Monthly Archives: July 2017
If your need a Hi-Fi background for your nightmares, then we have a perfect solution for you: with NI’s Thrill you can scream all night long.
by Alex Arsov, July 2017
Native Instruments have made quite a unique instrument in cooperation with Galaxy Instruments. It comes as a Kontakt Player hosted instrument, or maybe we should say effect engine, offering 30 GB of intense and suspense-like sounding cinematic content that can be tweaked in many ways and controlled in real time through the X/Y virtual Pad.
Some might say it’s a one trick pony, as it only offers evolving soundscapes, textures and pads, but the truth is that Thrill does that trick so well that I’m quite sure it will soon become an invaluable tool for every pro score, media composer. Textures offer deep, somewhat morbid, wide, evolving sounds that are unpleasant-in-a-pleasant-way, being easily controlled and allowing you to be the master of puppets, building suspense just using the X/Y virtual Pad. You can make do with your mouse or even with your X/Y Pad controller on your keyboard (not that all keyboards have one, but if you are lucky … ).
Thrill come as single Kontakt instrument, with a browser integrated into the main Thrill window, where we find 500 presets compiled from 963 sources made up of orchestral strings, brasses, choir, woodwinds, synthesizers, electro circuits and various other unusual instruments that the Galaxy fellows constructed specially for this purpose. If those 500 presets are not enough for you, it is quite easy to combine elements together to achieve the desired sound. Presets already cover a wide variety of sound colors, going from Hans Zimmer thrills up to all other, more experimental and original ones, similar to those that can be heard in most Hollywood blockbusters.
Prese(n)t and Past
A preset browser is reachable by clicking on the name of the currently loaded preset. We can browse through presets by selecting different tags that help us narrow our search. All presets are divided in two main categories: Atmosphere and Clusters. We can search presets through various tags that divide sounds by dynamic, origin or character.
After choosing desired tags, loading a preset that is quite close to our wishes, it’s easy to make a new preset after changing a source or just by taming some parameters. All we need to do is to click on the name of a left or right source, as all presets are combined from two different sound sources that can be blended together with the X/Y Pad controller. The only grumble that I have is the fact that a new preset can not be saved directly to some sort of user category inside the browser. I know it is not hard to do that through the Kontakt interface directly, but I would like to see this option integrated in the main Thrill search window.
No matter which preset you choose, there won’t be much in the way of melody building elements, as most of the sounds don’t even have note pitch information, but after all, this is not an instrument in the classical sense, so you will not miss the fact that you cannot play a melody out of those thrills and, to tell you the truth, you could produce a very professional sounding intense soundtrack with no effort, ideal for any horror trailer or even the whole soundtrack for any sort of intense movie or game moments.
How It Is Done
The middle part of the interface is reserved for the X/Y Pad controller where the X axis is for morphing between two sound sources while the Y axis apply effects, atonality or dynamic changes, depending on the chosen source.
Under the X/Y Pad we find four icons for opening windows with additional controllers for both engines that are on the left and right of the central X/Y Pad.
First, the “Home” icon actually shows used sources, allowing us to change source for every engine.
Next is a “Source” icon opening a window with some basic controllers for every source – Volume, Pan, Attack Release, width, layer, X-fade and microphone position for choosing between Close, Full or Ambient. At the bottom we also find “Key split” and “Octave” options for both sources.
The Effect window brings another set of controllers for controlling a few effect parameters: Stereo, Phaser, Drive, Mutate for convolution based effects, Space for reverb and Color for adding presence.
The last one is a Master page where we can set a CC number for each axis along with an option for setting the curve for each axis, choosing between linear, hard or soft. On the left we find a basic equalizer window for taming low, mid or high parts. There are also two knobs for Saturation and two additional knobs for dynamic response.
As you can see, there is not a big array of controllers, but being such a niche oriented product I could not find anything missing. After all, it’s the quality of sources that is essential for this library and all you actually need is a good set of tools for adapting the X/Y Pad behavior to your personal needs. Less is more. I successfully tweaked a few parameters for changing the character of the chosen sound, but with such a large number of versatile presets I’m not even sure if I’ll need all those additional options. I didn’t try them all, but those that I’ve tried sounded full, compelling and very versatile. I even made few using some interesting sources, like Voices and electro circuit. The X/Y Pad works fine, changing enough of the character and giving the impression of constant movement.
Three randomly selected Thrills.
Not that you would want to use Thrill in your pop productions, but in the cinematic world this could easily become “a dream come true” sort of library. It covers one specific niche, but it proves to be the absolute best tool for that specific area, offering a wide array of creepiness and combining very interesting sounding sources where you can easily lose a few hours playing with different sources and getting quite wild results.
In short, it is easy to operate and fun to use. The only question is whether there is any need for such music in your production. If yes, than check this one out. It is absolutely horrifying in the best possible way. Thrill, in combination with any classical orchestral library, would be awesome, or at least, it could send a chill through your bones.
For €299 EUR all this fear and despair can be yours.
Here’s a versatile new iOS synth that covers lots of bases very elegantly indeed, and offers tweakers a kind of modulation heaven to boot.
by Warren Burt, July 2017
British app developers Wooji Juice have made a number of interesting synth apps over the years. (http://www.wooji-juice.com/) Their latest offering is called Mitosynth – I presume that’s as in mitochondria – and it’s a very versatile beast indeed. It’s a polyphonic, one-timbre-at-a-time synthesizer that will play electronic waveforms, or samples; either singly, or in a couple of different wave-sequencing modes. It also generates additive synthesis waveforms, and “painted” waveforms, in which you draw the wave shape for a single-cycle waveform. Or you can import your own waveforms. These can be played one at a time, or you can set up a list of waveforms (again, yours or theirs) and you can be morph between them in two different ways with a variety of controls. This is called “Blend” mode. Or, you can set up a two-dimensional matrix of up to 32 different waveforms, and then morph through those with independent control on both the X and Y axes of the matrix. This is called “Gridcore” mode.
Once you’ve set up the waveforms you want to use in this rather complex, but easy to use, oscillator (It’s called the Wave Chamber), your sound goes through an Envelope module, a Modulation module, and then up to four user-chosen effects (from a set of twelve), and then an output Reverb. The user-chosen effects can be in any order, and you can use each one more than once. If you wanted to have a chain of four chorus effects, you could have them. The first screenshot below shows the basic patching chain of the app, while the following image shows how waveforms can be selected in the Sampler mode. Following that is an image that shows the Gridcore mode in operation. In this example, the Morph mode is set to Fold (which produces some very edgy distortion – Blend produces smooth morphs between waveforms), and the moving through the 6 x 5 matrix of waveforms is here controlled by the X and Y axes in the Performance Page (more on that later). So as you play on the keyboard with one hand, you can morph between wave shapes with the other.
The sample import facility is quite simple to use, as is setting up the Wave Chamber for any kind of blending or folding (two very different transition modes) of your chosen waveforms. What makes things get very complex, and a lot of fun, is the fact that almost any of the controls (with a right pointing arrow in their middle) can be automated with a whole variety of internal controls, or externally controlled with a MIDI continuous control (CC). And this can go several levels deep. So, for example, in next screenshot, we have the Wave Chamber’s pitch being modulated with a Noise waveform. This is a very versatile random generator that can generate stepped or smooth random signals, and the randomness can have various size steps selected as the most prominent, with the degree of correlation or gliding, between the steps selected and controlled as well. The next image then takes us one level deeper. Here, the rate at which new values are chosen for the Noise is controlled, in this case, by a Sine wave, set at 0.1 Hz (10 seconds per cycle), that chooses a new Noise value in a range that is set to go from 200 ms (5 values per second) up to about 862 ms (4/5 of a second per change). And as you can see, the Minimum, Maximum and Frequency of the sine wave can also be controlled by an internal control, or by an external MIDI CC. You can go many levels deep with your control here, setting up patches that rival anything you could do with an analog, or analog-emulation synth in complexity, flexibility and control possibilities.
The set of internal controls (they’re so versatile I hesitate to call them LFOs) is wide, including a Constant (where you can type a precise value, of up to three-decimal-point precision, should you desire), Velocity, Pad (where the control pads can be assigned to values for live performance), a variety of LFO shapes (sine, square, ramp, etc.), the Noise control already described, and a Sequence control that can have up to sixteen steps, which can be set to stepped or smooth or linear, or exponential control between steps. In other words, the Sequence control can be used as a user-specified LFO shape, as well as a pitch sequence, or as a controller for whatever parameter you want to control with it. And, you can control the range the sequence controls in real time. For example, I made a patch in which the Minimum and Maximum ranges of the pitches controlled by the Sequence were controlled by one of the X-Y pads. So the range and width of the melody being produced by the Sequence control was then something I could perform, while playing the keyboard.
The Modulation module also allows various kinds of waveform modulations to occur. For example, Amplitude Modulation, Pulse Width modulation, Phase “Mangulation” (a special kind of modulation they developed for this synth), and a “Supercharger,” a kind of wave adder, which adds detuned copies of your waveform, along with a Sub-bass oscillator to produce very “fat” sounds. Again, most of the parameters of these modulations can also be controlled.
