Monthly Archives: May 2017
Our reviewer thought he owned all the string libraries he’d ever need, but then along came NOVO from Heavyocity. Long story short – turns out he was wrong.
by Alex Arsov, May 2017
I promised myself that I will never ever order another string library. I own most of the well-known string libraries, and am totally satisfied with them. They take up a certain amount of disk space, and as space on my disks is not unlimited, my decision was quite final. I remained a man of my word and didn’t even blink when I received some info about Heavyocity’s NOVO. Everything was fine until Heavyocity released the “Demo – Walkthrough” video clip. Two hours later I was sipping my coffee and reading a book while downloading NOVO. All my other mighty string libraries perfectly cover a wide cinematic range, from “Titanic” up to the “Batman” kind of themes. But NOVO is the one and only “Joker” themed library. Mean, loud, forceful and creepy. Even if you have every other string library, you don’t have one similar to this. The more I used it, the more I was impressed with NOVO.
The (Mostly) Conventional
NOVO offers some articulations and solutions that are quite unique in the string library world. On the other hand, as I discovered a bit later, with just a few easy tweaks it can become quite gentle, being on the same level as some of the Titanic – Batman ones. Lowering the dynamic (the big, main knob at the center of the GUI) and by slightly increasing attack time inside the ENV editor (upper left, in line with the big knob) you can mimic the gentle legato string sound known from other libraries. Also, if in Legato mode the transition between notes sounds too fast for your taste (still being handy for some more vivid legato passages, it is something that I miss in my other libraries) you can do the same thing, lowering the attack and dynamic – or even try setting Legato mode to two voices. I found both options work nicely with slower melodies.
Of course, at the moment, we are talking about the Traditional Instrument section, one third of the entire instrument, covering the standard string articulations common to most libraries. At first glance you notice that only the Low Ensemble section contains Marcatto articulations, all other common ones are provided in all string sections. The truth is that attack in Sustain articulation is so strong and vivid, while at the same time release is so well programmed, that playing short notes inside the Sustain section sounds better than most of Marcatto articulations on other string libraries. I played a long note followed by one short, and in all other libraries the result was not so satisfying, as the release on a short note was too messy and didn’t allow you to play Marcatto notes inside Sustain articulation. In NOVO – it works like a charm. Short note ended in the best Marcatto manner. Should I say again – the more I used NOVO, the more impressed I was.
At first I also thought that having only Staccato along with Pizzicato would be a problem, as for some fast arpeggio lines Staccatissimo could come in very handy. I tried playing various fast combinations and found that Staccato works perfectly in all circumstances. Obviously someone did a hell of a good job programming this library. Staccato articulation also offers another cool solution, allowing you to select rate determining at which rate the bow should play up and down, starting to use some round-robin samples at the same time. Some phrases sound better if the bow plays just in one direction, striking strings giving a stronger, forceful note, while on other occasions up and down gives very realistic results. Of course, tweak and try gives the best results. After all, it is just a matter of few seconds to find the best solution.
In the Traditional Instrument section we have all the standard string sections, only the second violin section is missing. So, there are Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass sections along with two additional, unique sections called Low and High Ensemble. In Low Ensemble you get some mean, loud and heavy short bass articulations (from Marcatto up to Pizzicato), so mean and aggressive that no other library can offer anything similar. While in the High Ensemble patch you can find some creepy sounding high legato articulations that are quite unique and hard to describe (for instance, there is one with sordino strings with some fast picking Con Legno strikes that fall like rain drops inside legato sordino lines, sounding like an orchestral version of a flock of birds from a Hitchcock movie – quite creepy but still very orchestral).
If all this is not for you – NOVO also brings a well chosen and very useful set of controllers. This is common to all Heavyocity instruments but pretty much uncommon for String libraries. Everything is on hand, so adapting it to your needs is a pretty simple task, but at the same time also offering some very unique solutions, like an Arp section that allows you to play various arped staccato sequences quite easily, having very good round-robin functions implemented.
For more odd sounding orchestral results there is also a Gate option with step sequencer gate editor where we set or simply draw some patterns, or choose between some existing patterns. Along with those two sections we also have a complete ADSR section, Reverb section with a nice number of convolution spaces, EQ with spectrum window along with the option to apply different equalization settings to separate microphone position outputs. There is also a Filter section with similar microphone options as in the EQ section. A big mixer with sliders for all microphone positions with option to purge, actually unload some of them. Not related to this topic, but still not to forget it, there is also an option to purge unused articulations to save RAM – quite handy when having an excess of other instruments loaded along with NOVO in your Kontakt.
All articulations also come with an option to set range for velocity and dynamic. The velocity option is automatically deselected on Legato and Sustain articulations (where dynamic is controlled with the mod wheel).
String Designer and Loop Designer
OK, now we can finally start digging into the more unique and more interesting parts of NOVO. As previously stated, the Traditional Instrument section is only one third of the library. Actually, it is the most “ordinary” part of the NOVO library, presenting a similar content to other string libraries. String Designer and Loop Designer are parts where NOVO really shines, bringing an enormous amount of interesting and unique, very unusual orchestral combinations, that no matter how strange they sound, still preserve a recognizable orchestra string sound.
String Designer presets are compiled from three different sound sources. You can choose from a big array of sources, covering a range from different orchestral sounds up to some synthesized ones. Those three sources can be ranked in parallel, playing all three simultaneously or just being ranked one after another from low to high. This is of course just a good start. The big joy comes in the Macro Sequencer section inside the String Designer, joy in the form of a big, central Macro Control knob, as we can link and automate all previously named controller sections directly to this knob (EQ, Filter, Envelope etc…) easily setting the level and range of automation for almost every parameter. So, after connecting all parameters to the big central knob, all we need to do (or in the case of an endless number of included presets, where this is already done) is to draw some patterns in the macro sequencer window where we can define the speed and create a sequence determining how this Macro big knob will modulate all the connected effect sections. This results in a sound that changes and evolves, and I have to admit, it is very amusing toying with all these settings. As mentioned, if you are not in the mood to try this out, there are loads of included presets, of which I didn’t have time to try all, but those that I did sounded very interesting.
There are also the well-known Heavyocity knobs Twist and Punish that can make the end result even more interesting and can be found in the Master FX section inside the Sound Designer interface, also containing five more effects: Filter, Distortion, Chorus, Delay and Reverb, which comes with a nice choice of good sounding convolution spaces. Is that all? Nope, this is actually only the beginning, an overture for real fun. By clicking on the Cycle menu in the upper right corner we come to the Cycle section, which is, if I may quote the NOVO manual: A powerful tool that combines a rhythmic sequencer with an arpeggiator and granular capabilities. Too many things here for me to describe them all, but in short, it is a place where you can draw various patterns and go totally bonkers with most of the parameters – or just using one of the included presets.
The third part of NOVO is a Loop Designer that also comes in the form of a single preset, same as the String Designer, also containing a big set of presets where every preset brings plenty of different loops ranked over the keyboard range containing key-switch knobs in a range of one octave at the lower end of the keyboard, allowing us to change the pitch of every loop by selecting any note inside key-switch, transposing the loop to that note. Some loops bring complex melodic and rhythmical patterns while some others just contain creepy sounding textures. I prefer the latter, but those melodic and rhythmic loops can also come in handy for filling some gaps or just for use as background. Of course, all loops are perfectly looped and synced with a host.
Of course, being a Heavyocity product, NOVO is endowed with far more options and details than I have described here, so there are plenty of things to tweak. But most important is that you don’t need a doctorate to tweak some parameters to your needs, and with a little help from the manuals you can easily construct some new sounds, not to mention that you will need a good amount of time to go through all presets anyway.
I thought after I had acquired some of the best string libraries available that there was nothing more that could surprise me in this field. However, obviously I was wrong – I’m very impressed with this one. With a few clicks and tweaks, it can sound like an ordinary string library. But on the other hand it offers content and functions that make it totally unique. It covers a wide range of strange sounds that string orchestras can produce, whether mighty, brutal and aggressive or even going in totally the opposite direction and being creepy, sneaky or even sounding gentle. NOVO is a must have for all the unpleasant or intense moments in your score. No matter how many other orchestral libraries you have, this one could and should find its place inside your Kontakt collection, being so different in a very spooky and vivid way.
At least give NOVO a chance and take a few minutes to watch the Demo – Walkthrough video from Heavyocity. Maybe you will understand a bit better why I’m so enthusiastic about this one. It has great sounds, versatile content, a wealth of controllers packed into an easy to use GUI offering things that no other String library can offer – real strings on real steroids.
And now, no more orchestral libraries. At least until the next one. 😉
More info at https://www.heavyocity.com/product/novo/
$549 USD. It also works with the free Kontakt Player.
If you do not know Klanghelm, there are several reasons you should, and this free saturator/distortion plug-in certainly is one of those reasons.
by David Baer, May 2017
Today we look at IVGI, a saturator/distortion plug-in from Klanghelm. It does warm and sweet, and it does aggressive and nasty, and it does everything in between with aplomb. And, of course, it’s free.
Klanghelm is a small Berlin-based company that offers a boutique collection of audio plug-ins. Founder and sole employee, Tony Frenzel, is a music-loving software developer who got in the audio plug-in business in part because he wanted a few things he couldn’t buy and so developed the skills to create them himself. In his own words (from the Klanghelm web site):
I only create plugins I need / want for myself, something I am missing. I am not trying to fill a market niche or something. I want to code decent sounding stuff that’s easy to use and, most of all, a joy to use. I am not interested in emulating existing analog gear in the digital realm. I want to build stuff that’s missing in the analog world. I want to code stuff that stands on its own feet sound-wise, being different, not worse than the best existing gear (analog and digital).
One of the most notable things about Klanghelm is Tony’s philosophy regarding software copy protection. Again, in his own words:
I hate copy protection. I’ve suffered from it in the past. I’ve lost countless hours because of copy protection. I believe copy protection only punishes the honest customers, because the software gets cracked anyway. I simply refuse to waste my resources on copy protection schemes. Instead, I want to spend my time supporting existing products, improving them and developing new plugins. I believe in a world of trust and copy protection has got nothing to do with that.
Starting to sound like a company with whom you’d feel good about doing business? Add to that mix the fact that Klanghelm plug-ins are of high-quality in spite of having modest price tags and the picture looks even better. Add further to that mix that three Klanghelm products have limited-edition but fully usable free versions – better still.
The plug-in we look at today, the IVGI (and I have no idea of what those letters are an abbreviation), has been around a while, so it’s not exactly newsworthy from that standpoint. But we have never covered it here, so that’s reason enough to call it to the attention of our readers. The IVGI’s full-function sibling, the SDRR, is priced at only €22 EUR, so if you fall in love with the freebie, chances are good you will find the commercial product affordable.
The IVGI could hardly have a less complicated UI. Six knobs control its function (and, yes, that small input trim knob in the upper left actually turns out to be kind of important). There is no preset capability, but with such a sparse interface, it’s hardly needed. You would probably need to tweak at least half the knobs while setting up your track even if you started from a preset in any case, so lack of a preset capability is no big deal. Briefly, let’s look at the controls.
The documentation recommends that the aforementioned input Trim control be set so that the In signal on the VU meter is close to 0 for optimal performance. The meter can show In level, Out level and Out minus In. This last option is convenient. Having set the input trim, set the Output control such that the Out minus In difference is zero, thus avoiding the common louder-is-better misjudgment when evaluating your settings.
What the ASym Mix control does is rather complex, if you read what the user documentation says, but I think you are well-served by treating it as one of those set-by-ear controls. At all but high Drive levels, changing this setting is subtle, or at least that was my experience. The Response control is a little more audibly obvious. If you think of it as a somewhat restrained EQ function, you’ll get by just fine, although there is more to it than that according to the documentation. The function of the Drive control should be obvious. Finally, another quite subtle control is the X-Talk knob in the upper right. It controls crosstalk, but even at the highest setting, I found it to be hard to hear what effect it had on the sound.
And there you have it. Get to know this effect and I would expect you’ll be interested in checking out the other two free Klanghelm downloads (compressor modules, both) and quite possibly be interested in opening your wallets for the full-function versions of these very capable plug-in effects.
IVGI is available on PC and Mac in all major formats (including VST3) and 32/64-bit compatibility. Find out more and download from here:
Indiginus delivers another quality gem: a clean, inexpensive sampled Wurlitzer Model 200 electric piano that you won’t have any trouble finding a place for in your mix.
by Dave Townsend, May 2017
In our Points of Kontakt series, we focus on the smaller Kontakt libraries that, while they might not light up the internet the way a new behemoth cinematic orchestral collection can, are still worthy of consideration due to price and/or uniqueness. Many are odd, unusual, or specialty instruments that fill a niche.
For a change of pace, this month’s installment highlights one that’s not the least bit weird. Rather, it’s a straight up bread-and-butter electric piano that you won’t have any trouble finding a place for in your mix. It’s from Indiginus, so if you’re familiar with that company’s products you already know what to expect: quality sound, simple interface, low price, fun to play – but not loaded with too many extraneous bells ‘n whistles.
Indiginus’ Wurl-E Studio is a vintage Wurlitzer Model 200 electric piano, the most sought-after model in the Wurlitzer EP lineup. Introduced in 1968, the Model 200 quickly became a favorite of rock and jazz keyboardists due to its light weight and compact size, but mostly because of its rough-edged character. Although its sound could be quite tame when played lightly, nobody played it lightly. It was that crunch and bark when you’d punch it that made the 200 so well-suited to rock ‘n roll, blues, funk, and fusion.
They heyday of the Model 200 was in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the last one rolled out the door in 1982. Consequently, any Wurly you come across today is probably pretty road-worn and in need of refurbishment. A fair amount of fixing-up was performed on this one before it was sampled. One of the fixes was the addition of noise reduction, which some purists might take issue with. After all, the Wurly’s flaws were part of its charm. But this mod allowed for pristine samples to be collected, and of course if you really want some hiss in there you can easily get that with your own amp sim.
Speaking of amp sims, like all Kontakt-based instruments Wurl-E Studio uses the standard Kontakt amp/speaker sims. However, Indiginus created their own impulse response from a Fender Twin Reverb for greater authenticity. Back in the day, you’d have likely seen Wurlys running through Fender amps more than any other. In addition to the built-in Fender, I also tried Wurl-E Studio with other third-party amp sims, and found that although I liked the built-in Twin a lot for polite sounds, I preferred using an external sim when going for nastier tones.
Unlike most EPs of the day, the Wurlitzer featured two small built-in speakers, facing the player. These were not adequate for stage volumes, so external amplification was nearly always used. But players really liked how those little built-in speakers sounded on their own. Luckily for us, the sampled version of the instrument lets us have both internal and external amplification. Well, actually, there are three options: on-board speakers, a clean line out, or run through the amp sim. In addition, the unamplified sounds of the mechanics have also been sampled. A mixer lets you select any combination of them.
The UI consists of a simple mixer and equally simple effects controls. In addition to the “vibrato” (actually tremolo) found on the real instrument, we’ve also got all the effects that Wurly players often played through: compression, tempo-synced delay, phaser, flanger and reverb. Click on each one to expose their controls.
Warning: for some reason, turning up the flanger also turns up the volume. So be careful.
There is also an interesting innovation here, labeled “Pulse”, a versatile tempo-synced tremolo effect. The piano is amplitude-modulated by two LFOs (a square wave and a sawtooth) that can be synced to separate subdivisions (e.g. 8th-notes) of the project tempo. Using the square wave yields a stutter-type gated effect, while the sawtooth gives a smooth modulation. The Pan knob turns the modulation into a Rhodes-type ping-pong stereo effect.
This instrument is so simple that you won’t really need presets to get started, but sixteen of them are provided to give you an idea of the range of sounds Wurl-E Studio is capable of. You can also save your own presets.
All in all, this is a solid, practical bread ‘n butter instrument. At $59 USD it’s also one of the least- expensive Wurly libraries around. Full Kontakt 5.5 or higher is required, and it’s download-only (1GB). Listen to and/or purchase it at the Indiginus site:
An essential program gets a major upgrade, giving rise to a whole new family of apps, but there are still teething pains.
by Warren Burt, May 2017
Audiobus 2 was a big leap forward in the iOS music world. For the first time you could connect different apps together and treat individual programs as elements in a chain of functions. In a limited way, you could also connect MIDI apps into the chain as well. When it was first released, a lot of developers had to play catch-up, adapting their apps to work with it, but most of them did so. Then when Audiobus was upgraded to version 2, more catch-ups had to happen. Gradually, for most apps, they did, although I still have older apps that did not upgrade and in fact, seem to be in the “stopped-development slow death” phase. (Fortunately, I still have an old iPhone 4 which can’t go beyond iOS version 9, so I can keep those apps working as long as the phone does!)
So the announcement of a major upgrade to Audiobus, to version 3, is a cause for both excitement and patience. Excitement because of all the new features it has, and they are major new features. Patience because of all the favorite mainstay apps I use which don’t yet work in some aspect or another of Audiobus 3. Hopefully they will work sooner or later, but for now, using Audiobus 3 is definitely a work-in-progress.
There are three major new features with Audiobus 3: MIDI routing, Audio Units hosting, and a Mixer Page. Let’s go over each of them in turn:
MIDI Routing. In the traditional Audiobus setup, you had a chain of Input apps, FX apps, and Output apps. This still exists in AB3, but now there is also a new page, MIDI. This has slots for MIDI input, slots for MIDI FX, and an output slot. The MIDI input slot will accept external MIDI devices, like a keyboard connected through the camera-connection kit, and it will also accept the MIDI output from some apps. Among the apps that currently can function in the MIDI input slot are Animoog, Moog Model 15, Fugue Machine and Arpeggionome Pro, Cubasis, and some of Johannes Doerr’s MIDIFlow apps – his MIDIFlow Adaptor, MIDIFlow Keyboard, and MIDIFlow Motion – more on Doerr’s apps later in the review. Hopefully, in the future, there will be many more apps which will be upgraded so that they can act as MIDI inputs here. (Anthony Saunders, developer of Analog MIDI Sequencer, are you listening?)
The next slot is MIDI FX. This is a totally new category of apps. At the moment, the “Compatible Apps” page in Audiobus 3 lists apps from just two developers, Art Kerns and Johannes Doerr. I’ve used apps from both of them, and they are very simple, but a delight, offering abilities to change aspects of a MIDI stream in real time. I’ll look in more detail at Art Kerns’s midiFILTr-PG Probability Gate later in this review, as well as Johannes Doerr’s Midiflow Randomizer.
Finally the processed MIDI information goes to a MIDI output slot. This will take sound generating apps. All the apps that you would see in the IN category of the Audio page of Audiobus 3 will appear there. At this stage of the game, some will work, some won’t, and some will work intermittently. Try out your apps to see which ones will and won’t work, and for the ones that don’t work, I suggest sending emails to your developers, urging them to update their software to full Audiobus 3 compatibility. For example, one of my mainstay apps is Thumbjam. Disappointingly, at this stage, Thumbjam won’t work as a MIDI output app, although it does work very well as an Audio IN app. Hopefully, again, the developer of Thumbjam is aware of his and an update will be on the way soon.
The exciting thing about the MIDI out (Receiver) slot though, is that apps which are compatible with the Audio Units standard will appear here, and these apps are capable of existing in more than one instantiation. That is, you can use them in several different chains at once in Audiobus 3. So you could have one instance of say, Yamaha: FM Essential in one MIDI chain, and another in another chain controlled by another MIDI app. Polytimbral uses of Audio Unit apps are now possible. This is very exciting news. Audiobus 3 is on the way to becoming a universal patching app for the iOS environment. At the moment, on my iPad, the following apps are Audio Unit enabled: apeSoft: apeFilter; apeSoft: iDensity; Arturia: iSEM; iVCS3; PPG: WaveGenerator; and Yamaha: FM Essential. Other makers whose apps are Audio Unit Extension enabled are Bram Bos and Klevgrand. Look for more and more apps to have this capability as time goes on.
Audio Routing: This is page is similar to the main page of Audiobus 2: Slots for Audio IN, Audio FX, and Audio OUT apps. The difference is a slider across the top of the page, in which controls for each working app appear. This is a very handy device, enabling instant access to the workings of each app, and in some cases, having on/off and other controls available. In the example shown here, I have 3 chains of apps, and the controls for those, and for the MIDI controlling apps, appear in the slider at the top of the page. Note also, that any app that is in the MIDI OUT slot will then appear in the Audio IN slot as well, so that further effects can be added to it. In this example, Alexander Zolotov’s Virtual ANS is being processed by Sugar Bytes Turnado; while Henry Lowengard’s Enumero is being processed by Holderness Johnny gater. The Yamaha: FM Essential app is being controlled by Fugue Machine processed by midiFILTr-PG on the MIDI page.
Mixer: The final addition to Audiobus 3 is the Mixer Page. On this page, every Audio channel has its corresponding Mixer channel. Each channel has a volume slider, a pan pot, Mute and Solo buttons, and either a Play/Stop control for the Audio IN app, or a control that plays a tiny riff on the module to show that it’s active. In the example shown here, the app chains with Virtual ANS and Enumero each have their own channel with a Play/Stop button above their icon, while the Yamaha FM: Essential module simply has a little note button above it to tell if it’s active or not. But control of this module can be accomplished by pressing the Play/Stop button for Fugue Machine at the top of the page.
So with the addition of MIDI processing, Audio Units apps, and the Mixer, Audiobus 3 is really a no brainer. It will quickly become an essential part of any iOS music making rig. But do be aware that a number of your favorite apps might not work with it yet. For this I can simply recommend both patience, and of course, emails to the app developers. I’ve had Audiobus 3 for about two weeks now, and I’m already using it in live performances. As well, I’ve noticed that almost every other day, some app or other of mine has been upgraded to the Audiobus 3 compatible, so it looks like the speed of adoption of this new standard, at least for some app developers, is fairly rapid.
Midi Processing Apps
One of the most exciting additions to the iOS app world, with the appearance of Audiobus 3 is the appearance of MIDI processing apps. There are only a few of these at the moment, but I’m sure the number of these is going to increase rapidly. As well, it would be lovely if some of the “toolkit” apps, such as Jasuto, or Audulus, or even MobMuPlat, would adopt this standard as well, so that those of us who like to “roll our own” MIDI processes could do so. Hopefully …
Meanwhile, both Art Kerns and Johannes Doerr have made some very interesting MIDI processing apps. Art Kerns’ midiFILTr-PG Probability Gate is a very useful module which “thins out” a MIDI stream by only allowing a randomly determined percentage of notes to go through. It has three modes: Gate, Note, and Seq. Gate simply allows only a set percentage of notes through. It has one other feature: a “Gate On Repeat” and “Gate Off Repeat.” With Gate On Repeat, the number of notes set in it is the number of notes that will play when a single note is selected to play. Gate Off Repeat does the opposite, when a note does not play, the number of notes set there will also not play. So this allows for chains of notes to occur even at very low probabilities of occurrence.
Note allows you to set the probability of each of the 12 chromatic pitch-classes individually. So you can use this to set up filters for particular scales or pitch-sets.
Seq sets up a sequence of up to eight steps, each with its own probability. So for example, if you have an eight-note MIDI sequence playing, and you have all eight steps of Seq activated, you will get your eight-note repeating sequence, but each note will not always appear each time through the sequence. However, if you set your MIDI sequence to, say, nine steps, and then set your midiFILTr sequence to, say seven steps, you’ll then get a 63 note sequence of probabilities which will create a very interesting set of melodic possibilities.
Furthermore, this app doesn’t have to be used only inside Audiobus 3. If used outside it, it will accept any Core MIDI app input and send its filtered information through to any other module that accepts Core MIDI. For example, I placed it between Analog MIDI Sequencer and Thumbjam and got some wonderful processing of Analog MIDI Sequencer’s patterns. So far, all the MIDI processing apps seem to be very inexpensive, so the assembling of a tool kit of them seems to be very possible, even for those composers who are on a tight budget.
Johannes Doerr has developed a whole family of MIDI processing apps under his MIDIFlow label. So far, there are seven of them, each of which does a particular thing. For example, Midiflow Randomizer will add a random offset, which you set the ranges for, of every incoming note, velocity and timing point of any MIDI note signal. Midiflow Motion allows you to set up the X and Y axes of movement of your iOS device to send out Continuous Controller signals, or Note messages, or others, based on the moving of your device.
Midiflow Adapter when placed in the MIDI IN slot in Audiobus 3 will allow any Core Midi compatible MIDI generating app to send its signals into the Audiobus 3 MIDI chain. For example, I had Analog MIDI Sequencer feeding into this, which was then processed by Midiflow Randomizer which then went on to control the Yamaha: FM Essential app.
As I said above, hopefully, these are the first of a whole new family of apps that will appear, as developers begin to be aware of the possibilities here. The compositional capabilities of the iOS environment have just taken another leap. Now it will just take some patience to wait for app developers to update their existing apps (for example, in the few days between submitting this article and Saturday the 13th of May, an update for Dhalang MG incorporating full Audiobus capability has appeared), and create some new ones.
https://audiob.us/ $9.99 US on the App Store
midiFILTr-PG Probability Gate MIDI Effect: http://www.artkerns.com/midifiltrpg.html $2.99 US on the App Store
MIDIFlow MID processing apps: http://www.midiflow.com/ Bundle of 6 Apps for $8.99 US on the App Store. MIDIFlow Adaptor, $1.99 on the App Store.
For this month’s Oldies but Goodies, we take a look at the legendary synth plugin Sylenth1. Find out just what makes this oldie still so popular.
by Rob Mitchell, May 2017
If you haven’t heard of Sylenth1, you most likely haven’t been using soft synth plugins for the past ten years or so. When it first appeared back in 2006, it was the beginning of something really special. It had a high quality sound and a simple, easy-to-use interface. Even though it could cover most types of music, it became very popular with the EDM crowd. In no time at all, it reached a near legendary status among EDM producers. Ever since then, it has been imitated in some ways by a few different developers. In some cases, those other developers added features that were not included in Sylenth1. Despite all that, Sylenth1 stayed true to form in its overall design for many years. I thought it would be a perfect candidate for our “Oldies but Goodies” reviews because it really fits the bill.
So what is Sylenth1? To generalize it somewhat, it’s a four oscillator virtual-analog subtractive synth plugin with over 2,500 presets. It can use up to eight unison voices per oscillator, each of which can use detuning to get a huge sound. It is set up in a two-layer configuration; you have two oscillators and a filter for each layer. The modulation and master effects section tie it all together.
Installing Sylenth1 is very easy. It just uses a personal license code, and there’s a quick online activation involved. The system requirements are easy to take: Pentium III or higher, 256 megabytes of RAM, and Windows 2000 (or higher) or Mac OS X 10.6 (or higher). There is no standalone version of Sylenth1, so you will need some type of host software. It is available in VST, AU, AAX, x86 and X64 versions.
Once you have it activated and loaded it into whichever host you’d like, you’ll see the main display. Actually this is basically the whole synth, except there is a duplicate layer that’s accessible at the top by using the Part A/Part B buttons. Clicking the “Solo” button will let you hear only the part that you’ve selected. The browser is accessible from the center panel by clicking on the name of the preset, or you can click the left/right arrows next to it. The “Menu” button brings you to selections such as the loading/saving of preset banks, changing the display size and/or skin, randomizing a preset, and much more. Here are two of the alternate skins available with the latest version of Sylenth1.
Towards the top left and right are the two oscillator sections. They have Octave, Note, and Fine tuning controls available. The waveforms include Sine, Saw, Triangle, Pulse, Half Pulse, Quarter Pulse, TriSaw, and Noise.
Each oscillator can have up to eight unison voices, and if one of the oscillators isn’t needed, you can just switch the voices number to zero. Standard controls are here, such as Volume, Phase, and there is a Detune for the unison voices. The Stereo control adjusts the spread for the voices in the stereo field. Pan adjusts the oscillator’s output from left to right. Retrigger works as expected: the voices will all start at the same place in the waveform every time a note is played. You can flip the waveform by enabling the INV (Invert) button, and the small arrow at the upper-right lets you copy/paste the oscillator settings to one of the others, and you can initialize them from there as well. Sylenth1 doesn’t have PWM, but fear not, as the manual explains a workaround “trick” which uses the INV feature to get around that.
Now we’ll look at the filters. On the left side of the display, the inputs to both the Part A and Part B filters can be configured. There are a few ways you can change the way they are set up. Part A’s oscillators can be routed to Part A’s filter, which you might use when wanting just a quick and simple configuration. But you could have both Part A and B’s oscillators going to Part A’s filter, or it can be disabled altogether. Likewise, if you are on the Part B screen, you can select a similar configuration, but it is routed to Part B’s filter instead.
The filter types included are low pass, band pass, and high pass. These can all be switched between a 12dB or 24dB slope. The usual cutoff and resonance controls are here, as well as “Drive” which can dial in saturation to the sound. Below this filter section is the Filter Control. This is where you can make an adjustment to both Part A and Part B’s filters at the same time. Keytracking ties the cutoff frequency to the notes being played, and the “Warm” button will enable a higher-quality saturation at the cost of additional CPU cycles. This is in no way a CPU-melting synth plugin for most PCs or Macs, so you can use that nearly anytime. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons I like Sylenth1 so much in the first place. I can load up so many instances at once that I hardly need anything else in the project.
Sylenth1 includes two amplitude envelopes (one per part) located between the oscillators, two modulation envelopes, and two LFOs. The envelopes are the standard ADSR type, and they can be assigned (along with the LFOs) to various targets. The LFOs have eleven wave shapes to choose from, and they include Rate, Gain, and Offset controls. There is a button to enable Free-running mode, but one item I’d like them to add would be a Delay control.
The way the modulation works is simple: just click on a slot beneath whatever you’d like to use as a source, and select a target for it. Over on the right, there are four additional modulation panels. These are freely assignable, so you can pick whatever you want as a source and a target. Just like for the other panels, there are two targets for each of them. Next to each slot is a bipolar amount knob to dial in the level of modulation you would like. I’d prefer some more effect destinations, as they have only included Phaser frequency and Distortion amount. Speaking of effects, let’s check those out right now.
In the middle of the display is a multi-function panel which contains (among other things) all of the effects. They include Distortion, Phaser, Chorus, EQ, Delay, Reverb and Compressor. As you click on their corresponding buttons on the left, it will change the display to show the controls for the effect you’ve selected.
There are a good number of distortion types available: Overdrive, Foldback, Clip, Decimate, and Bitcrush. I love a good distortion, and Sylenth1 didn’t disappoint me at all.
The six-stage Phaser is one of the most robust as far as controls are concerned. It has an LFO with rate and gain controls, Center Frequency and Spread controls, Left/Right Offset, and Width. The Feedback amount is also adjustable, and there is a standard Dry/Wet mix knob.
I won’t go into much detail about the rest of the effects, but I did want to mention the Delay is very nice, and I always appreciate having a Compressor and EQ on board.
The Arpeggiator is in the effects section, and includes ten different modes. Some of these include Up, Down, Up/Down, Up/Down2, and Down/Up. Setting it to “Step” or “Chord” mode allows you to play a sequence of notes that are set up in the step sequencer section. Up to sixteen steps can be used, and the Time and Gate controls are for the speed and note length for the sequence. “Wrap” lets you set the length of the sequence to whatever you’d like. Several velocity modes are also included: Key, Hold, Step, Step + Key, and Step + Hold. I will just explain a few of them. “Key” will use all the velocities from the notes you play on the keyboard in the sequence, and “Hold” makes all the sequence velocities the same as the last note you played on your keyboard. “Step” uses the velocity amounts you entered in the step sequencer. The one thing I feel the arpeggiator is missing is a Swing function. Maybe it will be in a future version?
Over the many years since Sylenth1’s introduction, some people have complained there weren’t any major updates. But I must agree with the ago-old wisdom: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. However, if I had a choice of what to add to it, I would say that PWM (pulse width modulation) is very important. Also, it could use two more LFOs, swing for the arpeggiator, and the browser has some room for improvement. Even though there is a trick for the PWM (I mentioned about that earlier), it would be nice to have the “real deal” included. If I’m allowed to get greedy with my requests, then I’d also like some simple form of FM thrown in, but PWM and additional LFOs are more important.
For the most part, Sylenth1 has stayed nearly the same over its lifetime, but there have been a few additions that are definitely noteworthy. In case you haven’t checked in on it lately, it is at version number 3.03. Some of the improvements in the latest versions include 64-bit compatibility, many more presets, several alternate skins, preset randomizing, MIDI-learn for each control, display re-sizing, file drag-and-drop for fxb and fxp files, and an AAX version for Pro Tools. Even if they don’t add more to it, that’s OK with me. I can get along without the wish list I just mentioned. I love Sylenth1’s streamlined/uncluttered approach, and the new skins that have been made available are a very nice touch. Sylenth1 still sounds very good, and even after all the years that have passed, it stands the test of time.
Sylenth1 retails for €139 EUR, which is around $146 USD. It rarely goes on sale, but it has happened in the past. Audio examples and a demo version are available on their website here:
Ginno looks at seventeen sound libraries from Bluezone, Cinetools, Loopmasters, Samplephonics and other fine audio purveyors.
by Ginno Legaspi, May 2017
Reveal Sounds – Into the Deep Vol. 1 & 2
Into the Deep Vol. 1 is an offering from Reveal Sound and features 72 high-quality synth patches created by sound designer Vullcan. This bank is intended for the use of composing deep house, tech house and garage tracks. Producers who are looking for new sounds to inject into their next hit will find this sound bank useful. Essential patches for making deep house include chords, basses, sequences, keys, pads, synths and FXs. What Vullcan’s aim when he created this sound bank is to offer high quality presets, not quantity. I’ve seen plenty of sound banks out there comprised of 256 presets, and only 100 of those are useable. I love how he programmed the full-sounding chords, super melodic sequences and fat basses, as they are spot on to the deep house genre.
If you’re looking to expand Spire’s already massive preset banks, then Vol. 2 of Into the Deep has plenty of inspirational sounds to boot. Volume 2 is not just a preset collection, but a complete sound bank that includes MIDI files and 8 song construction kits. Like the first volume, the ninety patches are well crafted for use in EDM genre. They were programmed to support the modulation wheel and are ready to rock straight out of the box. Patches include inspirational plucks, soaring leads, sequences, bubbling basses, warm pads, synths and FXs. The eight construction kit folders have all the necessary ingredients for song starters. These are good especially if you’re in a composition drought. Inside each folder, you’ll find MIDI (patterns), Samples and Spire preset sub-folders. The WAV samples are delivered in 44.1kHz/24-bit format, and includes plenty of stems and drum hits such as snares, claps, hi-hats and kicks. By having all these tools at your disposal, producing deep house tracks becomes smooth and instantaneous. I love the inclusion of MIDI patterns because you can drop those in the song arrangement pane (in your DAW) and tweak and re-arrange as you see fit.
Overall, both are great sound banks/sound packs that are loaded with premium patches that capture the sound of contemporary deep house.
Full version of Spire 1.1.9 or later
$20.00 USD for Vol. 1
$39.90 USD for Vol. 2 (full pack)
Zero-G – Shadowlands
From the UK sample library developers Zero-G, comes a collection of soundscapes, pads, atmospheres and EFX for trailers, TV & film music and game soundtracks. Shadowlands is an all-new sample pack offering over 16 GB of 24-bit audio material in Acidized WAV and Apple AIFF loops. It also includes 650 instruments for software sample players such as Kontakt, EXS24, HALion and NN-XT. This is an enormous sound library in what Zero-G calls “Cinematic Scene Setters”, and offers great traditional cinematic sounds from which composers of ambient, avant garde, soundtracks and experimental music can benefit. Shadowlands boast 50 Cinematic construction kits with additional folders of Textures & Atmospheres, Movement FX, Cinematic Grooves, Drum Hits, Rhythm Loops and Vocal FX. The Textures & Atmospheres folders offer one-shots that are 1-2 minutes in length. There are well programmed textures which are best suited for beds (background sound) in ambient compositions. In the Construction kits folder, each kit contain stems to complete a mix – just add your imagination, creativity and custom samples to complete your own original track. The Movement FX, Cinematic Grooves and Rhythm Loops folder have plenty of useable samples as well. My only gripe is the Drum Hits folder – in which all the samples are drenched in reverb. These drum hits sound all similar and indistinguishable from one another. With that being said, Shadowlands still offer a tremendous amount of inspirational material that makes you want to write a score or soundtrack for a horror, trailer or sci-fi. All in all, the content is staggering and a good source material for sound designer and composers alike.
Acid WAV, Halion, Kontakt, EXS24, AIFF Apple Loops, Reason NN-XT
£76.95 GBP including VAT
Loopmasters – UK Garage & 2 Step
A huge collection of garage and 2 step samples (872 MB), Loopmasters done it again with this urban-tinged release with a blend of club-ready grooves. Produced by Scott Diaz, UK Garage and 2 Step features loops, one hits, MIDI files and sampler patches. It includes roaring basslines, thumping drums and a wealth of instrumental music loops. It offers over 300 loops strings, organs, stabs, guitar and synths. In the drums folder, it offers 134 of tight drum loops. This library also includes over 250 one-shot samples of bass, FX, music, vocals and punchy drums hits (kicks, snares, hats, cymbals, etc.) with a bit of “crunch” thrown in. As I’ve come to expect from Loopmasters, the quality of this sample library is excellent – thanks to Scott Diaz’s ingenuity, programming and the blending of UKG influences. The sounds are true to the genre, very usable and the variety is plentiful. I find the subby “Bass” loops very inspirational for song starters with lots of loops to choose from. Bottomline, Loopsmasters deliver the goods! Producers should look into this.
WAV, REX, MIDI files, Sampler patches
Samplephonics – Wonky Dream Pop
Wonky Dream Pop is comprised of 246 loops and 167 one-shots for use in a variety of dream pop, chill, electro pop, downtempo and ambient grooves sub-genre of electronic music. It is a collection of crisp electronic drum grooves, laid back guitar licks, ethereal keys, warm, luscious synths, processed piano loops and twisted vocals. All in all you’ll get 980 MB of samples in WAV format, as well as patches for popular software sampler instruments such as Ableton Sampler, NNXT, Halion, Maschine, Kontakt, Motu MachFive, SFZ and EXS24. The samples and how they were created are very inspiring and should provide plenty of materials for producers. The vox folder feature cut up and mangled vocal loops – perfect for remix material. The guitar folder includes an assortment of processed and textural guitar material. There is even a bonus guitar folder full of good effected sounds that are definitely suitable shoe-gaze and ambient. Under the One Shot main folder you’ll find different subfolders of chords, drums, field recordings, foley, natural sounds, other melodic sounds and random glitchiness. And the best of all, a Boss DR-202 has been sampled and delivered as one shot. Sound-wise, the loops were programmed very well. A lot of them are quite useable in many ways, basically. The quality of Wonky Dream Pop is excellent, with an aim to give your tracks plenty of edge. Overall, this is a nice sample pack worthy to be considered on your next buy.
WAV, Kontakt, NN-XT, Halion, SFZ, EXS24
Bluezone Corporation – Electrostatic Field: Experimental Cinematic Samples
This sample pack is a collection of cutting edge effect sounds that Bluezone Corporation tagged as “Experimental Cinematic Samples”. Electrostatic Field includes 119 meticulously recorded samples such as ambiences, energy drones, impacts, textures, transitions, whooshes and more. With 835 MB of 44.1 kHz/24-bit samples, there is plenty of material to inject into your productions. I find many of the sounds are useful and are a good companion to kick off your next production of atmospheric-based music. And for whatever purpose you’re going to use these samples, they are ready-to-go to provide unending inspiration for your next cinematic composition. Of the sounds included in this pack, my favorites are the 39 ambience energy drone samples. They’re very inspirational and have that metallic, static vibe to them. Overall, this cinematic library sound fresh and very polished with a good fidelity- a good futuristic collection.
Mode Audio – Sparks
Anyone producing dubstep, techno, electro, house and downtempo music knows how important it is to have the best instruments/gear possible and high-quality samples when creating tracks. This is where Sparks comes in; a collection of 465 drum hits with a modern take in today’s electronic music. With less than 100 MB, this is a good collection of drum samples for use in creating your own drum kits inside your sequencer’s drum rack. It includes 120 kicks, 100 snares, 85 percs, 35 claps, 20 crash cymbals and 15 shaker samples. The review version I have includes twelve sample patches and four channel strips (drum processing) for Ableton Live. From subby kicks to tight snares and crisp hats to bright shakers, the samples sound very fresh, crisp and production-ready. This is a very superb pack I must say. I especially like the 85 fuego (fiery!) percussion files because there are some useful gems on there, but the bass kicks stand out particularly.
WAV, Ableton Live Pack, Logic Pack, ReFill
Applied Acoustic Systems – Multiverse
Another sound bank for this month’s Soundbytes is called Multiverse from Applied Acoustic Systems. This sound bank is for the Chromaphone 2 percussion synthesizer – a virtual instrument that is already packed with well over 600 production-ready sounds. It also can be used with the free AAS player instrument (although further tweaking of presets is not possible with the free player). Multiverse is produced by sound designer Thiago Pinheiro – who has been a long time AAS contributor and an accomplished musician. Multiverse is a 100-preset collection that includes off-kilter melodic patches, weird textures and odd-sounding percussive elements. This sound bank brings Chromaphone 2 to a whole new level as an incredible, flexible and versatile instrument. When I auditioned the patches, I instantly liked what I was hearing. These are some of the coolest patches I’ve heard that are particularly well-suited for producing ambient, electronica, cinematic and OST music (original soundtrack). The FX presets particularly stand out, especially patches such as Space Cave (simulates a creaky sounding FX with plenty of reverb) and Portals (a nostalgic 80’s sci-fi FX patch). There are also some expressive patches that would be useful in today’s modern productions, such as the Clear Bass (sounds very round and fat) and Vice City (an arpeggiated clav with synced wah wah effect). When it comes to dynamically rich patches, Multiverse is never short on the list. There are plenty of responsive, expressive and sonically deep patches such Ethnic Trip and Jungle Triplets that would inspire even the most seasoned producers. Overall, this is great, highly versatile sound bank that showcases Chromaphone 2’s capabilities.
Preset bank for Chromaphone 2 and AAS Player plug-in
Cinetools – Disturbia
When I received Cinetool’s latest sample library, I was really impressed by the sheer amount of content included. Disturbia is a cutting-edge sample library suitable for psychological horror, thriller, trailer and game music. You’ll get 1008 production-ready elements in professional 24-bit/96 kHz WAV format. It’s a library that focuses on fear, panic, psychosis and neurotic themes with tons of unnerving tensions, suspense, unsettling soundscapes and dark sounding SFXs. Inside this 6+ GB library you’ll find everything from huge cinematic hits to chest-crushing impacts, frightening whooshes to obscure textures, gritty soundscapes to ear-destroying cacophonies, blood-freezing sweeps to goosebumps-evoking reverses, piercing stingers to theatre shaking sub FX, dank atmospheres to paranormal stutters, tension-builder rises to creepy transitions, weird morphing layers to mysterious pads, mad vocals to lunatic groans and plenty more. Needless to say, this is an all-madness-affair library so expect to be horrified when auditioning the samples. The sound quality is astounding and is very consistent throughout. The whole content is very inspiring and would fit seamlessly in today’s cinematic productions. I find these samples as a basis to start a composition or can be augmented with other samples or live instruments – especially ensemble or strings to start a new track. For producers looking seriously at a library offering disturbing, dark, spooky and scary samples, Disturbia from Cinetools should be on the short list. It is, without a doubt, a wonderfully made sample pack.
WAV, Apple Loops, Rex
Samplephonics – Expansive Electronica
Producers and electronic musicians all over the place are well aware that the folks at Samplephonics are a top tier sample developers, and have been releasing some really interesting sample libraries for a while now. This release, though, is geared for producers, remixers and desktop musicians for making dark electronic tracks. Expansive Electronica was created using a tortured, abused and manipulated MS-20 as sound source to provide users with lead, arp, sequence, bass, beat and atmosphere samples. Created and produced by Biinds, this pack includes 268 loops, 194 one-shots and sampler instrument patches. The loops have tempos ranging from 123-145 BPM and are key-tagged for convenience. Soundwise, this is definitely an ‘intense’ pack with plenty of pounding drum loops and rumble-filled basses leading the way. Also, the dense soundscape and atmosphere samples are very useable in many ways. Overall, a this is a quality pack that will surely make its way to electronica producers – highly recommended.
Mode Audio – Disintegrate
From sample library developers Mode Audio comes a collection of soundscapes, drum samples, synth tails and MIDI loops for TV, film and game soundtracks. Disintegrate is an all-new sample pack offering 610 MB of 24-bit audio material that is beyond the traditional cinematic ambient sounds. The samples are organized into three main folders of Disintegrate loops, Tail samples and Drum samples. Additionally, you’ll get two folders of twelve project files for Ableton Live and 95 MIDI loops. The Disintegrate loops folder covers basses, drums and percussions, SFX and textures, and synth sounds, while the tail samples round things off by giving the main loop a smooth, seamless decay. The drum hits folder offer samples that can be used to create a drum rack. There are plenty of drum hits at hand and they sound punchy and up-to-date. The SFX and texture samples offer a tremendous amount of inspirational material that makes you want to write a score or soundtrack for a thriller or futuristic film. The content is excellent and the price is right. Overall, this is an essential resource for TV, film, soundtrack and game music – a must buy.
Bluezone Corporation – Distant Wave: Cinematic Ambient Sounds
There is no doubt that cinematic/SFX sounds are very useful in giving ambient productions that certain edge or interest. They also help smooth the transition of a track going from one section to another. Many trailer, soundtrack and TV/film music producers rely on quality cinematic/ambient samples for this reason. Distant Wave from Bluezone Corporation is geared just for that. It is an ambient pack with 1.7 GB of content that is instantly suitable for many types of productions – whether it’s experimental, ambient, cinematic, soundtrack or game music. Close to 200 ultra, up-to-date samples comprise this library. Inside you’ll find a variety of inspirational sounds such as Ambience, Ambience SFX, Impact, Sound FX, Synth Texture, Transition and Transition Reverb. I love the complex sounds in the Ambience folder, as well as the chilled and spacey samples in Transitions. The production quality of Distant Wave is stunning and a lot of the samples have that nice sheen on the top end. Overall, this is a great starter library for those looking to add cinematic samples to their arsenal – a forward thinking sample library from Bluezone Corporation.
Applied Acoustic Systems – Aftermath
Sound designer Daniel Stawczyk is a familiar name in the sound design and virtual instruments world. In the past, he has released sound banks for String Studio VS-2, Ultra Analog VA-2 and Chromaphone 2. He returns in this highly anticipated follow-up for String Studio VS-2 (also playable on the free AAS Player instrument) called Aftermath. With Aftermath, Daniel harnesses String Studio’s powerful features, capabilities and sound engine. In this 149-preset collection you’ll find familiar categories such as bass, chords and stabs, gated, leads, pads, and plucks. But the highlight of this sound bank is the 49 special effects that are playable and ultra-flexible. These effect patches are top-notch and can be used in just about any production. After installing the sound bank, I quickly launched String Studio and was able to load this bank with no problem. Daniel has done a good job with the pads as they are useable and have plenty of sustain and decay in them. The basses are not what you would call fat, since they have plenty of brightness, but they would be good to layer with other bass patches. Under the Chords and Stab category, my favorites are ReVita and Verbial patches. These would be good as starter sounds for inspiration. The plucked patches are the also great. From the Affair patch to Villain patch, all sound excellent with just the right amount of effects. My other favorites include Waterharp, Pines, Montrous (sounds like a scraped metal) patches that are great for downtempo compositions. Overall, I’m impressed with the programming of Aftermath. Daniel makes it easy to design sounds in String Studio with this sound bank.
Preset bank for String Studio VS-2 and AAS Player plug-in
Samplephonics – Ambient Dreamscapes
For our last issue, when I reviewed Downtempo Movements from Samplephonics, I gave the library high marks for its excellent quality. The library had a lot of great-sounding chill and ambient sounds as I recall. Samplephonics is best known worldwide for making great chill, ambient, dance and electronica libraries, and Ambient Dreamscapes is as equally impressive as their other releases. In this sample pack, Samplephonics unleashes modern electronica samples for producers of ambient, downtempo and chill music. Included in this pack are 264 (live and programmed) instrument loops such as smoky vibes, kalimbas, jazzy basses, synth leads, lush pads, guitar phrases and silky drums. Also, included are 167 one-shot samples. I love the drum shots because it allows me to build my own custom drum kit or rack. I explored the 413 samples by auditioning them in Acid. I find that the sounds are carefully crafted and edited with the use of clever processing. What impressed me are the good selections percussion, pianos and atmospheres. And even the additional foley one-shots rock – thumbs up.
Synapse Audio – Premium Trance, Premium EDM Vol. 1 & 2
Last but not the least for this month’s Sound Investments column are three sound sets from Synapse Audio, the maker of the smashing software synthesizer Dune 2. These are new patches delivered in sound banks that are geared mainly for producers of house, electro, EDM, trance, downtempo and electronica. These sound banks are a good way to expand Dune 2’s already massive preset palette.
Many commercial software synthesizers come with plenty of stock presets. These can showcase what the synthesizer is capable of under the hood, but most importantly they can give the user sounds to start with. Whether you’re a preset junkie or preset tweaker, having tons of presets at your disposal is always a good thing. Right off the bat, Dune 2 already comes with a comprehensive set of presets, but these new sound sets breathes a new life to the synthesizer.
Let’s take a look at each one:
Premium EDM Vol. 1 – With 64 high-quality patches, Premium EDM Vol. 1 is sure to fire up your creative juices. The patches were created by world-class sound designer Kevin Schroder with a few designed by Richard Hoffman. My favorites are BA Blackhammer, FX Emergency Brakes, LD Citron and the thick pad patch called PD Another World. These are very high quality patches that are ready to go and require less tweaking.
Premium EDM Vol. 2 – Picking up where Vol. 1 left off, this sound bank has plenty of useable sounds ranging from terrorizing basses to high-octane synthesizer leads. All patches were specifically programmed and designed to support the modulation wheel, and many of them respond to key velocity and aftertouch. These are very handy if you want to be expressive (aka trying to look busy onstage) during live performance. Here are some of my favorite patches of the bunch; the arpy AR Advanced World, the lowend-heavy BA Pitcher Bass, the gated synth GT Imperium, the scorching lead synth called LD Benefactor, the warm pad patch PD Legacy Hybrid and the sequenced synth patch SQ Hello Summer. There are plenty more good sounding patches but these are the standouts to my ears.
Premium Trance – This sound bank is the latest release from Synapse Audio. Sound designer Kevin Schroder has cooked up yet another stellar sound bank that is primed for the dancefloor. Premium Trance comprises 64 dance-oriented patches that harness Dune 2’s great synth features. Again, all patches support the modulation wheel, and many of them respond to key velocity and aftertouch. Inside you’ll find arps, basses, chords, drums, gated, leads, pads, plucked, sequences and SFX patches. I love the included SQ (sequence) and AR (arp) patches because they are insanely melodic. They are very inspirational and good for song starters. My favorites are SQ Airline, SQ Hello Spring, AR Solar Flare and AR Elastic Box.
Overall, these collections of cutting edge dance/electronic sound banks are quite good. There are plenty of patches that will kick start your day in the studio. The programming and sound design of Kevin Schroder is top notch. He has crafted some new and fresh patches to inject new life into Dune 2. If you’re an electronic dance producer looking for some new and stunning collection of exceptional sounds, these 3 sound banks from Synapse Audio won’t disappoint. Head over to Synapse Audio website to listen and watch the demo of each sound bank.
Full version of Dune 2.5 software synthesizer
$20.00 per USD soundbank
Connect with Ginno @ www.facebook.com/ginnolegaspi
Do you really need a convolution reverb that costs upwards of 500 Euros? Our reviewer seems to think that with Altiverb 7, the answer unfortunately is “absolutely”.
by Alex Arsov, May 2017
I assume you’ve already heard about Altiverb, a studio standard. Of course, as convolution reverbs can be found in almost every DAW, not to mention that there are also a dozen third party convolution reverbs around for a quite reasonable price (ranging from $100 to $200 USD), you probably asked yourself, as I did before I got it, whether Altiverb 7 is worth the price. After all, €499 EUR for the regular version and €849 EUR for XL is quite a big price, and after all, convolution reverbs are all about the impulse responses (known as IRs) from real places which you can even get for free if you google a bit. There are plenty of enthusiasts that have sampled some great real spaces, same as some legendary reverb hardware pieces. So, where is the catch?
I have had Altiverb for almost a month and had enough time to try it with some orchestral material and some pop songs with guitars and vocals. So, where is that few hundred euros difference? The first thing I should say is, yes, it is worth the money, and second, yes, it makes a very noticeable difference. Not just a difference in the range of those abstract words that no one can really properly describe, like “Warmth” for example. I presume this word means drinking Whiskey by the old stove inside a house on a cold winter’s day. Not sure what exactly what it means in a musical sense.
Let’s start with clarity. All other virtual reverbs add space around the effected sound, a nice sound, but still a bit foggy and muddy. Don’t tell me about predelay, equalizer and other things, as you know exactly what I’m talking about. The real spaces sound clean and well defined, something that is not 100% true with convolution or even algorithmic reverbs. Some of them add really cool and pleasant spaces around the audio object, but you can’t say that this is totally the same as listening to an instrument in a real place. Close, but not enough. I don’t know what the secret of Altiverb 7 is, it could be a high sample rate used for IR convolutions or maybe recording techniques used by skilled recording engineers, or perfectly chosen places, good programming, or probably all the mentioned reasons coming together to give a unique end result.
I was quite surprised trying it for a first time with a dry cello track. Altiverb 7 added space without muddying even slightly the space around the cello. It sounded quite a bit more real than with other convolution reverbs. Somehow very clean but still spacey. After trying it more on some other sound sources I also discovered that I couldn’t find any small or big, natural or hardware emulated space sounding as harsh as some reverbs can sometimes sound in higher frequencies. That is about the sound in general. The next advantage is the great IR convolution spaces library that grows from day to day, being well categorized into large groups, allowing you to even find complementary sounding spaces. Large groups from hardware, big halls or open spaces through to various studio rooms and some bizarre spaces that come in handy for film makers or any other purpose audio treatments. This is not to mention that if you have recorded the bang of a slate clap or even a starter pistol at the beginning of your tape, you will be able to recreate the space of the take, recording new edited dialog dry in a studio and applying the space from the recording scene. This is absolutely a life saver for all movie makers. I remember how I lost a whole day trying to edit some words in a short movie that we did for national TV. It was almost impossible to recreate the space where we recorded original audio. Film makers also love Altiverb 7 as it has IR convolutions for all those odd spaces like interior of various car models through countless examples of outdoor ambiance, tunnels, schools and all other imaginable places.
OK, this is not a film-making magazine, so let’s go to the music creating benefits. The Altiverb fellows recorded various microphone positions in most of the spaces, so you can set depth and panning position. Actually you can also set a reverb distance from the source by clicking on a picture and choosing the distance measured in meters (and in seconds), choosing between stereo and mono sources. In plain English, set one reverb in the center, one for a left position, another for right. Two for far left and far right and you will get a very realistic panning position for most instruments just by setting reverb along with pan on your tracks. I was quite surprised with the end results having tried this with a few violins.
Altiverb 7 is not cheap, but all these additions and advantages are pretty priceless at some level. Not that you can’t achieve good results with other reverbs, that is far from the truth, but the difference is noticeable, not just abstract and discrete.
Details All Around
We already discussed the great number of impulse responses. By clicking on a photograph of a real space in Altiverb 7 you get a IR browser. There are four main categories: Music, Post, Gear and Design. In those basic categories are a huge number of different subgroups with large number of spaces. You can search by name or characteristic, setting the way they will be presented – by name or by size. As this would not be enough, you even have the option to search for similar ones, as soon as you find the one that suits your needs.
The main window brings five sections with some basic controllers that can be extended with a click on a small triangle sign in the bottom right corner. The first window has a big knob for setting reverb time along with artificial brightness taken from algorithmic reverbs, and of course the standard knob for all reverbs: size. The second one is the Input Output section for setting the ratio between dry and wet signal. Another three are Equalizer, Damping and Time sections.
In the top row is a menu where we can reach other sections of Altiverb 7. We can set the IR folders and notifications about updates in the Preference menu. We can set the gate in milliseconds or relative to song tempo, cutting the tail of the reverb. Positioner is a feature with which we can set a specific spot in a room or any other chosen recording space, getting the aforementioned natural depth or distance from the source along with the pan position. So far, this is my favorite capability in Altiverb 7. The Snapshots section allows you to save and easily retrieve some different settings. I made a few snapshots with different panning positions for the same convolution space to have it available for easily setting a few send effects for orchestral music. Next is IR import with which you can import your spaces. If you want to have an IR of your bedroom, this could be easily achieved. Download the sweep signal from the Audioease site. Play it through any player and record the signal on other side of your room. Drag the sweep at the bottom of IR import window choosing one of the import options (the first and second ones are for processing Sweep signal) and you will have an IR of your bedroom. Not sure why you will need it and what your wife would say about it, but …
OK, joking aside, if you have any recorder and player with you, this could even be a pair of mobile phones, you can easily make an IR of any space around the globe. Whenever you find a place with good acoustic, this could effortlessly end up in your IR Altiverb 7 section – quite handy. At the moment, the second import option is for recordings made by portable Tivoli PAL radio. I hope the Audioease fellows will add an option for a mobile phone as we all travel with one in our pockets, so it is quite easy to record everything with them. Second option is to directly throw in any audio source, getting some quite unique results, reverberating your synth line with part of a drum loop that was imported into Altiverb 7.
I presume that almost all professional studios already have and use Altiverb 7. Also, I can’t imagine any big movie production without it. We don’t belong to those two worlds, but the truth is: if you can afford this one, then you should have it. It makes a difference. Not that other reverbs are bad, this one is simply better. It brings space, preserving the clarity. It sounds amazing and brings an unbeatable quantity of impulse responses. Well-organized browsers allow you a fast approach to the desired sound. Positioner gives you additional space dimensions that can put your mix in a real space with all pan and distance depth. It works well with all genres of music. All in all, all you need is one good algorithmic and one good convolution reverb and you are safe. In case that you don’t have algorithmic, then Altiverb 7 can also cover that, already being best in the convolution field.
Enough, I’m going to play with my new toy … er, I mean tool.
More info and all additional details, go to: https://www.audioease.com/altiverb/
Price is at the beginning of the article. All you need to run Altiverb 7 is love and an iLok 2 protection key.
up to stereo input and output
up to 96 kHz sampling rates
up to 5.1 surround input and output
up to 384 kHz sampling rates
TDM plug-in for Pro Tools 10 (and 9 and 8).
If you are looking for a dedicated filter plug-in, then our reviewer suggests you Drop whatever you’re doing and check out Cytomic’s superb offering.
by Per Lichtman, May 2017
Cytomic The Drop ($99 USD, download from Cytomic.com) is a resonant high-pass and low-pass filter FX plug-in emulating in extensive detail the filter behavior of ten different filters, many taken from well-known synthesizers (and others from less common designs), with the ability to switch between higher CPU and lower CPU models of each. Both PC and Mac are supported and all standard mainstream formats are available.
In some ways this is one of the simplest reviews I’ve ever written, because after spending time comparing dozens of different resonant filter plug-ins, The Drop is simply the most accurate dedicated synth FX plug-in I’ve ever tried and it works as a great saturation plug-in, too. On top of that, there’s a time-limited demo available so you can try it yourself right off the bat. So if you ever wanted to get as close to the sound of some of these filters as you can get in-the-box, this is pretty much the place to go. At the same time, it’s one of the more difficult reviews I’ve written because this filter plug-in can do so many different things that even the 87 presets included only give a slice of what the plug-in can do. In other words, it’s easy to use but you can use it for much more than you would expect …
For Those That Want a Quick Sonic Tour…
Since The Drop is capable of both bread and butter sounds and some really complex ones, I want to mention that there’s a yellow drop-down menu at the very top that says “Default.” If you click on it and hover over the word “Presets” near the top, you’ll see eight categories of presets with a total of 87 presets ready to load. The preset categories are Basic; Drum; Guitar; Keys; MIDI; Mix; SFX and Synth. These presets help quickly show some of the diverse things the plug-in can be used for – though the list is far from comprehensive. From using the plug-in to add some high-end sheen to a mix (the oversampling options make it surprisingly good at boosting the high with resonance) to various auto-filter style sounds and complex modulations, you can take your sound (or whole mix) in a lot of different directions just by cycling through the presets. Of course if you want to start turning the knobs or tweaking the settings yourself (and who doesn’t) then you may want to know what the available filters are based on.
Filter Models and Saturation Options
As of version 1.5.2 (the most recent version at the time of writing) the ten unique circuit names are mostly taken from the vintage synths emulated: MS2 (Korg MS20 rev2); SMP (custom halfway between Korg MS20 rev2 and OSCar); OSR (OSCar); MS1 (Korg MS20 rev1); JPR (Roland Jupiter 8 or Juno 6); SHR (Roland SH2 or SH101) and PRD (Moog Prodigy). You may have noticed that, that list only contains seven models, but three more were added at the end of last year: AMU (a custom design “inspired by the ARP Odyssey Mk I filter”); KSM (“a custom design input mixing Sallen Key”); WSP (from the EDP Wasp “with unique CMOS inverters”). The AMU model is one of my personal favorites.
Each filter has a different sound, with the differences ranging from subtle to massive depending on the specific filters, the settings and the source material. The differences are especially pronounced when using the filters at high resonance settings that cause self-oscillation.
The full CPU usage models are engaged whenever the “HD” button is highlighted in the LP or HP tab, but by pressing the button again you can bypass HD mode to engage a more economical model. It’s also possible to use the economical mode during editing but select an option in the oversampling menu to automatically switch to HD mode during render. In my testing, I found the more economical model tended to reduce CPU usage by somewhere in the 15-25% range.
Each circuit is modeled with 12 dB/octave and 24 dB/octave slopes for both high-pass and low-pass filter. The LP and HP filter can be enabled and disabled independently and there is a drop-down menu to switch between the default serial mode (where the output of the HP filter is sent to the LP filter) and parallel (where the two filters operate on the signal simultaneously). Every model is capable of in self-oscillation in both filters and it’s actually even possible to use the self-oscillation for MIDI controlled pitch generation (more on that later) but there is a “safe” switch that can be engaged to keep the resonance knobs from activating self-oscillation. The self-oscillation range on the resonance knobs is indicated with an orange highlight as you pass 100%. Next to the resonance knob is a small gray arrow (small enough that you might miss it) that acts at the trim pot for the self-oscillation resonance range. When it’s turned all the way to the left, the orange self-oscillation range spans roughly 101-125%, but you can turn the trim pot all the way to the right to make the range span 101-200% for some even more extreme resonance.
The filters differ noticeably in the curves of the filters themselves, which is shown in the visualizer display and which can be auditioned by swapping models in the drop-down menu while keeping the settings the same. There are also HP drive and LP drive knobs that let you increase the amount of saturation that the filter circuit provides for the signal. The way those knobs work is by increasing the input level by the same amount as they decrease the output level for the filter, allowing the level to stay pretty similar while increasing the saturation.
Level and distortion characteristics vary greatly between the filter models, even when a filter is set to be as transparent as possible (for instance by setting the low-pass cutoff to maximum and resonance to minimum). The OSR and SMP circuits have a higher ceiling on their level than the other models, with the SHR and PRD circuits having the lowest ones. In my personal experiments, I found that there was a difference of up to 11dB in the output level when I massively overdrove the signal through the highest and lowest circuits. But the ceiling is only part of the difference – the character also varies greatly as well.
Elegant and Customizable Design
There are so many things about the way that The Drop is designed that you’ll find you appreciate more as you work with it. At a basic level, you’ll find the usual niceties like A/B comparison for two sets of settings, responsive controls and sufficient contrast, and a visualizer. But there’s also the extensive control for setting different quality settings (the level of oversampling; whether HD mode is on or not) both while working and for the final render. The oversampling goes from x1 (which is off, meaning the filter runs at 44.1/48 KHz depending on your session) up to x16 (705.6 kHz) in real-time modes, or up to x64 (2.8 MHz) for off-line rendering – so you can completely avoid aliasing artifacts unless you want them. You can also use different quality settings in each plug-in instance or copy your current settings to all the instances in your session – or save your current quality settings as the default for any new instances. Then there’s the way you can custom scale the GUI to different resolutions by dragging the lower right corner (or just selecting sizes from 50% to 200% from a drop-down menu), making it easy to scale up the size to more easily read some of the smaller labels, or scale down to make the interface take up less space. You can turn “show CPU usage” on or off, and will show how much CPU each of the two individual filters is currently using. You can easily see the folder where your presets are stored by clicking “show current folder” so you don’t have to dive for the manual to figure it out, making it easy to back presets up or share them.
Comparing Filter Saturation
An unexpected bonus in Cytomic The Drop is that the differences in gain response between the models are actually pronounced enough that I found myself frequently loading the plug-in just to use it for the saturation colors alone. To that end, I wanted to look at the colors the models presented.
Back in 2016, I did some tests with a loud MicroTonic drum sequence to emphasize these gain emulation differences between the seven models available in The Drop at the time, without over-emphasizing the differences in the filter curves themselves. To do this, I put the filters in serial mode, set the HP and LP drive knobs to maximum, set the HP cutoff to minimum, LP cutoff to max and both the resonance knobs to 0% – then I would switch the LP and HP models to the same circuit at once. Then I manually brought the output level up, using the post-knob, to bring the peak dbFS up to the within half a decibel of the original dry control signal (never exceeding it). In all cases, the signal was being pushed hard enough that HP and LP drive LEDs were red at least part of the time, but not so hard that they stayed red the whole time.
Comparing the MS1 to the dry control signal, the sound was much “punchier”, with the bass drum sitting much more forward in the mix, a narrower dynamic range and somewhat darker sound overall (albeit with some addition the high end from the distortion harmonics). Using the same method, the MS2 seemed to be saturating less at the same level (which the LEDs reinforced), preserving more of the original dynamic range and frequency profile compared to the MS1, but still coming with a “louder”, “fuller” sound that had a narrower dynamic range than the dry signal. The SMP unit yielded a still darker sound than the MS2, being the smoothest so far and quite “rounded” compared to the dry signal – but again, with far more dynamic range than the MS1. The OSR sounded darker, yet again and the MS2, SMP and OSR circuits all sounded far more similar to each other than any of them to the MS1. The SMP and OSR options both took some of the edge off of the hi-hats more than the MS2. The JPR HD model provided much stronger saturation, more in line with the MS1, but noticeably darker and rounder – with either model providing a massive increase in subjective loudness at the same peak dbFS as the original dry signal. The SHR provided the most strongly colored sound yet – very up-front and bringing out the sustains of the drums, de-emphasizing the transients in comparisons to the other options so far. Arriving at the PRD, we find an interesting difference from SHR, though both are strongly colored: whereas the SHR was saturating the HP filter more than the LP filter with the test settings, the PRD was saturating the LP filter more than the HP filter. Perhaps that is why the PRD yielded a brighter sound than the SHR, though it was similarly strongly colored.
Looking back at the results of the experiment, we see can see that the models can broadly be grouped into two camps in regards to their saturation use. There are the high threshold models that color the signal less at lower input levels (MS2, SMP and OSR) and the low threshold models that start to saturate more dramatically at lower levels (MS1, JPR, SHR and PRD). Out of the low threshold models, the MS1 was brighter than the others, with a wider dynamic range. The low threshold models were great for things where I wanted a heavy color (like the synthetic drum loop used for testing) but for more melodic material, I found I gravitated to the MS2, SMP and OSR. In both cases, the “Pad” button in the controls provides a quick way to change the amount of saturation in 6dB increments from +12dB to -12dB, making it easy to adapt to differences in the thresholds if you change your mind about the filter model you want to use.
Massive Modulation Options
Despite the deceptively simple GUI, I fear I can’t fully do justice to the number of modulation options on offer. Sure, you could use automation to sweep the cutoff and resonance knobs and other basics like that or use an LFO or envelope in a basic way to modify the frequencies, resonance amounts, pre-gain or post-gain but almost without exception, you’ll find that you can dig much deeper than you expect. LFOs offer tempo syncing, rate, phase, spread and a multiplier control: the multiplier control lets you either slow the LFO down or speed-up to 32,768 times the base LFO rate, whether tempo-sync is engaged or not. LFO has a plethora of additional controls, like swing amount and curve adjustment – and surprisingly The Drop even has its own step-sequencer with from two to 32 steps and the option to switch between sixteen patterns. The step-sequencer is edited in the same blue window at the top-center of the GUI by dragging the steps up and down with the mouse.
Even without getting comprehensive about all the controls, there are several important highlights to cover, like the FM modulation (which can either use the normal audio or a side-chain, processed raw or via an envelope or LFO 2) or the MIDI tracking (which in combination with the self-oscillating filters makes it possible to turn the filter into a tonal instrument of its own). In fact, at one point I actually constructed an organ using several instances of the plug-in to create sine-wave style oscillators off the harmonic series. You can do some really exotic things! Needless to say, it would be impossible to catalog all of them.
A few years back, I went through and auditioned just about every FX filter plug-in I could my hands on. While I found several interesting ones (many of which I enjoyed using for particular types of material), none really sounded close to the analog filters I had spent time with “outside the box.” More recently, I found certain synth plug-ins (u-He Diva for example) did noticeably better than previous virtual instruments in regards to more accurately modeling analog filters. But even u-He’s Urs Heckmann made special note of the quality of work that Andrew Simper did with The Drop’s filters, and having spent time with The Drop, it’s simply become the first analog filter plug-in I reach for every single time. To be clear: that does not mean it does everything. So what might you look to another plug-in for?
One of the first things that comes to mind is those looking for a more “digital” and “less analog” sound, as there are other filters that offer types of AM and FM sounds other than those easily accessed in The Drop. Also, there are no dedicated formant or vowel filters. Similarly, The Drop does not offer a native bitcrusher or dedicated waveshaper, so those looking for multi-FX filters incorporating those can look elsewhere. Plug-ins I came across in my earlier search that addressed those areas included Tone2 BiFilter 2, SugarBytes Wow and PSP Nitro.
Another area is those specifically looking for extremely steep filter curves, for which I would point PC users to the free RubberFilter by Christian Budde (capable of curves as steep as 384 dB/octave). And for those looking to use more filters at once in a single interface (or just prefer a different GUI design) there’s FabFilter’s Volcano 2.
Each of these plug-ins has its own strengths, but no plug-in I’ve used captures the sound and behavior of the analog filters modeled in The Drop as well as The Drop itself. In my eyes (and to my ears) it represents the current state-of-the-art.
Is It Right For You?
Cytomic The Drop is, by far, the best dedicated plug-in for analog style resonant filters I’ve ever used – so if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s the very first one you should look at. With ten different models on offer for both high-pass and low-pass types in 12dB/octave and 24dB/octave versions, you can quickly cycle through different variants of your filter sound. It’s the best emulation of the filters modeled I’ve ever heard in a plug-in. The modulation abilities (step-sequencer; AM style effects via the LFO; envelopes; MIDI note tracking) are also great and there’s even FM on offer. CPU usage can easily be modified by switching between full and reduced CPU models, or by modifying the amount of oversampling. What’s not to like? Basically, if you’re looking at filter FX plug-ins you owe to yourself to check out The Drop.
UVI delivers yet another classic analog synth: an amazing-for-its-time, rare, expensive and temperamental instrument, the UVS-3200 from Korg.
by David Baer, May 2017
In this review we look at the just-introduced software recreation of the Korg PS-3200, the UVI UVS-3200. In the last issue of SoundBytes Magazine, we explored another recent UVI classic recreation, that of the PX Apollo (http://soundbytesmag.net/pxapollofromuvi/ ). There are numerous similarities here, both with respect to the original instruments and the design decisions made by UVI in realizing a modern software recreation of them.
Both the UVS-3200 and PX Apollo hailed from the latter half of the 1970s. Both implemented a divide-down oscillator scheme that provided unlimited polyphony (or more precisely, limited only the number of keys on the keyboard). And both offered a per-note amp envelope capability that was quite advanced for that time.
In the modern version, both the PX Apollo and UVS-3200 expand on the possibilities of the original while keeping the spirit of the original’s native capabilities. Both were based on loving and no-doubt painstaking restorations of vintage hardware. Both instrument UIs are very consistent and once we get beyond the oscillators, so are all the on-board bells and whistles. Oh yes … and they are priced exactly the same.
Before getting into the thick of it, let’s get the essentials out of the way. UVS-3200 runs in the free UVI Workstation but can also run in UVI’s Falcon hybrid synth. In the latter case, the wealth of programming possibilities of Falcon can be brought into play that profoundly increase the value of this instrument (my own testing was exclusively using Falcon). PC and Mac are both supported as is both 32-bit and 64-bit operation (64-bit only when using Falcon). It works with all major DAWs and has a standalone option as well. Authorization is via iLok account (either software or dongle). List price is $79 USD, but sales have been known to happen.
The Original Instrument
Korg called the original the PS-3200 (PS for Polyphonic Synthesizer), and I don’t know from where UVI got the UVS designation, but I assume it is just a concatenation of UVI and PS. The PS-3200 was in the middle of a line of PS-3n00 synths. The PS-3100 was the little brother and lacked the program-retention capability of the PS-3200 (a very advanced feature at the time) and was limited to one oscillator rather than the two found in the 3200. The PS-3300 was even more robust than the 3200. The PS line has attained a near-legendary status over time, having been used by the early gods of synthesis, names like Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre and Keith Emerson. Today a PS-3200 may be acquired only by those with a five-digit budget and a willingness to be very patient with all the attention required to keep them operational (and the additional funds to make that possible).
The PS-3200 had a 48-note keyboard (an F to an E). The upper register supplied an oscillator, the oscillators being referred to as signal generators, for each note of the octave. Actually there were pairs of them for each pitch, or 24 signal generators in total. For each of these in the highest-octave register, an electronic circuit cut the frequency in half for the next lower octave, and this happened twice again for the next two octaves below that. With enough fingers, one could have played all 48 notes at one time and gotten sounds out of all of them.
The instrument was semi-modular. What that means is best illustrated by the following. There are two on-board LFOs, referred to as Modulation Generators. The first of these offered several wave forms and had hard-wired connections to three possible destinations: filter cutoff, pulse width and oscillator frequency (i.e., vibrato). A second LFO offered only a triangle waveform and it had no hard-wired modulation targets. To use the second LFO one needed to use a patch cable. So, on the one hand, the instrument could be programmed more quickly than a fully-modular instrument in which all connections were via patch cable, but it had yet to fully achieve the ease-of-programmability that would be enjoyed with synths produced in the decade that followed.
The other big deal, and it was a rather big deal at the time, was that sixteen presets could be retained in memory. Of course, to take advantage of these, one could not use any patch cables in the setup. But for those few well-healed performers who could afford it, this opened up a world of possibilities for more sophisticated instrumentation during live performance.
Each oscillator (two per note with fine-tune variance between each pair if desired) offered a small set of the usual waveforms including variable-width pulse waves. As stated earlier, a per-note amp envelope appeared later in the processing chain. Korg has kindly made the original manual available in PDF form on-line, and here is a sample of that documentation that contains a delightful image showing the oscillator output as waves in a water trough and a filter that smooths that output.
Those wishing to explore the original instrument in detail can find the full manual here:
If nothing else, reading through this will provide a deep appreciation of just how good we’ve got it courtesy of the advancement of technology.
A second per-note envelope for filter cutoff, something we’ve come to expect as a given, was not part of the package, but the amp envelope could optionally be used to also modulate filter cutoff. Here’s a delightful visualization of that in the Korg manual.
A Modern Rendition
We could go on at some length about the architecture of the original PS-3200 – it is rather fascinating if you are interested in how we got to where we are today. But we must turn our attention to the UVS-3200. The manual is pretty lightweight, and normally I would find that grounds for serious criticism. But the good news is that the interface is so intuitive, few will feel the need to even resort to the manual.
UVI chose to take the notion of presets in the original and implement two independent oscillators, one of them with 24 more-or-less bread-and-butter staples in one and 69 presets of a wider variety in the other. You can see the main oscillator page below.
The two UVS-3200 oscillators are not to be confused with the two signal generators on the original instrument. The upper and lower oscillators, as presented on the UI, offer a selection of sounds sampled from PS-3200 patches that (presumably) used both signal generators. Oscillator one, on the top, presents 24 buttons from which to select the preset. This is reminiscent of the sixteen-button saved-preset selection mechanism on the original. The bottom oscillator offers a selection of 69 programs selectable via a context menu. Other than the manner of program selection, the upper and lower oscillators are largely identical in terms of modulation, filtering, and so on. The image on the right shows the 24 programs present in the top oscillator and the categories of the programs present in the bottom one.
For each oscillator, the envelopes, a filter, unison control, portamento, an arp, etc. are all fully independent. The tabs offering various edits like pitch control and the arp can be seen in the following two screen shots.
Somewhere in the middle of things is a modulation capability that includes an LFO and a step-modulator that are partially shared between the oscillators. The modulation page is shown below. Once again, the layout is quite simple and these facilities can be used effectively without needing to first read the documentation.
A five-effect FX stage, seen next, processes the mixed output of the two oscillators. Like what we’ve seen so far, these effects and their controls should be familiar enough to all that no further explanation is needed.
The overall capability of the UVS-3200 might seem a little lightweight – there only two LFOs, for example, one per oscillator which must be shared between filter cutoff, volume (tremolo) and pitch (vibrato). Certainly if you compare this with a state-of-the-art supersynth, like UVI’s own Falcon, for example, there’s no competition. But all one needs to do is listen to the presets to appreciate just how much can be accomplished with respect to sound design, even with these relatively humble capabilities.
Of course, anyone running the UVS-3200 in Falcon has all of Falcon’s extraordinary facilities at beck and call – really the best of both worlds. But those running UVS-3200 in the UVI Engine will have little about which to complain.
The sampled sounds are the real star of the show here. It doesn’t take a whole lot of “tarting up” to come up with a compelling preset. Many of the sample sets readily reveal their vintage origins when listening to them soloed and unadorned. So if that vintage-sounding quality is what you’re going for, such is easily exposed. But with the addition of a second stacked sound from the other oscillator and/or the application of FX, you can easily coax a rich and deep, but not overtly vintage, sound out of the UVS-3200.
The UVS-3200 comes with a generous selection of factory presets, nicely organized into the following categories (preset count in each shown in parenthesis).
- Internal Presets (24)
- Animated (29)
- Bass (16)
- Bells (23)
- Brass (12)
- Keyboards (20)
- Lead (15)
- Pad (24)
- Polysynth (25)
- Stepped (15)
- Strings (10)
- Sweeps (9)
Is the UVS-3200 for You?
For starters let me point out that anyone who has and loves the UVI PX Apollo will most certainly want to add the UVS-3200 to their arsenal. They are both brilliant instruments that can deliver both vintage goodness and up-to-date sonic excitement. Furthermore, they complement each other superbly.
For those with limited experience with the PX Apollo, just head over to the UVS-3200 page at:
At the bottom of that page is a plentiful collection of demo tracks that reveal all the UVS-3200’s capabilities. No surprise: probably about one fourth of these tracks do some serious invocation of a Jean-Michel Jarre sensibility. If that’s the direction in which your musical aspirations tend, this one hardly requires further thought. But there is much breadth of genre possibilities with the UVS-3200, as I believe the demo tracks aptly demonstrate. Even at full list price of $79 USD, this instrument offers wonderful value.
To summarize, with the UVS-3200 we have another winner from UVI – much recommended!
Impact Soundworks’ Smart Voice Technology might be just what you need to come off as a master of pop horn orchestration (even if you’re not … but we won’t tell!).
by Alex Arsov, May 2017
I have a decent number of horn libraries, some are more detailed with more articulations, while others offer more instruments. The sound quality is indisputable, as all the big players offer top notch samples giving highly realistic results. Yes, Impact Soundworks is a big player, at least quality wise. This one shines with its so-called Smart Voicing Technology. As we all know, the main problem while working with horn libraries is not the particular sound, but the complexity of a horn ensemble arrangement. Let’s say you are not a horn expert, working on some rock song or any other genre. All you want is to add some short horn phrases to fill in the transitions between vocal phrases. You don’t want to complicate things with chords, you even have an idea how the horn section should sound, banging that basic horn melody through your keyboard. And now the fun part: arranging all the instruments so that they sound natural in the arrangement. If you don’t know much about horn arrangements, this could become mission impossible. If you have at least some basic knowledge, it is still a time consuming task.
Smart Voicing Technology
Smart Voicing Technology is a script that generates full chords from the melody you played with your right hand in a key based on the chord progression you play at the same time with your left hand. So, with those chords you are telling the script the exact key to properly harmonize the whole horn ensemble. The most interesting fact is that the Straight Ahead Jazz Horns engine even recognizes more exotic chords, not just major, minor, seventh and such like. The end result mostly depends on the ensemble you use, ranging from just Trumpet ensemble through Pop ensemble to the complete Horn ensemble. All in all there are six different ensembles. Every ensemble also has its own set of voices – for example, Pop ensemble offers Triads, Unison, Octaves and 4-Part close voices. More or less what you need to do is to choose one ensemble, set the voice, play song harmonies with your left hand along with the desired horn melody with your right. Having your MIDI clip prepared, you can experiment with different voices or even completely change ensembles. Actually, I almost spent more time learning how to install Smart Voice technology (as the files for it comes in a separate RAR file) than later recording horn melodies. This doesn’t mean that installing Smart Voice Technology is a time consuming task, it simply means that horn ensemble phrases can be recorded on the fly. All articulations available for separate instruments also work for ensembles in Smart Voice Technology multi patches. The only thing I noticed is that staccato, staccatissimo and quarter note articulations are quieter than legato and sustain. Maybe this is just me and my keyboard, but it would be nice if this could be sorted.
Instruments and Controllers
Of course, Smart Voicing is the most interesting part of the library, but far from being all this instrument/library offers. We also get thirteen solo instruments with additional articulations. Three Trumpets along with additional lead Trumpet, three Trombones again with one additional Lead Trombone, one Alt and one Alt lead saxophone, Tenor and Tenor lead saxophone along with one Baritone Saxophone. All instruments come prerecorded with two different microphone positions with separate level and pan controllers.
Additionally every instrument also has an ADSR section, dynamic and vibrato sliders along with a big array of some quite detailed and unique controllers for further tuning some legato or vibrato details, setting round-robin behavior, or just for coloring the sound (extra dynamic filter, sustain phase align, and so on). Every instrument also has an effect section with Equalizer, Compressor, Delay and Reverb effects along with articulation section where we can even apply different settings for every key-switch, even allowing us to save this setting as a preset.
Impact Soundworks has made controller heaven, but truth be told, every such library relies on overall sound quality and preprogrammed basic behavior, since these two aspects determine if the library is playable or not. If that’s not sorted, all the additional controllers wouldn’t make a difference. Thankfully, this is all taken care of in this library and I really hope I will never have to use those additional options. I’m not a horn player and those basic things are quite enough for my needs, but regarding the demo clips that are presented on Impact Soundworks’ page this library can go quite a bit deeper, recreating quite complex jazz arrangements, so I presume there will be some experts that will be thankful for all those details. (But still I must admit that I’m impressed with the number of functions hidden under various CC messages allowing us to control many details directly from a MIDI clip.)
Smart Voice Technology comes in handy for all horn enthusiasts, while all other single instruments allow horn experts to arrange everything according to their needs. No matter if you need it just for a few brass lines or for fairly complex jazz arrangements, it is more than a good solution. It comes with a decent number of versatile articulations, but I would not complain if there would be one or two more. I miss one that could fit between a Quarter and Staccato articulation (as this one is really short). I like the fact that all articulations can be freely attached to CC or key-switch or even pedal. Baritone sax and trombones have a nice rough, fat attack. Thanks to the round-robin function, faster phrases don’t sound static. All in all, for that money you get thirteen realistic sounding instruments with all the required articulations (there are libraries with more articulations at a significantly higher price, but of course, they don’t offer Smart Voice Technology). Here and there it happens that some particular harmony sounds a bit off to my ear. OK, I’m not a horn player, so this could be a mistake on my side. But no big deal, I change that particular note and everything seems fine. For $249 USD this one’s a bargain. All instruments come in 16- and 24-bit resolution with over 75,000 samples taking around 24 GB of disk space. Ensembles come with pan, level and reverb preset, so all you need to do is play them as they are. If all that is not enough, there is even an option to send harmonies made by Smart Voicing Technology to a MIDI clip, allowing you to use them with some other instrument. Quite a handy tool for spicing up any Rock, Pop, Funk or Jazzy production.
The Straight Ahead Jazz Horns instrument is not my first acquisition from Impact Soundworks. They always find a way to hook me, offering some special method to control most of their instruments, so if you visit their site checking out the info about this product, take some time to discover some of their other libraries and instruments.
More info at https://impactsoundworks.com/product/straight-ahead-jazz-horns/
Straight Ahead Jazz Horns will cost you $249 USD. It is a Kontakt-based instrument that also works with Kontakt Player.
All owners of the previous version of Straight Ahead Jazz Horns can upgrade to this version for $50 USD.