Monthly Archives: March 2016
In this hardware synthesizer review, our reviewer checks out the Moog Sub Phatty. We take it for test drive with its many under-the-hood features, knob-laden interface, and a huge sound.
by Rob Mitchell, March 2016
If you have never heard of Moog Music and their many legendary products, you can’t really call yourself a synthesizer aficionado. The name “Moog” itself is a legend in its own right, and carries with it a legion of devout followers that can’t get enough of its unique sound.
The company started out with the first subtractive synthesizer that had its own keyboard included. That was way back in 1964, and the man behind that synth design was Robert Moog. He developed many of his own ideas into reality and patented them along the way, eventually producing the Modular Moogs. These could be quite complex, as you were able to put different “modules” together, using cables to connect them in various ways as a type of building block for synthesis.
Eventually he designed what was called the Minimoog. It was much easier to take out on the road for the traveling musician, as it was a lot smaller and lighter than his modular synth design. It became very popular in 1970s, and even today it is a vintage piece of equipment that people still crave. These days, there are probably more software emulations of the Minimoog than any other type of synthesizer on the market. And for good reason, as people just love its sound. For over a decade, softsynth programmers have been trying to nail “the sound” in software form in one way or another.
To die-hard analog fans, there is nothing like the real thing. On the other hand, software emulations are convenient: They won’t go out of tune (unless you want them to of course), plus they don’t need to be in for service every so often. It has been a dream of mine to be able to acquire an actual Moog synthesizer. I have owned a couple hardware synths in the past, but all of the used Minimoogs I ran into were just too expensive for me. For this review, I will be covering a Moog product called the Sub Phatty. In some ways, it is similar to the Minimoog, but with many new additions, and it has an edgier kind of sound. It is a monophonic subtractive synthesizer with standard pitch-bend and modulation wheels, has 25 semi-weighted keys, and it’s 100% analog. There is a lot to cover here, so let’s get started.
Oscillator and Mixer sections
After unboxing the synth, I tried the various knobs and buttons before I even plugged it in, just to see how it is built. I have to say, it feels like a very solid piece of engineering. After that was out of the way, I plugged it in, switched it on, and my focus turned to the oscillator section. The Sub Phatty has two main oscillators with different waveforms you can choose from. These waveforms include sawtooth, square, pulse, and triangle. Like the Moog Voyager, you can not only select the individual waveforms, but you can dial in a blend between those waveforms as well. Just a quick FYI: On the Minimoog, you could switch between the separate waveforms, but it couldn’t blend anywhere between them.
The tuning for each of the two oscillators is accomplished with the Octave control, and they can be switched between 16′, 8′, 4, and 2′ tunings. In addition, the second oscillator has a fine tuning knob, letting you adjust its tuning by +/- 7 semitones. They’ve also included a sub-oscillator for the first oscillator. It uses a square wave (this can’t be changed to a different waveform), and it is one octave below the first oscillator’s pitch.
Hard Sync is available in the Sub Phatty, and can be switched on with the “Hard Sync Osc 2” button. If this is enabled, and the first oscillator starts a new cycle, it will make it so the second oscillator will start up its own cycle at the same time. Changing the pitch of the second oscillator while this is enabled can have some interesting effects on the resulting audio, and gives you another avenue for sonic exploration.
The Mixer section is where you can adjust the levels of the individual oscillators. There is one other source of audio, and that is the Noise generator. It uses pink noise, which has a darker type of sound that I actually prefer over white noise. One thing you might have noticed from the screenshots in the review is the amount for some of the controls go up to 12. For each of the controls that you can adjust from the Mixer section (Oscillators, Sub-Oscillator, and Noise), any level above 6 will start to add some filter distortion. If you set any of them to 6 or below, it will send a clean signal over to the filter section.
The Sub Phatty can self-oscillate, so if you crank up the resonance and turn off both oscillators, you can play it that way as well. Combining that configuration with a bit of Multidrive can yield additional sounds. The sounds can vary in tone, changing from a regular self-oscillating sine/triangle type of sound, and morphing into what sounds more like a square wave, especially when the Multidrive is maxed out.
Filter and Envelopes
The Moog legacy continues on within the Sub Phatty, and the legendary low-pass ladder filter is a large contributor to its fame. The standard cutoff and resonance controls are here, but in this generation of the Moog synth line, there is a pole/slope setting you can use to change the way the filter works. Normally it is set to a four pole 24dB per-octave slope, but there is a hidden function that lets you enable a one pole (6 dB per-octave), two pole (12 dB per-octave), or three pole setting (18 dB per-octave). Since this isn’t the only trick it has up its sleeve, I will mention how to access this and some of the other hidden functions later in the review.
The Multidrive is a newer feature that can add some post-filter distortion to the audio signal. This can really give it that hard-driven edgy sound I had mentioned earlier. You can smoothly dial-in as much as you want, which works great if you just want to give it a subtle amount of drive. Using this with varied amounts of resonance and filter settings can give you many different types of results.
Below the Multidrive control are the controls for the EG and KB amounts. EG (envelope generator) is a bipolar control which sets the amount of influence that the filter envelope has over the filter cutoff. The KB control adjusts the keyboard tracking for the filter cutoff.
There are two envelope generators in the Sub Phatty. One is for the filter, and the other is for the amplifier. Both of these use standard ADSR (attack/decay/sustain/release) settings, and there are separate controls for each stage of the envelope. The attack can be adjusted from a snappy one millisecond to a full 10 seconds. Actually the decay and release stages have the same timing settings available, while the sustain control is adjusted using a percentage amount (0-100%). To the right of the envelope section are the Master and Headphone output controls.
The Modulation section is where you’ll find the LFO (low frequency oscillator), which can be used to modulate different parts of the synthesizer. The LFO’s rate can be adjusted from 0.1 Hz to 100 Hz, and the waveforms you’re able to choose from are triangle, square, saw, ramp (reverse saw), and it also includes sample and hold. The last selection on this control is Filter EG, and this doesn’t use the LFO at all. It bypasses it, and uses the filter envelope as a source for modulating the various targets.
You can adjust the amount of the pitch modulation using the “Pitch Amt” control. Turning up this control will increase the range of the oscillators pitch when modulated. To the right of this control is the “Pitch Amt Osc 2 Only” button, which is a very cool feature. Normally, the pitch modulation will affect both oscillators (and the sub-osc), but when this button is switched on, the pitch modulation will only affect oscillator two. For instance, the first oscillator can be playing a regular/straight pitch when you hold down a key, and the second oscillator could have the LFO set to modulate its pitch. Using this along with hard sync, it can deliver some interesting results and is quite fun to experiment with.
The other controls located here are for the Filter Amount and Wave Amount. These adjust how much variation will be used with the filter cutoff and the waveforms of both oscillators when using the modulation wheel. The sub-oscillator is not included in the waveform changes, as it always set to a square wave. You can get some nice, smooth transitions between the different oscillator waveforms by using the LFO set to slow rate. Of course, you’re free to play around and get many types of combinations going with all of these controls on board. On the left side of the modulation section are controls to adjust the fine tuning, glide rate, and adjust the octave settings.
It’s easy to get “lost” in a synth like this, and I mean that in a good way. I wasn’t even bothering to save many patches as I worked with it. The reason for this was that I found it was very easy to get the types of sounds I wanted. With all its knobs and buttons to change nearly anything I needed in a speedy manner, saving a patch was almost an after-thought. Speaking of patches, you can save them of course, and they have included 16 factory patches for you to check out. The buttons to navigate through the patches are along the left side of the synth. They are organized into four banks, with four patches for each of those banks. To save one of your own, you hold down one of the buttons in the “Bank” column, and while holding that button down, you just press the patch button that you want to store it to. After you hold down those two buttons for a couple seconds, both buttons will flash when it is stored. This overwrites whatever factory patch was there, but those patches can be reset to the defaults if needed.
Below the bank and patch buttons is the “Activate Panel” button. This will switch the Sub Phatty to what is called “Panel Mode”, and you use that if you want to make your own patches. Pressing the button again will put it back to the preset/patch mode.
Even though the Sub Phatty has many buttons and knobs covering its front panel, they is a large amount of features that are hidden away below the surface. One of these is its ability to change the slope/pole setting, like I had mentioned earlier in the review. To change to the other slope settings, you have to use what is called “Shift Mode”. To use it, you press/hold the fourth bank button and the Activate Panel button at the same time. When that Active Panel button starts blinking, you’re ready to make use of those additional features.
Once that button is blinking, holding down the bank-two and patch-one buttons enables the extra filter slope modes. To switch between them, you just play one of the four lowest keys on the keyboard. For instance, the lowest C key will change it to a one pole filter slope setting, C# is for the two pole, D is for the three pole, and D# changes it back to the four pole setting.
Some other tricks include adding a delay stage to the filter envelope and amplifier envelope. This delay will occur before the initial attack stage, which changes it into DADSR. They’ve even given it an additional “Hold” stage you can switch on, and that one occurs before the Decay stage, effectively giving you a DAHDSR envelope. This additional Hold stage will only work if you are in the “Filter Envelope Repeat” mode. It’s an awesome function allowing you to use a looping envelope. If the “Hold” stage has been enabled, and you press and hold down a key, the filter envelope will keep repeating instead of cycling through only once. This can be used on the filter cutoff, waveform, or the pitch. One way you can use it is to imitate a simple arpeggiator, so the note sounds like it is repeating over and over, instead of it just playing one note when you play the key.
Another feature I really like is the ability to adjust the beat frequency. You might ask: What is the beat frequency? What normally happens is that when you are using a slight detune amount between the two oscillators, this detuning can sound like a beating/pulsing effect as you play the keys. Lower pitched notes will “beat” at a lower speed, and higher pitches would have a quicker beating sound. This added hidden feature allows you to change that behavior, so that the tuning of the second oscillator follows along with oscillator one, and it will keep the beat’s speed consistent along the full range of the keyboard. The offset for this is adjustable by an amount of +/- 3.5 Hz.
Remember how I mentioned you can use the “Pitch Amt Osc 2 Only” button? One of the other hidden goodies is the ability to setup waveform modulation to oscillator one, two, or both. You just have to go into the Shift mode, and then press the Bank 2 and Patch2 buttons to enable this. They are many other hidden features tucked away, and the manual describes in detail how to get to those. Actually, the manual has at least 10 pages that are dedicated to all those other functions.
