Monthly Archives: July 2016

Essentials – Chris Hein Violin and Shreddage Bass 2

Essentials

A beautiful expressive violin playing passionate phrases followed by a highly skilled bass player – then comes a shock: there is only a computer in the room.

by A. Arsov July 2016

 

In a last issue we covered EZ Drummer 2 and EZ Keys from Toontrack. They are both very impressive tools that can help you put life into your arrangements. With EZ Drummer 2 you can finish the whole drum track for your song in a less than five minutes, with all breaks, chorus changes and verse variations. EZ Keys could be your virtual piano player that will follow your harmony changes like a professional player. So, it looks like we need more instruments to add to our virtual band. The age of cheesy MIDI melodies has gone forever. With a few cosmetic changes like New York compression on drums, a touch of EQ, and a bit of delay and reverb on the keyboard part, no one can tell that this is not a recording of real person playing the instrument.

I’m quite a solid bass player, but being out of town for a last month, I decided to take only a small keyboard, my Telecaster and YouRock MIDI Guitar with me, trying to determine if Shreddage Bass 2 is able to sound like a real bass. After all, changing a note in a MIDI editor is a bit easier than re-recoding a whole audio part. For a better live impression I also took the new Chris Hein Violin instrument to add some real live feel to my compositions. One thing is certain, you can never go wrong with Chris Hein instruments, and it looks like his new Violin literally pushes the boundaries, blurring the line between a real performance and a recreated one. So ladies and gentleman, meet the new members of our live “Fake Orchestra”. Chris Hein Solo Violin by Bestservice and Shreddage Bass 2 by Impact Soundworks.

 

Chris Hein Solo Violin

Chris has put me in a difficult position here. This instrument is simply so good that I’m not sure what to even write. Carefully listen to a demo on Bestservice site with quality headphones, comparing a real player with a recreated take with Chris Hein Solo Violin instrument through MIDI controller. If you are really picky, you will notice few tiny spots where the virtual instrument hits its limitations. But in general, if you asked me if this is a real performance, I would tell you without any doubt that it is just that. After all, the demo is quite a complex Valse, and it shows how astonishingly far virtual sample-based instruments can go these days. At first I thought it would be complicated to play such an advanced instrument, but apart from a quite big RAM footprint, almost one gigabyte, I didn’t encounter any difficulties in using this instrument. Compared to the competition Chris Hein Solo Violin offers a very dynamic, emotional, rich and very full, rounded sound that never disappears in the mix. If you ever tried to record live violin, then you probably know how hard is to achieve such a sound. So, if your intention is not to recreate a full complicated violin performance (although Chris proved that in this case, that is even possible), you could make ultra-realistic violin lines in a few minutes just by changing a few articulations on the fly, and for better results, maybe adding an additional controller or two with the mod-wheel (like Note Head, but we will talk about this a bit later).

What Do We Get?

10,000 samples are included in this library, so with four gigabytes less space on your hard disk later, you get an instrument with 38 articulations and up to eight dynamic layers inside any articulation, and four different dynamic modes. Actually the main secret of this library lies in the excellent source material and ultimately the clever programming. Level and overall dynamics between articulations is very well positioned. Also there are six different short note articulations and the same number of spiccato ones, along with fourteen different sustain articulations, giving us far more options for really nailing our performance with minimal effort.

This is quite different than some other violin libraries, in which we get one or just two versions of basic articulations, instead of filling the space with endless numbers of more exotic ones. It is nice to have all those but more or less, most of the work is almost always done with legato, staccato and spiccato articulations. And all those articulations are just a starting point where Chris begins with his programming, adding some very clever solutions for slide notes, portamento settings, and all other things for which “what to implement” is far more important than “how”. A good example for such programming is the aforementioned four dynamic modes. The last two allow us to control dynamics after the key is pressed. In the very last one, auto cross-fade, we can even draw the dynamic amplitude over the tone length. In most cases this might sound like something that we would never use, but it is a real life saver for some phrase endings or a final note for the song, where one long note can ruin the whole performance.

We also get three different legato modes with many additional controllers, no matter that even the basic setup of every mode would do the job quite adequately (as you might have noticed, I’m not a big fan of programming – we did a much of that back in a 90s, so I’m really not keen to do the same more than twenty years later). Legato short provides plenty of options for fine tuning transitions. Legato long is a portamento with adjustable speed and goes up and down for a full octave. Both modes work well also with trills. The last one, Glide mode, is ideal for playing very naturally sounding runs in which you can set the speed, number of steps and even scale and key. Note Heads is also a very interesting function that is unique to this library. It is actually an option with all additional settings that allow us to play up to twelve different short articulations with just one slider, one controller. This can give very dramatic results if you apply it to some very fast arpeggio phrases. Another nice feature is a Blending, where we find a set of three controllers for applying tremolo and minor or major trills in real-time by triggering a slider that comes in very handy for applying trill or tremolo with a delay at the end of a note. All articulations can be defined as a key-switch or as a hot key, applying the articulation only when a key is pressed and switching back to previous articulation as soon as the key is released.

There is also a wealth of additional details in the settings page, where you can specify many things from micro-tuning to a velocity curve. Then there is a big window where you can draw various vibrato curves. There is also an effect window offering various effects, not that you are likely to ever need all of them. Regarding effects, it is interesting that all samples are recorded dry and mono, allowing you to shape a final sound with an internal pair of convolution reverbs, one with short impulses for body of the sound and other one for adding wider space. Of course both reverbs come with a generous number of impulses.

As a last curiosity, we should also mention the Ensemble mode which can turn our solo violin into a five-instrument ensemble. Since I already have a nice collection of various orchestra libraries, I didn’t play much with this option, but it is nice to have it.

For more information visit the Bestservice site and watch some of the video clips to get a feeling of how far virtual simulations can go these days. As they say in Hollywood: everything that you see and hear is based on actual events. It can be yours for €179EUR – quite a small price for such a huge sound.

http://www.bestservice.de/en/chris_hein_solo_violin.html

ESSENTIAL for: This is a true, real violin player playing through your fingers on your keyboard. I know you haven’t thought to use any virtual violin parts in your composition, but this is not a virtual violin anymore. Definitively a new standard in the field of sampled instruments.

 

 

Shreddage Bass 2

This instrument sounds like a real bass, it comes with all needed articulations and variations, and it can be aggressive or gentle. But there is one thing that you should know: if you know how to play bass lines, then Shreddage Bass 2 can sound totally like the real thing; however, if you don’t know much about bass lines, then there is no plug-in that will do that for you. I know that this goes for all sampled instruments, but I’m writing this because most of musicians think that they know how to play bass – thinking that this is something that anyone can do.

Do you know that most bass players in all up-beat songs stop the note just a second before snare comes in, building a strong beat in interaction with a drum player? This is only one of many things that bass players do. The second most common mistake that non-bass players do is by playing legato notes during most bass figures. It works for guitar and keyboard, but not that much for a bass guitar. Most bass players constantly
control the note lenght by lifting up slightly the finger on a left hand to mute a note that was just being fretted, still resting the finger on the string preventing it from vibrating. This is the only way to achieve tight rhythm and absolute silence at the end of the note on a bass guitar. Having all that in mind is quite essential. So if the end result is not what you expected, don’t blame Shreddage Bass 2. I used it in a few of my recent songs and it proved to be just the perfect tool for the job. It offers a prominent tone with a stable and strong mid-range and a nice, really deep low end. As with every bass guitar, you will need few effects to make it sit perfectly in the mix. It is your choice whether to use just internal effects and the internal preamp, or your go-to set of DAW effects that you prefer for such things.

Details

This is a library/instrument that brings us sampled material from a custom-made six-string bass guitar that can go extremely low, making it ideal for metal and rock genres. But this is just one side of the story since there are a nice number of different presets that will take you from distorted to a gentle, warm and clean sound, making it appropriate for just about any genre and almost any playing style. The instrument contains 11,000 samples recorded in 24-bit quality captured through a quality preamp and without any further processing. I couldn’t find the exact number of dynamic layers – according to the number of samples used in library, it is quite an impressive number of layers. And for greater playability there is also up to eight round-robin variations for every note.

While presets share different settings (such as using a virtual amp or just being clean, or with/without EQ), using the same set of samples, we actually get nice number of articulations that are the same for all presets. Default articulation is a single note sustain played with fingers. Than we have Staccato, Harmonics, Hammer On and Pull Off This is the articulation that is triggered automatically when two notes are overlapped (but you can switch off any articulation in the articulation window).

We also have Portamento Slides and effects. All those articulations can be applied through key-switches or invoked automatically at a specific key velocity. Then we have some additional ones that can be applied via buttons on the main Perform window or on the Engine window, like Release Noise, Extra Pop Bends and Unison Bends. This last one causes the lower note of two simultaneously played notes where higher note is bended up while lower stay unchanged. Actually, everything is already programmed for a natural sounding performance, but you can still change some settings on Articulation window if you find any detail that does not suit your playing style, or is not working well with your keyboard setup (the YouRock MIDI Guitar in my case).

As soon as we load the instrument (there’s only one) in our Kontakt Player, we will see the neck of the sampled six-string guitar along with a few basic controllers. Of course, there are also additional windows that we can open through the menu at the top of the graphical interface, bringing enough additional controllers to keep us busy for a whole week.

On this main page we can add string noise and set an amount of a pitch bend for “Unison Bend” function and amount of vibrato. We can also select “mono” mode (monophonic and not mono at the output) or even taping mode where all notes are played as hammer-ons without any pick attacks. Then we can even set the neck range, forcing the notes to be played on that part of the range which changes the overall sound in the same way it would happen on a real bass guitar (any bass guitar, not just the one sampled here). There are also a few other essential knobs there for setting the gain, transposition, and even an option to double the output using a different set of samples for each side of the stereo output.

Next is an articulation page where we can set how articulations will be triggered or even totally disabled. We also have options to set those articulations to be invoked through key-switches or to be applied through a selectable velocity range.

On the Engine window we can set controllers for Release Noise and Extra Pop, applying volume and delay for Extra Pop. At least for me, the most interesting option on this page is the one allowing you to unload all articulations that are not applied or selected in any window, potentially saving you a fair amount of RAM. Then we have Legato Realism, which will insure that all slides will be performed on the same string, since otherwise the slides could sound quite unrealistic. A similar thing goes for Legato Hammer and Volume Realism options, taking care that played notes react in a way logical to the instrument and not allowing you to go nuts playing your keyboard while forgetting the limitations of a real instrument. There are a number of other general things to set; maybe the most important for you would be a velocity curve, as we all know that different makes of keyboards are rarely consistent when it comes to velocity curves.

Finally there is the Effect window where we can apply and control various parts of Equalizer, Distortion, Virtual Bass Amp and Compressor.

The main difference between all of your typical sampled bass collections and this one is that you get all those details that come with a real bass, and not just a collection of static authentic notes. Playing a bass is far more than just banging A and D notes, and this library allow you to build quite complex bass lines while still sounding authentic. For me, being a bass player, this library makes a difference even when using it for simplified lines. It sounds like a real bass with all those slight noises, good definitions of mid and low range, and all the additional articulations that are triggered automatically via note velocity. It works for me, and I believe it can work for you.

More info could be found on Impact Soundworks home page
https://impactsoundworks.com/product/shreddage-bass-2/
$119 USD, It works with Kontakt Player.

ESSENTIAL for: No matter how many different bass presets you have that come with your main sampler or even those that you got with any virtual instrument, there is a big difference between just sounding good and sounding authentic. If you are a skilled keyboard player, you can get a hell of a lot from this plug-in. If you are not, then at least your simple bass lines will finally sound as they should. The better the bass is, the easier it is to set it properly in the mix. This one is as good as it gets.

Cinemania – Soundiron’s Requiem Light, Mercury Elements and Olympus Elements

Cinemania

 

Three different choral libraries, all light versions from Soundiron, which for the price a major choral library, offer an extremely wide spectrum of choral experience.

by A. Arsov, July 2016

 

When acquiring a sampled choir library, there is always the option of buying one big expensive one, or for the same money, buying three smaller ones covering a much wider aspect of various choir possibilities. In this case, we are talking about Soundiron’s Requiem Light, Mercury Elements and Olympus Elements . You will get fewer microphone positions. Actually you get only one, but this is not an issue because all Soundiron choirs sound great already with just one basic microphone position – not being totally dry as many close-mic only libraries typically are. All Soundiron choirs are recorded with a nice touch of natural ambience and can be used as they are. If you want to add extra space, you can include some additional convolution reverb impulses that all three libraries have implemented in a more-than-decent quantity and quality. Otherwise, you can always can add your favorite hall or “church” (after all, we are talking about choirs) reverb from your third party collection.

Compared to big expensive choir libraries, those three reduced choir libraries bring fewer articulations, fewer samples in general, along with fewer multi layers per preset. Does this affect the quality of end results? That depends. If your intention is to recreate a real choir sound with all the tiny details, playing very complicated passages with all sort of articulations and without any background music, than yes, that could be the case. On the other hand, playing different chords, solo lines, applying a few articulations, actually just building tension inside your compositions by adding all those choir elements, nobody may notice the difference.

All three player libraries sound authentic, or maybe we should say, quite impressive and absolutely not cheap-sounding and thin as libraries in that price range can often sound. It is only a matter of whether you need those choirs. If you are after all of the small details, needing a great number of articulations, then feel free to buy any full version of Soundiron. As a professional score producer, you will not regret it. But if your intention is to add some quality choir elements to your compositions, making them bigger than life, then you will get much more out of buying these three different libraries where each one covers a very specific choir niche that would be impossible to find in just one library.

An additional bonus is that all three libraries work with the free Kontakt player and, at least for me an important issue is that they require only a modest footprint on your disk. Every library uses only about two or three gigabytes of disk space, and most of the presets use less than half a gigabyte of RAM while preserving the quality of end results. Requiem Light and Mercury Elements even come with some light patches, so you can use them even if your RAM is close to maxing out when you use choirs in a very crowded arrangement. With Mercury Elements you get a boys choir. Olympus Elements brings you a male and female choir (separate and mixed). Requiem Light offers a wide collection of easily programmable Latin chants with which you can build numerous Latin phrases with various articulations, from Staccato to Legato ones. Mercury Elements and Olympus Elements are $99 USD while Requiem Light comes with a price of $269 USD.

Mercury Elements

The boys choir has been recorded with a 25-voice boys ensemble in a big hall ambiance for a natural sounding tone. With this library we get basic articulations from sustained Tenuto, through Marcato to Staccato, with Ah, Eh, Oh and Oo vowels having two round robin variations per note. All basic articulations share a very similar general interface. The first things that catch the eye are two identical drop down menus where we can choose between two different vowels, actually articulations, building our own vowel/articulation mixture. Of course, there is also a Blend slider between those two menus, allowing us to set relations between those two articulations, using just one, or both at the same time. If we automate this slider, we can get very interesting results where one vowel fades into another in real time. Setting automation is actually a very easy task, since every controller can be easily connected with any external hardware by right clicking on the particular controller, pressing enter, and then you just move your hardware controller.

I immediately set mod-wheel to control “Swell” for both vowels. This “Swell” is actually a dynamic controller for applying a dynamic from very soft to very loud (pianissimo to fortissimo). It adds a very natural dynamic to the choir, so this is probably the only thing you will need to set manually in this library. If you run into any issues, there are also Attack, Release, and Offset controllers for taming the end results. In the upper-right corner are four additional pop up control windows where we can apply any of those effects. Vibrato adds a touch of vibrato to Sustain and Playmaster presets. The Legato option offers a set of parameters for controlling the transition between different legato notes. EQ brings Low and High gain knobs along with Mid gain and Mid Frequency knobs. Those are effects that I have never touched. It is nice to have them, as you never know when you will need them, but I have never found the need for them in my productions. Usually I don’t use internal reverbs, but I found this selection of convolution impulses quite appropriate for this library, and finding just the right one is accomplished in just a matter of seconds. All you need to do is to set the wet/dry knobs along with hi and low pass knobs and you’ll have your nicely drenched choir.

“Playmaster” preset gives you an option to choose not only different vowels, but also to choose articulation. It is actually available in all presets. The Legato preset brings a nice preprogrammed transition between the notes, being of course monophonic, since otherwise the legato function would be pointless. The Vowel Sustain preset is quite a straightforward one, offering different sustained vowels. Then we have the Staccatos and Marcatos presets. I hope that there is no need to explain them in more detail. Latin Poly-sustains contain four Latin chants – phrases that can be played over the whole keyboard range. Nice, but Requiem Light brings that to a whole new level. So if this is your only choir library, then this might be useful, but otherwise, Requiem Light is the right tool for this task. Next is a Choral Effects preset that brings a quite nice selection of vocal swells, drops and risers, falls and drones that you can select through key-switches or directly by clicking on appropriate buttons in the main preset window. We also have a few Ambient presets where you can get various choral ambient textures – basically drones. Those can come in handy for ambient intros, outros, or for atmospheric middle parts.

That is more or less everything. Articulations for every vowel are sorted on the left side of the keyboard for the first vowel and on the right side of keyboard range for the second vowel. There is also a set of controllers at the bottom to set key range for both vowels together.  As already mentioned, none of these libraries sound like they are modestly priced. They sound more or less the same as those which are more expensive. You will only notice limitations in the number of included controllers and articulations, but not in the sound quality.

http://soundiron.com/products/mercury-elements-player-edition

Olympus Elements

This one is a 63-voice symphonic choir with a few more vowel articulations: Ah, Ee, Eh, Ei, Ih, and my favorites, the simply unbeatable Mm and Oh and Oo. It comes with many more presets and articulations than Mercury Elements. The graphical interface is almost the same, except instead of Vowel 1 and Vowel 2, we get Men and Women parts to combine different vowels for male or female inside most of the presets (of course in just male or female presets you get those two separately with an option to combine different vowels). Compared to the Mercury interface, we also get pan and release volume for every layer along with additional controllers for crossfading both layers.

Olympus Elements offers a few general directories of presets: Ambiences, Choral Effects, Marcatos, Phrase Master, Staccatos, Sustains, True Legato and Vowel Master. In most directories there is an option for mixed choir, men only, or women only. The Phrase Master directory is quite special; actually it offers similar things to that which Requiem Lite offers, with the difference being that you can build phrases from vowels and not Latin chants. It is quite a big difference because those vowel phrases give a totally different atmosphere to vocal lines than Latin chants. You can program different vowel combinations and save them for later use. You do this by setting a starting point with a key-switch. You can then set whether it should be staccato or a sustaining marcato for every vowel following. I impressed my senior son yesterday by setting up a pattern (in less than a minute) where every second hit was a staccato, playing few randomly chords. This is a very powerful and handy tool for achieving quite impressive results in less than a minute. I actually just replaced an Mm vowel, as it didn’t fit there, being too different than all other vowels.

In a Vowel Master or Staccato, Marcato or Sustain directories it’s a similar story to what is in Mercury – automating the slider between layers, blending male and female voices, or just vowels between only female or male presets can produce wondrous sounds. Add automation to Swell buttons and you will get “Wow!!!” instead of just vowels.

http://soundiron.com/collections/kontakt-player-edition-collection/products/olympus-elements-kontakt-player-edition

Requiem Light

I bought this one back in 2012 and still use it. In the interim it was updated to version 2.5, adding Tenor and Soprano solo singers and adding tempo time – stretching the functionality to all Latin-based chants and to Latin phrases that solo singers sing.

Of course, we get a wealth of similar articulations that are available in both of the other libraries, like staccato marcato and legato vowels. But the main thing that we get with this library is a fantastic Marcato and Staccato phrase builder, where we can construct our combination of Latin syllables, achieving this impressive, intense Latin choir singing used in so many action movie themes. There is actually nothing that can match such a choir. The phrase builder is easy to use. It comes with useful number of key-switches allowing us to determine from which syllable our line should start. This is fine for setting the starting point to be permanent and not starting from the last played. Secondly we can replace a syllable, actually switching one syllable with another on the fly, so we are able to make a great number of combinations in real time.

Of course, this is not all that we get in this library. There are also a large number of legato patches in which we can change vowels in real time by turning a knob, choosing between Ahh, Eh, Ih Ee, Oh and Uhm. Then we have a number of so-called Poly-sustain presets containing up to nineteen different Latin short phrases that we can combine through key-switches, using them in various pitches. Requiem light also comes with large number of vocal effects presets. So, all in all, we have a Legato Sustain directory and then Marcato and Poly-Sustain as well. The rest are Staccato, Soloist, Ambiences and Choral Effects.

We already discussed the phrase builder that allows us to build phrases combining seventeen syllables, but we didn’t mention that the phrase builder has two additional sub-windows. One of these is called Performance in which we can fine tune some elements, setting the swell and offset, or adjusting the attack, release, or release volume. The second one is a Tone/FX window, common to all presets actually, not just to phrase builder presets. There we have a selection of various controllers for every effect that we apply. At the left is a drop down menu where we can browse through all of the effects. They are Equalizer, Lo-Fi, Flanger, Rotator, Pro 53 Filter, Delay, Reverb and Stereo Imager.

The Performance window is also available for all presets, but the set of available controllers varies and is not the same for every group of presets. There we can find various Low, High, Xfade Polyphony, and other similar types of controllers.

http://soundiron.com/collections/kontakt-player-edition-collection/products/requiem-light-kontakt-player-edition

Soundiron Choir Summary

All three libraries come with a large number of controllers. Some things can be controlled directly, while some others can easily be set by assigning any parameter to a hardware controller. But to tell the truth, all three are very well preprogrammed, so you will not need many additional tweaks to achieve great results. All three come with specific sounds and some unique elements, so for me there is no possibility that one library can be a substitute for another. Of course, Requiem Light is absolutely unbeatable and irreplaceable for score music, while Mercury and Olympus Elements can easily find its place in all sorts of arrangements and all genres. I’m not using pads anymore. Whenever there is a need for pad sounds, I would much rather put in some choir instead. It sounds much more impressive – period.

Review – Independence Pro by Magix

Independence Pro is the ultimate sample-player/workstation – a bold statement to say the least.  Can the sample library and software fulfill the developers promise?

 

by Luka Sraka, July 2016

 

Several years ago Magix bought sample-library manufacturers Yellow Tools. The result of the collaboration was the Independence Pro software sampler and sound library. There are three versions to choose from, the Independence Pro Software Suite, with 2 GB sound library, the Independence Basic with 12 GB sound library and the Independence Pro with 70 GB premium sound library. I am reviewing the latter one, but they all use the same user interface, so that which is written here will be applicable to those interested in investing in any of them.

 

The Overview

Independence Pro is a massive sound library but it’s more than that.  The sample player itself offers so much that it would be impossible to go through all of the features in one review. I will try to present as much as possible here.

Independence Pro comes with Independence 2, software that can run as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in. It comes in AU and VST format and is supported on Mac OS 10.4 or later, or Windows XP and Vista. Also included is Independence Live, streamlined easy-to-use standalone software intended for live use.  The Magix web site is pretty vague about formats supported, but to our best knowledge, both 32-bit and 64-bit is available on both PC and Mac.  VST (2) is available, as is AU for Mac.  For this review, we worked with the 64-bit Mac, both standalone and hosted.

The user interface of Independence 2 is quite overwhelming at the first glance, but it soon becomes evident that it is very well organised and laid out. As with any good sampler it supports the multi timbral and multi output options.

 

The User Interface


 

Independence 2 is a well-organised software sample player but it takes time to fully learn and master all of its features. On the left of the plug-in window you see a list of all the loaded patches or layers with layer information; this features an extensive selection of tuning modes, MIDI settings, and the customizable instrument icon. On the top of the left section there is the volume meter, and pitch and tempo information.

At the bottom is the collapsible keyboard which shows you the usable keys and keys for key-switch options using different colors. On the right side of the plug in window, things get more complex.

Here you find different tabs that help you manage and change your project and sounds. The first tab is the quick edit tab, with basic information such as volume, panorama, filter and effect options. As the tab name suggests, it is used for a quick overview of your layer settings and quick manipulation. The quick edit tab also features the custom control sections where you have eight rotary encoders and eight buttons that can be assigned to any of your MIDI controllers, rotary encoders and buttons. These are also saved and can be used in Independence Live.

The next tab is the Modules tab, where you are offered a variety of options for manipulating your sounds. You can add or remove pretty much any parameter you want, from FX to layer parameters, add envelope filters, change MIDI parameters, use arpeggiators and much more. One of the prized features is definitely the Élastique (developed by zplane) which is a plug-in for making high-quality tempo and pitch changes to your audio loops or to customise multi-sampled instruments. Independence also features the Origami reverb. Origami is an impulse response engine that blew me away with its very realistic sound. Any adjustment and edit is possible in real time – hence, it is a powerful tool for a live performance as well.

You have the option to manipulate your sounds in any way you want, and if your heart desires still more, you can import third-party VST effects – but more on that later.

The next two tabs are the mapping and performance tabs. Here you can manipulate your sounds and playing style further, resulting in a truly individual and authentic performance.

Last but not least the user interface features the browser tab, a well-organized browser window for easy search of all of your instruments, samples and MIDI programs.  Then there’s the mixer tab, where you can add effects to bus channels and do everything else you would expect from a software mixer. The last two tabs in the user interface are the preferences and the help function, which are self-explanatory.

 

 

The Sound Library

You will need a lot of disk space with this one. The sound library itself will use a massive 70 GB of space. The instruments and samples are organised into 28 categories, where you can find all of the usual suspects that you would expect from am “all in one” sound library, from acoustic and electric drum kits, orchestral strings and percussion to African Dundun and Talking drums. So you get everything that you could wish for and then some, including things you probably never even considered using like plastic tubes, watering cans and more.

The majority of the instruments don’t come with flashy names such as Baldwin or Steinway for pianos, but that doesn’t mean that they are bad sounding.  If anything, they are very realistic. I compared the piano sounds to some of my other sound libraries (which do have fine-pedigree names for sampled instruments) and in almost every case, the Independence instruments sounded more natural and realistic to me.  To be completely honest, every instrument that I’ve tried is sounds marvellous, and with all of the different possibilities, I was even tempted to write an oriental film style piece of music.  Especially useful are the key-switch options on instruments, and also the instruments that are featured under the arranger, groove instruments and step sequencer categories. The only thing that did not impress me were the sampled guitars, both acoustic and electric. My knowledge about sampling is limited, but I imagine that some things like guitars are hard to sample. That said, I still think that the sampled guitars in Independence Pro are useful and adequate. And all in all, it might just be the guitarist side of me that is not impressed.  Nevertheless, I can imagine myself using these sampled guitars in a project where there are more things going on and the guitars wouldn’t be at the center of attention.

The instruments are well-organized and expertly sampled. I’m sure this sound library will take care of the majority of your needs. With it, you can create anything from a small acoustic set performance to a big orchestral piece to an African or Eastern flavoured soundscape.

 

Using Third Party VST Effect and Instrument Plug-ins

To quote the developers: “Independence is the world’s first software sampler that allows unlimited third-party VST effects and instruments to be loaded into a sampler environment – guaranteeing you the highest level of control and flexibility for your music productions.”

I’m sure you have that one VST synth that you always wanted to use live but didn’t have an option for using it outside your favourite DAW … well with Independence you can do just that. Even more, you can import all of your favourite plug-in effects and use them all inside Independence.  When the time for a live performance comes, launch Independence Live, open a saved Independence project, and you have all of your saved Independence and third-party instruments and samples with your favourite effects at your fingertips.

 

Independence for Your Own Independence

With all Independence Pro offers it is truly a great piece of software with superbly sampled instruments and an excellent user interface. The option of using third-party VST effect and instrument plug-ins, along with the built-in effects and mixer, means that if you wanted to, you could do everything inside the Independence software using your DAW only for recording and reading MIDI information. For live use this means that when you save your independence projects and open them with Independence Live, you have all of your sounds and effects (be they third-party or built-in) available at your fingertips in a slick and easy-to-use interface.

Yes, it is somewhat expensive.  But it has a lot to offer, and if you hurry you might just catch the 50% off sale that the Magix are having at the moment. Getting 70 GB of samples with a great easy to use interface that can manage just about anything you throw at it for just $165 USD doesn’t sound bad at all.

I have been using Independence for a couple of months now, and am still barely scratching the surface of all that it can do. With a superb user interface and realistic sounding sampled instruments, I can see Independence being used for film music.  But even for a small home studio guy, it could be the last big sample library that you will ever feel the need to buy.

 

Details and Additional Info

Magix Independence Pro Software suite 3.2 – $65 USD

Magix Independence Basic – $130 USD

Magix Independence Pro – $330 USD

http://www.magix-audio.com/us/independence/

 

Review – Syntorial from Audible Genius

 

Do you want to learn synthesizer sound design in the most direct and accessible way possible?  Look no further than the marvelous Syntorial teaching software.

 

by David Baer, July 2016

 

Private, Personal Instruction at a Community College Price

In this review we are going to take a detailed look at Syntorial, interactive teaching software that can act as your own private tutor, on call at any hour of the day or night, which can teach you synthesizer sound design.  Learning synth programming can be done from a book, but it’s much more difficult to learn nuances without immediate feedback.  Syntorial supplies that to superb effect.

Syntorial will take you step by step through the often challenging task of learning how to program a typical subtractive synth.  If you don’t even know what “subtractive” means, don’t worry.  Syntorial is suitable for the total neophyte. 

On the other hand, if you’re an experienced and confident preset tweaker (and I put myself in that category), trust me – you can still gain immeasurable amounts of sound design competencies by refining your skills courtesy of Syntorial.  It will come down to how fast you cruise through the various lessons.  The more experienced student will breeze through some of them, such as envelope design.  But make no mistake, unless you are already an extremely accomplished sound designer, you will be challenged and you will learn much as a result.

Syntorial is the brainchild of Joe Hanley, who established Audible Genius to pursue commercializing it.  Joe was a guest writer for SoundBytes, allowing us to adapt a web tutorial he authored for these pages.  You can read that here:

http://soundbytesmag.net/picking-the-right-synth-for-rookies-with-special-guest-joe-hanley-from-audible-genius/

Syntorial contains a teaching synth and requires nothing more than a sound card to function on a PC or a Mac.  Those with a MIDI keyboard and a MIDI-computer interface will benefit, but such is not a requirement.  The iPad is also supported, but my experience with Syntorial was on a PC, I cannot comment on the effectiveness of using this software on an iPad.

For maximum benefit, you should also have at least one moderately capable subtractive synth available – it could be a software synth or an actual physical instrument with knobs/sliders/switches and a keyboard.  If you’re starting completely from nothing, the free but well-appointed softsynth, Crystal, (http://www.greenoak.com/crystal/dnld2.html ) should do just fine.

 

Teaching Methodology

Syntorial approaches teaching by using several kinds of interactive sessions.  First, there are basic teaching lessons, or lectures, if you prefer.  In these we hear Joe Hanley narrating while demonstrating various settings on the Syntorial imbedded synth (hereafter, simply “the synth”).  He does this in a clear and concise fashion and quite obviously spent more than a little time on the thoughtful development of the lesson scripts.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the synth.  The synth grows in capabilities as the course progresses.  In the early stages, it’s pretty bare bones, as seen in the image of one very early iteration below.

 

We see a very basic oscillator, a low-pass filter, a rudimentary amp envelope and a volume knob.  The initial oscillator has a selection of saw wave and three pulse waves of approximately 50%, 30% and 10% pulse width.  That’s it.  Nothing unneeded to confuse us in the early stages.  The synth has functionality incrementally added as the lessons progress into more advanced topics.  In the end, we have the full-function synth seen following.

 

But back to the course – once a tutorial lesson has completed, the student is offered four kinds of challenges.  In the first kind, a set (usually six in number) of successive example sounds are presented incorporating the behavior of the previous tutorial.  The student is asked to match these, limiting the parameter setting to only that pertinent to the topic at hand.

One thing that makes this all possible is that none of the synth controls are continuous, as would be the case in an actual instrument, but rather have a fixed number of discreet control positions.  Filter cutoff, for example, has one notch about every octave.  Sustain in the amp envelope has just three settings: 100%, 20% and 0%.  Filter cutoff sustain is even more restrictive with just 100% and 0%.   The result is that there is only one exact solution to these problems where the student’s attempt will match the Syntorial solution.

Feedback on correctness of answers is supplied by the controls in error being highlighted in red.  At the end of a series, overall levels of success is indicated with a three-star rating visual que and also a sound-effect of people cheering boisterously (three stars), not so enthusiastically (two stars) and so on.  While amusing the first few times, most users will probably elect to turn the optional audio feedback off.

The focused sound matching challenges involve a screen with two buttons: Hidden Patch and My Patch.  The Hidden patch button hides all the controls and just lets the user hear the sound.  The My Patch shows all the (relevant) controls for the user to tweak.

One important feature exists, but it took me quite a while to realize it was there.  When initiating a new challenge, or when pressing the Play button, a programmed note sequence plays.  But the student can also turn off Play and use the keyboard on the UI with the mouse or an attached MIDI keyboard to make sound happen.  Once I discovered this, I rarely relied on the programmed note sequences.

The second type of challenge is what I’ll call “pop quizzes”.  A series of multiple choice questions like those on the screen image to the right.  These are mostly finished rapidly, although some of the questions involving audio examples can be far from obvious to answer.

The third type of challenge is the “On Your Own” exercises.  Think of these as homework.  You are instructed to work with one of your own (non-Syntorial) synths and to locate features equivalent to those covered in the previous tutorial lesson, and then to do some sound programming with them.

The final type, and by far the most demanding and stimulating are what I’ll call here the free-form sound matching challenges.  Everything you will have learned so far is fair game.  Many of these are far from easy to complete.  You have to sometimes find matching sounds while deciding between the use of slightly detuned oscillators at the same pitch, the use of unison function or the use of chorus … and that’s assuming you’ve properly matched the waveform and tuning selections in the oscillators.  Do not even dream that you will cruise through these with consistently high marks.

But, Syntorial does supply us with recourse: the Hint button.  At any time, the student can hit the Hint button and will be shown all the settings requiring better values, as in the image below.

 

Perhaps I’m not the best student in the world for this sort of activity, but I found myself using the Hint button more than a little.  And I really didn’t feel too badly most of the time when it showed me errors.  For one thing, a lot of these settings are quite subtle. The amount of reverb can be difficult to accurately match, especially if the delay is also engaged.  Likewise, the amount of spread in the unison control is not immediately obvious unless you are specifically listening for that one thing and pretty much have everything else properly set.

 

The Big Picture

There are 199 separate steps in the Syntorial approach.  How long will it take you to complete the course?  Much, of course, will depend upon your background.  The experienced preset tweaker will likely sail through many of the fundamental tutorials and exercises.  Beginners will need to take things at a more measured pace.  But to give you an idea, I am an experienced tweaker and am 75% of the way through the course as I write this.  I did all the steps within Syntorial, but I skipped the “Own Your Own” segments.  At my current rate, I should complete the course in somewhere around 36 hours total.  And, believe me – I have every intention of making it to “graduation”.  My publication deadline demands that I write this review before having finished the entire course, but I have full intentions of going the distance.

One final point, you can only take so much sound matching challenge before audio fatigue sets in.  I would advise that you plan to spread your session over three weeks at a minimum.

The full list of topics can be seen in the following (reformatted) screen shot.  While it gives you some sense of the variety of material covered, it fails to convey the momentum that builds through a serious trip through the topics. 

 

In particular, I found the early lessons in combining multiple waveforms to get a specific sound quite a challenge – that was something very much outside my preset-tweaking experience.  But as the course progressed and focused on other things, I found my ability to guess waveforms and oscillator pitch relationships becoming much more assured.  In many cases, lessons build on previous teaching.  The student may find the current topic formidable, but the lessons slowly sink in as you progress through the course – at least such was my experience.

 

Is Syntorial for You?

I really cannot say enough positive things about this software.  It does its job efficiently and thoroughly, and for the most part, it’s an enjoyable journey on top of everything else.  Syntorial’s list price is $129 USD.  That’s like getting a private tutor who entirely accommodates your schedule for well under four bucks an hour. 

Audio Genius thoughtfully supplies a demo version of the course, with the first 22 lessons available for your perusal.  If you take these lessons and quizzes, you will have an accurate idea of what to expect in the remainder of the course.

I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Hanley at NAMM earlier this year.  He proved to be a most engaging fellow, and that quality comes through in the Syntorial lectures.  Joe tells me he’s working on several new initiatives.  One type is to apply the Syntorial approach to some specifically-targeted virtual synths (I’m not sure if I am permitted to say just which synths, but let’s just say the results could prove to be massive).  He also says he’s looking in to applying the Syntorial teaching method to other types of musical training.  I look forward to seeing what develops along both of these directions with considerable anticipation.

To find out more and to buy Syntorial, go here:

http://www.syntorial.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Movement by Output

This effect will not only add movement to your sounds, but also turn them into something totally fresh, unexpected and surprising, especially when used live.

by A. Arsov, July 2016

As Output explains on their web site, Movement is “an exciting FX plugin that adds powerful rhythms to any input in real time”, and as an old friend commented: ”Oh, not again – another modulator.” If we put aside all the PR (since Movement is a bit more than just a machine that adds powerful rhythms), and if we also skip all prejudice (since Output is definitively a firm that is not capable of making something that would be “just another” ho-hum effect), it is true that they mixed just six effects together that can modulate your sound. These effects are reverb, compressor, equalizer, delay, filter and tube distortion. But when you start browsing through three hundred presets, you will see that this is far more than just another modulator.

There is an old trick on how to make a hit. Use very basic chords for the main harmony, but make them sound unusual and unique, and you’ll have a great foundation for success. It is easy to make a good vocal melody if you use proven, simple chords, but it will still sound unique and fresh. There are countless hit songs that use shamefully basic chords, but you don’t recognize them as such immediately because they are processed or use effects or incorporate strange sounding instruments. And what does all this have in common with Movement? All I can say is this: just try it with your guitar. I use Movement in at least on one or even two tracks in every new song that I make – mainly on guitars. It is really impressive what some of those evolving sounds can do starting with just a simple riff or chord progression. Of course it comes handy on every sound source, be it a drum loop, a synth pad or even a vocal line. It is anything but just another modulator. I have had some so-called “modulators” in the past, but Output has made something special by using those basic six effects in combination with LFO, step sequencer, randomizer, sidechain and/or additional macros, blending all together in a really inspired set of presets that purr, bark and pulsate in all colors and rhythmical variations.

The Details

The whole Movement engine is built around two independent parts where every part contains two rhythm engines and up to four FX slots. So, let’s start with rhythm engines that can use three basic modulation sources. The first one is a step sequencer in which you can choose between various shapes for steps, note rate, number of steps or even a random function along with an applied swing function. In the rate section we can choose between triplet, dotted or normal notes in all durations up to eight full bars. You can also set an amount for every step inside the step sequencer window. If your brain reaches data overflow reading about all these details, I should warn you, this is only the beginning. But don’t panic. Everything is logically ordered. It is intuitive and it is quite easy to navigate through the whole thing. So, we are still in the step sequencer. Under the Step window is a gray button for entering the Pattern window. Here you can find a number of patterns arranged in three directories: Simple, Complex and Tripled.

The next thing that you can use inside any rhythm engine is the LFO for which you can set rate – the same as in step sequencer. You can select a point where a phase will start and even apply a Chaos function. The basis for all that is a shape browser with which you can chose an LFO shape ranging from basic to quite mad and unusual ones. The last thing that can affect the rhythm engine is the sidechain where a modulation curve is controlled by an external signal. You can choose whether the sidechain input signal will boost parameters or decrease them (ducking the parameter that is affected with the sidechain). The more rhythmical the input signal is, the better the results will be. We can adjust gain, attack, release and offset for input signal along with setting an option that the signal will be applied in a full range or a reduced range (this is especially noticeable when the sidechain controls the panning).

Flux is a function that can be switched on for each of the three different modulation sources. With this function you can control the rate of the second rhythm engine with the rate of the first rhythm engine inside the same part (remember that we have two different parts with two rhythm engines for each part and up to four effects for each part – just in case I’ve lost you). I know it has become a bit complicated now, but tweak-and-try is the best way to figure how this thing actually works.

The next very cool addition to Movement is a big XY pad with which we can control elements from both parts, using Y for the first part and X for the second. You just need to right click on any parameter or controller and set it to work with the XY pad. Of course you can set more than one parameter to be controlled on every part. It is great for controlling the filter of the affected source or for adding any other element like increasing distortion or reverb, or doing some kind of rhythmical sweep in real time.

So, let us return now to the effects, those that were mentioned in the first part of this article. Adding an effect is quite an easy task. Press the + sign inside the empty effect slot, chose the desired one and off you go. Depending by which effect is chosen, we can tweak some additional parameters. All effects have in common a global Wet/Dry mix and Output level, which adjusts the amount of output gain for the final output signal. There are also Volume and Pan knobs available for every individual part.

As to effects, take delay for example. For delay we find Type, Time, Feedback and HP/LP parameters. Not to go into great detail for the other effects, just know that each of them offers their own set of specific controllers that are commonly supplied for that kind of effect.

There are quite a few more details and options, but most of the time you will probably just browse through a long list of fantastic effect presets, perhaps tweaking some additional parameters here and there for adapting the end result to your personal need. It is actually quite easy to start from scratch, but Output did its job very well, and I quite enjoyed browsing through various types of presets, since we can choose between different sound categories which allows for more focused search results. I frequently find some unexpected combinations that I would never thought up on my own. I know that Output didn’t make this effect especially for the guitar, but it has absolutely become my favorite guitar effect. It brings quite a new dimension to my guitar – to any live instrument, actually. Sax or flute passages or loops transmute into something that preserves the live character but that sounds like some unknown instrument. I have learned that we should always add some movement to our mixes and arrangements to make our songs more alive. And here we have it, a Movement. Omen est nomen.

All you need is a good compressor, an equalizer and Movement. Me like! A lot!

http://output.com/products/movement/

For a price of a typical virtual instrument, $149 USD, you will get an effect that will turn even the cheesiest sounding synthesizer or live instrument into something that is quite unique, a constantly evolving audio beast.

Review – Icarus by Tone2

 

Tone2’s latest effort is a wavetable monster just waiting to take on the competition. Can it live up to the hype? We check it out in this review.

 

By Rob Mitchell, July 2016

 

Tone2 is the music software developer behind many well-known products, including Gladiator2, Saurus2, and Electra2. You may have noticed that the ones I have mentioned are all 2nd-generation titles that they developed, but the one I am reviewing is a brand new product. They’ve named it Icarus, and it’s their new morphing wavetable-based synthesizer. It includes multiple LFOs which can run at audio-rate, a built-in wavetable editor, 54 morphing modes, an additive spectrum editor, a vocoder, over 1,000 presets, and much more.

On the PC, it will work with Windows ME, XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 (32-bit or 64-bit)

It is in 32-bit and 64-bit VSTi formats, and 32-bit and 64-bit standalone. You’ll need a 1 GHz (or higher) CPU.

On the Mac, it works with OSX 10.5 or higher.  It is in 32-bit VSTi, 64-bit VSTi formats, and 32-bit and 64-bit Audiounit as well.  You’ll need a 1 GHz (or higher) CPU.

When you run the installation for Icarus, it lets you pick the folder for the install.  Once it loads, either in standalone version or in your DAW, you will have to activate it with a key file. When this is done, you’re all set and it is ready to roll.

 

The First Impression

Once it is up and running, much of Icarus is right there on the main display. There are certain parts of it that do use some other displays, and I will get to them momentarily.  I like how you can see nearly everything all at the same time. In the upper-left, you can skim through presets one at a time in the various categories. Some of these categories include Bass, Brass, Atmospheric, Lead, Effect, Pad, Vocoder, Wobble, and there are many more. To see the full browser, there is a “Browser” button at the bottom of that display. This opens up a large window that lets you see everything that is available. Presets can be rated with a 5-star system, and on the right side it will show what attributes the preset has, such as polyphonic, wavetable, limiter, etc. You can also save presets from the “File” menu, and create a new Init preset or Init Randomized preset.

Using the Resynthesis and Vocoder buttons, you can import a WAV file to easily create a new preset, and then modify it with all the other controls available. When you use resynthesis, it will create a new synthesized version of the sound you are importing. This allows you to apply morphing, use variable speed playback and pitch shifting, time stretching, and more.  One of the choices is Granulator, which uses granular synthesis. After you’ve loaded in a WAV file, you can adjust grain density and pitch. Turning the LFO’s speed down to zero will freeze the sample in place, and the “WAVE” control will let you move back and forth through the WAV’s audio.

Using the vocoder, robotic-like sounds are easily obtainable. It uses over 500 bands, and has very fast envelopes. It can be set up a couple of other ways (if you’re not into the robotic-type of thing), as the “Vocoder Poly Classic” and “Vocoder Poly Breathy” both offer a vocal-synth sound, but they have less of that edgy type of robotic sound. These can all be modulated or warped in different ways, and I will get to some of those other interesting features soon enough.

 

The Oscillators

To the right of the browser is the oscillator section. There is a huge amount of control available here, so I can’t go over everything, but will try to mention most of the features hidden within this area of the synth. There are three oscillators available, and when you click in the waveform display, it will cycle through the 3 different waveform/wavetable views that it has: The first waveform by itself, a sequence of one waveform after the other (has a 3D look to it), or a combination of them on the display at once.

Each oscillator has standard volume, panning, tuning, and phase controls. The “Wave” control will cycle through the waveforms when it is adjusted, and the “Fade” control changes how much one waveform blends into the next. For example, if you want to have a definite “jump” from one waveform to the next, you’d set the Fade at 0. The “Morph” control adjusts the amount of the Morph mode you’ve selected (tab located right above it), which I will get to soon enough. 

There are three tabs towards the middle of the oscillator display.  The first one selects the play mode, which include a selection of types: Mono, Hypersaw (many detuned oscs), Hyperstereo (many stereo detuned oscs), Unison, Supersaw (9 detuned oscs), Stacked, Chords, and Flanged settings. There are also some variations of those same play modes that you can select from.

The second tab is the Waveshape menu, where you’re able to choose from over 80 wavetables. Many of these are good building blocks to make your own presets. I won’t bother spelling out all of the types, but here’s an abbreviated list: Additive Saw, Organ WT, Square PWM, Bells, Spectral 120, and Formant Square. You’re also able to load and save your own wavetables and waveforms by clicking the “Edit” menu at the top.


That is also how you get to the Wavetable Editor where a multitude of editing controls are on board. Just this section of Icarus could be material for a whole separate article as it has so many creative tools built-in to it.

Along the left side, you’re able to load/save wavetables and waveforms, or load initialized settings with different types of waveforms. Across the top is the Wavetable Strip display, which can have up to 256 waveforms within it. The selected waveforms and can be quickly edited with the cut, copy, paste, and trim commands, and drag-and-drop functionality is supported for loading up waveforms.

The “Sweep” menu lets you automatically create a morphing wavetable using one of many choices. Some of these variations include Ring Mod, AM, Bandpass, Comb 2X, Lowpass, Highpass, Stacked Harmonic, FM Sine, and there are plenty more. Below the Sweep menu are more editing tools, such as the Mix, Filter, Modify, Spectrum, and Phase tools. Clicking on any of these five tools will give you a dropdown menu with many choices for how the selected waveforms will be affected. The sliders will adjust the amount for each of the editing tools. Within the choices of the “Mix” menu are maximize, normalize, mix with copied data, crossfade, reverse, PW by value (adds pulse-width modulation), and Comb 2x by value (comb filter is added).

That is just for the Mix menu, and the others work in a similar fashion, but they are focused on different types of filtering or modulation. Some of the other ways you can affect the waveform/wavetable: Adding lowpass, highpass, bandpass, or bandstop filtering, saturation, and bit-crushing. One of my favorites in this section is the “Modify” menu, and making use of its FM (Frequency Modulation). It will modulate the waves with a sine, square or saw wave. PD (Phase Distortion … think Casio CZ) is also included, morphing the waves by the selected type of waveform. These all work quite well, but I would like numerical displays for when I adjust the Mix, Filter, Modify, Spectrum and Phase sliders.

The last two in the column menus are for Resynthesis and the Vocoder. Remember those two that I mentioned earlier in the review? These buttons work in a similar way, but the main difference is that they don’t create a preset with the LFO already setup in a way to affect the wavetable. You would have to make any adjustments to make it sound the way you want, which would include the LFO, or anything else. 

At the bottom-left are buttons to switch to three different editing modes; Waveform, Spectrum, and Phase. When you choose the “Waveform” option, you’re able to edit the waveform itself. They’ve given this display various drawing tools which are available at the bottom-right of the display. If you choose the “Spectrum” display for editing, the partials are then displayed, and you’re able to adjust their amplitude amounts. When you edit in the “Phase” spectrum, it is possible to add or remove a sheen or airy type of quality by changing the harmonics. 


Now that we’ve made are way though most of the options in the Oscillator section, there is just one more tab to mention, and that is the Morph Modes menu. This will play back the wavetable using different types of “modes”.  Basically it can be affected in various ways, and you’re able to choose from a long list of these modes to get a whole new type of audio from the wavetable. Some of these choices include Formant, AM mod, Stacked Harmonic, Phase Distortion, Jodel Chip, plus there are many Sync and FM types of modes. After you’ve selected one of them, you then use the Morph control to make adjustments for the mode you have selected. What changes depends on the morph mode you’ve selected. One powerful feature that the manual describes is the ability for Icarus to use an unlimited number of morph modes on a wavetable. It does take a few steps, but it isn’t really a chore, as it takes just a minute or two to get many of the modes applied to a wavetable. For instance, if you want a Jodel Chip/Phase Distortion/Stacked Harmonic wavetable, you can achieve that without much effort.

 

Filters, LFOs, Envelopes, and Effects

 In the upper-right are the two filters. These can be run in serial or parallel modes, and the filtering itself can be switched off completely (if needed) using the included on/off button. Because of the layout and the way the controls are setup, the resonance control is before the cutoff. I don’t think I’ve seen that in any other synth plugin. It’s not a huge deal, but it does take a little getting used to.

There are a generous number of filter types, and just for an example of the diversity, there are no less than sixteen  lowpass filter types. They have names that describe their basic characteristics: LP Digital 12dB, LP Butter 24dB (I am guessing it’s modeled after the Moog Ladder), LP 303 Analog, and many others.  Also included are highpass, bandpass, vocal, EQ shelving types, and even physical modeling types as well! All in all, there a whopping 60+ filter types you can assign to either of the two filters. Besides filtering, they have also loaded up 9 varied distortion types in this section of the synth. Using the Drive control, you’re able to adjust the distortion amount to your liking.

For the envelope section, you have a total of four AHDSR envelopes to manipulate: Volume, Filter, Aux1, and Aux2. Their names basically indicate what they are for; “Volume” is for the layer volume, and “Filter” setting is for the filter cutoff. “Aux1” and “Aux2” are for anything that you want to setup within the Mod Matrix, which I will cover shortly. “Shape” lets you make adjustments to the shape of the envelope, changing it from linear to logarithmic, or anywhere in-between.

In the LFO section of this synth, you have access to three separate LFOs, as well as a Multi-Stage Step LFO. To change to another of the 40+ waveshape settings for the LFO, you just click in the waveshape display. Fade in, Phase, and Shape controls are also available. Other simple LFOs are available via the mod matrix. They utilize a sine wave (the only waveform available from the matrix for this function) running at different set frequencies which range from 1/64 Hz to 16Hz.

Next we have the Icarus FX section, with its three effect slots. There over 50 included effects, with some very nice reverbs, many types of delays, chorus, a trance gate, distortions, vibrato, flanger, ensemble, EQ, and many others.  What sets these effects apart from many other synth’s effects is the way you can configure them. It can be set up in a serial or parallel type of mode, but there’s also an additional stereo mode. This allows you to set up one oscillator to have its own effect in one channel, while a second oscillator has another effect in the other channel. “Feedback” is a type of delay that feeds the signal back into the FX section. It has controls for high/low cut and a swirl control. Ducking and pan controls are here as well. In addition, there are handy FX templates that can be saved for future reuse. I am also happy to report that the effects can be added as targets for modulation in the mod matrix.

 

Arpeggiator, Mod Matrix, and EQ/Limiter

The arpeggiator in Icarus can use up to 32 steps, and each note is entered on an easy to use grid which stretches from left to right. Patterns can be loaded in or saved from the “Tool” menu, and there are many modes to choose from which affect the playback. Looping up to a certain step is easy to configure (repeat after X amount of steps), or you can set it to stop the arp playback at a step of your choice. Special commands are also within the arp, such as a re-sorting of the notes when it hits the first step once again, pitch/glide options, and many other chord commands are available.

The arp is really overflowing with features, including Stacked Chord, Split High/Low, and one of my favorite modes is called Dual Layer. Using this one, the first oscillator can play the arpeggio, and the second oscillator can play a chord. You do have to change a couple settings in the mod matrix for this to work.

The Mod Matrix is where you can set up routing for certain functions to work correctly, or to work in a special way. It is also where you can use those extra sine LFO settings I mentioned before. There are 18 slots available spread out over three pages. Normally the Volume and Filter envelopes are for amplitude and filter cutoff. Using the mod matrix, you’re able to map them to nearly anything you want. Other sources for modulation include unipolar or bipolar LFO, White noise, Pink noise, a simple Decay (8ms to 16s), and even some math functions such as X*X, SqrtX (square root).  Step+/- (uses the arp velocity amounts as a source), and there are many more. The list of modulation targets is even longer. Just a few of these include tuning, master panning, cutoff/resonance, drive, panning/tuning for each oscillator, EQ, LFO speed, effects, and any segment from the envelopes can be modulated.

The last area I want to go over is the EQ/Limiter section. For the equalization part of it, you have Low, Mid, and High cut/boost controls. “DBass” will boost certain frequencies and make the overall audio sound fuller, even if you have it set to a lower volume. The “Freq” control changes the middle EQ’s frequency, and “Q” narrows or widens the frequency bandwidth. The Limiter is a straight-forward design, with Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release controls to tame the audio the way you’d like.

 

Conclusion

When I first tried out Icarus, I had no idea what was lurking under the hood. After getting to know it better, I was delighted to realize that it is a truly powerful beast with nearly endless combinations of sound manipulation capabilities. I easily could have made this review nearly twice as long, but I think I covered the more important aspects that it has to offer.

The several oscillator settings and morph modes make Icarus a tough one to beat. I really like the vocoder’s sound, and the resynthesis they’ve included is easy to use. It has awesome waveform/wavetable editing, tons of high quality presets, and its huge number of filter and effect types really make this a knockout synth you simply must try for yourself.

While I am writing this review, Icarus is nearly out of its beta stage, and should be released anytime now. Icarus is priced at $199 USD. To get more information and to try the beta/demo version yourself, checkout the website here:

https://www.tone2.com/html/icarus.html

 

 

Review – Softube Modular Software Synthesizer

 

Swedish “Rock and Roll Scientists” Softube introduce the Eurorack format to the world of screen-based software synthesis with an outstanding collection of modules by Doepfer, Intellijel and others.

 

by Warren Burt, July 2016

 

In the world of hardware synthesis, the biggest news for the past decade has been the analog synthesizer resurgence.  Or maybe that should be the modular synthesizer resurgence, because a number of the newer “analog” modules are actually digital, but they have an interface of knobs, jacks and have certain parameters which are voltage controllable.  Among the new modular synths, the most popular format has been the Eurorack format, which uses jacks of a certain kind, module faceplates of a particular size, and a common power supply system to power the modules that you place together in your rack.  There are over 4000 Eurorack modules now available from over 150 manufacturers, and I’ve seen a number of systems that consist of a number of modules from different manufacturers happily living together in one cabinet.

Having been involved in modular synthesis since the late 60s, and having sold my rather large Serge and Driscoll synthesizer systems about five years ago, I’ve been watching the modular resurgence with mixed feelings.  On one hand, I’m envious of those who can afford to assemble collections of unique modules that have all sorts of unusual compositional potentials.  On the other hand, I realize that my lifestyle – tied to a commuter train – doesn’t permit me to go down that route, and I’m not sure I want to return to the days of wrangling patch cords again.  To be sure, I’ve been delighted with various modular synths on the computer screen – Arturia’s Modular V, and Martin Fay’s classic Vaz Modular have been favorites of mine for years, and in this issue of SoundBytes, I review the Moog Model 15 app in its iPhone incarnation.  So I haven’t been totally bereft of modular patching goodies in the past few years, even if they’ve all been screen based.  As an aside, a political note here – Martin Fay suspended sales of Vaz Modular at the beginning of 2015 to comply with UK/EU cross-border VAT regulations.  Now that Britain looks like it will be leaving the EU, I wonder if Martin will be able to start selling Vaz Modular again?

Dieter Doepfer, German synthesizer designer, is the guy who spearheaded the Eurorack synthesizer proliferation in the mid-1990s.  His modules have since become classics.  Now, in conjunction with the Swedish company Softube, he’s collaborated on the design of Softube Modular, a software emulation of a number of his classic modules, along with a very interesting and useful assortment of what Softube modestly calls “utility modules.”  The Eurorack format, it seems, has come to the computer screen, for both Windows and Mac computers.

A good friend of mine has quite a different point of view on these things. She looks at a screen with a copy of a physical machine, whether modular or not, and with a snicker and a snort, asks “Why would you want to do that?” I understand her scepticism. While being delighted to have either an emulation of an old favorite synth, or one that I could never afford, or even a new system that does things I couldn’t do before, the question remains – why would one want to hobble a universal system like a computer with a set of parameters and a method of operation that are limited by pre-existing equipment?  To do so reminds me of Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s idea that often, the first use of new technologies is to copy the functions of old ones.  However, it does seem that one of the models for music-making that evolved in the 1960s was the modular synthesizer, and this model not only worked in the world of hardware, it worked in the realm of software as well – think of older programs like CSound, or newer programs such as the Composers’ Desktop Project.  Both use the concept of separate function blocks (modules) connected in chains to make sounds, and this model has proved a fruitful one over the years.  So while I enjoy connecting a group of modules in a clever way to make a sound I haven’t heard before, I’m still aware of the limitations I’m placing on myself, and indeed, the basic absurdity of what I’m doing.  However, it’s an absurdity I can not only live with, but celebrate, and be creative with.

Which brings us to Softube’s new Modular, which is a collection of faithful modellings of six of Doepfer’s classic modules – the Voltage Controlled Oscillator, Voltage Controlled Filter, Voltage Controlled Amplifier, the ADSR Envelope Generator, a Low Frequency Oscillator, and a Noise Source.  These all seem to my ears to be very faithful reproductions of Doepfer’s originals, and have all the capabilities of the original modules.  These modules are then augmented by a set of 20 modules made by Softube, which provide many different basic composing functions found in most analog synthesizers.  Softube say that this is just the beginning of making available to the world of software synthesis some of the best and most creative modules from the Eurorack world.  As part of this, they have also made available three modules by Intellijel, an elegant FM oscillator, a very fancy filter, and a wavefolder module that is very useful.  These are available for separate purchase from the basic modular setup.  And if the asking price of some of these seems just a little bit high, remember that in this system, one can have as many copies of a module as one wishes.  (Up to the limit of 100 modules in a patch.)  And further, if one has Softube’s Rhythm synthesizer Heartbeat, the drum synthesis modules which form the core of that very useful machine show up as available sound generators in Modular as well.   Softube promises that further modules will be released in the future.  I, for one, will follow this development eagerly.  I’m very curious to see what new modules they will make available (for example, I’d be very interested in some of the sequencing and control modules from MakeNoise being made available!)

So how does it work?  When you first launch the plugin, you see a blank set of racks, with only a single bar in the middle.  Note the Inputs at the left.  This is because I’m here using the FX version of the plugin.  The presence of the external inputs is the only difference between the FX and normal versions.  Next to the inputs are some Module manipulation buttons, and then the Outputs.  An overall volume control, level meters and some auxiliary outputs are next, completed by some “Block DC on Aux Out” buttons, which go off screen to the right.  Navigation around the screen is accomplished by clicking and dragging with the mouse.  When you first start up the program, you have up to four rows of racks in which to insert modules.

 

Next, click on the “Modules: Add” button, and a screen of modules comes up.  You select from this screen by clicking on the module you want.  If you want more than one module, shift-click on the modules you want.  These are then deposited in the racks, starting at the upper left.  This view shows the full range of modules available. If there are modules that you haven’t purchased, such as the Intellijel or Heartbeat modules, they will be greyed out.  The categories are from top left, the Doepfer module emulations, the Intellijel modules, DAW and MIDI interfacing modules, Effects (a small category at the moment, which Softube says will expand very soon), Heartbeat sound generating (percussion sound) modules, Mixers, Sequencers, Utility and Performance modules.

 

Next you select the modules you want.  Here, I selected a standard “synth channel’s” worth of modules: a MIDI to CV, an Oscillator, a Filter, an Intellijel uFold, a VCA, an ADSR, and an Audio Mixer. I then proceed to connect these modules together with virtual patch cords, by clicking on an output jack and dragging that to an input.  After I click on the output jack, possible inputs are highlighted in green.  Once the jacks are connected, the patch cords disappear, but the jacks are highlighted in the same color.  If you want to see the patch cord again, just hold your mouse on either the input or output jack and it will appear, with the other patch cords appearing with translucent color.  Here, I’ve patched the modules to make a standard synth voice, with the exception that after the VCA, I’ve patched the sound through the uFold, in order to introduce some waveshaping onto the sound.  If I want to move or delete a module, I just click on the “Module: Move/Delete” button.  To move a module, click on it, then click in the place you’d like to move it to.  To delete, just click on the “X” button at the upper right that appears when in this mode.  In this shot, I’m holding my mouse on the output of a patch cord so that you can see it.

 

I now add two Dividers to the patch, along with a Noise Source, two Sample and Holds, and a Low Frequency Oscillator.  The external sound comes from the sound Input jacks into the Dividers, and the division ratio of each Divider is controlled by a separate random voltage coming from the Noise Source through the Sample and Holds, which are triggered off by the Square Wave output of the LFO.  This signal is very noisy and very distorted, and is in stereo, so each signal goes to a different Audio Mix, which each go to a separate Output.

 

Now for something completely different.  In this patch, I’ve connected three of the Intellijel uFolds in series, and then routed the output of that through the Intellijel Korgasmatron II, a very clean and versatile filter module.  The output of the filter goes back into the series of uFolds, creating a feedback loop. I then take one of the Performance modules, this one with four knobs, and by clicking on the “Perform/Edit” button, have programmed it to control the Folds controls of the three uFold modules, and the Cutoff of the filter module.  The knobs being controlled are colored red, so you can see what controls you’ve selected to control in this manner.  By adjusting the four controls, now conveniently in one panel, you can sculpt your squealing noisy feedback path into something that might amuse you and your noisecore friends for hours on end.

 

For those of you who would like to apply external automation to a patch like this, or use a program such as Max/MSP, PD, or MusicWonk to make a whole swathe of external MIDI continuous controller signals to control the knobs on the screen, be assured you can do this.  Just route your continuous controllers from your MIDI program of choice into the automation selection routine of your DAW (I’m using Plogue Bidule, which allows very easy routing of any incoming MIDI signal to any target in any plugin), and you have external automated control of any on-screen control in Modular. 

For those of you who like old-fashioned step sequencers, there are three of these in Modular, along with an x0x-style Beat Sequencer.  Since you can have as many of these as your racks can hold, the possibilitiy for very complex sequencing controls is very great.

The Intellijel modules deserve a mention all of their own – they’re elegant and very powerful.  The Rubicon is a very clean and beautiful sounding FM oscillator – it has normal exponential FM, as well as Through-Zero FM, which produces really sparkling spectra, and a raft of useful controls.  As mentioned above, the Korasmotron II is a dual filter in which many interesting interactions with the filters can be made, and it has a feedback loop which can be taken out and routed through other modules, making some very unique filter sounds.  The uFold is a very elegant waveshaping module, which produces some very attractive timbres.  All three are highly recommended as additions to the basic Modular kit.  And for those of you into synthetic percussion, the Drum synth modules in Heartbeat, which then become available in Modular, offer some very nice and controllable percussion timbres.  I was pleasantly surprised at hearing the range of very attractive timbres they produced. 

In short, if you want to explore the world of analog modular patching synthesis, Softube Modular is definitely something you should consider.  And remember, Softube has said that this is only the beginning of this project, as they hope to be able to release emulations of many other Eurorack modules in the future.  So in getting this software, you’re embarking on what will hopefully be an open ended project that will keep expanding as the years go by.  Are there any things I would like to see in future editions of the program?  Just two – it would be nice if you could have a check-box that would turn on numerical tool-tips for the knob you’re currently turning.  The joy of analog modular synthesis was that you had to do it all “by ear,” listening to the sound results as you turned the knob until you got what you wanted.  That’s a very good way of working, but for certain things (like fine tuning) sometimes you want a numerical output in order to be sure of what you’re getting.  Another module I’d really like to see is a “tuning quantizer” module, where you could quantize the output of any CV processor into any microtonal scale you wanted.  You would do this by loading a Scala standard .scl, .tun, or .MTS file into the module.  This was one of the most useful modules in Vaz Modular for me, and I think the addition of it to the “Utility” section of Softube Modular would give the synth a power that it currently doesn’t have.  Aside from those two wishes, I think that this software is just about perfect, its operation is ultra-smooth, it sounds great, and I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to anyone.

 

VST, VST3, Audio Units and AAX Native Formats – Windows and Mac, 64 and 32-bit versions available; iLok required.

www.softube.com 

Softube Modular $99 USD; Intellijel Rubicon $49 USD; Intellijel Korgasmatron $49 USD; Intellijel uFold II $29 USD; Softube Heartbeat Drum Synthesizer $169 USD. 

IK Multimedia iRig HD

A portable high-quality interface that plugs into your computer/phone/tablet for recording your guitar. Future is knocking and its name is iRig HD.

by A. Arsov, July 2016

I have been a bit frustrated with my recording setup on my laptop, being forced to connect my old big USB audio card whenever I need to record my guitar takes, changing the driver, worrying about different latency on different drivers, risking a computer crash after disconnecting the USB audio card, etc. The main problem was the vintage driver for my USB audio card, being from 2010 – what I can say – God bless discontinued products. All in all, this was just too many worries and an overabundance of monkey business for such a simple task. So, at one point I had enough of all those troubles and decided to give IK Multimedia iRig HD a try. I had heard a lot of good things about it, as my friend Jeannot uses a similar product, iRig and his only comment about this product was: “Fantastic.”

So, $99 USD dollars later (it is worth checking the IK site regularly, since they frequently have some discounts on various products, and iRig HD had been on that list not so long ago), I got my small box with iRig HD, three cables and pile of additional papers, from tutorials to promo materials, explaining what you get with various models of IK audio cards.

Setting the software up with my PC took just a minute or so. All I had to do was to open the ASIO4ALL setup window and select iRig HD as audio input. The best thing is that I can insert iRig HD in the middle of the session, record the guitar part and disconnect it without any problem, should I happen to need an additional USB port. iRig HD has an input and an output port, a diode light showing when is active, and a level knob to set your input gain. That’s all. The audio signal is very clean sounding and well defined, so setting the level is a breeze. I didn’t find any information on running iRig HD with its preamp feeding a high definition 24bit A/D converter. Does it contain a compressor or limiter applied inside the box? I don’t know, but the input signal seems very stable and you can set it quite hot (the signal from my old USB audio card looked quite a bit jumpier and it had to be dynamically processed before use).

HD stands for high definition, meaning that you are recording at 24 bit resolution at a 48 kHz sample rate that can go up to 96 kHz. The only week spot with this interface is a fact that I’m so thrilled with my new small tool, that I’ve started taking my guitar everywhere with me. iRig HD is quite small, portable and attractive, but my trusted heavyweight Telecaster with its old wooden case is far from being portable. On the plus side, when I get an inspiration now, I can finalize it without being forced just to record it temporarily on any handy media, deferring a final recording until I get back home. Things definitively sound different when they are fresh and ringing in your head than later when you try to recreate some badly made recording.

Why iRig HD?

iRig HD sounds better than iRig 2. Actually, it is a definitive solution for recording guitar. It also works with a PC and Android-based toys and not just with a Mac, iPad iPhone or other iPay device. Also you get some additional software that you don’t get with iRig 2 (Amplitube Metal, 25 IK credits for Mac/PC, and Cubasis LE for mobile applications). OK, I already had all those IK guitar software packs from before, but for me the quality, the signal to noise ratio along with a really nailed, clean signal was worth the price alone. Along with that, the portability and being so simple to use (after all, I’m a male, so no complications please), it’s absolutely priceless. Of course, IK Multimedia offers the whole spectrum of various iRig things, from a complete Audio/Midi portable card to a portable Audio/Video microphone for all the i-things you own to various mini keyboards and portable studio-quality speakers (those speakers are actually from the iLoud line and not iRig).

Before I got the small package containing iRig HD, I was afraid that it would constantly fall on the floor whenever I made any move with my guitar, pulling off connectors and destroying my USB port. After all, the whole thing is so small being almost lighter than my fat, expensive guitar cable. But for the unknown reasons, against all laws of physics, it stays quite stable on the table besides my computer.

I don’t own all those iPay toys, but according to various Youtube video clips, you should not have any problem setting this one up. Also, free Amplitube software that comes with a package can also serve as a multi-track recording tool, so you can record your ideas quite easy without losing any additional time, compared to turning on your main computer for a session on your “takes ages to boot” DAW.

HD Summary

For me, having a portable professional guitar input that allows me to record guitar literally everywhere is a big bonus. After all, you could even walk into a guitar shop, record a take on their “I can’t afford it” guitar, say thanks and walk out of the shop. OK, just joking. But you can record with it in a rehearsal, having iRig HD in your guitar case along the guitar cable. I don’t know how much are you familiar with IK’s range of virtual amps, but I can promise you that you will not regret trying Amplitube Metal that comes with the iRig HD pack. I have owned it for years, still using it, no matter that this is not my genre. People always claim that guitarists are a bit complicated, but this one is totally a no-brainer. Switch it in; play and record; switch it out. It couldn’t be simpler. To quote my dear friend Jeannot: “Fantastic”.

Review – Stealth Limiter and Saturator X from IK Multimedia

 

 

Two recent additions to the IK Multimedia T-RackS line are most worthy of your consideration.  Find out more in this double review.

 

by David Baer, July 2016

 

IKMultimedia’s T-Racks began life billed as a mastering solution.  It contained a number of discreet standard mastering effects units (EQs, compressors, et. al.) that could be hosted in a DAW or in the standalone T-RackS dual-channel host rig.  As a mastering solution, it has served well in that capacity.

Many of the original T-RackS modules also served well as track inserts in mixing situations.  Over time, IKM has added new T-RackS modules.  Today, the lines are a bit blurred as to whether a T-RackS module is intended primarily for mixing or mastering, but that’s fairly immaterial.

What is not immaterial, at least for some disgruntled shoppers, is the IKM Custom Shop mechanism used to sell these modules.  At lot of people seem to struggle to understand how to best use this.  And then there are Jam Points, rewarded for previous purchases.  And then there’s the occasional crazy-good-deal IKM group buy to keep potential customers even more up in the air as to when would be the best time to buy T-Racks gear.

Well, the pricing story will get possibly even more complicated given that T-RackS 5, the next major upgrade of T-RackS is rumored to be in the works and available as early as later this year.  What this means in terms of opportunities to pick up T-RackS modules at advantageous prices is anyone’s guess.

Nevertheless, two recent additions to the T-RackS line are superb and merit your attention, especially if you are already a fan of IKM’s VST effects.  We are going to look at two of these here, the Stealth Limiter and the Saturator X.  These have a list price of $130 USD and $80 USD respectively, but given the IKM way of selling things, don’t take those figures as gospel.  Deals – sometimes quite exceptional ones – do come along from time to time.

These modules are available as VST, RTAS, AAX (32 and 64-bit) for PC and Mac plus AU for Mac.  Presumably they work inside the T-RackS host standalone application, but I tested them only as hosted in Cubase 8.

 

Stealth Limiter

OK, I already said this was a superb piece of gear.  But it’s reasonable in a review like this to discuss just how badly most of us actually need another limiter.

For starters, how many limiters do you already have on hand?  There’s a good probability that there’s a completely serviceable one in your DAW (at least such is the case in both Cubase and SONAR, the two DAWs with which I have experience).  And maybe you’ve already acquired an extra-special third-party model.  For me that would be Fab Filter’s Pro-L because … well, they’re Fab Filter.  If you are a typical GAS victim, no doubt you’ve acquired a few extra limiters along this way due to discounted bundle purchases or group buys.

Next, think about the way in which you use a limiter.  Some producers/engineers use limiters on tracks in the capacity of very aggressive compressors.  Now, when it comes to compressors, I would argue that one needs a single really transparent unit, and just one is quite sufficient.  But additional “character” compressors, such as those modelled on vintage gear are also great to have at ones disposal.  A nice collection of compressors is generally a really good thing.  If you use limiters like compressors, then you may very well benefit from having some not-so-transparent limiters on hand as well to dirty up the sound just a tad.

But some of us only use limiters in one capacity: on the master bus.  In this case, first of all we desire absolutely no clipping.  We also often are using this master-bus limiter to increase or maximize loudness, making the clipping avoidance even more critical.  In almost all cases, when doing this kind of limiting, we want to avoid the process calling attention to itself.  In the end, if you already have a transparent, musical limiter, I would propose that you don’t really need another one.

Let us take this notion one step further.  If you are mixing something that is later to be mastered, it could be argued that you should not be using a limiter at all.  Application of limiting is in the domain of the mastering engineer.  Of course, you might keep a limiter on the master bus just as a safety valve to preserve your ears and/or speakers against unintended blasts.  But if you’re doing things right, that limiter should never actually kick in.  The mastering engineer needs sufficient headroom in the final mix if they are to work their magic.  And if it’s there for safety-sake alone, the quality and transparency of that plug-in really doesn’t matter.

So, do you really need another limiter?  Maybe not – but of course that doesn’t mean you won’t want one, and Stealth would satisfy your GAS just fine, or at least until the next fancy piece of gear appeared on the horizon.

 

Stealth Features

 

IKM markets Stealth as follows: It’s a versatile sonic ninja of a mixing and mastering tool that features an advanced inter-sample peak limiting algorithm that lets you turn up the loudness of your mixes while still maintaining a clean sound that’s full of dynamic range and sonic breathing room. T-RackS Stealth Limiter is your new go-to mastering peak limiter when you want impressive loudness without the damaging side effects of traditional processors.

The claim is that there is an algorithm that works under the hood to reduce levels below the volume ceiling moment-by-moment instead of applying traditional look-ahead envelope-based fast attack compression.  I’m not trying to be sarcastic by quoting at length from IKM promotional verbiage.  But I’m trying to emphasize that IKM claims there’s a secret sauce, about which they reveal little, that is the undisclosed basis of Stealth’s superior audio treatment.  Is it superior?  Maybe not superior, but certainly sensational – more on this shortly.  Let’s first explore the Stealth features.

The UI is quite straightforward.  There are two main knobs for maximum level output and input gain.  No controls are offered for attack/release and there is no option to set a look-ahead interval.  An option exists to automatically keep the processed and unprocessed sounds at the same volume.  Another option allows a very low cut filter to be enabled.  Oversampling rates can be selected from none, four-times and sixteen-times.  Dithering can be applied at the 16-bit or 24-bit boundary, but no actual truncation occurs, so this is probably better left to your DAW when exporting, which is the time at which the truncation does happen.  By avoiding the limiter dithering, you’re not going to forget and dither twice (not that anyone would be likely to notice).

The Mode selector is unique.  The Tight mode is billed as the most natural and the Balanced mode is for when a modest amount of dynamic compression is acceptable.  Harmonics 1 and 2 respectively add some tube and solid state color.  In my testing, I quite honestly could not hear differences between any of the modes, but perhaps younger ears than mine would be able to discern differences.

In comparison to other limiters, Stealth sounded as good as my gold-standard, Fab Filter Pro-L.  In fact, both sounded utterly transparent and the differences seemed quite subtle – so much so that I would not expect to do well if I had to differentiate in a blind test.  In this comparison, I left Pro-L at its default settings for attack, release and look-ahead.  These cannot be set in Stealth so there was no way to dial in equivalent behavior.

The other limiter I compared Stealth against was IKM’s earlier T-RackS limiter, the Brickwall Limiter.  While Brickwall Limiter was by no means any kind of slouch, Stealth did sound marginally better.  Again, attack and release in Brickwall Limiter were left at their default values.

I suppose it should be no surprise that limiters, assuming they are doing their job and actually steadily limiting and not in transition, should not sound all that different.  They should sound very alike once limiting has commenced, and, one could assume, should only produce substantial variances during release stages. To test how much difference there was, even if I was having trouble hearing it, I set up some standard null tests, the results of which can be seen to the right.

At the top, we have the input audio. For this I used the superbly mixed and oh-so-tastefully mastered “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” track from the Sting album of the same name.  As you can see, no attempt was made to make this audio a combatant in the loudness wars.  My testing used a 15dB increase in level to a maximum level of -0.5 dB.  Such way-over-the-top processing would be unpardonable were this not in the service of a quest for knowledge.  The limited output is shown the second subpanel.  The average RMS of this clip is approximately -5 dB and the peaks are at the requested -0.5 dB.

Below this we see four null tests.  In a null test, we run the input through two parallel plug-ins, flip the polarity of the output of one of them and mix the signals equally.  What remains is just that which is different in the processing between the two tracks.

The first null output shows the difference between the Tight and Balanced modes.  There clearly is a difference, but it is significantly lower than the output signal and, as such, it would be barely audible compared to the full limiter output.  In fact, the difference signal RMS average is -32 dB, or 27 dB less than the full limiter output.  A signal over 24 dB less than that of another would be audible in most situations, but if the two signals are similar, the lower level audio will be only barely audible.

Following this, we show the differences between the Stealth (Tight mode) and IKM Brickwall Limiter.  As expected, the differences here are a bit more pronounced (an average RMS of -14 dB in this case).  I actually could hear an audible, albeit not all that obvious, difference in my comparisons of these two limiters.  Again, the attack and release settings in this and the next test were left at the plug-in’s default values.

The real surprise for me was the third null test, comparing Stealth with Fab Filter Pro-L.  In listening comparisons, I found both of these to be absolutely transparent sounding, and thus could scarcely tell them apart when switching between them.  But the audio picture tells another story entirely – there is considerable difference that should have been more audible.

I was truly puzzled by the scientific measurement being so out of line with my subjective listening tests.  So, I reduced the input by 15 dB, thus insuring no compression/limiting was actually taking place.  While not loud, there were still audible differences between Stealth and Pro-L.  This was totally unexpected and I cannot suggest a possible explanation.  But in the end, the sound is what’s all-important, and both limiters delivered like thoroughbred champions.  So, I’ll let this one remain a mystery.

The final test is between the Stealth Tight and Harmonics 2 modes.  Here I can at least confidently state that the difference in these two modes truly will be absolutely inaudible even to the best of ears.  Perhaps different audio would have produced different results, but Harmonics 2 did not do much at all in this case.

 

Is Stealth for You?

If Loudeter, the Greek goddess of compression, paid me a visit and said “I am taking all thy limiters, save Stealth – hereafter thou may only use Stealth” (everybody knows that Greek deities talk like they were in the King James Bible, right?) – if this were to happen, I actually wouldn’t get all that bent out of shape.  I quite love Stealth and it could absolutely be my go-to limiter.

If you already own a top-of-the-line, transparent and musical limiter, you might want to consider passing since what you already have may be all that you ever will need.  But if you don’t own something top-of-the-line and you’re looking to remedy that situation, Stealth should absolutely go on your short list.  It is amazingly transparent – exactly what anyone should hope for in a limiter.

More information here:

http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/trstealthlimiter/

IKM has a great policy on demo audition downloads – you get a full fourteen days, which should be more than adequate time to make an informed decision.

… and, OK, I confess that made up that bit about there being a Greek goddess of compression.  [We apologize to our readers – Ed]

 

Saturator X

 

Prior to Saturator X, IKM had nothing in the way of harmonic distortion inducing software, unless you consider the guitar-centric Amplitube to qualify in that category.  So, a plug-in like Saturator X was long overdue.  Long story short: it was worth the wait.  This is an excellent piece of gear, and although I’ve already got a number of first-rate saturation/distortion plug-ins, Saturation X brings enough new to the party that it’s a most welcome addition.

The operation could hardly be simpler.  For the main controls, we have a saturation type selector (more momentarily), Gain (which influences both amplification and the amount of saturation) and Output.  Gain and Output can be inversely linked by clicking on an icon picturing two chain links.  In practice, this is quite convenient up until the final fine-tuning stage when you’ll probably want to turn it off.

The big “eye” is a stereo level meter – it shows input levels only and really is not all that useful from a practical standpoint – but does look pretty cool.  To the right, we have an optional limiter and a two-times oversampling option (because heavens forbid that we get distortion in the process of introducing distortion into mix).

The main story here is the variety of distortion types on offer.  In all cases, a little bit of gain can result in nice, but subtle, warmth – great for both mixing and mastering.  Higher gain settings in all modes can result in very audible distortion.  Since there is no wet/dry mix control, Gain and Mode control the nature of the sound.  How much gain is needed to make things obvious depends upon the selected mode.

Tape 1 is for mimicking the character and high-frequency compression of analog tape.  Tape 2 is a more lo-fi version of the same.

Master +6dB and Master +12dB both introduce a soft saturation curve, with the +12dB simply being more prominent.

Tube – Push Pull and Tube – Class A emulate tube saturation.  For Push Pull, odd harmonics are said to predominate while Class A favors both even and odd harmonics.  Solid State – Push Pull and Solid State – Class A are more of the same, but this time with solid state being emulated.  No rules here for best fit.  Set by ear and don’t overthink it.

Lastly we have two transformer settings: Transformer – Iron and Transformer – Steel.  I don’t recall ever seeing this as an option in a saturation plug-in.  It’s quite lovely in small amounts and in larger amounts sounds unlike anything to which I can readily compare it.  Iron is said to favor even harmonics and Steel both even and odd.  These saturation types can withstand a bit higher gain than the others before the grunge builds up to unpleasant levels.

 

Is Saturator X for You?

With all these options, there’s a danger of spending rather too much time tweaking the gain and type settings to perfection.  But if you are just looking to add a pleasant but subtle warmth to your track or mix, you’re just going to turn down the gain to the point where the distortion is not noticeable to all but the most intent listener.  Like I said, don’t overthink it.  Just have fun.  This plug-in certainly offers the opportunity for that to happen.

If the Greek god of saturation, Hydroaestus, paid me a visit [OK that’s enough.  Just stop it! – Ed]

… um, what I was going to say was that, unlike a single first-rate limiter being all many of us need, one can easily benefit from having several different saturation effects.  I would not trade my beloved Fab Filter Saturn for anything.  When I want some vintage-fairy-dust-type saturation, there are a number of Nomad Factory and other IKM T-TrackS plug-ins that are go-to options.  But I’m more than happy to welcome Saturator X into my toolkit.  It brings a few new possibilities that weren’t there before.  This one is definitely a keeper in my opinion.  It’s fairly priced at the retail price.  If a crazy-no-brainer group-buy opportunity comes along (and probability is high that one eventually will), you’ll want to especially consider picking up this gem.

Find out more here:

http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/trsaturatorx/

 

Review – Kwaya by Best Service

Sampling master Eduardo Tarilonte has done it again with this intimate, realistic library of full of rich African spirit. Introducing Kwaya.

by A. Arsov. July 2016

 

This is a library that is quite specific, but that’s something that its creator, Tarilonte, does by default – to create a sample based instruments that are highly focused. No matter how many vocal or choir libraries and instruments you have, this one is different – different by content, by color, by vibe and by general feel. It brings a sort of warmth and harmoniousness, even if you use just a good old M vowel that you can find in almost any vocal library. And this is just the beginning since Kwaya, a choir library compiled from recordings of award winning Aba Taano choir from Uganda, offers a great Phrase builder where we can join forty different syllables, creating authentic African chants that can be combined with any spoken or even sung African phrase or word that can be found in the FX section. To be more precise – there are 1600 different phrases and words, more than enough to pick the right one for your need.

The main target of this library is to serve various new age, score, documentary, media or stock music needs. But, as always, feel free to combine these sounds with any genre, adding a touch of African spirit to your composition. It’s ideal for making some unique backing vocal lines for your lead vocal, or even using legato syllables instead of conventional pad sounds from your classical synth arsenal.

What Do We Get?

The whole sample instrument is divided into three main sections – actually one main phrase builder patch along with two additional directories, FX and Soundscapes. These bring us a generous number of presets, patches that offer singing, talking and yelling phrases and words.

Let’s start with the phrase builder. In the upper part of the main window we see separate volume and pan controllers for four male and two female voices. The middle part is reserved for some general controllers like expression ratio, reverb amount and a legato knob. Under this central controller area is a small drop down menu in which you can select one of twenty different syllable combinations to set active, or simply to edit, delete, add or change syllables. All twenty syllable combinations are also selectable through key-switches. Those key-switches also come in handy if you want to start a phrase from the first syllable, since all you need to do is to press the appropriate key-switch for that combination. Then the first syllable will automatically be selected, no matter where you ended with the last MIDI note. In the lower part we can find a row containing eight different syllables that are triggered from left to right, building a syllable combination where an upcoming MIDI note triggers the next syllable along with playing it in a pitch of the MIDI note.

Under every syllable you will find an option to set the length – that is, whether the syllable will be sustained or staccato (selecting between Long and Short), and at the bottom you will find a small Edit button that will open a new editor with a few rows containing 40 syllables along with basic vowels that includes an Mm vowel (OK, that’s not really a vowel if we want to get precise).

The FX directory brings a multitude of shouts, yelling poems, chants and vocal rhythms with one big wav display that you can use to change the sample start and end, selecting just a part of a phrase. Every such window also contains additional reverb and expression buttons. I only wish there was some sort of mega patch with a bigger group of those phrases distributed over the key range because it is a bit laborious to load patch after patch to find the right combination.

Because this is a Tarilnonte instrument, there is no way to avoid wanting to create some ambient soundscapes. How do they sound? Excellent, as always.

Thoughts

As in all libraries from Tarilonte, you will always find some unique content that you can’t find anywhere else. Maybe there will be fewer controllers than you’d expect in library of this type, but the main sound will always be so inspirational and to the point that you will probably not need any of those additional controllers in the first place. Actually, Tarilonte reminds me of the writer Luis Borges, always bringing some unique, beautiful, unexpected but highly desirable content. If you are after hyper-reality, wishing to sound more real than the real thing, being able to control everything, and fooling everyone that you aren’t using a virtual instrument, then you should go for Chris Hein instruments. If you are after fairy tales, not to listen to them but rather to create them, then this is the right solution for you. Instruments that Tarilonte make always start to whisper some stories to you, ones that will make you smile, dream or even cry. So, this time we have an African choir instrument, a fairy tale about Africa. Kwaya brings all the voices that we need in order to add some African spirit to our songs. If you asked me, that’s exactly what I was looking for.

For more information visit Bestservice site. €259 EUR will buy you your personal story teller about Africa.
http://www.bestservice.de/en/kwaya.html

Botikala malamu, mosala malamu.

 

A  short KWAYA demo, handcrafted by Arsov.

 

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