Monthly Archives: September 2017

Points of Kontakt – Blue Street Brass from Indiginus

 

Indiginus has done it again. Here’s yet another inexpensive, easy-to-use Kontakt library – but this one may be their slickest (and most unique) creation yet.

 

by Dave Townsend – Sept. 2017

 

“They don’t give a damn about any trumpet-playin’ band. It ain’t what they call rock and roll.”

  • Mark Knopfler, Sultans of Swing

 

 

Trumpets. Who knew they could be so cool? Seriously, the first time I loaded up Blue Street Blues I suddenly wanted trumpets in every production.

Of course, sampled brass instruments are everywhere, especially in epic “trailer music”. And frankly, it’s not hard to stick in a grandiose brass section; just get your CC11 swells going and listeners will accept sampled brass as legit.

What we don’t hear as much of is expressive solo brass, because, well, that’s harder. A committed “serious” composer will take the time to master the subtleties of expensive high-end brass libraries, but what about the rest of us, the casual user who just wants to embellish a piece with a nice trumpet lick? For us, Blue Street Brass is just the ticket.

Plus, if you happen to need a 1930’s/1940’s Film Noir feel or an authentic Big Band sound, look no further. Want to recreate a vintage radio broadcast or smoky speakeasy? Here ya go.

 

The Backstory

Brass is a new direction for Indiginus, which made its name primarily on sampled guitars such as the original Torch, the rockin’ Renegade and several expressive acoustic guitars (not to ignore my personal favorite, the lush synthetic-orchestra Solid State Symphony, but that’s not a guitar and doesn’t support my point). The point is, developer Tracy Collins knows all about guitars. Trumpets, not so much.

Fortunately, Tracy hooked up with a fellow named Tom Gauger, a guy who definitely knows about trumpets. And Flugel Horns, Euphoniums (Euphonia?), tubas, trombones, bugles and anything else made from a brass tube.

In addition to being a top-notch player, Tom is also president of Impulse Record, a long-standing jazz label based in New York City. He has recorded such luminaries as John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong (“What a Wonderful World”) and Ray Charles.

Where Tom’s and Tracy’s stories converge is that Tom also records and sells impulse response files of vintage reverbs, signal processors and amplifiers. It was in this context that the two met, when Tracy approached Tom about licensing his IRs for Indiginus products. It was Tom’s idea to create a brass library. He knew a lot about recording and brass instruments, but not much about Kontakt scripting and sample mapping, so Tracy was the perfect collaborator for such an endeavor.

Tom, like many musician/recording-engineers, is a collector. The vintage instruments sampled for Blue Street Brass are from Tom’s personal collection, as are the vintage microphones. When you select “1920s Carbon” from the microphone list, you’re getting an IR from a genuine 1920’s-era carbon microphone.

Tracy’s main creative contribution – aside from the grueling process of assembling more than a thousand individual samples into a workable instrument – was scripting an excellent adaptive legato. More on that later.


 

What’s in the Library

Solo trumpets are the main forte of this collection, but not the only thing in there. There are also three brass ensembles and thirteen discrete instruments in total, all wrapped up in a single .nki. You select the instrument from a menu within that nki’s UI – which means you can also automate the instrument selection (by default CC#15 is mapped to instrument selection).

There is a pdf on the Indiginus site that gives additional information about the instruments.

(Pictured at right: 1930’s American Standard Mellophone)

 

 

Here’s the list:

1920’s Ludwig Trumpet

1907 H N White Cornet, mute

Ludwig Trumpet Plunger Mute

Flugelhorn

Mellow Plunger

1894 Besson Euphonium

1920’s Wm. Frank Trumpet

1865 Jules Martin Saxhorn

Wm. Frank Trumpet Harmon Mute

1930’s American Standard Mellophone

Wm. Frank Trumpet Cup Mute

1908 Trombone with vibrato

Soaring Trumpet, with vibrato

Brass Ensemble

1905 Conn Orchestral Cornet

Low Brass Ensemble

1907 H N White Cornet, light vibrato

High Brass Ensemble

WW2-era Slingerland Bugle (G)

Civil War Bugle

WW2-era Bugle (D)

1940’s Boosey and Hawk Alto Horn

 

1900 Henry Marchand Tuba

 

Some of these are quite novel; to the best of my knowledge this is currently the only Kontakt library in the world to offer a civil war bugle.

But don’t assume that this is just an arcane historical collection for period pieces. In particular, the ensembles, which stack all the instruments into one, are fat and juicy enough for an epic orchestration or over-the-top movie trailer. The expressive trumpets are suitable for anything from traditional jazz and blues to Mariachi to progressive rock.

 

Microphones

Here’s where Blue Street Brass really stands alone: an eclectic assortment of 12 vintage microphones from eras spanning over 80 years.

These aren’t some crude approximation achieved through filters and distortion, they are actual impulse response files taken from actual rare microphones. When you select the 1920’s Carbon you really are getting a 1920’s carbon microphone that would have been used in a radio broadcast of that era.

I wasn’t able to confirm this prior to publication, but it appears at least some of the reverbs are custom IRs, too, with very specific names such as “Austrian Spring Reverb”. Since IRs of vintage gear is Tom’s specialty, I’m assuming these were made by him as well.

Here’s the microphone list, with annotations for those I was able to find additional information on. (Thanks to Tom Gauger for being patient with me as I pestered him about this!)

1920’s Carbon

1950’s Crystal (Sonotone)

1950’s Dynamic (Argonne AR-54 Harp mic)

1950’s Dynamic 2 (Electrovoice 630 omni-directional pictured above)

1950’s R-A KN-1B (“Pressure” microphone commonly used with indoor paging systems)

1960’s Ribbon (RCA 2350 H “His Master’s Voice”)

1960’s Ceramic

1960‘s Telefunken D9A (a cheap but transparent-sounding dynamic that would have come with a late-50’s/early 60’s-era tape recorder)

1970’s Dynamic (Sony F-87)

1980’s Dynamic (Shure SM-57)

1980’s Soviet (Octava MD-201)

 

Adapative Legato

All of Indiginus’ libraries are designed for ease of use. You can jump right in and start playing any of them without reading the manual, thanks largely to the clever use of scripting and velocity-based changes to instruments or articulations. For brass instruments, the key to right-out-of-the box playability is an intuitive legato. They are, after all, monophonic instruments, so much of the expression comes not just from the notes you play but how the notes are chained together.

Blue Street Brass features a new legato script designed specifically for brass. It’s called “Adaptive” legato because it adapts to the way the melody is being played to automatically figure out how best to blend each note into the next. As clever as it is, you still may want to tweak it a little to fit your melody. So let’s take a look at how the legato works and the parameters you can adjust.

The term “legato” refers to the way notes connect from one to the next, specifically implying a smooth, gapless transition. That’s a challenge for sampled instruments, which consist of discrete recorded notes. You therefore have to devise a way of switching between samples such that they form a cohesive unbroken tone. Rather than abruptly ending one note and jumping straight into the next one, scripted legato employs two main tricks to accomplish this: volume fading and pitch-gliding.

The real trick is to deftly insert these transitions without drawing attention to the trickery. Unfortunately, transitioning between notes in a fast run has very different requirements than slow, sustained notes. If you want to quickly switch between those extremes, the legato rules have to change on the fly. Hence, the “adaptive” part of adaptive legato.

Some libraries use separate samples to implement these transitions, recording actual note-to-note changes that are then inserted on playback. This can deliver very realistic-sounding legato transitions, but the downside is that they’re static, and make libraries extremely large and expensive. Blue Street Brass does not do this, instead performing all the magic in code instead of dedicated transition samples. Why should you care about this distinction? Well, the biggest reason is that you can pick this library up for $79 instead of $500, and download it in minutes instead of days. And in most pop/rock applications you absolutely will not notice the difference.

 

Legato in Practice

There are four controls you can use to modify the way legato works: Time, Amount, Fade In and Fade Out, plus a switch to select constant or adaptive legato.

The Time knob sets the speed of the transitions. With adaptive mode enabled, the script looks at note durations to get a clue as to how quickly they should switch – faster playing means shorter transitions. Legato speed can also be controlled via a MIDI CC for more precise control. Turn the Time knob fully counter-clockwise for instant transitions (no legato), or clockwise for slower, more obvious transitions.

The Amount control sets the volume of the glide effect between notes. I ended up leaving this at its default value.

Fade In / Fade Out adjust the crossfade envelope, or how quickly the previous note fades out and the next note fades in. Again, this is adjusted automatically in adaptive mode, but you can use these two controls to bias it toward faster or slower fades.

I found that little or no tweaking was needed for most parts. To put it to the test, I created a trumpet solo that was a mix of long and short notes and brought the part right up front in the mix so that all its flaws and subtleties could be easily heard.

Although I felt it sounded pretty darn good with default settings, I experimented with each of the legato controls to see if I could further boost the believability factor. I tried it with and without the adaptive legato and decided the adaptive mode was definitely better-sounding.

In the end I was happiest with a slight increase in the Time parameter, fade-in and fade-out slightly shortened, and Amount left at its default value. The shorter transitions made the fast notes more distinct, at the expense of the long, slow notes, but I felt it was a reasonable tradeoff.

Then I took it one step further, and automated the legato. Each of the legato and dynamics controls are already pre-mapped to CCs, so no MIDI learn is required unless you want to change the assignments.

20           Time

21           Amount

22           Fade-in

23           Fade-out

24           Velocity-sensitivity

25           Mod wheel sensitivity

26           Constant / adaptive switch

 

I tried automating each of these parameters, mainly with the aim of making my short, fast notes more distinct while keeping the long, slow notes smooth.

First, I used CC#26 to switch adaptive legato off and on, but that didn’t work out well because you don’t have separate settings for constant and adaptive modes. What I really wanted was to switch between short and long transitions, and I found the best way to achieve that was to shorten or lengthen the Fade-in parameter (CC#22). Adaptive mode does this automatically, but I wanted a little more extreme differences in certain places, and automation did the trick.

But in all honesty, simply letting the adaptive legato script do its thing worked just fine. For quick ‘n dirty horn parts, leave the controls at defaults and only tweak them if you feel like it.

 

Demo MIDI Track

Be sure to check out the demo song on the Indiginus website, simply called “Blue Street Blues”. It’s a pretty impressive demonstration of the surprising breadth of sounds in this library. It features a beautiful backing track recorded at Impulse Record by Tom Gauger and horn parts programmed by Tracy Collins.

After you’ve purchased the library, you may want to have a closer look at this demo and play around with it a bit. For the curious investigator, they’ve included everything you need to load that demo into your DAW and examine it in detail.

There is an eleven-channel multi-track MIDI file called Blue Street Blues.mid (a separate MIDI track for each instrument), a Kontakt multi with all the Blue Street instruments, and an accompaniment stereo wave file of orchestra, drums and piano.

Open a new project in your DAW, insert an instance of Kontakt 5 and load Blue Street Blues.nkm, a Kontakt multi consisting of separate instances of each instrument, assigned to MIDI channels 1-11.  Next, import the .mid file into the project. Your DAW should create eleven MIDI tracks labeled with the names of the eleven instruments. Route each of these to Kontakt, channel 1 to the first track through channel 11 for the last.

Lastly, import the accompaniment wave file to an audio track. If you’ve loaded the MIDI tracks and the audio track at measure zero they should all sync up.

The demo does not use any of the microphone IRs, and the reverb is “Large Hall” for everything, so you might want to experiment with some variations on those two things. Try the “1920’s Carbon” with the “Music Club” reverb to instantly transport the piece back in time!

To make experimentation easier, CC #28 can be used to automate the reverb IR selection, and CC#27 for microphone selection. In one experiment, I punched in a short melody into my DAW’s piano roll view and then duplicated it ten times. I then added an automation lane on CC#27, which allowed me to audition the same part with each microphone model.

NOTE: I experienced a minor issue when doing this. There was an audible pop when the microphone was switched, so if you were to do this in an actual production you’d want to momentarily mute the track during the switch. Although I don’t know why you’d want to switch mics mid-song, except for this particular scenario.

 

Summary

Bottom line: this is a very inexpensive ($79) but instantly useable brass instrument. Like all Indiginus libraries, it’s just plain fun to play in real time. And like all Indiginus offerings, it’s not a do-it-all monster with every articulation in the book – you’ll have to pay a LOT more money for that – but rather a reasonable compromise between versatility and ease of use. Most important, it sounds great with zero effort.

You can only buy it directly from Indiginus, it’s only available as a download (1.5 GB), and you will need the full version of Kontakt 5.5.2 or higher (it is not compatible with the free player).

I’ve admitted many times that I am an unabashed fan of Indiginus instruments. Renegade, Delta Blues Slide Guitar, Strum Master 4, Renaxxance, and Acoustic Guitar Collection pepper all my projects. Solid State Symphony is my favorite tool for working up compositions. But I have to say that Blue Street Brass is now near the top of the list.

Now, I’ve just got to find a place for a trumpet in that current rockabilly metal project I’m working on …

 

 

 

 

Home Studio Producer – Tips and Tricks Potpourri

 

A collection of tips and tricks to make your life as a bedroom producer easier, your work more productive, and your production pursuits just a bit more fun.

 

by Luka Sraka, Sept. 2017

 

Every start is difficult, before we get into the grips of making, producing or recording music, we usually spend a lot of time and money. In the past few years I noticed how some small improvements have helped me to make my workflow more effective and the time in my home studio much more fun.

Organization is one of the key things if we want to be productive. Sure, we all know that organization is the key to success but what does being organized in a studio environment really mean?

 

Organization

First of all, I like to keep things tidy in my home studio. The desk is organized and decluttered, with only the essentials on it. The computer monitor, keyboard, mouse and the audio interface are the essentials for me. Admittedly sometimes it gets more crowded with an extra hard drive, guitar picks, capos, iPad, cables and adapters, but most of the time that is not the case. Since I don’t use a MIDI keyboard every time I open my DAW, I don’t need it in front of me all the time, so I keep it on a keyboard stand next to my table. It is still conveniently close and always plugged in so I can just reach for the keys when I need to do so. The headphones are also off the table, I hang them on the keyboard stand with the cable nicely coiled up, so they don’t get in the way. An extra pair of headphones is stored close by for the artist I record to use. Keeping the unnecessary things off the table makes me want to spend more time at my workstation. The absence of distractions makes my work more productive as well. With that being said, however, I do like to keep everything close at hand.

 

Workflow

The guitars are out of the cases, on stands and every gadget I might need is readily available, so when inspiration strikes I just have to reach for a specific piece of gear, and I can continue working. It is the same with microphones, keyboard and other equipment. It is useful to have instruments close by and things plugged in. Tighten up your workflow as much as possible. For me that means that the guitar amp is always mic-ed, and a microphone for recording vocals is on a stand, ready to record at all times. Keeping things that way enables me to start recording right away without the hassle of looking for cables, microphones and stands and then needing to plug things into the interface. An instrument lead is close by too, so I can quickly plug it to the interface’s instrument input and record. Make a list of things you do the most in your home studio and adapt your workflow to that list. If you have a lot of hardware and a limited channel audio interface, investing in a patch bay might be a good idea too. Connecting your microphones and other hardware on your patch bay certainly beats changing the cables behind your interface and looking for the right input.

 

Having Backups

We have written about having backups of your hard drive contents before in this column, but the same goes for having backups of other studio essentials. A couple of extra cables can save your session. The same goes with the small headphone adapters and miscellaneous small gadgets. Those things get lost far too easily. I like to keep all my backup things nicely stored out of the way, but still organized so that I know where to find them when I need them.

 

You Are Too Poor to Buy Cheap Gear

There is an old saying here where I live, which goes something like this: You’re too poor to buy cheap things. It is clever to spend a bit of extra money on your gear if that means getting better results and a higher level of reliability. That being said, we live in a world where music production equipment has a good value for the money.  But do your research. If it’s possible, try equipment before you buy it and look to see what alternatives there are in the price-range. I’ve bought cheap instrument and microphone cables far too many times just to have them break when I needed them the most. If you want to save some money but still get the best results, you can try making your cables too.

 

DIY Anyone?

A bit of DIY knowledge goes a long way. There are wiring diagrams and tutorials online and it is not too difficult to learn how to solder. A good microphone cable can be quite expensive. But if you look at the prices of single components, they are quite cheap: a couple of bucks for adapters, and not much more for the lead itself. A great thing about building your own cables is customization. You can make the cable as long or as short you want, you can choose which connectors to use, furthermore you can make special cables that are not available for purchase. A custom multi-core cable that fits your needs perfectly might be a good starting point, or maybe a microphone cable with a 15dB pad built in. Once again there are a lot of tutorials and wiring diagrams online.  I might write a how-to tutorial on soldering as well sometime in the future.

 

Presets and Templates

OK, so hardware is pretty much covered, but what about the software? Backing up your files should be in your blood by now, so we won’t go further into that. But there are a couple of things that can make your life easier: presets and templates. Presets should be self-explanatory. When you find a setting on a plugin that you like, save it as a preset and name it accordingly – use words that will remind you of that particular sound. To be quite honest, I don’t make presets very often, but I’ve made some that I use as a starting point a lot of the time.

The same goes with templates. Templates are basically presets for your DAW or other computer programs. In the case of DAWs, you can set the channel numbers, routing and other configurations in a template. I made several templates for my DAW.  One of them is for recording a demo track, with two channels loaded, one for the vocal mic and one for the guitar.  Then there’s a template for recording guitars, and so on.

 

Software Controller Command

The last trick I have on hand is basically a combination of software and hardware: using smartphone or tablet-based software controllers for your DAW. My main DAW is Logic Pro X and it comes with a dedicated iOS app that lets you control pretty much everything from loading new tracks to saving and everything in between.  You can even mix and set the levels with your fingers and set the parameters for the plugins. There are numerous apps available, some of them dedicated to a specific DAW and the others that are universal controllers. With my iPad at hand, I have no need for a hardware controller. It is especially useful when I record myself, since it communicates via a WIFI connection and I can press the record and stop buttons even if my computer keyboard and/or mouse are not within easy reach.

 

These tips and tricks helped me to get a bit more organized in my home studio. I hope they will help you too.

Till next time.

 

 

 

 

Ginno’s Sound Investments

 

Ginno looks at six sound libraries from Loopmasters, Black Octopus, Mode Audio and more.

 

by Ginno Legaspi, Sept. 2017

 

Loopmasters – Dark Atmospherics Vol. 2

The name Loopmasters is synonymous with high quality electronica samples. By now many desktop musicians and producers should know Loopmasters with their constant sample library releases. Dark Atmospherics 2 is a new collection of off-kilter sounds, sonic mutations, cuts, textures and odd drum loops. Dark Atmospherics 2 pretty much picks up where volume 1 left off and is a “genuine-to-the-genre” release that is simply great. This 44.1kHz/24-bit, 1.5 GB library can be utilized for minimal, techno, electronica, soundscapes, ambient and avant garde and etc. Dark Atmospherics 2 covers a wide variety of sounds including over 500 expertly programmed elements such as basses, modulated FX3, synths, atmospheres by Colin C. This pack also offers a killer collection of 200 drum loops (with tempos ranging from 85 to 174 BPM) that are suitable for glitch and IDM music. Sound-wise, the samples have a very high-tech and  futuristic vibe – thanks to the hardware synths (Virus TI, Dave Smith Prophet 12, Waldorf Blofeld) and hardware processors (Eventide H910, Vertigo VSM) used as sound sources. They sound very clean and punchy, and are comparable to the latest electronic sample libraries out there. Bottom line: there are plenty of useable samples here that will work in any electronic music production, but the main selling point of Dark Atmospherics 2 are the excellent drum loops. Get this if you have the first volume.

WEB:

http://www.loopmasters.com/

FORMAT:

WAV, Apple Loops, REX2, EXS24, NN-XT, Halion, Kontakt

PRICE:

$38.38 USD

 

 

Black Octopus – Soundscapes Presented by AK

This new sample pack from Black Octopus focuses on the dark soundscape side of electronica. Soundscapes is a 2.2 GB, 44.1kHz/24-bit library that is nothing but great stems that are geared for the composing game, TV and film soundtracks, media sound design and evolving ambient tracks. Its main goal is to provide composers, producers and desktop musicians a flexible yet useable set of 147 samples for inspiration, track building and filler to existing mixes. This is sort of a “mini complete package” with sounds to get you going fast. There are 20 Silver Mellow Atmospheres, 20 Millenial Atmospheres, 15 Ethereal Atmospheres, 40 Vinyl Cracklings, 15 Chord Structures, 14 Forest Sounds, 17 Street Noises and 6 Natures sounds. This pack will enable you to create some sonic moods, soundscapes, spooky & dark and new age tracks in no time. I love the modulated atmosphere samples as they evolve and change timbres over time offering flexibility in editing. They can also be layered with other samples to create a new rich, thick sound. We all know that Black Octopus has a good catalog of electronic (especially techno) sample libraries, but this one has got to be one of my favorites. It’s lush, dramatic, and just floats in between the left and right speakers. A nice sample pack to be had if you’re a soundscape composer.

WEB:

http://www.resonance-sound.com/

FORMAT:

WAV

PRICE:

€18.50 EUR

 

 

Mode Audio – Afterglow

Afterglow is a collection of smashing programmed loops for use in genres such as future R&B, house, pop and downtempo. The loops and all the included materials were recorded and sampled to sound absolutely great. This library captures the essence of that California vibe and offers plenty of banging, up-to-date grooves that can be used for any electronic music or can be injected into a house track or remixes. This 24-bit library is delivered in ACID WAV loops, plus patches for popular softwares for audio production work are supported, such as Propellerhead Reason and Ableton Live, for playability and flexibility. Afterglow has basslines, drums, keys, percussion and synths & chords, with a total of 433 files, including 124 MIDI loops. The percussion loops include instruments such as tuned percussion, toms, shaker, cymbals and claps; plus a multitude of kicks, top loop and snare fills. Off the bat, I like this sample pack from Mode Audio already. This great pack just expands their already massive catalog even more. Bottom line, this is one of those inspiring libraries that will take your production adventure to monstrous state. Great stuff! 

WEB:

https://modeaudio.com/

FORMAT:

WAV, Ableton Live Pack, Reason ReFill, MIDI Loops, Acid WAV

PRICE:

$23.26 USD

 

 

Audio Boutique – Atmos Textures & Noise Elements

If you’re an atmospheric and soundscape samples aficionado, Atmos Textures & Noise Elements is a sample pack by Audio Boutique that you might like. It features an all-new and shiny collection of technoid atmospheres, never-heard-of-before ambiences, deep soundscapes, spooky vocals, vinyl dirt, tape noises and so much more. This royalty-free pack comprises eleven folders of Drones, High Frequency Atmos, Human & Nature Atmos, Moving Textures, Noise & Hum, Bonus Drum Loops, Rhythmic Atmos, Static Atmos Atonal, Static Atmos Tonal, Vinyl Crackles & Scratches and Vocal Samples. The idea behind this library is to give producers loops and one-shots that can be used to augment a near-to-finish arrangement or to give a new tune shine. It has a pretty good selection of samples you need to compose electronic music, but is mainly geared for ambient, soundscape and score music. Weighing in at a whopping 2.17 GB, this pack has over 460 samples that were recorded in 44.1kHz/24 bit WAV and Apple loops format. Of all the materials available, my favorites are the 50 Drones and 50 Moving Textures because of the samples’ usability. The 35 Vinyl Crackles, Scratches and FXs are also great for EDM, as well as the ultra-flexible 30 Vocal FX loops. Overall, this is a good sample resource for quick augmentation into your own atmospheric mixes. 

WEB:

http://www.resonance-sound.com/

FORMAT:

WAV/Apple loops

PRICE:

€29.95 EUR

 

 

Cinetools – Titanomachy

Cinetools is fast becoming one of my favorite modern cinematic sample library developers. From the recently reviewed Otherworld and Disturbia, I can say with confidence that they now have a good history of releasing cutting-edge cinematic libraries. Titanomachy is part of their latest offering, and it is a collection of 800-plus cutting-edge sounds full of tension-building whooshes, hits, powerful impacts, soaring horns, war drones and majestic battlefield atmospheres for use with movie trailers, cut scenes, games, TV and film music. Weighing in at 5.5 GB, there are several sound categories included in the digital download. Unsurprisingly, the 117 soundscapes and atmospheres are good for scoring fantasy and adventure films. Titanomachy has a very distinct sound and approach – it’s epic and cinematic, yet majestic and mythological at the same time. Its style reminds me of sounds used in movies such as 300, Warcraft and Troy. My favorite samples of the bunch are the Drum & Percussion Beds and the Raw Sources & Field Recordings as these include materials that are sure to fire up your creative senses. Overall, this is a good pack that can be used as a reference point for your next TV or film project. And with the files delivered in 24-bit/96kHz, this is worth getting as part of your arsenal of samples.  

WEB:

http://www.loopmasters.com/

FORMAT:

WAV

PRICE:

$83.25 USD

 

 

Mode Audio – Soul Trap

This is a 400 MB sample pack for producers of soul, chill, neo trap and R&B. Soul Trap is a smooth, uber-cool, laid-back collection with plenty of swag. It includes loops, samples and MIDI that are ready for audio production. The 121 MIDI loops (key and tempo labeled) are easy to tweak and reconstruct. The music loops are the stars of the show here since they can be used to start off a track or give you melodic ideas. The Synths and Pads folder, especially, has some really inspiring loops, as does the Pianos & Keys folder. Although there are only 24 808 bassline loops, they have some analog goodness in them and pack some punch. I would say that the 808 loops were recorded well. So what do I think? Mode Audio has delivered a fine sample library yet again that is useful, inspiring and pleasurable to use with. Highly recommended.  

WEB:

https://modeaudio.com/

FORMAT:

WAV, REX2, Reason ReFill, Ableton Live Pack, MIDI Files, Acid WAV

PRICE:

$23.26 USD

 

 

Connect with Ginno @ www.facebook.com/ginnolegaspi

 

 

 

 

 

SoundBytes Freebie of the Month – September 2017

 

This month we will look at the marvelous free version of IK Multimedia’s latest instrument, Syntronik – a substantial free offering if ever there was one.

 

by David Baer, Sept. 2017

 

In late July, IK Multimedia (hereafter IKM) released Syntronik, a massive sample-based synth instrument.  A full review of that can be found in this issue of SoundBytes Magazine here

In brief, Syntronik is a seventeen-instrument collection of sample-based analog synth classics packaged in one piece of software.  Each of the seventeen instruments has an individual UI, but all UIs have essentially the exact same controls.   Six of these can be seen in the screenshot just below.  The instrument may be purchased as the full collection, but the seventeen component instruments can be purchased individually as well.  However, acquiring the full instrument piecemeal with individual purchases will cost the customer far more than buying the whole thing up front.

 

Syntronik is not deeply programmable.  It does have some very good new analog filter emulations created just for Syntronik, and it has a marvelous collection of onboard FX.  The emphasis in IKM’s design was to deliver a performance-ready instrument with lots of musically-useful sounds as opposed to a typical software synth sporting a myriad of adjustable controls, modulators, etc.  This will frustrate synth power users while it will delight casual sound tweakers and novices.

Rather than releasing a hobbled demo, IKM made a free version available that had no time limitations or features disabled.  Syntronik is a closed system in that it can only play sounds packaged in a proprietary format available just to IKM developers, so IKM felt that no other restrictions were necessary except for limiting the content shipped with the free version.  The free version comes with 50 sounds, no more.  But they are quite good sounds.  Furthermore, you may even modify and save them (to the somewhat limited extent one can program sounds in Syntronik).

The catch?  I think it’s a fairly subtle but potentially insidious one.  As stated earlier, the seventeen individual component instruments in Syntronik can be purchased separately.  Here’s what users of the free version must heed: if your DAW has an active internet connection, you may connect with the IKM site directly from within free Syntronik and purchase individual instruments at $50 USD apiece for immediate download, use and gratification.  Mwah, haw, haw, says the IKM marketing head while greedily rubbing his hands together.

Seriously though, Syntronik does sound marvelous, and if you get a small taste of what’s there, you are very likely to want to more – maybe a lot more.  Those with little control over impulse buys might want to skip this one, or check out the free download and then have the discipline to delete it from your DAW until you’ve saved enough to buy the whole thing.

 

The 50 presets in the free version provide a small but representative selection of each of the seventeen Syntronik instruments.  There are at least two presets from each, and in one case there are eight.  You get a nice range of categories: arp presets, bass, brass, leads, pads, etc. that should give you all the experience you need to make an informed buying decision.  But if you don’t have the budget and do have the restraint to keep yourself from making impulsive purchases, you might find some real sound gems from the free download to use in your productions.  If you love the sound of rich-sounding classic synths, then this freebie is definitely one you’ll want to check out.

For more information, go here:

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

To download the free version of Syntronik, go to the following URL (you will probably need to first establish an IKM account if you don’t already have one).

https://www.ikmultimedia.com/freedownload/

 

Music for Tablets: UVItouch Ravenscroft 275 Sampled Piano and Beathawk

 

An amazing sampled piano and a pretty fully featured music production powerhouse mark UVIs entry into the iOS platform.

 

by Warren Burt, Sept. 2017

 

When I first heard that Parisian sample-and-software-meisters UVI was entering the iOS market, I was excited.  I wondered what they would do, especially with making elements of their amazing and deep sample libraries available to the world of tablets.  The answer is here now in two very different apps, both of which are marked by UVIs high sense of quality and value.

 

Ravenscroft 275 Sampled Grand Piano

Ravenscroft 275 is the first one.  It’s a sampled piano, weighing in at a hefty 837 MB.  It’s for iPad, or iPhone, and although they say you need at least an iPhone 5 or an iPad 4 to run it, it also runs quite fine on my ancient iPhone 4S as well.  Despite the size, it loads pretty quickly.  On my iPad4, it takes about 13 seconds to fully load and be ready for play.  It’s massively polyphonic, of course, receives MIDI, has an equalizer, a reverb, and an adjustable velocity curve as well as the ability to have either single or split keyboards, and has a sustain button, which functions just like a sustain pedal on a piano would.  It the Global preferences you can adjust the reference frequency of A from 420 to 460 Hz.  If you have multiple copies of the app on several devices, that means that you can easily set up different sets of 12-note tuning so that you could get, for example 24 or 36 or 48-tone tuning across all the devices, depending on how you set your reference A.  It has ten factory presets, which have different settings of the EQ, reverb and velocity controls, and you can save your own presets as well.

The two questions one wants to ask about any sampled piano, of course, is how does it sound, and how responsive is it to play.  The answer to the first is simply GREAT.  It’s got a lovely timbre – the original piano was obviously a very fine one, and the sampling is up to UVIs usual excellence and high standards.  If you want a piano sound on your iOS devices, you can’t do better than this.  How responsive is it to play?  On my iPad4 and my iPhone6S, the answer was very, very good.  With a MIDI keyboard going into it, and a very low latency set to around 5ms (it will go lower), I couldn’t detect any delay from either when I pressed the keys or touched the keys on the screen.  On the iPhone4S, older device that it is, there was some slight latency heard, but actually, not much more than with a less powerful desktop computer (bear in mind that an iPhone5 is the minimum they say is required, so my use of the iPhone4S is simply a test).

So we have here a great sounding sampled piano, and one that is very responsive and easy to play.  At only $35.99 US (your price will vary based on your country), it’s expensive for an app, but very cheap for a sampled piano of this quality.  Audiobus, IAA, AudioUnits are all supported.  In Audiobus3, in fact, you can have multiple instances of it, each controlled with a different MIDI controller.  Top marks to UVI for making what will probably become the standard in iOS sampled pianos.

 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ravenscroft-275-piano/id966586407?mt=8 $35.99 US

 

Beathawk – Portable Music Production Studio

This is a very complex app, which I think is in the early stages of its development, but which is already a very powerful recording/sampling/performing environment.  The central control unit is a four by four of pads.  These pads can either play a single sample, or, if you press the “Pitch” control when a pad is selected, a keyboard shows up, on which you can play patterns, which will be remembered and stored as a set of sixteen patterns.  These patterns can be polyphonic – that is, if you have a different sample on each pad, and you play on the internal keyboard (or use an external source of MIDI) to play the samples on each pad, all these can all be stored in one pattern.  These polyphonic patterns can then be sequenced in a “Song” page.  Also on the Song page, you can specify which of the sixteen pads will actually play in any particular instance of the pattern.  The song can then be exported either as a wav file, a MIDI file, or stems for use in a DAW, to AudioCopy, iCloud, Ableton Live, and/or YouTube.  The possibilities for live performance in this app are numerous.  You can play the pads like a drum machine.  You can play the keys in the “Pitch” subpage, either on their own or while a pattern is playing.  You can play on the Song page live, selecting patterns to play in real time.  Etcetera.  It’s a very versatile app, which, while it is a bit complex (but its clear manual demystifies things pretty quickly), is nonetheless pretty easy to learn, and I found I was making interesting pieces with it rather quickly.

This shows the basic Pad setup of the piece and the central control page.

 

This shows a pad with its keyboard controller opened.

 

This shows the Pattern page, where you can store up to 16 sixteen voiced patterns.

 

This shows the Step Editor page for one pad only with its pitch patterns shown.

 

This shows the Song page, where you can sequence your patterns.

 

This shows the Sample Browser page, where you can assign sample sets to individual pads.

 

The samples can be your own, or you can use some of the supplied factory content, or you can buy sample sets from UVI.  These sample sets are inexpensive ($5-$20 each, on average), and are drawn from UVIs extensive sample libraries.  A number of them, for example, are drawn from UVI’s wonderful World Suite.  Each set usually has a multi-sampled keyboard instrument of samples, some loops, some phrases and some “elements” which can be used to set up custom drum (or other instrument) kits.  The samples on these, although limited, are again of very high quality.    Each pad has a number of controls which can change its sound significantly.  There is an Edit box, with controls for Gain, Pan, Pitch (curiously, only in semitone steps, more on this later), HP and LP filters, Reverb and Delay.  These settings only apply to the currently chosen pad.  So you can have the same sample, or sample set, on different pads, treated differently.   There’s also an ADSR box, to change the envelope for a particular pad.  There’s also a Record box, which can record sounds coming into the Mic, or if you’re in Audiobus3, from another app (this needs work – again, more later).  And finally, there is a Sample box, where you can edit the start and end points of your recorded sample, and also stretch or compress it from 50% to 200%.  The time stretching is very good – there’s not a lot of degradation in the signal even with extreme (50%) time stretches.  And again, if a sample is loaded onto different pads, you can have a different time stretch applied to each.

So, a very versatile app.  Did I find any limitations?  At this point, yes.  The MOST glaring omission, it seems to me, is in the Edit box for each pad, there is a “Pitch” control which will adjust the pitch of the samples on it in semitones, but there is no “Fine Tune” control, where you could adjust pitch in, for example, Cents (1/100th of a semitone), say from -100 to +100 cents.  Not having a fine tune control means that if you, for example, record an instrument that is slightly out of tune, there is no way to adjust the pitch to have it play in tune with the internal UVI samples.  Nor is there any way to get “beating” effects between pads with similar samples on them.  That strikes me as a very curious limitation, and it is one that I hope the designers will remedy as soon as they can. And of course, no fine tuning means no possibility of microtuning between the pads, which again, is a real limitation.

Also, at the moment, only the UVI samples can play in a looping fashion.  Your own recorded samples can’t be looped.  I’ve been informed by UVI that this will be remedied in a future update.  I hope so, because without looping, BeatHawk is at a real disadvantage when compared with platforms such as Ableton Live, or even Loopy.

I’ve also noticed that when working with Audiobus3, and feeding an external app’s sound into BeatHawk for sampling, I’m also getting input from the iPad’s microphone – sometimes.  I think this needs to be looked into.

The sample sets supplied, are, of course, rigidly in twelve-tone equal temperament.  No microtuning or even pitch bend allowed here.  I asked technical support at UVI if microtuning using, for example, Scala files, as in the UVI Falcon, would be possible, and they said theoretically yes, but they didn’t feel that the demand was there for such an “esoteric” feature.  So microtonalists, if you like BeatHawk, feel free to start bombarding UVI with requests for this feature to be implemented.