When saving preset on the Sub Phatty, you may end up running out of space before long. 16 slots for saving your creations is great, but it would be nice to have more. Even though it is easy to program your patches as you go, it is still advantageous to be able to save what you’ve been working on now and then. For instance, you might have been working on a certain a patch for 20-30 minutes, and then to only discover you don’t have any more spaces left to save it.
That’s one reason I am so glad that Moog decided to include a free editor/librarian for the synth. After registering the Sub Phatty on their website, you can then download and install it. The software works with PCs running Windows 7 or higher, and on Macs running OS X 10.6.8 or higher. There is a standalone version, and another version that works from within a DAW. It is compatible with VST, AU, RTAS, and AAX platforms. Besides letting you store your creations, they also have it loaded up with over 360 ready-to-use patches.
The hidden functions of the Sub Phatty are easily accessible from the editor. Even though those features aren’t too difficult to access using the methods I mentioned earlier in the review, I still prefer the editor. It is much easier, as you can easily use a virtual button or knob to get to the same results in a flash. Also, seeing nearly all of those hidden features on one screen makes patch creation much easier. Not having to memorize what does what to access a certain function is a big help. They are all spelled out in the manual, but my memory isn’t what it used to be. Flipping through the manual’s pages to remind myself how to get a function to work is just not as efficient as using the editor.
The librarian has an easy to use drag-and-drop display for the patches, letting you quickly organize them the way you want. Search functions are built-in, and you’re able to create your own categories for whichever type of preset/patch you may create. A sharing function is also within the editor/librarian, letting you upload to moogconnect.net so you can share your Sub Phatty creations with others. Another way to get at the patches is to right-click on a patch, click “Reveal”, and it will show you the directory it is located in. From there, you could email them as an attachment, or backup the patches to an external drive.
One important section of the Sub Phatty I wanted to mention before I wrap this up are the inputs/outputs along the left side of the synthesizer. There are four types of CV inputs located here, and they are for the pitch, filter, volume, and gate. They can take either a control voltage signal from some other analog device, or you could use an expression pedal to adjust pitch, filter cutoff, or control the volume level. The KB Gate input jack will trigger the envelopes if it receives a +5 volt signal.
The 5-pin MIDI jacks are here as well, and there’s a USB jack to connect it to your PC or Mac. Within this same section you’ll find the main audio output jack, and an audio input, which allows you to process external audio through the Sub Phatty.
This is one awesome synth with a good deal of features under the hood, and a great editor/librarian to top it off. The included manual is really top notch, and it teaches some basics of synthesis as well. It is a synth with a very solid build quality, and it really feels like it is made to last. It takes a slight turn from the classic Moog sound, even though it can get very close to those legendary sounds of yesterday. It would be nice if the keyboard had a few more keys, but I have no problem with that. I use a 49-key MIDI keyboard with my synth plugin collection that’s on my PC, and I can easily use it to trigger the Sub Phatty as well. If I could get anything added to the Sub Phatty, I’d wish for one more LFO, and the ability to use aftertouch would be nice.
After this model was released, they eventually released the Sub 37 which has additional functions, more keys, and less “hidden” features were tucked away when compared to the Sub Phatty. All those extras will cost you however, as it is also more expensive. The Sub Phatty retails on the Moog site for $979 USD, but if you shop around, it can be found for around $899 USD. At the time I was writing this review, it was on sale for $719 USD. In comparison, a Sub 37 retails for $1,579 USD.
If you are looking to buy into the legendary Moog sound, this is definitely worth your while. It’s really fun to play and design patches with this beast. I really can’t get enough of this one, and highly recommend it. There are sound examples and more information located on the Moog website here: http://www.moogmusic.com/products/phattys/sub-phatty
We take a closeup look at Embertone’s latest entry in its solo strings collection for Kontakt, this time the viola.
by Per Lichtman, March 2016
Embertone Fischer Viola ($125 USD download at www.embertone.com) is Embertone’s third Kontakt 5 Player solo string library. We already covered their previous solo string libraries (http://soundbytesmag.net/embertoneblakuscelloandfriedlanderviolin/) and Alex Arsov mentioned the instrument in last issue’s Essentials article (http://soundbytesmag.net/essentials-albion-one-fischer-viola-and-emotional-cello/) so this review is only going to focus on what’s new and how it compares to the previous offerings. Note that Embertone recently released a solo bass as well, which we plan to review in a future issue.
The big headliner feature of the Fischer Viola is “Phase-Aligned Dynamic Morphing” between the pp and ff legato layers. This allows you to transparently crossfade through both transitions and sustains at any time while playing, and it sound greats great throughout the roughly 16-20 dB dynamic range the expression control offers, depending on the bowing position.
The developer claims improvements to both the dynamic crossfade-able bowing position. Without knowing exactly what they handled differently, all I can judge is the result, which is very musical in both cases. The full range of bowing positions, from sul tasto to normale to sul ponticello, sound great and in direct comparisons with the Friedlander Violin, I could hear noticeably more detail in the viola that might be described as “air”, “grain” or “rosin” depending on the listener.
The developer also mentioned that the vibrato control had been tailored specifically for the new viola. In comparing the vibrato to the Friedlander, I would describe the refinement as “more transparent sounding” with a refinement noticeable at higher vibrato speeds in particular. It’s a smoother sound that doesn’t push as much – though the difference is subtle.
The majority of other refinements are geared more towards utility. Portamentos can now be engaged via key-switch, as well as the velocity and CC options previously available. The Touch OSC control template (a separate third-party app for iOS and Android) now has a to button sync up MIDI CC settings and doesn’t require a separate patch. The Lo-Ram mode no longer requires loading a new patch – it’s now a Speed Control toggle button that enables and disables Kontakt time-stretching to modify note and transition lengths. In my testing the 16-bit stereo patch was 188.09 MB without Speed Control and 0.58 GB with Speed Control enabled. A side-benefit of this is that there are fewer presets to sift through, just three per mic option: one designed for mod-wheel control, another for mod-wheel and expression pedal, and a third for full the gamut of control options.
Embertone has made a habit so far of showcasing new features in each solo string release and then bringing the features to existing instruments. Just as the Blakus Cello introduced a new approach to bowing control and improved dynamics which were later added to the Friedlander Violin. Embertone has said they plan to bring these features to other releases.
How’s it Compare to the Rest of Friedlander Strings?
I spent a lot of time using the Fischer Viola in quartets with Embertone’s Blakus Cello and Friedlander Violin and found it very easy going back and forth between them. There was never a moment where I missed a feature from an earlier library in the Fischer Viola (quite to the contrary) and all the articulations I looked for were present. In terms of the shorts sampling, it has 4x round-robin for the staccato (compared to 8 in Friedlander and Blakus) and 4x for the pizzicato (same as Friedlander but half as many as Blakus).
Is It Right for You?
The Fischer Viola represents a refinement of the existing Embertone Solo strings, and I recommend it to the same users: if you liked their previous solo strings, this one is the next step forward. It’s the best scripted, easiest to use and most efficient solo string I’ve reviewed from Embertone so far and there’s even less competition for sampled violas than for sampled violins and cellos.
Falcon might very well be the most powerful synth/sampler ever made, with a large number of oscillator types, modulators, and effects. Our reviewer continues to go through many of its features.
by Rob Mitchell, March 2016
First of all, I just wanted to mention that if you haven’t checked out the first half of this review, you really should do that before reading this second half. It is located here: http://soundbytesmag.net/falconbyuvipart1/
It covers the system requirements and installation, and some basics of how to begin creating a program of your own. I also went over some of the oscillator types and how they operate. In this half of the review, I will go over the filters, modulation, and effects. There is so much to cover in this huge synth/sampler that it is nearly impossible to cover every single feature in it.
After adding an oscillator of your choice, you might want to add some type of filter to the program you’re designing. These can be added at the Master, Program, Layer, and Keygroup levels, and can be found in the “FX” menu for each of those levels. At first I thought this was little confusing, as I wasn’t thinking of filters as “effects”. Many times I would find myself looking elsewhere for them, until I got used to where they were actually located.
For now, I won’t get into all the various ways the filters can be modulated, as there are really just an enormous array of possibilities here. There are fourteen different types of filters, giving you a hefty number that you can choose from. Some of the filter types include Analog, Biquad, Comb, Vowel, and the Xpander filter.
The Analog filter has three different modes from which you can select: low pass, high pass, and band pass. It also uses standard cutoff and resonance controls. According to the manual, this was modeled after a certain American synthesizer company’s filter. The Biquad filter is similar to the Analog type, but it also has a notch filter type within it. The Comb filter works in the standard way, using a delayed signal that is routed back into the original signal. It can then be added or subtracted from the original signal, and this can give you some interesting results. This filter type also has frequency cutoff and resonance controls.
The Vowel filter lets you morph between two different vowel settings. You can choose these vowel settings using the Filter A and Filter B menus. The included filter included has a low pass, band pass, and high pass settings. Other controls include “Q” to change the filter’s shape, “Num Formants” adjust the number of formants, and the formant frequencies can be changed using the “Formant” control.
The Xpander filter includes cutoff, resonance and key-tracking controls. The standout within this filter is the 37 variations you are able to select from. They say it is built upon a ladder filter type, but it doesn’t just stop with a classic 4-pole filter. It definitely has that classic type of low pass filter sound, but it also includes HP (high pass), BP (band pass), AP (all pass), PF (peak filter), and T (twin filter), and various combinations of these types as well. UVI has been generous with the Xpander filter, as there are also a good deal of pole amounts to choose from for many of those filter types. To change between them, you click on the filter display and then choose the one you’d like. To the right of that same display I mentioned is a bipolar drive control. This lets you dial in an amount of overdrive for the filter being used. The overdrive types they’ve added are Soft Saturation, Hard Clip, and Linear, letting you add some great crunch and grit to the sound.
