the performer actually doing?  What is the proper attitude for the performer when he is playing?  The proper attitude is this: the performer must be listening to what he’s playing.  And this is far from automatic.  You can be playing and not pay attention to listening.  It’s only when you’re engaged with the listening while you’re playing that the music takes on the creative unfolding, the moment of creativity, which is actually every moment.  That moment becomes framed, as it were, in a performance.  A performance becomes a formal framing of the activity of listening, and that would be true for the player as well.

Or here is an insightful paragraph about the work of Jean Cocteau, from later in the book:

The point is, if a young artist were to ask Cocteau directly what he would need to pursue the life and work of an artist, these five elements would be the answer.  The rose represents beauty.  The key represents technique – literally, the means by which the “door” to creativity is opened.  The horse represents strength and stamina.  The mirror represents the path itself, without which the dream of the artist cannot be accomplished.  The meaning of the glove eluded me for a long time, but finally, and unexpectedly, I understood that the glove represents nobility.  By this symbol Cocteau asserts that the true nobility of mankind are the artist-magician creators.  This scene, which leads directly to the resolution of the fairy tale, is framed as the most significant moment of the film and is the message we are meant to take away with us: Cocteau is teaching us about creativity in terms of the power of the artist, which we now understand to be the power of transformation.

So in the middle of a parade of delightful anecdotes, you keep getting moments of insight such as these, and you realize the depth of understanding that underlies Glass and his music making.

Not that things are all rosy in this narrative.  Glass can also write with empathy about the hard times in his life.  One of these was his ongoing relationship with his principle music teacher, the French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger:

One afternoon I arrived with my usual stack of counterpoint – at least twenty very dense pages.  She put them on the music rack of the piano and began to speed read her way through them.  At one point she stopped and caught her breath.  She looked at me steadily and calmly and asked me how I was feeling.

“Fine,” I replied.

“Not sick, no headache, no problems at home?” she continued.

“No, Mlle. Boulanger, I am really fine.”

But now I was getting worried.

“Would you like to see a physician or a psychiatrist?  It can be arranged very confidentially.”

“No, Mlle. Boulanger.”

She paused for only a moment, then, wheeling around in her chair, practically screamed at me, which pointing to a passage in my counterpoint, “Then how do you explain this?!”

And there they were – hidden fifths between an alto and bass part.  I was deeply shocked by this whole maneuver.  It was then quickly upgraded to a complete denunciation of my character, with special reference to my lack of attention, general distraction, and even my commitment to music.  That was the end of my lesson for that day.

A fun anecdote, to be sure, but the experience for the 27 year old Glass must have been terrifying.  He quickly developed a means of detecting hidden and parallel fifths (a very common counterpoint error) in his writing, and never had an incident like that happen again.  (Although several years later, one of his earliest major works is “Music in Fifths” which consists of many minutes of parallel fifths – revenge?  Or simply exploring and taking seriously what was for another system, forbidden material?)

Glass’s insights into his major works, such as the operas “Einstein on the Beach” and “Satyagraha”, and his insights into the unusual (for the film industry) ways he collaborated with director Godfrey Reggio on the “Qatsi” trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi) are both informative and useful.  For those who know these works, his writing will be revelatory.  For those unfamiliar with them, the stories themselves are still fascinating in their own right.

Usually, in a review for SoundBytes, we’re asking, “How is this book, software, etc. relevant to the concerns of the average SoundBytes reader?” In the case of this book, the writing is so felicitous, and the stories Glass tells are so compelling that even if one has no interest whatever in contemporary art or film music of the kind written by Philip Glass, one can still read this book with both pleasure and profit.  I started reading this book out of curiosity.  By about half-way through, I knew I had to review it for SoundBytes, so that I could tell as many people as possible about it.  This is one of the most interesting and engaging books about any music that I’ve read in a very long time.  Highly recommended.

Details:

Philip Glass: Words Without Music WW Norton Co, 2015. $29.95

 

 

 

 

Review – Tracktion 6 from Tracktion Software Corporation

 

Last year Tracktion Corp breathed new life into a long-neglected DAW franchise after re-acquiring it from Mackie and releasing version 5. Now, less than a year later, along comes yet another major release.

 

by Dave Townsend, July 2015

 

Note: This review pertains to Tracktion Version 6 specifically. For a broader look at Tracktion, see our previous Tracktion 5 review here:

http://soundbytesmag.net/tracktionsoftwarecorptracktion/

 

How We Got Here – A Brief Historical Recap

Tracktion is a general-purpose digital audio workstation (DAW) that originally came to life in 2000 and quickly acquired a cult following. In 2002 it was taken over by Mackie, which didn’t turn out to be exactly a match made in heaven. Mackie pretty much botched its stewardship, letting Tracktion languish while competitors’ DAWs continued to evolve. That all changed in 2014, when Tracktion’s creator, Julian “Jules” Storer, re-acquired the product and set about making up for lost time.

Version 5, the first post-Mackie release, was a major step forward. It incorporated many ideas from user wish-lists as well as introducing a lot of forward-thinking features that in some cases leapfrogged other DAWs.

Although still one of the easiest DAWs to learn, it’s not been dumbed down. In fact, it’s an environment that even the most technical-minded übergeek will appreciate for its nuts ‘n bolts features. Case in point: being able to quickly see which plugins are eating your CPU cycles and freezing them right from the CPU usage report screen. Brilliant.

Now along comes version 6 (6.1 at the time of this writing, with 6.2 currently in beta) less than a year later, and it continues to impress us with its breakneck pace of development, innovation and software quality. You won’t find much purely cosmetic dressing-up in this update, but rather solid meat ‘n potato features such as improved automation, comping and time-stretching.

 

What’s New

These are the major new features in T6, each of which will be expanded upon in the remainder of this review.

  • Dedicated Automation Tracks
  • Assignable Comp Groups
  • Enhanced Step Clip Editor
  • Time Stretching and Pitch Automation
  • Tag Editor
  • Real-time Record Waveforms
  • Retrospective Record
  • Versatile side-chaining
  • Browser sync-to-playback
  • Hardware inserts
  • Plugin Manager
  • (coming in 6.2) Javascript macros

Most of these are not entirely unique to Tracktion. But neither are they merely catch-up me-too features to tick off a marketing features matrix. Most of them add a little something extra to what might at first glance appear to be pretty standard capabilities.

 

Meet Bill Edstrom

 

Bill Edstrom is an independent technical writer and creator of tutorial videos. He has made a series of short videos demonstrating Tracktion 6’s new features, which I’ll link to throughout the text below. A complete list of Bill’s T6 videos can be found in a sticky on the official Tracktion KVR forum .

 

Bill has also written a print guide to Tracktion 6, creatively named “Bill Edstrom’s Guide to Tracktion 6”. At the time of this writing, it’s currently only available for pre-order from Bill’s website .

 

Dedicated Automation Tracks

Putting automation envelopes into separate tracks/lanes for clarity isn’t anything new. Most DAWs do that nowadays, but it’s been missing from Tracktion until now. And as of version 6 you can now automatically stretch automation to match tempo changes, something many other DAWs don’t do. Automation was already one of Tracktion’s greatest strengths, and now it’s even better. 

As before, you can still show automation envelopes as overlays atop an audio waveform or MIDI data if you prefer. My own preference is to display volume automation superimposed over the audio waveform, but to move most other envelopes into a separate automation track. It’s nice to have the option of doing it either way.

Bill Edstrom’s tutorial on automation tracks can be seen here .

 

Assignable Comp Groups

“Comping” is the process of stitching multiple takes into a single performance, otherwise known as a “composite” track. It’s an especially common practice for lead vocals: the vocalist sings the same part multiple times, and you take the best bits from each take to build a composite performance from them.

This can be a time-consuming task, entailing either muting the bits you don’t want or dragging the bits you do want into a new track. Tracktion 6 introduces “comp groups”, which allow you to select any number of tracks for inclusion in the comping process and then simply drag your mouse across the sections you want to include in the composite.  Afterward, you just bounce the comp group to a new track and you’re done.

Here’s a comp group consisting of three tracks, where we’ve highlighted the parts from each take that we want to use for the composite:

 

You really have to try this yourself to appreciate how much it streamlines the process. It can easily cut the time it takes to do a comp in half. The time savings are even greater when you have a large number of takes to choose from.

I have only one minor complaint: there is currently no easy way to remove a region from the composite other than by selecting another track to replace it. When you select a portion of one track, it automatically de-selects that region from all the other tracks in the comp group and inserts a short crossfade so there are no clicks. That part’s wonderful. But if you want to de-select a region from ALL tracks, you have to add a blank track to the comp group so that you can select silent regions from it. I’d like to see a future version let you do an ALT-Drag or something to erase portions of the composite. But this really is a very minor complaint. All in all, this implementation is quite well thought-out.

Bill’s tutorial video is here .

 

Enhanced Step Clip Editor

A “step clip” is a portion of a MIDI track that has a step sequencer embedded into it. A track may contain many step clips, each with its own mini sequence. These clips can then be copied or moved around to build a complex MIDI sequence. Each step clip can drive multiple virtual instruments, so you can, for example, build a custom drum kit from two or more sample libraries and/or synthesizers.

Step clips aren’t an entirely new feature, having been introduced in version 5, where they were referred to as “step sequencer clips”. However, version 6 adds new capabilities for editing them. For example, you can now easily randomize each step’s timing and velocity. Also new in version 6 is the ability to adjust velocities independently for each individual event in the step sequence.

Bill’s how-to video is here .

 

Pitch-Shifting and Time-Stretching

“Time stretching”, which Tracktion calls “Time Warp”, refers to the ability to stretch (or compress) an existing audio clip to match a desired playback time. This can be accomplished with or without pitch changes. The stretching algorithm is provided by the highly-regarded Elastique Pro software from Zplane .

Let’s say you have a clip that needs to be exactly 10 seconds long to match up with a video cue, but as recorded it’s only 8 seconds in duration. Time-stretching lets you drag it out to the desired length while retaining the original pitch.

Similarly, you can keep a clip the same length while raising or lowering its pitch, or to stretch/compress it while allowing the normal pitch shift to occur.

Yes, many other DAWs do pitch shifting, but Tracktion is the only one I know of that allows you to automate it. Consider the classic “tape stop” effect, where audio is ramped down in pitch to emulate the sound of a tape reel being slowed to a stop during playback. In Tracktion, you can draw an automation envelope to precisely set the tape stop’s start and end times, as well as the rate of change and final pitch. Tracktion refers to this as a “Pitch Fade”.

Mr. Edstrom shows you how that’s done in this video .

 

Track Tagging

This simple feature may be the most practical and useful addition in Tracktion 6, especially on large projects. Once you’ve started using track tags you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.

A tag is a piece of metadata that you can attach to clips or tracks to help identify and group them, not unlike the MP3 tags you add to your music collection to organize tunes on your iPod. Like MP3 tags, Tracktion makes no assumptions about what any given tag symbolizes; they are entirely user-definable.

For example, you might tag each background vocal track with a “BGV” identifier. This makes it easy to find and select all the background vocal tracks, even if they’re not contiguous nor contained within the same folder. Tags can therefore be used as an alternative to track folders for organizing tracks by function.

A clip or track can have more than one tag attached to it. Multiple tags may be chosen to quickly create a track grouping. For example, you might have a tag for Drums and another for Percussion. Click on both tags to instantly create a view consisting of only drum and percussion tracks. With a single click you can then temporarily add bass guitar to the view, or remove percussion tracks from it.

 

“Create Submix Containing”

 

Sub-mixes aren’t new, of course, but version 6 gives you a new way of doing it that’s fast and convenient.

The traditional method for creating a submix is to insert a bus and route some tracks to it. The downside is that you can’t easily tell at a glance which tracks are going to which bus. For maximum flexibility it’s still the way to go, but much of the time simplicity trumps maximum flexibility.

Some DAWs, including Tracktion, let you treat track folders as if they were busses, providing an easy way to tweak volume for a group of related tracks, such as all the individual instruments in a drum kit. The main limitations of track folders, compared to traditional bussing, are that you cannot include a given track in more than one folder, and you cannot insert effects into a track folder.

Enter a third option: the “Create Submix Containing” feature. Select some tracks and click on the “Create Submix Containing” button down at the bottom in the Properties window. It’s every bit as convenient as a track folder, but this way you actually create a full-featured bus that you can insert effects into. Adding to or removing tracks from the submix is a simple matter of drag ‘n drop. It’s still limited to one bus per track, but nine times out of ten that’s OK.

You can have multiple submixes within a submix, and a submix can include track folders, too. However, a given track, submix or folder may only belong to one submix. If you need to send a track to multiple busses, you’re still going to have to go the traditional route.

Here is Bill Edstrom’s how-to video.

 

Real Time Record Waveforms

Tracktion can now draw waveforms in real time as audio is being recorded. While not unique to Tracktion – most DAWs can do this – it’s a welcome addition. It also helps make the next feature easier to use: on-the-fly punch in/out.

 

On-the-fly Punch-In/Punch Out

You can now toggle the Record Arm button to turn recording off and on during playback.

Not all DAWs can do this. Most make you set punch-in and punch-out points on the timeline, and usually only one set of punch points at a time. Being able to start and stop recording at any time means you can make multiple additions to a track in one pass.

Bill’s video on real-time punch-in can be viewed here .

 

Retrospective Record

This one’s really novel. I haven’t yet made up my mind whether it’s merely a very clever idea or the greatest DAW innovation of all time. Either way, it’s new, unique and potentially extremely useful. Here’s how it works…

When Retrospective Record is enabled (which it is by default), Tracktion continually records any active input in the current Edit (view) into memory, whether you have any tracks record-enabled or not. This ongoing audio history can then be easily retrieved and turned into permanent clips with a single click. This occurs whether you are in playback or not. If there’s live input, either audio or MIDI, Tracktion will be silently capturing it all in the background, all the time. (I wonder if any secret agent spy-types will ever use this for surreptitious purposes.)

Maybe this has happened to you; I know it’s happened to me many times: I’m rehearsing a part over and over until I can play it flawlessly, and while I’m practicing I happen to nail the performance – but I hadn’t been recording. Rats!, I think to myself, I should have been recording.

Well, now you only have to click the little clock icon in the upper-right corner of the screen to make that last missed-take appear as a clip in your session.

Audio data is written to an in-memory buffer, so this won’t slow down your disk access, although it will eat some RAM. However, you decide how much memory to allocate for this purpose by specifying how many minutes’ worth of history to buffer. Click on the Options button and choose “Retrospective Record” from the context menu. A submenu gives you the option of 0.5, 1, 2, 5 or 10 minutes, or to disable the feature.

Note that the feature is enabled by default, with a 30-second buffer. You might want to disable it if you rarely or never record live audio or MIDI input, such as those who compose entirely in-the-box electronica via the PRV or canned loops. But for everybody else, the extra CPU overhead is negligible so it’s fine to just leave it turned on.

Here’s a video how-to. 

 

Browser Sync

Loop users will appreciate this feature. If you spend a lot of time auditioning loops, wouldn’t it be nice if those loops were automatically synchronized with your project as you play it back? Now, they are.

 

Hardware Inserts

A new plugin comes with T6 that handles latency compensation when sending audio out of the box to an external device such as a hardware compressor, reverb or perhaps an amplifier for re-amping. All you do is put the new Insert plugin on the track or bus you want to use the external hardware with and select the appropriate ins and outs of your audio interface.

As with all DAWs, the tricky part of using external hardware is figuring out delay compensation. This is handled automatically for software effects, but your computer has no knowledge of external devices and therefore must measure their latencies in order to apply the appropriate amount of delay compensation. Fortunately, the Insert plugin makes this very easy to do – you just click the “auto-detect” button in the plugin properties box. The plugin sends a short noise burst through the external device and measures how long it takes to make the round trip.

Of course, our friend Bill Edstrom has a helpful how-to video where he patches a physical wah-wah stompbox into a guitar track.

 

Plugin Manager

You can now easily arrange your plugins into folders for easier navigation when you have a large plugin collection. This is done from the plugin listing on the Settings tab.

Go to the Settings tab and click on “Plugins”. Here you’ll see a list of every registered plugin, where you can enable and disable each one and give them user-defined tags. Click on the “Show Custom Menu Editor” to open the plugin menu customization screen. Here you can create folders (click on the “+” icon in the lower right) and then drag individual plugins into it.

Because you’re just creating shortcuts, a given plugin may be placed into two or more folders if you like. For example, I placed MMultiAnalyzer (a spectrum analyzer from Meldaproduction) into two folders, one labeled “Metering” and another labeled “Meldaproduction”. Sometimes, it makes more sense to look for a plugin by function, other times by vendor.

 

Javascript Macros

This feature is still in beta at the time of this writing, but version 6.2 should be released shortly after this article appears in the July 2015 edition of SoundBytes Magazine, so I’ll go ahead and tell you what little I know about it now, even though it’s not yet official.

“Scripting” means defining an action or sequence of actions for the DAW to execute. Javascript is an industry-standard programming language widely used for creating such scripts. Although most commonly associated with web page creation, it’s also suitable for a wide variety of applications. As far as I know, this is the first time JavaScript been implemented in a DAW.

Whoa! I can hear you saying – a programming language for a DAW? But I’m not a programmer! Please don’t tell me this is something I have to learn now!

Have no fear. First, you won’t need to become a Javascript expert in order to use Tracktion 6. Tracktion will come with canned scripts, and you can be sure that other, more adventurous folks will create scripts to share with the user community. Because JavaScript is text-based, it means such scripts will be easy to share, either through a centralized repository or via email or posting on an online forum.

Only a couple other DAWs currently offer this kind of scripting. Both Reaper and Live support Python (a scripting language similar to JavaScript) scripts, but as far as I know those are the only two. Reaper’s scripting features are quite extensive and powerful. If Tracktion’s implementation comes close to that, it’ll be very useful.

So what can you actually do with these scripts? I can’t answer that yet, as I’ve not seen any documentation that would reveal how deep Tracktion’s JavaScript libraries go. From what I’ve seen in the beta version, it at least lets you perform any action that can be executed via a keyboard shortcut or context menu. When the feature has been released and documented, we’ll have a better idea of its potential. If I were to guess, based on Jules’ role as a link library developer, I’d predict that Tracktion’s Javascript implementation will be very, very deep.

If you’re really interested to find out where the feature stands today, 6.2 is an open beta, which means anyone can download it and try it out. Go to www.tracktion.com/downloads/tracktion6 and click on the “Beta” tab at the bottom of the page.

 

Conclusion

Tracktion just keeps getting better and better. On essential features, it can already go toe-to-toe with any general-purpose DAW on the market, even those costing many times more. If the current rate of development continues, in another year or two this underdog could very well be The One to beat, at any price.

If you’re interested in exploring Tracktion, you can get started one of two ways: install the free unlimited version (version 4) or download the demo of Tracktion 6. I recommend the latter, unless you’re sure you’ll never have 60 bucks to spend and absolutely must have a free version.

The demo does not time out, but instead injects low-level noise bursts every few seconds. Otherwise, it’s fully-functional indefinitely.

If you think Tracktion might be for you, it’ll set you back a mere $60. When Tracktion 7 comes along, you’ll pay half that for the upgrade. Price-wise, it’s an excellent bargain. Features-wise, it’ll do everything you need a DAW to do, and at the rate it’s evolving, it also looks like a pretty safe long-term investment.

Get the demo or purchase Tracktion 6 here:

http://www.tracktion.com/

 

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