Monthly Archives: November 2015
A dream come true – a MIDI controller in a guitar body, with strings and frets and without latency. A true life saver at a great price for all guitarists that need MIDI.
by Alex Arsov, Nov.2015
What It Is and What It’s Not
It’s a MIDI controller that comes in the shape of a guitar. The main advantage is that with a little practice you can input MIDI notes using your guitar playing skills, recording phrases or even chord progressions without any latency whilst minimizing “trashy” notes. YouRock MIDI guitar has a MIDI sensitive guitar neck with virtual strings that are not stretched above the neck but actually projected over the neck, two millimeters above the neck. You can chose between two options, to play the notes using only the neck, by tapping notes, or by using the neck in combination with six MIDI sensitive strings that are raised above the guitar body.
I bought my first MIDI guitar many years ago when these things were still more or less science fiction. It was a Casio MIDI guitar and the latency and note errors made my MIDI recordings almost unusable. MIDI guitars have made big progress since then, but recording MIDI data is still an adventure even with the more advanced Roland models. If those models have less than 15 milliseconds latency this is still something you should add to your sound card latency, and some smaller errors are still an issue. Some playing techniques give better results, some worse, not to mention the price that can make the whole thing quite “exclusive”, being well outside the price range of the average guitar player.
YouRock MIDI Guitar controllers have some issues. You can’t bend the strings (but you can go absolutely bonkers with the whammy bar that is connected to MIDI vibrato). The virtual strings on the neck are a bit too sensitive, so you will need a week or two to adapt yourself to this playing technique. Of course the sensitivity can be controlled with a combination of the TAP button and volume knob, but regardless, you will need few days to go through all the menus to set everything to your playing style and then a few days to adapt your playing style to YouRock MIDI Guitar. To tell the truth, you usually need few days to adapt to any new guitar that has different strings settings, or a totally different neck compared to your old one. After all, I use the same strings on all of my guitars but still need few days to adapt from one to another that has strings a few millimeters offset above the neck. For that reason my first experience with YouRock MIDI Guitar was a bit of a disaster, but after fixing all those issues and with a bit of practice I found the YouRock MIDI Guitar controller an unmissable tool. It is true that I’ve learned to play keyboards over all those years, but still, guitar is my main instrument and suddenly I become a keyboard virtuoso with YouRock MIDI Guitar controller, playing all those crazy solo parts with no fuss, or recording various funky rhythms without spending extra time learning and practicing on a keyboard. There are still some parts I still record with keyboard, as guitar playing technique leads to different results (guitar players have a slightly “different brain” to keyboard players), but otherwise almost everything is possible.
The only thing that I miss is a better manual, along with some Getting Started video clips, as I spent three days trying to find out why all my recorded notes were doubled inside my DAW, trying almost everything to fix it before discovering that two knobs on YouRock MIDI Guitar were selected at the same time – Synth and Guitar. I thought those knobs were there mainly for selecting between different types of internal sounds that can be used if you connect it to a real guitar amp. I never use this option, as I use YourRock MIDI Guitar mainly as MIDI controller and was never that interested in the internal sounds. I also didn’t use them on a Roland guitar I once had, as all those sounds are a bit funny, being somewhere between those two worlds of guitar and synth.
It would be helpful if I had found a note in manual explaining that the settings for those two knobs override the main controller settings, defining the main MIDI behaviour during the recording stage. The second thing that bothers me is the MIDI cable being positioned at the bottom of the guitar body, preventing me having it safely resting on my lap. I hope that YouRock MIDI Guitar Gen 3 will have an additional, more safely positioned MIDI connector. Also this connector is not so stable if you use it on the stage moving around, trying to find its place among all the other cables. OK, end of complaints.
All in all, it is absolutely one of the best tools that I ever put my hands on. A true lifesaver for all guitarists that use external synthesizers or for recording MIDI into your DAW. I thought I would use it only here and there, but it turns out that since I got YouRock MIDI Guitar it’s my keyboard that I use only here and there. I still find it a little more comfortable to play rhythmical chords on keyboard, but everything else is far easier with this new toy. Also, if you spend some quality time browsing through dealers list at Yourock site, you can find YouRock MIDI Guitar YRG-1000 Gen 2 in a price range between €220 EUR and €260 EUR in Europe and under $300 USD in the US. It’s a price that you would pay for two virtual synths or some lower priced sample libraries. And usability? For me, an old guitar player, it’s almost priceless.
There are plenty of options for adapting YouRock MIDI Guitar to suit to your needs or your playing technique. From the picking string gain sensitivity or even string tension, to the hammer on sensitivity or hammer pre-delay time, to the fret release time. All these things are there mostly to prevent double notes, as this is the most common issue that happens before you really fine tune the controller. There are also some other settings that can make your recording experience a bit sweeter, like slide mode and solo mode, to the various dirty details like Modulation Pitch Speed, Whammy Bar range and plenty of others which aren’t so essential. But it’s nice to know that the developer went really deep with all these extra options, even so far as to let you set assignable MIDI patches for controlling plenty of aspects on your DAW just through your YouRock MIDI Guitar. It’s nice but a bit impractical to climb through all those menus, pressing some selected frets at the same time to get the desired effects. There are also four additional buttons, two behind the bridge, the so-called + and – buttons, along with volume and joystick knobs. They are all freely programmable, except the volume knob, which is mainly for volume and for some additional settings in combination with some other buttons, so the other three can be assigned to any MIDI or CC controller. Regardless of this, I still miss a few additional, more attainable knobs for controlling virtual instruments inside my DAW.
The Devil Is In The Detail
Actually, this is only the beginning of what you get for those €200 EUR. YouRock MIDI Guitar comes with a number of internal synth and guitar sounds that can be played normally through the guitar audio cable directly into a guitar amp, rocking loud and proud. Not my cup of coffee, but it is possible. Then another option is the so-called YouRock Mode, where you can jam along with some pre-recorded musical backgrounds that are stored in internal memory. There is also an option for adopting the whole controller for left-handed players. Not to mention all the open tunings that are available, or an option to transpose the whole guitar by any number of steps. If you are a gamer, there is also a Game mode allowing you to use this controller with your PS3 or Wii.
YouRock MIDI Guitar is also a travel friendly instrument. With just one move you can detach the guitar neck, packing the whole thing into one small bag … and away you go. Also those YouRock fellows have made a new, more electric-guitar-like neck that can be bought through their site or directly through various distributors that sell their products all around the globe. I have the new Radius neck, but I also tried the old one. It is actually just a matter of taste, the old one being shaped more like an acoustic guitar. Not to mention plenty of other small things that can be bought for your controller.
To paraphrase Charles Bukowski: “This is even better than sex.” OK, not exactly, but it comes really close, at least for all you guitar freaks. I’m definitely not a MIDI newcomer, but this tool has totally changed my way of working, shooting my creativity directly up to the sky. After almost twenty years of being an Electro musician I feel like I’m born again. I can finally fly, not just banging keyboards like a monkey (I’m not so bad at doing this, but not half as good as on a guitar). Now I can finally play all those funky phrases that exceeded my keyboard knowledge, and what’s more, I can finally play all those string lines for big orchestral arrangements on the fly, or even some mad synth solo line that I’ve just dreamed about banging out on my keyboard controller. It still happens that I get some trashy notes on very fast passages, but in most cases these notes are outside of the main phrase range, so I can easily select and erase them with just one move. Actually, with a touch of cleaning and quantization you can become an even better player than you actually are. At least in the MIDI domain.
I wish I had this instrument twenty years ago. But I can’t complain, I have it now.
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A great all-in-one collection of drum loops has become even bigger. Over the years it has gained an essential status offering everything from Hip Hop to Industrial and everything in between.
by Alex Arsov, Nov. 2015
I got version 1 back in 2008. Certainly it should be, by now, a very dated collection of loops, but somehow I still use this collection in almost all of my projects. I can’t tell what is so special about Mayhem of Loops. One way or another, when I start working on a song, especially if I decide to go with loops and not MIDI elements, I open UVI Workstation and load this collection, always finding something that still sounds fresh and interesting. Actually I have around 40 GB of drum loops – a big collection of free loops from Computer Music and Future Music along with a few other collections that I have bought over the years. I make a lot of music for stock libraries along with my regular, solo projects. I’m not much of a one genre man, always combining various genres and also composing in many different genres. I found Mayhem of Loops to be one of the best loop workhorse collections and now, as UVI updated it to version 1.5 (a free update for all registered users), I finally find a reason to share this collection with you.
Quantity and Quality
The new version brings 3000 new loops, increasing the number of loops to an impressive 8000. The quality is the same as with many other UVI products – basically, as good as it gets. Basses, mids and highs are nicely balanced, all loops are clear, well-defined and punchy. I never had any problems mixing them into a composition, rarely adding any additional effects to get better results. A touch of compressor and the minimum of equalization just to give it a better feel with the particular bass in the song.