The Envelope control is a simple ADSR envelope, with a maximum 5 seconds duration on A, D and R (I want more, I want more!), and a Gain control which can, of course, be externally controlled. Simple, but effective.
After the Wave Chamber, Envelope and Modulation, then come the FX controls. There are twelve different effects (at the moment, more to come, I’m sure), divided into Distortion, Frequency (flangers and filters), and Other (Echo and Tube Resonance). Each of these has a number of parameters which can be controlled externally. The next screenshot shows a chain with a Bit Crush and an Echo in sequence. As said before, you can have up to 4 effects, and they can be multiple copies of one effect, or different effects, and they can be in any order. (For example, imagine four echo units, all with different settings, in a row. There would be a lovely chaos created that way!)
Finally, there is a Reverb unit, which has a variety of presets, as well as a very flexible Custom mode, where you can tweak your reverb settings to your heart’s content. Only the Pan control here is externally controllable, but I guess that’s because the Wooji Juice people look upon Reverb as a final kind of “set and forget” treatment, rather than a modulatable resource in its own right.
I mentioned the Performance mode earlier. This consists of four X-Y controllers, as shown in the image just below. These four controllers can have either axis set to control any control that has a right arrow in it, which is most of the controls available. So you can set up very complex control sets here. In this very simple patch, X and Y controls navigate around a matrix of 6 x 5 samples, which are then blending into each other. So this is set up as a real time timbral morphing control.
The next screenshot below shows the Library, where your patches, and the built-in patches are stored, as well as any audio used in your patches. There are separate sections for your imported samples, saved Additive and Painted waveforms, simple waveforms, and Wooji’s own selection of Built-In Audio samples. You can select any of your patches, and export them as a package via iTunes, and this package can be imported (again, via iTunes) into any other Mitosynth on any other device you have. Mitosynth is very versatile, and I have it on my iPad4, iPhone6, and even an ancient iPhone4. It works fine on all of them. I made a number of patches on the iPad, then exported them, and imported them to both iPhones. The export and import were totally painless, and the patches work identically on all 3 devices. The importing of patches is handled by the “Import Patches” control on the Settings Page. Also shown below is the Settings Page, although it’s not scrolled down far enough to see the Import Patches control.
The Settings page has controls for the kind of keyboard used – either Piano Keys or a Ribbon Controller, a Scale chooser, the kind of Sustain you want the keyboard to have, and a variety of MIDI(external MIDI keyboards work fine here, as do other MIDI generating apps on the iPad), Background Audio, and utilitarian controls. A full manual is included on the Info+Help page, which also has a link to Customer Support. So this is a very versatile and very well thought out app.
I’ve found various ways to use Mitosynth in the short time that I’ve had it. For example, I made a series of short samples of identical timbre detuned to the pitches of the 19 tone equal tempered scale. I then deposited these pitch/samples into the Grid Core Wave Chamber. These are then randomly selected with Noise controls on the X and Y axis morph controls of the Grid Core. Some of the samples, in addition to the pitch waveforms, were samples of me running my fingers over the tines of a comb. These provided a kind of “percussive” effect in the middle of all the microtonally detuned pitches. Then, when I play a chord (tuned in twelve-tone tuning of course), you get the microtonally detuned pitches transposed onto the steps of 12-tone equal temperament, making an extremely complex pitch and timbral field. The possibilities of Mitosynth are vast, and they will only become apparent by exploring it patiently, module by module.
Mitosynth integrates seamlessly into other environments. It’s worked flawlessly in both Audiobus2 and Audiobus3 for me, and it also has IAA capabilities. My wish-list for it is very small. I, of course, would like the ability to load Scala files to retune the keyboard, and I wish the Pitch Offset for each waveform in the Grid Core Wave Chamber could be set in both cents and semitones, instead of just semitones as it is at the moment. And as I said before, longer durations for the A, D, and R in the Envelope module would be welcome. Aside from those, however, I think this is just about as versatile and perfect a synthesizer as one could wish for. The tradition of clever British synthesizer design that began with Zinoviev, Cary and Cockrell’s VCS3 in the 1960s lives on today in the Wooji Juice crew. Buy this app. You’ll find hours of fun, and a variety of lovely and complex sound making possibilities in it.
http://www.wooji-juice.com/ On the App Store, $14.99 USD
A while ago a new term appeared: Loudness Units. The new standard of measuring audio levels in LUFS meant that we had to adopt and change our measuring tools. Here’s how.
by Luka Sraka, July 2017
This months Home Studio Practitioner topic was inspired by the Freebie of the Month article in this same issue in which I reviewed the Youlean Loudness Meter. We have always used some kind of audio level meters in audio production. From traditional VU meters that are still seen on traditional mixing desks and outboard gear, to RMS and peak meters that we know from our DAW. A while ago a new term appeared: Loudness Units. The new standard of measuring audio levels in LUFS meant that we had to adopt and change our measuring tools.
In short, the new standards that measure audio levels in loudness units or LUFS instead RMS were developed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) with the goal of providing a consistent way of measuring loudness and provide guidelines especially for broadcasting. These guidelines have now become law in the US and elsewhere.
The problem with the older measuring standard using RMS was that the perceived loudness of two audio signals that have the same RMS could be different. The new industry standards that are now adopted pretty much everywhere were developed basically to stop advertisements from being much louder in between the programs on radio or television. But let’s start with the old standards.
Before the age of digital audio production VU meters were used to meter audio signals. They can still be found on traditional mixing desks, outboard equipment or on your parent’s old radio. VU stands for Volume Unit and the proper name for a VU meter is SVI (Standard Volume Indicator). It was standardized in 1942 by the Acoustical Society of America for the use in telephone installation and broadcast. 0 VU is often referred to as 0 dB in the early days of digital audio.
A commonly used way of determining the level of audio has been to measure sample-peak level. Measuring peak level is somewhat misleading. Trying to be louder and louder forced producers and mix engineers to heavily compress, limit and maximize audio resulting in inconsistent audio in terms of loudness. True peak and RMS measuring were adopted later which was much better. RMS is short for Root Mean Square and to put it into simple terms it means the average signal. RMS measuring is very representative of the perceived loudness of audio signals and was and still is very popular.
The Loudness Units relative to Full Scale or LUFS was standardised in March 2011. The term Loudness, K-weighted, relative to Full Scale or LKFS term is also used. LUFS or LKFS metering is even better than RMS metering. The LUFS metering is a combination of Perceived loudness and the true peak level measuring. Hence we have a number of international broadcast standards. One unit of LUFS/LKFS is equal to 1 dB. The target levels are specified in various broadcast standards, but only vary slightly. For example, ATSC A/85 standard recommends a target of -24 and uses the LKFS term and the EBU R128 (one most commonly used for music production) standard sets the target level at -23 and uses the LUFS term. The differences are there because of different ways the standards work. The EBU R128 uses a gate that stops measuring when audio signal drops below a certain number. Because of this gate the measurement becomes much more cross-genre friendly allowing, for example, classical music to be as loud as pop music. If measured without gate, most measurements are equivalent to -24 LKFS/LUFS.
Audio deserves to be reproduced respectfully. With the new measuring and standards production, post-production and broadcast professionals now have a valuable and efficient set of tools in the so called loudness war.
Till next time!
This month we will look at an excellent free plug-in, the winner of the 2016 KVR Developers’ Challenge, the Youlean Loudness Meter
by Luka Sraka, July 2017
Youlean Loudness Meter is does exactly what it says on the box. It is a loudness meter. We have always used some kind of audio level meters in audio production. From traditional VU meters that are still seen on traditional mixing desks and outboard gear, to RMS and peak meters that we know from our DAW. A while ago a new term appeared: Loudness Units. The new standard of measuring audio levels in LUFS meant that we had to adopt and change our measuring tools. Enter the Youlean Loudness Meter.
In short, the new standards that measure audio levels in loudness units or LUFS instead RMS were developed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) with the goal of providing a consistent way of measuring loudness and give guidelines especially for broadcasting. These guidelines have now become law in the US and elsewhere. More on LUFS and why did we need yet another way of measuring audio can be found in Home Studio Practitioner in this same issue.
Loudness metering has been introduced in current DAWs with measuring tools or plugins, but I find most of those meters a bit overwhelming. The meter that is native to Logic X, for example, combines loudness, RMS and Peak meters, plus a correlation meter, Analyser and a Goniometer, all in a relatively small GUI. Granted it is advanced and versatile but it’s not very useful if you want to have a detailed view of what is going on with the loudness. The Youlean Loudness Meter on the other hand is a dedicated loudness meter, simple at first glance, but advanced under the hood. And best of all, its free!
The loudness meter from Youlean features international standards compliance (ITU-R BS.1770-4, EBU R128, EBU R128 S1, ATSC A/85, OP-59, ARIB TR-B32, AGCOM 219/09/CSP), a well laid out resizable interface, histogram and distribution display, multichannel support (Mono, Stereo, 5.1 DTS, 5.1 ITU, 5.1 Film) and smart loudness memory which saves all data with the DAW session and recalls it after you reload the session, speeding up your workflow.