Rather than give you more technical details about the app, at this point, I think I’ll depart from Soundbytes usual protocol, and describe for you the processes I used to make a piece with Dhalang MG, BeatHawk, and AudioShare late in July.  It’s also a diary of where and how I was composing the piece – mostly in my spare time on my 107 km (67 miles) commute from Daylesford, Victoria, where I live, to Box Hill Institute, Melbourne, where I work, and back.  This commute has me taking buses and trains, and when I’m in the City, trams as well.  As you read this, you’ll see how I used BeatHawk to make a microtonal piece with these apps, one that I’m quite happy with.  To hear the piece, go to http://www.warrenburt.com/storage/Dhalang%20melodies_Beathawk_Sequenced.mp3 and download it.  To see the diary/article, see below.

In conclusion, would I recommend BeatHawk?  Absolutely.  At this stage it has some curious limitations – like the lack of fine tuning on sample pads, and the lack of looping on your own recorded samples – hopefully those will be fixed in a future update – but on the whole, it’s a very lovely system – well thought out, and with lots of possibilities for both recorded and live performance.  As a sketchpad, it’s superb, and as a performance platform, it’s full of potential.  AND it works well with other apps, being Audiobus3, IAA, and AudioUnits capable.  It’s also really cheap at $9.99 US (where they hope to make their money, of course, is in the sample sets, and these, at least the ones I’ve used, have been of very high quality).  A lot of fun, and you can get professional sounding results from it.

So welcome UVI, to the realms of tablet-based music making.  Both of their debut apps are well worth having, and both offer lots of potential and great value for money.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/beathawk/id839563064?mt=8 $9.99 US

 

How I’m making a microtonal poly-melodic piece with BeatHawk:

  • On bus from Daylesford to Woodend, on 26/7/2017, conceive of a piece with 8 melodies as main material, each in a different ET: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, and 13. Make these melodies with Dhalang MG and record them into AudioShare.
  • On train from Woodend to Southern Cross, Melbourne, on 26/7/2017, make melodies with Dhalang MG: First, set up the tuning in the Tuning Editor Page.  Got to the Tuning Page and set the scale to be all available pitches in the scale.  Then go to the Additive Synthesis page.  Make timbres of 2 harmonics each.  Tune the two partials to very tiny deviations around 2.00 each.  Ie 2.01 and 2.00; 1.97 and 1.99 etc.  Use a different timbre for each melody – so 2 each of sinesum, triangle, saw, and square.  Set filter settings and filter Q differently for each melody.  Third, go to the Particle Page and set up a Particle system to generate melodies – one generator and two surfaces – each surface set to a different pitch range.  Change position of the generator and surfaces, and the gravity rate for each melody.  Also pitch ranges and overall tempo as appropriate.  Fourth, record about 10-20 seconds of each melody with AudioShare.  Once recorded, normalize and trim so that they all start with sound and are all a good level.  Rename them all “Dhalang 20et” “Dhalang 19et” etc.  Send to trash all the intermediate waveforms used in making these.
  • In Theobroma Chocolate Lounge in Southern Cross Station, while having a dark iced chocolate (no cream), copy all the eight melodies to AudioCopy. Erase the melodies from AudioShare.  Go to Trash in AudioShare and get rid of these waveforms and all intermediate waveforms.  Open BeatHawk and import the eight melody wav files from AudioShare.  Then erase the eight waveforms from AudioShare.  In BeatHawk assign melodies 1-8 (starting with 13et) to pads 1-8.  Then assign melodies 1-8 to pads 9-16.  For each pad adjust Release in ADSR to a long decay, adjust pitch for pads 9-12 to -5 semitones and pitch for pads 13-16 to +5 semitones.  Adjust the panning for each pad from 70 Left for Pad 1 to 70 Right for Pad 16 in increments of about 10 steps for each.
  • On train from Flinders St Station to Box Hill, play with the volume of each pad (make most about -6dB), and then notice that if you push the “Pitch” button, the keyboard comes up to allow you to transpose the samples to the pitches of 12ET. Playing one pad at a time, record individual tracks into one of the Patterns (set to a length of 16 bars with the tempo at 20 and the Quantize OFF), alternating just holding the pad which allows the whole melody to be played, and then to the Pitch keyboard, and play some short riffs with the melody as a sample transposed to the pitches of 12ET.  Then back to the solo Pad, and then back to the melodies, etc.  After each take, Mute all previous pads and record a similar process on the next Pad.  On this train ride, I was able to record 2 tracks, with pads 1 and 2, of sequences using the 13et and 14et melody.
  • At Box Hill at work, type up this description of what has happened so far.
  • Future plan – record the other 14 tracks. At tempo 20 with 16 bars, the sequence is about 3:12 long.  When you have a Pattern with 14 tracks in it, maybe you can have a number of playing of this pattern with different tracks being on and off for each playing of the pattern.  Or you might want to make a couple of more patterns.  In any case, when you finish the piece, and you’ve exported it as a wav file, then  two-finger touch the wav file and export it to AudioCopy so it can be imported into AudioShare and from there, exported into the “real world.”  (One idea is to do the microtonal piece from start to finish “in the box (iPad)” and only export the final result to the real world.

26/7/17 WB 

  • On the train back into Melbourne from Box Hill, I recorded tracks 3-8, all of which used the same process as described above for tracks 1-2. This in the evening of 26/7/17.
  • Then in the morning of 27/7/17, on the train from Melbourne to Box Hill, recorded tracks 9-16. For each of these, I decided to only play single instances of the samples, one at a time, on each track.  For transpositions I only used the following D2 F2 G2 Bb2 C3 D3 F3 G3 Bb3 in a different order on each of the 8 tracks.
  • In the afternoon of the 27th, at work, I prepared a “song” score of the sixteen-track texture 1 happening twice. Once with tracks 1-8 and the second time with tracks 9-16.  I exported it, and then exported the exported wav file from Beathawk to AudioCopy and then from AudioCopy to AudioShare.  I then listened to it.  It was OK, but the shift from left-leaning textures to right-leaning textures, when you went from the first iteration of the sixteen-track texture (with tracks 1-8, then 9-16) was a bit jarring.  I then added two more iterations of texture 1, each playing for only the first eight measures of the texture.  The first used tracks 1-4 and 13-16; the second used tracks 5-12.  I then exported this, and found that although at the end of the final playing of texture 1, there were some samples that decayed beyond the end of the measure, when you exported the track, the sound abruptly cut off at the end of the measure of that track.
  • In the car, driving back to Daylesford (my wife brought in the car later in the day, and we drove home together), I thought that if I put a dummy blank texture at the end I could get the “overhang” of the decaying samples heard. Then it occurred to me that I could indeed make a “coda.”  Using the “piano-roll” editor, I simply made a texture 4 measures long, and for the first two measures, just had a sustaining C3 in each of textures 1-8.  This gave me all eight melodies playing simultaneously.  This sounded good, so I glued that to the end of the timeline, and then exported the sequence, which I then exported (using two-finger touch on the sample) to AudioCopy, and thence from AudioCopy to AudioShare.  The silence at the end of the Coda texture did indeed solve the overhang problem, and allowed all the waveforms to decay gracefully.
  • On the morning of the 28th, at home, using iTunes, I transferred the final mix from AudioShare to my desktop PC, and looked at, and listened to the final mix using Audacity and some good loudspeakers. The result sounded fine.  The piece was now finished.  All that remains to do is to clean up all the intermediary waveforms in AudioShare and Beathawk.
  • Again, if you want to hear the piece, download it, free, from here: http://www.warrenburt.com/storage/Dhalang%20melodies_Beathawk_Sequenced.mp3

28/7/16 Daylesford, VIC Warren Burt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essentials – Virtual Tube Collection by Slate Digital

 

What does “Analog” really mean? If there is anything that fits that description, Virtual Tube Collection might just be it, improving definition, nicely taming everything.

by Alex Arsov, Sept. 2017

 

Introducing VTC

The Virtual Tube Collection is a set of a three different virtual tube circuit emulations that can serve as saturator, preamp or as a summing console (that last application being less sensitive and more forgiving than the preamp mode). These emulations are named the Hollywood, London and New York models.

We have seen plenty of similar products lately. I’ve tried most of them just by downloading demo versions or even getting full versions directly from developers. It’s difficult to reduce a discussion of these competing products to better/worse pronouncements because they all have different character from product to product.

I will try to avoid the terms “warmth” and “depth” that you find in all the tube PR material, instead concentrating on things that differ from the other similar tools that are on the market right now.

I spent two weeks trying all three models of VTC on various instruments, buses and on whole mixes. I have to admit that I was totally impressed with the end results, but VTC is hardly a magical tool that you can just insert on every channel and sunshine will shine on you until the end of your days. Using it in this way, it is very easy to overdo your final mix, getting a boomy low end, and a slightly messed-up whole picture, especially if you also add it on a main output after adding it to all channels without changing any parameters. Using different models on most channels along with buses and master output can work wonders if you crank the saturation up to two instead of ten, setting dry/wet ratio somewhere around 40% ( I use 38%). The same goes for the main output channel. It is nice to have some headroom for going mad with bass instruments or for other special purposes. Having my bass instruments already pushing reasonable limits, I would easily run into trouble going with the default settings.

 

About the Character

The difference between these three VTC models and other similar plug-ins in the market is the pleasantly sounding end result, since some other models can sound quite more aggressive and not so silky-smooth. Sometimes aggressive is good, but I found this silkiness quite more usable because VTC proves to be far more forgiving while taming your small mixing imperfections. Surprisingly it also works fine with more aggressive mixes. I found that with VTC, instruments really somehow sit better in the mix, even slightly improving the stereo image. Then not only do instruments sit better in the mix, they also seem to be more defined regarding left/right as well as front/back positioning. All other models add that something to the sound, but somehow also slightly degrade the stereo image. Compared to the competitors, VTC really does something about this “space” definition, especially if you try to A/B it with some other similar products. It also adds a soft fullness to the sound, but as it goes with many things in life, overdo it a bit and you will get way too much of that fullness. So, be careful with that axe, Eugene. The same thing goes with the low end. If you already have the low end well-established, then using the Hollywood or London models can go a bit too far. They both add a very nice and stable low end, but in some cases I was forced to cut some subs with EQ, no matter that I had already set a low cut filter directly inside VTC since it cuts low end in a more subtle way using 12 dB per octave.

The third model, New York, sets bass more tightly and I found this one to be just perfect for rock arrangements on a main output, just as London was perfect for more electro-type music. Hollywood is simply irreplaceable for all orchestral settings. But this is just my personal take and it depends how you mix your songs within these genres. Also London and Hollywood do wonders for synths, making them rounder and a bit pleasant to the ears, even (or maybe especially) when you use saw-wave based presets.

I added a touch of various models on the buses for this song, exchanging another tube plug-in for VTC on the master. So, put your headphones on, or listen this on some good speakers, and come to your own conclusions. I’m not a pro mixing/mastering engineer, but I suspect you will notice the differences.

   Annoying when you try to listen it loud. 

     Quite less annoying – You can listen it loud.

 

In a Virtual Box

We have already discussed the three basic models that comprise this bundle. First there’s Hollywood which offers a wide open sound with a rich low and high end. Next is London which has pleasant high ends and a fat low end (ideal for drums, guitars and all manner of other instruments – all you need to do is to set a high-pass filter on this model for all high instruments). Finally there’s New York, having the tightest sound, but still adding much magic, at least for me – a great tool for rock mixes that already have enough low and high elements.

Under the VU meter window you will find two switches. The first one is for switching between Preamp and Console mode, the latter being more suitable for summing purposes, buses and master output.

The second switch is for applying even more of everything that VTC modules offer by choosing Push instead of Normal.

In the middle of the interface we see a Saturation knob. A key thing about this control is that VTC adds some nice mojo even when it’s set to zero. Add too much and you will have quite a bit of distortion. It is not unpleasant, but still, distortion is distortion and not always the best thing. Keeping it low is the name of the game here (but on other hand, there was a case in which I needed distorted drums and found that distorting them with VTC, setting everything almost to ten, gave better, more pleasant results than any other distortion I tried).

Finally, there are the last three knobs. The first controls high-pass filtering that can be used for cutting some of the low end up to 250 Hz, preventing the rumble and moodiness. Next is an Output control for setting the volume. I found that you need to decrease the level about 1 dB to match the level of unprocessed material (I presume this due to all those overtones that add a touch of loudness to the processed material). Last is the Mix control for setting the balance between processed and unprocessed signal.

More or less, that’s the whole story. Everything else is magic.

 

Conclusion

I’ve heard a lot about Slate Digital in the past, but VTC is my first Slate Digital plug-in experience and I’m pleasantly impressed (it seems like that it happens frequently of late when reviewing products, so I’m not sure if products are getting better and better, or if I’m getting more judicious about picking the right things to review. 🙂  )

I don’t know if digital will ever become completely equivalent to analog and what this might mean because I never owned any expensive analog gear. But one way or another, VTC adds a nice roundness to the material that makes the end results less static and definitively more pleasant to the ear than the unprocessed sound was. I must also mention how nice everything sits inside the mix, adding better definition of space for every separate instrument, taming some almost annoying ends or sudden peaks. VTC also makes my hi-hats or saw-wave-driven synths sound less harsh and more pleasing. Basses are better presented and more stable. The whole mix gets better stereo definition and some unexpected volume fluctuations in the mastering process become less prevalent.

This is not to imply that VTC will make huge differences in your mixes that even your grandma will spot immediately. But the effect is not so subtle that only you and your headphones will notice the difference. One of my previous albums for some weird reason sounded a bit unpleasant when played loud and I was not able to figure where the problem is. So, I turned the volume knob on my amp quite high setting VTC New York model in the mastering chain, spending ten or fifteen minutes to find the right balance between Saturation, Mix and High Pass, and I managed to get rid of those annoyances on a new re-master.

This is not a set-it-and-forget-it tool. Nor can it improve mixes so bad that no tool can help them. But with some tweaking, VTC can make a difference. Something tells me that this one will not be the last Slate Digital plug-in that I will buy.

ESSENTIAL for:  VTC simply makes your songs better, irrespective of what this “Analog” term is supposed to actually mean.

More info at http://slatedigital.com/virtual-tube-collection/

Price: $179 USD or Monthly, Annual or Year plan for getting all Slate Digital plugins.

 

 

Review – soothe from oeksound

 

If you don’t hear it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. That goes both for not-so-obvious resonances in your audio material and instances of soothe on your tracks.

 

by Aljoša Feldin, Sept. 2017

 

A Problem soothe Is Solving

One of the first and most noticeable nuisances when dealing with vocals in your mixes are all the sibilant sounds that authors of lyrics can’t avoid putting in there.  Once you treat these with a de-esser of your choice, you might think you are home free, but you are not. We record vocals in different budget-related circumstances, so, it is likely that in your vocal track, you have some resonances generated by the room in which the vocal was recorded, there might be some resonant artifacts generated by the microphone used, and last but not least, the singer’s vocal tract itself is a source of surges in some frequencies, that she or he doesn’t have much control over. So it’s time for some notching with your favorite EQ, dynamic EQ, or for broader moves, multiband compressor.

But first, you need to clearly identify the offending frequencies. If you can’t put your finger on exactly what it is that is bothering you in the track, you resort to a well-known sweeping of a single band high-Q EQ boost listening for sudden spikes. In next step you need to decide how to treat the identified frequencies. That involves one parameter (Q) if you are notching, two if you are dipping (in addition to Q, the depth of a dip) and three more when using dynamic EQ or multiband compressor (with threshold, attack, and release on top of the previous two). And it doesn’t stop with vocals. Think overheads, hi-hat, guitar amps, and pretty much any acoustic instrument tracked. The work we put into treating these tracks for resonances accumulates rapidly. The reason I am wasting your time with things you probably already understand, is exactly that. By doing all that, we are wasting time we should be spending doing something creative.

Enter soothe. Oeksound from Helsinki, Finland, claim to have devised a fast and user-friendly solution to these problems. soothe is advertised as a spectral processor for suppressing resonances in the mid and high frequencies.

 

Appearance Transformed into Reality

Should one have to guess, soothe transforms the incoming signal to a frequency spectrum and looks for frequencies the amplitude of which exceeds some threshold that is relative to signal’s overall volume and/or to amplitudes of frequencies in the vicinity of the identified ones. Based on the chosen parameter values, it then suppresses the amplitudes of these respective frequencies. Again, one would guess that in order not to mistakenly eliminate higher harmonics of the signal’s base frequency, there are big chunks of theory coming both from music and physics, backed by some learning on typical sound sources, behind this plugin.

The manual explains the GUI layout and parameters’ functions well.

 

The large depth knob controls the overall strength of the process. It acts as a soft-knee global threshold that is relative to the input signal’s strength, i.e., the displayed dB values do not have any meaning in absolute terms. Since higher values mean more reduction, this would actually best be read as input drive into a compressor with fixed threshold that compensates for the amount of drive in the output stage.

Frequency and reduction graph (FRG) conveniently shows where in the spectrum soothe is operating and by how much respective frequencies are suppressed.

In addition to the global depth, soothe provides five filters to differentially concentrate on frequency ranges that you might find more critical than others. The shape of these filters is shown in the FRG. Black and white dots resemble HP and LP filters, respectively, while red, yellow, and purple act as parametric bands. Since we have the operation of parametric EQ stamped onto our genes already, you are bound to make couple of mistakes when tweaking these filters at first. For example, when you drag the red dot down, you are not reducing the level of frequencies in its respective band; you are reducing the amount of their suppression. Admittedly, the vertical position of the dot is called sensitivity (sens) and is shown to the left of the FRG, so it makes sense; higher values, higher the sensitivity to frequencies in this band relatively to global depth parameter. Similarly, when you increase the value of bandwidth parameter, you might at first expect to be tweaking the Q value, but you are not. You are increasing the width of the range in which you have instructed soothe to cut more or less relatively to global depth.

All filters can be disengaged by double clicking on their respective dots in the FRG or to the left of it, in the band section. It is worth noting that with all filters bypassed, soothe is still working following global parameters. This is from where one of my wishes for future releases is coming. Occasionally, I would like to be able to solo a particular band to zero in on its frequencies. You can still do it, if you set HP and LP filters accordingly, but it is couple of moves to many, and then you need to set them back where they were, if they are in use.

All the fun starts with global sharpness and selectivity parameters. Sharpness controls the width of the cuts. Higher the values, sharper the cuts, so, it acts somewhat as a Q value. With a lower value here, soothe will be suppressing a wider range by a smaller amount, while with a higher value, there will be a higher number of narrower and deeper cuts in the selected range. Selectivity sets a threshold that particular frequency’s amplitude must exceed to be understood as a resonance by soothe. Higher values mean that soothe is pickier and will need higher spikes to trigger the suppression, i.e., like a standard compressor’s threshold.

There is a learning curve to the plugin and sometimes the changes it brings are so subtle that delta button is really useful, as via a null test, you get to hear exactly what is being taken out of the source.

There are also standard stereolink, oversample, resolution, wet (dry/wet mix), soft bypass and preset management features there.

 

Some Applications

The first and the most obvious is the application this thing was created for. I am dealing with a female vocalist with nice and open voice, but as soon as she so much as thinks of belting, she develops some whistling living predominantly at 3.1 kHz and 4.3 kHz. Being a big fan of a higher number of smaller moves, I would typically use soothe as the first effect in the chain and would aim at reducing these known resonances by some 3dB, collaterally cutting some minor offenders along the way. I would focus in with appropriate filters, with sharpness around 5-6 and selectivity 6-8. In order not to overdo it, I would stop here and would next follow with some other dynamic EQ to check the residue at the deepest dips – resonances that soothe identified.

Another interesting thing to do is to check for comb filtering artifacts in your tracks. With both sharpness and selectivity set relatively high and with global depth at some level that would result in 1+ dB cuts, check the delta mode. If you can easily recognize comb filtering in what you hear, chances are that you would be able to convince yourself that the soothed sound is cleaner and closer compared to non-soothed one. With some appropriate filtering, for me, this works even on an amped bass track.

There is a way to train your ears to recognize offending frequencies and the respective ranges they live in quickly. Along the way, you also get a grip on how soothe operates. Bypass all filters, dial in sharpness=0, selectivity=10, and switch to delta mode. You don’t hear anything, as you shouldn’t. You’ve instructed soothe to look for strong aggregate but relative surges of energy in very wide frequency ranges and there just are not any. When you start increasing sharpness slowly, first prominent downward oriented blobs start to show up. Usually you would first hear quite some low middle frequencies that you actually don’t want to take out. This is unavoidable because, energy-wise, lower frequencies are normally dominant and soothe was designed to cope with frequencies above these anyway, so you engage HP filter with appropriate settings and tweak it as you go. When you increase sharpness further, you will begin to hear the delta sound becoming more and more unnatural, which means you are zeroing in on the problem frequencies.

 

Don’t Do It by Default

As with many other plugins, soothe’s promise of providing your mixes with instant magic, backed with praise by some of the industry’s top producers and mixing engineers, is very tempting and you may quickly find yourself overdoing it. To that end, there is even a preemptive entry on oeksound’s FAQ page where they address this issue suggesting that one can always bring some life back to the track with post-soothe saturation. To avoid that, just don’t overdo it. I noticed one needs to be careful especially with where and how transients on mic’d guitar amps, for example, are affected.

Also, it helps to know your sound source a little. As shown in the two pictures of a soothe instance on a trumpet track, no matter at which of the two extremes the global selectivity parameter is, soothe is picking and cutting the same frequencies. This is a consequence of trumpet having very prominent higher harmonics with potential resonances from tracking not being powerful enough to be picked up. Soothing this track simply means taking away its essence.

 

Conclusion

Admittedly, once you spent some time mastering it, soothe is quite a time saver. You can always achieve similar results with a dynamic EQ, but it will take you longer. To introduce artifacts from its process, you must push soothe really hard and it’s not the linear phase pre-ringing one would expect, according to oeksound, it’s just noise that’s left after removing resonances very surgically. There are two wishes this reviewer has about the plugin’s GUI. It would be handy to be able to pick some other color scheme as the light gray/light blue/white makes it hard to read the Frequency and Reduction Chart (I know, we should concentrate on what we hear  :mrgreen: ) and to the same point, a resizable or simply bigger GUI would be beneficial as well.

If you are on a control-freak side of mixing, soothe will never render your favorite dynamic EQ obsolete, but it will save you a lot of time and when used wisely, will improve your sound. You can always use a 20-day fully functional trial period to check it out for yourself.

For more info and/or to grab it, you would want to go here: soothe by oeksound.

Details: Available in 32-bit and 64-bit and compatible with all major DAWs.  No dongle required. Online access required for the initial activation of the product and trial. One license allows activation of the product on 3 machines. Licenses are valid for both Windows and Mac OSX platforms.

 

 

 

 

Review – Syntronik from IK Multimedia

 

Syntronik from IK Multimedia is a monster of synthesizer sound creation – a monster in a very good way, that is, with its rich, analog character and multitude of presets.

 

by David Baer, Sept. 2017

 

Introducing Syntronik

Syntronik is a sample-based conglomeration of over three dozen classic synths.  It has a massive scope in terms of the sample sound base and the number of presets included, at least for the full instrument.  It can also be purchased in smaller increments and there’s even a free version that’s well-worth having if you’re short on funds.  In short, this is one of the most exciting and substantial software products IK Multimedia (IKM for brevity hereafter) has ever produced.

First let’s get a few essentials out of the way.  Syntronik is 64-bit only for PC and Mac.  It is available in formats compatible with all major DAWs and also provides a standalone version.  An internet connection is required to download and authorize, but authorization is otherwise customer-friendly and requires no dongle.  The full instrument requires approximately 60 GB of disk space.  The full instrument is attractively priced, but we’ll look at the various purchase options at the end of this review.

Before we dive in, let’s address one common topic of controversy.  It seems that any time a significant sample-based synth product appears, a handful of trolls will emerge in the music forums who loftily dismiss the instrument as “nothing more than a rompler”.  They then insist in hanging around on discussion threads belaboring that same point day after day, wasting the bandwidth of people truly interested in the instrument.  Yes, Syntronik uses sample sets (and a huge collection of very good ones, I might add) instead of implementing a conventional oscillator section.  It seems to me that any virtual instrument that offers a repeating waveform (and/or noise) that gets routed through a filter that can be modulated by an envelope, LFO and/or performance gestures, and the output of the filter goes through an amp stage similarly modulated, qualifies as a synth.  If you don’t agree, then fine – this instrument is not for you.  If instead you have no problem with this approach, then read on, because there’s much to like in Syntronik.

 

The Big Picture

IKM had much of the software infrastructure in place even before Syntronik first appeared on the drawing board.  Sample Tank 3, released in 2014, had the sample playback engine and a substantial collection of FX modules ready to be repurposed for a dedicated synth instrument.  Sample Tank 3 is a general-purpose instrument that offers a wide variety of acoustic sounds along with electronic ones.  While it had a respectable amount of synth content, it did not specialize in that.  Thus, Syntronik fills a niche not previously fully addressed by IKM.

What was missing from Sample Tank 3 that was needed for a synth-centric instrument was what was developed by IKM to create Syntronik, and all that came together in an impressively short time courtesy of the Sample Tank 3 base infrastructure upon which to build.

Those missing pieces were mainly three things.  The big piece was the sample content itself.  Then, IKM thought it a good idea to add a sprinkling of vintage fairy dust to the mix in the form of something that introduced some of the charming unpredictability of pre-digital synths.  Lastly, a more realistic set of filters were needed – realistic in terms of mimicking analog originals.  There were a few other things, such as a couple of new FX modules and, of course, a whole new UI.  But the big three just mentioned are really at the core of Syntronik’s character.  We’ll look at all this in detail below.

One other relevant point is that all the new goodies created for Syntronik were retrofit into Sample Tank 3.  I don’t mean the sample content, of course, but owners of both Sample Tank 3 and Syntronik can play Syntronik content in Sample Tank (assuming the latest version has been installed).  There are a few things Syntronik was not intended for, such as multi-instrument configuration using multiple inputs, FX sends, and multiple outputs that Sample Tank can handle but that Syntronik cannot.

 

The Sounds

 

Any list of “Things That Make Syntronik Splendid” absolutely must begin with the sounds.  Above you see a picture of one of Syntronik’s principal contributors, Erik Norlander, who owns most of the instruments sampled.  In fact, he started collecting samples before Syntronik was conceived.  The effort that went into this must have been monumental.

 

We have 38 original instruments involved (listed just above).  The samples, 24-bit where necessary and 16-bit where not, are superbly captured (samples that consistently stay above -30 dB will derive no benefit from an extra 8 bits and just waste disk space, so 16-bit is not de facto second-rate).  A tiny bit of the content was resurrected from Sample Moog or Sonic Synth (earlier IKM products based upon synth analog sound samples).  But the vast majority of the content is new to Syntronik.  I should confess at this point that with 635 different sample sets on tap, there’s no way I’ve had time to carefully listen to anywhere near all of them at this point.

A sample set lives in a single file, a .pak file, which contains main oscillator multi-samples, which might be round-robin multi-samples, and possibly additional multi-samples of a secondary oscillator.  Preset/sample load times vary between under two seconds to about five seconds on my machine.

To give you an idea of the types of files on tap, below is a listing of the sounds in the J-8 sample directory.

 

As you can see most of the files have sufficiently descriptive names from which you can tell what to expect just from the file name.  But here’s the problem.  With Syntronik, you load presets, not multi-samples.  There’s no way you can load a particular multi-sample unless you load a preset that uses it. 

In fact, there is no way in Syntronik to even know what sample file a preset is using.  For that you need to go into Sample Tank 3.  Even there, you cannot change the preset file, but at least you know which one is being used (and whether or not it employs round-robin playback).  The image to the right shows what this looks like in Sample Tank 3 for preset Hollywood Syn String Section.

A sample-based synth cannot do a few things normally expected of a synth.  Notably, pulse-width modulation is off the table as is sync-ed (slaved) secondary oscillators.  On the other hand, when you have such a cornucopia of samples to draw upon, you are hardly short-changed on options.  The sample-based approach does make sound design very much more accessible to the novice, so one person’s limitation is another person’s feature.

 

DRIFT™

The second “personality enhancer” in Syntronik is the feature that supposedly adds realistic vintage character to the sounds.  IKM gives this a trademarked name of “DRIFT”.  That stands for Digital Recreation of Imprecise Frequency Technology.  OK, it really doesn’t – I just made that up.  DRIFT, in spite of being all capital letters, is not an acronym, according to one IKM spokesperson, it’s just a name.

We know a few things about DRIFT.  The main thing is that is does in fact introduce frequency instability mimicking real analog gear.  It also does something to mimic random starting phase in a waveform when a note is triggered.  Supposedly it does even more but there are no specifics available.

We cannot turn DRIFT off in Syntronik, so there’s no way we can try to hear what it’s actually doing.  Is it always fully on or did the sound designers set the DRIFT level on a per-sound basis?  Did the original sampled sounds get pitch-corrected so that the DRIFT wouldn’t lead to excessive frequency drifting in samples that already showed frequency inaccuracies?  It’s all a big secret.

 

Filters

The third component of Syntronik’s realism is supplied by four new filter emulations of analog originals.  There are seven available filters in all.  The Classic filter, originally from Sample Tank, offers low, band and high-pass (LP, BP and HP).  A phaser and formant filter are specialty filters.  The other four are the new emulations (and IKM certainly knows a thing or two about digital emulation of analog circuitry).

The four emulations are:

M-Type – a Moog ladder (a must-have, of course)

R-Type – a Roland classic based on the IR3109 IC chip

C-Type – a Curtis CEM3320 IC recreation (probably best known for its use in several Prophet synth models from Sequential Circuits)

O-Type – an Oberheim SEM state variable filter

The emulations vary in capability.  The various filter pass types and slopes (dB per octave attenuation) available depend upon the type.  Below you can see what’s available (N is for notch filter, the numbers are number of poles: 1 = 6 dB/octave, 2 = 12 dB/octave, 3 = 18 dB/octave and 4 = 24 dB/octave).

M-Type: LP1, LP2, LP3, LP4, BP1, BP2, BP3, HP1, N (slope unspecified)

R-Type: LP2, LP4

C-Type: LP2, LP4

O-Type: LP2, BP2, HP2, N2

Classic: LP1, LP2, LP3, LP4, BP1, BP2, BP3, BP4, HP1, HP2, HP3, HP4

The filter resonance is what really distinguishes the personalities of the four emulations.  With zero resonance, the filters sound pretty much identical.  But with even with a little resonance set, the individual characters start to emerge, and with maximum resonance, the sound can be downright in-your-face.

Key-follow is not available for filter cutoff frequency.  However (and this fairly important detail is omitted from the documentation), there is a built-in, non-modifiable key-follow factor of 50% for the five conventional filter types.  That is, play a note and you get a certain cutoff frequency.  Play a note two octaves higher and the cutoff frequency is one octave higher.  The cutoff frequency is displayed when the cutoff control is being adjusted with the mouse.  As best I can tell, the pivot note (the note whose cutoff frequency actually matches that on the readout) is middle C (MIDI note 60).

Significantly, all filter types are available for all sounds.  If you wish to put an Oberheim filter on a sample originally coming from a Moog or vice versa, nothing’s stopping you.  Have at it!

 

The Original Instruments and the “Skins”

The 38 original synths are packaged into seventeen Syntronik instruments.  These are:

Minimod – based on Modular Moog, Minimoog, Moog Voyager

OXa – Oberheim OB-X, OB-Xa

J-8 – Roland Jupiter-8, Jupiter-6, Jupiter-4

Pro-V – Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Prophet-10

V-80 – Yamaha CS-80, GX-1, CS-01II

Harpy 260 – ARP 2600

T-03 – Roland TB-303 Bassline

Blau – PPG Wave 2.3

Bully – Moog Taurus I, II, 3

Galaxy – Alesis Andromeda

SAM – Oberheim Synthesizer Expansion Module

String Box – Arp String Ensemble, Elka Rhapsody 490, Hohner String Performer, Roland RS-505 Paraphonic, Roland RS-09 Organ/Strings

Polymorph – Moog Polymoog, Opus 3, Rogue, Realistic Concertmate MG-1

99 – Yamaha SY99

DCO-X – Roland JX-10, JX-8P, JX-3P

Noir – Multimoog, Micromoog, Moog Prodigy

J-60 – Roland Juno-60

Each of the seventeen instruments has its own UI skin, although all instruments have exactly the same controls.  The UI of four of the instruments (SAM, Minimod, Pro-V and V-80) can be seen below.  Click on any of them to see them full-size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The use of different layouts probably makes sense from a marketing point of view (remember the instruments can be purchased individually), but it is somewhat of a pain if you’re a dedicated preset tweaker.  You must hunt for the controls you want to change since they’re pretty much in a different place on every instrument.

All Syntronik pages are resizable, by the way.  Some of them, like the FX page look like they could not be resized, but IKM did nicely in this department.

To see all seventeen UIs, go to the Syntronik URL at the end of this article.

 

Layers


Up to four instruments can be concurrently active using the layers panel (seen just above).  The letters A thru D in the upper left are used to select the current layer of interest.  When one is selected, that is the corresponding instrument panel that will be seen when returning to the main edit window.

All the instruments loaded in a layer setup respond to the same MIDI channel and send output to the same place (unlike various things that can be done with Sample Tank).  But there is a fair amount of flexibility here.  Keyboard splits can easily be specified as can velocity layer splits.  One feature not there is the ability to define a crossfade across the range of the keyboard.  Of course, simply stacking two or more instruments can produce a very rich, complex sound.  Combining plucks with slow-attack sustained presets also opens up a vast array of interesting possibilities.

Layer volume is specified in the little drop-down box (seen in the image above), which offers a master volume control as well as a layer volume and pan control for the currently selected layer slot.  I would prefer to see all four layer volume controls simultaneously displayed.  Achieving the desired balance can be a pain when continually needing to bounce back and forth between parts.

As you’d expect, layer setups can be saved as “multis”.  A layer slot can be locked so that loading a saved multi will not overwrite it.

 

The Browser

 

With over 2000 presets in the full instrument, you will naturally need some way to find the ones in which you’re interested.  The Syntronik browser, seen just above, is a reasonably handy tool for that purpose.   First, there’s a text search capability.  Type in “glass” and you’ll see all the presets with “glass” in the preset name.

Then there are browsing filters.  The first of these is the left column in which you can click on one or more of the seventeen instruments to filter that way.  The middle column contains a number of different classification types:

Category: e.g. Arpeggio, Brass, Ethnic, Strings

Timbre: e.g. Bowed, Buzzy, Crystalline, FM

Style: e.g. Atmospheric, Classic, Contemporary, Futuristic

Music Genre: e.g. Avant Garde, Ballad, Electronic, Progressive

Mood: e.g. Angry, Bold, Comical, Frightened

The Category filter is certainly useful and Timbre can be helpful.  The rest of the filters I don’t find to be of much use.  Do you trust someone else’s judgement as to what constitutes an appropriate sound for progressive rock?  Is white noise a sound you’d classify as Angry when using the Mood Classification?

Finally there is a Favorite marker.  You may designate any sound as a favorite and filter to see only presets so designated.  This is highly useful assuming you have taken the time to audition a lot of sounds.  At one minute per preset, that would only take you about 34 hours (and no need to worry about listening fatigue setting in, right?).

The biggest omission in the browser, to my mind, is the ability to search for presets based upon sample file name.  It’s true you may not create presets by assigning a sample file to it (you may only modify an existing preset that already uses it), but I believe this would nevertheless be a welcome feature for a lot of users.

 

Modulation

Modulation in Syntronik is limited.  There are two conventional ADSR envelopes hard-wired to filter cutoff and amplitude.  There is a dedicated LFO for vibrato, with the mod wheel as the default vibrato level controller.  You may repurpose the mod wheel for something else (via MIDI learn, described shortly) and by setting the vibrato rate to zero.  But in doing so, no other controller may be reassigned to vibrato level.

There is one general purpose LFO and it’s pretty basic.  It can govern pitch, pan and/or filter cutoff via dedicated depth controls.  It may optionally be synced to host tempo.  There are only five waveforms: sine, triangle, square, up-ramp and sample and hold.  No available down-ramp is a disappointing omission in my opinion, as is a gradually-changing random option (sample-and-ramp if you will).  Of course like so much else in Syntronik, the upside to this simplicity is that the LFO is dead simple to program.

There is no mod matrix.  Furthermore, there is no way to use aftertouch as a modulation control source.  Neither is MIDI-note number available as a modulation control source.

There is no capability for host automation, but MIDI CC control is available throughout.

You can use MIDI learn to make any of the controls respond to MIDI CC information.  You can have a MIDI controller be master to multiple instrument controls.  In a limited fashion, you can specify how much the slaved control will respond to the MIDI controller by using the MIDI assignments panel seen below.


Unfortunately, the Min value may not be greater than the Max value.  So, we cannot have a keyboard control raise one instrument control while lowering another.  This would be especially useful in setting up a layer crossfade.  Hopefully IKM will address this shortcoming in the next release.

 

FX

 

Here’s where things get really fun.  38 excellent plug-in effects are available that offer a wide range of audio possibilities.  Each layer has five insert effect slots as can be seen in the image above.  All but two of the 38 effects were previously found in Sample Tank 3, although delightful new graphic UIs were created for Syntronik use (see the web site to view them all).  The signal chain is simply left to right.

Before Sample Tank 3, most if not all the effects began life as either TRacks mixing/mastering components or Amplitube components.  Although I’ve never used Amplitube, I can certainly attest to the quality of many of the TRacks modules.  The Fairchild 670 emulation, which is available in Syntronik, has become an absolute go-to compressor for me.  I only just acquired the British Channel (modelled on an SSL 4000 E series console), but it promises to be another gem.  The Syntronik versions of both the 670 and British Channel can be seen in the above image.

Two new FX were added to the Sample Tank 3 collection to round out the Syntronik FX line-up.  The first is the British Channel just mentioned.  The second is the excellent Ensemble effect, inspired by several classic string synth chorus ensembles.  It too is included in the above image.

The categories and numbers of effect are:

  • Amps – 4
  • Distortion – 6
  • Dynamics/EQ – 6
  • Modulation – 12
  • Reverb/Delay – 6
  • Filter – 4

Individual effect presets can be saved.  There is no provision however to save a full effect chain.  Hopefully that’s another thing on the IKM Syntronik to-do list of future features.

Details on the individual effects can be found on the Syntronik page on the IKM web site.

 

Arpeggiator

 

Syntronik has an arpeggiator; in fact each layer slot has an arp available to it, so some pretty wild audio animation is within easy reach.  Any of the arps can be locked so that when loading a new sound into a layer slot that has an arp in use, you may keep the current arp setting from being overwritten.

The arp is reasonably full-featured but space doesn’t permit digging deeply here.  Suffice it to say that the manual devotes eleven full pages to it.

 

So What’s Lacking?

Syntronik is clearly aimed at users who are interested primarily in having easy access to a vast pool of sounds that require little or no tweaking for immediate gratification.  In this it largely succeeds.  But there are a few things that could make it significantly more versatile, thus making it attractive to a wider potential customer base while retaining its primary market targeting.

At the top of my list would be improved sound design capabilities.  I would like to be able to build a sound from scratch, starting with the selection of a sample file.  I would like a neutral UI in which to work where the controls remained in one place and don’t move around if I change sample source to a different original instrument.

While that might be a bigger job than IKM would care to tackle, there are a few simple alternatives that would be very nearly as effective.  First, IKM could publish a cross-reference of presets and sample files, sorted by sample file name.  Next, I’d love to see a capability where we could tell Syntronik to use a particular instrument UI no matter what instrument is actually selected, or even better to provide an eighteenth generic UI for that purpose.  Finally, we should be able to lock the FX settings and lock the basic main settings (filter cutoff, filter and amp envelope, etc.).  That would do it.  Sound designers should all become reasonably happy campers!

Near the top of many users’ wish lists will be better control and modulation options.  Aftertouch is certainly a big desire by many, especially as an alternative to the mod wheel in governing vibrato depth.

I’d think a set of macro knobs would also be a welcome addition.  Not only could these be used in the conventional way they are in the many synths that support such a feature, they could be an easy way for IKM to add DAW automation capabilities.

Lastly there are a few small things.  Give us a down-ramp LFO wave form and ideally a gradual-change random capability.  Give us, if not an actual mod matrix, at least the ability to make UI controls move in a direction contrary to that of a MIDI-learned keyboard control.  Give us volume controls where the four layer volumes are accessible at the same time.  Let us send the output of all layer’s instruments to the layer A FX chain.  For future customers, give them a less labor-intensive way to download and unzip all the files that make up the full instrument than that needed at present.

 

Is Syntronik for You?

Let’s talk pricing.  This being IKM, that’s always a tricky subject.  For one thing, there’s the Custom Shop with which to contend – recall we can buy individual instruments, and we can do that right from Syntronik if an internet connection is active.  The list price of the full instrument is $299 USD.  If you are the owner of an IKM product originally costing $99 USD or more, you can get $100 knocked off that price.  Either way, those prices are for the download version.  For a boxed USB drive version, add $30.  Individual instruments are priced at $49 USD, and there being seventeen of them, this is clearly not the most economical way to do things if you want the entire collection.

People frequently express frustration with IKM over the at-times complicated, confusing purchase options.  Items can be acquired with IKM Gear Credits (purchased independently of the actual software), JAM points (rewards for past purchases) and good old cash.  There are occasional sales, sometimes with irresistible discounting going on, but not all payment options are available in those sales.  I have felt this frustration myself at times.  But that gets offset in large measure based on several wonderful customer experiences I’ve had with IKM.  IKM is the only outfit I know of that has an employee imbedded in the major music forums to look for problems and help get them resolved in as direct a way as possible.  Really, I can’t ever stay annoyed at IKM for very long – these guys do seem genuinely interested in having happy customers.

But back to purchase options.  If you’re not in a hurry, wait for a good sale.  One is almost certainly going to come along at some point and you may save hugely.  It’s also probable, based on past behavior, that a group buy will come along in which you can buy one individual instrument for $50 and will end up getting four or five more for free, that number depending upon subscription level.  In my experience, this will turn out to be an extremely good deal, especially for anyone not able to take advantage of the cross-grade discount.

So, hopefully we’ve adequately addressed the “can you afford it?” aspect.  But the other concern is the “do you want it?” aspect.  Well, for starters, if this review has at least piqued your curiosity, then check out the informative video demos at IKM (URL below).  If still undecided, download and install the free version, which contains full functionality and sufficient sound diversity to allow for an informed decision.

I find Syntronik to be an absolute delight.  The sounds are great, but more importantly, there are so very many sounds that are musically useful (somebody on a forum used the term “song-ready”, which is spot-on here).  True you cannot program Syntronik nearly as deeply you can a conventional softsynth.  But it already makes the sounds that most synth players want to make most of the time in the first place.  Plus, tweaking sounds to refine them to your taste is something approachable even by a complete synth novice.  If you use synths in any capacity (and in any genre) this instrument will probably have something for you, and we’re talking a lot of something.  It’s unimaginable to me that anyone would not find at least 50 absolutely go-to presets amid the over-2000 present.  A little creative tweaking could increase that number threefold.  All this and a short learning curve on top it.  So very much to like.

For more information and to purchase, go here:

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

 

 

 

 

Review – Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 Pro

If Jimi Hendrix were still alive, there’d be no doubt which virtual guitar studio would fit him perfectly: Guitar Rig 5 Pro – great rock sounds, out of this world effects.

By Alex Arsov, Sept. 2017

 

There are a few really great guitar studios around all offering copious amp models, cabinets, guitar effects and even a kind of multitrack internal studio where you can record different takes during guitar practice. Most of them come in both standalone versions and as plug-in effects to be hosted inside your DAW. So, saying that one offers more amp models, cabinets or effects, at least among the three prominent guitar studios, is nonsense. The main differences are in character. Of course all of them, Amplitube, TH3 and Guitar Rig (and there are also few others that could appear in that list), cover the full spectrum of guitar sounds, from distorted metal to the clean Fender-like sound, for all genres and styles. The truth is that all those guitar studios sound a bit different from each other, with individual character making one more appropriate for one task and another for some other.

If I can use some common guitar terminology, then Amplitube is more AC-30-like, TH3 is a bit more Fender, while NI Guitar Rig 5 Pro is a bit Marshall-like. I know that developer of S-Gear Studio is an ex-Marshall-engineer, but still, S-Gear is more like something between Marshall and Fender in character. Don’t worry – I’m aware that this is totally subjective. But this is my personal point of view, and that’s the way I see it.

So, if I need two guitars in parallel, clean or just slightly distorted, sharing the same amount of distortion, I will probably go for Amplitube since it offers a large number of totally diverse models that can sound different with almost identical setups (bass, treble, high and gain/master). There is a consistent color in Amplitube. If I want to go with a Fender-like metal twang in a clean tone, then it’s probably TH3. If I need that Gibson with a Marshall amp impact, or even if I need some basic metal sound, or maybe jazzy clean, not to mention my favorite choice, an effected guitar sound that almost doesn’t sound like a guitar anymore, then definitively Guitar Rig 5 Pro gets the nod.

I bought Electric Ladyland vinyl from The Jimi Hendrix Experience recently and was amazed, just as I was when I bought this record for the first time as a kid. How many guitar colors are there – all those mad effects, everything bouncing, totally unlike all those new rock bands. Guitar players nowadays just use some distortion on a few different amp models while all colorfulness is left to the synthesizers – a total blasphemy if you ask me. I’m really good with synths, but it is amazing how many wild things you can do with a guitar if you can make it sound a bit different than normal styles. I’m totally thankful for all those mad, totally original (but still guitar) effects, and thankful for all those combinations that the Native Instruments fellows have combined in patches inside the Effect directory. Hats off to my dear German sound experts. I don’t typically try all presets in such a preset-laden beast, but I did that this time. I tried every single one from all categories, setting stars and copying best ones in new user directory – and there were plenty of them.

Of course, my wife doesn’t share my enthusiasm, since I spent a few summer days locked away with my guitar. But after all, this is a tool that is perfectly matched to my new project in which I’m working on a collection of a guitar-based songs that all share the same concept: not sounding like they’ve been made with a guitar, without using any of those so 80s-sounding guitar effects like flanger, phaser, chorus and the like. Of course, those things are present, but mixed and tweaked in such a way that the mix sounds quite futuristic and not like a blast from a past – and it all seems to work just fine.

 

Parts

Guitar Rig 5 is quite easy to use. Everything is immediately at hand. At the left half of the main user interface we can choose between three different views.

Browser: I’m quite happy with this one as it brings various categories, helping us to find the appropriate sound. We can search through Amps which are divided into groupings for guitar and bass. Styles cover the entire sound spectrum from metal to country and even to ambient. Songs – here we can find presets that recreate guitar sounds from some well-known songs. Effects – from reverb and delays to special effects and effects aimed at different types of instruments: drums, vocals to things like ambient and colored.

There is also the New in GR5 and Products directories along with one called “Arsov”. Oops, sorry … this is actually User category, one of many that you can make and name it by your need.

Components: The next view is called Components where we can find all Guitar Rig parts organized into different groups: Amplifiers, Cabinets, Delay and Echo, and many others up to Special FX and Tools. You can even drag some components into the Favorites directory at the top. Compiling your ideal rack is dead simple. You just need to drag any chosen element to the Rack window at the right.

Option: The last view is Option, opening a window where we can set various characteristics of Guitar Rig 5, from setting the size of the whole interface to setting MIDI channels to specifying a hardware controller for controlling the interface. There is also a window where you may connect new hardware controllers.

Rack: At the right we have a big rack with all elements that are present in the current preset. Here we can set all further details on every element. With one click we can open additional small windows with a tuner, metronome, and a few other things along with a control window for Rig Control, which is a discontinued pedal rack for Guitar Rig that Native Instruments used to sell.

 

Facts

All in all there are seventeen amp models, 27 cabinets and 54 effects. Of course, we should not forget a vast collection of presets that offer some really innovative combinations of those effects and amps, bringing quite fresh colors to the guitar world. It is interesting that although Guitar Rig 5 Pro provides fewer amp models than some competitors, it offers a far more colorful and versatile sound palette that is much wider than any other guitar studio that I know. I suspect that the main reason for this is the large number of effects, many of them being unique. I assume that every company tries to find its niche and Native Instruments definitively has done that with this product.

 

Personal Favorite

Amps are all uniquely great, so it is hard to say that one of them is the best. Lead 800 and Citrus along with Jazz amp and Van 51 are the ones I use most. While in the effect directory it is quite difficult to choose a favorite, given that there are so many that are excellent. PsycheDelay is one of the craziest delays that you can find – quite simple but unique sounding. If you really like to go bonkers with your guitar, then all six effects from the Modulation category come in very handy for that purpose. The same can be said about all four from Pitch and all from the Special FX directory. Of course, this is just the beginning. Adjust your mad professor glasses and start digging into the Modifer directory. LFO and Analog Sequencer can drive you into space, as can the Envelope effect. At the end you can add Talk Wah or even Pro Filter or Filterbank from the Filter directory and you are ready for the future.

Yes, I like effects but hate when they only sound like some ordinary guitar effects. The 80s are gone forever. Thankfully Native Instruments offers a whole arsenal of up-to-date effects combining old-school ones with some that are not very typical and rarely-used on a guitar.

      Effects
      …. more effects

       and even more effects

      one of a many Jazz presets

 

 

 

Weak Points

I didn’t find any – simple as that. If this were my only guitar studio, I could easily survive with it. I have most of the available guitar studios and use different ones for different purposes. This one offers me some elements and options that cannot not be found in any other, so I’m quite thankful for that. Some old guitar freaks still swear by hardware, but I’m not so sure if anyone can spot the difference anymore.

Maybe Native Instruments developers should be the first ones to find some way to apply some controlled microphone feedback to the signal and then virtual guitar reality could become more real than the real one.

 

And It Is …

If you are a serious guitar player then you probably already have all the top guitar studio packages. This one is definitively not one that you should overlook. It is ideal for metal, rock, jazz and for me, old Electro-Boy, all those heavily effected presets that sound so fresh and original are simply priceless. And let’s not forget that Guitar Rig 5 Pro comes with an easy-to-use main interface that allows you to drag and drop elements into a setup to open up a great number of new possibilities when tweaking or even totally changing some already perfect combinations. You don’t even have to be too brave to just start from scratch.

Regarding what it offers, €199 EUR is a more-than-reasonable price for this product. You get a wealth of great sounding presets that make it a complete guitar solution which can be used in your home studio or even in a big professional recording studio. I don’t perform much live but I have a few friends playing in some popular bands who use Guitar Rig 5 on stage, so nothing is impossible.

For more info visit https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/guitar/guitar-rig-5-pro/

P.S. You can also download the free reduced version Guitar Rig 5 Player to get some general impressions how the whole thing sounds. The free player is good for some basic rock sounds, offering a reduced number of effects and cabinets. But if you want real madness with all the amps, cabinets and really cool effects, the pro version is highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – PolyM by XILS-lab

 

XILS-lab brings back a legend from the early days of synthesis – an expensive, hard-to-maintain synth from Moog is resurrected in software.

 

by Rob Mitchell, Sept. 2017

 

Back in the mid-1970s, a new Moog synthesizer was introduced to the world. They were already quite famous from the production of their mighty modular synth, and of course their highly acclaimed Minimoog. This time around, we got a polyphonic design. It first began as part of a larger project named Apollo that included two keyboards and Taurus pedals. Moog ended up producing the Taurus pedals as a separate product, and just one keyboard which they named the Polymoog.

Fast forward to 2017, and XILS-lab have now reproduced the Polymoog in software form. They call it PolyM, and it is a virtual recreation of that famous polyphonic synthesizer. Though you couldn’t save patches on the original hardware, there were eight presets you could choose from: Strings, Piano, Organ, Harpsichord, Funk, Clavi, Vibes, and Brass. Up to 71 notes could be generated using the TOS (Top Octave Divider) oscillators. It also had the famous Ladder filter, resonator filters, keyboard tracking, LFO modulation, EQ, and several envelope controls. That original hardware synth is great if you can find it, but is also expensive. A used Polymoog in good condition can cost you anywhere from around $4,000 to $8,000. Luckily this software is much less expensive, and of course you’ll be able to save as many patches as you’d like.

 

Getting Started

To install PolyM on a PC you’ll need XP (or higher), and it is available in VST, RTAS, and AAX formats.   For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 (or higher), and is available in VST, Audio Unit, and AAX formats. You’ll need at least one gigabyte of RAM, and a 2 GHz CPU. There is no standalone version. To install PolyM, you’ll need to choose between eLicenser, iLok, or iLok2. For this review I used iLok (authorized on my PC, i.e. no USB key), and there were no issues getting it all configured.

After you’ve loaded it in your DAW, you’ll see its main display. Across the top is the toolbar which lets you browse through the many presets that are included. If you are familiar with any of the other XILS-lab synth plugins, then you’ll be right at home with the menus for loading in presets. Basically how it works is that you can use the toolbar to load and save presets or banks. Using the button over at the far left, you can sort the presets by Bank, Author, Type, Project, Style, Feeling, or All. If you happened to have selected Author, the next column is where you can select which author you’d like.  After you’ve selected an author, then you can pick the style (for instance) and then you can see the list of presets that are in that style for the selected author. The A/B buttons allow you to work on a preset and then compare it to its original state.

 

Oscillators

 

You can choose between saw, pulse, or select both waveforms for the two oscillators. Each of these choices is selected with the push of a button in the Keyboard Waveshape section. The Lower and Upper labels refer to the two sections of the keyboard, and they depend upon where you place the split fader. It can be moved from the left to right along the length of the keyboard. The Lower section is whatever keys are to the left of the split, and everything to the right is the Upper. The Footage controls are the octave settings for each waveform. The oscillators can be free running or locked together using the two buttons on the right side of the Footage settings.

Above these settings are the Fine Tune/Beat and Master Gain Controls. The outer ring controls the fine tuning for both oscillators. The knob within the ring only lets you adjust the tuning of the oscillator with a sawtooth selected. This will change the “Beat” speed between the two oscillators. The Gain controls let you mix the levels of the different sections of the synth. The first one is for the overall level of PolyM, while the Direct slider is for the output of the audio without the three filter banks (more on these later). The last three sliders (MODE/RES/VCF) are devoted to changing the levels of those same three filter sections. The Octave Balance controls are for adjusting the levels (+/-12dB) of the notes played within octaves one through six.  Two octaves are grouped together on each of the three sliders. Rank Tune will tune the oscillators  (+/- 6 semitones) if they are set to the sawtooth waveform. The saw shape that’s below the Rank Tune slider is a quick reminder of its assignment.  At one point I had forgotten this and was wondering why it wasn’t tuning one of the oscillators, but then I noticed I had set it to a square wave.

To the right of the Rank Tune slider are the FM/PM controls. These are LFOs that are set to modulate the frequency of the oscillators. This function uses simple rate and amount sliders to control the modulation settings. If you use the Lock setting (instead of Free) with the square waveform on the second oscillator and the saw waveform on the other, it will then use Phase modulation. To the left of each Rate label there is a small button that will sync the rate to the DAW. The two buttons are a little small, and I almost missed them. Maybe if they were tad bit brighter it would be easier to notice them there.

Pulse width modulation (PWM) is possible in PolyM. It has separate Shape (pulse width) and Amount controls for the first two octaves (1-2) and the next 4 octaves (3-6). This section has its own LFO to modulate the pulse width, and its rate can easily be adjusted and synced to the DAW if you’d like. The “Rank Mix” can independently adjust the saw waveform level for the Lower and Upper sections of the keys. The “Loudness Contour” is the amplifier envelope for PolyM, and it has two modes available: ADSR and Legacy. If it is set to Legacy, you will have a DYN setting (how much the velocity will affect the envelope), Attack, Sustain, and Decay. If you select ADSR, a release stage is added to the end of the envelope with separate controls for the Upper and Lower sections of the keys. The Legacy envelope setting is an emulation of the way the original envelope generator worked in the hardware synth. Needless to say, envelopes are important in an accurate synth emulation. I won’t get into its details here, but it is explained at length in the manual if you’d like further information on how it works.

 

Filters


Now we get to the second row of controls which begins with a 24dB/octave zero-delay filter. This monophonic self-oscillating filter has Cutoff, Emphasis (resonance), and Keyboard follow controls. It also has a dedicated LFO you can use to modulate it with a sine wave and/or sample and hold output. The Amount slider adjusts the amount of the sine wave’s output, and the S&H slider is for the….you guessed it, the Sample and Hold output. You just have to make sure you get the levels for the VCF the way you want by using the Master Gain controls I touched on earlier. The next section to the right is for the Filter envelope, which has standard ADSR sliders and an amount control.

In the middle of this row of controls are the preset buttons with choices of Strings, Piano, Organ, Harpsichord, Funk, Clavi, Vibes, Brass and Vox. If you select the last “dot” button, PolyM will only use an internal filter setting for the particular type of preset you have chosen, and it won’t change all the other knobs and sliders which shape the nine preset sounds in various ways.

The next section is for the Polyphonic VCF and its envelope. It uses a 12dB/octave slope and it can be set to low-pass, high-pass, or band-pass modes. It has standard cutoff and emphasis (resonance) controls, amount, and keyboard follow sliders. If you just want to use this filter for the Upper or Lower part (or all) of the keyboard, that’s no problem because there are buttons you can use to change those settings. For instance, you can set it so the 24dB mono filter is on the Lower, and the 12dB poly filter is on the Upper. The ADSR envelope for this filter is located to the right of the Preset button section.

Now we get to one of my favorite parts of the synth, and that is the Resonators section. It uses three sets of controls that let you adjust the cutoff frequency, adjust the emphasis/resonance, and the amount of the filter.

There are three filter types to choose from: Low pass, Band pass, and High pass. They can be set to either 6 or 12dB/octave. In addition, this can be applied to the Upper, Lower, or the whole keyboard. When I was trying out this part of the synth plugin,  I used the MIDI learn function in PolyM (under the “Options” menu) to assign the nine sliders of my MIDI keyboard to the sliders in the three banks of controls. You are also able to modulate these Resonators (and many other settings) in the modulation matrix that is located in the Advanced settings panel.

 

Advanced Settings

 

The Advanced settings panel is where you can set up targets for modulation and adjust the effects that are included with PolyM. The first three slots for modulation can be used with Foot pedal/Aftertouch, Mod wheel, and Velocity.  Some of the destinations you can choose from include several filter settings, oscillator pitch and level, amp and filter envelope settings, square wave width, and many others. Six other sources/targets for available to set up some modulation. One feature I always like to have is the ability to modulate the effects, and as luck has it, PolyM has that capability built-in. That fact alone gives this synth plugin some well-deserved bonus points. The many targets are grouped into monophonic and polyphonic types.  Basically if you pick a monophonic source, you can modulate either a monophonic or polyphonic destination. If you pick a polyphonic source, then you can only select from the polyphonic destinations. The menus will automatically grey-out the ones you can’t select, so you don’t have to try and remember which is which.

The three effects available are reverb, delay and phaser. They can be switched on or off using the buttons in the lower-left. By the way, clicking the button just to the left of those effect buttons will turn on a waveform display. The reverb has a simple design with just pre-delay, reverb level, time and damping. It also has three different algorithms: Small, Medium, and Large. The phaser is the most elaborate of the three effects, with phaser level, speed, modulation amount, sweep (a frequency setting), stereo width, resonance, and a boost switch to give it some extra drive. The Delay effect is very basic, but it gets the job done. Its controls include delay level, time, left and right feedback, and it can be synced to the tempo of the host.

 

Conclusion

XILS-lab is known for reproducing many rare/vintage synths, and so it is no wonder they decided to take on a classic like the Polymoog. At the time I was writing this review, there were two display sizes to choose from, which is good, but I think there could be more. Hopefully by the time this review is published, PolyM will have a few more options in that department.  It would also be nice if the reverb had a few more controls, maybe some type of modulation and/or diffusion controls.

I did run into a few issues while using the beta version, but that’s what betas are for. The purpose of beta testing is to find out how it works in the hands of the end users, and see if they find any bugs along the way. Everything was smoothed out by XILS-lab, and they really do have an emulation of which they can be proud. If I could ask for certain extras to be added, I’d like more modulation slots, and the MIDI learn could be a bit easier to manage. Other than that, I really love this synth plugin. My congratulations go out to XILS-lab for doing such a great job of emulating a powerful and classic synthesizer.

PolyM was available at an intro price of $99 USD until Aug. 31, 2017.  After the intro was over, it was sold at its regular price of $149 USD. You can get more info about PolyM from the XILS-lab website here:

http://www.xils-lab.com/products/polym-p-160.html

 

 

 

 

 

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