All the loops are sorted by genre (including also many sub-genres). If you are strictly into Rock, looking for a bunch of live takes, than maybe it is better for you to use some more specialised tools. The same goes if you are strictly EDM, as there are plenty of other loop libraries or beat machines that are far more dedicated to this genre. But for this enormous gap between these two extremes we have Mayhem of Loops. Of course, you will find a nice number of Rock loops, and the same goes for EDM, but this collection is far more than just a parts list. You can find many genre-related directories in Mayhem of Loops – Anthem Electro, Hip Hop, Drum&Bass, Electro, Disco, Industrial, Jungle, Trip Hop, Dub and a few more. In every genre directory you get additional sub-directories with different tempos, styles, sub-genres, or even directories with instrumental loops, guitars, keyboards or some other instruments. Most of the loops in those directories and sub-directories bring some additional variations on the main loop, in many cases you get three or four variations offering additional versions with more hats, or bringing just the kick and snare version, or even in some cases some percussive loops that can go nicely with the main loop. The whole collection is far away from being just an ordinary collection that brings some bread and butter material. Most of the loops come with a lot of original character, and the strongest part of this library is its versatility, not just between the genres but also inside the genre, where we can find a wide spectrum of really versatile loops. Mayhem of Loops is everything but normal, and for that reason the Industrial category is my favorite as it offers a large number of industrial factory noises compiled in a very nice sounding space, and rhythmically vivid variations that actually go perfectly with almost any normal drum track.
UVI Workstation, a host instrument developed by UVI, the same one used for MOTU MachFive 3, Ueberschall Elastik 2 and Geist from FxPansion, is one of the most loop friendly instruments at the moment. Of course UVI Workstation is far more than just a loop host, but for now this is the function that we are looking at, as Mayhem of Loops is (surprise!) a loop collection.
All loops are automatically stretched to fit the host tempo and can be dragged to the DAW audio track as audio loops. Or as a second solution we can use loops from this collection directly from UVI Workstation as Rex files, exporting a MIDI map for the selected loop by pressing the Slice/Map button in the UVI Workstation editing window. The whole process for either of these two options is very simple. When you open a library in UVI Workstation you will see a very well-organized browser where you can go through all the loops just by selecting them with the mouse or simply by pressing the up and down arrow keys on your computer, and they will play synchronized with the host tempo. Double click on the selected loop and you will switch to the main editing window. To go back to the browser just press the eye at the top of the graphical interface and you will be back where you started. The whole process is simple, and finding the most appropriate loop takes just a minute.
The time stretching algorithm in UVI Workstation is absolutely amazing and you don’t need to worry about tempo. If you are looking for some extreme tempo changes then you can still use sliced variations as they are even less tempo sensitive. In the editing window you can also find a speed option where you can set double or half tempo along with some steps in between. The half tempo option gives some impressive results and you can use those slightly creepy slow loop variations to achieve some special rhythmical effects that can be added to the same loop at normal speed. Every loop can also be pitched up or down. UVI Workstation also comes with bunch of internal effects, quite powerful ones, but actually I never use them as I prefer working directly with DAW effects. It is just a matter of personal choice. The most important thing for me is the fact that you can easily drag your selected loop to an audio track, so I can quickly collect several interesting loops that go nicely with my song. This makes decision making a bit easier, auditioning each loop one by one, having them all in one audio clip ranked one by one.
As you know, Essentials is not about the details, it is about the tools that make our life easier and offer us effective, fast work-flows without any trouble. So, Mayhem of Loops offer you 8000 very versatile, good sounding drum loops (along with some instrumental loops) that are just one click away. It is extremely easy to find an appropriate loop and a minute later you can turn your attention to more important things (talking with your kids, taking a long walk in nature, etc.) than spending ages finding a fundamental element for your composition. Time is money, and this will cost you only $99 USD. In the past I thought that if I even found one good sound that I could use in one of my songs as the main, most prominent sound, then a synthesizer is a good buy. And regarding Mayhem of Loops I can’t even remember how many songs those loops helped define the character of the song, adding that something special. Mayhem of Loops was one of my first ever buys, I even bought iLok just for that library. But if you don’t have one don’t worry. UVI now also offers computer registration as an alternative solution. After all these years it is still my best buy in the software field. I know it’s a kinda personal opinion, maybe not the most objective, but at least go to the UVI site and listen to the demo clips. Maybe it could become your favorite too.
Vojtech Meluzin is the prolific software wizard who founded MeldaProduction and is its driving force. We find out more about him and his company and in this in-depth interview.
by David Baer, Nov. 2015
MeldaProduction is a well-known and highly-respected vendor of all manner of music production plug-ins. The number of offerings in its catalog and the rapidity at which new offerings are introduced are mind-boggling. But what’s all the more astonishing is that a single individual is responsible for all the design and coding of this extensive catalog of software. That person is Vojtech Meluzin (pictured in the selfie to the right, presumably with fiancé, while on a rock climbing outing). We get to know him in the interview that follows.
SoundBytes: In just a few sentences, tell us who is Vojtech Meluzin?
Vojtech Meluzin: My full name is Vojtech Melda Meluzin, thus the company name – most people don’t get Meluzin and I don’t blame them. I’m from Czech Republic, and most of the people I work with are as well. The development is all on me though, so I’m to blame for bugs and the geniality too. I’m pretty much in my mid 30ths, engaged, but to a “foreign” girl, so no wedding yet … you know, classic Czech bureaucracy. What else? Oh man, I have done almost everything. Right now I’m rock climbing. Just simple stuff though, I’m too old for climbing to K2, and there’s the cold as well. Anyway, in my past I have been hooked on creating electronic devices, paragliding, and I even had a chemical laboratory (and yeah … there were a few “complicated” moments 😀 ).
SB: So please tell us about your early musical influences and education. What led to your involvement with music production?
VM: Well, I’m kind of a multi-instrumentalist, but mostly a drummer – quite good, I hope. And interestingly enough when I was in college (before you ask – Charles University in Prague studying informatics) with literally no money at all, I wanted to create some music. I was doing it using a computer mouse, but despite being a drummer, I was really too lazy to create drum tracks like that. So I thought “well, maybe I should create virtual drummer”. And I did, a super-simple one playing just one loop. But I used it on three different school projects.
Then I quite forgot about it, but a few years a not-so-good friend came to me and started challenging my pride about not finishing anything and suggesting that we should sell it. So I said “yeah, let’s do that!”. I improved that thing quite a bit, as you can guess. No business came out of that guy, but since I already spent so much time with it, I decided to give it a go. I worked for quite a long time, it was years actually, day work and the evening split between MDrummer and girlfriend – they had to share the time. And eventually I finished it, put a website up and, well, nothing happened. I had absolutely no understanding of the audio community, how it works, nothing. I just had MDrummer. I started some really stupid ads at KVR, where they quickly banned me 😀 , so I thought like “whoops – and the whole thing is over? Just like that?”. Hard beginnings … but then I came up with a great idea. Since MDrummer has so many effects in it, I could release them, for free. And I did and it didn’t take much time and people came, unbanned me at KVR, and after some months, the first purchase happened, and I went for quite some beers after that. But it took another, say, two years before I was able to quite the day job and get all my income from my own company. Lots of work in it … but thankfully things have kept improving since then, and now my main problem is to find time. Too many ideas, no time … damn!
SB: So I take it you first developed your skill at writing software code at the university? At the time, what did you perceive your goals and future to be?
VM: Not at all! I actually started what people usually call “coding” some time in elementary school – I could have been something like 10 years old. At that time it was all about qbasic, pascal and, well, assembler, which is actually a very usable skill in audio. It’s not so much about using it, but more about understanding the architecture though.
Anyway, at university, like most of us, I didn’t know what my future was to be. This was at the time of the Internet boom, so most people wanted to design websites and that sort of thing. I personally hated that. I always liked the high-performance, low-level stuff, like audio. I just didn’t know that at that time. I studied operating system design, so I knew I was going to work on some high performance stuff. I always thought it would be something with search engines, artificial intelligence, something like that. But I ended up with audio and wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s just great when you can push the technology forward in something so close to you, like music is for me.
SB: OK, so that takes care of the software technology education. But the other big aspect of what you now do involves some very heavy-duty DSP knowledge. When and how did you acquire that?
VM: On the road, so-to-speak. Basically I didn’t have the knowledge in the beginning at all! It took lots of books, experimentation, searching … lots of work and experience is all it takes. But it’s fun to watch lots of developers out there that seem to have no know-how at all 😀 . That’s the market … hard to say what is good these days.
SB: At this point I’d like to ask a highly technical question, with apologies to any readers who don’t speak Geek. You have produced an impressive number of deeply functional plug-ins in a relatively short amount of time and we see across-the-board improvements in your entire catalog being released with some frequency. Either you are the world’s fastest software coder or you are a master of object-oriented software engineering … and I’m betting on the latter. Can you tell us something about that?
VM: Well, I think it’s both, plus the fact that I’m a workaholic 😀 . Essentially this is all about planning ahead. While from my experience about 99% people just implement a solution to problem “A”, I’m always thinking in terms of “A” being generalized to something usable in the future for something else. I started with this already in high-school. I was basically putting a huge library together and every time I needed some algorithm or anything, I just added it to the library instead of “just using it”. So now I have vast amounts of code, my own cross-platform build method, plus the plugin kernel system, so building an update for all the 80 or so plug-ins takes about one to two hours, and to create a simple plugin including everything except for website stuff, it takes just a few hours as well. Of course, when the plugin is more complex … The downside is that any change in most subsystems can have many, many consequences, so keeping track of everything is very complicated.
SM: MSpectraDynamics is certainly one of MeldaProduction’s crown jewels [Note – SoundBytes writer Dave Townsend covered this in great detail in SoundBytes last year – read that article here: http://soundbytesmag.net/spectraldynamicsdynamiceq/ ]. It definitely has some very enthusiastic fans out there. Tell us a bit about what inspired you to create this relatively unique processor.
VM: Actually MSpectralDynamics was more like an experiment. MDynamics was released right before it and the idea just came to my mind – why not to try to do that for each frequency in the signal. I thought it would be like a multiband compressor with lots of bands. Everyone was saying it’s a stupid idea though 😀 . But I wanted to try. The thing with spectral processing is that it appears to be really simple, but it needs to be done in a very, very smart way if it is to sound good. Otherwise you get the “alien” sounds you all know from badly compressed mp3 material. Anyway when I was nearly done with that, I was like “man, this is really cool”. And it indeed, it has become one of the crown jewels, which despite it having existed for many years, it still doesn’t have any competition in the market. And at that time I had no idea it could do things like de-noising …
SB: Let me ask you the same question about another product – your latest blockbuster, MXXX. While there are other products a little bit like it, there’s nothing remotely so flexible, deep and powerful. Can you tell us about the evolution of MXXX?
VM: Well, a few years ago I found out that we have almost everything in the portfolio. I accidentally checked uHe’s Zebra that time and, you guessed it, a lightning strike of inspiration came to me. I was never a fan of modular DAW’s/plugin’s. All the routing and stuff is just waaaaay too clumsy. But this uHe’s idea was just brilliant, so I just pushed it further and made it work so that the actual plugins can be used within the modular system. Then I finally realized that this is, in a way, the ultimate super-effect. That scared me, so I conducted a preset making action, which was a huge failure – a huge, huge failure. At that time I still believed in human race, so I just sent a temporary license to everyone, who registered to be participating in that action, which was nearly 100 people. And guess what, less than 10 of them actually delivered any presets. After that I just knew this would never happen again and I kinda realized on which planet we are. Anyway I put it on ice for some time, because there were so many improvements all the time, and now it is actually far, far better than before. It can really do pretty much anything now. And after the intervening years, there was now a new preset making action, which was a big success. Well, except for the psychopath from Chicago, who tried to blackmail me to get a license, bothered people at KVR, etc. Another point down for human race. 😀
SB: On the Melda forum at KVR, you have occasionally alluded something you’ve got in the pipeline that (forgive me if I don’t quote you exactly) “will revolutionize mixing”. Now, we realize that you can’t give up any trade secrets that will let the competition get an edge, but can you tell us anything at all about this intriguing development?
VM: Hehe well, I cannot say. Despite the fact that I’m pretty sure it would take years to clone it for competition. This one is so big that I want to keep it for myself. It will take lots of time, so you will have to be looking forward to it for quite some time. All I can say is that in my opinion the current way people are mixing is just medieval, because progress in audio world is unbelievably slow – most likely because of the big companies in the analog and digital worlds who took that piece of the pie in the beginning of the era and now are holding it using the money they made. But technologically they are not bringing anything new, they are even slowing down the process intentionally, just so they can hold the market longer. And if you think about what we do now from that perspective, it’s just ancient and there are so many ways we can make this better. With the “mixing revolution” I’d actually like to take more than one step to the future, we’ll see how that will go. So many words and I revealed nothing – good job, Vojtech! 😀
SB: OK, fair enough … but when the time comes that you need a beta tester, I am so in! 😀 But seriously, if MSecretWeapon is a long way off, is there anything near-term that you can let us in on? Can you share any hints about what’s in the pipeline?
VM: Hehe … well, I’ll keep you posted. I’d actually like to keep the list to myself, you know, so that someone doesn’t steal the ideas. But a few things are being worked on – one is a morphing plugin. On a larger scale there’s a spectral variant of MXXX, MYYY as the “ultimate synth”, a spectral synth. I often start with something and then get overwhelmed with the maintenance of existing stuff so much that, sadly, I need to put things on ice. That said, I need to say: “People, stop coming up with additional feature requests!” 😀 . No really, some feature ideas people come up with are great, but many times them are ridiculous and completely useless. And these folks often think “they understand it all”. They start being aggressive and stuff … and that complicates the development a lot. After all, the development time is basically the most expensive resource.
SB: With so many aspects of sound engineering covered with your current catalog of products, do you ever worry about running out of new things to build?
VM: No! I wish I’d get into a situation where the plate wouldn’t be full with a dozen new projects in the queue. I have way too many ideas, some may be silly, some impossible, who knows, but there are many. What I don’t have is development time – it seems that MeldaProduction will need a few more developers. The trouble is, I’m a very detail-oriented, critical and demanding … it would be very hard to find people that would satisfy my expectations.
SB: Vojtech, this has been a great pleasure. On behalf of our readers, I want to thank you for your time and I wish you the best of luck.
VM: Thanks David, my pleasure! And, mainly, good luck with your music! That’s why we do all this after all. 😀
Guitar amp simulator software that offers a highly versatile collection of guitar sounds provides plenty much new in the latest version: cabinets, amps and even acoustic guitar simulator.
By Alex. Arsov, Nov. 2015
Every Rose Is Different
I love them all, and I have all of them. NI Guitar Rig with its raw sound and out of this world arsenal of unique effects, S-Gear 2 made by an ex-Marshal engineer with the very best Tween Reverb Fender simulation, Vandal with his metal sound and the varied colors of IK Amplitube that brings the widest range of guitar sounds that can really make your music stand out. All named amp simulation software packages have their own sound – a different general character – along with their own set of options. It being the year 2015, it is no longer a question as to whether or not any of those packages sound like real guitar amps and are playable like real guitar amps.
The best thing about Amplitube is rather enormous versatility of sounds and diversity of sound colors – from jazzy to metal with a million different variants inside every genre or selected amp. Amplitube is an absolute winner in versatility category. In the previous version, I missed a bit of airy, clean tone, but can’t complain regarding that in the latest version. The overall sound is better, a bit rounder and fuller. I presume that this is a result of a new redesigned cabinet section that really adds that “real amp” attitude making end result much more realistic, even in arrangements in which the guitar plays alone (there was never a problem to put a virtual amp in crowded mix, but with isolated guitar sounds, that was another story entirely). The whole speaker simulation, cabinet section becomes a pure science with this new version. Now you can even change separate speakers inside the cabinet, choosing different environments in which the cabinet is placed, different microphones, microphone position, level of room ambiance, direct amp signal and all other manner of detail. Actually you can even tame the end result by using three microphones, achieving a 3-D sound. Over the years I have come to learn that all those fancy additions are not directly correlated with the end result. Our ears are the only measure. So, 3-D or not 3-D, the important thing is that the general sound of Amplitube is better than it was in the previous version. Don’t get me wrong, Amplitube 3 was a great sounding virtual amp, but this one shines in all the guitar colors, from ultra-clean to a bit of dirty blues to barking metal sounds.
The next most noticeable new addition is improved browser. I’m really impressed with quantity, versatility and quality of implemented sounds. The only thing that bothers me is that I couldn’t find a way to exclude presets that use amp models that I don’t have. It is a bit annoying to play Russian roulette with presets, without knowing if you could use it or not until you find that the selection doesn’t load into Amplitube. Except for that, the new browser is a great addition. Now you can easily find a preset by selecting one of the main categories, like Sound Character, or by browsing by instrument or Artist (as some packs are named by some artists ) or even by the name of the preset. There are an almost endless number of very versatile presets for all genres and categories, not to mention that Sound Character row contains a great number of appropriately labeled subcategories that make our browsing experience much more pleasant. All you need to do is to open a dropdown menu by clicking near the upper box labeled Sound Categories, choosing the sound character and you will get selected results.
In the standalone version, we even get an additional eight track recorder with which we can record and even further develop some of our guitar ideas. Not my cup of coffee, but still, it’s very nice addition.
The new version brings five new amps. All are based on various Marshal models, JCM 800, 900, JMP-1, Jubilee and Major amp heads, the latter simulation called Red being my favorite from this new addition. All five sound quite different. Every one of them brings some special character and, thanks to aforementioned new cabinet simulation section, all of them really sound live, full and vivid. So, with these new models you get all manner of colorful distortion, from barking lows to chunky highs. Add a touch of delay and you are in heaven. New amps brings plenty of joy to all rock and metal fans, but they also touched my pure heart since I found some really nice, rounded, full clean sounds that just weren’t there in the past – it looks like this new version can make us all happy. In the previous version the sound was just perfect, but maybe lacked a touch of a mojo (if I may use some Austin Powers terminology). With the new amps and new cabinet sections, we get that mojo as well, an essential component of every real amp.
At first I thought this would be a magic wand that will turn my Telecaster into an acoustic guitar with nylon strings just by adding an effect in a stomp rack and that would do it. Of course I was a bit disappointed that this was not exactly the case. But after spending few minutes disabling the amp simulator, finding appropriate amp cabinet (BXT 420T proved to be just perfect for this job), adding a reverb effect in the rack section, and voila – it really sounds like a perfect electro acoustic guitar. Of course it doesn’t sound entirely like the nylon acoustic, but nevertheless it sounds even better than my old trusty electro acoustic guitar with piezo pickups. It’s quite useful getting that entire wide sound specter with just one guitar.
Pre and Post Effects
Amplitube 4 also brings a new insert section, so now additional effects, or even stomp pedals can be mixed together and added before and after the amp simulator and or even after the cabinet section. This should prove ideal for all you wild chaining maniacs out there. There is already an impressive number of stomp boxes included, some of them very interesting and great-sounding. My favorite is Harmonator, not a new effect, but still amazing, where you can select the scale you are playing, selecting the interval (the classic 3rd is still the golden rule), adding it to some lead preset, and you suddenly become a cool (instant) guitar hero playing solo parts in triads. If those pedals are not enough, than you can find a nice number of versatile stomp effects in the IK Custom Shop. I had wished to find some of those in the regular version of Amplitube 4 as opposed to being an optional, separately-priced item. But OK – we can’t have it all. That’s life I suppose.
Yes or No?
Of course: a resounding “yes”. I only miss one option from previous version: the ability to choose between Hi, Mid and Eco quality, as all guitar simulation software is pretty CPU intensive. Using a few instances could be a demanding task for the average computer, so having an option to use Eco quality in a working stage would be a blessing. Otherwise, the overall sound that is more airy and fuller due to the new amps and the totally new cabinet section, which probably gets the most credit for this airy/punchy new sound, along with all the new presets, the more-than-useful new preset browser, and the acoustic simulator all make this version more than tempting. Amplitube 4 can do it all: from extra dirty to extra clean and from jazzy to metal to acoustic with all colors between. Sound-wise it is absolutely one of the most versatile virtual amp packages currently available. With new models we get even more colors and with new cabinet section, we get extra mojo. For me, this is easily more than enough reasons to update to version 4.
More info here:
The basic version could be yours for €149.99 EUR; the deluxe version (offering 101 additional components – stomp pedals, amp models and cabinets) is €299.99 EUR.
Here are two virtual instruments and two … well we don’t know what to call them but they’re very cool! Tomislav keeps finding great free stuff for you.
by Tomislav Zlatic, Nov. 2015
We know, we know… you’re already bored of the freebies from the last issue of SoundBytes Magazine and now you came back looking for more. Well, normally we’d be a little anxious because we wouldn’t know if you’d like our selection of freshly released free software or not, but there’s no need for fear this time around. We’re quite confident that you’ll absolutely love what we have in store for you this month! This month’s freebies are fresh, fun to use and totally different.
The Canary by Black Rooster Audio
Let’s start with the most unusual plugin of the bunch. The Canary by Black Rooster Audio is sort of like a transient shaper, but not exactly. It is a combination of a transient shaper and a parallel equalizer, with the addition of a comb filter that can be used to affect the tuning of drum elements. If all of this sounds a bit confusing, it’s probably because this particular plugin is very hard to explain in normal terms. It all begins to make a lot of sense when you hear The Canary in action, though.
The plugin is well designed and very easy to use. It features a set of knobs for controlling the pitch, envelope and tone of the processed signal, along with a mix knob, a bypass switch and an output volume indicator. The Canary works best for processing acoustic drums and individual percussion tracks, but it can also work well for beefing up synthetic drums and tightening the sound of more complex grooves.
All that’s required in order to download The Canary is a valid email address. There’s no activation process involved and the plugin will work equally well on Windows and Mac OS based systems. Black Rooster Audio has also announced a pair of vintage leveling amplifier plugins that are expected for release in the next couple of months.
TableWarp2 by Plogue
Plogue’s fantastic sforzando virtual instrument keeps getting better and better with each new update. The latest version of this excellent freeware plugin includes an all-new instrument library called TableWarp2, based on an old wavetable synthesizer for Jeskola Buzz. TableWarp2 is surprisingly versatile for an instrument that is basically running inside a sampler. It features a pair of oscillators with a choice of sixteen wavetables, a couple of modulation envelopes, a low frequency oscillator and a built-in FX section.
The instrument includes a useful collection of factory presets that can provide a good starting point for users who are not quite familiar with wavetable and phase distortion synthesis. The CPU hit is very low, so the instrument will work great even on older computers. In order to run TableWarp2, it is necessary to install the latest version of sforzando that can be downloaded completely free of charge from Plogue’s official website.
Thump2 by Metric Halo
Do you want to get even with your neighbours because their TV is always loud? Or perhaps you want to prove once and for all that your speaker setup is the best one around. Either way, you’ll need to generate some seriously loud bass frequencies from your monitors. Thump2 is just the instrument you’re looking for to deliver the goods.
The plugin analyzes the audio signal on the input and uses it to trigger a pair of envelope driven oscillators with independent pitch and volume controls. When applied to a drum loop or individual drum sounds, the effect can work very well for boosting bass frequencies and even emulating the sound of analog drum machines such as the iconic Roland TR-808. The mix knob makes it possible to adjust the volume of the audio signal on the input and the sound that is generated by the oscillators. In addition, Thump2 features a useful real-time visual overview of the two oscillators, making it easy to fine-tune the parameters on the fly.
Using a sub bass generator to enhance the bass frequencies of individual instruments can be a surprisingly good alternative to using an equalizer for the task. The technique doesn’t work so well on more complex audio material and full drum mixes, though, since it’s harder to isolate the sounds that should trigger the built-in oscillators, leading to a somewhat messy result in most cases.
Marazmator 2.0 by Vasily Makarov
From Russia with love, Vasily Makarov’s brilliant Marazmator synthesizer is a wonderful freeware gift for ambient music composers and sound designers around the world. It is an unusual but very inspiring virtual instrument that is unlike any other freeware synthesizer we’ve used before.
Featuring nothing more than three oscillators, a few built-in effects and a pattern generator, Marazmator can generate a wide variety of noises, drones and abstract soundscapes. All of the plugin’s parameters can be randomized, often leading to excellent results. A useful selection of factory presets is also included, as well as a user manual that is currently being translated to English by volunteering users.
We look at an upgrade for one way of connecting your iPad MIDI and audio to your computer via USB, and another new program for doing the same.
by Warren Burt, Nov. 2015
More iOS to Computer USB Interfaces
Last time, I reviewed Midimux and Audiomux from Zerodebug. Almost as soon as our last issue hit the Internet, they announced a major upgrade to the program. Midimux remains the same. But Audiomux morphed into Studiomux, which now can handle MIDI, audio and OSC (all bi-directional) communications between the computer and the iOS device (http://midimux.com/ $9.99 in the App Store). And since then, they have upgraded their Windows and Mac Servers, improving the performance of the program as well. Previously, Audiomux worked on my big laptop very well, but communication with my tiny ASUS Netbook was problematic. Since the advent of Studiomux and the recent upgrades, I’m happy to report that Studiomux now works seamlessly with both my normal computer and the tiny netbook with no problems. Here’s the interface of Studiomux, with channel 1 sending the Pixelwave soundmaking app, and the GliderVerb app, acting as an effect on channel 2. At the lower right of the screen, the blue circle with a waveform on it shows that the Audio page has been selected.
The MIDI page in Studiomux looks just like the MIDI page in MIDImux, except for the selection tools on the right edge of the interface. The blue circle with the continuous line on the lower right shows that the MIDI page is selected.
Here’s a patch in AudioMulch in which the full resources of Studiomux are being used. At the bottom of the screen you can see the icon for ArtWonk, a MIDI generating program. It’s sending MIDI out to the LoopBe internal MIDI interface. This is selected as a source in image above. In Audiomulch, the audiomux_generator module is receiving sounds from the PixelWave app, which is receiving MIDI from ArtWonk, via the LoopBe internal MIDI and Studiomux’s MIDI page.
The output of PixelWave is then processed, in the computer, within AudioMulch, using the Melda MMultiband Delay. The output of the delay is then placed into the audiomux_effect module, which sends audio from the computer back into the iPad, where it is processed by the GliderVerb app on Channel 2. The output from the GliderVerb is then sent back to the computer, and then out to the speakers. This all happens seamlessly, without glitches or breakups. Studiomux is now becoming a mature and fully functioning program.
MusicIO – Another USB Interface
Just when I was relaxing, I received notice that MusicIO, which has been available for the Mac for some time now, was now making drivers for the PC available (http://musicioapp.com/ $9.99 in the App Store). So of course, I had to download them, and install them on my PCs. Once again, both MIDI and audio stream along the USB cable flawlessly. You do have to launch the MusicIO VST plugin inside your app (and connect the USB cable from your iPad to your computer, of course) to get communication happening, but once the VST plugin is launched, MusicIO’s interface will turn green, indicating it’s ready for action. Swipe left to move to the pages where MIDI, audio and effects can be selected.
Once loaded, in the programs on your computer that will take MIDI, a new driver appears “MusicIO MIDI.” You select this to both send and receive MIDI from MusicIO. Note that the MIDI generator (or receiver) that you’re using does not have to be connected to the DAW environment that the MusicIO VST plugin is installed in. You just have to have the plugin functioning for MusicIO MIDI to be happening all over your computer. In the screenshot below from AudioMulch the output of MusicIO is the app Thumbjam, which is being controlled externally by the MIDI generator program ArtWonk. Once the output of Thumbjam is in AudioMulch, I’m then processing the sound with AudioMulch’s own DL Granulator. The image immediately after that shows the “Sound From” page of MusicIO, where you select what instruments you send to the computer. Note the Thumbjam icon on channel 1, which shows that Thumbjam is the app that is producing the sound.
Similarly you can send audio from your computer to your iPad through MusicIO, where an app on the iPad can be used to process the sound. The first image below shows the “Effects” page of MusicIO. Note that the Crystalline effect app has been selected. Then in the following image, you can see the environment in AudioMulch. The MIDI Input 1 module is receiving MIDI on the “MusicIO MIDI” channel from the Analog Midi Sequencer App. This is driving the Modartt Pianoteq 5 piano module, which is sending its sounds to the MusicIO interface. Notice in the MusicIO interface that the “FX Loop On” is now selected. As shown in the top image, the Crystalline effect is being used, and the output of that goes to the Sound Out.
So there you have it – there are now two professional programs for interfacing your iPad via USB to your computer. Which one do I prefer? It’s much of a muchness – they both work and do what they say they will, very well. My hunch is that Studiomux might handle labyrinthine patches with multiple goings between the iPad and the computer a little bit better, but the “all in one page” interface of MusicIO is also pretty elegant. Studiomux will interface with Audiobus, while MusicIO seems to be self-contained. Since both environments are $9.99 each, you could easily have both, and experiment to see which one suits your working style the best.
One FX to rule them all and in the mix to bind them? Not a bad description for something the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Melda has set the bar very high with its new mega-effect.
by David Baer, Nov. 2015
We began our review of Melda Production’s MXXX super FX plug-in in our September issue. You can read that review here:
Two days before that article appeared, Melda released its production (that is, post-beta) product, so this time around we have concrete information about pricing, factory content, etc. As stated, it’s quite expensive but there’s a new wrinkle that will make at least some owners of Melda’s Creative Bundle very, very happy. We’ll get back to that at the end of this review. But for now, we’ll pick up right where we left off last time.
Depths within Depths
The first thing that should be said is that although this is the second and final installment in this review, I don’t believe ten installments could adequately cover everything that’s here and noteworthy. For one thing, there’s a huge breadth to the type of capabilities that reside in MXXX, as I think you’ll readily see in what follows. But there’s also an incredible depth of functionality, most of which many of us will never think of utilizing. I’m going to offer one example of this, but trust me – this sort of thing is found everywhere you look.
Consider the humble ADSR envelope. It’s actually a DAHDSR envelope with individually adjustable segment curvatures. But notice the “Custom Shape” option. Click on that and we see this window.
If DAHDSR is insufficiently complex, then you may define whatever envelope shape you want. But also notice the Tremolo column in the earlier ADSR image. With it you can actually apply an LFO to the Sustain segment (or start it earlier in the Decay segment and/or keep it going during the Release). It’s called Tremolo since an envelope like this will often be applied to loudness, but envelopes can actually modulate pretty much anything.
But there’s still more. Notice the little wrench next to the Tremolo label. Click it and we get a full-fledged LFO edit window, seen at the right. And as I stated, this sort of thing is everywhere you look in MXXX. Of course, these things are not just MXXX features, but they are pervasive throughout Melda’s offerings. The more of Melda gear you have, the greater the payback will be when you to learn how to take advantage of all the sophisticated nuances that are at your disposal. And if you have MXXX, you should have a very great incentive to mount that learning curve.
So Can We Talk FX Finally?
OK, you’ve been most patient, and we can finally get to the goods … well almost. In discussing the modules available in MXXX, it’s convenient to divide them into two groups: modules that do FX-type processing and modules that support that first group (although there’s a bit of gray area with a few of the modules). We’ll start with the support modules.
To the right you see four categories of support modules, some of which should be familiar to you from the discussions in Part 1. Under Building Blocks we have Ratio, Mixer and Feedback to which you’ve previously been introduced. The rest are fairly straightforward except for Channel Matrix. I have yet to see this one used in a preset and I remain in the dark about its purpose.
Under Utility, the module names pretty much identify the function. Modular, you may recall, is the way to nest complex grid arrangements of modules within a single higher-level module slot. Math is a little bit of a puzzler. The only thing I can see it being useful for is multiplying two audio signals (on a sample by sample basis). It can do many other things mathematical, but I’m not at all sure when you’d use most of those functions.
Synthesis is an interesting category, most especially because near the end of the MXXX beta period, Melda inserted the full power of MPowerSynth into MXXX. I was already quite satisfied with just the LFO, Oscillator and Noise Generator, but this was an unexpected bonanza. However, I’m completely at a loss to figure out what to do with this embarrassment of riches. 😀
Finally we have the Stereo category. Here’s one place where there’s a little gray area. On the one hand, we have straightforward utility-type signal splitters and combiners whose names are indicative of what they do. But then there are also modules like Stereo Spread which is the marvelous engine used in the Melda MStereoSpread plug-in, something way too sophisticated to simply be designated as “utility”.
Now, finally, we can discuss actual FX providers. In the image to the right, we see six categories: Modulation, Reverb & Delay, Distortion, Dynamics, Spectral and Equalizers. And you can readily see that pretty much anything needed for mixing and mastering purposes plus all manner of creative effecting is supported. And if something isn’t there … and this is very much the whole point of MXXX … just build it from the components that are there!
A number of vendors of quality gear provide numerous multi-function plug-ins that, for example, mix a delay capability with EQ and/or compression and/or modulation and/or whatever. With MXXX, if you need some combination of FX processes, just can just build your own. Once you’ve mastered the Melda way of doing modulation and setting up front-panel control with Multiparameters, this sort of thing can be accomplished in surprisingly little time. There’s really nothing quite like it elsewhere in the world of computer music production.
You can see from the modules listed to the right that there is a wide scope of capability on hand. We hardly have time and space to explore them all. Instead, let’s just take a close-up look at a couple of modules … but, I don’t want to imply these are “representative modules” since there is so much diversity of function throughout the module collection.
This is a good time, however, to mention the documentation. Melda has an incredible challenge on its hands to document everything in all the modules. Right now, your best bet is to use the little question mark icons that appear all over the place. These will produce a window with brief explanations of all the settable parameters. Barring that, the best bet is to download the PDF documentation for the associated dedicated plug-in. If you need more information about the Delay module, for example, go to the Melda website and grab the PDF for MMultiBandDelay. The individual manuals are all there and easily accessible, even if this is not the most convenient option. For the near term, at least, it will have to do.
And speaking of the Delay module, let’s start with that, since delays will no doubt be integral to a great many composite presets built with MXXX. We see two fully independent taps.
The controls within the Tap tab are mostly self-explanatory. Mode can be normal or ping-pong. The delay amounts can be absolute time or synchronized with host tempo. Now, you might say that there’s nothing special here. Most readers will be able to point to a delay on their DAW that has more functionality, more bells and whistles. But that’s missing the point of MXXX. If you have an odd requirement like routing your delay output through a phaser followed with EQ and compression, just build it. You truly have all the pieces at hand to easily do so. And although I don’t want to sound like a broken record, I’ll repeat that if you are the owner of any significant amount of Melda gear, you have a compelling incentive to learn to use the Melda modulation and multiparameter mechanisms. It will take a few hours of dedicated study and experimentation to do so, but once using these things becomes second nature, there’s no end of marvelous things that can be fashioned (and fashioned quickly) within the MXXX framework.
Let’s move on to one more FX type: the Filter module. There are a huge number of filter types to choose from, and some of the other parameters will be enabled/disabled depending upon the filter type currently selected. The image below shows the window you see when you click on the Filter Type parameter. In real life it’s much larger and readable. The point I want to make is to simply show you the vast selection of filters available to you.
This being a filter, many of the parameters, but most especially Frequency, beg to be modulation targets. But with the Filter module, some restraint is called for. Depending upon the filter type selected, some rather extreme behavior can result from modulation. In some cases, the processing demands of rapid modulation are too great for practical application of that modulation. The moral of the story is: try modulation manually and do so while keeping your monitors on a low volume until you know what to expect.
One thing you’ll note is the sidechain capability. What is that all about in a filter? It turns out you can modulate the frequency with the sidechain signal. Why would you want to do that? Well, MXXX modulators only operate up to 100 Hz. But you could drop an Oscillator module into the grid and let its output become sidechain input to the filter. Walla … we have audio rate filter frequency modulation. Now, there may be other, better uses for this capability, but this is the one that seems the most obvious application to me.
I want to highlight one filter parameter in particular: Panorama. This is similar to features in Fab Filter’s Volcano and Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere. When you set it off-center, one L/R channel has frequency decrease while an opposite corresponding increase happens in the other channel. So this is a pretty cool feature, but that’s not my point. I made a feature request for this during the MXXX beta cycle. The next release happened just a few days later and there it was, just like that: filter panorama. Talk about a customer-centric operation! Now, by no means do all feature requests get implemented, of course. But when one comes along that fits with Melda’s grand design, they can happen and can show up with surprising promptness. Vojtech Meluzin, the man behind the Melda brand, routinely interacts with users to a very satisfactory degree on the KVR forum. One has to wonder just where he gets the time, however.
One final point is noteworthy before leaving the discussion of MXXX modules. Since it was released (about seven weeks ago at the time this is being written), two additional FX processor modules have already been added to MXXX. These additions have shortly followed the release of two new Melda standalone plug-ins, MMultiBandBitFun and MTransformer. MXXX now has new modules called BitFun and Transformer that are the engines that provide the capabilities in the standalone versions. We can almost certainly look forward to similar additional developments in the future. It looks very much like MXXX will just keep getting better and better.
There Are Presets … and Then There Are Presets
One thing we should probably cover is something that will likely be a source of confusion to new MXXX users, even those familiar with other Melda offerings. With any preset, we can get a detailed view of the preset composition and have access to all the parameter settings when in “Edit” mode. This is what we’ve been looking at all along so far in this review.
But when in “Simple” mode (i.e., not in Edit mode), if the preset is an “Active Preset”, then we see a simplified view like that in the image below. But the preset does not have to be an active preset; a preset that simply uses named multiparameters will have a simple interface exposed with the named multiparameter controls on the UI panel.
Active presets are a Melda convention, but they work a bit differently in MXXX than in other Melda software. Elsewhere, active presets are intended to be factory content that appears in a simple menu structure and which have “easy” UI versions (all presets, active or otherwise can be switched into edit mode for full access to all parameters). In other Melda plug-ins, the user may not save an active preset. But, again, users may define multiparameters and have the “easy” UI for their custom preset creations. So, elsewhere, there’s not a tendency to get confused over two preset namespaces: “active” and “normal”.
In MXXX, it is quite a bit easier to be a victim of confusion. There are two namespaces and two corresponding menus from which to select presets. When in “easy” mode, we can access the active preset menu shown below.
We see category filters that can be selected to refine a search. In MXXX, users can in fact create and save active presets. But most will not want to bother assigning criteria and adding explanatory commentary to document their work. So, user-created active presets are not off limits for end users, but they are not of significance outside a user’s own DAW. In fact, the preset exchange maintained by Melda for MXXX presets will not support active presets. I hope you found this explanation useful, since this was a source of considerable confusion to me until just recently.
As to factory content, there is a huge number of active presets shipped with MXXX – I am guessing about 500 or so. The content is somewhat of a mixed bag, however. The majority of presets are rather simple and do not show a lot of innovation – not that simple presets can’t be used to very good effect in a mix. But maybe one in five of the presets demonstrates just how far you can take things in MXXX. There are a number of real gems here that can be a great source of guidance for one hoping to learn the MXXX way of things or one looking for inspiration for building their own MXXX “mad-scientist” creations.
Is MXXX for You?
OK, now we get to the 64,000 dollar question: what does MXXX cost. I know I warned in Part 1 that this plug-in would not be cheap, and it is not. But before I throw out prices, recall that Melda routinely has 50% off sales on both bundles and individual plug-ins. So, I am just going to quote the sale price (although I am in no position to guarantee the sale policy model will last indefinitely).
MXXX will cost approximately $563 USD on sale. Now, before you cry “ripoff”, do recall that the full MXXX version contains all the Melda crown jewels of technology and that there are free updates for life. But if you are going to spend that kind of money, I think a better approach would be to wait for a bundle sale and purchase the MTotalBundle for just $165 (or so) more. That gets you everything Melda has to offer (currently in excess of 80 plug-ins) along with anything new from Melda that is released for all time. Also, Melda has a recently-introduced customer account setup on its web site. When buying a bundle, your price will be individually tailored so that it is reduced by 70% of the purchase price of anything already bought that happens to be in that bundle. Those of you who picked up half a dozen individual plug-ins may find the price of MTotalBundle is well under the full list price. And the price reduction feature has applied during previous bundle sales as well. So, the path to “MTotality” may not be as expensive as you originally thought.
Fortunately, there’s also hope for those on a somewhat more modest budget. MXXXCore is a vastly scaled-down version of MXXX. It has all the infrastructure and utility functionality but next to no FX capability other than the Filter module, a basic compressor and the Delay Tap module. Core FX capabilities becomes available as equivalent Melda individual plug-ins are purchased. Need the MXXX vocoder module? Purchase MVocoder and it is enabled in MXXXCore. While individual plug-in acquisitions are a way to eventually get to a usable MXXXCore capability, I think that the sweet spot is probably to purchase (on sale) the MCreativeBundle for $225 USD and pick up MXXXCore for around $110 USD (or presumably half that when on sale).
That would get you all the creative action except EQ (although you have some control there since the filter and the band-pass modules are available). Melda has published a roadmap on the MXXXCore product page that shows what standalone plug-ins will unlock what modules in FX. But assuming you’re satisfied with the on-board dynamics and EQ capability, with MCreativeBundle acquired, you should only be missing a few special purpose modules like the spectral dynamics and the stereo spread engines, which are not normally going to be needed in general creative FX construction (don’t get me wrong – MSpectralDynamics and MStereoSpread are my two most-used and highly-valued Melda plug-ins, so I’m not lightly dismissing either of them). In any case, with this route, there’s a bit more complexity, but at least we get the price of a mostly-complete MXXX to somewhere in the mid-$300s.
But even all by itself, MXXXCore is a killer effect because just the filter and delay-tap alone with all the modulation and routing capabilities can compete feature-wise with many other sophisticated filter FX plug-ins in the market. Pick up MMultiBandDelay for full delay capability when on sale for less than $30 USD, and now you’ve got a killer delay and filter double threat – all for a grand total of less than $90 USD. This is one hell of a lot of functionality for not very much money. So, in the end, you may find that MXXX magic can be in your life after all, even if budget is somewhat tight.
MXXX is utterly unique and there’s nothing else to which it can be compared at this time. Is it worth all that money? Do you want and/or need almost limitless FX capability? I would suggest that the answer to the former question is the same as the latter.
For more information or to purchase MeldaProduction software, go here:
Gino Legaspi looks at six sound libraries from Bluezone, Loopmasters and Zero-G in an ongoing series of such reviews.
by Ginno Legaspi, Nov. 2015
Loopmasters – Fragments 02
Having reviewed the excellent Fragments 01 from Loopmasters in the past, I knew it wouldn’t take long for me to dig this sample pack. It just has the right vibe and sound of a very polished ambient sample library. And what’s appealing also is that it is produced and assembled by Ultimae Records’ Vincent Villuis (AES DANA) & Mihalis Aikaterinis (MIKTEK). Fragments 02 features odd atmospheres, abstract grooves and otherworldly sound experiments sourced from real world sounds, and then regenerated using the latest studio gadgetry. All samples are recorded and delivered in pristine 24-bit sample rate. The emphasis here is more on the left-field side of things, but it also covers a wide variety of genre especially if you’re into the dark side of electronica. The 729 MB of samples covers ambient, soundtrack, drum and bass, downtempo and electronica. I really like the ‘Interference’ samples’ modern nature because they can be used as good transitional sounds in sections of a song. Most of the samples included are also good and are ready to go into any production. Sonically, the samples/loops are very solid and full of warmth with enough punch to cut through a mix. Overall, I like this library because it’s innovative, inspiring and opens up new ideas when creating modern ambient tracks.
WAV, REX2, Kontakt, Halion, EXS24, Apple loops and NN-XT
Zero-G – Desert Tracks
Are you ready to put some special magic in your world, native music or ethno-tronica tracks? If so, take a look at Zero-G’s Desert Tracks, a 24-bit sample library suitable for desktop musicians, producers and instrumentalists who are into the traditional sounds of Northern Africa and the Middle East from countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Iran. This title is chock full of authentic sound and styles. Inside this collection, you’ll find eight folders by individual country with sub-folders of “percussion loops” and “themes”. There are also a healthy amount of melodic loops such as accordion, kanoun, oud, ney, flute and Eastern violin. I love the included percussion loops of darbuka, doholla, frame drum, riqq and sagat. These are some of the best ethnic percussion sounds I’ve heard from start to end. But I think the library’s strongest points are the Arabian and Egyptian samples. Additionally, the Persian loops are decent enough for song starter. If you’re running out of ideas when composing these folders are good for song inspiration. Overall, this 1.75 GB packs enough samples to get you going immediately in the studio. The quality of the inspirational ethnic samples is top notch and what you’d expect from Zero-G.
Acid WAV, REX2, Halion, Kontakt, EXS24, AIFF Apple Loops, Reason NN-XT
£55.95 GBP including VAT
Loopmasters – Visions of House
Veteran samplesmith Loopmasters is back with another tasty treat for producers called Visions of House. As the name suggests, this library aims to cover the EDM genre with its “dancey-style” nature. Inside this 800 MB, 24-bit library you’ll find ten brand new crafted construction kits that include samples such as funky drums, bubbling basses, classic piano and strings, skippy percussion, FXs, synth leads, house organs and pluck synths – all offered in WAV, Apple Loops, Reason ReFill and Ableton Live formats. Auditioning through different folders of sounds can be a nice sensory experience and, believe me, Visions of House has plenty of good content. The proper organization and labeling of each folder is a nice touch. The Acid WAV files provide flexibility in whatever key and tempo in which you are working. As I was auditioning the samples using Acid 6.0 music software, I noticed that the samples are recorded very well. They sound clear with lots of detail in the mid-upper end. Overall, a good starter collection of fine and fresh house samples, plus MIDI files are included!
WAV, Live, Kontakt, Halion, EXS24, Apple loops and NN-XT
Bluezone Corporation – World Percussion Loops and Samples
Plenty of producers out there know that it’s hard to find decent world percussion loop libraries. One that is authentic, well recorded, plenty of useful samples and an awesome performance by the percussionist. If you’re a producer looking for such sample pack then welcome to a world (pun intended) of quality percussion samples in World Percussion Loops and Samples by Bluezone Corporation. This percussion sample pack by Bluezone comprises many beautiful played percussion loops as well as one-shot percussion samples. Indian, Arabic and African percussion instruments were used to record the 118 loops (in 110 BPM) and various one-shot samples in this library. Format delivery is in 44.1/24-bit WAV and Apple AIFF file. What can I say? I’m impressed at how the samples sound. This collection is punchy and clean with a nice touch of room ambience. It will come in handy if you’re a producer of ethnic electronica. In closing, if you’re looking to add a nice set of percussion loops into your sample vault, World Percussion Loops and Samples is a library worth looking into.
