Monthly Archives: May 2016
Time proper planning and small investments in acoustic absorption materials can pay big dividends in the effectiveness of your home studio space.
by Luka Sraka, May 2016
Acoustics for Bedroom Producers
We live in a time when music can be produced anywhere with little investment, and indeed, a lot of great music production nowadays is done in small home studios or even rooms that are not just used for this purpose i.e. bedrooms, living rooms, etc. I recently moved into a bigger house where I have enough space to have the luxury of a room that is solely used as a music room or a home studio, but there are many of producers and musicians who just don’t have this option.
Working in a room that wasn’t designed with music production in mind can be frustrating and demotivating, but there are a few tricks which can help us to make the room or rooms we are working in more suitable for the task. And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
Geometry and Speakers
I don’t want to get too technical, but the geometry of the room and the placement of the workstation (i.e. computer desk) and speakers is one of the first things to consider when trying to get the best out of the available space.
Room dimensions and ratios are the first things that are considered by studio designers when designing a studio, there are many reasons for that, one of them being room modes. Room modes are the collection of resonances that exist in a room when the room is excited by an acoustic source such as a loudspeaker. These resonances affect the low-frequency and low-mid-frequency responses of a sound system in the room. These are one of the biggest obstacles to accurate sound reproduction.
If you ever had a chance of visiting or working in a professional studio you will have noticed that most of the walls weren’t parallel to each other. This in fact prevents sound waves from traveling to one wall reflecting and traveling to the parallel wall, reflecting again, and so traveling back and forth from one wall to another which causes the room modes. Room modes are calculated from the distance between two walls and the speed of sound (speed of sound divided by twice the distance), but there is no need to start looking for your calculator because there are free online room mode calculators which can calculate the modal response of a room for us. Since most of rooms we live and work in are rectangular, the room modes can cause quite a big problem when working with loudspeakers.
In general cubes are bad, since the ratio between all of the walls is the same the modal response – problematic to say the least. You should avoid room ratios that are multiples of one to another too (i.e. length 4meters, width 2 meters and height 2 meters). The stranger the ratio the better the modal response will be. To hear what a room does to your sound just put some white noise through your speakers and move around the room. You will notice that in some areas the bass frequencies are much more present than others; those are the areas of room modes. Even if your room dimensions are not perfect there is a lot you can do with positioning your speakers and your listening spot.
In small rooms positioning the speakers so that you face the shorter wall is always best (the speakers should be projecting sound the long way down the room). You also have to consider the geometry. Both speakers should be at the same distance from their adjacent walls, so that the early reflections of the walls hit your ear at the same time (failing to do so would result in bad stereo imaging), and your listening position and speakers should form an equilateral triangle (the distance between your ears and the speakers and the distance between the speakers themselves should be the same). There are different theories about the speaker placement too. Some say that positioning your speaker close to the front walls is good (that may be the case for front ported speakers). But some say this is bad in theory and you should avoid positioning your speakers or your listening position at 25%, 50% or 75% of the length of the room, being at 50% of the length (the middle) would result in frequencies of the fist room mode to be too loud, or in the case of 25% and 75% too quiet. Many acoustic designers say that the 38% point of the room length is the perfect listening position, but this may vary from room to room, I think it is a good starting point, but let your ears be the judge.
One last thing to point out before we move along is the size of your speakers themselves. We all like to spend a great deal of money for our gear and want to have the best speakers possible, but working in an imperfect, untreated room, big speakers having a large frequency range can be our enemy. Working on smaller speakers would mean fewer problems with the problematic frequencies, and you could always use a pair of good quality headphones to check the low end of your mix and the stereo imaging of your music.
Soundproofing and Absorption
If you have noisy neighbours, or your neighbours complain about the noise that is coming from your bedroom studio, I’m afraid that sound absorbers won’t be of much help. To sound proof your room you need mass (i.e. the more mass your walls have, less sound will escape or enter the room). Your room should also be as air tight as possible, since sound waves can travel through any hole even if it’s a tiny one. Vibrations are a problem too, those are caused by low frequencies especially, and to deal with those you might consider building a room inside a room with floating floor (the construction for the floor should lay on neoprene or other suitable material) and detached walls. Since soundproofing a room can be very expansive most of us try to work around the issues by working, when we are not bothering anyone, etc. Sound absorption on the other hand is used to tame the problematic frequencies that arise in our room. In small rooms we deal with great bass frequency build up, and flutter echo (early reflections) can be a problem as well.
There are many companies that make absorption panels out of open cell foam or other materials, but those can be very expensive and the cheap stuff does not work as well. With a bit of handyman know-how you can build your own absorption panels and bass traps and do that quite cheaply. Rock wool or glass fibber panels are great for that purpose and they are used for sound treatment in professional studios too. You can build a frame out of wood and insert a panel of rock wool into it, covering it with breathable fabric – all for a very reasonable price. You should be careful that the material used for absorption is dense enough, and that the fabric is not too reflective (burlap is used often). The absorption panels will not work for low frequencies, below 250Hz (unless they are really thick). For bass frequencies, super chunk corner bass traps are effective and you can find how-to tutorials for building absorption panels and bass traps online. Placement of the absorption is crucial too. The first task should be eliminating the early reflections which can be done with placing absorption panels on the walls left and right from your listening position and also on the ceiling. The first reflection points can be calculated or you could use the trick with a small mirror, again search for the help online. By treating the early reflection points you will hear the direct sound coming from your speakers more accurately. The second task is to treat the low frequencies, starting with corner bass traps. Keep in mind that the goal is not to make a dead room (absorption on all walls) but to address the problematic areas in the frequency range.
In the last few years reflection filters that are mounted on a mic stand became popular. Although they can be a life saver in very reverberant (reflective) rooms, they have an inherent design flaw. Usually when we record a vocalist the mic is in a cardioid polar pattern. That means that the capsule is picking up the sound in front of it, but not behind where a mountable reflection filter would be. All though there is nothing wrong with using such devices, you should have some form of absorption behind the singer as well, and absorption which would take care of low frequencies that are not affected by the mentioned reflection filters. And since I’ve mentioned the microphone polar patterns one last word of advice: when working with a cardioid polar pattern you can position the mic and the source (singer, guitar, etc.) so that the source faces the noisiest place in the room (the computer, a window that is facing a road with cars driving on it, etc.) the mic will pick up the source but not what is happening behind the mic.
Even small changes can have an effect on the sound of your room, what is written above are just some simple guidelines, that may help you achieve good results, but remember to experiment and try different things.
Two libraries that cover the full spectrum of percussion lines – from “normal” for everyday use to “abnormal” – the ones that can help you to spoil the party .
by A. Arsov, May 2016
It is an odd and even combination. Apocalypse is an even – a great collection of a sharp sounding orchestral percussions, various cinematic drums and cymbals. The main advantage of this library is that every kit sounds very strong and prominent, being quite constant in volume, fitting very nicely into the mix. The most impressive, at least for me, is a clear high end that doesn’t sound annoying and well-defined bottom end that doesn’t run down other instruments in your mix. The end result is a crisp, warm but still aggressive character to all kits. I remember Mike from the old, pre-Soundiron/ToneHammer days when I covered two of their products, and one thing is for sure, he used to be and still is a master of sampling and programming. You can’t go wrong with any of his libraries. There are quite a large number of orchestral libraries around, some have a really cool and innovative approach offering some great things, but I prefer Apocalypse because of its sound. It is hard to describe, maybe you should listen to some demo clips on their site and you will get the picture. For $99 USD you get a great basic library with additional MIDI clips and integrated player. The whole library is very playable and can sound great even if you are not such a great keyboard drummer (I am proof of this as I’m not a great keyboard drummer myself).
On the other side we have Damage. Omen est nomen. It is a big collection of all kinds of aggressive, dirty, obsessive, maniacal percussive kits, loops and loop elements. A definitive party breaker library that I adore. Make some nice string arrangement adding this “Animal on percussive drums” moment and you will get a very fresh and strong combination that still fits into the classical cinematic genre, but adds some special raw and wild flavor. I found that loop elements work best for me. Loading two different loop elements, combining some looped hits with others, or just taking the short part of a loops, can help you build impressive loops that will follow your rhythmical ideas. Loop is playing as long as the note lasts, so this way you can use just a starting hit or two or the whole phrase.
That was in general why these two instruments, or library packs, ended in Cinemania. Now we can take a closer look at both libraries to discover what they hide under the Kontakt player’s roof.
Apocalypse Elements by Soundiron
Apocalypse comes with 4.5 GB of percussive content, over 4,500 samples recorded with a close mic. The whole library is divided into two main groups containing a few subgroups. One is Lite, the other is Master. Presets from the Lite section use around 50 % less RAM and contain exactly the same presets groups and subgroups as presented in the Master section.
Subgroups in every basic category are Megamixer, Standard and Tuned Dual layer. In every subgroup is one “All” preset, containing all percussive elements along with eight or nine other presets where every preset covers the full range of one specific kit’s elements, like Snare, Cymbals, Basses and Toms or even Ethnic Drums (you can’t make a percussion library without implementing Ethnic drums 😉 ).
Presets in the Megamixer directory offer some additional controllers for fine tuning every kit element separately defining tune, pan, velocity, pitch, range, release and range. Along with those we also have some global controllers, like Attack, Offset and Hi-Hat MIDI CC which is available only in the Cymbal preset.
Standard is standard, not much to say here. Same presets, only fewer controllers – Swell, Attack, Offset, Velocity and Humanize, which adds some velocity, pitch and subtle time variations to incoming notes.
Tuned Dual Layer presets come without the “All” preset, bringing only individual kit element presets where every instrument is chromatically tuned over the keyboard range. Lite version also comes with fewer Round-robin elements. All others are similar to the standard, at least regarding implemented controllers.
If we add to all those elements and kits a fact that there is also a MIDI Player available in every preset where we can choose one from over 400 MIDI drum clips specially crafted for this library, then programming this instrument or library becomes much more interesting. I didn’t have any problem playing this library just by banging my keyboard as velocity and responsiveness is absolutely well-tamed giving you the impression than you are almost some sort of virtuoso (great job, Mike). But this Transpose button in the MIDI Player window sparks my imagination and after playing with those Half and Double speed buttons I get some really interesting results.
If you are after some special sound treatment, then you can open a third menu with effects section where you can find a reverb with plenty of impulses, a flanger, compressor, distortion, preamp with additional cabinets and an equalizer. I was perfectly happy with all the kits just as they are so I just opened this window and closed it again.
If you need one basic, good sounding Orchestra percussion library then Apocalypse Elements is just the thing. Affordable library that sounds expensive and big.
More info and demo clips at:
Damage by Heavyocity
This one costs quite a bit more than Apocalypse, but it is worth every penny. It is so aggression obsessive that you should simply love it. For $299 USD you get 16 GB of material distributed for your needs directly from hell (at least it sounds so). Over 500 different hit elements are packed into this mighty library.
The whole content is again divided in two basic subgroups. Rhythmical Suites and Percussive kits.
In Rhythmical Suite we have two other main subcategories: Loop Menus and Single Loop. Presets from Loop Menus contain several different main loop presets and every main loop preset has three additional loop elements taken from that main loop preset. Every main loop preset contains a bunch of different percussive loops ranked over four octaves of a keyboard. Loop elements provide different elements taken from these loops, like just bass hits or some of the others, junk or barrel or any similar kit element, also ranked over the keyboard range. All presets from Loop Menus have the same set of controllers. We have up to four controllers for Distortion, LoFi, Reverb, Delay and Compressor, along with an Amp envelope set of controllers on the righthand side. Every loop is so specific and good as they are, so I didn’t tweak all those controllers very much, but it is always good to have them. There is also an Amp sequencer where we can browse between various gate sequence patterns through key switches. Under the Amp sequencer window we can also find Level, Pan and Tune. Actually, it’s just a starting point, as the main fun comes inside the T-FX window, where you can add various effects, Punch, Flanger, Rotator, Lo-Fi, Glitcher, Pitch and Filter envelope, along with Delay. Just by switching them on you can get some drastic changes, adding a bit of a spacey feel to all those trashy, dusty distorted loops. The next Ex-Filter windows bring some other nice things, like my favorite one – the Big Punish button, which adds some additional compression and distortion to already distorted loops. Left and right from the punish button are the equalizer and filter section, in case if you need to tame the low or high end. Again, I’m happy with the sound already, so this is just a “never used” addition.
Single loops have a similar set of controllers, the main difference is that separate loop hits are ranked over the keyboard as they are in REX files, and in the middle of the window is one big “MIDI to host” that allow us to drag MIDI files that allow us to play this loop as a REX file. So, you can change the loop by simply dragging notes up and down inside the loop, making new variations. Also, instead of the T-FX section with additional effects, single loops offer a Loop window where we can randomize loops on the fly by pressing one of the key-switches, changing on the the fly between different random settings. We should also mention that there is an almost endless number of those single loops inside different group of directories. I tried some of them, but didn’t have enough time to try more than a half of them.
We just passed through loops, but of course there is also a great number of various percussion kits inside this instrument/library. All kits are ranked inside several main directories. The first is the Epic-Organic kit directory, then we have Ethnic Drums, then Mallets, Hybrid FX hits and Damage kits. Some kits have just a few different kit elements while some others have far more than twenty different kit elements. They are all aggressive, mostly a bit distorted and quite unique and original.
No matter which kit you use, you will not be disappointed. They are quite different kits, from directory to directory, but you won’t find any ballast in there.
I know this is a personal opinion, but for me, this instrument library is essential for my production. All that noise and dirt, it sounds far different from any ordinary percussion library. I think that I have heard it in many Hollywood blockbusters. Not quite sure, but all those drums from Mad Max sounds so familiar to me. Trashcans, barrels, metal pots and all the other unusual things that were banged to produce this library is pure poetry to my ears, so loud and so dirty. Simply essential.
More info and some audio and video demo clips available at:
I know that I will probably get more percussion libraries in the future, but no matter, with these two I can live happily ever after, as they really do cover the full spectrum of percussion lines – from normal to abnormal.
Rob Papen is a prolific developer of synths and other audio production software. We survey his extensive synthesizer catalog herein.
by David Baer, May 2016
Rob Papen must be one of the busiest synthesizer and FX developers around, given the number of instruments FX modules bearing his name. Up until now, we have given only scant coverage to Papen products in SoundBytes Magazine, but that’s certainly not due to having taken any editorial position. Chalk it up, once again, to too many synths, too little time. Hopefully we’ll begin to correct that oversight in this article in which we will take a tour of the seven synths that currently comprise his catalog of software instruments.
These instruments range from the fairly conventional to the unique and wildly innovative. Many of them clearly are oriented to production of contemporary club music. But no matter what you’re preferred genre is, there’s a good probability that there’s at least one of them for which you will develop serious lust. The complete synth offerings, along with all the Papen effects (which we’ll have to look at some other time), are packaged into the eXplorer III bundle. Two smaller bundles aimed at EDM and “Urban” production are also available. See the URL at the end of this article for particulars.
Because we are looking at all the instruments here, the individual overviews will be necessarily brief. Be aware that Mr. Papen has produced a series of very informative demo videos available on his YouTube channel (once again, google is your friend). They should be more than sufficient to provide the necessary knowledge for the prospective customer on whether or not a particular instrument will be of use. Also be aware that any of these instruments can be downloaded as a demo with more than enough time on the meter to adequately evaluate it in a thorough manner.
Before We Start …
First, several observations that apply to pretty most or all instruments are appropriate before we dive in to individual coverage. The first is to note that the documentation is uniformly quite good – very clear, reasonably concise, and well-organized.
Many, and perhaps eventually all, of the synths are compatible with Native Instruments’ NKS system for integrated interaction with NKS-compliant controllers.
The next point is that the factory content is more than generous in all cases. If you are a preset-only type player, you won’t feel a lack of possibilities. If you like to tweak, there’s a wealth of presets from which to begin your creative explorations.
Finally, there’s one small feature that is seen throughout – one that will be greatly appreciated by thoughtful sound designers. It’s extremely simple, yet it’s one rarely seen elsewhere. ADSR envelopes are not particularly good at reflecting the nature of real sound for instruments that are plucked or struck (e.g. harps, guitars, pianos, vibraphones, etc.). With these we have an energy-laden initial impulse, well-served by the AD part of the ADSR envelope. After the impulse, the sound relaxes to a steady state that slowly loses energy, in total, but also normally with higher partials decaying faster than lower ones. The S portion of the ADSR shape does not serve us well here.
Mr. Papen had the wonderful insight to provide a Fade capability for the S portion of the envelope. Applied as an amp envelope, we have a natural dissipation of overall energy. Applied to filter cutoff, we can cause higher partials to attenuate earlier than lower ones. As I said, extremely simple and elegant … so why doesn’t everybody do this?
OK, with that out of the way, let’s dive right in. Since there’s no logical way to order these, I’m just going to cover them alphabetically, which by coincidence, puts my two favorites at the top of the list.
Blade is flat-out crazily innovative. It’s an additive synth, but it approaches additive synthesis in a vastly different way that say, Harmor or that other well-known additive synth that went over to the Dark Side and which is now dead to me. The mechanisms by which additive sound is engineered is one way in which it’s highly innovative. The other is that is has a programmable XY controller that is a principal modulation source of great capability (one that we’ll see in Blue2 in a moment, and probably in more places in future Papen products).
In the UI image above, on the left is a section called the Harmolator. This is where the additive parameters are set which dictate the basic current sound. The documentation requires nine pages to fully explain all that’s going on here, so I can only scratch the surface here about how this all works.
But, for example, we have a control called Even/Odd. Not surprisingly this can be used to emphasize even partials when turned counterclockwise and odd when turned the other way. Significantly, all these knobs invite modulation, which is where the XY controller comes in. The XY controller is not the only modulation source in Blade; there are numerous others. But it is the main one and especially adept at animating the additive properties of the sound.
The controller can be driven by mouse movement or can be slaved to MIDI controllers. But it can also be programmed to move on a predefined path, synced to host tempo if desired. Control can be polyphonic, with each new note-on getting its own position in the grid and independent positional influence. The multiple dots in the UI image illustrate a polyphonic response in progress.
There is much more in Blade, of course. We have distortion, a filter, envelopes and LFOs, onboard FX and more. I could easily spend an entire article (a lengthy one at that) exploring all that’s here. In fact, I could fill up an article just talking about the Harmolator and another about the XY controller. We’ll have to stay at a high level, though, since there are so many instruments to cover. But if you are intrigued by what you’ve read here, be sure and search for some excellent demo videos made by Rob Papen that can be found on Youtube. I trust that you know how to track them down via google.
Blade sounds rather digital, which is typical of every additive synth I’ve ever encountered. But there’s a vast range of sound possibilities. Papen includes Blade in its EDM bundle, so you have an idea of where at least some people think it fits in the music production sphere. But really, it’s capable of a wide range of digital audio tricks, from delightful, fidgety electronica to sedate, spacey evolving soundscapes. And sound design is great fun, even for the beginner.
And now the synth that I honestly believe has something for everyone, the marvelous, the amazing, the brilliant Blue-II (sometimes aka Blue2). When I first saw the demo video of this instrument, I thought to myself that this one would probably go immediately into my top five synth list if I ever got my hands on it. And it has certainly done just that. I cannot imagine anyone not finding good use for this instrument, irrespective of what musical genres they produce.
Blue-II is awesomely deep and capable. To begin with, we have six oscillators that can provide subtractive functions via a huge collection of factory supplied waveforms, both single-cycle and sample sets. But it can also do FM. There is wave shaping and wave sequencing on hand. But at the end of the day, what’s important is the sound, and, oh, what breathtaking sounds can be had here, as the immense collection of factory presets ably demonstrate. Blue II is capable of much analog-style warmth. The sample sets include some of the most gorgeous strings, choirs, and other pad-friendly sounds you can imagine. At the other end of the spectrum, if it’s brutal, raw power you’re looking for, there’s plenty of that on tap as well.
There are a myriad of additional features that are worthy of your attention. First, we have the XY pad capability similar to that in Blade. But in Blade, the modulation destinations are hard-wired. In Blue2 they can be set on a per-preset basis. The XY controller can also be used to simply control the mix of the first four oscillator levels.
There is a four-slot FX section (example seen to the right) with variable routings into which a selection from a list of 35 excellent effects. For filters, we have a selection of analog-modelled types, 27 to be exact, again with flexible routing options at your disposal. There’s a very capable arpeggiator. There’s also a sequencer with which can be used in not only the usual fashion but for wave sequencing as well. There are modulation possibilities beyond counting. Really, I don’t think this instrument could be adequately covered in a full single review, there’s just so very much on board.
As I stated earlier, there’s really no type of music imaginable that could not make excellent of Blue II’s many, many competencies. We have barely scratched the surface here. I would particularly recommend the Youtube videos on this one. But a word of caution – if you watch, you will almost assuredly want to buy this marvelous instrument.
Next we look at Predator, which is a fairly conventional subtractive synth. But we won’t spend a lot of time on this one because Predator 2 (or will it be Predator II?) is in the pipeline and is expected to be available towards the end of summer this year.
Predator is included in both the EDM and the Urban bundle, so that gives you an idea of where Mr. Papen thinks it fits into the music production picture. Likewise, if you examine the bank names, a significant majority of them are clearly dance/club-themed.
But really, we have in Predator (1) a fairly conventional subtractive synth with a few extras. There are three oscillators that have 128 typical synth waveforms on tap. A symmetry control allows for manipulating wave shape in a manner that can be modulated. The second and third oscillators can be synced to the first in classic fashion. There’s limited FM and other oscillator cross-modulation capabilities.
A single filter is on hand with the usual varieties from which to select that also include a few specialty-type filters like formant. There’s an arpeggiator, two LFOs, two envelopes, and a limited modulation matrix. Three FX slots can be filled with a variety of several dozen FX types. Notably, a vocoder effect is one of the options.
One interesting feature is the morph capability. You can select two presets and specify a morph level (e.g. one-third preset A and two-thirds preset-B), hit a generate key, and a new preset will be created having the desired blend.
By no means have I wanted here to damn Predator with faint praise. It’s just that with Predator 2 so closely at hand, that upgraded version will no doubt have many advances compared to its predecessor. We will be reviewing Predator 2 in some detail later this year, so stay tuned. Given the power and sophistication of Mr. Papen’s most recent releases, we look forward to Predator 2 with great anticipation.
At the time this is being written, people who purchased Preditor in the last few months will get a free upgrade. But it is now on sale at a significant discount, so those purchasing it before version 2 is released will pay what everyone else will for an upgrade, $49 USD. If you did not buy it directly from the Rob Papen web site, save your receipts.
Punch is Rob Papen’s take on the drum machine. I must begin with the disclaimer that I am not a drum guy and cannot offer much in the way of insightful observation on any software having to do with drums. Too bad SoundBytes Magazine’s drum expert Suleiman is not writing this section, but I’ll give it my best effort. That said, a trip to YouTube to see Mr. Papen demo it himself would be worth your time if this sort of instrument appeals to you.
Actually, there are two Punch instruments: Punch and Punch BD. The former offers full kits and the latter allows stacking up to six bass drums (thus the “BD” in the name). Of each of these, there are two versions: one in which everything is mixed and output to a single audio output and one in which each individual component is output to its own audio output, allowing one to control the mix in the DAW. Punch is pictured above and Punch BD is pictured immediately below.
Punch supplies both synthetic drum sounds and sampled ones. Users can furthermore supply their own samples to round out their kit. There are filters and FX modules on board to introduce further excitement.
This being a drum machine, there is, of course a sequencing capability on board. It looks pretty powerful to me, having watched the demo video. But I encourage those sufficiently interested to view the video themselves. I am not in a position to suggest how Punch holds up against the many other virtual drum instruments out there.
Not surprisingly, both Punch and Punch BD are included in both the EDM and the Urban bundles.
The story behind RAW is told at the beginning of the user manual: At the Dutch Dancefair in 2014, DJ Promo (aka producer Sebastian Hoff) and DJ Free-k (aka producer Freek Vergoossen) approached Rob Papen with the idea of a synthesizer that focused on distorted sounds with an easy to use interface and that sounded great. Rob Papen invited the DJs to his studio for a brainstorming session resulting in a list of must-have features and tools for a brand new synth.
Hmmm, another genre about which I am basically clueless! Maybe this alphabetical order notion wasn’t such a hot idea after all. Nevertheless, here goes …
RAW is all about distortion (big surprise!) and rhythmic distortion, at that. It has many features dedicated to the pursuit of this goal. There are several surprises here, or at least, surprises for me. The first is the elegance in the design of something devoted to brash, chaotic mayhem. I risk sounding like a broken record in recommending the YouTube video in which Mr. Papen demonstrates the instrument, but I do recommend just that. Even if you have little interest in something along the lines of a DJ-ing instrument, you may find it interesting to just observe the thinking that went into the design. As I said … surprisingly elegant! The second surprise is that although most of the content lives up to the stated purpose of the instrument, there are some gems of more conventional synth patches to be found throughout the factory content.
There are two oscillators that have a small set of typical waveforms on tap and provisions for user-supplied waveforms. Much is conventional here, like PWM and Sync (osc. 2 to osc. 1). What’s different from convention is the control marked RAW. This controls the level of phase distortion of the wave. The XY grid to the right controls the amount of this distortion to the positive part of the wave (X position) and negative part (Y position). The XY grid has the programmed movement capabilities we’ve seen in Blade and Blue II, but in this case that which is controlled is just the RAW distortion applied to the wave. An LFO can also be brought into the picture for further movement of X and/or Y position.
We also have one filter, an amp section with no surprises, an LFO, and two EQs (pre and post-FX). There’s a limited mod matrix. There’s also an arpeggiator. And of course there’s more distortion – three kinds to be precise. We have a wave shaper, a low-fi unit and a multi-distortion module offering tube distortion, fuzz, rectify, and much more.
If you’re a bit bewildered about what sort of things for which DJs might use RAW, never fear. There are loads and loads of presets designed by actual DJs. So just pick up RAW, start calling yourself something like “DJ Kalesmoothie” and you should be good to go … DJ on, dude!
RG is a software instrument to be used to create guitar grooves, but it is not a guitar emulator along the lines of, for example, AAS’s Strum instrument. The basic sounds are created from samples of strummed chords. We have several models: electric, steel 8th, steel 16th, distorted, muted low and muted high. The two steel varieties are similar but intended for slower (8th note) and faster (16th note) rhythmic speed. Distorted plays power chords (no triads, just octaves and fifths in a chord). The two muted varieties just play a single note, and it’s not clear to me what their purpose is (and the documentation is silent on this point as well).
The user interface might look a bit imposing, but this is actually a very straightforward instrument. In the upper left we select the guitar model and provide values for loudness and decay speed for three different strokes: down, up and ghost (palm-muted strokes, I believe). The large grey area are modules the signal flow passes through: filter (with LFO and envelope), amp, EQ, and a three-slot FX bin. Limited modulation is present, but not needed nearly so much as would be the case in a more conventional synth. The sounds produced can be very close to the real thing or can be made unrecognizable, depending on the use of the filter and FX.
The bottom grid is the sequencer. Up to 32 steps can be programmed, specifying up, down, ghost or glide strokes at each step. Only the electric model supports the glide (starts down a semi-tone and does an upward portamento). There are two sequences that can be programmed called A and B.
The way sequences are triggered are as follows. Each note in a four-octave range will cause a chord to be played in the sequencer. C1 (where C3 is middle C) through the B above will play major chords using sequence A. C3 through the B above will play major chords using sequence B. The C2 octave triggers minor chords in sequence A and the C4 octave in sequence B. If the model is distorted, then major and minor is not a factor (no thirds).
There you have it. This one is very simple to understand and takes little time at all to pick up.
Last but not least we get to SubBoomBass, a synth dedicated to producing bass sounds. Oddly, this one is included in the Urban bundle but not the EDM bundle which would be the first place I’d expect to see it.
As a synth, SubBoomBass is pretty conventional and not especially full-featured. For example, there are only two oscillators (each having a sub oscillator, however). What imparts the bass specialization capability are the wave forms and samples included for use in the oscillators. In addition to several dozen synth waveforms, there are several dozen sampled sounds from both bass instruments and lower-frequency drum/percussion instruments. And there is a crazy amount of factory presets that make good use of them all sooner or later.
The oscillators are pretty much what one has come to expect in a Rob Papen synth. Each has a main oscillator and a sub, which can use either a sine or square wave. In addition to symmetry and PWM, we have PWM for the square wave of the sub oscillator (but not the sine). Oscillator 2 can be slave synced to oscillator 1 and can be frequency-modulated by it as well.
There are two filters, but only one of them has the expected modulation options. The filter types are all the usual Papen suspects. The second filter has only a cutoff control.
A good collection of FX are available to place into two FX slots. A sequencer is on board offering up to sixteen steps and a surprising amount of sonic variety can be had using it, which can be seen by auditioning a number of the factory presets that use it.
So there you have it. You could get much the same results with a conventional subtractive synth, but the available oscillator wave forms and samples really supports the bass intent. If you are into synth bass, the factory presets should keep you well-supplied for a very long time.
Prisma is a new (in fact not yet released as I write this) plug-in that will be free and of interest to owners of any Rob Papen synth. It is a rack into which up to four Papen synths can be loaded for a stacked sound. “What’s the big deal?”, you might ask – “You could just as easily do that in your DAW”. Well, there are several reasons why this will be advantageous to have and use. But the easiest way to discover why you’d want this is to view the ten-minute video available at the Rob Papen web site (URL below) that shows what it can do.
Basically there are two reasons that I think the owner of one or more Papen synths will want Prisma. One of them is that it offers a single set of controls that can be used to adjust behavior of the loaded synths in a coordinated fashion (e.g., raise filter cutoff in two of them while lowering it in two others). But, as with all Papen productions, there will probably be a wealth of presets. These will be of greatest advantage to those owning the whole collection of synths. But even if one only owns Blue II (and, really, I cannot imagine anyone who would not want to possess this glorious instrument), there are some great ways in which to employ Prisma. Once again, just look at the video demo to have your appetite whetted!
I saw this demoed at NAMM in January, and there have been some additional features added since that time that make it look even more exciting and definitely worth the wait. Prisma should be available by the time you read this or very shortly thereafter.
Is eXplorer III for You?
If you’ve read this entire piece, you’ll know that the Rob Papen synth collection will most certainly be of interest to producers of club/dance music. There’s much goodness for producers of innumerable other genres, but owning the entire collection makes the most sense if your thing is club/dance music.
The eXplorer bundle lists for $599 USD. But there’s an easy and obvious way to get it any time for $399 by making two purchases rather than one. If you can’t figure out how this works, you probably don’t deserve the savings and probably should not be allowed near a computer in the first place. But on top of this, additional discounts are not uncommon. A sale offering an additional 20% off has just ended, for example, so a little patience in timing your purchase will probably be well-rewarded.
Now, if we are talking about getting the entire Rob Papen synth collection (plus five fine FX plug-ins to boot) for something in the neighborhood of a bit less than $350, this is a strong value proposition. There are some high-end individual synths that cost more which would be hard pressed to deliver the complex and exciting sounds which are soon to be available from the eXplorer bundle once Prisma is added to the feature set.
If your thing is not club/dance, you should nevertheless check out Blade. It’s a most unique instrument that offers not only great sounds but a lot of entertainment value if you like to play around with sound creation. And then there’s Blue II – oh, what a masterpiece. Just find a way to acquire it – I guarantee you won’t end up blue if you do!
More information and purchase here:
Rob Papen products are also available from a number of online retail outlets, sometimes at advantageous prices.
Behind the easy-to-use interface, Eclipse has a powerful 4-channel engine, sequencers, and effects. In this review, we take a look at this latest offering from Wide Blue Sound.
by Rob Mitchell, May 2016
Wide Blue Sound is the company behind the innovative Orbit softsynth. It uses sample-based material that can be easily manipulated using its intuitive graphic display. Four sound channels are available for you, along with separate sequencers, several filters types, and effects.
For this review, I will be covering their new product named Eclipse. They call it their “Epic Orbital Synthesizer”. It is similar to Orbit in its structure, but it focuses more on darker and edgier types of tones. It uses a few different types of modes in its sound engine, which are called Flow, Pulse, and Chop. With its easy to use controls, you’re able to quickly change the sounds to your liking.
Eclipse requires Kontakt 5 or the Kontakt Player 5.5.1 (or higher) from Native Instruments, and uses Continuata Connect to download all the files. A download code is supplied for authorization within Continuata. Supported interfaces include: VST, Stand-alone, Audio Units, Core Audio, ASIO, WASAPI, and AAX Native (Pro Tools 10+).
If you’re using a PC, you’ll need Windows 7 (or higher) 32/64 bit, Intel Core 2 Duo CPU (or higher), and at least four gigabytes of RAM. For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.9 (or higher), Intel Core 2 Duo CPU (or higher), and at least four gigabytes of RAM.
After I loaded the Kontakt Player, I browsed to where the Eclipse.nki file was located. After that is loaded, the first display you see has most of the main controls. In the upper-left is a gears icon that has various settings you can adjust, such as voice handling, key and velocity ranges, and controller settings. Below that icon is a button that lets you minimize the instrument to save on screen real estate. This works well if you have many instances going at once in the Kontakt Player (or using separate tracks in your DAW, with the Player on each of them), making it easier to see everything at once. To the right is a menu where you can try out some of the 250 included presets. Clicking the arrow will drop-down a menu to see those presets in their different categories. They are broken down by Chop, Flow, FX, and Pulse. I will get to the meaning of those various category names later in the review. Anyway, back to those presets, which are well designed and take advantage of the different modes, sequencing, and effects. To flip through the presets one at a time, you can use the left/right arrows on the right side of the drop-down menu. Over on the right are the master tuning, pan, and volume controls.
Eclipse has four channels, each with identical controls. The moon icon located above each of the channels is actually an on/off button. In-between each of those four moon buttons are some arrows, and clicking on those will switch the sound (and settings) between the two channels on either side of it.
When you play a note on your keyboard, the channels play back the sounds in order (from left to right) one at a time. After it has played through all four channels, then it starts again from the beginning. In a way, it is similar to wave sequencing. Using those channel-swapping arrows I mentioned previously, you are able to quickly arrange them in a different sequence until you have it just right. Depending on how you set the order of the sounds, and configure the many filters, sequencers, and effects, the resulting sound can evolve in seemingly endless ways.
Below each channel’s on/off moon icon is a menu where you can load in different sampled sounds for each of the channels. To get a better idea of the base sounds that it has, I loaded the INIT preset. Then I turned off all but one of the channels, and went through most of the sounds that are within Eclipse. There are 101 of them included, and they cover a large variety of atmospheric and/or edgy sounding audio. They aren’t just plain, simple string sounds, or one sampled synth note playing, for instance. That’s not to suggest that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with those types of samples. It’s just that many of the sounds in Eclipse have more than one tone playing at once, and seem to be derived from varied sources that are layered together.
In each of the four channels, there are controls which let you adjust filter cutoff, resonance, tuning, pan, and the gain amount. The last menu item at the bottom of each channel is for changing the filter type. These types include low pass, band pass, high pass, notch, multiband pass, and phaser. To the right of these controls are the Clone, Random, and Waves buttons. The Clone button will copy what the first channel has over to the other three channels. The Random button will select a random sound for each of the four channels. In addition, there is a switch right below the Clone and Random buttons that let you select between Waves (just the sounds) or All (randomize sounds and settings). Input Quantize will make it so the notes are synced up with the host tempo in measurements of every bar, quarter, eighth, or sixteenth beat.
Remember how I mentioned that Eclipse can cycle through the sounds you have loaded? The Pulse, Chop, and Flow controls take this into new territory, giving you varied transition types to blend between the sounds. It’s a bit like an LFO with three different shapes, and controls to adjust the depth and speed for each of them. To check out this part of Eclipse, I turned up the depth a good deal to hear what was going on. Pulse is like a down-saw LFO shape in-between each of the sounds, and as you turn down the depth amount, it can be a more subtle way of blending between those same sounds. Chop works the same basic way, but its shape is a square wave, while Flow is a sine wave shape. If you just don’t want a cycling pattern between the sounds on a certain preset you’re designing, you can just turn the Depth down to 0%. The Punch/Shape control will adjust the transient amount of the shape you’re using. Finally, there are the Attack and Release controls, which adjust the overall amplitude envelope.
Along the bottom of the display are buttons to switch between the main Engine display, the Effects section, Sequencer page, and a handy Tips page. In the Effects section, there are six different effects you can use at any one time: Scream, Distort, Chorus/Flanger/Phaser (you can switch between these three types), Convolve, Delay, and Warmth. The Scream effect is a guitar amp type of distortion, and the Distort has qualities in the bit reduction category which I thought sounded great.
The Chorus, Flanger, and Phaser all sounded good to me, but I really liked using the Convolve effect. It is a convolution reverb which has settings to choose the virtual room type (over twenty choices), size, pre-delay, tone, and mix level. The Delay is a stereo tempo-synced type, with controls to adjust the delay time, damping, feedback, stereo spread, and a send control. Warmth is the final effect in the chain, with a low pass filter and resonance controls, tape (saturation), and bass/bias. I do wish the order of the effects could be changed, but it’s not a show-stopper.
The Sequencer page is where you can modulate many types of settings within Eclipse. Each of the step sequencers has up to 64 steps. You can select from 24 destinations, such as the Mode setting (switches automatically between Pulse/Chop/Flow), rate, depth, shape, global volume and panning, some effect parameters, and more. Using those choices, each of the four sequencers can be setup in their own way to modulate different parts of Eclipse. If you don’t feel like setting up a step-sequencer pattern yourself, there are pattern presets to choose from, and they can easily be manipulated using other choices in the menus. Also, there are a number of playback modes available that vary the direction of play (forward/backward, backward/forward, random, and other variations). The patterns you end up creating can be saved and later reloaded as well. Rate and Step amount controls are also here, and each sequencer has a slider to adjust the amount of the modulation.
The last tab along the bottom is a handy Tips section, which has some keystroke shortcuts that are useful, such as soloing a channel, switching on all of the channels, and fine-tuning parameters. It also has a visual guide for some key functions that are in the lowest octave of your keyboard. These let you mute the sound, turn sequencers on/off, and switch the channels on/off.
Eclipse is very easy to use, and for much of its operation I didn’t even need the manual. I did eventually go through the whole manual of course, but I just wanted to emphasize how intuitive it is, and yet it still has a good deal of power at the same time. Many plugins these days have interfaces that can end up being a little too complex, so this one was definitely a breath of fresh air.
I love the sounds that are within Eclipse, and they don’t take up an excess of room on the hard drive either. Just the creation for each of the sounds they’ve included must have been a huge effort in itself. The main advantage to this is that it lets you get to what is most important; the production of music. Presets load quickly, and the CPU usage wasn’t bad at all. Wide Blue Sound has done a great job of making this simple to use, and I really like the interface overall. Eclipse was on a discounted sale when it was first released, and now it is back at its regular price of $149 USD. If you happen to have bought Orbit before Eclipse was released, they have a discount available for you that brings the price down to $99 USD. You can find more info on their website here:
Renegade is the latest electric guitar library from Indiginus. Fans of this company’s products won’t be surprised to find it’s easy to use, sounds great and costs less than a pizza party.
by David Townsend, May 2016
I’m a decent keyboard player, but I suck at guitar. Even though I’ve been playing both for half a century, my brain and fingers just don’t coordinate correctly to ever become proficient on the guitar. That’s why I’m a sucker for guitar sample libraries. They let me leverage the skills I do have so that I can venture into territory that would otherwise be beyond my abilities.
Oh yeah, I know. Guitar players hate guitar sample libraries. The same way horn players hate horn libraries and drummers despise drum machines. And they all have a perfectly good argument: no sample library can come close to duplicating the range of articulations and nuance that a skilled player can do in his or her sleep. I totally agree with this. If I could, I’d have two or three accomplished pickers on call 7 days a week. Funny, but none of the guitarists I know are really interested in coming over at midnight because I’ve got an inspiration. Samples, on the other hand, are always ready to go.
I’ll admit that any given guitar library has a limited number of tricks it can do. One solution: buy more libraries! Unfortunately, that strategy is constrained by economic realities that irrationally place a premium on things like food and rent.
Fortunately, we have Indiginus.
If you’re unfamiliar with Indiginus, you’ll want to be. Proprietors Tracy and Brenda Collins have carved a niche in the sample library business by producing inexpensive instruments that sound good and are easy to use. Granted, they’re not as sophisticated as some of the more-expensive products out there, but what they do they do well. Best of all, they are offered at a price point low enough ($40-$60) that you can afford more than one of them.
Tracy’s newest creation, Renegade, is a case in point. It’s a sampled Telecaster for full Kontakt 5.5 or later. It sounds great out of the box with ready-to-go presets, and it’s just $59.
Every note on the guitar is sampled twice, once for each pickup (3,547 ncw-compressed samples, weighing in at over 2 GB). Unlike many guitar libraries, these samples were recorded with a microphone and an amplifier rather than through a DI. Consequently, they have some built-in character even before adding effects and amp/speaker sims – but they’re still very low-noise. Note tails are natural and plenty long (8-12 seconds).
Separately-sampled bridge and neck pickups mean you get the full range of classic Telecaster tones, including that cutting twang you hear in everything from Country to Surf, classic rock to heavy metal, punk to fusion. Clean or dirty, mellow or bright, the Telecaster is long-respected for versatility across every genre. (It’s ranked #3 in Watchmojo.com’s “Top 10 Guitar Models of All Time” ).
In my opinion, Renegade shines brightest as a lead instrument. Yes, it’s got scripting for easy chord-playing (including I-V power chords), and it’s got a fun arpeggiator for picked chords (though no strum sequencer in this version). But carrying a melody is definitely its strong suit, whether long sustained notes or frenetic “chicken-pickin'”.
Articulations are limited to sustains, hammer-ons, trills, mutes and bends, plus a few effects. But they’re so ergonomically friendly and natural-sounding that you won’t feel constrained by the lack of ring slides, squeals and feedback.
Keyswitches or Velocity Triggers: Your Choice
One thing all Indiginus libraries have in common is that they invite live playing. To facilitate this, Renegade by default maps mutes, sustains and bends to velocity ranges. This makes it pretty easy to improvise a lead on the fly that won’t be too boring, without the need for first memorizing keyswitch assignments.
I like to record a melody as MIDI and then subsequently plug in keyswitches via the PRV to flesh it out with the full range of articulations. For me, that’s the best of both worlds, a compromise between a completely live performance and a purely programmed track.
There are eleven different articulations: sustain, hammer-on, trill (up), trill (down), slide up, slide down, up-bends, down-bends, up-then-down bends, mutes and harmony. All may be triggered either by keyswitches or mapped to velocity ranges. Or both. (Note: keyswitches override velocity if both are used.)
Velocity triggering is the easiest method for real-time performance, but not as versatile as keyswitching, so you may end up using both velocity mapping and keyswitches. But for your first foray into the instrument, I recommend using velocity mapping for some instant gratification.
By default, hitting a key hard elicits a bend, while hitting it softly gets a mute, and everything in the middle is a sustain. Just sit down, pick a preset and start playing. No manual-reading is necessary to have a blast playing this instrument. But of course, you’ll eventually want to venture beyond the defaults.
Renegade’s default screen is dominated by a simple velocity map. Well, it’s simple once you decipher the icons.
There are a total of nine icons, representing each of the nine primary non-sustain articulations that Renegade supports. They are repeated, first in white and then in red, to indicate which part of the velocity scale you want them to respond to.
Click on one of them to select an effect. Click the white icon to link it to the “high” velocity range, or click its red counterpart to link it to the “low” velocity range.
Here’s what the symbols stand for:
For example, click on the white hammer-on icon to cause that articulation to be triggered whenever the note velocity exceeds 92 (that’s default crossover point for “high” velocity). If you’re a heavy-handed player like me, you may want to adjust that transition point to a higher velocity. I like it around 100. Just drag the white pointer upward.
The “bend up/down” articulation performs a quick up-then-back pitch bend. Whether it goes up a whole note or a semitone depends on the note played and the Master Key setting. Its speed can be controlled via a slider on the “more settings” tab.
The “harmony” effect can be fun. It causes a harmony to be played with the note, and may be a 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th or octave, chosen from a dropdown list below the “Harmony” button. Try turning on the harmony feature at high velocities, for example.
In order for the instrument to know what harmony to use, you have to tell it what key you’re playing in. To the left of the velocity map screen you’ll find a knob for selecting the key. This setting actually affects a number of features. In solo mode, it also determines intervals for trills and hammer-ons. In chord mode, it determines what chords will be played by the dedicated chord keys.
There are two main modes: solo and chord. Their meanings are self-explanatory – one is for melodies and the other is for chording. You can select one or the other via keyswitches while playing.
In chord mode, the keyboard is mapped to up- and down-strums, one octave each. Which chords are actually triggered depends on the Master Key setting. For example, pressing the C note with the key set to C results in a C major chord. But pressing the same note with the key set to B-flat results in a C minor chord.
This may be customized, though, if you want to map a key to some other chord, such as a 7th or a minor 7th or a 9th. After you’ve defined a custom set of chords, the collection can be saved to a chord preset for future use. There are a set of keyswitches dedicated to setting the master key, so you can switch between chordal sets as you play.
Strum speed can be adjusted and/or made velocity-sensitive. When velocity is enabled for strum speed, the harder you hit a note the faster the chord is strummed, approximating what a guitarist naturally does.
There is also a chord arpeggiator, which is handy if you’re not a keyboard player. Personally, I prefer to play arpeggiated chords myself for a more human-like effect. But it’s a fun feature either way.
Look for the easily-missed anvil icon to the right of the Arpeggiate buttons. This turns all your chords into I-V “power chords”. Turn up the volume for mute articulation and crank up the distortion and you’re ready to chug.
A Telecaster has two pickups, and one of the distinguishing characteristics of this guitar is how different the bridge and neck pickups sound. The neck pickup is smooth with long sustain, while the bridge is edgy. Combined, they produce a very full sound that lends itself to thick distortion effects, gutsy leads and fat rhythms. Renegade features independent sample sets for each pickup for authentic reproduction.
The classic Telecaster sound in Country music comes from the bridge pickup. It’s bright enough to poke through any mix. Try the “Sunset” preset for a classic Country Rock lead sound (think Ghost Riders in the Sky or Green Grass and High Tides) from the bridge pickup and tremolo. (Or try the bridge-pickup “Angst” preset, bring up the distortion and dive into some classic 70’s hard rock.)
Pickup selection can, like most Kontakt parameters, be automated. I prefer to load two instances of the instrument when switching between mellow chords and biting leads, but it’s quite possible to do it with a single instance and MIDI automation.
Presets and Effects
There are six effects, two amp sims and ten cabinets to choose from. More often than not, with most guitar libraries I’ll usually use an external guitar effect suite such as Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig. But surprisingly, for the kinds of sounds I’m after with Renegade, the built-in effects cover it all very nicely.
The main screen has two tabs, selected at the bottom: Main and Effects. Click the Effects tab to open the effects and amp/speaker sims page. There you’ll find a preset menu with 23 slots, five user-defined and nineteen factory presets (which may be overwritten).
Effects include a compressor, distortion, delay, flanger, tremolo and reverb. These are all pretty generic, so I won’t elaborate on them except to say that they are quite usable and effective.
I only have one minor quibble, concerning the compressor. At higher compression amounts, it produces an unnatural-sounding volume envelope. I’d recommend staying within the lower half of the Amt range or using an external compressor if heavy compression is needed.
There are two amp models, cryptically labeled “Amp 1” and “Amp 2”. Both feature Gain, Treble, Mid, Bass and Master volume controls. The latter adds a Presence control and a “High Gain” switch, and may work better for more aggressive styles. The High Gain switch lends a nice amount of distortion and sustain, and also adds an authentic amount of noise.
You have a choice of nine speaker emulations, or you can bypass this feature if you prefer to use an external speaker simulator.
Renegade also makes use of Snapshots, a feature of Kontakt 5 (starting at 5.4) and the main reason this is a K5 instrument (many of the other Indiginus guitars are compatible with K4). Because this is a relatively new Kontakt feature, you may not be very familiar with it yet, so here’s the scoop.
A snapshot is a bulk save of every control setting to a single file. In some ways it’s functionally similar to saving a separate instrument definition (.nki file) but more convenient, especially when you later want to re-use it in another song or track. But snapshots don’t save everything.
The main difference between a snapshot and an instrument file is that the former only includes the values of existing controls, whereas the latter includes the control definitions themselves, included modules, sample maps, scripts, and optionally even the samples themselves. If you modify the scripts or the mapping or add Kontakt effects, then you’ll still need to save those changes as a new .nki file. But if you’re not a low-level tweaker and you’re only interested in saving control values such as effects settings and instrument options, then snapshots are the way to go. Because they don’t re-load samples or re-create controls, they load very, very quickly.
Note: snapshots are not global. They are tied to an instrument name, so if you do save your instrument as a separate .nki, any snapshots you saved under the default instrument name (Renegade.nki) will not be available to the new instrument. Do yourself a favor and just use snapshots instead of creating new instruments.
At the top of the standard Kontakt toolbar, there’s a camera icon. Click that to enter Snapshot mode. Click the “I” (Information) button beside it to exit Snapshot mode. A handful of factory-supplied snapshots are included.
To save your current instrument state, click the disk icon and type in a name for your snapshot. Now, your snapshot will be included in the snapshot dropdown list for future re-use.
Tweaks, Slides, Bends and a Couple Minor Nitpicks
There are a bunch of other tweaks for customizing your sound and playback. Some cool stuff you can do:
- Lock hammer-ons and trills to tempo
- Make harmonies bend, or not
- Alter bend speed
- Set independent levels for each articulation
- Adjust volume of release samples, finger squeaks and other noises
Note: to access many of these, you will need to show the extended settings panel. Look for a button below the velocity mapping screen labeled “more settings”. This brings up the scale-snap for hammer-ons and trills, bend speed adjustment and the articulations mixer.
Vibrato is controlled by the mod wheel, but you can add an auto-vibrato effect that can save programming time when precise control isn’t needed. Unfortunately, the only adjustment offered for auto-vibrato is depth – no adjustable fade-in time or speed. However, Tracy seemed amenable to adding these to a future revision, so I’m hoping they come along in version 2. In the meantime, I’m sticking to the mod wheel.
Slides are not very configurable, as they are sampled rather than scripted. This means they always travel the same distance (two semitones) and at one speed. It’s a calculated tradeoff; sampled slides make up for their lack of variation by sounding natural and believable. My advice: don’t go nuts with slides, lest your track give itself away as a programmed performance. Used sparingly, though, they’re quite effective.
Note that there are two types of slides: starting below the target note or starting at the target note. These are not key-switchable and may only be selected by clicking the “on target” or “below target” buttons on the Global Settings tab (click the little gear icon) or by MIDI automation. However, you’ll probably settle on one or the other and stick with it. I most often use the “below target” setting, which I find more intuitive.
Bends are a little more flexible. Unlike slides, bends have some intelligence behind them. Renegade uses the Master Key setting to determine where the slide begins (when bending up) or ends (when bending down). There are three types of bends: up, down and up-then-back. I try to use them all, plus the pitch wheel, to add variety and make the track sound less robotic.
Well, there you have it. I haven’t gone into much detail as to how you do all these things – my philosophy is it’s more important to know what’s possible than to know exactly how to go about it. But that won’t be difficult. The user manual is clear and concise, and Tracy has made a nice overview video . If you’ve ever used a guitar Kontakt library before you’ll figure this one out in about ten minutes.
What you’ll need: $59 and full Kontakt 5.5 or later. Renegade is not compatible with the free Kontakt player (which is why it’s only $59).
Chromaphone is regarded by many as AAS’s jewel in the crown. Now with version two, there are even more facets in that jewel to dazzle us.
by David Baer, May 2016
This is a review of the Chromaphone 2 instrument from Applied Acoustic Systems (or, more commonly, AAS). I will be assuming the reader has no experience with the first version. But before any Chromaphone veterans run off, let me point you to a previous article I wrote about how Chromaphone works its unusual magic in producing sounds in an earlier SoundBytes article. That can be found here:
In it, we explore how sounds are programmed by deconstructing several of the factory presets. Although it was written using the earlier Chromaphone version, it’s still 100% relevant.
Here’s one more interesting note for longtime AAS followers. The story goes that one reason for there being a Chromaphone 2 was so that AAS could convert Chromaphone to their new architecture, something they’ve gradually been doing to most of their other existing instruments. “But wait”, you say … “wasn’t Chromaphone (1) the first instrument to be mounted on that new platform?” It turns out that it was, but that “new platform” got some improvements subsequent to the completion of the first Chromaphone. It being the first software to be taken in the new direction, things were learned along the way. The new architecture got improved to the point that AAS wanted to make Chromaphone fully compliant with the most advanced version. Now, back to basics …
Chromaphone 2 (hereafter we’ll drop the “2”) creates sound through mathematical modelling, meaning a lot a hairy calculations are undertaken to produce the data that comprise the output audio waveforms. Synthesis via modelling is that for which AAS is renowned. In this case, what is modelled is some configuration of objects that include one or two resonators, a mallet to excite one or both and a noise source to likewise excite one or both.
OK, that’s a bit abstract. Think of one such configuration: a drum stick (that’s a kind of mallet) hits a stretched circular membrane and creates a “whack” sound. Even with such a simple scenario, there are a lot of things that can cause the result to sound a certain way. How hard is the head of the drum stick – is it a small wood head or a fabric-tipped softer type of drum stick? How tightly stretched is the membrane?
But the membrane is probably not floating free in space, but rather is stretched over a circular drum body. Now we have two resonators. In this case the membrane responds to the mallet and the drum body responds to the excited membrane. The energy may flow two ways: first from the membrane into the body, exciting the body, and then flowing back from the excited body to further influence the resonance of the membrane.
Now you’re hopefully starting to see what Chromaphone is all about (and don’t worry, we’ll get back to the noise exciter component before this is all over). But it’s not just about creating un-tuned percussive sounds. As you’ll see, Chromaphone can create all manner of tuned musical sounds that both mimic real-life instruments and create sounds from imaginary ones. The breadth of types of sounds is really quite remarkable, as is ably proven by the factory presets.
Sound Production Components
At the top of this article, we see one of Chromaphone’s three UI views, the Play View. Immediately above, we see the Edit View, in which most of the serious work of sound design is done.
Let’s talk about the resonators first. We have the following types (this mostly verbatim from the user manual):
- String: a perfectly elastic string,
- Beam: a rectangular beam with constant cross-section,
- Marimba: a beam with variable section allowing one to obtain partials having a quasi-harmonic ratio,
- Plate: a rectangular plate,
- Drumhead: circular membrane (this one is new to Chromaphone 2),
- Membrane: rectangular membrane,
- Open Tube: a cylindrical tube with both ends open allowing one to obtain the complete harmonic series (even and odd harmonics),
- Closed Tube: a cylindrical tube with one end closed allowing one to obtain only odd harmonics,
- Manual: In this mode, one can create a custom resonator by selecting up to four partials; the rank of each partial is fixed using the Partial 1 to Partial 4
A preset can use just one of these resonators or two. When using two, they can be fully independent, fully coupled (the first resonator being the exciter of the second), or something in between.
Depending upon which resonator type is selected, certain parameters can be set that include things like Material, the setting for which influences how fast partials decay in relation to one another. This is at the heart of Chromaphone sound designing and I’m certainly not going to attempt to explain it all. I’ll leave that to the excellent user manual, which is of the high quality we’ve come to expect from AAS in documentation. I’ll also suggest once again that the truly curious may wish to check the aforementioned SoundBytes tutorial to learn more on this topic.
The resonator coupling is controlled by a Balance control and the Coupled switch. When Coupled is not enabled, the two resonators (assuming both are active) just do their thing and the Balance dictates their relative loudness. When Coupled is on, Balance dictates how easy it is for one resonator to set the other in motion.
If you are finding all of this this a bit baffling (if not downright intimidating), you are certainly not alone. Little of this is intuitive stuff. But a little time spent examining the presets will reward you with a lot of insight. Some experimentation will take you even further. That said, the one thing I would really like to see added to Chromaphone is a Random button to instantly throw serendipitous variations together. I truly believe this would be a fascinating way to create some fabulous sounds by building combinations that one would never think of trying.
As stated earlier, there are two mechanisms that introduce energy into the resonators: the mallet and the noise generator. They can be used singly or concurrently. Some portion of either can be routed directly to the output mix. The mixer controls can be seen to the right. The two controls labelled Direct govern the output level that goes directly to the output mix.
The mallet parameters are simple: Stiffness, Noise and Color. Stiffness is self-explanatory. Noise is not to be confused with the Noise exciter; it is just a noise component of the mallet strike. Color influences the frequency content of the mallet noise.
This is a good time to mention modulation. In the image to the right, the preset has the Stiffness lightly modulated by key position and semi-lightly modulated by velocity. Modulation is set by clicking and dragging on the little colored dot. Rings of corresponding color appear around the control. This scheme is consistent throughout Chromaphone; it’s simple, elegant and effective.
The Noise exciter is simple on the surface but actually a bit deeper than the Mallet exciter. With it, we can have a sustained exciter influence that can be modulated by an envelope and/or an LFO. There’s a filter which can be one of a variety of pass types. In the image to the right, an LP filter has been selected. The Frequency control does what you’d expect and the middle control dictates the Q of the resonance. For other filter types this control will vary. For example, for an HP/LP pair, the middle control will be width (i.e., the distance between HP and LP cutoff frequencies).
Density is also what you’d expect. Think of impulses arriving at a rate defined by density. The output is something like a Geiger counter: a few occasional randomly timed impulse clicks when the level is low to full-on continuous noise for a nuclear reactor core.
It’s worth pointing out that Noise is used in unexpected ways in many of the factory presets. In some cases, it achieves a bowed quality and in others it becomes like a stream of air exciting pipes to produce an organ-like sound.
There is just one envelope and one LFO in Chromaphone, which for veteran sound designers may sound inadequate, although the vibrato module does have an internal dedicated LFO. For everything else, it’s rare that one envelope and one LFO cannot get the job done, given the types of sounds Chromaphone excels at creating.
Effects and More
We’ll just touch briefly on FX in this review. They are quite serviceable and entirely adequate for the job at hand. The FX View is seen above. There is an EQ and a compressor always available as well as a reverb module at the end of the FX chain. The two modules with the little white inverted triangle can each be set to one of a list of FX module types: delay, distortion, chorus, flanger, phaser, wah-wah, auto-wah and a notch filter. I’m not going to spend time on these. They are all fine and just what you’d expect. Download and dip into the user manual if you need to find out more prior to purchase.
Another thing I haven’t mentioned is the arpeggiator, new to version 2. It is supplemented by a rhythm-pattern engine to give a groove to the arpeggiation. This is seen in the Play View, the UI of which appears at the top of this article. If you are an arpeggiator curmudgeon like me and normally avoid using them, let down your defenses and give a few of the factory arp presets an audition. I’d be willing to bet several will bring a smile to your face. There’s just something about Chromaphone that arpeggiation enhances in novel ways.
Finally, in the Play View, you can also see modules for controlling Vibrato, Unison (two or four voices) and Clock for specifying “host tempo” when running standalone.
If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of the instrument is definitely in the listening – and Chromaphone proves itself to be nothing less than brilliant. Even though many users may be intimidated by the notion of doing sound design for this unusual form of synthesis, the 600 factory presets, supplemented by a superb bonus sound set of 128 presets give you more than enough to keep one happily creating music.
As stated earlier, Chromaphone naturally excels at creating percussive-type sounds. What else would you expect when the primary exciter is a mallet? But if we want to get technical, it must be acknowledged that instruments like the piano and the xylophone are also percussive instruments, ones that happen to produce precisely-pitched sounds. So it will come as no surprise that Chromaphone also has presets for a brilliant glockenspiel, and enchanting celeste and oh-so-cool vibraphone and many more mallet-struck real-world instruments.
But there’s so very much more. Presets are organized into categories. The browser is nothing fancy, but the organization is straightforward and it’s very easy to find what you might be looking for. On the right you will see the categories of the factory content. There are 600 or so presets that range from strikingly realistic simulations of real-world instruments to wondrous flights of fancy.
For existing owners, any version 1 preset content can seamlessly be migrated simply by moving some files into the new preset area on your hard drive.
Is Chromaphone for You?
I cannot envision any owner of version one wanting to pass on the upgrade for a mere $39 (assuming the initial $29 upgrade price is no longer in effect by the time you read this). It’s worth that money just to acquire the marvelous 128-preset add-on library called Synbiosis which is part of the deal. The full version is priced at $199. But AAS does routinely have sales with very good discounts. You know the drill: get on their mailing list or be a regular lurker on any music forum that carries news about current bargains.
Chromaphone can be installed as 32-bit or 64-bit VST, RTAS, and AAX Native plug-ins for Windows and AU, VST, RTAS, and AAX Native plug-ins for Mac OS X. It also can be run as a standalone application. Authorization is painless and permits use on two computers concurrently.
What’s not to like? Highly recommended!
For more information, to check out a very nice demo video, or to purchase Chromaphone, go here:
The software is also available from a variety of independent music software dealers.
Strezov’s Thunder X3M is a percussion library that offers a natural immediacy that’s very organic, much to our reviewer’s pleasure.
by Per Lichtman, May 2016
Thunder X3M ($329 MSRP, available for download at Strezov-Sampling.com) is a percussion library for the full version of Kontakt 5 and a completely revamped version of Thunder Percussion bundle I reviewed a year ago with roughly 9 GB of completely new content, bringing the total library size to 19GB. There’s a wealth of new content and almost everything you liked from the original is here with refinements and improvements. The only thing that got left behind was the bonus drum kit called “Iron Maiden”, which wasn’t up to the sonic standards of the rest of the library (hence a bonus) and also wouldn’t fit the new mapping. Since everything else that I liked from the original bundle is here now, you can get some background by reading the earlier review but I’m going to emphasize what’s new and has changed. You can also read more about Strezov’s approach in our interview this month.
Integration and Interface
Thunder X3M is now a single unified percussion library instead of a bundle. That means that the GUI and mic positions used are now fully consistent between sections and that content is a lot easier to navigate. That’s good because by my count those 19 GB of content yield 100 articulations (78 hits, 11 normal rolls and 11 single mic-position distorted/processed versions of those rolls), with five mic positions (three recorded, two processed with fx). As a result, being able to move quickly is especially important.
There are two patches for adding content from scratch: a basic one for the 78 hit articulations, another for the 22 roll category articulations. You can’t use the rolls patch to map hit articulations or vice-versa but given how differently they are used, that probably simplifies the organization for most people. Each patch has twelve zones, spread across the keyboard: if you’re using an 88-key keyboard, the first zone starts on low C and goes to F, the next zone goes from the F# to the B. This mapping is repeated for successive zones up a total of six octaves. Every key in a given zone plays from the same sample pool (which often has both several dynamic layers and many round-robins) with the same pitch, so the extra keys in the zone are just meant to make it easier to trigger.
Assigning content to the zones is a quick process, especially since the articulations are divided into sub categories. The rolls are divided into rolls and distorted rolls. The hits are divided into Low Ensembles, High Ensembles, Ethnic Percussion, Solo Percussion, Epic Metals, Sound Design Percussion and Distorted Percussion. These categories differ slightly from some of the pre-made patch “Multi Patches” options, and the .nka preset files you can load in the patch GUI.
The Multi Patches cover the overwhelming majority of the articulations and are All Clacks, Epic Metals, Ethnic Percussion, High Ensembles, Low Ensembles, Solo Percussion, Sound Design Percussion and Toms. You may miss a few articulations if you only use these. Then there are the .NKA preset files: “6-zones-of-punchy-taiko”, All Clacks, Epic Metals, Ethnic Percussion, High Ensembles, Hi-Hats, Low Ensembles, “Low_on_Steroids”, Processed Toms, Solo Percussion, Sound Design Percussion and Toms.
Completely New Content
Those of you that read my earlier review may be wondering where a lot of the new sample content is coming from. For starters, there are many totally new articulations: all the Solo Percussion articulations, all but two of the Epic Metals articulations and ten of the Low and High Ensemble articulations. I won’t go into great detail listing all the articulations (since the Strezov site and the manual already do that) but the new content really expands the scope of the library greatly, especially the Solo Percussion. Solo Percussion articulations include solo taikos, a Mahler hammer played on wood, gran casa and three different solo toms, each played with a choice of sticks or mallets. I also enjoy using all five of the anvils now found in the Epic Metals category.
Strezov Sampling went back to the original source recordings used in the earlier Thunder bundle and made a ton of revisions. In some cases the recordings were processed to create new mic positions (for instance, the bass position previously called “grinder” was added for some of the articulations that didn’t have it previously) and in all cases the sample editing was revisited from the ground-up. The result is that library feels much tighter and more consistent, and that some articulations that I previously felt could occasionally be a bit “too loose” are now right in the pocket.
Thunder X3M is now faster, easier to use and more refined but the raw power remains. The acoustic recordings have a very natural, unprocessed sound and area recorded in a balanced hall that makes it easy to mix into a variety of environments. The more processed sounds pack a different punch, of course. The rolls are easy to use: you hold the note and then move the modwheel to crossfade between rolls at different dynamics, infinitely looping until you let go.
The strength of the library lies in the flexibility (and the agility) that the sounds have due to the way they were recorded. Compared to libraries recorded in more reverberant spaces, the timing feels more precise and it is easier to play especially rapid figures – and you can mix the sounds into a wider range of spaces in post with additional reverb, et cetera. The new Solo Percussion have been some of the most used articulations in my tracks, making it fun to lay down a variety of interlocking rhythms between different instruments.
Is It Right For You?
While there are many percussion ensemble libraries on the market, Thunder X3M offers a natural immediacy that’s very organic. Thunder X3M goes much farther than its predecessor in terms of size and usability. There’s not only a wealth of content, but also some very deeply sampled articulations combining both an array of round-robins and several dynamic layers. This is a library that you can quickly get a lot of impact with, but it also offers a lot of room to grow. If you want a more reverberant sound of the box, there are several options. Those wanting a mixture of ensemble and solo percussion that’s more flexible to mix need look no further.
Strezov Sampling is the maker of Bulgarian sample libraries, including orchestral and choral offerings. We speak with the man at the helm, George Strezov.
by Per Lichtman, May 2016
Strezov Sampling are the makers of Bulgarian sample libraries, including orchestral and choral offerings like Storm Choir, Thunder and Cornucopia and many others. They offer a sound very different from other brands. In this interview their founder, George Strezov, walks us through both the how and why, of that process and gives a bit of insight into some uniquely Bulgarian factors that played a part in the journey as well.
SoundBytes: On behalf of our readers, I just wanted to take the time to say thank you for answering some of our questions about music and sampling.
George Strezov: Hello SoundBytes and thank you for this interview!
SB: What experiences as a composer led you to start recording your own samples? Was there any very positive experience that inspired you or any gap that you felt needed to be filled?
GS: One of the main reasons why we started this Strezov Sampling adventure is because most of the commercial sample libraries out there I used were … too perfect! I strongly believe that the magic behind music are those tiny imperfections that make things sound interesting and catchy. Otherwise it’s just too robotic!
I’ve been to a few seminars here in Bulgaria where the tutors mainly spoke about controlling the pitch-wheel for, say, first violins in order to make it more “live” and realistic. There was a time I worked mainly with advertising and commercials and – believe me – between countless revisions and sleepless nights I don’t have the time, nor nerves to manually fine-tune the pitch of each melody.
And actually a good friend of mine, Jasper Blunk, has actually led me to this thinking – and this is when we first did Storm Choir 1 with him a fellow composer Oliver Codd. I have a Masters degree in choral conducting and as a tenor I have sung in many choirs – from film music (Duel of the fates) to Bach (St. Matthew’s passion and currently rehearsing the “Hohe Messe” in B minor). Throughout my entire “career” as a choir singer we’ve always been told that we have to sing as, I quote, “German singers or English singers”, and we have to get rid of that primal Slavonic singing vibe (although it’s hard and maybe impossible to do that). So when we first discussed the concept for Storm Choir 1 I was really hesitant whether people would appreciate this type of sound … turns out I was wrong! People nowadays are tired of those soulless samples – they want something with emotion, they want to “feel” the musician behind the hundreds of .wav files. So this is what drives our company at the moment – searching for the sound, not just the “notes”. We have a specific way of sampling – which to my humble opinion got its peak while recording Wotan; I can’t give much details but let’s just say it’s not just dull long and short notes *wink*.
SB: Many sample library developers seem to have a sonic signature to their libraries. The recordings in your acoustic sample libraries tend to have a very natural, open and unprocessed sound that helps to differentiate them from some other libraries that go for either a glossier or more heavily colored sound. What inspired you to go this route and what are some of the aspects you feel help achieve this sound?
GS: I’ll add a few points to my previous answer – when you get a choir or orchestra to play together in an ensemble, they are never pitch-perfect when you think vertically; it’s not a piano, the sound constantly moves up and down while musicians try to get even with the others in the ensemble. You can’t have this when all your samples are auto-tuned to the maximum and when you hold a six-note chord from the strings you actually get … a piano. This is something I personally don’t like and we try to change it with every library we do. We’re not always right, but we’re always fighting for this.
SB: Can you tell us a bit about the recording space you use and the musicians and instruments you’ve worked with so far? Any fun stories from sampling sessions?
GS: We work closely with Four For Music Ltd. (http://www.sofiaso.com) the company behind Sofia Session Orchestra and Choir, they have been very helpful and always supporting of our endeavors. We try to pay the highest musician fees in Bulgaria and to keep the musicians happy – although to be honest there’s nothing fun in a six-hour recording session of sampling. I remember having an intense period of two-week non-stop recording for Storm Choir 2, and while the musicians only had two hours of singing per day (in order to keep their voices fresh) I was conducting for both men and women non-stop and was there before and after that in order to organize all PT sessions. One of the funniest moments to me was recording Thunder 2; with Thunder – which I keep very close to my heart – we did constant experiments. Not only with the ensembles, but with the sticks as well! For the large gran casa ensembles we bought a couple of shovels and made a few beaters out of the handles. You can imagine these are very large and have a specific form … so just while we were recording one of the players didn’t prepare in time so he asked his colleague: “I’m sorry, but can you please pass me the dildos?” I think we still have it in the raw session material.
SB: Do you find that the greatest challenges in creating sample libraries are creative or organizational and logistical? What are some parts of the process that readers might not think about?
GS: I would say from a business point of view, the biggest challenge is marketing and competing with the huge names out there. Also another thing the readers do not think about I think is how much time and money actually goes into recording those libraries. Somehow it’s perceived that sampling is somewhat of an easy job – but I have to say that for instance we recorded our Macabre Solo strings three times before it turned out good. It was just not what we were after.
SB: What have been some of the most gratifying moments you’ve had since you started Strezov Sampling? Have you heard your products used in ways that really inspired you or that you found particularly unexpected?
GS: For sure one of the moments that still make my day is seeing a composer you have admired since your childhood to get your sample libraries or even to drop you a line saying they really appreciate what the entire team is doing. I think for me this is the biggest reward. Also I’m not going to lie that all those sample libraries are inside my template so I’m trying to improve my writing skills every day and to increase my MIDI orchestration quality.
As for hearing our products – I mostly do when I go to the movies cause nowadays all trailers have Storm Choir 1/2 in them. However I was really surprised by Adam Hochstatter’s demo (this guy is a genius!) for Rhodope – he featured an ethnic Bulgarian choir in a “country” piece, which is something I would have never thought of. He always surprises me very pleasantly – and it’s very cool seeing what other people do with your libraries.
SB: Cornucopia had an excellent sound to it. Are there any plans to bring the players back together to record individual sections or use the true legato interval sampling approach seen in the Macabre solo bundle?
GS: Thank you – Cornucopia is really something we thought of expanding; no concrete plans yet but I can say that we are working on the update right now which will fix major scripting issues that we had even with the latest updates. It will feature the old content, but in a much more playable way. And there might be some additional bonus content for this update too.
SB: How do you keep musicians musically engaged during a long sampling session? What are some of the key things you try to get out of their performances?
GS: Coffee. Lots of it. Or at least for me – I rarely get any sleep around sampling sessions. Often I do my own conducting during the session and like to joke a lot in order to keep players occupied with something else than sempre dynamic, sustain, staccato, sustain, staccato. And again, as I pointed before we have a bit non-traditional way of recording samples.
SB: The technology side of sample recording and sample playback has evolved a lot over the years and it seems (to outside observers like me), that the pace hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down in recent years. What are some of the areas you feel can still be improved in terms of sample recording, library scripting and sample playback?
GS: There are still things that need to be fixed. One thing that personally annoys me is that Kontakt doesn’t have in its loop editor an option to do equal power crossfades. This will save so much time on looping and will actually bring better results for all the looping that needs to be done in Kontakt. Playback is getting better and better which allows us sample library developers to push for the limits more; we introduced multiple microphone positions in Storm Choir 2 that can be used for different music genres and thus change the sound of the choir itself. Thing like this could not have been added a few years ago in a single patch. Still, there are few things that could be improved – at least in Kontakt; we do a lot of scripting stuff which is – as we say in Bulgaria – like getting water from ten wells when we have one right next to us.
SB: On behalf of our readers, we want to thank you for taking the time to answer all these questions for us. We wish you the best of luck with your future projects and look forward to hearing more of the fruits of your labor!
A multi-band compressor at your service – easy to use, sounding great, and with a nice set of generally defined presets named by function.
by A. Arsov, May 2016
In a previous issue we reviewed Softube Drawmer S73, a simplified version of the Drawmer 1973. Both plug-ins are simulations of the original Drawmer FET multiband compressor with some unique extra options. Actually, Drawmer 1973 offers all those controllers that were hidden on S73, allowing the user to fine-tune the end results, changing various settings inside any preset or even setting everything up from scratch. We already pointed out with the Drawmer S73 that the main advantage of this Softube tool is the fact that it is really easy to set up right, and what is even better, that it produces a clear, well-defined sound. I have to admit that I’m not an expert in compressing tasks, having struggled with multiband compressors over the years, rarely getting satisfying results. Drawmer 1973 doesn’t offer a large number of presets, but the funny truth is that those presets work well with almost all the sounds I have used it for. No matter if I used it for a drum bus or on the main output for the whole mix for taming a problematic bass part or any other problematic area that needs multiband handling. I’ve tried a million presets on many other multiband compressors – sometimes they do the job, but in most cases they don’t sound as they should and end up pumping or even smudging the whole picture, trying to change some settings and making things even worse. If you’ve ever worked with those tools you probably know what I’m talking about. So at this point, Drawmer 1973 is a blessing for me. Of course, if you are a skilled producer able to set any compressor on the fly, there is a still enough joy inside Drawmer 1973 to make you happy. A well-defined, clear sound, the ability to set mid or side compression for every band separately, spreading the high end along with taming the lows, or being able to set very short attack or release values.
Drawmer In Detail
The whole thing is quite well-designed (similar to the original hardware) and therefore you will not lose your mind trying to figure out how to set it right. Of course, those few presets are a great starting point, and in many cases everything you’ll ever need.
In the upper row you will find the Input knob which controls the input gain that goes through the compressor, the Output section with an output knob along with a Mix knob for setting the balance between uncompressed and compressed signals, applying parallel compression. Sometimes the end result on Drawmer 1973 can sound a bit hard nailed, so I often use this knob to get a more natural sound, especially on more aggressive tracks, like orchestral percussion or even on the master output.
Between Input and Output is also a Mode section where we can find a Stereo to Mid/Side switch for applying different compression settings for mid and side portions of the sound. Quite useful for adding sparkle to the high end or for taming the reverb that sticks out on a both sides.
At the bottom we find three big windows with Low, Mid and High sections and two Low and High X over frequency knobs for setting the splitting point between bands.
Every band contains a Threshold knob along with Attack, Release and Gain knobs. As we already mentioned, Drawmer 1973 offers really short Attack and Release times that I miss on some other multiband compressors. Attack goes from 0.2 ms to 50 ms, while Release goes from 0.08 s to 5 s. Not such a big difference but on some occasions it works wonders.
There are also two additional functions implemented with Drawmer 1973, the first one being a “Big” switch placed in the Low band that reduces the sidechain sensitivity for the low end, making the lows a bit louder and more prominent. As they explain nicely in the user manual: Controlling the low end still preserving tick and warm sound The other is the Air switch in the left corner of the High band which brings back those high frequencies we lost when applying heavy compression on the highs.
That’s What We’ve Got
There is not much in the way of additional controllers. Actually, you need to hear Drawmer 1973 in action to get the full impression. I tried it along with a few other multiband compressors and prefer this one, as somehow it provides this analog-like crisp and clean result, offering a more well-defined sound compared to other multiband compressors that just compress the sound. Maybe it’s just my subjective opinion, but to my ears it sounds different, and after all, it offers instant results with those generally defined presets named by function – like Punch, Clarity, Wide, Fat and similar.
In one sentence: Easy to use and good sounding. Actually, that is all I want.
You will need $249 USD and iLok software to use this one, but the good news is that you don’t need to have iLok hardware.
More info at:
Future is finally here. Now you can hire a virtual drummer and virtual keyboard player to play and record in your virtual home studio. The end result is real.
by A. Arsov, May 2016
What a great songwriting tool we’ve got here, and I didn’t even knew about it. I own EZ Drummer Lite and Superior Drummer from Toontrack, and receive news about their new stuff, but somehow I missed what these EZ tools are capable of. That was until the day a producer colleague of mine pointed these products out to me. I was quite amazed how I managed to miss all that essential info about all the functions these tools offer. It is a bit sad how so many great tools are all around us and we are not aware of them just because we’re swamped with too much information every day.
So, let’s see what EZKeys and EZ Drummer 2.0 are all about. Drums first.
EZ Drummer 2.0 by Toontrack
This is actually a virtual drummer. It is also a drum instrument or library with great sounding drum kits and nice additional editing features, but it’s main power lies in its ability to help you, actually to allow you to compile the whole drum track in a less than five minutes. I didn’t believe it at first, but after spending some time with EZ Drummer 2.0 I discovered it is actually possible.
So, after loading EZ Drummer 2.0 in an instrument track, all you need to do is to open the Search menu in upper row of the main window. In the upper left corner you will see a Tap2Find button. Press the button and set quantization as desired. (I set it to None, as I had already tested it with some not so common rhythms – it works.) You will hear a metronome and now you can add kick and snare or even hi-hats simply by playing those instruments through a keyboard or by clicking on the appropriate instrument, adding hits with a mouse click. Press show results and you will get a bunch of matching MIDI beats ranked by percentage, regarding how similar they are to your beat. Now all you need to do is try some of them and find the one that suits you best. At the bottom you will see a Song Creator knob, press it and than drag your MIDI clip into the MIDI drop zone (you will see a big arrow pointing it out). After a few moments of calculation you will get a whole drum heaven of clips ranked into different rows: Intro, Verse, Chorus, PreChorus, Bridge and Ending, with plenty of variations. All you need to do is to try them and drag them into the big “Drag your MIDI song blocks here” window to compile a track with those elements. You can use that track with EZ Drummer or you can drag it to your DAW using it with any other drum source. No matter which electro genre you are in, those finished tracks can do wonders with your drum machine.
Of course MIDI clips that are in the main song “Drag your MIDI song blocks here” window, can be further manipulated. Double click on a clip and an Edit play style window will be opened. Here you can change the kit parts by dragging Power hand from Hi-hat to Ride or from Snare to Floor Tom and the Hi-hat part will be played with Ride and all similar combinations. There is also an amount button in the bottom row. Select an instrument and decrease or increase the amount and EZ Drummer will add or take some beats from that instrument, of course, according to the style and content of the MIDI clip. It worked better than I expected.
There are a number of additional MIDI packs at the Toontrack store. Copy all your third party drum MIDI clips into the EZ MIDI directory and EZ Drummer will recognize them and will add them to a browser along with additional MIDI packs, just as those that come with EZ Drummer 2.0. I also obtained a few additional MIDI packs, like AOR Grooves, American Rock, Funk, Basic Rock, Songwriting kit 1 and 2, Basic Jazz and Reggae and didn’t regret it for a second. MIDI packs will cost you €25 EUR, MIDI pack Bundles around €80 EUR. If you make a music on regular basis, then these additional packs are a definitely more than a good buy, especially if you’re oldschool, searching through MIDI libraries instead of typing in your rhythm (did I mention that EZ Drummer has a very advanced MIDI Browser where you can go through genres, MIDI packs, song parts and so on?).
With EZ Drummer 2.0 we get two different kits, Modern and Vintage, and each of these bring a whole palette of additional presets with different sounding kicks and snares. Both kits sounds very realistic and there is also a mixer part where you can edit every part of a kit, setting the volume, pan or even sending it to separate outputs, along with setting a general reverb and compressor for the whole kit.
You can get EZ Drummer 2.0 for €139 EUR.
More info on https://www.toontrack.com/ezdrummer-line/
ESSENTIAL for: A whole drum track within five minute, with intro, verses, fills and chorus parts.
EZKeys by Toontrack
Toontrack offers the whole line of different Keys modules, from Classical Piano through various Electric pianos and Pipe organs. Whatever you prefer. I went for the Classic Electric package that offers two great old modules: the Rhodes MK1 and Wurlitzer 200 A. No matter which one you choose, the songwriting procedure is the same. With these modules you just select the sound you like. Yes, the EZKeys line offers similar functions to EZ Drummer – it helps you write a piano based song even if you are not a piano player. All you need to do is choose some parts and combine them together using the original chords that come with the MIDI packs, or add your own chords, or even as a third solution by changing chords taking into consideration chord suggestions that the EZKeys chord editor offers. One way or another, you need to browse through various MIDI clips, choosing one, adding a chord progression, selecting your instrument and that’s more or less it. I found this to be essential for some electro, deep house songs that I’m working on. So, lets make a new song with EZKeys.
I presume you already have some basic backing, a guitar line progression, or a bass line, maybe even a drum line made with EZ Drummer 2.0, and you would like to add piano to your arrangement (assuming that you are a guitar player or even vocalist without any advanced piano knowledge).
As you open your EZKeys instrument, you will again see the familiar window “Drop your MIDI song block here”. There is a place where you can add chords by clicking the “+” button in the top right corner of this window or by simply pressing record and banging chords through your keyboard. I presume the first option will be your choice – so after getting a bunch of C blocks you just need to click this C, changing chords according to your preferences or with a help of the so called Chord wheel where you can see recommended substitutes for the current chord (don’t forget to select basic scale for your song under that main window), making your progression correspond to your prerecorded tracks. Select all your new clips and press “Use browser MIDI” near the “+” sign in upper right corner under the “Drop your MIDI song block here” window (OK, it is actually a Song Track window) and then just browse through various MIDI clips in the upper browser and the rhythm and style of your MIDI clip will change accordingly to the chosen style still playing your chord progression. When you are happy with results, just drag that MIDI clip to your DAW for further editing (if necessary).
If you need faster or slower options, you can always use the ½X or 2X options for halving or doubling the main tempo.
More or less, that’s it. I obtained a few additional EZKeys MIDI packs and they are quite a lifesaver if the basic ones that you get with your instruments don’t fit your playing style or genre. I especially like the Funk and Soul packs that I’ve added to my collection along with few other essential ones. It’s the same for EZ Drummer 2.0 – after some time you will want to expand your sound collection with various additional packs, as they all add a bit of fresh air to your standard arsenal of sounds and rhythms. Both instruments come with a nice collection of MIDI clips, but more is always more. 😉
There are a few more things that make this instrument even more appealing. In a note sheet under the instrument picture you can see the chord names for the chords that you are currently playing or are played from MIDI clips. In the bottom part of the main window we find a few additional controllers for fine tuning the general sound, like a button for applying reverb level and Line Amp for adding distortion to the signal. Wurlitzer comes with an additional two knobs for Tremolo rate and Tremolo depth, while Rhodes has buttons for Bite and Bass. Both Wurlitzer and Rhodes comes with a nice number of additional presets that bring some variations to the basic sound (Retro Funk, Clear Ambiance, Ballad and Classic and all other sorts of presets).
Actually there is not much more to say about EZKeys since it didn’t come with a host of controllers – this is not its main purpose. It is a songwriting tool packed with instruments, offering a complete solution for adding professional sounding key lines to your composition. I’m quite an average keyboard player and this one puts my keyboard lines on a totally new level.
More info, demo audio clips and video presentation at:
The price of any EZKey model is the same as for EZ Drummer 2.0, €139 EUR.
ESSENTIAL for: One session with a professional keyboard player will cost you exactly the same, so all further sessions will be for free with EZKeys. This is an excellent tool that will help you put your compositions on the next level – a professional one.
A Few Conclusions
Now I just need one more cool virtual vocalist and I can finally go fishing while my computer does all the rest. Just joking, it is a fantastic tool, but it’s up to you to write a good song.
EZ Drummer 2.0 and EZKeys are like a virtual pair of professional musicians, a drummer and keyboard player that you can hire to play those instruments on demand. It is totally the same offer you can get in any professional recording studio. They always have some professional players in stock. EZ Drummer and EZKey virtual instrumentalists will do their job professionally, as all professionals usually do, but everything else is up to you.