Modulation and Scripting
In the filter section, I had mentioned there were many ways to modulate the parameters. I wasn’t kidding, as with a simple right-click upon just about any control within Falcon will show you just how much of which it is capable. To change a modulation setting you might have added previously, you can right-click on the same control you added it to, and then select “Edit Modulation”. There is a lot of freedom here for you to experiment and get some complex configurations happening. For instance, maybe I want the shelf frequency of an 8-band EQ and/or delay time of a delay effect to be controlled by the modulation wheel, LFO, or external MIDI CC. Then again, maybe you want to assign one of them to use a multistage envelope, or opt to use the host automation. It is up to you, and there are vast amounts of control possibilities here. Also, you can keep adding new LFOs and envelopes (or other effects) unlike some other synths which have a fixed amount for each. Of course, if you have a lot going on modulation-wise, this may affect the CPU usage.
The modulation generators can be added at any level of your program, and can affect nearly any part of Falcon. They can even be used to control another modulator. The modulators include many types of envelopes, and some of them are simpler than others, which is great for certain types of tasks. The basic “Attack Decay” envelope is an example of this, but there are others such as the “Analog ADSR” and the “DAHDSR” envelopes to cover more detailed modulations. Going a step further, there is the “Multi Envelope” which can use any number of points to define the envelope, and the “Step Envelope” can be used as a programmable pattern sequencer. A very capable LFO with 10 different waveform shapes is also available. One of those waveforms is actually a custom editable waveform, so you can design your own shape. The LFO also has other important features such as tempo sync, smoothing, and delay amount.
Falcon’s OSC (Open Sound Control) is a function which lets you control a parameter externally. You right-click a control, click OSC, and the parameter’s path will be displayed. You are then able to copy this and use it in another application. This lets another app or device control Falcon, as long as it also supports OSC.
The Event processors in Falcon can process the MIDI signal in many ways. Building upon this, UVI added in UVIScript, which is based on the Lua language. It is a scripting language that enables you to use your own commands for the event processors. Using that coding, you’re able to go beyond Falcon’s built-in capabilities and create different types of script processors. These can expand the already powerful features of Falcon, and let you tap your own creativity.
If you need some help in getting started with Lua, UVI included some scripts that you can study. Going through the scripts in this manner will give you ideas for your own, since you can see how they were put together. Some of these include a tonal harmonizer, MIDI player, a variety of arpeggiated patterns, micro tuning, timbre shifting, and there are several others.
There is full documentation on the UVIScript located here:
For more information on Lua, you can check this website:
Falcon includes a large number of quality effects. Just as I mentioned with the filters, the various effects can be added at the Master, Program, Layer, and Keygroup levels. Some of the effects that I really like are the Dual Delay, Sparkverb, Redux, Spectrum Analyzer, and the 8 band EQ. For now, I will go over some of those effects I mentioned, and cover some of their details for you.
The Dual Delay has a useful display that helps you to visualize what is going on with the effect. In its “Delay” section, controls are included to adjust the delay length and feedback amount. The delay times can be set to a millisecond amount, or to a bars/beat setting if you switched on the tempo sync feature. The L/R controls for both delay and feedback let you set the levels between the channels. With the Depth and Rate controls, you’re able to use a detune amount for the delays, and set the rate of the modulation. Separate low and high filters affect only the wet signal, leaving the dry part of the signal alone. The Rotation section can adjust phase amounts for the separate signals: Input, Output, and Feedback.
Sparkverb is an algorithmic reverb with a colorful frequency-based display. The room size, shape, and pre-delay controls are along the left side, with room lengths varying between 4 to 50 meters. It also has a “Density” menu where you can choose from different levels for the reflection amount. Its “Decay” section has controls to change low and high frequencies (using Low and High Crossover) and the amount for each of those. Adding to this, you’re able to adjust the amount of modulation for the decay and its rate.
Redux is a very useful effect for the creation of lo-fi types of sounds. Some of the many controls in this effect are for resampling frequency, bit-depth amount, and dithered noise (a type of randomized noise). In its filter section, you can set the filter so it’s either before or after the resampling process, or it can be turned off completely. Low pass, band pass and high pass filter types are here, and standard cutoff/resonance controls.
There are many more effects within Falcon for you to explore. Some of these include a phaser, flanger, chorus, a maximizer, limiter, various distortions, compressors, limiters, and Ireverb (a convolution reverb). Legacy effects are also here, and they provide support for old programs you may have, such as any that might have been put together with the UVI Workstation. For example, if you have Darklight IIx and load that into Falcon, the effects it used will work just like before. However, they do recommend using only the newer effects for any new programs you may design going forward.
I really like the way they’ve made it possible to configure the display. You can set it up so only the parts of the program that you’d like to see are visible. The buttons for this feature in the upper-right, so you can (for instance) just have the oscillator section on the screen. Or you maybe you still want all of the sections visible, but you might not need all the details for each of them to be displayed. They’ve made this possible too, so you’re able to minimize each of the separate sections of the program with which you’re working.
At $349 USD, Falcon might not be the cheapest hybrid/synth sampler you’ll run into, but it’s not the most expensive one either. When you think of what is included, it really is like having many plugins combined together. In that respect, it’s my opinion that they’ve priced it just right. UVI do have sales here and there, but I can’t guarantee if Falcon will be included in one of those. As for its performance, I can say it worked very well on my Windows 8.1 PC, with both the standalone version, and when I had it loaded into my DAW (Sonar X3 Producer).
Importing your own samples, loading an almost limitless number of oscillators (depends on CPU of course), having access to its extensive modulation and effects makes for a highly capable piece of virtual gear. I also love the fact it can load in other sound libraries offered by UVI, since they already have a huge catalog of titles available. The documentation is top notch, covering everything in detail. Even though Falcon is super-powerful and impressive, it’s still fun to use at the same time. Highly recommended.
You can get more information on Falcon from the UVI site located here:
Chris Hein has done it again. Orchestral Brass Complete instruments sounds so authentic and detailed that you can easily use as solo instruments or all together in a crowded orchestral arrangement.
by A. Arsov, March 2016
What It Is
Orchetral Brass Complete is probably the most detailed orchestral brass library that you can find at the moment. All articulations are her: all those captured sharp edges in a higher register and all those changes during the note durations. It would be hard to find these things anywhere else. Chris Hein has done the job once again. This library’s strongest point is that it shines in all those solo brass parts where an instrument should sound as real as it can, being at the same time a perfect tool for big orchestral arrangements where the whole brass section should blend nicely with other material at the same quality level as modern string libraries that offer the highest level of authentic orchestral experience.
At first I thought it would be a bit of a problem to mimic a main brass orchestra section in a big orchestral chorus, as all instruments are recorded only with close microphone positions (orchestra instruments are usually recorded with three different microphone positions: close, mid and far), but after decreasing the reverb level (actually applying more reverb) I got great results even with one french horn having the main melody doubled in octave along with an additional solo trombone playing a similar line in octaves. Of course everything became just perfect when I added a few different articulations through key-switches that are placed at the lower part of the keyboard. Actually, the whole line could even work without adding those different articulations, as the default one, the Dynamic Expression Long articulation, has quite a fast and sharp attack and therefore can swallow a few staccato notes without any problems, along with long legato ones. So, why then have switching articulations? Because in short, staccato articulation, a short note sounds very expressive and authentic, while playing staccato notes in long articulations can make for a robotic effect.
The library brings three different horns along with one Horn Ensemble with some additional options aimed just at that ensemble purpose, like Spread that controls the width between instruments inside an ensemble. Then we get three different trombones, again with Trombone Ensemble and three different trumpets with Trumpet Ensemble. As all instruments are recorded in identical rooms you can freely combine horns with trombones and trumpets in any combination to build your own ensemble. Every instrument takes around 300 MB of RAM, while some ensembles take much more, like Horn Ensemble that takes almost 1 GB, while trombone and trumpet take around 600 MB. So, it is almost the same if you build your ensemble from scratch, giving you even more freedom or using Ensemble patch.
The whole graphical interface is divided into a few main parts, reachable through a menu at the bottom. The first one is Basic, followed by the Articulation Preset section, Settings section and Vibrato section.
The Basic section contains four additional sub-windows. The first one is Play, actually the default one, showing which note is played, then the Control window where we see some basic settings along with the option to set the amount of Vibrato and Xfade settings. The last one (as what looks like a new window on the right side is just info about the current articulation) is called Room, where we can choose between 40 different convolution spaces, setting the amount of applied reverb and predelay, plus 23 different short impulse responses for taming the body of reverb.
The next big part is the Articulation presets page. There we can find plenty of different controllers that can be independently set for any of the 26 different key-switches. All key-switches are divided into three general groups: Long, Short and Special. In the Long group we can find the Sustain articulation, Crescendo and Flutter Tongue, along with two Dynamic Expressions – one long and one short. In the Short group we have bunch of short articulations with different characters and different release times – actually, not with different release times but maybe we should say different lengths of body of a short note. Of course all those short articulations, as with others, can be further tamed with Note Head and Stack functions that allow you to apply further settings for attack and release, making your brass take as realistic as it could be. Actually, in some normal arrangements you will probably never touch those functions, as with basic key-switches you can produce fantastic results, but as soon as you program a solo part (this library is absolutely perfect for such tasks) then maybe these additional options can come in handy. The last group is Special, where we can find Run Up, Run Down, Fall and two Rips. The latter was actually a three-note fast run.
Of course, there is a wealth of additional settings for every articulation. Dynamics can be controlled simply through keyboard velocity or even through various other functions, one of them being Auto X Fade with its graphical editor where you can draw your own volume curve relatively to velocity. There are also settings for Legato and Glide functions. The last one, Glide, is especially interesting as you can make smooth glide notes from note to note or even bunches of notes. There is also plenty of additional settings for Legato offsets. Then we have controllers for speed, volume panorama and transpose along with attack and sustain settings for setting the transients of the tones in the Transient section. In all these windows you can also find an editor where you can rearrange key-switches, adding different articulations on different keys, not to mention setting hot-keys for those articulations to be applied only when the hot-key is pressed.
After the Articulation page comes a Settings page that is accessible through a small menu at the bottom of the graphical interface. There we can apply micro-tuning changes for every note in the scale. In this page we also find additional controllers to set pitch band range for every articulation or to tame ADSR envelopes or to set a dynamic curve to adapt the velocity sensitivity to your playing habits. And there is even an option to set release effects that are applied when you release the note.
The last window is reserved for vibrato where you can set many options for vibrato behaviour. The basic ones are those where vibrato is controlled through the mod-wheel. There you can chose between different wave shapes that can drive LFO and a few other settings. In this Vibrato window is also an additional window where you can draw a curve for Volume, Tune and Speed that will be automatically applied to longer notes over time without using the mod-wheel.
We could go further listing some additional settings and controllers, but I son’t think this is necessary because we went through most of the important ones.
The whole library is very detailed, with a great set of carefully chosen, fine sounding articulations. All instruments sound very detailed with a well defined, clear and sharp attack and a strong and stable tone. Snappy attack and sharp tones cause those Brass section parts to easily cut through the mix without loosing their original character. The best thing about this library is that all sounds are programmed and sampled at such a high quality level that all instruments can stand their own, allowing you to use them as solo instruments that will sound authentic even without any additional background music or noise. On the other hand the sound great in any crowded orchestral arrangement, nicely blending with all other orchestral instruments (of course, with a touch of a common reverb used on the whole orchestra helps).
The orchestral brass parts produced with this library sound great even by simple use of different articulations for different note lengths, without any need of additional programming. On the other hand, if you are a control freak, there are still plenty of controllers that can occupy your attention for a long, long time, fixing and taming the tiniest detail. I’m not that sort of person. If something sounds right, then it sounds right, and Orchestral Brass Complete sounds just perfect.
If money, or even available RAM, is a bit tight then Bestservice can offer you the Compact edition of the same library: same instruments with fewer articulations and a slightly lower quality of samples for a less money. All instruments use less than 100 MB of RAM, offering five basic articulations: Legato, Dynamic Expression and Short 1, 2 and 3. Also we get only one main editing window with most of the essential controllers: Dynamic, Note Head, Vibrato, complete Room section, Transient with attack and release along with Ensemble section bringing voice, spread and detune functions. While the Complete version sports 50,000 samples weighing in at 12 GB, Compact comes with 27,000 samples using just 7 GB of disk space.
The end result may not be as extra-smooth, sharp, bright or as totally well-defined as in the Complete version, but still quite close and still very useful – better than most other libraries in that price range.
The Complete version will cost you €299 EUR, and Compact €169 EUR.
More info at
Phil Burk is the designer of many of the digital audio tools you might be using right now. We present an in-depth interview with him here.
by Warren Burt, March 2016
Phil Burk is one of the driving forces behind digital audio and advanced music applications these days. After many years of other projects, he’s now working for Google, developing audio and MIDI standards for the Android platform. As he points out, this has the potential to (literally) be a game changer in the world of portable computer music.
SoundBytes: First of all, a brief bio for our readers. What’s your background in technology, in music?
Phil Burk: I started building simple radio circuits in 6th grade. My first programming experience was on our high school’s one computer. It was basically a programmable calculator. I was a bit of a nerd so I hung out in the library calculating rotational energy quanta for small molecules for reasons that now escape me.
After UC Berkeley I wanted a synthesizer so I could make weird sounds. But I did not have any money. So I started building synth modules out of op-amps and surplus parts. Around 1979, I built one synth in a shoe box with spring connectors. It was built using LM3900 op amps. Two VCOs, sample/hold, mixer, amp, pulse generator for about $5 in parts.
I then built a Z80 kit and started doing machine language programming. I experimented with lots of circuits, variable rate digital oscillators, phase locked loops, guitar synths – great fun.
Things got serious when I started working with the folks at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music. I met Larry Polansky and David Rosenboom. They had a grant to develop an experimental music language called HMSL. This was a toolbox for manipulating multi-dimensional shapes and organizing intelligent objects into a musical hierarchy. I wrote a Forth compiler in assembly and then we built HMSL on top of that. It ran on Mac and Amiga. We added support for the Motorola DSP 56000 so we could do real-time synthesis. This helped greatly with my long term goal of making even more weird sounds.
In 1992 I left academia and started working in Silicon Valley at a startup called 3DO. We developed the first software synthesis based audio system on a game console.
After 3DO I work on various projects including JSyn, a Java synthesis API, and a MIDI ringtone synth. I also did contracting for Sony PS3.
SB: Where did you grow up?
PB: I grew up mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area – Fremont and Berkeley. I spent one year in London when I was 12.
SB: Who are some of the people you’ve worked with?
PB: As far as playing music, my closest collaborator is Todd Telford. He and I have been improvising together on guitar and electronics for 40 years. Egad, that’s a long time.
Then I worked very closely with Larry Polansky, an amazing composer, theoretician, and programmer who introduced me to the world of computer music. While I was at Mills College, I worked with Tom Erbe who wrote SoundHack, and folks from the pioneering Hub network band, Scot Gresham-Lancaster, Chris Brown, and John Bischoff who were all on faculty. I also met Robert Marsanyi, a very creative composer and programmer. I worked with Robert on several projects over the years. I also wrote some pieces and performed with Jeanne Parson. Jeanne later introduced me to the 3DO folks.
Through HMSL I met Nick Didkovsky. He came out to California and slept on my floor so we could hack a Lisp compiler in Forth and write some music pieces. Nick has an amazing band called Doctor Nerve and used HMSL to compose pieces for them to play. Nick and I also worked on JSyn and JMSL together.
I wrote the software for a couple pieces for Phil Corner, a member of the New York Fluxus movement. [Ed: An art movement which started in New York in the 60s which emphasized performance, installation, instructional notation, the use of everyday activities in art work, etc. It’s still alive and well.]
Don Buchla had close ties to Mills College and I ended up writing some software for him.
When I went to 3DO I worked with RJ Mical, Dale Luck and other folks who were on the Amiga OS team. I learned a lot from them about OS design and software architecture.
I met Ross Bencina online.[Ed: Ross is the developer of AudioMulch, interactive music software for Mac and PC.] He and I were both working on a host independent audio API. So we joined forces and created PortAudio.
After 3DO I met Max Neuhaus, who was also part of the New York Fluxus scene. Max was a percussionist and sound artist who was also the first person to connect the phone system to the radio. He did it to create a collaborative sound piece but ended up inventing call-in radio. Max recruited me to work with him on an online voice driven sound piece called Auracle. We then worked together on several sound installations. He designed the sound and provided the artistic concept. I wrote the software and built the hardware. These systems are installed at Dia Beacon Art Gallery in New York, The Menil Museum in Houston, a square in Stommeln Germany and a site in Kassel Germany.
SB: What brought you to Google (besides a number 40 or 120 bus (grin))?
PB: I had worked at home for 15 years and needed to get back out in the world. I was using a lot of Google products, including Search, Android, App Engine, Docs, etc and really liked what they were doing. So when Google called to recruit me I took the bait. I dreaded the 4 hour bus commute each day. But it turned out to be a good decision. And the bus has wifi, which I am using now to write this email.
Google is a pretty mind boggling place to work. They have lots of big ideas and the resources to pursue them. And it’s fun working on products that get used by so many people.
SB: Describe the Android Audio project for us.
PB: We are working on a project called “Android Pro Audio”. Basically we are trying to improve Android as a platform for developing music performance apps.
SB: Why is this necessary?
PB: Some developers were reluctant to develop music performance apps for Android. They wanted three things: low latency, MIDI support and USB audio support. So we decided to focus on those areas.
The most important issue was the audio latency. Latency is the time between a user input, like pressing a key on a keyboard, to the resulting sound output. This needs to be very low for an instrument to feel responsive. If you can notice the latency then it is way too high. Android latency used to be in the range of 100-300 milliseconds. That is fine for playing videos or MP3s. But higher than you would want for a music performance app.
Glenn Kasten has been leading the effort to lower that latency. This is a system wide project that involves working with manufacturers who write the device drivers, and working internally on reducing buffer sizes and managing CPU performance. We can now achieve latencies under 20 milliseconds on some devices. The goal now is to get those better numbers out to as many devices as possible, and to drive the numbers even lower.
SB: What platforms will it work on?
PB: The latency has been getting lower and lower with each OS release. USB audio was added to the Lollipop release by Paul Mclean. Mike Lockwood and I added MIDI support to Marshmallow.
Late breaking news: The N preview release of the Android OS has some new methods that allow apps to cut their Java audio latency by 50-100 milliseconds. Look for AudioAttributes.FLAG_LOW_LATENCY, AudioTrack.setBufferSizeInFrames() and AudioTrack.getUnderrunCount(). Details will be added to the Android docs. This information was not public when we did the interview but now it is OK to talk about.
SB: How will it incorporate MIDI?
PB: We support USB-MIDI so you can plug a MIDI keyboard into an Android phone or tablet and play it as a synthesizer. We also support the new Bluetooth LE MIDI standard for wireless connections. Expect to see more BLE-MIDI controllers coming out over the next year. And we support MIDI message passing between applications. So developers can write a synthesizer that receives MIDI messages from a composing app written by someone else.
SB: Am I correct in assuming that this will apply to all Android devices, and that one will be able to use MIDI like this on both an Android phone as well as a tablet?
PB: Android MIDI should work on most Android devices that are running Marshmallow (M) or later versions of Android. This includes phones, tablets, and even Android TVs. Android MIDI would normally be used to plug a MIDI controller into a phone. But Android devices can also be used as a multi-touch MIDI controller and plugged into a laptop. The manufacturer needs to enable some USB features in order for Android to work as a controller. But we expect most manufacturers will do that.
M is now on Nexus devices and will be available on many other phones in the near future. Older phones may not be able to run on M. There are too many phones to say which ones will or will not run M.
SB: Can we expect an Android app similar to Audiobus where we can interconnect various sound making and processing apps, along with MIDI information flowing between them?
PB: Android MIDI allows you to send MIDI data between apps. But we don’t currently have any way to send audio data between apps. Lots of people have asked for that. So we are trying to figure out the best way to do that securely and with low latency.
SB: And will there eventually be apps like MusicIO and StudioMux, both of which allow audio and MIDI flow along USB between Android devices and laptops, or even (heavens!) between Android and iOS devices?
PB: On Marshmallow, you can send MIDI between Android devices or between Android and laptops. Sending audio between devices using USB is possible but not well supported on all devices.
SB: If I have an old Android 2 tablet, is there any way I can upgrade it to have Android Audio (and MIDI) working on it?
PB: This is up to the manufacturer. It is hard to back port new operating systems onto old hardware. So you typically only get OS upgrades for 2-3 years after a product is released.
It will take a while for these changes to become common on Android devices. But the sooner we start the sooner that will happen. I would love to someday see a billion affordable Android devices capable of running killer music apps.
SB: About your other projects – tell us a little bit about Jsyn. Is it still available, and in what form?
PB: JSyn is a synthesizer toolkit for Java. It is distributed as a JAR file.
If you are writing a Java program, then you can use JSyn to create modules like oscillators, filters, and envelopes. You can connect them together to make big complex patches and control them very precisely. JSyn has over a hundred different kinds of modules, or “unit generators”, including granular synthesizers, wave-shapers, various ramps, sample players, several noise sources, Moog style filters, etc.
JSyn has been in continuous development since 1997. When it started, the synthesis engine was in ‘C’ with a thin Java layer on top. But it was a nightmare to maintain the native ‘C’ code on Linux, Mac and Windows and for multiple browser plugins. So in 2010 I updated the API and converted JSyn to pure Java. Now it is much more portable and easy to maintain. It runs about 80% as fast as the ‘C’ code. But I am about 10 times more productive now that JSyn is in pure Java.
I released the source code on GitHub. JSyn can be used freely under the Apache Open Source license. The JSyn source code is available at: https://github.com/philburk/jsyn. More information about JSyn, including documentation, is at: http://www.softsynth.com/jsyn/. Pre-compiled JSyn JAR files are at http://www.softsynth.com/jsyn/developers/download.php.
SB: And along those lines, you were instrumental in programming the HMSL algorithmic music language, one of the first, and most unique. Is there any chance we can see HMSL revived in some form on the Android platform?
PB: We are reviving HMSL to run on modern Mac and Windows. People will be able to experience 1980’s style experimental music using the original software. But HMSL is very text oriented. It is an interactive programming environment that is good for live coding. So I don’t think it would adapt well for phones and tablets. There are no plans to port it to Android.
Nick Didkovsky is working on JMSL, which is a Java toolkit based on the ideas of HMSL. It supports multi-dimensional abstract music shapes, hierarchical composing objects, and algorithmic composition tools. Maybe we can talk Nick into porting it to Android.
SB: Tell us a bit about your own music – I’m specifically curious about how you made Glass Hand Duet #2, and SubDiv C30 T10, both of which are on your Sound Cloud site: https://soundcloud.com/phil-burk
PB: Glass Hand Duet #2 is a live recording made by Nick Didkovsky and I back in 1999. Nick was in New York and I was in California. We were both running a JSyn Applet in a web browser. The Applets were communicating through a TransJam server that I wrote. The server is kind of like a multiplayer game server, but very general purpose. John Bischoff came up with the idea for the piece and created the raw sounds. I wrote the JSyn Applet. The sounds are generated by “scratching” over a sample at a high rate using an oscillator.
SubDiv C30 T10 was composed by Phil Corner in 1987. It involves subdividing a measure into N equal duration notes, where N can be an integer between 1 and 20. The note pitch is higher when N is higher. Several values for N are chosen and played together on a Yamaha FB-01 using an HMSL program that I wrote. This creates interesting symmetric poly-rhythms. The C30 refers to cassette #30. I have about 60 old cassette tapes that I am digitizing.
SB: Well, we’ll look forward to hearing more of them. Thanks very much, Phil Burk.
PB: You’re welcome. A pleasure.
Vojtech Meluzin, the man who is MeldaProduction, offers some very compelling arguments why digital is really a superior medium for modern music production.
SoundBytes Magazine, March 2016
Vojtech Meluzin is the prolific software developer who is responsible for all the many offerings of MeldaProduction. We recently interviewed Vojtech in these pages:
Vojtech is also a very active participant in his MeldaProduction forum at KVR:
In a recent thread, one of Melda’s users expressed his gratitude about the clean sound of MeldaProduction software gear. Vojtech responded with an uncharacteristically long post that was both compelling and entertaining. We asked if he would be willing to adapt it for publication in SoundBytes and he graciously assented. So, without further ado, take it away, Vojtech …
My dad is in the electronics industry, and I was playing with electronics many years ago myself, so I know a little about it. But that was then – not much anymore, so don’t start testing me 😀 . One of the biggest problems is that nothing is even close to being perfect in physical electronic components. A condenser marked 100uF is more likely to be in somewhere between 98 and 102uF and that can vary with temperature, etc. Transistors/valves don’t have linear response. So I can only imagine how hard it is to make something at least close to perfection. My dad actually develops things like that for measurement technologies and it’s sometimes really funny what needs to be done … it’s often more like a probability game.
So in the end the poor analog engineers just must cope with all that and survive the fact that you cannot achieve perfection in the analog domain. But with digital evolution they faced the big trouble: the only remaining advantage of analog is the fact that there is no latency. That’s not much of an advantage really, considering that we can easily get latencies below 10ms these days, even with very complicated processing in digital; that equals being just 3 meters from the monitors, so it’s almost irrelevant even for live mixing.
So, the corporate PR had to come up with some serious marketing. One thing you need to realize is that fact that the companies that develop hardware gear are MUCH bigger than any software developer. They need to be. Developing software is much cheaper than developing hardware, there’s no doubt about that. I just don’t envy them 😀 . So the fight between us developers and those giants is like fight between a garage inventor and the car industry. The inventor just doesn’t have a chance. That’s why we still rely on fossil fuels despite the fact that it has long been proven that it destroys the planet … big time!
The general customer typically does not have sufficient knowledge and it becomes all about money. Fortunately the question of analog vs. digital isn’t that serious. You simply have to choose between spending lots of money for ancient hardware crap that looks good in your studio (or its digital clone 😀 ), or embrace the digital domain, save money, make your life easier, and get more functionality.
So what are the “advantages” of analog that these marketing experts and dinosaurs stubbornly insist on filling you with? Let’s enumerate …
– It adds analog warmth. What is that? It’s just the never-ending nonlinearities. Just use some saturation … ahem, like the Melda MMultiBandSaturator or the saturation knob we have in many other Melda plugins. It creates some higher harmonics, and, yes, it can make it sound slightly richer, but also somewhat distorted – that’s how it works after all. What the analog engineers tried to do is to remove these nonlinearities! But they cannot, so the PR turned it into something awesome by using these great words – classic Freudian persuasion, but there’s really no big magic behind them.
– It adds some random imperfections. First of all, analog gear is mainly used on acoustic music, where imperfections are done by the musicians themselves, so you really don’t need any more supplied by technology. And if you do, just use the modulators in any of your plugins. You can randomize just about anything, if that’s really what you need. For the record, these imperfections are generally inaudible on the high end stuff. It’s just another manufactured “positive” inspired by the fact that every time you process sound with analog using the same settings, the output will be slightly different, which isn’t a positive really (probably not a negative either, though, except for scientific pursuits where it is a problem).
– It has been used for many decades now, so it must be great. Now every time I hear this nonsense, I’m losing hope for humanity 😀 . And it’s actually the most-used argument for analog. “The big guys are using that, so it must be awesome …”. Seriously? That’s like saying that since my great-great-grandfather was travelling in steam-engine-powered trains, then I should too. Obviously nobody does that, because that would just be stupid. We have much more powerful and effective technologies today. And the same is true for audio processing. You can stay in the past and use steam-engine-based audio processing, or embrace solar-powered-based ones and go into the future.
I actually think it’s all about the fact that human capability to learn reaches close to zero after the age of 30. Sadly I’m guilty of that as well, but I’m trying to stay open-minded.
– If we don’t have analog gear, we need simulations. [Expletive deleted] … 😀 . The important question is why we need analog gear in the first place, and I summed that up above. But if you are not convinced, and many of you are not (especially those of you after 30 – no kidding, that’s a scientific study), let’s see …
Why should it sound exactly like that?? Maybe it can be better! Who says that the way particular analog equipment sounds is the best it can ever sound. I would assert that if anyone says that, then he’s just way too close-minded to even talk to, because saying that something cannot ever be improved is just silly.
Circuit modeling – that’s another thing that’s just beyond me. It’s like asking: why should we make it simple, when it can be complicated? Isn’t it enough that something sounds as good as, or even better, than the original? Who will judge that anyway? Trying to model flawed electronic circuits is just wrong, period!
In the end, it’s just the lack of knowledge in normal people – that’s not a criticism. You should create music, not study things about audio processing and ingest the marketing hype of the big dinosaurs.
So it’s all up to you. But I’m going towards the future as quickly as possible, and the future is digital processing. That’s just how it is. Everyone will have to embrace that one day, and I guarantee there will be a day when all things analog will be considered retro (like vinyl is these days), and will be used only by extremists 😀 . And there won’t be any analog simulations … it all just awaits an open-minded generation to start dominating. But that will take a long time as I see it.
Add some real vocals to your compositions, spice them with some exotic wind lines and finally, master everything with some good software. That is our recipe for this issue – all ingredients included.
by A. Arsov, March 2016
SOFTUBE Drawmer S73
I enjoy making music, less so mixing that music, and most of the time I’m on the thin edge of trying not to ruin all my efforts with mastering. Playing with a multi-band compressor is a game that you can’t win, at least if you are not an old, skilled pro engineer. Dreaming that someone will notice your song even if it is not mastered is a bit unrealistic these days. All production is on steroids today, being loud and crisp, wide and in your face without sounding too aggressive. I have some of the best mastering tools available, and over the years I’ve learned how to get decent results. But it’s still challenging and I never know if I’ve overdone it or not.
Given that, I was delighted when I received some info about the Softube intelligent mastering multi-band compressor, advertised as a final mastering solution that can recognize the main problems in your mix, automatically adopting the best settings for it.
Softube Drawmer is not just a multi-band compressor; it hides some mid-side processing under the hood along with crossover filters. Actually, I heard that no less than 40 different parameters are tweaked for every preset. That’s the theory, let’s see how this works in practice. I added Drawmer S73 to my master slot, at first in the old Balkan way, busting everything up to 100% getting not-so-pleasant, hard-as-nails results. But after a few more cultivated approaches, using just 30 to 40% compression (actually decreasing the threshold), setting the wet/dry ratio to 50% (using parallel compression) realizing that it really solved most of the issues that I noticed in some of my percussion-heavy arrangements containing much in the way of orchestral drums and heavy guitars. The only problem is that you can only use one style at a time. To be honest, my mix lacked a bit clarity (style 1 in the Clean preset category), punch (first style in the Bass Control category) and most of my mixes could be a bit wider (again, the first style, this time in the Spatial section).
Style represents a collection of ready-made processing techniques that skilled mastering engineers would use under such circumstances. It proved to be fantastic tool, but at the same time, like a golden blanket, a bit too short. Cover your legs and the upper part of the body will remain uncovered, pull the blanket up to your neck and your legs will be bare. Thankfully, product specialists from Softube pointed me to one video where some fellow analyzed the plug-in showing how we can achieve great results by putting three instances of Drawmer S73 in a row, using every instance for a different style. Five minutes later I find my ideal, idiot-proof mastering solution. Even if you are a total mastering novice (to use this term politely) you can get quite professional results just by setting compression ratio to around 35% and setting the wet/dry ratio to around 50%, using the first instance to add Punch, the second one using Wide Mix style, adding Air to the same instance. At least for my mixes Clarity 1 style works best on the third instance. The end result is quite impressive, not exactly as I can achieve with my fancy top notch more expensive pro mastering bundle, but nevertheless it gives you great results even if you are totally unfamiliar with mastering (which is not exactly the case with other advanced mastering tools).
If there will be many details, then this piece of software would definitely not fit in Essentials. First we can see Amount, a knob for applying compression. It is some sort of threshold control. Air switch for adding some high end. Style section divided into three basic groups. Clean, Bass control and Spatial. In Clean you have various ready-made presets for adding more high end or just taming the perfect mix, adding a touch of compression or more air. Bass Control contains two presets, to add some punch on your low end or to remove some bass if it happens that your mix is too boomy. The last section, Spatial allow you to add some width and ambience if your mix is too dry, and enhance vocals. Of course, Drawmer works perfectly on any buss. You can put it on your drums, vocals or any other group of sounds. There are two more knobs at the bottom. The first one is a dry/wet knob for implementing the parallel compression to your mix and second one is a gain knob for adding extra gain. Be careful, Drawmer S73 does not contain a limiter, so setting some additional clip limiter at the end catching all unwanted peaks is quite important.
It Is …
Drawmer S73 is so simple to use that it is really hard to set it wrong. It will not put your song on total screaming steroids, winning the loudness war, but that is something that no skilled mastering engineer will do. Drawmer S73 adds clarity, punch and width to my mixes, increasing the level and setting compression across the frequency range in a such way, that my song will sound quite good on any system. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a main goal of all mastering. And the price? $99 USD, currently even $77 USD.
Could this be better? Drawmer S73 is nearly perfect as it is, but there is always room for some improvements. I hope that version 2 will allow us to choose more than one style. At least one per every section. Also would like to see two parallel compressors inside, for implementing a lower compression level on every instance instead of squeezing just one compressor (OK, using three in a row definitely gives that non-compressed compressed result). And of course, some optional limiter at the end wouldn’t hurt.
ESSENTIAL for: offering good mastering results without any effort at a very affordable price, and it doesn’t require any additional knowledge or experience in the mastering field.
REALITONE Realvox Ladies 2
This was totally unknown to me until I saw the video on Youtube representing Ladies 2 library. It is quite a simple thing – a library containing short vocal phrases/articulations distributed over the keyboard from five different lady vocalists. Simple, but so effective that I was totally impressed when I tried it for the first time. Every lady comes with quite an impressive number of articulations, 58 to be precise. You can use chords, building complicated staccato lines, or you can use the Legato function that will turn all articulations into legato, jointing notes in a very natural way. The main advantage of this library is that almost all lines will sounds very authentic, like a real vocalist, and there is almost no way to recognize that it is played with a keyboard, triggering samples. I have reviewed plenty of vocal libraries, always judging them in the context of the current batch of vocal sampling possibilities, knowing how far voice emulation can go, but this one is a bit out of that range. I don’t know what sort of magic they use at Realitone, and I don’t even care. You can’t compile sentences from these articulations, but otherwise, it really does the job. Absolutely the most authentic vocal library that I have ever heard (and I have quite an impressive number of voice libraries).
You can even combine various ladies from libraries to sing in choir, but don’t mix the conceptions, this is not Choir library, it is a library mainly compiled for backing vocals. You can make great background vocals with Ladies 2, or you can even make some main non verbal line, but you can’t use it as a big choir substitute.
Five included ladies cover the full range of vocal styles. One has a classical soprano voice, the others are more jazzy, ethno, soulful R&B, rock sounding. Some articulations work better in legato, some as a phrase. Also, there are plenty of controllers to fine tune or even to quite drastically change the voice timbre, even so much that you can make a mini child choir combining two or three voices by pushing the Timbre control in the main page of the graphical interface.
What Can Be Done
Ladies library comes with four different windows that can be reached through the menu at the bottom of the graphical interface. In the first Main Page window we can chose our vocalist, apply reverb, delay, attack, change the timbre, choose an articulation (between those that you have implemented on the Articulation Page) and set play mode choosing between Legato, Phrase or Poly.
The next window, Mixer, contains up to ten slots to fill with various combinations of those five vocalists, building a choir that will sing the selected articulation. For every vocalist you can set timbre, volume, pan, offset delay and tune.
On the Articulation page you can choose between various articulations or even build a new one, combining the existing one.
The last settings page allows us to tame details, like choosing between various attacks, a few release shapes, the setting time and amount for delay and reverb, two options for Legato key-switch behavior, two additional vibrato controllers, octave shift options and an option for changing general graphic from red to a more chic, fancy color.
More or less, that’s all there is to it. Actually, the whole thing is not rocket science: chose vocalist, or even a combination of them, chose articulation and bang your keyboard. Can’t be more simple and more authentic. A very simple, but genius plug-in. Absolutely essential, no matter which genre you are in.
Price $310 USD or $150 USD for the Lite version, both working with free Kontakt Player.
ESSENTIAL for: Very authentic and realistic sounding backing vocals, or even lead (non verbal) vocals, a library that gives you great freedom when composing and doesn’t require any additional programming to achieve the best results.
BESTSERVICE Desert Winds
I’m not sure if it ever crossed your mind that you may need such specific instruments as are presented in this small boutique library, but those four ethno winds sound absolutely divine. Even if you are miles away from any ethno music production, those winds can give an extra dimension to your production. Just imagine some ambient, electro, Trop House or even classic pop ballad where all of a sudden appears some mystical, beautifully sounding instrument playing the line that would otherwise be played by a synthesizer or maybe even a guitar in the case of pop song.
Eduardo Tarilonte is an award-winning sample library developer, making many unique libraries covering all sorts of sounds. The whole library contains only four instruments along with some additional drones and various micro-tuned versions of the same instruments covering most of the Arabic and Turkish scales. This would be almost nothing to write home about if those American Duduk, Persian Ney, Turkish Ney and Zourna didn’t sound so good. All four instrument have a quite limited playable range, sometimes even smaller than two octaves, so you need to be careful making your wind line. Also an interesting thing is that all additional articulations, mostly some double notes, vibrato or even staccato with pitch bend, are programmed such that the articulation is active only when the key is pressed. I’m not big fan of this method, but in the case of those winds it even has some advantages, as you can really implement those changes on the fly during a performance. As this is not quite a new library, to say it politely, the whole graphical interface is a bit old school, but still containing all the controllers you need for adapting anything to your need. Included are buttons for Speed, Expression and Legato type for some of the instruments, for others Release knobs along with Reverb, EQ Color, Volume, Pan and Pitch that are presented in all four instruments.
Maybe all this doesn’t look much to you, maybe you have a large number of various wind instruments. But such a breathy one, with so much character, you could even say soul, is nearly impossible to find. So, that’s why this one is essential. It’s not for every taste, but it’s so unique that at least you should listen to the demo clips and decide for yourself.
Price €159 EUR, more info at http://www.bestservice.de/en/desert_winds.html
ESSENTIAL for: those boutique old libraries offer a small quantity of divine sounding, breathy, exotic winds full of unique character, even if not for all occasions.
We thought we’d seen it all, but then we found Alpine Volkmusik, a library that brings an essential set of instruments to help you to recreate authentic Volkmusik Oberkrainer musical backgrounds.
by A. Arsov, March 2016
I’ve got many sound libraries, but so far, this one is absolutely the oddest. I have never been a fan of such music. Do I know this music well? Of course, my home is less than 6 km away from Slavko Avsenik’s home. He is the father of the genre, author and leader of the Oberkrainer Quartet, well-known around the globe for his song “Na Golici”, or as it is called in German, “Trumpeten Echo”. So, you can probably imagine that this song is almost a national anthem in our town, being played at every official occasion.
Let’s Dig Into This Odd World
Actually, instruments that are quite typical for this genre, like staccato Tuba and short aggressive notes of Bass Trombone or even presets filled with short staccato guitar chords and various different sorts of accordions, all those are quite well programmed and sound authentic, at least in the genre’s context (after all, that is main purpose of this library). The truth is that two or three instruments, mostly lead instruments, thankfully those that you can easily find in some other libraries, are not sampled up to the standards of today’s sampling quality. Fiddle (some sort of violin) and Clarinet or even Solo Trumpet and Dulcimer sound like some General MIDI instruments taken from one of those advanced sample libraries from the 90’s, being without any round-robin functions or even additional multi-sample layers. Anyway, I presume most of the producers already own some quality versions of those lead instruments, so for that price they will get quite well-presented instruments that are essential for mimicking an authentic background for this specific genre. So, if you are after such music, this one would still be essential for you no matter that some instruments are not on the same level as productions nowadays. As a pro musician, I presume you own Chris Hein Winds and Horns, so with those instruments in combination with Alpine Volksmusik library, no one will know that you are “virtual Oberkrainer”.
My favorite instruments in this library are various short, aggressive bass winds that are totally authentic and essential for this genre. Also are those short guitar chords, offering all basic variations: minor, major, 7th and a few more variations through key-switches. Guitar chords come in two basic setups, one recorded with electro acoustic guitar and another with nylon acoustic. Also, the accordions are just perfect. I never liked them, but I know them in detail, hearing them all my life on the local buses, or at a local celebration. So they are totally authentic and as far as I banged a few phrases through various accordions (Steirische or “freitoner” accordion – it is the one with knobs instead of keys, largely used in this genre) I found that all are quite playable and if you know how harmonies are built in this genre you will have no problems getting authentic results.
In the library we can also find a few bass guitar presets, one vocal preset with a few spoken phrases and some yodelling (don’t even dare to ask). Cow bell, good sounding drum kit with nice number of snare variations ranked over the lower part of the keyboard. The trumpet ensemble is quite solid, not the best one but pretty useful anyway. There are also the other instruments that we already mentioned – tuba, baritone horn and others.
On a few presets you will need to change the release time – yes, all presets come with an additional set of controllers, so you can change the amount of implemented reverb, attack, release, legato, pan, volume and similar essential things. So back to release time. Waltzer Bass is quite good, after you drastically reduce release time, Dulcimer also needs some reduction in that field.
I know I mentioned a few less than favorable things during the review, but still there is more than enough quality material that can liven up this genre. Actually, count this investment as buying some essential instruments for this specific genre that cannot be found anywhere else. At least those instruments are on such a solid level that with some third party solo instruments, you could easily recreate an Alpine Volksmusik arrangement that will be far away from some general MIDI recreations, sounding as authentic and realistic as sampled music today can sound.
As I’ve made clear, I’m not big fan of such music, but last week while driving my car and listening to local radio, I thought that some songs are not so complicated and could easily be recreated with virtual instruments. All you need is one good clarinet or flute (thanks Chris Hein for those), a good accordion, Bass Trombone, Staccato Tuba, Bass guitar and some acoustic guitar chords along with a good drum kit – all presented in this library. I don’t know … maybe, maybe … actually, never say never.
The library runs on the Best Service Engine and will cost you €199 EUR. More info at:
UVI’s Falcon hybrid software synth has deep proficiencies as both a sample player and a synthesizer. We examine the capabilities in the latter category herein.
by David Baer, March 2016
SoundBytes Magazine has been giving a lot of coverage lately to UVI’s new software instrument Falcon … and for very good reason. If offers a dazzling array of sound creation capabilities, both as a sample player and as a synthesizer (and, of course, both of those things at the same time if such is your goal). In this article, we are going to engage in a detailed examination of the synth oscillators.
Before we dive right in, it’s appropriate to spend a little time reviewing the architectural structure of Falcon in which the oscillators operate. The oscillators exist in a four-layered configuration: a Program is at the top. Programs contain Layers, Layers contain Key Groups, and Key Groups contain oscillators. Actually there’s an even higher layer, the Multi, which contains multiple programs, but that’s not relevant to this discussion.
Significantly, the Program has a specification for the basic MIDI note mapping. Most of the oscillators do not even have control over this other than a fine tune capability in some cases. The Layer is where Unison operation can be specified: multiple, slightly detuned copies of the underlying sound for rich-sounding timbres. But two of the oscillator types also have a “local” unison feature.
The Oscillator level houses one or more individual oscillators (which can be of different types). It has a shared control for course tuning (semitones) and fine tuning (cents). Then there is the triggering mode, an unusual feature for a synth (as opposed to a sample player) in that oscillators can be invoked in a round-robin fashion.
All the levels have their own gain and pan controls. There you have it.
There are eight oscillator types that can be called into service: basic Analog, Analog Stack, Drum, FM, Noise, Organ, Pluck and Wavetable. We will now proceed to examine each individually.
We start with the easiest of the oscillator types, since there’s really nothing here that most readers will not have seen before … seen before a lot, in fact. There’s a single waveform, the choices being: saw, square, triangle, sine, noise, and PWM (pulse width with modulation of wave shape possible). A silent oscillator is on board that can be used for Sync operation. A second level of Unison operation can be set up here as well. There is no provision for supplying a custom waveform – for that one would use the Wavetable oscillator, about which much more will be found shortly.
The PWM control affects pulse width. It is applicable to all wave types. Below you can see the effect upon a sine wave at 10%, 50% (neutral) and 90% settings.
I think a far more satisfying sound-design experience can be achieved with the Analog Stack oscillator. Here we have most of the capabilities of the basic Analog oscillator, minus the Unison capability. But we have eight oscillators, each with individual tuning, gain and pan. Oscillators 2 through 8 can be synced to oscillator 1 as the master.
Even a four-oscillator sound like that defined in the screen shot above can produce a lovely, rich sound. Generally when stacking multiple waves, sticking with square and triangle waves is rewarding, since they have only odd harmonics. The sound in the screen shot could have been improved upon further by duplicating each oscillator, hard panning the duplicates left and right, and making slight detuning tweaks. And, of course, all the controls are modulation targets, so further animation of the sound is possible. In all, there’s nothing new here, but this is fertile ground for excellent sound creation possibilities.
I must confess to having little interest in synthetic drum and percussion sound creation. So the reader will hopefully forgive me for not seeming all that excited about this one – although it should be said that this is a great source of general FX sound possibilities as the factory presets amply demonstrate.
We have two independent oscillators on board, one a waveform and the other noise. The oscillator can hold a saw, pulse, triangle or sine wave, but frequency is fixed in the oscillator and is not key-tracked. The pitch can be modulated with the pitch modulation controls. The effect of this is hard to describe, so some hands-on experimentation would be fruitful. The envelope is a simple attack/decay shape.
The noise unit is a little more complicated. We have a resonant LP filter and another attack/decay envelope (operating on amplitude, not filter cutoff). Velocity can independently control the levels of the wave oscillator amplitude, the depth of pitch modulation and/or noise amplitude.
Finally, we have several controls that affect the combined output of the two component oscillators. There is an EQ feature with frequency and level. This offers a single peak/notch band with a medium Q and a range of -40 dB to +40 dB. There is an onboard distortion effect, about which the documentation tells us nothing other than its name. It’s doesn’t seem to lay it on too thick and for the noise source, it basically just makes the noise portion of the waveform/noise mix louder. Lastly, there is a bidirectional volume control. Again, the purpose of this is not revealed in the documentation (which is mostly adequate if not quite good most of the time). Since this is a modulation target, that alone may justify this control being present, but then, you would think we’d see this control in all the other oscillator types, and we do not.
The FM oscillator brings us a four-operator FM capability, with eleven topologies (or algorithms in DX7-speak). The topologies on tap are shown below.
Although we have only four oscillators with which to work, we could easily create many of the DX7 six-operator patches by employing two Falcon FM oscillators and dividing the work between them. But this won’t work in all cases. Consider the representative DX7 algorithms in the following graphic.
Algorithm numbers 3, 7 and 25 could be easily duplicated in Falcon. For number 4, the feedback routing is not in the Falcon FM repertoire. The same is true for numbers 8 and 26. Nevertheless, the Falcon FM capability is plenty powerful and should satisfy most FM sound designer’s needs, so I don’t mean to imply that this is a serious shortcoming.
Each operator has a toggle labeled HZ. This changes the frequency from a relative ratio to an explicit frequency. If in ratio mode, then Snap locks the ratio to exact harmonic intervals. Level is just what it says. And remember, all of these knobs can be modulation targets.
Boy have we got noise in Falcon! Just check out the choices in the screen image below.
There are fifteen options, eight of which have an additional control. For example, the Band option is white noise run through a band filter, and the associated control is Bandwidth. The center point frequency of that filter is key-tracked at 100%. For a sufficiently narrow bandwidth, one can hear a ghostly melody when playing a sequence of notes on a MIDI controller. Of course, many of the other noise types could produce this same effect with an external, key-tracked band filter appropriately applied.
The other controls are as follows: Sample and Hold provides Rate, Crackle provides Color, Logistics provides Chaos, and Static I, Static II, Dust and Velvet each provide Density.
So what are all these noises like? Many are familiar variations on filtered white noise – that is the “colored” noises. The image below shows the frequency spectrums of these. Amusingly, Brown noise is not named for a color but a 19th century Scottish botanist, but Brown noise is also sometimes known as red noise. Got that? 😀
Now, it could be pointed out that many of the noise types on tap could be produced with white noise and suitable EQ and/or filtering, but where’s the fun in that?
Lorenz and Rossler noise may not be familiar to you. No surprise, since an explanation of either would require some rather intimidating mathematical heavy-lifting. Crackle has a controllable Color property. The Lorenz, Rossler and two variations of Crackle spectrums are seen in the following image.
The Organ oscillator provides a straightforward Hammond-Organ-like set of “drawbar” controls that work just like the real thing. The 8’ drawbar produces a sine wave at concert pitch. 16’ and 5⅓’ provide sine waves that are one-half and three-halves of concert pitch respectively. If the note played on the keyboard is middle C, the remaining drawbars correspond to pitches that are respectively (and approximately): the octave above middle C, the G above that, the next C above that, the E above that, the G above that and the C above that … just like the real thing.
A Hammond-like percussion option completes the story. That’s really all there is to it. Nice organ sounds from a not-very-complicated interface.
Now we get to by far the most complex oscillator to describe, the Pluck oscillator. As you might guess, it excels at pluck-type sounds, but the factory presets surprisingly contain some bowed-string-type sounds as well. The Falcon documentation leaves a bit to be desired for this oscillator type, so we’ll try to make up some lost ground here.
Before we go any further, though, we need to take a detour back to 1983, at which time a paper was published in the Computer Music Journal that described a very clever way to produce reasonably realistic synthetic plucked-string sounds. The authors were Kevin Karplus from Cornell and Alex Strong from Stanford. The Falcon documentation does briefly mention Karplus-Strong, and it’s helpful to understand this background.
The approach that the research team discovered is actually pretty straightforward. Start with a wavetable initialized with random noise (here “wavetable” takes the historical meaning of an array of data holding sample values describing a single waveform cycle). Repeatedly “play” this waveform, replacing the current sample value with the sample value of one cycle previous averaged with its preceding neighbor. We start with noise, but due to the averaging, we rapidly converge on a consonant timbre. The repeated averaging has the added benefit of applying a natural decay to the sound in which higher partials decay faster than lower ones.
This work was done at the dawn of the personal computer era, and the processor speeds were appallingly slow by today’s standards. Because only two numbers were involved in the averaging operation, a division could be avoided, being replaced by a much, much faster right-shift operation. This was actually a pretty big deal given how inefficient division operations where on the computer chips that were state-of-the-art in the early 1980s. The paper speaks of being able to produce maximum playback speeds of 20KHz on the Intel 8080 PC-flagship chip at that time. How very, very far we have come in the intervening third of a century!
But back to the present. Below is the screen image of the Pluck oscillator. The Falcon solution uses Karplus-Strong as a starting point, but takes it considerably further from there.
For one thing, there are three sources of sound excitation: Sample, Synth and Noise. They can be used in solo fashion or mixed together however desired. Let’s start with noise and work our way left. Noise is just that: random sample values. This is where the Karplus-Strong approach is employed and it’s surprising at how good this technique sounds. Look at the three wave displays below. We see images at just after note-on, 200 ms later, and finally one second later. Even in the first few dozens of milliseconds, the averaging operations can be seen to profoundly tame the noise into a more dulcet tone.
There’s more in this case. There are a number of string modeling processes that can be optionally applied like specifying a pick position – plucking near the middle of any string is going to produce a mellower sound that plucking near a termination point.
I will not go into every parameter here. There are quite a few and these are covered in reasonable detail in the documentation. I will point out something that puzzled me for a bit. I could not get the Decay Release control to have any effect. It turned out that there’s an amp envelope also present that trumps the pluck decay parameter. Silly me! 😀
The plot potentially thickens in that a second string can be brought into the picture that is excited by the first (shades of AAS Chromophone!). Learning to program sounds for this oscillator will take some dedicated experimentation. Some tricks are far from obvious, but there are some good factory presets to show you the way.
But back to the excitation sources – let’s look next at the Synth option. Here we start with a waveform that is governed by the Brightness setting (which has no effect on Noise or Sample sources). At minimal brightness, we have what appears to be basically sinusoidal. The image to the right shows the waveforms at respective brightness levels of 0%, 10%, 50% and 100%). This waveform shape appears to stay constant through the decay phase and only the amplitude diminishes in my testing. By itself, Synth is pretty tame, but nicely combines with Noise to mellow out the final product.
Lastly there is the sample excitation source. This can be either a single-cycle waveform or an extended sample. The factory content makes use of both types. You can supply your own wave file via drag and drop. Just don’t expect it to sound like what you’d expect. I tried using a piano sample, for one thing, and it ended up sounding nothing like the original once it had traversed the pluck signal processing path.
All in all, this is a very capable oscillator that does especially well on its namesake sounds. Pluck is an ambitious addition to the feature set. It does not make me contemplate abandoning my excellent collection of AAS physical modeling instruments by any means. But as an additional element in the sound palette, the pluck oscillator is a welcome and somewhat unexpected bonus.
Lastly we arrive at the ever-so-capable Wavetable oscillator type. By “wavetable” here, we apply the more current meaning of the term implying a capability to morph between multiple single-cycle waveforms during playback. But as you’ll see, the morphing is only one of the two dimensions of waveform alteration available.
The factory wave content includes both single and multi-wave offerings. What good is a wavetable with just one waveform, you ask? The Phase Dist control answers that question and we’ll get to that shortly. You can see the factory options in the Single/Sawtooth category below. Eight other single categories include Square, Triangle, Parabolic, etc.
As to multi-wave material, there’s a fair amount of factory content included. Some of the factory-supplied offerings in the Multi/Analog category appear below.
User-supplied waves can be dropped on to the wave window, either single or multi-wave files, wherein the “slices” are just concatenated together to form a multi-cycle sample file. For a multi-cycle file, the file name must end with an underscore followed by the number of samples in each waveform – this is contrary to the instructions in the current documentation, which is in error on this point.
Images can be dropped onto the file window for conversion into audio data – there appears to be an undocumented maximum size for this to work, however.
When working with multi-waves, the Index control, which begs to be modulated with an LFO or envelope, can be used to traverse the individual waveforms. A smoothing option would normally be engaged to make a seamless morph happen. Otherwise an abrupt transition occurs, which might occasionally be preferred for aggressive sound designs.
The other dimension of sound alteration is Phase Distortion. This does things to the linear (time-dimension) spread of the waveform. The image below shows the effect various distortion types have on a basic triangle wave. Here a picture truly is more useful than a thousand words. The Bend+/- option is not shown because it just combings Bend+ and Bend- into one composite operation.
Finally, the right-hand area of the interface provides a unison capability. What’s particularly interesting in this case is the ability to use multiple waveforms in a multi-wave sample set to develop an interesting stereo image.
What more is there to say? Falcon has most impressive synth sound generation capabilities that are well worth taking the time to explore and master. And remember, we’ve only been looking at the sources of synthetic sound. It goes without saying that the modulation possibilities and arsenal of FX modules just makes the whole story all that more impressive.
Native Instruments Action Strings is one of the most unique and innovative cinematic tools that has come along lately. Use your creativity and make some great action music – the sky is the limit.
by A. Arsov, March 2016
We are starting a new column dedicated to the best and most innovative cinematic tools that money can buy. Cinematic tools are no longer intended just for media, film composers, as the whole range of big stock music sites open their doors to all musicians that want to try their luck in that specific field. Almost every month we get a few new cinematic tools. This column will be dedicated to those that impressed us the most. We are starting with Action Strings from Native Instruments, a string instrument library with a very unique and innovative approach.
What Is It?
Action Strings is a sound library of instrument that brings a wide range of prerecorded short rhythmical string phrases, or rather, passages recorded as single pitch rhythms in all pitches and at different tempos. In this 9 GB collection we get 62 different themes. Every theme contains four different rhythmical phrases that are accessible through five key-switches at the lowest end of the keyboard. The lowest, fifth one is reserved for an ending note, containing single string notes distributed over the whole keyboard range. All phrases are recorded with a big, 60-member string orchestra offering natural transitions between notes that can’t be reproduced with any staccato programming, no matter how skilled a programmer or keyboard player you are.
By playing different notes, changing key-switches on the fly, it is quite easy to achieve stunning results in a very short time. So it is a big time saver, saving you plenty of time that you would otherwise spend playing and programming different takes. The second, even more significant, advantage of Action Strings is authenticity of results (before mentioning transition between notes inside a single phrase). With all other great string libraries you can spend ages making various action orchestra arrangements, but still they wouldn’t sound like they’re on the same level as some of the Hanz Zimmer well-known works. The reason is quite simple: at the end he always records his works with a real orchestra, using samples just in the starting phase. By combining Action Strings phrases in chords or melodies you can come really close to the sound of a real orchestra recording, as after all, these phrases are recorded with a real orchestra. Transitions between phrases sounds very natural. The whole library is very well programmed and if your next note overlaps with the previous one, the phrase changes key very smoothly, as it would with a real orchestra. Notes which are not overlapped with previous one will have a strong attack at the start of the phrase, just as real players have. The most interesting and best part of these overlapped notes is that the next note will not start at the beginning of the phrase but it will continue where last note ends. This is especially important if you use more complex rhythms combined from few rhythmical elements allowing you to preserve the flow of the whole musical passage. Hats off for this one, my dear Native Instruments.
If those 62 themes are not enough for you, you can always combine yours by taking elements from any theme building your own unique one. You can build your melodies by playing the whole notes, for the whole length of the phrase, or even just using shorter notes, taking just a few starting notes from the phrase, building your own fast passage filled with so many notes, that will take you enormously more time than by playing or programming all those double notes or fast triplets.
A Closer Look
Action Strings comes as a single preset Kontakt player instrument. By loading this preset you will find a note sheet like window, with the Basic theme opened. Four simple phrases and End note as the fifth one. Clicking on any sheet line inside this Basic Rhythms theme you get a list of all themes. Every theme can be quickly previewed with a single click on the theme name. The last themes are dedicated to bass instruments, some themes even contain melodic passages and phrases. Some of them even contain some elements like slur at the end of every tripled phrase – something that would be quite impossible to recreate with pure MIDI programming/playing. Most of these melodic phrases can be switched between major and minor scale simply by playing with lower velocity for major and higher for minor phrases. We can even find some legato phrases, so obviously, it is not a staccato only library. Regarding velocity, if you hit a key really hard inside a normal rhythmical phrase you get a single staccato note offering you to end the phrase without switching key. As all phrases are recorded in two different volumes you can build, or should we say, control dynamics with the mod-wheel.
Build your theme by using a few one note presets combined with one of those melodic phrases and you can build a very complicated line with just a few clicks. Of course, you are not limited just to five phrases in your new build theme, as you can also use additional sheet lanes for building bigger custom themes.
At this point it would not be bad to mention that the whole library is very flexible regarding tempo changes (after all, it’s provided by Native Instruments, the company that was known for their stretch algorithms used in their well-known Kontakt sampler). So, you can go totally bonkers with tempo range without loosing any authenticity. Of course a tempo range between 120 and 160 is the most common for this sort of music, but if you feel that you should go beyond this range, it is possible.
Playback and Sound Menus
At the lower part of main graphical interface you can find buttons for two set of slots and an additional two that will open new menus where you can tweak some general options. In the Playback window you can choose between Phrase sync and Free trigger where Phrase sync causes the before-mentioned behaviour where the phrase will continue to play from start to end no matter how many different notes you use inside a single phrase as long as all notes are overlapped. Free trigger is … er … free trigger, meaning that the phrase will start where every note starts. In Phrase sync mode the phrase will continue to be in sync even if some of your notes are not exactly quantized to a beat. In the same window is also a tempo switch allowing you to set playback at half or double speed.
In the sound window you can disable or enable two different general equalization settings. There is also a drop down menu where we can choose between different convolution reverb presets along with a reverb amount knob. We can also choose between two essential microphone positions: Stage and Far. Add to that a Boost knob for applying some basic compression and that is, more or less, all.
In the last few months I received a few extraordinary cinematic tools, but this one is really brilliant. It is not a one trick pony, nor a magical tool that will make you an excellent action composer just by pressing few keys, but if you have at least some basic knowledge of how action arrangements are made, than you can achieve great results in no time. Actually the better the composer you are, the better results you will get with Action Strings. It is an absolute time and life saver for pro cinematic producers and the same goes if you are at least on the way there, knowing some basics of the action cinematic genre.
It is possible to build some arrangements by using only Action Strings, but if you add some good brasses along with other orchestral sounds the end result could be quite similar to those live recordings from our beloved Hanz. I haven’t had enough time to elaborate all possibilities of this tool during the test period, but one thing is for sure: this one will definitely become my best friend during the next few years. If you are in the cinematic business then you simply can’t miss this one.
€299EUR Kontakt library that works with free Kontakt player