Loopmasters – Dark Atmospherics
Focusing on dark soundscapes, unusual textures and sound design materials, Dark Atmospherics delivers a selection of odd FXs, deep soundscapes, moving pads and deep atmospheric drones to help you create your own ambient compositions, film and TV scores, game music and experimental electronica. The material included in this sample pack is extremely good. An all-original sample library, Dark Atmospherics is so highly versatile that it covers much ground – whether it’s drones, drum and bass, dubstep, IDM, breaks, dark ambient or experimental electronica. Weighing in at 2 GB, this 48 kHz/24-bit library was created by Colin C using his Prophet 12, Virus Ti, Moog synthesizers, Apogee converters and various vintage compressors. All of the sounds were then glitched, processed, crushed and manipulated using high-end tools. The samples are offered in different audio formats such as WAV and AIFF, and there are sampler patches for users Kontakt, Halion, EXS24 and NN-XT soft samplers. The things that stand out in this pack are the 4 folders of rhythmic (196 total) loops. They are programmed and sprinkled with just the right amount of processing. The “Atmospheres and Textures” folders also have some superb sounds that are useable for any modern electronic music compositions. Overall, this is a nice toolbox of futuristic electronic sounds, so I highly recommend it. Thumbs up.
WAV, REX2, Kontakt, Halion, EXS24, Apple loops and NN-XT
Bluezone Corporation – Metal Impact Sound Effects
Also this month’s Sound Investment is an SFX library from Bluezone Corporation called Metal Impact Sound Effects. If trailer, video game and cinematic sound design projects are your area of production, then take note what this sample pack has to offer. Metal Impact is comprised of meticulously crafted and edited metal sound effects. From cargo container sounds to crashing metal debris and from heavy metallic hits to metal drops, it’s all here. This library has a total of 161 WAV (also in AIFF) files weighing at 339 MB. The samples are mainly recorded in 24-bit one-shots. Since plenty of the samples sound good as-is, most of them are ready to be dropped into your DAW’s sequencer. For me, however, I love to manipulate them to make my own. You can create an endless supply of metal hits for future use. Of the samples included, my favorites are the “Various Metal Hits” and “Fuel Tank” folders because they are great for fills and they can add an “edge” to sections of your tracks. Overall, this is a nice collection of samples worthy to be added into your collection.
The organ is often called the King of Instruments. In this review we look at a virtual organ expertly sampled from an Italian instrument that offers you a cathedral experience in your studio at a modest price.
By David Baer, Nov. 2015
In this review we will look at a software recreation of an organ built in 1999 near Venice Italy. All of us are familiar with the sound of a full-blown (no pun intended) pipe organ, but the operational workings of these instruments is a mystery to most people. I previously reviewed another sampled pipe organ offering in which I presented an introductory discussion of just that subject. For those wishing to learn more, check out this:
and read the section entitled Pipe Organ 101.
Organum Venezia is an instrument based on samples. The sample recording was done by V3sound in collaboration with Best Service, and the virtual instrument is implemented using the Best Service Engine 2 platform. It is available on PC as 32-bit and 64-bit VST 2. On the Mac, it is available as AU and 64-bit (only) VST 2. A standalone option is provided on both PC and Mac. The price is €89 EUR.
The instrument from which the samples were taken, although built relatively recently (as organs go, that is) is representative of a French romantic era organ in both construction and sound. That organ has two manual keyboards. The main keyboard is named Grand Organ (GOR for short) and the secondary keyboard is called Positive (or POS). They keyboards have 58 notes. A 30-note pedal board completes the picture.
The approach taken with Organum Venezia was not to reproduce the exact setup of the original. Instead, a decision (a rather good one in my estimation) was made to simply provide a selection of individual stops from both keyboards and the pedal board. A stop is a collection (or rank) of like pipes with a uniform sound across the range of pitches that can be enabled or disabled as a group. The user of the virtual instrument can then mix these stops in any way desired, including in ways that might not be possible on the original instrument.
Should the Organum Venezia player wish to duplicate a performance in which different sounds are produced by the two separate keyboards and/or the pedal board, multiple instances of Organum Venezia can be used to achieve that goal (although obviously we need a DAW for this as standalone mode won’t cut it).
Not all stops were individually sampled from the original instrument. Indeed, only one stop from the pedal board is on offer. But no matter – there is plenty to work with. We have twelve individual stops (plus five combination options and tutti, which we’ll get to shortly). There are three 16’ stops (one octave below concert pitch), five 8’ stops (concert pitch), one 4’ and one 2’ stop (one and two octaves above concert pitch respectively). The remaining two stops are never intended to be used alone since they have no unison or octave relationship to concert pitch. Instead, these are tuned to a non-octave harmonic and will add color and richness to one or more primary sounds.
Then we have five combination options called Combi Funds 8, Combi Flutes 4, Combi Ripieno, Combi Reeds and Old Chappel. Old Chapple is a special case in which the tuning is intentionally a little off, giving the impression of a small organ in a slightly creepy or dusty locale. The other combinations are all more conventional, and they can be used along with individual stops or other combi stops.
Combi Funds 8, for example, is made of samples of four stops playing simultaneously. Specifically, these include two stops that are the same as single stop options, GOR Montre 8 and POS flute 8, plus two more 8’ stops that are not available as single stop options. So, if you select Combi Funds 8 and also select the single stop Montre 8, you’ll be getting that the Motre 8 sound twice. In other words, there’s no automatic disabling of single stops included in a combi. This may actually be what you want – if it sounds good it is good. But the reality of duplicating the behavior of the original instrument is not enforced in this case.
Tutti is the all-guns-blazing stop, the organ in its most majestic aspect. Selecting Tutti actually does disable everything else. If you have a set of stops (individual and/or combi) selected and you click on Tutti, the other selections are deselected. If you click on Tutti again to turn it off, the previously selected stops are restored.
The only “effect” included is a reverb based on the very capable Engine 2 convolution effect. There are no further options to select from. You get a basic big cathedral type space with a marvelous long reverb tail. You have only control over the mix level. The default setting is rather high, but it does sound glorious.
Best Service currently has no sound demos available, which I find curious. This is an extremely fine sounding instrument. While on that subject, I will also mention that although I didn’t test every single sound, I did a number of random spot checks of long playing single notes and found the looping to be totally glitch free.
In any case, since there are no vendor supplied demos, I’ll include some here. First we’ll look at the individual stops. These sound files are not intended to be entertaining – their purpose is simply to let you hear what each stop sounds like. The amount of Organum Venezia reverb was purposely reduced considerably and the records are mono.
We’ll start with the GOR Montre 8 and then add the GOR Plein inharmonic stop to that.
Next we have the POS Flute 8 follow by the POS Flute 8 and the POS Nazard inharmonic stop.
And then here are the remaining eight individual stops.
For the combi stops, I thought an actual piece of music recorded as stereo would be more appropriate, and I used the same one for all five examples. The Organum Venezia reverb level was left at its default. Since the Combi Flutes 4 contributing stops are all an octave up, I paired that selection with Combi Funds 8 (which is also presented on its own).
And finally we have the magnificence of the Tutti (and don’t call it “tootie”! ) in a rendition of part of a Bach fugue. I used automation to cut back the amount of reverb a bit until the very end where I returned it to the Organum Venezia default level.
So, is Organum Venezia for you? Well, I’m an enthusiastic fan of pipe organ music and I find Organum Venezia to be (quite literally) a blast. To my ears, the sampling was extremely well-executed, and the results are a remarkably lifelike organ sound. At roughly a hundred dollars (USD), it’s not exactly cheap, but I think it’s a good value nevertheless given the quality. I don’t really follow Best Service all that closely, so I cannot recommend how good a strategy waiting for a sale might be. You might end up waiting quite a long time … I can’t say one way or the other.
No matter to what purpose you wish to put pipe organ sounds, be it a sound track, or incorporation into a progressive rock work, or maybe just bringing a low-budget but realistic organ sound to a place of worship, this package gets the job done in fine fashion. Highly recommended.
For more information and to purchase, to here:
Samplitude Pro X2 is a powerful DAW, with lots of horsepower under the hood and great plugins to match. We check out many of its features in this review.
by Rob Mitchell, Nov. 2015
MAGIX is a software company that has been creating titles since 1993, and they have many music and video applications available. They have also developed a large collection of loops as well as audio editing and sampling applications.
Last year I reviewed one of their products called Musik Maker 2014 Premium. This time around, I will be reviewing Samplitude Pro X2. It is a powerful DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) with an interface that you can customize to your liking. It includes many instrument plugins, VST3 support, music notation, sample rates up to 384 kHz, 5.1 surround mixing, multi-core support, 256 inputs/outputs, and much more.
Installation and Requirements
Before I get into more of its details, here are some installation requirements needed to get it running. Samplitude Pro X2 works with the Vista operating system, Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 (32-bit or 64-bit). You’ll need a minimum of a 1.5 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM for the 32-bit version, and 4 GB of RAM for the 64-bit version.
Installation was easy, and it will ask you which components you’d like installed. It does take a while to download some of the content needed for a few of the plugins. After it is finished, it will prompt you to activate it with a serial number. You can also use it with a Codemeter dongle, but it is not required. They also mention a way to use it with networked computers, and using the dongle with the server of that network. For this review, I just have it setup the standard way on a single PC.
Any DAW can have a wealth of features included, so it is pretty much impossible to try and cover everything that it has under the hood. Therefore, I will mainly try to report on what I believe to be some of the more impressive features and the instruments and effects which are included. Hopefully this will give you a better idea of what you can expect from Samplitude, especially if you are shopping around for a new DAW.
After you get it running, you will see a start-up dialog screen which asks what you’d like to do next. This is similar to a few other DAWs I’ve used, but this one has a couple of additional options included. You’re able to start a new multi-track project or load an existing one, and record a WAV file or load one that was previously recorded/sampled. Also from this start-up screen, you can load the included Samplitude multi-track demo project, open their help system, view the “Tip of the Day”, or view a tutorial video.
When I clicked on Show Video Tutorial, it brings you to a page with helpful articles that have audio examples, but I didn’t see any video clips on the first tab called “Latest”. Also, when I clicked on the number two (for the next page of articles) it gave me this message: Error 404 – Page not found. In the upper right, there are a few more articles (and a couple videos) under the tab called “Popular”. Some of those are from 2011, but they are still useful. Even if they are not totally updated for this latest version of Samplitude, you can still use them for learning purposes.
If you use the search field above those tabs I mentioned and type in “Tutorial”, you’ll find some more videos. Many of those are a bit older but still helpful nonetheless. It would be nice if that page was fixed though, as it could use a makeover. No matter what, just make sure and use the documentation that is included with Samplitude itself, and you can also use the Help menu at the top of the screen if needed.
When you want to make a new track of your own, you’d normally open a new Virtual Project. This is their term for a new composition including tracks to record audio and/or use MIDI tracks with the plugins of your choice. The main display after you create a new Virtual Project (VIP) is the Arranger display. This is where you can see the audio you may have recorded (or imported) and the MIDI notes on each of their respective tracks, as in most other DAWs.
Once your project gets going, it may get a little complicated to keep track of exactly where you are within your composition. This is where the markers come in handy. Samplitude Pro X2 has a few different types for various situations you might have a need for. Besides the regular type of “marker” that you might use (i.e. verse/solo/ chorus, etc.) it has other types as well. They include markers for the tempo, functions related to CD burning, bar markers, and for use with the grid position.
One great feature is the ability to use tabs, and these can be docked in a few different places. Basically anything that can be docked can be moved to another part of the screen if needed which can help with your own work flow. The best part is that you are able to set it up for what works best for you, and the type of project you may be working on at the moment. Normally the tabs are right below the Arranger section, and you can add more tabbed items or delete the ones you don’t use as much.
One way you can use the tabs to your advantage is to have the MIDI Editor up at the top, so then you can have it open as a full screen editor. This lets you easily switch back and forth within the project to the other screens. You could also have more than one project open at once, and switch between them by using their tabs. To move one of the tabs, you just click and drag the tab where you want, either up towards the top of the display, or down towards the bottom. If you drop it somewhere that it can’t be docked, it will then just be a floating window which can be moved around as needed.
Another way you can customize your layout is by editing the toolbars. Using this function, you’re able to add or remove elements on the toolbars that are along the top and/or bottom of the display. If you decide you don’t like the extra icons you’ve added (or taken away), you can click “Reset All Toolbars”. Another handy feature is the different workspace choices they’ve included. These change the layout in different ways, adding and/or moving display’s contents to make it easier to use for a certain task. The layouts include Mastering, Big Icons, Post Production, and Power User.
Objects in a project are sections of audio that reference your main audio file(s). Within these objects, the properties of the audio can be manipulated. Panning, volume, effects, pitch changes can all be accomplished from here. Actually, there is much more that can be done, and you can use what they call the “Object Editor” to edit them to your liking. Each object is assigned its own editor, so if you split one object in to 3 parts for instance, then each of those three objects would then have its own editor.
The Object Editor lets you get to many controls for editing the audio. From here, you’re able to work within three sections: FX, Fades, and Time/Pitch. In the FX section, you can make changes to the gain, use AUX sends, add plugins, adjust the 4-band parametric EQ, change the panning, and edit some automation features. The Fades section lets you change the fade-in/out curve types and adjust the timing for each. You can also change the content of the audio from here (i.e. browse for other audio files), and adjust the position of the audio. The last section is for time-stretching and pitch-shifting. This lets you change actual time it takes for the audio to play, and adjust the pitch to what you’d like. You adjust the pitch in half-tones, cents, or as a factor taken from its original value.
In the last section on the right side, you can jump between the other objects using the arrows. You’re also able to take four different “Snapshots” of the Object Editor’s settings. You can then switch between those to decide which one you like the most.
There are also MIDI objects in Samplitude. The MIDI data gets an editor similar to the Object Editor that I wrote about previously. Some of the settings included are for the velocity, bank and program selection, quantization, and the object’s position and length.
A new feature in Samplitude Pro X2 is the VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) faders. These will not directly affect the music signal, hence they work differently than regular faders. If VCA master fader is assigned to certain channel signals, those channels and the post faders for AUX sends are regulated in the same way. This is great for keeping an equal balance between the direct and effect signals. It is a feature that is similar to what is included in analog mixers, and is a brand new addition to Samplitude Pro X2. Originally it was just included in their more expensive DAW called Sequoia 12, and I think it was a great idea to add this feature to Samplitude as well.
Revolver Tracks let you make edits for tracks without saving the automation or effects along with them. It allows you to have different variations of the track for you to use anytime you want. Keyboard shortcuts can be used to easily switch between the takes you’ve recorded.
Samplitude Pro X2 is loaded with many instruments and effects. Some of the instruments include Independence, Vita, Vita Bass Machine, Vita Rock Drums, Vita Vintage Organ, Revolta 2, and DN-e1.
Independence is a sampler which has a 12 GB library, and has sampled brass sections, drum kits, synthesizer sounds, world percussion, pipe organ, electric and acoustic guitars, pianos, and more. I really could have devoted a separate review for it, as it is complex plugin with a large amount of controls. It does take a while to download this large library to the computer, but it’s worth the wait.
The Vita series of plugins cover many of the basics in other departments, especially if you don’t need the complexity of Independence to get your tracks going. Some of the samples aren’t quite as good the ones in Independence, but they can still be very useful.
Revolta 2 and DN-e1 are both subtractive synth plugins. Both of these work well, but I really like Revolta 2. It is an easy to use synthesizer plugin with a great sound, and a smooth sounding filter section. You can also load your own VST plugins that you might have installed previously.
There are way too many effects in Samplitude to list in this review, but just about anything you can think of is in the Samplitude package. Some of these include compressors, gates, limiters, reverbs, vocoder, EQ, delay, an FFT filter, and distortion plugins. There are even some for restoration that can help get rid of hiss, clipping, and crackle on your imported audio. I also wanted to mention something about the routing of the effects. In the Effects Routing Dialog box, you’re able to put them in the order you’d like, and they can be set as “pre” or “post” fader. In addition, the internal effects can be used multiple times per track and/or object.
Samplitude Pro X2 worked well for me during this review, except for one issue that reared its head. It didn’t happen until I tried importing a file, such as a MIDI or WAV file. When I tried to do that, it would sit there for about five seconds, and then Samplitude would crash. I couldn’t figure it out, as everything else seemed to be working ok. I tried many ways to fix the issue, but nothing was working. A couple days later, I heard of a possible solution over on the Samplitude/Sequoia forum. I had mentioned my issue on the forum, and that I have a new Dell. They suggested uninstalling the Dell Backup and Recovery application that was pre-installed on the PC. After that was uninstalled, it worked like a charm. I am not sure why it would interfere with importing files, but I was just glad the issue was fixed.
Here are a few other features I didn’t get to during my review: Samplitude has multiple outputs per channel, built-in CD/DVD burning capability, and zPlane time stretching technology: élastique Pro V3 for quality pitch adjustment and stretching of your audio. This stretch technology feature can also be used with multiple tracks at once. An on-screen keyboard is available, and can be enabled to trigger notes. One way you might use this is if you’re traveling, as there might not be any room for a MIDI keyboard.
Samplitude Pro X2 can also import and export many different formats, including WAV, AIFF, MP3, WMA, FLAC, AAC. Broadcast WAV, and OGG. Also, the AAF and OMF formats are supported so you can easily bridge the gap between platforms.
Despite a few quibbles I had with the MAGIX website and some tutorials being a little outdated, I was impressed with Samplitude Pro X2. It really has a lot going for it, and it’s just overflowing with features. You will definitely need the manual and make sure to use those tutorials, as it is a complex and powerful DAW. The Help menu is very useful, and the documentation is good. It is a heavyweight contender in the world of DAWs, and MAGIX has done a superb job putting together so many clever functions in this well-rounded package.
Samplitude Pro X2 retails for $399 USD. Magix also has the Suite version for $599 USD, which includes many more plugins, and a 70 GB library for Independence. For more information or to purchase, go here: