Monthly Archives: January 2017

Arturia Minilab Mk II

 

When the sum is far more than its parts. A rock solid keyboard with perfectly integrated software.

by Alex Arsov, Jan. 2017

 

I was quite impressed with this piece of gear. It is a very solid and compact mini keyboard with almost the same keyboard action than I have on my main, big fancy MIDI keyboard from a well-known developer. Keys are rock solid jumping back straightaway, allowing us to play fast parts without any trouble.  The companion software is perfectly integrated with the keyboard itself, adding a whole new dimension to the package. I updated Analog Lab Lite the same day I got keyboards, and for just €29 EUR I got 5,000 sounds instead the 500 that come with the Lite version, which comes bundled with the keyboard. Needless to say I went totally bonkers with all those rotary knobs, beating the hell out of the presets. I haven’t had such a good time since I got the Access Virus for the first time many years ago. Maybe it is not totally the same as tweaking an old analog synth, as Analog Lab allow you only to tweak some essential parameters inside the presets, not allowing you to make something for scratch or to drastically change any preset, but still, the whole experience, Analog Lab Lite, or in my case Analog Lab in combination with Minilab Mk II, gives a totally new level to the package. For the price of an average VST instrument (€100 EUR for Minilab Mk II+ €29 for the upgrade to Analog Lab 2) you get a great sounding VST instrument with 5,000 presets along with hardware that works perfectly with it. The first two knobs are for browsing and selecting presets, all the others are for tweaking sounds in a way far beyond what you can do with most other mini keyboards.

 

 

Hardware

Two octaves of mini keys with rock solid action. The whole box is a bit smaller than the average laptop. Eight touch sensitive back-lit pads that can be switched between two banks for controlling up to sixteen beats at once. Sixteen rotary knobs, the first two even click-able. They come preprogrammed for Analog Lab Lite (or Analog Lab 2) but they can easily be programmed for other purposes and stored as a preset in the hardware through the MIDI Controller Center software that you can download from the Arturia site.  

Pitch and Modulation touch strips are ideal for going totally bonkers with and getting really cool results, especially with Analog Lab or any other similar virtual synthesizer. It’s possible that for orchestral music the old-fashioned mod-wheel seems to be the perfect tool, but I found that with those touch strips you can make some fast and unpredictable movements that can’t be recreated with any other controller and can put some pads or leads with filter connected to the mod controller into some totally new and crazy heaven. I played with this tool like small child, so can confirm from my personal experience the touch strips are  rock solid and didn’t break during my mad session.  

AL2-Lead
AL2-Lead with Mod Touch-strip

 

In the upper left corner we find four buttons. The first two are Shift and Pad. With Pad we can switch between two banks of eight pads, while the Shift button is more multipurpose, calling various presets in combination with the Pad button or selecting the main MIDI channel in combination with keys, or even for enabling the first nine buttons to work with various MIDI CC messages according to the selected preset. Next two are octave up and octave down buttons. The further up or down you go the faster the button will flash.

The whole Minilab Mk IIis quite heavy and rock solid from keys up to the pads and even the USB connector is very solid, not one of those small ones that can easily become the weakest link in similar products. There is also a footswitch jack input that can serve as a sustain pedal or even a latching switch.

 

Software

We already mentioned Arturia Analog Lab Lite, little brother of Analog Lab 2. Lite comes with 500 presets with an option to upgrade it for a really small fee to the full version with 5,000 presets. You can read more about Analog Lab 2 in our previous issue, but I have to warn you that with Minilab the Analog Lab 2 experience is quite different, having all those controllers already connected with hardware.  You can find the full Analog Lab 2 review here:

http://soundbytesmag.net/analoglab2fromarturia/

AL2 – Pad

 

The next piece of software is Ableton Live 9 Lite. I have the full version (it’s a great peice of software) and I also have at least nine or ten Ableton Live Lite coupons lying around, as they pack it along with almost any musical hardware that you can buy. The most famous Slovenian poet was well-known for his habit of carrying plenty of figs in his pocket to give to children, and I even thought that maybe I should also take those Ableton Live Lite copies with me for local kids. Nevertheless, it is a great piece of software and if you still don’t have it then it is a great starter DAW that will allow you to start making some noise (all those Lite versions were a bit too restricted for my taste – after all, this should be Lite and not Demo version, but it looks like DAW developers still haven’t figured that out – it is not just an Ableton issue, to be clear).

Next up is Grand Piano Model D from UVI. It is a great sounding Steinway piano, definitely not one of those that you get as a part of some sample libraries that come with various samplers. Detailed and perfectly sampled, UVI always know how to do such things.

Arturia Analog Lab Lite in combination with this Grand Piano makes this one of the best software pairs that I’ve got with any hardware till now. OK, I got plenty of useful software with my big MIDI keyboard also, but that whole package was around €500 EUR. It is not Analog Lab Lite on its own that makes it so special, but integration with the hardware that makes it stand out. Yes, I have plenty of MIDI controllers and I connected a few essential parameters with most of my virtual synths, but not in the way Analog Lab and Minilab Mk2 are connected. Fourteen knobs and mod strip are connected from preset to preset in the best possible way, while with another two knobs we can search through categories and select an appropriate one.

I read some other reviews of this product and noticed that the only critique goes to these wood-like pieces of plastic on the edges. The problem is that Americans don’t understand European culture. If that imitation wood would be the result of some German developer then this would definitely be proof of bad taste, but as this is made by a French company it is absolutely “chic” (for our American friends that means stylish, sophisticated and attractive).

 

Conclusions

For €99 EUR you get such a solidly built piece of hardware that you can even use it as a weapon in a bar fight. It also comes with a Kensington lock port, so it will stay there until the police bring it back to you. And there the great software that is perfectly integrated with the hardware. For an additional €29 EUR the even-better software perfectly integrates with the hardware. Eight velocity sensitive and rock solid pads along with sixteen rotary knobs. Two-octave keyboard with superb action. Nice Pitch and Mod touch strips and a non problematic USB connector. With MIDI Control Center you can save up to eight global device presets into the hardware, saving new settings for every knob and pad. Of course you can load as many templates as you want from the MIDI Control Center, setting various templates for different DAWs or plug-ins. Furthermore, you can apply various velocity curves to the keyboard, setting sensitivity according to your playing style. Same goes with the pads. You can also set how fast a button should react when applying parameters to the desired controllers by setting the so-called acceleration speed. There are more details that can be set through this MCC and, all in all, my general impression is that Arturia held back only with the pricing of this product – everything else seems quite richly featured..

For more info visit Arturia site:

https://www.arturia.com/minilab-mkii/overview

 

Essentials – Session Guitarist – Strumming Acoustic 2 by Native Instruments

 

Is Strumming Acoustic 2 a virtual instrument or real session musician? One thing is for sure, the listener will never know the answer.

by Alex Arsov, Jan. 2017

 

I’m a guitar player and I was very pleased to get this virtual instrument. Not that I couldn’t record similar lines by myself but, truth be told, recording acoustic guitar is quite an adventure, finding an appropriate room with good acoustics. Setting up two good microphones, finding the sweet spots for them (actually, I have only one good microphone and one more average one – not an ideal solution for recording acoustic guitar). This is just the technical side of the deal. I play mostly electric guitar, taking up the acoustic just once in a while, so this also means practicing before every recording session. Too much monkey business for such a simple task, if you ask me. To be honest, I would like to use acoustic guitar in every chorus, as it adds drive and width, making it bigger and more epic. Despite this I have acoustic guitars in only two of my songs. I get a headache every time I even think of doing all this. In the best case scenario I use my cheap electro acoustic guitar with Piezo pick-up – quite a lousy substitute for a good sounding acoustic guitar.

Strumming Acoustic 2 in action.

 

Patterns

Strumming Acoustic 2 sounds just like the real thing, offering a large number of patterns (112 patterns recorded with 6-string guitars and 51 with 12-string guitars). Along with the patterns we also get a few additional guitar sounds hidden under the key-switches, making the whole played experience even more authentic (like open strings hit for using between chords, mimicking a live playing situation during chord changing). Various chord endings, guitar taping sounds and similar sorts of things. Before I go further with all things this library offers, maybe this is a time to confess that no matter how if a solid a guitar player I am, it is a fact that those three fellows that recorded these patterns are skilled studio professionals that did the job much better than I would ever be able to do. So, actually you get a professional session musician with this library to play the acoustic guitar part in your song.

All patterns are recorded in a range from 60 to 180 BPM, automatically synced with the host tempo. A great number of them are compiled into so-called songs, where every song offers a few additional variations. The best part with Session Acoustic 2 is that all harmony changes inside patterns sound very natural without any noticeable pause or any other rhythmical discrepancy. Finding the proper pattern is also quite easy, all we need is to tap the rhythmical pattern on our keyboard inside the rhythm search finder and Strumming Acoustic 2 will suggest a selection of patterns that fit our search criteria. You can also find an appropriate pattern with various descriptive search criteria, by selecting various parameters in the rhythm search page. Thankfully, patterns that you find can be previewed in context without being actually loaded into the instrument, making the whole search process easier and faster.

Patterns with a small bass clef assigned on the right side in the Pattern view page allow you to play separate bass lines along with your currently played chord. With the mod-wheel we can change the character of a played pattern transmitting playing style from overall to high voicing, causing only higher strings to be played – quite a nice solution for crowded arrangements with plenty of low parts. With pitch bend you can control accent in real time, making some variations between playing style, making it a bit softer or more intense with positive values. There is also an option to shift the starting point, allowing you to even make some odd signature patterns, but if you are on the novice side of musical knowledge, you can also use the Auto Chord mode. All you need to do is to set the key of your song and then press various notes inside the octave and all chords will play properly according to the selected key plus suspended chords accessible through the black keys.

 

The Sound Page

The Sound Page offers a large number of additional controllers allowing us to adapt the sound of Strummed Acoustic 2 to our personal needs. In the voice section we can set the default value to between low and high string strumming. We have already talked about this function, along with a few additional settings for Stereo or even Double mode, mimicking that well-known practice for fattening the choruses in pop productions by recording two acoustic guitars panned hard left and right. Stereo and Double mode can be combined in various ways covering quite a wide array of options, from doubling only for high strumming or only for low, up to more specific settings like the pan positions for stereo mode. In the upper row is also a Fret Noise knob that I leave as it is. Without fret noise your playing will sound fake, with too much fret noise there would be … er … too much fret noise. It is true that fret noise can make your playing more alive, but it is something that every guitarist tries to avoid, so leaving it on the default value is quite safe. The next three controllers are EQ, Compressor and Reverb. All three come with one big knob for amount, and a drop down list of presets. Reverb comes with various spaces, while EQ and Compressor bring various presets with different settings for each effect.

Strummed Acoustic 2 – Palm muting technique.

 

The Playback Page

The last page brings some general controllers that refer to playing style. Swing and Humanize do exactly what they stand for. The rightmost position in Humanize will give the original recording while on the left it would be totally quantized. Regarding the fact that all patterns are recorded by professional studio players, there is not much need for any additional quantization. Latch mode stands for enabling or disabling endless pattern playback (actually until you press end note or until changing chord).  

The next one is pattern sync that determines if the pattern should start when you play a note or at the beginning of a bar (the so-called DAW sync). The last two are Timing and Tempo. Timing is for pushing the playing pattern slightly before the beat or delaying it slightly for a more laid back feeling. In the last Playback page feature, Tempo, we can set a half or double time playing speed relative to the host tempo.

 

The All in All

This is an ideal solution for everybody, guitar players and non guitar players alike. A must have for all choruses, easy pop songs or even just to spice up your electro arrangements. Strummed Acoustic 2 sounds as natural as live professional players can sound. I don’t know much about the first release of this instrument, but version 2 sounds just perfect to me. Even if you are skilled enough to record some of those patterns by yourself, it is still questionable if your guitars are at least half as good as those used for these recordings, not to mention room and microphone issues.

Strummed Acoustic 2 comes with such a large number of patterns that you would have to be really unlucky not to find an appropriate one for your song. All you need is few stereo patterns for the verse, some doubled on chorus and off we go. €99 EUR for over 160 different patterns along with overall sound quality and all the additional taming options make this one a very good deal.

ESSENTIAL FOR: Low price, excellent sound and a set of must-have patterns that can uplift any pop, electro, dance or any other sort of production. Professional session musician at your fingertips.

More info at https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/guitar/session-guitarist-strummed-acoustic-2/

p.s. For an even better user experience I suggest you skim through the manual or at least read the last few pages. There are a few nice tips and tricks that will help you bring this instrument to life.

Review – Pro-R from Fab Filter

 

 

Fab Filter extends its line of “Pro“ plug-ins with Pro-R, a reverb that will live up to your high expectations of software from that company.

 

by David Baer, Jan. 2017

 

There is a subset of the small-studio-engineering community who hold Fab Filter in very high regard.  It’s clear, if you spend any time at all on the various small-studio forums, that these people tend to own most if not all the offerings in the Fab Filter catalog (disclaimer – I am one of these people myself) and regard these plug-ins largely as the gold standard.

So, at the end of 2016 when Fab Filter announced that it had a new product, this time an algorithmic reverb, you can probably imagine an inner debate in which more than a few members of FF-nation engaged:

“Sheesh, a new reverb … as if I need another algorithmic reverb!”

“Yeah … but, hey, it’s Fab Filter!”

“But I really can’t justify the expense – another reverb is far from being a priority studio item!”

“Yeah … but, hey, it’s Fab Filter!”

… and so on.

Well, I’m sorry to have to tell these people that Fab Filter has indeed done it again with a knock-out offering.  I can’t report that Pro-R is a realistic reverb because reality has never sounded so exquisite.  But it’s very special nonetheless.  Add to that the ease of programming.  You may, for the first time ever, feel sufficiently confident to build your own reverb settings completely from scratch and forgo the use of presets.  And then there’s the user interface, perhaps Fab Filter’s most compelling graphics yet.  But, hey, it’s Fab Filter.  You were expecting anything other than total excellence?

 

Programming Pro-R

Let’s start by going through the various controls on Pro-R.  You may expect a high-end algorithmic reverb to have an intimidating number of controls governing innumerable obscure parameters as so many tend to do.  But that’s not so with Pro-R.  As you’ll see, this is a triumph of economic interface design.

One general note first, however.  You might be expecting to see some explicit control over characteristics of early reflections (ERs) – after all, these are pretty much standard on better reverbs.  But not so here.  However, we’ll defer the topic of ERs until we cover the Character and Distance controls later.

 

At the center is the large knob called Space.  It goes from small enclosure to large enclosure and the decay time displayed in the center increases as larger enclosure sizes are dialed in, from very short to a full 10 seconds.  To the right is the decay time, which adjusts the time assigned in the Space control between 50% and 200%.  So, that maximum time is a whopping 20 seconds.  If you’re trying to emulate a space like Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, then you’ll still have excess seconds to spare.  There was a bug in the initial release that maxed out the tail after 10 seconds, but it has been corrected.

Stereo Width comes next to the right and it’s not obvious what it does.  At 50% (the value is displayed only when making changes), we have true stereo reverb.  At 0%, we have mono.  At 100%, the L and R channels become completely independent and effectively are mono L and R reverbs.  Above 100% (you can go to 120%), the side component of the stereo signal is boosted above normal.

Mix has the usual function.  However, one thing you will rapidly note is that Pro-R benefits from higher Wet to Dry settings than most reverbs.  30% would be overkill for many reverbs, but for Pro-R it’s often just about right.  As a matter of fact, I would estimate that as many as half of the presets have Mix set at 50%.

Returning to the far left, there’s Brightness, which appears to be a simple high-cut filter.  To the right, you can see the 100% wet output of the reverb in an otherwise default (the Basic preset) setting when using white noise for the input.  The three respective curves show the output when Brightness is set to fully Bright, half-way between Dark and Bright, and fully Dark.  I won’t say there aren’t other nuanced changes resulting from different Brightness settings, but I could not discover any.

At this point we’ll take a brief detour and discuss Predelay.  This is offered as a pop-up control at the bottom of the UI.  You can specify a host-tempo-synced value or an absolute time.

 

 

Character and Distance

Back to the top row of controls.  First let us talk about Distance.  The Dial has two markings at the extremes: Close and Far.  Here distance denotes the distance between the listener and the sound source, not the depth of the sound source in the soundstage.  To think how this control works, consider thunder.  When lighting strikes close at hand, you hear a loud clap immediately followed by a decrescendo.  With distant lightning, you hear a rolling sound that starts with a crescendo and then decrescendos.   This is a bit how the Distance control affects the wet sound.  Below are three images of a more-or-less default reverb setting but one in which Distance is fully Close, half-way and fully Far.  The input is just a 5 msec. burst of noise and the Mix is about 70% wet (that first spike is the input noise burst).  You can readily see the Close is louder in the early stages.

 

The Character is said to have two functions.  Between Lively (at the 12 o’clock position) and Chorus (fully clockwise) the reverb tail is run through a chorus effect and at higher settings, the results are quite audible.  The other half of the Character story is a little more elusive.  The documentation (excellent as usual, by the way), states that the Clean setting causes early reflections to be emphasized.  If it does, I found the results to be subtle.  In fact, I captured the output, using the same 5 msec. noise burst used to test Distance.  The Distance setting here was fully Close.  The results below show the output (this time 100% wet) at fully Close, half Close and half Lively, and fully Lively.  I’m afraid I don’t see a lot of difference.

 

One more thing before we leave this subject.  If you do want to use Pro-R to simulate soundstage depth, you’ve got all the tools you need, Predelay being your best friend here.  Try something like this recipe to start.  For front-of-soundstage, set Predelay to 50 ms, Brightness to fully Bright, Mix to, say, 30%.  For rear-of-soundstage, set Predelay to no more than 25 ms or even 0 ms, Brightness to something approaching Dark and Mix to 50%.  Play with these settings until you get a satisfactory result.  Mid-soundstage will then be something in between.

 

EQ Adjustments

 

 

Pro-R has two EQ curve settings, one of them conventional and one of them possibly unique in reverbs to date.  Both govern the reverb output only.  The post-EQ equalizer is pretty much a conventional EQ stage, the controls of which will be immediately understood by users of Pro-Q.

The innovation comes with the Delay Rate EQ (the blue curve in the above image).  What this controls is the decay rate of the reverb tail, but it controls it in a frequency specific fashion.  It’s not uncommon to have reverb algorithms induce higher decay rates for higher frequencies – this is how things usually work in the real world.  With Pro-R, you have an unprecedented level of control that can enforce realism or flights of fancy as fanciful as your imagination can dictate.  Consider the Comb Filter Space A preset shown below – pretty wild, eh?

 

Speaking of presets, there is a generous supply of them, arranged in the categories: Ambience, Small, Medium, Large, Very Large and Tempo Synced.

There’s one more thing to mention before we leave the EQ topic, and I have no idea if this feature will be of any actual practical value to anyone but it’s vastly cool in any case.  Pro-R has an animation of the decay (the wispy white lines seen amidst the blue decay and gold EQ lines) that are mesmerizing.  Even a static screenshot of Pro-R is worthy of display in a modern art museum.  Watching it in operation … well let’s just say it will make some of you nostalgic for the days when you used to put artificial substances in your bloodstream to achieve a similar visual experience.

 

Is Pro-R for You?

As you will no doubt have gathered, this plug-in has gotten me a little more than excited.  As much as I thought I had no use for another reverb, I am smitten.  I have only one piece of advice at this point.  If you do not have the money to purchase Pro-R, then whatever you do, do not download and audition a demo copy.  After all, there are certainly other excellent algorithmic reverbs available, some of them costing less than Pro-R.  But knowing that is not going to stop you from feeling lust, envy and … oh what the hell … gluttony.

Pro-R retails for $199 USD but owners of other Fab Filter titles get a progressively higher discount the more is owned.  I believe that frequent flyers will see a price reduction of 40%.  Fab Filter has only rare sales of individual plug-ins but does offer the occasional sale on bundles, Pro-R being in a number of them.  If you don’t own any Fab Filter but want to join the club, the Essentials Bundle, including Pro-R, Pro-Q 2 (an EQ) and Pro-C (a compressor) can sometimes be had on sale for $299 USD, which given the quality of the three items is really a very fair price.

 

Pro-R may be purchased directly from Fab Filter here:

http://www.fabfilter.com/

It is also available from a number of other music software retailers.

 

Cinematique Instruments Marble from Bestservice

 

A Full Kontakt instrument with over 900 presets ideal for cinematic and pop music in general that can add a beautiful, mellow atmosphere to your production.

 

by Alex Arsov, Jan 2017

 

About Marble

This is a full Kontakt based instrument that produces a wide variety of modern atmospheric, down-tempo, chill, electro, and floaty sounds appropriate for any cinematic or even non-cinematic, slow, emotive music – electro, pop, rock, or any other genre. Emotive? Yes, actually most of the Marble sounds, presets and instruments have this emotive, sensual sort of vibe that makes Marble quite unique, filling a quite specific niche. A very modern “electro, but still organic” sounding collection that sounds fantastic in combination with some live instruments, guitars or even the whole orchestra, being very good on its own or even in combination with other synths.

The most interesting fact is that the main sources for all these “electro” sounds are live instruments: strings, guitars, various percussion, flute, marimba and few others along with just a synth or two for a good measure. All those analog sources give a very organic character to the unique, pulsating, electro presets. Some presets offer preprogrammed melodic lines triggered with every note. I found that almost all of those melodies are programmed with an internal sequencer, so changing melodies, adapting them to your needs, or just making them more unique, is an easy, interesting and fun task, even making me change my mind about the large number of drum patterns and loops that come with this instrument. At the beginning I thought they were a total waste of space and time, but after realizing that most of the rhythms are also produced with internal pair of sequencers (every preset is made from two sound slots and every sound slot has its own step sequencer), making this limited number of included percussive loops a nice base for making an array of unique new loops.

At first I also thought that Marble was a rather pricey product, but considering all this internal flexibility that allows us to easily make and even save new presets, not to mention that Marble already comes with 900 presets, most of them unique and with pleasant character, I found that after all it is quite a fair price. So, here is the result of my of my first five minutes spent with this instrument (after I’d watched video tutorials and made my way through the manuals).

Marble in action

 

Marble Itself

The whole interface is divided into four parts accessible through the menu in the upper part of the main Marble window. The Master section is the default one that you get when you load Marble into Kontakt. There you can set some basic things, like the tempo, according to the host tempo. We can choose between 4th, 16th, 8th, so called triolic, swing, 32nd, and a few other variations. You can also freeze the currently played sequence, setting endless loops for when using Marble live. There are a few other options in the Master section, but the most interesting option, actually a controller, is a big knob that allows us to apply the effects sent from the Assign page. This one is controlled through the mod-wheel, the most basic option for modulating the sound character in one move.

 

Track

The editing part, or the “Track” section as they call it, is the place where we can build a preset from scratch or just change some of the basic parameters, changing the main character of the preset. Every preset in this instrument is compiled from two sound sources presented in two parallel sound engines, each one with its own step-sequencer that can control various parameters. Volume, Pan, Length, Tune, Reverse, Shape, Filter and Stutter. I know it sounds like an ordinary job, but when you put some of those functions through the step sequencer, where you can draw various values for every parameter separately, things become quite interesting and unique.

I have to admit that those Cinematique fellows really did a good job with all the included presets and provided some really inspiring combinations. In the same window we can also set the amount of reverb and delay, along with the number of steps, and a time-shift function. Usually I get a bit lost in these step sequencers and don’t always get the best results, but somehow I found my way immediately with these two step sequencers and quite enjoyed messing around with them. Of course I did this more or less with presets with preprogrammed melody lines, to make them more unique or simply to fit the into my arrangements, and of course I did the same with some drum loops to make them less ordinary and less recognizable. Speaking of presets, they are arranged in a wide array of categories. It is quite easy to find what you are looking for as all directories have self-explanatory names, so it literally took me just five minutes to compile demo, quickly finding an appropriate one. As the whole library weighs in at barely over 400 MB, loading time for each preset is the same as it is for most virtual synthesizers, so there will be no reading books and educating yourself with tutorial video clips between presets, as it is the case with some of the weightier libraries.

 

Assign

The last section is the Assign section where we can assign additional parameters for both engines, but again, this is not all. Actually all those parameters could be driven through so-called 127-step table, actually some other sort of step sequencer with 127 steps where we can apply some existing curves or draw new ones for all parameters on the Assign page. General volume for every engine, drive, saturation, reverb, bit resolution, convolution FX, lowpass filter and many more. I didn’t spent much time on that page, as more or less, most of the presets are perfect, having been programmed with a fine measure of imagination, so all I did was play around a bit with the step sequencers on the Track page.

Every instrument or library that offers a lot of presets has a number of good, useful presets balanced with the ballast ones, and even if I was not so impressed with some of the basic drum loop presets (not so bad, but nothing extraordinary) I have to admit there is an impressive number of versatile and useful, great-sounding, inspiring presets. Even those ordinary drum loops can easily be turned into something more interesting and, truth be told, there are also a lot of percussive loops that are pretty good and fit perfectly into any down-tempo electro production.

 

Happy Ending

This is a very specific library.  It fills a specific niche and it maybe it isn’t for all tastes.  But so far, at least for me, this is just perfect for adding some interesting emotive and sensitive details that are full of movements to any mid-to-slow tempo pop, indie or electro production. It is a very airy, wide sounding library with plenty of versatile presets that almost all have deep and pleasant organic sounding low end and sparkling bubbling highs. The company that stands behind Marble calls itself Cinematique Instruments, and therefore this library is aimed primary for cinematic needs.  But it also seems to be a perfect match for all sorts of non-cinematic songs, which is not always the case with cinematic tools. An impressive library that sounds like one of those 50 GB libraries, except weighing just a bit over 400 MB. Impressive in every way.

More info at https://www.bestservice.de/en/marble.html

€220 EUR, full version of Kontakt required.

Home Studio Practitioner – Recording a Band Live on a Budget

 

Limited recording budget?  Let necessity be the mother of invention in achieving a professional-quality tracking result.

 

by Luka Sraka, Jan. 2017

 

 

It is no secret that we can make very good audio productions with limited hardware, some knowledge of MIDI programming and nice sounding samples. But what if we want to record a band live? In this month’s Home Studio Practitioner, I will explain how I set out to record a whole band live with limited gear.

A while back I had a couple of nice songs and a great three-piece band, so I wanted to record these songs live. I was no stranger to making songs in the box, programming drums and then recording bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitars and vocals live. A nice two-channel interface was sufficient for this type of work, but not for recording a drum set live.

I had a decent sounding room at my disposal so that was not a problem. The drummer had a quality drum mic set which we complemented with some large and small diaphragm condenser microphones and a couple of sturdy dynamic ones. All in all we had fourteen microphones on the drum kit. An inside and outside kick microphone, snare top and bottom, tom one, tom two and floor tom top and bottom mics, an sm57 and a pencil condenser on the hi hat and a stereo pair for the overheads. I was aware at the beginning that the fourteen microphones were overkill but I wanted to have everything covered, and I could always take some of those mics out when mixing.

The last problem (the biggest one) was this: where to get an interface with at least fourteen mic preamps. I’ve asked around different studios if they would be interested in lending me their interface but no one seemed very keen to the idea of breaking up their set so I could borrow an interface for a couple of days. I ended up borrowing a digital mixing desk from a friend which was effectively a sixteen in and sixteen out interface, and all I needed was a USB cable and connect it to my computer. The mixer was Allen&Heath QU16.  I found the preamps very clean and the EQ section was fine as well. I ended up using hi-pass filters on some channels and phase shift switch on the bottom mics.  Everything else was done in the box.

We decided to record drums and bass guitar together, so when we were rehearsed enough we plugged the fourteen drum mics and a tube preamp that bass was running through into the desk. The last channel we used for talk back microphone.

I have to admit I was sceptical about the sound and so were the other band members, but all in all it worked like a charm.

In three days we captured the drums and bass performances for the songs we set out to record.  The rest of the project was done using an Apogee Duet, a dual mic pre interface. With the bulk of the recordings done, I thanked my friend, returned the mixing desk and resumed working on my project.

For the acoustic guitars I decided to use the mid+side technique (M+S) with two large diaphragm condenser mics, one set to cardioid and the other to omni directional. When recorded I duplicated the track with the mic set to omni and flipped the polarity. This resulted into a wide stereo image that was perfect for the acoustic guitars in my project.

For electric guitars I used an sm57, an industry standard, through Apogee’s preamp and a condenser mic for a bit more warmth through a tube preamp. Last but not least I used the same Audio Technica condenser mic trough the same preamp for vocals and backing vocals.

All of the mixing was done in the box. You can hear the result here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVFfcHXSDyA

All in all, I found using a digital mixing console a great cheap alternative to buying or borrowing an interface and preamps. Digital mixing consoles these days have acceptable sounding preamps.  The routing and workflow is easy, and they are not so expensive to borrow.

I started the project with a bit of doubt, and I had a back up plan if things ended up not sounding great. With the drum tracks recorded, you are only clicks away from changing the drum sound and using samples if needed. On one of the songs I ended up adding a kick drum sample for a bit more definition, but otherwise no additional samples were added. The song on the link above uses no samples.

Since that project completed, we acquired in the studio an interface with a bigger I/O capability and bought a couple of high quality preamps. When we are recording drums, or anything else for that matter, we get great results.  And when we compare it to the songs recorded with a digital mixing desk, we still can not believe that we were able to make a recording this good using very limited gear. I guess the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention” would be a great punch line for this article.

Till next time!

 

Review – World Suite from UVI

 

Interested in the sound of instruments from around the world or in expanding your timbral palette by an amazing amount?  Then this one is definitely for you!

 

by Warren Burt, Jan. 2017

 

World Suite is one amazing huge set of resources from UVI.  It contains hundreds of instruments from around the world, lovingly sampled and programmed, plus thousands of recorded phrases from various instruments and cultures.  The sampling is deep, and the programming is complex.  Each instrument has specific controls suited to it, and the level of “realism” is superb. 

A “fair-disclosure” thing at the start of this review.  I make part of my living teaching a course in World Music, where we have the students listen to, and see videos of, music from as many cultures around the world as I can manage.  I studied several non-Western musics as part of my training as a composer, and  regard as my spiritual ancestors composers like Henry Cowell, Percy Grainger, Lou Harrison and Bela Bartok, all of whom felt that the study of (what we now call) ethnomusicology was one of the bases for a contemporary musical culture.  So I know my world cultures, and have very clear views on the kind of respect that we need with which to approach music and musicians from around the world.  The old (by now antique) E-Mu Proteus World sample set was one of my compositional mainstays for years.  I even wrote a piece back in 2005 (18 New Fuguing Tunes for Henry Cowell) where I exclusively used these samples to pay homage to Cowell’s work in ethnomusicology.  At the same time, my training has left me with a respect for the traditions and training of world musicians, so that if someone plays a MIDI keyboard to control, say, a programmed set of sitar samples, and thinks they’re doing “Indian Music,” or are even paying homage to it, I firmly feel that not only are they fooling themselves, they’re showing a vast level of disrespect to the musicians and culture that they’re using. 

So when I heard that UVI was releasing “World Suite,” which promised hundreds of sampled instruments from around the world, and over 8000 pre-recorded loops and phrases, I was both extremely excited and a little bit worried.  Excited, because it sounded like the “last sample set you’d ever need to own,” and a bit worried, because as someone involved with ethnomusicology, I really want the sampling of instruments from other cultures to be done with great respect, and the ways of making sound with each instrument to be built into the way they’re programmed.  That is, at least the possibility of an accurate simulation of both the timbre of the instrument and the culturally specific ways it is played would be available. 

Here, of course, we could have a long digression about both the reasons for sampling, and the ethics and aesthetics involved in it.  The number of string players (with their years of training) displaced by high quality string sample sets would be only one aspect of this, but it might be a good place to start. Or asking what kind of a simulacra saturated musical world we are creating with our technology might be another. Coming from Paris, UVI are probably more aware of the thoughts of French philosophers Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard than I or most readers of Soundbytes would be! However, that argument is probably best saved for another time, and another context.  Still, in any review of a sample set as well made and comprehensive as this one, that the argument exists at least deserves to be mentioned.

Well, for the most part, I’m really delighted with World Suite.  I’ve only had it for just under two weeks (I did the download – 18GB! – a few days before Christmas – THAT was as nice a “Christmas present” as one can imagine getting!), and of course, I haven’t been able to play with all the instruments, or listen to any more than a fraction of the thousands of pre-recorded phrases that the instrument comes with, but I’ve played with enough to see, and hear, the depth and quality of the sampling and programming.  Some of the programming tasks they’ve set themselves (for example, getting a completely realistic and idiomatic sitar instrument) are clearly impossible.  However, in most cases, they’ve done an admirable job with attempting to get close to their models.  And in some cases, the usual careful UVI programming has unlocked resources from the source instruments only implied by the originals, which make the sampled instrument not just an emulation, but a new set of sound resources in their own right.

One of these would be the balafon.  This is the wooden keyed xylophone of West Africa.  If you look at the faceplate for the balafon instrument, you’ll see many controls by which you can adjust the instrument’s timbre.  This kind of faceplate is how UVI has presented all of their instruments.  There is at least a drawing of the instrument, a map of the general area where the instrument comes from and a background photo that is supposed to suggest the instrument’s place of origin. 

 

 

These background photos, as pretty as they are, need to be taken with a fairly large grain of salt.  For example, the “Middle Eastern” category has instruments from Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Greece, and even Italy (really! – the mandolin), as well as North Africa, and the background photo for all of these is the same Saharan village!  Still, at least it’s an attempt to give an idea of the kind of place the instruments come from. On the right hand side of this photo is a selector, with its function doubled by key-switches, which selects from a number of different variations on the sound.  In the case of the balafon, there are nine different variations to choose from.  Usually, they all sound significantly different from each other.  For the balafon, this is indeed the case.  For each instrument in the World Suite that has this feature, the variations of sound are based on the acoustic and physical realities of the instrument in question.  I only heard one or two examples of a key-switch timbre difference, out of the hundreds I’ve listened to in the past couple of weeks, that sounded like it wasn’t a “natural” difference between two kinds of the same instrument.

In the bottom half of the faceplate are a series of controls.  From left to right, these are called “Sound,” “Expression,” “Envelope,” “Equalizer,” and “Reverb.”  The “Sound” controls, for the balafon, allow control of the level of the sample of the initial attack of the sound, and the level of the “body” or the sustaining part of the sound.  But they also allow control of the octave these parts of the sound will be played in.  This gives you an amazing level of flexibility in making the kind of balafon sound you might be interested in.  There’s also a “Timbre” control.  All the manual says is that it will “adjust the timbre/pitch” of the sound.  To my ear is sounds like some kind of spectral modification, or equalization is happening.  And the sonic results of this control are different for every instrument in which this control is found.  Your best bet with this control is to try it out for each instrument, and see if you like the results for that particular instrument.

Next comes an “Alternate” control.  This controls the alternation of the sound between stereo channels, from very wide to centred mono.  Below that is a Velocity Curve control, which can adjust the curve to match the input of your controller.  Next is an ADSR envelope generator, and then an Equalizer module with three bands.  The frequency of the mid-range band is sweepable with the control above it.  Finally there is a convolution reverb module.  This, like the Equalizer, can be switched on or off.  The Reverb offers ten different kinds of reverb chamber impulses, a “Size” control (which basically controls the length of decay of the particular chamber), and a Dry and Wet level control.  The interesting thing about all these controls is that they are all able to be controlled with an external MIDI or DAW-automation control signal. 

I set up a patch with seven of these parameters under MIDI control, with MusicWonk providing seven different gliding random control signals, and a simple random pitch, rhythm, and velocity patch to make a test melody.  The results were immediately interesting.  We were still in the “sound world” of an “African marimba or xylophone,” but the continuous changes in timbre had placed us in a far more interesting compositional world than any “emulation” or “culturally referent” use the samples might exist in.  The kind of timbral subtlety these UVI samples are capable of, to me at least, implies a new kind of composition; one which can make use of this and imply, for the listener, a new kind of listening with which one can appreciate the subtle (and not so subtle) timbral differences now available.  To my ear, at least, this kind of composing would be far beyond the emulative uses for which most commercial musics use samplers (and coincidentally, places us far beyond the concerns of a Debord or Baudrillard about “simulation.”)  That is to say, because of the richness of the programming that UVI have put into this sample set, one really can seriously think about the possibility of composing truly NEW music with it.  To my mind, THAT is the most exciting thing about this sample set.  And the fact that it is oriented towards “the music of the whole earth” (to use David Reck’s phrase) makes it even more exciting.

By the way, since these are MIDI controlled samples, those who are interested in alternative MIDI controllers should have a field day here.  Although the usual use of these samples is with a MIDI keyboard, users of say, Guitar MIDI or Wind MIDI controllers would find that many of these samples would benefit from the different kinds of physicality available with alternative controllers.

My request for the makers for the balafon (and the other instruments in the set) would be for more information.  Which balafons were recorded?  Where were they from? (“Africa” is not sufficiently detailed enough for me.)  And were they recorded on site, or in a studio?  And for the prerecorded phrases and loops, who recorded them?  Were they a “native” user of the instrument, or an outsider trying to emulate the sound of the culture (or an outsider who has learned the culture well enough to sound like an insider?)  Seeing as how UVI has recorded all these instruments, surely they have the answers to these questions, and I’m sure I’m not the only user of this set who would like a lot more information as to sources etc.

The instruments section of the sample set is organized in two ways, by Region, and by Type.  Under regions, the samples are grouped by loose geographical regions.  By type, the categories are “Bell, Metal and Gong,” “Fretted String,” “Key,” “Percussion,” “Stringed,” and “Woodwind.”  You might notice the absence of Brass instruments there.  No trombones, alphorns, or Tibetan Rag Dung are to be found in this set.  In fact, the only buzz-lipped instrument in the set is the Australian didjeridu, which is represented by an awesome collection of over 700 pre-recorded phrases.  To my ear, these sound like they are either played by a native player, or by a non-native player who is very familiar with the culture.  The virtuosity of some of these samples is pretty impressive. 

As mentioned above, the main way the instruments are grouped is by Region.  For some of these, the regions are an accurate reflection of where the instruments come from.  For others, especially the Australian collection (and I AM an Australian citizen, and have lived here for over 40 years), I must demur.  A lot of the instruments in the Australian collection are just not Australian.  Take the category of “Aboriginal Drums” for example.  Last time I looked, the only Australian Aboriginal drums that I knew of were the ones that Australian Aboriginal country and rock bands used in their performances, and those are just Western drum kits.  On looking at the listing of the “Aboriginal Drums,” we find ‘Kanak Drum,” “New Guinean Drum,” “Oceanian Drum,” and “Polynesian Drum.”  All of these sound great, are beautifully recorded, and have a wonderful range of controls to play with.  But, unless the region is called “Australia and Oceania,” the name is just plain inaccurate.  Last time I looked, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, and the many countries of Oceania and Polynesia were all independent nations, none of which (except Papua New Guinea, which became independent of Australia in 1975) are politically part of Australia.  Furthermore, there are categories of Aboriginal Flutes, Aboriginal Percussion, and Jaw Harp, none of which, to my knowledge, are used by the Australian Aboriginal people in any of their traditional musics.  In this part of the world, the three great flute traditions are the Maori putorino, from New Zealand, the Indonesian suling, and the pensol, the nose flute of the Orang Asli people of Malaysia.  So what IS this “Aboriginal Flute,” who is playing it, and where does it come from?  Similarly, there is, to my knowledge, no jaw harp tradition among Australian Aboriginal musicians (although there is a rich jaw harp tradition among Anglo-Australian folk musicians).  However, there are a number of amazing jaw harps, with a very virtuosic repertoire, in Papua New Guinea.  So is this “jaw harp” a “Western” one, or is it one of the many Papuan jaw harps?  Inquiring minds need to know.  Or, as my wife says, “If you’re going to have an ethnographic collection, you at least should be accurate about it.”  That having been said, once again, I must say that all these instruments are lovingly sampled, with a great range of controls, and sonically, I wouldn’t hesitate to use any of them in a piece.

Finally, in terms of the instruments, I have to say that you really have to try them out – and try all the presets, especially the ones labelled “FX.”  These contain a wealth of interesting sounds made with the instruments in unorthodox ways, such as scrapings along the strings, percussive riffs, wonderfully strange overtones, etc.  The Celtic Harp Meaghan Harp FX, for example, had some wonderful scraping along the strings sounds that were reminiscent of Henry Cowell’s “The Banshee.” Written in 1925 in California, Cowell’s piece was for use in a play by the Irish playwright John Varian, and was performed on the inside of a grand piano with the hands scraping across the strings, so to have those kinds of sounds now available in an Irish Harp sample set is quite wonderful.

Each instrument takes a few seconds to load, by the way.  With something like 800 samples, or even 1400+ samples in a particular instrument set, these instruments will naturally take a bit of time to load.  Another hint – I found, with only 4GB of RAM, that after I had loaded about eight or nine instruments in a row, the loading got a bit sluggish. But quickly going to the Falcon’s master control and loading “New Program” fixed that problem quite quickly, and then sample loading was quite speedy again.

As I said earlier, I haven’t had time to listen to every instrument in the set.  However, of those I have played, some of my favorites are the Balafon, Mbira, Bamboo Sax, and Kora/Valiha from Africa; the Asian Gongs – a very rich collection of timbres; Shakuhachi, Taiko, Celtic Concertina and Harp; Ukrainian Bandura; Indian Swarmandal and Jaladarangam; Turkish Lyra; all three pianos in the Occidental selection; the Parisian Accordion; the South American Pan Pipes; and the Sun Drum from the West Indies.  All of these have beautiful timbres and very detailed programming which allows you to control them in many interesting ways.

With the Flamenco Guitar/Flamenco Rhythms patch, I had thought I had found a snag – a confusion of keyswitches and playing keys. On further consulting with the manual, however (in tiny type on the right hand side of the page), there were instructions that said that you had to play chords on the bottom keys, then select one of the playing keys at the top of the keyboard to get chords played in flamenco rhythms. This turned out to be true, but to my disappointment the chords were only major and minor, and selected with a root note and a 3rd above them. Some combinations of
notes, like a major 7th or a minor 2nd, produce no sound. Your best bet with this patch is to experiment with all the combinations of 2 notes, and see which give you major and which minor chords. Similarly with the Victorini Accordion (a wonderful sounding patch), the “green keys” in the middle of the keyboard will select chords, but again, these are only major and minor chords, not the full range of major, minor, diminished and dominant 7th chords that are found on the buttons of any Stradella system accordion. This is not yet documented in the manual, but UVI assures me
that they are working on an update for this. The harmonic limitations of these two patches are apparently the result of the very complex scripting required for these patches, and you can get other chords, of course, by playing them with the “normal” keys. Still, I was hoping for more here. My initial excitement at the possibilities of these patches was dulled somewhat with the disappointment of the harmonic limitations – still, these are both wonderful sounding patches, and both very versatile. And every other patch I tried has functioned flawlessly.

I haven’t mentioned microtonality yet, which is surprising for me, as most SoundBytes readers will know.  If you are in Falcon, you can go to “Edit” and at the “Program” level, insert a Microtuner module.  You can then load a microtuning of your choice into this.  For very many of the instruments, this will flawlessly produce the microtonal tuning of your choice with the given instrument.  However, due to the intricacies of the programming involved in some of the instruments, for some instruments, the microtuning will not work, but will instead produce some unexpected misfirings of some layers of the samples.  This is especially the case with all of the many wonderful accordions sampled in the set.  I think I can see a pleasant afternoon long project for myself where I deconstruct one of the accordion patches in the set and program my own accordion patch with the UVI samples which will take microtuning properly.  (I built a physical microtonal accordion in 1985 – retuned all the reeds by hand – so I do have the patience to do this sort of thing.)  For the most part, however, I found that the vast majority of the instrumental patches that could potentially be played microtonally, did so with no fuss whatever.  And since many of these instruments originally were not played in Western twelve-note tuning, the possibility of putting them back into something like their original tuning is quite attractive.

That’s the “Instruments” part of the sample set.  The other half of the set is the collection of over 8000 pre-recorded phrases and loops.  These cover all of the same geographical regions as the instruments, but with some differences.  These samples can be loaded into sample slots and played with any way you please.  In addition to the instrumental sounds, there are many vocal loops from all around the world.  There is also a set of “Ambient Voice” loops, which sound like they’ve all been recorded by the same woman, singing in a variety of styles.  More authentic are the “By Region” vocal samples, which have both male and female voices singing loops in a variety of styles and authentic tunings.  Whenever I want to open up a class’s mind to “strange and interesting” timbres, I simply play them a selection of vocal music from around the world, pointing out to them that these examples are all from folk traditions – there is not an avant-garde Westerner in the bunch – and that if all these worldwide folk musicians can explore worlds of different timbres, then so can they.  Thankfully, many of those interesting sounds are included in these vocal loops.

For those who enjoy the Ableton Live kind of combining of pre-existing loops, World Suite provides a set of seven “Travelers,” which combine six loops from each region, beat and tuning matched.


 

As you can see in this picture, you can load different loops into each slot.  These are sorted by region and instrument type.  The exception to this is the “Vocal Traveler,” There are 2 additional Travelers – Vocal Ambience and Vocal Traveler.  The first combines a drone with up to four of the Ambient Vocal loops mentioned earlier.  The second, Vocal Traveler allows you to have any of the vocal loops from any region in any of the four vocal slots.  I put four low Mongolian chanting voices in the four slots and had a wonderful texture of vocal gravel that I don’t know how I would have gotten otherwise.  So the Travelers do have other uses than simply to make loop based groove textures.  And again, any of the controls on the faceplate of the Traveler can be externally controlled by MIDI continuous controllers, so you can get a wide variety of changing sound complexes from these small instruments.

In 1966, German electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen travelled to the NHK Studios in Tokyo and realized his piece “Telemusik” using their large library of recordings of music from around the world.  His usual way of treating the sounds was to have one sound modulating another, with the result then modulated by a third sound.  This produced a large vocabulary of what he called “Intermodulation” sounds, where sounds of different cultures were not just combined with each other, as in a collage, but which actively changed aspects of each other.  Today, with the collection of loops available in the UVI World Suite, you would no longer need to travel to Tokyo (or your local university library) to get an amazing collection of sounds to begin such a work with.  They are right here, available for you to begin the next stage of a kind of meta-world music, one that Stockhausen, in the 60s, could only dream of.

However, although there is an astounding variety of resources in the World Suite, it is by no means a complete collection of all the music of the world.  Such a collection would clearly be impossible, or at least beyond the means of any one company to produce.  Still, one can have desires, and here are the instruments I most missed in the collection – the Launeddas from Sardinia, the PIri from Korea, the Khene from Laos, the Hichiriki from Japan, and the Kapa Gaida from Bulgaria.  In terms of loops, loops of Indonesian Gamelan and Sumatran Tube Zithers, and more varied Asian vocals (some P’ansori from Korea, and traditional Beijing Opera would be nice.)  And while we’re at it, how about some Native American content?  That would be most welcome in a collection such as this.  In other words, as wonderful as this collection is, don’t sell your Ocora, Barenreiter, Folkways, Canyon, or Nonesuch “Music of the World” LPs and CDs quite yet.   

If I have some small doubts about this set, which I’ve set out in this review, I don’t want them to take away from the fact that this is, without doubt, the most diverse, deeply sampled, and loving collection of world-wide timbres I’ve ever seen.  The quality of the sounds is amazing, and as stated earlier, the depth of the programming is such that whole new areas of musical exploration are implied.  While testing out timbre after timbre in this set, I kept finding absolutely beautiful sounds, sounds that went far beyond the ethnic origin of any individual instrument. This set is a truly amazing resource.  No matter what your musical tastes, you’ll find lots to like here.  And at only $299 USD, the price, for what you get, is actually ridiculously cheap.  In short, and like their Attack EP88 Electric Piano I reviewed a couple of issues ago, UVI has, in creating deeply sampled and complexly programmed instruments, created new timbral resources for composers which have the potential to take us far beyond our usual musical habits.  And with this set, they give you (mostly) the whole world as well.  I think we’re now ready to go beyond those trite categories of “World Music” or “Crossover Music,” and with resources like this, really begin to make a music which derives from the traditions of the whole Earth, while remaining true to the visions of each one of us, from our own particular cultures.  Buy this set.  You won’t regret it.

 

http://www.uvi.net/en/music-genres/world-suite.html

Mac or PC compatible: Mac OSX 10.7 or higher; Windows 7 or higher (32 and 64-bit)

Runs in UVI Workstation version 2.6.8+ and Falcon version 1.2.0+

Requires iLok account, 30 GB of disk space, 4GB RAM

Recommended: Hard drive 7,200 rpm or Solid State Drive; 8GB+ RAM recommended.

Download size: 18GB. (So you better have a good internet connection and some good downloader software!)

Tested out on Falcon, running in Plogue Bidule (64 bit), on an ASUS i5 PC Windows 8.1 laptop with 4GB of RAM

 

 

Review – Predator 2 from Rob Papen

 

Predator 2 is latest synth offering from the prolific Rob Papen; following the original Predator almost ten years later, we think you’ll find it was worth the wait.

 

by David Baer, Jan. 2017

 

In this review of Rob Papen’s new software synth, Predator 2, we will assume the reader is new to the instrument and has no familiarity with the original Predator synth.  But just as a bit of background, let’s start by talking about that original instrument which originally appeared on the scene almost ten years ago.  That was a fairly conventional subtractive synth: three oscillators, a full-capability filter and another not-quite-so-robust filter, modulation effects and an arpeggiator.  While somewhat conventional, it was nevertheless a real workhorse whose factory preset list grew into the thousands before it was all over. 

Predator 2, being backward compatible with the original, leaves the starting gate with an already more-than-generous number of sounds on board.  The original Predator had a fairly straightforward interface with all controls visible on the main panel.  Predator 2 has many more controls, a larger main panel and a section of that main panel that is a tabbed area containing a wide variety of further control options.  Make no mistake, Predator 2 is a deep and powerful instrument.  So, let’s see why.

But one quick note first.  Right before publication deadline, an upgrade version of Predator 2 was released that included several new features and an alternate skin.  The UI image at the top of this article uses the new “white” skin.  The remaining images seen here use the default darker skin.

 

Oscillators

A big part of the Predator 2 story, and a big part of the enhancement story as well, are the oscillators.  In the original, there were three, all them having 128 single-cycle waveforms available for playback.  We still have the three oscillators, but have they ever gotten more sophisticated.  However, before we get into details, we need to discuss terminology.

In modern synth discussion, the term “wavetable” synth has come to imply an instrument that can load an array of single-cycle waveforms and play them while morphing seamlessly (or not) through them.  The position in the array is often controlled with modulation, offering all kinds of possibilities for animated sound.

However, an early use of the term “wavetable” was to describe a mechanism by which a single cycle waveform could be represented as data.  Wavetable synths (using the original meaning of the term) have been around a lot longer than wavetable synths using the more recent connotation.

This is important to understand because the documentation of Predator 2, documentation that is generally quite good by the way, does use the earlier meaning.  But Predator 2 actually can do morphing between single-cycle waveforms in an array, so it can behave at times like a wavetable synth in modern parlance.

Confused?  Please don’t be.  A Predator 2 wavetable means a single cycle of a waveform.  A “wave set” or “wave table set” means multiple single cycles in an array accessible to an oscillator.  As long as that is clear, the documentation will make sense even on the first reading.

To the right you see one of the three oscillators.  All three oscillators are much alike, but Oscillator 1 is a little different, lacking the FM and Sync options found in 2 and 3.  Seen to the right is Oscillator 2.  Let’s start by discussing waveforms.  An oscillator can load one or two individual waveforms.  All Predator (1) presets use only the one slot.

There are 128 factory waveforms supplied, and there is a provision for user-defined waveforms as well.  If two individual waveforms are loaded, the oscillator can morph between them (under control of the topmost oscillator knob).  The available waveforms have multiple variations of standards like saw waves, square waves, composite saw/square waves, and so forth.  More than half of the waveforms are labelled Spec nn, “Spec” being short for “spectral”, I presume.  These are all over the map and are arraigned somewhat arbitrarily.  Below are images of Spec 50, 51 and 52, just as a randomly selected sample.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can load two waveforms in A and B slots in the oscillator.  When two are loaded, then there are five modes of transitioning from the A wave to the B wave that will give different sounds during the transition based on which mode is employed.  For example, L Morph does this (quoting the documentation):

The Partials of Wave A & Wave B are combined by Partial number. At 0% only Wave A’s Partials are used, and as you increase the Morph Amount more of the lower Partials of Wave B are used to create the Oscillator’s Wave.

Rounding out the options are the possibilities for Ring, Frequency and Phase modulation, wave B being the modulator.

Wave sets can be a collection of up to eight user defined waves.  We’ll get to how those are defined momentarily.  One can specify Wave Set for Wave A in any of the oscillators.  In this case, Wave B is replaced by two number fields in which one defines the starting position in the wave set and the ending position.  When a wave set is loaded into the oscillator, morphing can be done either stepped (discreet, abrupt transitions between the waves) or morphed (seamless, gradual transition).

Now, let’s take a brief trip to one of the tabs in the lower middle of the UI in order to discuss a related topic: how user waves are created and modified.  To the right you can see three subpanels.  In the middle one the level and the phase of the partials can be specified via mouse interaction.  Rob Papen has announced that enhancements for user wave creation will be forthcoming that include a larger editor for drawing user waves and the ability to import user waves from external files.  The third panel can be used to simply browse all the factory waveforms and check out what they look like.  Of course, any of the factory waveforms can be used as starting points from which to construct custom user versions.

One final point regarding user waves: there is but one set of these accessible.  Furthermore, when needing an LFO with a custom waveform, that must come from one of the eight user wave slots.  Normally this should not be a limitation.  You don’t need eight separate waveforms for interesting multi-wave morphing to be achieved.

Getting back to the oscillator itself briefly, there are a few things we haven’t touched upon: unison mode, symmetry, symmetry modulation, sync, FM, sub-oscillator and a few other goodies.  For details see the documentation.  All in all, you will probably find the oscillators to be extremely capable.  They don’t do sample playback (for that check out Rob Papen’s Blue 2 synth), but they do a very great deal and offer many, many options for creative sound design.

 

Filters

The next obvious things to consider are the filters.  To the right we see the main panel area devoted to filters (click on the image to see it full size).  There are two main filters that can be one of twenty-seven analog-modelled types, and there’s also a completely independent resonant high-pass filter.  The two main filters work in series on the combined output of all three oscillators (an exception here in a moment).  We have detailed control over either filter by selecting the “1” or “2” option.  Note that each filter has its own dedicated envelope.  When “1+2” is selected, we see a limited view of both filters making it easy to adjust cutoff and resonance of both with the visible controls, but individual settings specified in the detailed individual view is maintained.

The filter options include two different models that have quite different character for a good assortment of LP, BP and HP varieties of varying slopes, plus there’s a handful of specialty types like comb and formant filters.

The filter controls should be pretty much self-explanatory.  Keytrack ranges from -100% to none (12 o’clock position) to 100% (fully clockwise).

Filter 2 has a couple of extra options: Split 1 and Split 2.  These are not mentioned in the current documentation, but presumably the quote from the original Predator documentation is still valid:

Split 1 In this mode, Filter 1 and Filter 2 are in parallel, so that Filter 2 has the same properties, such as envelope, filter tracking etc, as Filter 1. The only difference is that Filter 2’s frequency can be altered independently from Filter 1’s.  Using Filter Pan in the advanced screen, you can pan Filter 1 and Filter 2, from both being centered, to Filter 1 being panned left and Filter 2 being panned right.

Split 2 In this mode, Oscillator 1 goes into Filter 1, Oscillator 2 goes into Filter 2 and Oscillator 3 goes into both Filter 1 and 2. Filter 1 and Filter 2 are also in parallel and joined, so that Filter 2 has the same properties, such as envelope, filter tracking etc, as Filter 1. The only difference is that Filter 2’s frequency can be altered independently from Filter 1’s.  Using Filter Pan in the Advance screen, you can pan Filter 1 and Filter 2, from both being centered, to Filter 1 being panned left and Filter 2 being panned right.

Pre-filter distortion is available (post-filter distortion is also available, but that is to be found in the Amp sub-panel).  A variety of distortion types are on tap, and in general I find the distortion quality to be extremely tasteful and useable.  With many synths, only the lower ranges of distortion amounts are appropriate and everything else is over the top.  To my ears, Predator 2 has perfectly nailed this one in both places where distortion can be added.

This is also a good time to bring up a simple but entirely welcome feature in Rob Papen synths that I wish all developers would embrace.  The envelopes have the usual ADSR components, but there’s one more: the ability to have the level of the sustain portion of the envelope gradually fade or grow.  This means that one can have a rapid attack and decay to some initial sustain level, and then a further, more gradual reduction while the note is held.  For both amplitude and filter cutoff, this can more closely imitate real-life acoustic behavior in various types of instruments.  And so, the filter envelope benefits greatly from this thoughtful but all-too-seldom-found capability.

 

The Amp and Play Sections

The Amp subpanel is almost entirely self-explanatory.  The only unusual feature is the EQ Mixing control.  What’s going on here is that one can dial in one of several pre-defined EQ settings (aptly named for pad, lead, etc.).  To see what the factory EQ presets look like or to define a custom EQ setting, we return once again to the tabbed area in the lower middle area of the main panel.  Here we find a three-band EQ control that also supplies a high-pass and low-pass standard filter at the extremities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Play Mode also has typical controls for mode (poly, mono, legato) and portamento.  Unison operation is also pretty standard.  The Chord function works in conjunction with a center tabbed panel feature for defining one-note-pressed/multiple-note-heard capability.  Check the manual for full details of this feature.

 

 

FX, Modulation, Arp

Up to three effects can be inserted into a preset.  There is a plentiful selection of 28 quality effects on offer.  The effects include delay, chorus, flanger, distortion, dynamics, and so forth.  The panel knobs change according to selected effect.  There’s nothing out of the ordinary here – it’s all good, though, and you should find little, if anything, to be found lacking.

 

 

 

The heavily-used modulations are all provided for directly on the main UI (envelope control over filter cutoff, for example).  For everything else there’s a twenty-slot modulation matrix.  Predator 2 doesn’t offer a drag-and-drop modulation definition capability that’s becoming increasingly common, but the on-board modulation matrix is serviceable enough as is.

Not shown, but still important, is the sub-tab of the lower-middle UI section for defining LFOs and envelopes.  There are four of each that can be used to modulate a whole host of targets.  The LFOs can be per-note (poly mode), tempo-synced or free-running.  Assignment to targets is done in the modulation matrix.

 

The star of the modulation show is the XY controller.  This is becoming a standard feature in all the recent Rob Papen synth releases – the one in Blue 2 is essentially identical.

We not only have a manual control that can modulate up to four parameters each for the X and Y dimensions, we have a very sophisticated auto-play feature that is much better experienced in a video demo than words … but I’ll try.  In the screen-shot above, we see a spiral pattern that defines the path a note-response will take. Starting at the top-middle, a note traverses the path, continually curving inward until it terminates at the center (the spiral figure shown is one of the factory presets available).  Each note gets an individual and independent “carrier” to take it along its way in the animation path.  While there are some nice (and in some cases very elegant) presets to call up, the user may, of course, define his own.

In the XY-controller image above, we see both the controller and its associated modulation mapping sub-tab in the tabbed lower-middle section of the UI.  The controller area on the left is always visible on the main panel, even if the modulation sub-tab is out of view.

The arpeggiator is full-featured, as is aptly demonstrated by a number of great presets.  I won’t go into details here, but there’s much to like, if arps are your thing.

 

 

 

 

Everything Else

As stated earlier, there is an ocean of factory presets that come with Predator 2, over 5500 of them (which may be some kind of world record for a single instrument!).  Granted, most of these are carry-overs from the original Predator, and, as such, don’t take advantage of the marvelous new oscillator features, etc.  But who’s complaining when there are so many good ones?  This being a Rob Papen offering, it’s almost a certainty that much more factory content will emerge over time, even if version-2-specific presets are not all that prevalent in this initial release.

Predator 2 moved away from the patch-bank organization of the original, so upgraders will have a slight adjustment.  But import of version 1 presets is accommodated, so no problems should exist on that front.

Fortunately there’s a new browser for finding needles in the preset haystack, see below:

 

While the main UI is relatively straightforward, if a little crowded, there’s an Easy page to limit the displayed controls to only those most frequently used.  This will be especially appreciated by users who limit their usage to light preset-tweaking.

 

There’s more here that we haven’t had space to cover, but hopefully we’ve hit all the most important points.

 

Is Predator 2 for You?

Well, what’s not to like?  Seriously, this is one gorgeous-sounding, highly-capable and intriguing instrument no matter what your genre of music production might happen to be.  In looking at the preset allocation among the various categories, you might be tempted to infer that Predator 2 is aimed at dance/club music production, but there just happen to be a lot of dance-oriented presets (many of which are quite suitable for other uses, by the way).  This is an extremely versatile instrument that has no genre boundaries.

Predator can be purchased from numerous music-software retailers or directly from Rob Papen here:

https://www.robpapen.com/

The listed price is $149 USD.  Upgrades from Predator 1 are a modest $49 USD.  Potential buyers may also wish to purchase the entire collection of Rob Papen instruments and effects by buying the Explorer 4 bundle.  This lists for $499 USD, a reasonable price given how much is in it.  SoundBytes presented an overview of all the synths in the Explorer 3 bundle that can be found here:

http://soundbytesmag.net/robpapensynthbundles/

Sales do happen with Rob Papen products, so patience will probably be rewarded.  Furthermore, Explorer purchase price goes down for those already owning other Rob Papen products.  See the website for all the details.

Review – Modo Bass from IK Multimedia

 

Modo Bass – IK Multimedia for the first time tries its hand at a physically modelled electric instrument – this one an electric bass.

 

by Luka Sraka, Jan. 2017

 

Have you ever wanted a bass player that is at your disposal at any given moment, one who lets you choose the sound that you as a producer want and doesn’t feel the need to stand out? IK Multimedia has made the world’s first physically modelled electric bass that can fulfil all your bass related needs. 

 

Overview and Features

From the moment I first saw the trailer for Modo Bass, I knew IK Multimedia was releasing something unique. I’ve tried different sampled virtual bass instruments, but nothing really impressed me. Either the sound didn’t reach my expectation or the instrument wasn’t expressive enough. I won’t dwell on the technical side of Modo Bass, but I guess physical modelling is the key to great virtual bass sound.

The process of making the Modo Bass is quite interesting, but as I said, I won’t look into that. For anyone interested IK Multimedia has the whole process described on their web page (http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/modobass/index.php?pp=modo-bass-info). Let me just point out, no samples are used to create the realistic sound of Modo Bass, the sound comes from real-time modal synthesis technology.

So what do we get? In short we get twelve iconic electric bass models with fully customisable features: you can change the magnets, change the number of strings, even change the strings! You can choose flat wound or round wound strings in different gauges, the strings you “put” on your bass can be brand new, broken in or old. If you think that the action is too high or too low for the sound you are looking for, you can manipulate that as well.

As we all know a good bass sound comes from playing style and articulation, and IK multimedia thought about that too. You can choose for your bass to be plucked, played with a pick or played in the slap technique. You can freely move the playing hand for realistic performance, with key-switches and MIDI control you can detail the playing style even more. You can set the Modo Bass to emphasise certain strings, control harmonics, ghost notes, choose the plucking finger and change between slap and pull when in slap mode. All of that can be automated using DAW automation.

To tailor your sound even more there are two Ampeg style bass amps, a tube and a solid state one, and there are four stop box style effect slots available into which you can load any of the seven provided effects.

IK Multimedia Modo Bass certainly has a lot to offer. It works on PC and MAC platforms and supports Audio Units, VST 2, VST 3 and AAX plug-in formats. In addition to DAW work, Modo Bass works as a standalone application as well.  Note that support is for 64-bit only.  Here we see yet another nail in the coffin of 32-bit music technology.

 

The User Interface


Right out of the box, so to say, we get a nice overview of what’s going on. At the top of the page we have the twelve bass models to choose from, and all the usual suspects are here. ‘60s and ‘70s Fender Precision basses, two Fender Jazz Basses, Gibson EB-0 and Thunderbird basses, Music Man StingRay 5, Rickenbacker 4003, Yamaha TRB5P, Hofner Violin bass, Ibanez Soundgear and the Warwick Streamer bass. I imagine it is hard to find a bass player that owns all these basses and it would be even harder to persuade him to take all of them to a session.

At the middle of the screen the selected bass is displayed in a bigger picture with its specification on the side. The specifications section of the main view is nice to quickly see, what is going on with your bass, what electronics are on it, what the settings are, etc.

Finally at the bottom of the page there is a bass fret board displayed with a keyboard below. Every note you play is shown on the keyboard and the bass fret board, I find this very useful since it is quite important which string you decide to play a certain note on. And if you see that Modo Bass doesn’t play a note on the string you want you can quickly change it with a key switch. The bottom part of the user interface stays the same in any page of the user interface.


The next tab on the GUI is the playing style. Instead of the bass models at the top of the page, now we have the Play Style bar. We can choose between finger, pick or slap playing technique. The controls change accordingly to the playing style.  When in finger mode we can choose the plucking finger (index, middle or alternate) and we can select different touch mode, from soft, to normal and hard. When in finger playing style, a bar appears on the strings of the selected bass, with which you can choose the position of the playing hand.

When in pick mode, you can change the stroke to up, down or alternate and select the level of the pick scratch noise.  The slap playing style offers a selection of stroke techniques as well, slap, pull and auto mode.

There are few universal controls as well. You can select the level or percent of muting, you can select the let ring mode, select the fingering style, from first position, easy and nearest. You can select if you want open strings to be used when playing and finally there are detach noise and slide noise controls. The playing style bar is nicely set out and is great for auditioning different playing styles. While recording, key switches provide the control for some of the play style parameters for easier control.

The next tab is the Strings tab. It is pretty much self-explanatory, you can choose the number of the strings (four or five), and there is also a four-string option for drop-D tuning. You can select the action of the strings from high, standard or low, and you can select string type (round-wound or flat-wound) in three different gauges, and three different string ages. The strings tab is also where you select the overall temperament of the tuning.


The Electronics tab is where you can customize your bass even more. I found this section of the instrument the most entertaining since you can customize your bass in a way you would never even dare to in real life. You can equip the selected bass with pickups from all of the twelve bass models, you can even blend in the sound of a piezo pickup, you can change the circuit from active to passive, and you can set the volume, EQ and tone controls.


While the aforementioned user interface tabs all share the same middle interface with the specifications and the selected bass guitar with all the mods you made, the Amp/FX tab is different. An interactive picture of a nice studio live room is displayed, where you can change the amp model between solid state and tube by clicking on different amps. The top of the GUI changes accordingly, to accommodate the different controls each amp has to offer. The solid state version has the gain, bass, mid and treble controls with a graphic equalizer and the limiter-on button. The tube amp on the other hand has the gain, bass, mid, treble and the mid frequency select controls with the punch and harmonics-on switch. At the right side of the controls menu there are amp, D.I. and Master level controls which are the same for both amps. You cannot choose from different cabinet or microphone simulations, but I guess nothing is stopping you to use any third party amp simulation plug-in if you feel like it. The amp models sound really good and realistic, and I was pleased with the selection of the controls and sound.

When you click on one of the pedals in front of the amp, the pedal board menu comes up at the top of the page. As mentioned before, we have four pedal slots and we can choose between an octaver, distortion, chorus, comp, delay, envelope filter and graphic EQ pedals. Selecting a desired pedal brings up the specific pedal controls. The pedals sound really good. Every pedal a typical bass player would need is provided.


The last tab in the user interface is the Control tab. A section of a keyboard shows up, with the key switches for easy control of your playing style. The key switch functions change according to the play style providing different controls. At the top of the page you can select different MIDI control changes for different functions, like bend, slide, vibrato, muting and so on.

While recording or playing I found this part of the user interface the most useful. Mapping the different MIDI functions to your MIDI controller is done in seconds and provides really easy and intuitive control over your playing style.

 

Conclusions

IK Multimedia Modo bass is truly a great virtual bass plug-in. You can choose from all of the iconic bass models and can customize them in a way that would be impossible in real life. The attention to detail is astonishing. The user interface is quite detailed while remaining immediately intuitive. The sound is very realistic and comes close to the real thing.  All you have to worry about is that you play the right notes. Modo bass will find a place in projects of any music style from Motown to metal. Shure it comes at a price, for this kind of money you can get orchestral instrument libraries, but in my opinion it is money well spent. If you want a great bass sound with the convenience of a plug-in style virtual instrument Modo Bass is a must.

 

IK Multimedia Modo Bass pricing:

  • Download only: €365.99 EUR
  • USB drive/boxed: €402.99 EUR
  • Crossgrade from any previously purchased product of a value of $/€99.99 or more: €243.99 (download only) and €280.59 (USB drive/boxed

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

Supported plug-in formats (64-bit): Audio Units, VST2, VST3, AAX

Computer requirements: 64 bit CPU and OS, 4GB of RAM, Mac OSX10.9 or later and Windows 7 or later.

Luka Sraka

Cinemamania – Maximo by Sonokinetic

 

We offer a highly intense library with orchestral phrases having plenty of variation and additional options to make them sound even more dangerous.

 

by Alex Arsov,  Jan. 2017

 

This is an orchestral library that runs on Kontakt player and contains orchestral section loops and phrases that can be combined together in limitless possible combinations, ideal for all sorts of cinematic action purposes. All the phrases and loops sound very dramatic and intense – first class blockbuster material. Of course the first thing that might cross your mind is the fact that with some limited number of quite recognizable loops or phrases you can easily hit a limit, producing almost the same score as many other users of the same library do. That is partly true, and it is not a limitation of this specific library, it is a common problem with all similar libraries. Yes, this could happen if this is your one and only orchestral library, but I presume that all orchestral library users have at least one or even several other libraries. It is very easy to achieve some unique sounding material with Maximo just by adding a single string line or any other orchestra instruments from any other library. On the other hand, Maximo also allows some variations with quite a unique function called Harmonic Shift. When you apply a harmonic shift to a particular phrase, other phrases will play inside the chord that you are playing with the left hand inside the range of the so called “Chord recognition area” on the lower part of keyboard, allowing you to walk through the harmonics inside the key of a played chord for a selected phrase just by pressing on any key inside one octave of the harmonic shift area in the higher part of the keyboard. Every single note inside this area will trigger the phrase being played in a chord with the root of the played note relative to the selected chord in the lower part. So, even if your harmonic knowledge is limited to a few minor/major variations, you are saved with this harmonic shift option, allowing you to develop additional harmonies without thinking about scales and harmonies. Furthermore, Harmonic Shift has an additional editor where you can change the particular behavior for every step by manually selecting if a minor or major chord will be played on that note.

 

Section

Every Maximo orchestra section is loaded separately, combining up to three different phrases in a common window that play simultaneously synced with the host tempo. With key-switches we can mute any separate phrase to build tension just with a few chords. This is actually just the beginning, as those three phrases come in four variations that can also be changed on the fly with key-switches. Adding or individually changing any phrase inside the single window is just a matter of one click, opening a Phrase Picker window, where you can preview and load one of many available phrases for any part – Low, Mid or High, that’s actually how those three simultaneously loaded phrases are ranked. On the right of some phrases in the Phrase Picker window is a sign showing if that phrase contains Minor / Major variations or if it is mapped to Parallel minor. (Not that you need to worry about that, as the script can automatically recognize appropriate variations as soon as you press the chord. Even chord inversions are properly recognized.)

 

Sections

Maximo comes with three different orchestra sections: Strings, Brass and Woodwinds, all of which can be loaded separately, sharing a very similar interface. The string section brings plenty of intense sounding phrases very similar to those that we hear in some of the best cinematic scores. As long as you use a melody over those phrases it won’t easily be recognized as a Maximo creation. Brass and Woodwinds sound fantastic, but the phrases are a bit more specific, having more determined, not so commonly used phrases. For that reason they are a bit more recognizable and maybe therefore should be used more deliberated as to not be so easily spotted as being a Maximo creation. Still, you can use just a part of a phrase or sprinkle it just here and there to spice up the arrangement. There is one more thing that I really like with Maximo: the fact that all those phrases, no matter which orchestra section is used, come with a MIDI file that can be dragged directly from the Score View window (available for every phrase) directly into a DAW, allowing you to double the phrase with any other orchestra instrument or even synthesizer. This opens up a whole new area of possibility. In the main, default window we can also find buttons for setting tempo relative to the host for every phrase, making it play at double or half speed along with an option to turn off or on volume control allowing you to control volume with the mod-wheel on your keyboard, ideally for building tension when one or two elements rise and disappear in a mix while a third carries the constant tension with the same unchanged level.

 

Controllers

Along with those essential elements there are also a full set of other controllers that can help you tame the whole orchestra, from setting the volume, pan, X-fade, offset and microphone position to tuning.  There’s even an option to purge samples from non-used sections to save RAM. As the main sound of all the orchestral elements sound just perfect as they are, I didn’t touch many of those controllers. It is especially nice to have the pan option, which is not just standard right and left position, this one comes with various positions for every orchestral part, making it possible to make additional space for other elements. Actually the whole library is uncompromising with regards to all the possible settings and yet very easy to operate once when you learn how to deal with quite a reasonable number of key-switches and controllers. Before I made my first arrangement with Maximo, I spent some quality time watching tutorials to try to figure out how all those things worked, and it proved to be time well spent, allowing me to build quite complex arrangements in no time.

  My first “Murder” with Maximo.

 

Impressions

Maximo orchestral phrases sound very realistic. The whole library has very intense and sincere sounding phrases – a bit Wagner-ish, especially in the strings and brass field, while woodwinds are more of a Mozart or even Tchaikovsky sort of style. Of course, you can use Maximo on its own, but it really does wonders when you combine it with some other libraries. One way or another, I can’t remember any other library that delivers such a versatile arsenal of woodwinds and brass phrases. Even better is the Strings section, which brings a huge array of essential phrases for score production, being so well recorded and produced that you will not need any additional programming or any additional effects to make it realistic. It is a very dramatic, intense sounding library, complete with tension and expectation. Maximo is a Batman “battering a bad guy” told in a musical language. On some aspect, it is such a specific library that its focus can almost come as an limitation.  But using it in combination with other libraries makes it indispensable. A big intensive score story teller that is worth every penny spent. If you are in any stock, music licensing, score, or media music business, then this can save you a good amount of time, adding a highly intense orchestral experience to your score. Just use it wisely – it is easy to overdo it, especially with brass and woodwinds, making it a bit predictable. After all, Maximo is just a tool – if you know how to use it, it can give fantastic results.

More info and some tutorial video clips along with audio demos at:
https://www.sonokinetic.net/products/instruments/maximo

It is a Kontakt based library that works with Kontakt Player. You will need 54 GB of space on your disk, 18 GB for the 16-bit version and 36 GB for the 24-bit version.

€249.90 EUR + VAT.

Review – Synth Anthology II by UVI

 

 

If you long for the actual sounds of keyboards that are both legendary and on the leading edge, this may just be the definitive collection for you.

 

by Rob Mitchell, Jan. 2017

 

When UVI released the original version of Synth Anthology some years ago, it contained a large collection of sampled hardware synths. They went to great lengths to capture these classics, multi-sampling many famous synths (and some lesser known) along the way. A few of these included the JD 990, Jupiter 8, PPG Wave 2.0, Casio CZ1 Prophet VS, OBXa, and there were many more. With their latest release, 25 more synths have been added to the list. These include the Moog Sub 37, Alesis Andromeda, Ultranova, Polymoog, Korg Triton, and several others.

In total there are 77 synths, 2,500+ presets, and over 20,000 samples included. If you’re interested in the specific file size of all those samples, it is a whopping 15 gigabytes of content in WAV format. This has been reduced down to around 8 gigabytes in file size using FLAC lossless encoding. UVI also added the effects Sparkverb, Thorus, and Phasor with this new version of Synth Anthology. The GUI has been updated with a whole new look, and it is much more intuitive.

Here are the system requirements:

For the PC, you’ll need Windows 7 (or higher) 32 and 64-bit.

For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 (or higher) 32 and 64-bit.

It requires 9 gigabytes of disk space, and at least 4 gigabytes of RAM.

8+ gigabytes of RAM is recommended for the larger UVI soundbanks.

The supported formats are Audio Units, AAX, VST, and Standalone.

To start using Synth Anthology II, you have to make accounts on UVI’s site and the iLok site before you can install it. It will work from within UVI’s Falcon, but if you don’t have it, then you can download and install the free UVI Workstation from UVI’s site. The Workstation software works with all of the UVI products, allows unlimited parts, includes its own mixer section, and many effects. UVI lets you authorize Synth Anthology II on up to three computers at once, and it doesn’t require an iLok dongle.

You will also have install the iLok License Manager, download the Synth Anthology II file, and then activate the license. Once that is all set, it is very easy to use. You can use it with the standalone UVI Workstation, or load the Workstation plug-in in your DAW. As I mentioned, you’re also able to use Synth Anthology II with UVI’s Falcon; an awesome product that we have covered in other issues. For this review however, I will be using it with the free UVI Workstation.

 

First Impressions

Once you’ve started the UVI Workstation, either in the standalone version or in your DAW, you open the browser at the top of the screen and click on Synth Anthology II to see its presets. These are sorted into categories, some of which include Classic Analog, Modern Analog, Analog Modeling, FM and Formant, Wavetable and Digital, and Vector Synthesis. Once you select one of those, you’ll see the different types available under that category, such as Leads, Pads, Polysynth, etc. In the preset names, there is an abbreviation for whichever keyboard, synth, or sampler they from which the sound originated – here are just a few examples: MTX stands for the Oberheim Matrix 6, MEM is for the Moog Memorymoog, and AAX is the Akai AX80.

Once you’ve selected a preset, you’ll be on the main oscillator page. This shows you an image of the keyboard that was sampled, and there are some controls to adjust various items. The main volume and panning are here, and over to the right is a sub-oscillator section. You can enable this if you want to beef up the sound a bit. There are twelve waveforms to choose from, letting you add another dimension of sound to the patches. It seems many of the included UVI patches don’t even use it, but it’s nice to have it there as an option.

Below the two oscillators are the Amplitude and Filter envelopes. These let you adjust the ADSR (attack/decay/sustain/release) settings for either of the two oscillators and for the filter as well. In the Amplitude section, you can enable/disable velocity, and route the velocity to the attack amount. The filter settings include low, high, and band pass, or the filter can be switched off if you don’t need it. Cutoff and resonance controls are at the bottom-right, along with velocity sensitivity and a bipolar filter depth control.

 

Turn the Page

 

On the Edit page, you’re able to adjust the pitch and stereo settings of the main oscillator and the sub-osc. The “Octave” setting has a range of three octaves in one octave intervals, and you can adjust the pitch by semitone using the “Semi” control. The “Mono” button enables mono voicing. Using the bipolar “Depth” control, setting it to a negative amount will make the pitch glide up to the note you play, while a positive value makes it so the pitch will glide down to the one you are playing. A higher Depth value means it will have a larger interval between the notes. The “Time” control adjusts how fast it will get to the note you’re playing. Both of these work well, except I found that if I set the Time setting to around 25% or less, I couldn’t hear any difference at all. It was if the Depth setting was suddenly turned all the way down, even though I had it at the highest setting.

To the right is the Stereo section. This is where you’re able to enable either the “ALT” or “UNI” features.  ALT will alternate the notes left and right in the stereo field when they are played. The width of this feature is controlled by the Spread control. UNI will generate extra layers of the audio, and the Spread control can be used to achieve a large panoramic sound. The “Color” control acts somewhat like a tone control, and the “Detune” will detune the unison layers to get a thicker sound. Down below those controls is the modulation wheel control section. From here, you can set the amount for the vibrato, tremolo, filter, and pulse width modulation (PWM).

 

Step and LFO pages

 

The Step page is where you can modulate the main and/or sub-oscillator. The amount of steps can be between one and sixteen. The sequence speed can be adjusted, and you’re able to specify a delay amount before the sequence actually starts up. Using the “Rise” control, you can adjust the speed of the transition for whichever target modulation you’ve selected. “Smooth” will blend the modulation from one step to the next.

The choices for modulation targets include volume, filter cutoff, filter resonance, and drive amount. You just click the corresponding tab to enable whichever target you’d like to use, and then dial in the amount. All of the controls in this section (except Volume) are bipolar. Also, UVI swapped out the Drive with a PWM control for the sub-oscillator.

The LFO has four wave shapes available: sine, sawtooth, square, and S/H (sample and hold). It can be synced to the host, and you can choose between trigger, no trigger, and legato modes. The rate for the LFO can run at a decent speed, but won’t get into the audio-rate territory. The targets for the LFO modulation include volume, filter, pitch, and panning. These controls work basically the same way as the Step page. You can select between the main and sub-oscillator, and (apart from volume) they are all bipolar controls.

 

Arpeggiator and Effects

 

There are two separate arpeggiators; one for the main oscillator and another for the sub-oscillator. You can enable either one, or have both running at the same time, which can yield some interesting pattern combinations.

The controls are identical for each arp. On the left side you can adjust the step amount (one to sixteen steps), octave range (+/- 3 octaves), speed, and gate amount. The patterns available are Up, Down, or Up/Down. You can use the mouse to draw the velocity amounts for each step, and each of the sequence steps can also be tied/linked. 

 

For effects, there is a bit crusher, delay, and drive. UVI also added their acclaimed Sparkverb, and two new effects: Phasor and Thorus which have both been recently added to Falcon. You might guess what these are by their names, but in case you didn’t: Phasor is a phaser (just slightly obvious), and Thorus is a chorus. The main controls for each of these six effects are on the FX screen, but there are many additional controls located in the UVI Workstation’s own FX section. You can get there by clicking on “FX” in the upper-right. Just as an example of the amount of controls that are tucked away up there, on the main FX screen Thorus only has two controls available. However, if you go up to the FX section you’ll find ten controls available for that same effect.

 

Besides the six standard effects included, the Workstation has a wealth of additional effects you can use. The only downside to those extra goodies is that they are tucked away, and not as readily available as the six main effect’s controls are. If you are using Falcon 1.2, you get over 80 effects, and many of those include graphical displays that aren’t in the Workstation versions.

 

Conclusion

I went through many of the factory presets and made changes to the sounds with the settings available in Synth Anthology II. First of all, the sound quality is excellent, and UVI really knows what to sample and what makes for a useful sound. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great emulation, but there’s nothing like having the actual sounds that originated from 77 actual instruments. Some of these are not so well known, but other signature sounds you might recognize right away. The varied controls let you tweak the existing patches in many ways, and combined with the large number of effects, you have a wide spectrum of sounds from which to draw. I also really like the way UVI updated the display since the first incarnation of the Synth Anthology, as it is much more modern looking and seems more intuitive.

If you also happen to have Falcon, you are in for a real treat. After you load Synth Anthology II into that powerhouse, you can design patches to your heart’s content. Falcon has nearly anything you can think of to tweak, warp, and design patches while using any UVI sound bank. Synth Anthology II retails for $149 USD.  It had an intro price of $99 USD until November 2016, but if you missed that special pricing, UVI is known to have sales now and then. You can get additional information and sound examples of Synth Anthology II from UVI’s website here:

http://www.uvi.net/en/synth-sound-design/synth-anthology-ii.html

 

 

 

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