The interface is nicely laid out. At the left there is the main meter that shows momentary loudness. Clicking on the stereo button underneath it enables you to change the channel configuration. Right besides the main meter there are some nice and big meters that show you the short term loudness, the integrated loudness and loudness range readouts. Underneath there is the Hold Max portion, which shows read outs of maximum values of momentary, short term and true peak. The numbers are displayed in white, when exceeding the true peak value over the threshold set in settings, the color changes to red. It basically works the same as any true peak meter in your DAW. Clicking on the value resets the parameters. There are three transport controls just under the true peak meter. The A (auto) button, which if activated, resets the measurements after host starts playing or if you jump to the play position in playlist. The Play/Pause button starts or pauses the measurement of integrated loudness and loudness range simultaneously. Finally there’s the X button which resets all the measurements instantaneously. Below the transport section the loudness standard upon which you are operating is displayed. Clicking on the display lets you change from the different aforementioned standards.
The right hand side of the interface is the histogram side. Here you can observe what is happening to your loudness over time. The histogram is customizable to a degree. You can choose between three different histogram modes. Elapsed mode records the loudness at the audio input, scrolling the input to the left as it is received. In Time Code mode loudness data is stored against time-code position. This mode enables the loudness overdub mode. The last mode is the System Time. When in this mode, the time scale will scroll along with the history inspector view to allow events to be correlated with the system clock. The rest of the histogram is self explanatory. Clicking on the wheel above the histogram opens the settings interface where you can adjust the histogram range, true peak threshold relative or non relative scale, etc.
The Youlean Loudness Meter is an easy to use but powerful tool. Compared to generic loudness meters provided in DAW the Youlean is much easier to operate. When trying it next to the different software or plugin meters (free, provided by DAW or paid for) the Youlean showed the same readings as the most expensive one did. This made it this month’s freebie of the month. Download it, put it on your DAW master bus and leave it there permanently!
Ginno looks at ten sound libraries from SamplesFromMars, Loopmasters, Xils-Lab, and other fine audio purveyors.
by Ginno Legaspi, July 2017
Samples From Mars – VP-330 from Mars
With this huge collection of instrument samples (3.6 GB space required), Samples From Mars has done it again with this vintage-sounding release. As the title suggests, this sample pack feature the Roland VP330 vocoder – a string instrument from the 1970’s. VP-330 From Mars includes 57 multi-sampled instruments for software samplers such as Kontakt. It also includes 50 wild, melodic and percussive loops that were run through the SVC-350 (rack version of the VP330). Although there are some really great vocoder loops, this pack offers some excellent dark pads, otherworldly FX and modern robotic sounds that were processed through hardware FX units such as Eventide H3000, RE-201 Space Echo, etc. As I’ve come to expect from Samples From Mars, the quality of this sample pack is excellent – thanks to its 24-bit sample rate and the use of discrete Class A gear. Bottom line: Samples From Mars has done it again and delivered a fine set of samples for users involved with modern productions.
WAV, Kontakt, EXS24, REX2, Ableton Live
Loopmasters – Nu Wave & Disco
This offering from Loopmasters features over 1 GB of loops, hits, sampler patches and more. It is created by Fernando Pulichino who is a producer, DJ and musician. There are synth, bass, top, kick and snare, guitar, drum, perc and keyboard loops, with tempos ranging from 98 to 126 BPM. Over 250 one-shot samples are included with bass, drums, synths and FX – each with their own “Fernando flair” added. Along with the loops and one-shots, there are eleven multi-sampled instruments (included so you can play the parts as they were originally intended), nineteen MIDI files to transpose, edit and transform your music immediately. A good set of 75 sampler patches and 264 REX2 Loops are also included to bring you an ever greater collection of sonic diversity. Nu Wave & Disco is a massive library when it comes to its content and it’s clear that Loopmasters wants customers to get their money’s worth by packing in plenty of materials. Not only that, this is one great library that can help stir your creativity, the modern disco and new-wave sounds are authentic. Thumbs up.
WAV, Apple Loops, ReFill, Ableton Live
Xils-Lab – Analog Bag Vol. 1 & 2
Xils-Lab’s PolyKB III is one monster virtual analog software synthesizer. It has its own character, undeniable warmth and a distinct sound like no other synth. Like many commercial software synthesizers on the market, PolyKB III comes with plenty of stock presets. Analog Bag 1 & 2 aims to expand PolyKB’s factory sound library with quality sounds. But most importantly these might give you inspiration to your next track. Analog Bag 1 offers 128 presets made by sound designers Julian Ray, Kire, Luftrum and Tzadi, and Analog Bag 2 offers more than 160 presets made by Peter Schelfhout and Lotuzia. Both banks include sound categories such as keys, basses, leads, pads, atmos, arps, percussions, plucks as well as the usual subcategories such as brass, strings, electric pianos and organs, clavinet & stabs. I auditioned both banks in my home studio and went through the presets. There are some that are excellent and others I would call ‘backburners’ or ‘in case if I need it’ type of patches. But overall, we have a good variety of presets. I’ll put the ones that I like on the spotlight:
For Analog Bag Vol. 1, here are the patches that stand out:
- ARP Hotel Room – A moving, fast pace arp sound
- BE Bells 04 – Sinister bell sound, good for film scoring
- BE Clock Tower – Another sinister bell patch for scoring
- FX Mars Blizzard – Inspiring 50’s sci-fi sound
- KY Ballad Piano – Could be used for power ballads
- KY Sentimentale – Reminds me of digital EP from the 80’s
- LD 90s Lead – Good for 90’s trance
- LD Jupiter Detune Moon – A monster lead sound of yesteryear
- PA Ocean Pad – Pad with sense of calmness
- PA Sea Pad 02 – Great for ambient bed
- SQ Poly Arp – Good patch for instant ‘Stranger Things’ sequence
For Analog Bag Vol. 2, here are the patches that I liked the most:
- ARP Fat High – Inspiring arp patch for dance
- BA PWM Bass – Fat PWM patch
- BA Human League2 – Reminds me of Human League’s bass on “Don’t You Want Me”
- FX Engine E – Cool, unique FX
- KY 80s Epic Rock – Vintage keyboard patch
- KY PPG Keys – Bright digital sounding patch
- LD Juno Lead – Fat ripping lead
- PA Arctic Pads – Warm and lush pad
- PA Iceberg – Airy, heavenly and thick pad
- SY Depeche Synth – Nice 80’s vibe
Overall, these cutting-edge sound banks are pretty unique and inspiring. From film scoring to the most up-to-date EDM styles, Analog Bag 1 & 2 is suitable for any genre of music. And with each patch programmed with real-time controls, mod and pitch wheel assignments, you’ll love the expressiveness it brings. Highly recommended.
Full version of PolyKB II, III, Player synthesizer
€17.00 EUR for Vol. 1
€21.00 EUR for Vol. 2
Freaky Loops – Heavy Dubstep
This dubstep sample library from freaky Loops is a selection of dubstep loops running at 150 BPM. The quality of this 1.61 GB library is good and the samples are spot-on for its intended purpose – that is, to provide every producer a variety of dubstep and wobble-inspired loops, one-shots and drum hits. Additionally, six construction kits (includes six full mix and 30 stems) are included you get you started in your compositional adventures. Heavy Dubstep is perfect for dubstep, drumstep, drum and bass, neurofunk, techstep, future bass, breakbeat, glitch-hop, EDM and electro genre. It includes synths, beats, bass, rhythmic chords, drums, FX and more. Most of loops have that heavy, in-your-face feel, making it appropriate for anyone producing heavy electronic music. My favorites are the basses because they are absolutely cone-shattering, and the synth loops are a delight to use.
Reveal Sounds – Spire Trance Essentials Bundle 2 in 1
In our last issue, I reviewed Into the Deep Vol. 1 & 2 from Reveal Sound and gave both sound banks thumbs up for their excellent quality. Both banks include plenty of useable patches that were professionally made. For this issue I have yet another sound bank for the Spire software synthesizer. This bundle sound bank is comprised of Trance Essentials Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 packed into one big bundle. Volume 1 includes 100 Spire & ReSpire presets plus 8 construction kits (also compatible with the Reason 9.5 format) along with MIDI files and WAV files that were recorded in 44.1 kHz/24bit format. Volume 2 includes 112 Spire & ReSpire presets plus 5 construction kits (also Reason 9.5 compatible) along with MIDI and WAV files. These banks serve as a tool for DJs, electronic musician, desktop producers and trance artists wanting to expand their Spire preset list. They are equally as impressive and the patches are very useable within the trance/dance context. I explored the both sound banks by auditioning them using my studio headphones. I find that the patches were carefully crafted and tweaked to showcase Spire’s features and capability. What’s nice is that you’ll get a varied selection of patches. No basses sound the same, for example, as well as the lead sounds.
Overall, both sound banks/sound packs are great. If you’re looking to expand Spire’s presets with a more specialized uplifting trance sounds, you can’t go wrong with these. Thumbs up.
Full version of Spire v1.1.12
Samples From Mars – CR-78 From Mars
CR-78 from Samples From Mars is a 244 MB sample library comprised of drum hits and drum patterns. Samples From Mars sampled two CR-78, one clean sounding and the other tuned lower – for a variety of unique sounds. The first CR-78 was processed though tube DI and recorded to tape and was added distortion a vintage 60s Ace Tone Mixer. The second CR-78 was tracked through an SSL console – applied with EQ, compression, etc., went straight to tape and the samples were re-pitched for that unique deeper sound. All in all, you’ll get 165 single shots and 51 drum patterns in clean and processed versions. In addition to the samples, there are 34 Ableton and MIDI Groove files from the preset patterns. Sound-wise, the samples sound clear, especially the distorted ones they have plenty of “bite” on them. Although they sound very 80s to my ears, these would fit perfectly on “glitch electronica” productions. I love how Samples From Mars sampled this one-of-a-kind Roland instrument to make it relevant in today’s modern productions.
WAV, Ableton Live
Cinetools – Otherworld
In the previous issue of Soundbytes Magazine, I reviewed Disturbia from Cinetools and was much impressed by its content. Otherworld fills the gap in Cinetools’ already impressive FX library lineup, offering modern cinematic sounds. As the name suggests, Otherworld is a 750-plus cutting-edge cinematic sci-fi sound effect library geared for use in trailer, game, TV and film music. It can also be used to create experimental, ambient and electronic music. It covers a wide range of scoring elements such as cinematic hits, huge impacts and slams, whooshes, pass-bys, rises, sweeps, sequences, drones, ambiences, textures, pads, morphing layers, stingers, drastic synth lines, glitches and stutters and raw source sounds and field recordings. If that long list of sounds does not get you inspired, what will? With more than 5 GB of 24 bit/96kHz high quality samples, there is plenty of material to inject in your productions. The use of boutique hardware units, synthesizer modules, hybrid soft synths, high-end manipulation tools and applying unconventional production techniques make this collection sound fresh and very polished with good fidelity. Bottom line: Otherwold is a sophisticated collection of sonic palette.
Xils-Lab – Analog Ville
Last but not the least for this month’s Sound Investments column is a sound set from Xils-Lab. It’s an expansion preset bank for the PolyKB II, PolyKB III and PolyKB Player synthesizers called Analog Ville, and it’s made by sound designer Lotuzia. This sound bank includes more than 230 presets and covers all areas, including classic & vintage sounds. However, there are also modern sounding patches that would fit in today’s productions. A lot of the presets make use of the “Per Voice” modulation engines to achieve a warm, full-bodied sound. And when 3D positioning is applied, the presets become alive and organic-sounding. Analog Ville is a good way to expand PolyKB’s already long preset list.
When I auditioned Analog Ville, I came across with plenty of good presets. Some are very inspiring and would be good song starters – especially the arpeggiated ones. But these are some that caught my ears:
- ARP EMotional – Good arp preset for driving a dance track
- BA Analog CBass – A growling bass patch with heavy lowend
- LD Sliding – A synth lead excellent for trance
- PA Alpha Centauri – It reminds me of late 70’s space music, especially Tangerine Dream
- ST Italo Strings – An excellent string patch for 80’s Italo dance
- ST String Machine V – Very warm and bright preset that would cut through a mix
There are also quite good selections of FX, analog brass and pluck sounds on hand. If you’re a trance producer, you’ll love the selection of synth leads (LD) available.
For the preset junkie or tweaker, you can’t go wrong with Analog Ville as it gives you over 200 presets for your enjoyment. There’s nothing wrong with having a boatload of presets at your disposal. It is always good to have something that is ready to call up. With this sound bank, I think plenty of producers/musicians/synthesists will love its usability.
Full version of PolyKB II, III and Player software synthesizer
€ 29.00 EUR
Connect with Ginno @ www.facebook.com/ginnolegaspi
Virtual Tape Machines is one of the easiest ways to make your mix sound big and up-front, with usability features that let you work quickly.
by Per Lichtman, July 2017
Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines (currently available for $149 USD or $169 USD when bundled with an iLok 2) is a plug-in for mixing and mastering that works extremely well to quickly change the character of your sound with various forms of Studer tape emulations. The plug-in works across a wide variety of platforms, with the main requirement being having an iLok 2 (or the newer iLok 3). Of course, if you rent the company’s Everything Bundle (which includes timed licenses for all the Slate plug-ins, including newly released ones, for $14.99 to $24.99 USD per month) you get an iLok 2 or iLok 3 for free. The biggest selling points for Slate plug-ins are the character of the sound, ease of use, productivity features, and graphical user interfaces … so I that pretty much means it’s time to talk about everything.
Starting with the Tape
Virtual Tape Machines does a lot of things really right, straight out of the gate. For starters, the graphical user interface is configurable, so that those that enjoy seeing reel-to-reel tape go by at different speeds can leave the plug-in an “expanded” state while those (like me) that are trying to save CPU and screen real estate can collapse the GUI to only include the controls. It’s just one example of the way that the user interface is tailored to try to accommodate different ways of working and preferences. We’ll come back to that in a minute, but let’s take a look at exactly what’s on offer.
The plug-in emulates two different Studer reel-to-reel tape decks, going between them with the flick of a switch: the Studer A827 16-track 2-inch multi-channel tape recorder and the Studer A80 2-track ½-inch mastering deck. Options are given to run each at 15-inches-per-second (which among other things has a more pronounced roll-off of the high-end that makes it the first setting I normally try) and the more transparent 30-inches-per-second (which has a wider dynamic range, somewhat less pronounced bass and preserves more high frequencies, among other things). Two types of tape stock are emulated: Ampex 456 (labeled FG456 and the darker of the two) and Quantegy GP9 (labeled FG9 and the brighter of two tape stocks).There are three choices for the tape bias (low, normal and high) with the most transparent sound at “normal”, a little more receded high end at “high” and the most obvious saturation at “low”. There are input and output knobs (which can be operated independently or linked to move opposite each other), making it easy to increase saturation by increasing the input or get a more transparent sound by decreasing it. After that the output knob can be used to set the output level as desired without affecting the saturation and tape compression characteristics. The plug-in did a great job of handling signals at a variety of levels, so I was able to throw it into the midst of sessions that weren’t setup for traditional gain-staging without running into any problems – something that often is not the case with other coloration plug-ins.
If you want to start off by getting a sense of the extremes for each machine, I’d suggest creating the following presets.
- Brightest 2-inch Mixing Sound: normal bias, 30 inches per second, FG9 tape, 2” 16 track machine type.
- Darkest 2-inch Mixing Sound: low bias, 15 inches per second, FG456 tape, 2” 16 track machine type.
- Brightest ½ -inch Mastering Sound: normal bias, 30 inches per second, FG9 tape, ½ ” 2 track machine type.
- Darkest ½ -inch Mastering Sound: low bias, 15 inches per second, FG456 tape, ½ ” 2 track machine type.
Since I didn’t have Studer decks on hand to compare during my review, my primary concern in the review was the sonic effect of using the plug-in as opposed to an objective evaluation of the accuracy. Nonetheless, I will mention that in some instances I did use it to help mix new “in the box” recordings together with material a band had originally tracked on Studer tape machines, and was pleased that it did indeed help me to quickly get the new sounds to gel better with the old ones.
One of my favorite features, by far, is the “Group” option where different plug-in instances can be assigned to the same group so that modifying the settings for one instance carries the changes to all the others in a group. Each plug-in instance can be assigned to one of the eight groups, or left ungrouped. Grouping can be helpful when you are putting a tape plug-in on different string sections (or different vocalists), for instance, and want to hear how changing the tape type from FG456 to FG9 or the tape speed from 15 ips to 30 ips affects each track at once.
The plug-in was stable throughout my testing and worked well across a wide variety of material. I found it was at its best when I wanted to make sounds a little thicker, or add more glue – or to bring sounds a little more up-front. It worked great for phattening up drums or bass tracks, as well as vocals or to help distant or thinner acoustic recordings to feel a little more immediate and steady. For genres like pop, rock, metal or the more up-front styles of EDM, the plug-in can help to quickly achieve a more immediate and/or radio-friendly sound. I found I got the best results by finding just how far I could push the sound before the saturation tweaked my ear, and then backing it off to taste. This is part of the reason why the plug-ins ability to model the tape compression effect on dynamics (which is quite level dependent) and its ability to handle input levels (both quieter and louder) than a real tape machines would do well with is especially helpful. You don’t have to think like an engineer in the gain staging, just back off the input when the coloration gets too strong (or choose more neutral tape settings).
Those looking to get in and more finely tune the settings can simply hit the “Settings” button in the upper left to open up three panes of tweaking menus. On the left are two level sliders (for settings noise reduction and bass alignment level in decibels) and a percentage slider (for settings the amount of wow and flutter). In the central pane are the calibration levels, which allow you to affect the absolute (or relative) levels of each group. In the right pane are the “VU Ballistics” which control the rate at which the meters respond to the incoming material, a setting to engage or disengage hiss automation and a finally a toggle for the default group for any new plug-in instance. Honestly, I didn’t find myself tweaking any of these during normal operation but it does help the plug-in to cater to users looking for something different.
The Tape Competition
When it comes to competing tape plug-ins, I’ve probably used CDSoundmaster Nebula libraries on more tracks than any other. The company uses a “three stage” approach with a different product for each stage. The first two stages come from CDSoundmaster’s Nebula libraries using V.V.K.T. sampling (also available as standalone plug-ins). The first stage is “R2R – The Essential Tape Collection” capture the tonal response of a variety of different tape decks, including Studer A800 and A820. The second stage is “Tape Booster Plus” was designed to handle the harmonic effects of tape saturation, without specific reference to any particular tape deck. The third stage is “VTM-M2 – The Vintage Tape Machine” and uses normal native DSP code instead of Nebula sampling to handle tape compression characteristics and more. There are pros and cons to this modular approach when compared to Slate Digital’s Virtual Tape Machines. CDSoundmaster’s offering is more expensive, introduces more latency (up to eleven times more) and takes longer to process or setup – especially since it is much more sensitive to gain staging and should not be “driven hard”. For these reasons, Slate Digital’s Virtual Tape Machines is better both for beginners and for those on tight deadlines than CDSoundmaster’s offering. Slate Digital widens the gap on these counts greatly with its Group features – especially since for CDSoundmaster you’d have to change settings up to three plug-ins for every sound to audition the results for a whole group. On the other hand, more advanced users (or those working without such tight time constraints) will find that CDSoundmaster’s tape offerings bring something very different to the table from Slate Digital’s.
My favorite thing about the CDSoundmaster approach was how well it could capture a grainy and feathered sound. When I wanted to get a aggresive sound, I’d generally opt for Slate Digital’s VTM, but when I wanted a tape sound that was more relaxing or dreamlike, I opted for CDSoundmaster’s offering. Both are great offerings for their respective applications.
For UAD users, Universal Audio sells both Studer and Ampex tape emulation options. For those looking to avoid using either a DSP card or a dongle, Waves sells several tape plug-ins. However, since I haven’t spent time with any of those suites, I cannot offer a comparison.
Is It Right For You?
Slate Digital’s Virtual Tape Machines is great for quickly reigning in your mix or bringing it more up-front. It’s quick and easy to use that lets you get good results quickly, but offers many permutations if you want to experiment. For users that have (or are ready to get) an iLok2 or iLok3, it’s a great mixing and mastering tool that can add some heft to your tracks. The plug-in practically brims with energy. I find it makes putting together rock and pop mixes in the box much faster and easier. Users looking primarily to use tape to “take off the edge” of digital recordings or to use the tape primarily for a dreamier sound may want to look elsewhere.
The newest entry in Strezov Sampling’s Next Generation Choir series features the exotic sound of twenty women’s voices performing lower-range Bulgarian singing.
by Per Lichtman, July 2017
Rhodope 2 Ethnic Bulgarian Choir (available from Strezov Sampling for $329 USD) for the full version of Kontakt Player 5 (actually 18.104.22.16833, to be specific) or later, joins Freyja, Wotan and Árva as the newest member of Strezov’s Next Generation Choir Series. It’s an entirely new library, featuring none of the same recordings as Rhodope 1, which, among other things, used a different sampling approach and a choir half the size. The all-new recordings are performed by Cosmic Voices, a single section twenty woman choir conducted by Vanya Moneva that spans the same two-octave range as the altos in Freyja (E an octave below middle C to E an octave above middle C) for the legato and syllabuilder patches. The performances, vowels and syllables differ from the other members of the Next Generation Choir Series, but the interface remains the same – including support for the same Syllabuilder 3 presets. For more on that, see our review of Strezov’s choral bundle in this issue here. Notably, the Rhodope 2 Ethnic Bulgarian Choir has the most comprehensive list of patch types for an ensemble in the series: multiple interval legato types, clusters and FX and syllabuilder (with both whispers and shouts). Each of these patch types is found in at least one of the other Strezov choir libraries (and Arva uniquely features soloists) but none of the others contain all of the above. Of course the real question for many people will be “what does an ethnic Bulgarian choir sound like”?
My Own Journey to the Ethnic Bulgarian Choral Sound
The first time I remember hearing the distinctive sound of Bulgarian throat singing was when Yasunori Mitsuda featured “The Great Voices of Bulgaria” (more specifically, their mixed choir) in his original score for the 1998 game Xenogears. It honestly sounded like no choir I’d heard before, and the most distinctive parts for me were the women voices, particularly the difference in the vowels and the style of note transitions. It struck me as extremely passionate, yet ethereal and otherworldly, drawing my attention to harmonic structures I rarely heard in classical choral literature. A few years later in 2002 I would learn a little bit more about the performance techniques as some of my friends studied Bulgarian throat singing with Kate Conklin at the California State Summer School for the Arts, and yet the sound remained no less magical to me. So when I sat down to review Rhodope 2, a choir sampled in the same hall by the same team as Freyja (a more traditional and western sounding women’s chorus) I was especially curious to hear just how subtle or great the differences would be.
What’s Included and How Different It Sounds
When placed next to the altos in Strezov’s own Freyja, the interface feels completely familiar – just about all the functionality you’re used to is here. Nonetheless, there are a few organizational differences that pop out right away. First off, there’s the patch list: Ah legato; Eh legato; syllabuilder; clusters and FX; whispers and shouts. The legato and syllabuilder patches all cover the same sampled range (E below middle C to E an octave above middle C). Let’s compare that to the altos in Freyja, where there’s also a syllabuilder patch (though it uses different sounds), the whispers are only available in a combined context (with altos and sopranos combined) and the legato patches use the Ah and Mm sounds, with normal and slow sampled intervals for each (and patch that crossfades between the two). Since the syllables in the syllabuilder are different in each library the most direct comparison can be made using their respective Ah legatos.
Setting aside the differences in ensemble size (there are twice as many altos in Rhodope 2 as Freyja), the “ah” sound itself in each library is actually a different vowel. In Freyja the vowel is more akin to the rounded “a” sound in the word “all” – in Rhodope 2 the mouth opens wider and the sound more, sounding a bit more like the “a” in the word “action”. The differences get more pronounced as you start to fade between the dynamic layers. Where Freyja covers three highly lyrical (and easy to blend) dynamics from a quiet pianissimo to a loud (but never edgy) forte, Rhodope 2 starts off at a mezzo-forte and blends upward into an intense fortissimo “shake” singing layer unlike any other library I’ve ever used (including Voices of the Apocalypse). For dynamic range reference, with the default mic settings (but with reverb disabled) middle C in Rhodope 2 covered -16 dBFS at the lowest modwheel position to -10.3 dBFS at the max. By comparison, Freyja skewed heavily toward the quieter dynamics, going from -28.2 dBFS to -18.4 dBFS. Since Strezov Sampling has been very vocal about emphasizing maintaining the original dynamics in their recordings, this difference can be attributed to the sound captured in the microphones, as opposed to any post processing.
Pressing onward, the syllabuilder offers a very different collection of sounds from Freyja: tul, day, tip, lor, han, mir, ket, yon, zey and yul. The resulting phrases you can build sound entirely different from those in Strezov’s other libraries: haunting at lower dynamics and bursting with passion at the top of the range. I found myself completely unable to approximate the sound with more western sounding choral libraries.
There are notoriously few choral libraries catering to the Bulgarian choral tradition and I have yet to get hands-on time with any of them, so I’ll address this on a conceptual level. The most direct competition comes from Impact Soundworks Vocalisa Slavic Women’s Choir. Vocalisa breaks the women’s choir into sopranos, mezzos, altos, soloist and full choir. The sounds sampled are “eh”, “mah”, “yah”, “ree”, “shteh”, “svah” and “oh” along with mordents, turns, clusters, FX and breaths. You’ll notice that these differ greatly from the sounds in Rhodope 2 (though there’s a small overlap) and unlike Rhodope 2, there are no interval legato samples. From the audio demos in the walkthroughs it’s clear that Vocalisa’s recordings have a much drier studio sound than those in Rhodope 2. In other words, I would imagine that anyone really passionate about a multi-sampled Bulgarian women’s chorus would want to own both as there is little overlap between the two. Those looking for more loop-based products or purely for soloists have more options, like “Orpheus” from AudioGrocery.com’s Bulgarian Vox Trilogy.
Is It Right For You?
If you’re looking for a large women’s chorus that sounds unlike any western one, with a great hall sound, Rhodope 2 is the first one I’d check out. The interval legato samples are great, the differences in performance style are preserved and the textures are quite unique. In addition, the “ah” or “eh” sound can be mixed in with more western choirs to make the sound a little bigger and more intense at dramatic moments. Whether you’re adding Rhodope 2 to your existing collection of Strezov Sampling choirs or buying it on its own, the library has a great sound, is easy to use and comes highly recommended.
Oceania Choir is a very easy-to-use choir library. All you need to do is to load it into Kontakt and play. The rest is done by developer.
by Alex Arsov, July 2017
This Kontakt-based library is living proof of how sound libraries have become better and better over the last few years. Offering ultra-realistic sound has become the standard. It isn’t easy to distinguish new libraries from live, real instruments, and so there comes a time when developers should offer something more – better programming or even a more user-friendly playing experience. Jasper Blunk is not a newcomer, as he has produced some custom-made libraries in the past that were used in many well-known Hollywood movies. I didn’t know anything about Performance Samples, and Oceania Choir came out of nowhere, offering a real “no programming” composing experience for recreating those dramatic sounding Latin sentences, compiled from various Latin sounding syllables, ideal for epic and dramatic cinematic trailers and movie scores.
There are a few similar libraries on the market, but this one uniquely joins legato and staccato patches into one good sounding patch where legato or staccato will be automatically recognized as you play, without the need to switch between them with key-switches. I’m not sure how this was done, I presume the vowel in the middle of a syllable is looped automatically until the key is released. I’m just guessing, so Jasper, correct me if I’m wrong. One way or another, it works perfectly. Every new note brings another carefully chosen syllable – a syllable that can also be chosen through a key-switch. But I didn’t find that necessary, as those ten syllables really fit perfectly together, making the whole Latin sounding phrase sound very natural. (I presume it sounds quite illogical to any Latin speaking university professor, but thankfully, they are not our target listeners.)
I heard people complaining on some forums that offering just ten syllables can make this library sound repetitive, but the truth is that you rarely choose much more than ten syllables in other similar libraries. Not to mention that I haven’t heard any score till now using those Latin phrases for a long period of time during the composition. They are always used for some dramatic peaks lasting maximally 30 seconds, and I didn’t get a repetitive feeling while playing with Oceania. Usually you don’t need much to notice if some virtual instrument sounds repetitive or not, so at least to my ears this one passes the test.
There is only a short manual on the Performance Samples site, and honestly, I would be grateful for a regular PDF file with this library. Thankfully though, there are a few video tutorials showing in more detail how to find your way through the various options.
In The Pack
The whole library took a bit more than 2 GB of disk space with four Choir patches along with one octave doubling multi patch. This one loads Male and Female main patches that work perfectly together bringing to life all those Latin sounding syllables. Along with those two we also get a Man Shouts patch that has four groups of various shouts ranked over four different octaves. Octave goes from quiet up to the very loud shouts. Man Raisers is the fourth patch bringing exactly what is suggested in its name.
All four patches use a common set of controllers. We have an option to choose between two basic different microphone positions, Close or Far. You can also set any of those microphone positions to mono or stereo, along with setting a levels and even an option to select different outputs for every microphone position. The general interface is quite interesting, looking so minimalistic and almost old fashioned, but still offering most of the things you need.
Male and Female choirs offer some additional controllers, like a small window where we can change CC value for Dynamic (being set to Mod-wheel as default). There is also a Flatten Dynamic button for taming the volume differences between low and high notes, setting them to a similar level, as it usually happens that low notes are sung at a lower level than high ones.
Then we get another small window for setting Key-switch Root note, quite useful if you don’t use a big keyboard. There is also a drop-down menu for controlling if syllables should end with or without an “S”. I found that the Force S option can come in handy for some accent short notes to make more dramatic sounding breaks or any other non standard parts. Along with Force-S and Force non-S options are also Manual Velocity or Manual Sus Pedal options. The first one will add “S” at high velocities while the second one will add “S” syllables using the sustain pedal. Inside this drop-down menu we can also find Random, Suggested 1 and 2 options. Suggested 1 comes as default and works great in many cases.
At the bottom of the main graphical interface is another drop down menu with 8vb, 8va and Normal positions. It actually changes the position of a patch on a keyboard putting the whole choir range octave upper or lower. I presume this could come in handy when combining Male and Female choirs, choosing the octave differences between both patches without changing octave through the MIDI pitch option from the track info settings on the MIDI track inside your DAW.
With the pitch-wheel we can control release times, making staccato notes closer to staccatissimo by pulling the wheel down. Also, by holding any key-switch note we can play this syllable over and over.
As previously stated, the GUI looks quite simple and old fashioned, but it offers quite a lot through a few functions. Dear Jasper, congrats on your clever programming and excellent use of standard keyboard controllers. As mentioned, it would help to have a proper manual, not being an Indiana Jones and good at finding some of those functions, and also hiring a good art designer can make a big difference.
This is a very dramatic, in-your-face Choir library, but after all, almost no one is looking for gently singing Latin choirs nowadays, at least not in the cinematic genre – so this comes as a bonus. The main sound is full, wide and very natural and realistic.
So far, this is the only Latin syllable based choir that I know of offering such an easy-to-use playing experience. Actually, all controllers in the main general interface are for additional options as there is no need to set up anything to play it from scratch. Legato, staccato, no matter the articulation, you can play it like a normal synthesizer and not a sample library – all notes will sounds natural, no matter the length. The choir contain 48 vocalists, 24 male and 24 female. In most other similar libraries it is time consuming to set all those syllables in ranks or to set key-switches for different articulations. Thankfully, this is not the case here. As a bonus, the main choir has a very wide dynamic range, controlled through the mod-wheel, allowing us to achieve very dramatic parts with significant differences between quiet and loud parts. To tell the truth, I needed a good amount of time to discover why the whole library sounded so quiet, eventually figuring out that the default mod-wheel position is set very low, making the whole library sound quieter than it really is. Just move the mod-wheel to the mid position and everything will sound right.
So, if you are a media cinematic composer, this is definitely the one that you should try.
More info at Performance Samples site: http://performancesamples.com/oceania/
Full Kontakt required. Oceania Choir comes in at quite a typical price for such types of niche instrument – $264 USD. Check out the video files that are available on the Performance Samples webpage and decide for yourself.
Seventh Heaven is the latest state-of-the-art convolution reverb offering from Liquidsonics … and it’s quite possible it will put you right where the name suggests.
by David Baer, July 2017
Liquidsonics has recently released two new convolution reverb plug-ins: Seventh Heaven and Seventh Heaven Professional (hereafter SH and SHPro for brevity). These are a natural evolution of the technology behind Liquidsonics Reverberate, also a convolution reverb, which I reviewed here:
Anyone who read that review (which was for Reverberate version 2) will have noted how very impressed I was with it. In fact, I concluded with the following:
I already had a handful of very fine convolution reverbs installed on my DAW computer, and some of those were accompanied by superbly-produced IR collections that covered the breadth of types of natural spaces. I think there’s a very good chance I will never feel inclined to use any of them again, that’s how spectacular Reverberate 2 sounds to me. In fact, if there were to be no further advances in reverb technology in my lifetime, I would feel no disappointment.
Well [spoiler alert], there has been another significant advance and I’m quite happy to be able to say I’m still around to enjoy it! Seriously, Reverberate 2 was the best convolution reverb I had ever had the pleasure of using, and SH and SHPro are even better with only one qualification. The new reverbs offer a thorough, accurate and superbly rendered experience of one particular high-end hardware unit, the M7 from Bricasti Design. You will get no real-life spaces that have been captured for convolution recreation. As you will see, the technology unique to SH and SHPro requires a programmable device from which to capture reverberation behavior in order to deliver the full dose of magic.
First let’s get a few essential details out of the way. Both plug-ins run in any mainstream DAW, PC and Mac, 32-bit and 64-bit (64-bit rather strongly recommended). Both VST 2.4 and VST 3 versions are provided. List price for SH is $69 USD and for SHPro is $299 USD. Authorization is via iLok. SH requires 469 MB of disk space for reverb IR data; SHPro requires 8.79 GB.
Let’s back up briefly and discuss what made Reverberate 2 so special. Convolution can reproduce with remarkable fidelity either the ambient characteristics of real-life spaces or hardware-generated reverb simulations. The downside is that those aural snapshots are as static as is a photograph made with a camera. In a real-life performance space, there will be subtle differences in localized pockets of air pressure and temperature that will affect sound transmission characteristics and these will be subject to continual changes. Also, the movement of people inside the performance space can also cause shifts in sound transmission that will slightly change over time. An audio snapshot of reverberation will not reflect this “living, breathing” ambience.
Algorithmic reverbs use various techniques (internal delays, all-pass filtering, chorusing, etc., etc.) to produce a reverb-like result. Real-time modulation can be applied to this internal processing to introduce some “life and breath” into the sound. Convolution reverbs cannot use this trick because to do so would be too computationally intensive for today’s DAW computers.
A solution to this limitation was Liquidsonics’ first innovative breakthrough, an approach called Fusion. Convolution-generated reverberation uses files called impulse responses (IRs) to reproduce the reverberation characteristics of a given space. Reverberate delivered the capability to juggle multiple IRs of separate individual measurements of the same space and morph between those parallel IRs in real time and do that in a way that did not overtax the computational capabilities of typical DAW computers. To deliver this capability, Liquidsonics also had to develop a custom file structure to hold the multiple impulse images and had to ship a collection of Fusion-enabled files to use with Reverberate.
The results were nothing short of amazing. Now, I have never worked with the super-expensive gear available to studio professionals, so my experience is in this area limited to what’s commonly found in the home studio domain. But I was blown away when I first heard Reverberate 2. It comes bundled with two sets of Fusion-enabled IR file collections. One reproduced typical real-life spaces (rooms, halls, etc.). The other collection was of impulses taken from a high-end hardware reverb, the M7 from Bricasti Design.
The M7 Mystique
Bricasti Design was formed by several engineers who formerly had worked for Lexicon, another manufacturer of legendary high-end studio gear best known for their reverbs. The M7 was their first product, which appeared around 2007 to considerable acclaim. It did not attempt to duplicate the Lexicon Sound but was said to most certainly have benefited from the background and experience of the engineering team.
The M7 used computer computation to accomplish its purposes, but it had under the hood a load of hardware optimized for digital signal processing (DSP) that could leave desktop computers in the dust that were attempting to do the same thing. Even in the ten intervening years, Moore’s Law has not brought us forward to the place where desktop computers can come close to competing. Of course, you would be far from pleased to have to write a spreadsheet program or a word processer using DSP processors. DSP-chip technology is narrowly focused but impressively succeeds in its specialty.
A major firmware upgrade to the M7 appeared around 2010. Its main attraction was a second internal reverb algorithm that was claimed by Bricasti to produce a somewhat more “effect-y” sound, not that the new programs using it were anywhere close to be overly showy. The upgrade also introduced a delay feedback mechanism for both the original algorithm and the new one. This is important to know only for those sufficiently curious to read both the SH/SHPro documentation and the original M7 manual, the former of which mentions the second reverb algorithm and the delay option which are not covered in the first M7 manual.
The M7 was never cheap. Today new units cost in the neighborhood of $3500 USD. At that price, a home studio producer is rarely going to get access to an M7. This is one major reason Reverberate 2 was so special. It made it possible for a home studio to have affordable access to the M7 sound, and Fusion delivered the best M7 convolution experience ever. Mission accomplished! Well done, Liquidsonics.
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
So, Fusion technology solved one problem with getting convolution reverbs to sound credibly non-static. But several other limitations constrain convolution reverb reproduction when compared to algorithmic reverbs. Even modestly-positioned algorithmic reverbs normally offer the capability to separately control the behavior of early reflections and the later-to-materialize reverb tail. Likewise, the decay time of an algorithmic reverb program can easily be changed without necessarily an unwanted loss of quality. On the other hand, a reverb IR is a single image with no delineation between early reflections and reverb tail. Also, it cannot be shortened or lengthened more than a little before that trick compromises authenticity of sound.
Some convolution reverbs do offer some sort of early/late differentiation, but this is crude at best. It involves something like establishing an arbitrary point in the IR to be flagged as the early-to-late border. Using cross-fades between the data on each side of this line, things like making the early reflections more prominent than the tail can be done. Such trickery can work but just how far things can be taken is usually limited. Likewise, decay times can be manipulated, but the inherent loss of authenticity limits to what extent this can be done.
This is where we arrive at the second big advancement found in SH/SHPro. Liquidsonics extended the Fusion capability to handle not only multiple parallel IRs but to juggle IRs dedicated to specific parts of a reverb, such as separate IRs for early reflections and reverb tail. But this can only be applied to reverb patterns captured from a programmable device. One cannot go into a space and say “OK, cathedral, for the next measurement I just want to hear the early reflections” or “OK, studio, please increase the decay time for this next measurement by 75%”. With a programmable reverb device, these things are often possible.
And so, welcome to Seventh Heaven where this is exactly what is happening. Liquidsonics undertook what must have been a massively painstaking capture initiative. Not only were individual M7 programs captured with early and late content segregated; for those programs, separate captures were made of a series of discreet decay time values.
In the case of the delay option, measurements were taken of the M7 programs in which delay was engaged. The M7 employs an eight-voice mechanism when including delay. But the program was also captured with the delay off. If the user chooses a delay time or level value different from the original program, SH/SHPro simulates the delay signal introduction. This simulation is not as rich or complex as the original program, but it still delivers a potentially desirable end result. As I said, the attention to detail to make this all happen is more than a little bit impressive.
Before we get into the actual software and the differences, a couple of points are worth contemplating. The first is a sage observation once made by my fellow SoundBytes writer, Dave Townsend, on a forum we both frequent. He suggested (and I paraphrase) that it seemed foolish to obsess over minute details of a reverb program when that sound was going to be 12 or 18 dB down from the main sound in the first place.
A related thought was presented in the marvelous book Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio by Mike Senior. After commenting that decay time was really the only really important setting with which the mixing engineer should normally be concerned, he wrote:
There’ll be a slew of other controls on a lot of [reverb] plug-ins, but for typical small-studio operators – and indeed a lot of professionals – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to worry about what all of those do. (They do serve a useful social purpose, however, in distracting computer anoraks from ever getting any music finished).
My point in mentioning these notions is to suggest that if one has a lovely reverb delivering an excellent sound, perhaps the best strategy will normally be to just pick an appropriate program (hall, room, whatever), tweak the decay time to taste, set the dry-wet balance, and otherwise leave things well enough alone.
This consideration becomes most relevant when considering what features you absolutely must have (and will therefore have to pay more to get) when purchasing a reverb. From the viewpoint of the above, is an economy of features actually a feature in its own right? This is one thing to think about when trying to decide if SHPro is worth over four times the price of SH. So, with that preamble out of the way, let us now finally talk about the software.
Before anything else, let me be clear: both of these reverbs sound fabulous. SHPro has more programmability than SH, and it has more programs. But to my ears, when choosing identical presets, of which there are several, and otherwise doing no parameter tweaking, SH and SHPro are indistinguishable. Assuming both are within your budget, choosing between the two largely comes down to two things: a) is the extra programmability in SHPro something you will actually use, and/or b) do you need those extra programs? We’ll discuss the tradeoffs in both areas next.
The image above shows the full UI of SH. The bottom portion can be hidden when unneeded. When that is so, all you’ve got are four controls: dry/wet balance, output gain, program and decay time. We’ll look at programs in a moment. As to decay time, a continuous range of values is available. If the selected time matches one of the times captured, then that’s what you get. If not, SH interpolates between the captured images of the closest bracketing times. However, with SH there is no way to tell what those times are other than (we assume) a preset’s time will be as captured with the program.
When exposed, the bottom section adds controls for the following. Pre-delay can be specified and it affects only the reverb tail, not the early reflections (just try doing that with any other convolution reverb!). Delay invokes the delay function of the M7 as described earlier and uses a fixed value of -6 dB. The delay time can be adjusted but not the -6 dB level. Both Pre-delay and Delay can be synced to host tempo (a trick not available on an actual M7, of course).
The two 12 dB/octave filters act on the entire reverb signal. The VLF needs some explanation. The M7 provided for very low frequency content in the reverb and treated it separately from both the early reflections and tail. I am not exactly clear on what this is all about even after having read the M7 manual. Suffice it to say that SH claims to reproduce this content faithfully. Given how meticulously everything else was done, I have little doubt that this is so. The VLF control allows adjusting its relative presence.
Finally, the relative loudness of early reflections and tail can be controlled. That’s pretty much everything. The manual is only eight pages in length and is entirely adequate – that’s how easy programming SH will be.
The factory content is comprised of 30 programs that faithfully duplicate identical ones on the M7. The list of available programs is seen below.
SH is a closed system with respect to content. It can only work with the library bundled with the software. That library cannot be used in any other reverb and SH cannot work with other IR files. Furthermore, the library of SH and SHPro are not interchangeable. SH’s content will not work with SHPro or vice versa.
Let’s move up to SHPro. It does everything its smaller sibling does and we won’t repeat that information. The screen image above shows both tabs of the lower section of the UI. I’m not going to cover every control (the user manual does that well and can be downloaded from the Liquidsonics site – URL below).
Notable in the advanced controls is a parameter labelled Pattern. The M7 had 32 different early reflection patterns from which to select. SHPro offers these just as in the original hardware – impressive!
In SHPro, unlike its smaller sibling, a list of captured times for primary decay is made available in a menu. A continuous range is still available for selection and like SH, such a selection will result in interpolation of behavior between the nearest captured times.
Frequency-dependent decay time is part of the M7’s original repertoire, but individually sampling all such permutations for use in SHPro is clearly an impossibility given the massive number of possibilities. What SHPro does instead is to simulate what happened in the M7 by using multiband separation and individual filtering of the resultant bands.
This is not to be confused with the master filter section shown just above. The M7 did not have this, but, hey, why not include one in SHPro? The M7 was probably often followed with an EQ in the signal chain. Using SHPro, this will not be necessary.
There are around 200 supplied programs for SHPro – see just below for a listing. Eight of the banks of presets shown below come with a “1” or “2” suffix, which denotes which set of M7 programs was the source and which algorithm was used in those programs. According to the manual (16 pages in the case of SHPro and again completely adequate), the version 1 algorithm programs have static tails while those of version 2 have modulated tails. All have modulated early reflections and a VLF component.
Is SH or SHPro for You?
Do you like the reverb sound of a revered piece of outboard gear that you will probably never get your hands on due its price tag? If so, you are going to want to check out either or both of these plug-ins. Working 14-day demos of either may be downloaded from the Liquidsonics site. But don’t grab the demo unless you have the money in your budget to buy it. If you hear it, you will be impressed, you will almost certainly like it, and there’s a very good chance you will lust for it.
Of course, this is provided you are amenable to using an iLok dongle for authorization. Liquidsonics has stated that there will be no software iLok authorization option forthcoming. The reason is the value Liquidsonics places upon this intellectual property and the feeling that a hardware dongle is sufficiently more secure to justify what is accepted to be an inevitable loss of sales as a result. I cannot say I blame Liquidsonics for this attitude. They have something truly special here, so much so that I finally relented and acquired an iLok dongle myself in order to be able to run this software (admittedly, my list of software-iLok-authorized synths, FX and content was growing so large that this wasn’t really a difficult choice in the end).
One more thing about the iLok issue: if you really cannot stomach the use of a dongle-dependent title, then do consider Liquidsonic’s Reverberate 2. It doesn’t offer the advances of SH/SHPro, but it does provide a generous number of Fusion-enabled M7 sounds and has another collection of Fusion-enabled real spaces as well. It’s a most-impressive reverb solution in its own right and the availability of real space convolutions might actually tip the balance in favor of Reverberate 2.
Liquidsonics had a couple of sales last year, the Black Friday one had Reverberate 2 discounted by 50%. It’s too early to say what future discounts may be available for SH and SHPro, but past history suggests some sales will be forthcoming. That said, at a mere $69 USD, SH is one hell of a bargain. That’s not to say the $299 USD SHPro is overpriced, but it is on the high end of most home-studio budget limits.
The only criticism I have of Liquidsonics is the absence of a SH-to-SHPro upgrade discount option. I think customers who purchase SH will be so impressed they will seriously consider upgrading. Lack of a customer-loyalty benefit may end up costing Liquidsonics more than a few lost sales.
To download a demo copy of SH or SHPro, for more information, or to purchase, go here:
Liquidsonics software is also available from independent retailers, so shopping around for the best price might save a few bucks.
This just in: just a few days before the July issue is to be published, Liquidsonics has announced a summer sale with significant discounts on both Seventh Heaven versions. Check the above URL or your favorite music software retailer for details.
In this review we take a look at three hardware synths that UVI has brought into the modern world. Check out what these new instruments offer.
by Rob Mitchell, July 2017
UVI are the producers of a large number of sample-based products and effect plugins. The company has also made a huge splash with Falcon, a powerful mega-synth/sampler. UVI’s sample libraries make use of the UVI Workstation, which is a free and easy-to-use product. The libraries load in the Workstation with slick/intuitive interfaces, and they mainly lean towards mimicking many legendary analog and digital hardware synthesizers. They have also been updated with some modern features that are not found in the original hardware.
This time around, UVI has focused on three digital synthesizers from the 80s and 90s. All three are pictured above.
On the website, UVI doesn’t mention exactly what the original instruments are, but in their promotional video for the product, three synths are plainly visible. After some research, I found the names of the real synths they sampled from: JD800/JD990, Kawai K5000S, and the Ensoniq Fizmo. Here is the promo video you can check out:
Like its predecessor (Digital Synsations V1), this latest version has sampled material from separate hardware synthesizers, three of them to be exact. Actually, there are quite a lot of samples: 42 gigabytes of samples were reduced down to about 18 gigabytes using FLAC lossless encoding. Over 22,000 samples are included, and over 500 presets spanning the three instruments. The first synth is named DZMO, and UVI calls it a “Real-time Transwave” synth. Less than 2,000 hardware units were originally built, and so this is not one you’d see every day. Next up is the DK5S, which is labeled as “Advanced Additive Soundware”. The hardware synth used additive synthesis and combined that with PCM streams. Last but not least is DS-890, and is what they describe as “Digital Soundware”. They used parts from both the module version of this Japanese synthesizer, and the full keyboard synth for this sample set.
The first thing you need to do is download and install the free UVI Workstation. If you have Falcon already installed, you can load it in that instead. The Workstation will work with a 32-bit or 64-bit PC or Mac. For the PC, you’ll need Windows 7 or higher, and for the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 or higher. The supported formats include Audio Units, AAX, VST and Standalone. You’re allowed up to three activations per license, and an iLok account is required. It can be activated on the computer’s drive, or with an iLok dongle. For this review, I will be using the UVI Workstation to host the instruments.
After you’ve started UVI Workstation, you double-click in the field at the top of the display to select Digital Synsations 2. After that, you will see the three separate synths you can load. After you click on one of the synths, it will show the many categories that are available for it. Selecting a category reveals the presets within it. After you have a preset selected, that loads the main display. You can then navigate through them using the left/right arrows to either side of the preset name, or double-click the name to get back to the browser. I started out with the DK5S, checked out its controls in the display and listened to some presets. The categories for the presets for this one include Bass, Bells, Brass, FX-Weird, Keyboards, Leads, Organs, Pads, Pluck, Polysynth, Strings, Sweeps and Vocals.
I won’t go into the history behind the original hardware synthesizer from which this was sampled, but it is easy enough to look up that information online if you wish to do so. The interface is very easy to understand, with the amplitude and filter envelopes on the left side, and the stereo settings and bitcrusher effect settings toward the right. Along the top are some additional controls I will discuss shortly.
The amplitude envelope is a standard ADSR type, and on its left side is a button labeled “VEL>A”. When this is enabled, attach length will be proportional to how hard the key is struck. To the right of the envelope section is a control that lets you specify the amount of velocity sensitivity for the amplitude.
There are three filter types available: low pass, band pass and high pass. They each have an on/off button, and there are controls to adjust the filter’s ADSR envelope. Standard cutoff and resonance controls are also here, and you can change the velocity and envelope amount for the filter section. To the right of the filter settings is the Pitch section. It has controls to adjust the Time and Depth settings for the Glide/Portamento. “Time” is how fast it will glide to the next note that is played. The “Depth” setting only works when the synth is in Poly mode. What the Depth actually changes is whether it rises up to the pitch you play, or glides downward in pitch after you play the notes.
Now we get to the play modes, which include ALT (alternates between left and right channels) and UNI (layers sounds on top of one another). To adjust how far the sounds are spread apart, you use the “Spread” control. This only works in ALT mode. In much the same way, “Detune” only works with the UNI mode, and it detunes the stacked voices. We don’t know how many voices are actually layered together using UNI, but it sounds fine whatever that number is. The documentation states that this “Layers multiple samples and augments them for increased stereo presence”. Below the Stereo play mode controls is the Bitcrusher effect section, which is enabled with a power button. It allows you to add bit reduction, adjust the sample rate, and change the mix level. To the right is a Drive effect, which lets you add an overdriven effect to the sound.
At the top of the display there are some additional controls. These are for the effects, plus the modulation that’s tied to the modulation wheel: Vibrato, Tremolo, and the Filter. All three of the synths use Thorus (a chorus), Delay, and Sparkverb. For their controls, they just have a simple on/off button and slider to determine the amount for each. Since the other two synths are very similar in their controls and with what they have available, once you’ve learned how to use one, it’s basically the same for the other two.
It’s worth mentioning more about the effects. No matter what you load into the UVI Workstation, there are a large number of effects from which to choose. I won’t even get into what Falcon has, as that would require an entire article. Actually we covered Falcon in a few of our past issues. Anyway, let’s get back to those effects. In the upper right of the UVI Workstation is the FX button. Clicking on this will bring you to the effects section, which will give you an abundance of new possible audio variations. From there, you can get to many controls to adjust the effects that are on the main display. For instance, on the main display the reverb controls only include the on/off button and an amount slider. If you click on the FX button, however, you have access to Sparkverb’s Room Size, Shape, Density, Decay, Pre-Delay, Modulation, and many others.
The long list of effects hidden away include various reverbs (including gated and IR types), delays, filters, EQ, phaser, flanger, stereo and amplitude FX, distortions, compressor/expander, limiter, LP vinyl, ring modulator, and more. There is also an arpeggiator, which is under the icon in the upper right (with the notes graphic on it). The arp has many controls of its own, with up to 128 steps, several play modes, a “number of strikes” setting (how many times it plays a step), trigger modes, and several built-in presets. Besides the effects and arp, the UVI Workstation is multitimbral and has an unlimited number of parts available. In addition, you’re able to use an unlimited amount of effects on each of the individual parts.
UVI has done a great job with the presets in each of the three synths, showcasing the better sides of each hardware synth being represented. Digital Synsations 2 is very easy to load and get started with many awesome sounds in no time at all. As I mentioned, even if you don’t have Falcon, the free UVI Workstation has additional effects and an arpeggiator to give you more options for the presets. Having Falcon really kicks it up a notch though, as you can do nearly anything your mind can think of. You’re able to add various effects, LFOs, multistage envelopes, layers, set up key-groups, microtuning, and so much more.
I like the quick and easy access to the many unique sounds that these three hardware synths have. Hardware is awesome of course, but finding some of these rare treasures can sometimes be difficult, not to mention expensive. Having sampled versions of these classics makes it easy to bring them with you to gigs, saving you from lugging that delicate hardware around. I am glad that UVI came out with the second edition of Digital Synsations, and I hope they produce another sound set like this in the near future.
While I was writing this review, UVI had an intro price of $99 USD. That will go up to the full price of $149 USD when that offer has ended. UVI has been known to occasionally have sales and the $99 price tag (or something close to it) will probably be seen again. You might also be interested in the original version of Digital Synsations, which contains four different synths and retails for $149 USD. The original Digital Synsations has been available as a freebie (“buy something from us and we’ll throw in a free Digital Synsations”) on more than one occasion, so it’s no doubt already on a lot of DAWs out there for that reason alone. For more information about Digital Synsations Vol. 2 and to hear audio demos, go here: