Monthly Archives: November 2017
The music industry has changed in the last few decades and many artists are unaware that path to success is still the same: time, money and effort. No pain – no gain.
by SoundBytes Magazine Guest Writers May Fall and Frank Scott, Nov. 2017
The music business is still the same as it was decades ago. It is still a business. It has changed in many ways, but there is one thing that has changed even more than business itself: the artist’s mindset. In older days you needed to invest some money to buy equipment, then work on your music, organize concerts to attract people from business and, in most cases, even pay for studio time to record some demo tapes. Studio time was far from cheap back then. So, it was a time-money-and-effort sort of the game.
Today most young musicians use some software – some of them even pirated one. They then proceed to make really cool music at home and just wait to be discovered, sending their demos to various labels. The main thing that music industry expects is your commitment. They need an artist who is willing to do his or her part of the job, and do that for the long run. Why should they invest their money in somebody who hasn’t even invested money in a proper demo or a good master? The artist who doesn’t invest time and a bit of cash into good presentation, spending some time in second hand shops to find some really cool clothes, making some appealing (and professional) promo photos, is not putting a best face forward. You can get a good promo pic for a price less than that of a plug-in. Then there’s video. Bands, or individuals used to work hard to buy their first instruments, today you can invest this money in a video clip.
There are still plenty of things that you can do to make some progress, to promote yourself in the music world, to become a star. But you really need to show that you care. We are offering you a true story, a tutorial on what should you do and how you can do it. No pain, no gain.
Attitude is everything. Show to the industry that you care and that you are prepared and committed to do your part of the job, and they will care. It is not a fairy tale. It is still what it was – a music business.
We at SoundBytes magazine are offering you a true story, a story on how to make progress in your career, a story from artist perspective and story for promoter perspective. Heed well, Grasshopper. 😀
by SoundBytes Magazine
Part I – The Artist’s Perspective by May Fall
During my musical adolescence, I used to believe that the biggest challenge in music making is to come up with a great musical idea and to bring it to life in the best possible way. Years of experience taught me that indeed it is a great challenge, but the real challenge begins after you complete the creative process.
Capturing your idea in a well performed, arranged, recorded and mixed song is great. But bringing your music to get the attention it deserves is a true fight, whether you intend to bring it to the attention of the wide public, music industry professionals, or both.
We all know that the music industry has tremendously changed since the early 2000’s due to the increasing availability of all sorts of new music online. This abundance of music out there forced musicians to take more actions than before in order to stand out. Whether you aim to independently distribute your music to the public or you want to grab the attention of the music industry, you need to do so much more than just music.
Every project I was involved in during the recent years has taught me what I’ve done right, but more about what I’ve done wrong. It became clear to me, that no matter what strategy I turn to – indie or label, I need to start my way with the most possible established infrastructure around my music.
Step 1 – Acknowledging the Unromantic Reality of Music as Commodity
First of all, it is important for you to see your music, and in particular, every song or album, as a unique product. This perspective is not only a mantra of musicians aimed to plant the business awareness in their minds, but it is actually how a song is considered financially: it is an independent product that is being sold to the public through different channels, and it’s what constitutes the artist’s main source of generating profits.
As for the infrastructure around it, I am referring to anything that accompanies and promotes your product: your live performance, your branding, logo, artwork, photos, written content, music videos, and social media pages that display all of that to the public.
Being an artist that feels more comfortable in the studio than on stage. I knew that especially when you’re not touring with your music and you plan to disseminate your music primarily through your recorded material, you have to work even harder to compensate for the lack of live presence.
My idea was to have everything ready before starting the promotional endeavor, since at that stage, your focus completely changes and you turn your creative resources to the dissemination of your music.
As for budget considerations, money is always an issue, and minimizing expenses is vital for this journey, especially at the pre-release stage, since you’re going to need most of your budget for the promotion of your music.
For that reason, acquiring as many skills you can is crucial. As for things you can’t do or don’t have enough available time to learn, it’s always good to have skillful and talented friends that could help you. If you don’t have such friends, try to think of how to reach talented people you can work with without spending too much money – like students that need to do some project and are willing to use you as their guinea pig, or other talented people that agree to collaborate in barter transactions with you, or just believe in your music that much to agree being paid less under the belief that the exposure of the finalized product will serve them as well.
Step 2 – Get Everything Done
I started my new synthpop project with the recording of two singles: “Same Code” and “Blind Zone”. Having acquired some experience in recording and mixing throughout the years, I did the recording and programming in my home studio (as for previous works, you’re welcome to check the album by my band, Road to Evenmind,“Diagnosis: Unsovled”, which we recorded in our studio and had the pleasure of witnessing Michael Wagener mixing it).
Knowing that the backdrop of most home studios (including mine) is adequate acoustic environment, I expected the recording of the vocals to be the most complicated part.
Since I went all the way in this case being a cheap bastard that avoids expenses at any cost, I found out about a simple and brilliant solution for creating acoustic environment for vocals recording in home studios – paraphrasing the memorable hit: “it’s a Mic in a box”!
As for the mixing stage, I have the pleasure to have a very talented sound engineer friend, Noam Catinthesack Meiri, who guided me through the mixing of “Same Code” and meticulously mixed “Blind Zone” himself.
As for the video clips, I also had in mind exactly what I want to have, and I made efforts to get it in the lowest possible budget. Awkwardly enough, I shot the video for “Blind Zone” before mixing the song. In this case, I had a perfect location for a video clip – a satellite teleport in a mesmerizing valley, and since it was accessible to me for a limited time I couldn’t miss the chance of having a video clip shot there (with the assistance of another good friend of mine, Daniel Harpaz).
For the other video clip, “Same Code”, I found the very talented motion graphics animator Yuval Leizerman, who managed to create an awesome video that pretty much captured the vision I had for the video while adding his own brilliant ideas.
Having the tracks and videos ready, I diverted my efforts to work on all accompanying material. Another talented friend of mine, photographer Matan Militanu, ran a photo shoot session that resulted in great pictures that visually expressed the vibe of my music.
With some more assistance from my homies Eyal Benvenisti (artwork) and Vili Greenberg (logo design), and my own efforts to come up with some written content, I finally had all material I needed for the promotion of the project. Last step was to build online presence (facebook page, twitter, instagram, youtube etc) and we’re good to go.
Step 3 – and Now, Fight!
Next stage was to decide what would be my promotion strategy. Am I going to release my music independently? Do I prefer trying to find a record label to release it? If I’m looking for a label I shouldn’t settle for just any label, as I’m not confident that I wouldn’t do a better job promoting my own music than some small indie labels.
So my idea was to start by giving a shot with the major labels. Nothing to lose here, as I can always move on to plan B (be on my own), C (change profession) or D (die).
Unsurprisingly, as much as I tried hard to get emails of key contact persons in big labels, it really didn’t do the trick. Most record label A&R’s don’t tend to respond to emails at all. Apparently, they are not that communicative directly with artists, as they assume, understandably, that artists can’t really objectively represent their own music. For that reason they prefer to get submissions from other music industry professionals (like artist management), under the assumption that these people already filtered out for them the crappy stuff (or good stuff that is just not yet there). Looking back, I wasted too much time on trying to find different strategies to get to these people. At times I thought to create an alternate identity of an artist agent to represent me just to reach these people. Luckily I gave up that idea.
Pretty quickly I came to the conclusion that I should just start releasing my music on my own, just try to do my best and hope that something good would come out of it. I did some of the work myself, like social media promotion and turning to radio stations, which resulted in some nice airplay to begin with. At this point, I realized getting some assistance from experienced music-promotion professionals would be the best solution for me. As I expected, that was the point where I had to become less sentimental about my money.
Soon after releasing the “Same Code” video, I turned to Andy Gesner from HIP Video Promo. Andy and his team did great work: I got a big push on social media, some online media coverage, and most importantly, my video was aired in a variety of TV channels and outlets across the US.
For the release of “Blind Zone” I decided to focus on radio promotion. That’s when I turned to Frank Scott from ReFeel Music Group. Frank and his team threw a big radio promotion campaign and managed to get the song added to rotation in more than 130 radio stations worldwide. Although I just intended to get their assistance in this matter, they actually liked what I’m doing and offered me to join their roster. After taking me under their wing, they got me more media coverage and managed to get the “Blind Zone” video on TV channels in different countries, including Russia, Mexico and Bolivia.
There’s always more to achieve, but that’s a nice start. Altogether, my promotional expenses for the entire project amounted to around $3000 USD. It’s not pocket money, but it’s not more than what artists usually pay for recording, mixing or video production. If you still insist on doing all promotion yourself to save money, take in account that you are probably substantially less efficient than professional promoters, and they can do much better job than you in a fraction of the time you would spend. You should do some of the promotion yourself, but if you try to do everything yourself, you actually spend time that could be used for something you’re good at (and perhaps you would make more money than what you would spend on professional promoter who would to the same job but much better). So, looking it that way, it’s actually more cost-efficient to pay someone else to do his job than struggling to do it yourself. To conclude, in my opinion, when you plan your budget for your next music project, a wise planning would be to allocate at least 50% of your budget (if not more) for promotion.
Happily, now I got time to work on some new tracks, knowing that finally someone covers me on the promotional side. Good riddance, I hated doing it on my own.
Part II – The Music Industry Perspective by Frank Scott (ReFeel Music Group)
I’ve been asked many times “what are you looking for in an artist?”, and honestly, I don’t have a simple answer for that. I know it when I see it. It’s easier to explain what I’m looking for by describing my perspective as a music industry professional.
What We Look For
First, I have to emphasize that I like music, I really do. I enjoy listening to many different genres and sub-genres, from EDM, through hip-hop, avant-garde jazz, experimental electronic music, underground industrial music, folk rock, funk, R&B, heavy metal, and to classical music. My taste in music doesn’t perfectly overlap with my professional preference of music. My professional preference covers only a small part of what I like to listen to.
The harsh truth is that in our (music industry) perspective this is first of all a business. You have limited time and limited budget and you want to make the most of it. So obviously you want to get an artist that you believe can generate revenue. You invest time and money and naturally, like in any other business, you want to see something in return. As for what kind of artists can be considered to have the potential to generate revenue, there is not always an objective answer for that.
Of course, there will be those prodigies that everyone would like to sign because they have it all. In other cases, personal taste plays a roll but some qualities are a must: great music, interesting and unique, yet the kind that can still be enjoyable for as many people as possible; Great presence – on stage and off it, the artist must look persuasive and confident and have the ability to capture the hearts of the crowd. Then there’s great character – we keep in mind that the artist is someone we’ll have to work with regularly. You want them to be good people, intelligent, fun to be around, and especially ones that can understand the music business (regardless of whether they play by the “rules” or not).
However, it’s important to add that besides these qualities, there are more considerations that might tip the scales. Generally, as in every investment, you always aspire to maximize revenues and minimize expenses. An artist that has what it takes, but doesn’t yet have well-produced and recorded songs or album, no music videos, no professional photos, nonexistent (or nearly so) established fan-base, might discourage us from taking them under our representation. It’s simple math. I know that getting less of these to begin with, will require us to increase the budget for the artist and thus reduce our profits. Of course, there are some artists we believe in so much that we would agree to take it all on ourselves because we feel it will probably be worth it. But the best tip I can give artists that want to get a deal besides “try to be as awesome as you can” is to come as ready as possible to release your music to the world. We saw that May Fall met both these requirements, so there was no question whether we should take him on board.
It should be noted that aside from the artist’s qualities, we (and other artist management and record labels) have more considerations to take in account when we decide whether to take an artist under our representation. Even if we meet a great artist that has everything it takes, sometimes it’s just not the right time for us as we already allocated all our resources (time and money) to the artists we already manage. In such cases, taking another artist will require splitting resources among more artists, and that is just not fair for our artists and the new artist interested in our representation. Working with too many artists simultaneously usually means that none of them will get proper attention and any work you do for them wouldn’t be effective enough to push them in the right direction. For that reason, artists shouldn’t be discouraged from getting “no” for an answer, because sometimes it just has nothing to do with their qualities. Accordingly, artists shouldn’t be tempted to join a label or agency that work with huge number of artists, because many times it means that the artists just won’t get what they need, and might actually be better off working independently.
What We Do
As for what ReFeel Music Group does, we use all our experience, knowledge, techniques and connections to push the artist and the artist’s music as far as we can. We work both a management agency for our small roster of artists, and as a promotion agency offering services to record labels, independent artists and other artist management and promotion agencies.
For our small roster of artists we start with building a strategy. We ask the artist what they would like accomplish, and then we check what is missing to make that possible. To begin with, we need a repertoire of five to ten great songs, professionally recorded, mixed and mastered and ready to be released. Then, we need to build the artist’s public persona – branding, biography and other promotional content, studio photos, a music video, some introductory videos, social media platforms etc. When we have all that, we make a six-month planned scheduled. We set dates for everything, online music release, radio release, video release, teasers, social media posts, announcements, concerts and everything else. It’s like a military operation, the order of things and timing is everything. You need to build the momentum and ride on it. If you do some things too early or too late you might significantly compromise the success of the process.
After building a strategy we start working: starting steadily building followers on social networks, creating a buzz, working on organic SEO, and expanding the online presence of the artist. Based on how things evolve, we sometimes make small changes in our plan but usually nothing drastic. When the time arrives to release a song or a video, we start making a big push. We prepare press releases and other promotional documents and start utilizing our connections. We run an extensive radio promotion campaign (our main expertise, which I will elaborate shortly), video promotion campaign, in the case there’s a music video, and we submit the music to music blogs, magazines and online music pages and platforms. Many times we also use the services of other music promotion companies with whom we collaborate to get the most of it.
About halfway into the scheduled plan we sit with the artist and check whether we are moving in the right direction, and what are the expectations after the completion of the six months scheduled plan. Based on that, we make a plan for the following six months, which might include planning a tour, pitching to some record labels, or scheduling new releases.
As mentioned, we have only a small roster of artists and a big portion of what we do is offering promotion services to independent artists, record labels and other music industry companies. Our expertise is radio promotion. Throughout the years, we managed to gather a database of contacts from 30,000 radio stations of all kinds (FM, online, college, commercial, public etc.), all genres, and all countries. Our promotion campaign starts with listening to the song at issue. Based on what we hear, we prepare a targeted list of relevant radio stations, based on genres, languages and locations. These targeted lists usually consist of 8,000 to 12,000 radio stations. Then, the client can choose the extent of the campaign based on their budget, with campaigns starting at 4,000 stations and go up to the full list of targeted stations. Our pricing starts at $160 USD per 1,000 stations, which is reduced the bigger the campaign gets. We pitch each station with a download link to a broadcast ready track and promotional sheet with information, links and photos of the artist, so they have all they need add the song to rotation as soon as they get it. To increase responsiveness, we pitch also in Spanish to stations in Spanish speaking countries, thereby tremendously improving the results in the huge Latin-American market. During and by the end of each campaign we provide the client with a detailed airplay report showing exactly when and where the song was played. As May Fall mentioned, in his case, our campaign led to his song being played in more than 130 radio stations in around 40 different countries.
To conclude, as much as May Fall and other artists I know have realistic perspective of music promotion and the ability to self-promote, I’m confident that it would be extremely difficult for them to accomplish what professional music promoters can accomplish for them. Talent is crucial, but without getting proper professional promotion, the world won’t know about that talent.
Got any questions you would like to ask Frank from ReFeel Music Group? Drop him an email:
Follow May Fall:
A metal guitar player under your keyboard fingertips. This one is hard to recognize as virtual instrument, even if you are a skilled guitar player.
by Alex Arsov, Nov. 2017
Heavier7Strings is a metal guitar emulation virtual instrument based on a guitar sample library, made by Three Body Tech developers from China. As soon as I heard a demo, I knew that I’d like to try it. Having been a guitar player for almost 30 years, it is not so easy to fool me with some “wanna-be” guitar sounds, but this one sounds quite real, not to mention the fact that it comes with over 200 MIDI clips that can be loaded into your sequencer for further manipulation. After installing this 9 GB beast I spent some time glancing through the quite-detailed manual, along with browsing for some video tutorials, as it proves not to be a “first try – first success” sort of plug-in, or to put it simply, I was not able to get immediate results. Of course, when I finally figured out how everything worked, everything seemed so logical, easy and well-placed.
Finally, after all the tutorials and manuals, I was on the road to making my own riffs. If you listen to Heavier7Strings in isolation, you may notice some tiny moments that can give you a clue that this is not a real guitar played by a guitarist, but, at least in my opinion, they are so small that only a skilled guitar player can hear the difference. This is definitely not the case with any other guitar library/instrument that I’ve tried before. Most of them sound quite solid in a full arrangement, but sounds obviously fake in isolation, mainly because the attack was too prominent causing the whole thing to sound more like a harpsichord and not like a guitar at all. Next thing with all other guitar emulations is the issue with the transitions between riffs, or even between some notes in solo phrases, that sounded a bit off, unnatural. Those are only two of the main reasons, but truth be told there are also all sorts of other, maybe not so prominent, smaller guitar misbehaviors comes with all other guitar emulation software, that can be spotted even by non-guitar players. So, thumbs up, my dear China friends. This one comes quite close even in isolation.
As soon as you put virtual drums and virtual bass alongside Heavier7Strings, everything becomes absolutely real and wild. You need to be a really, really picky guitar expert to notice the difference (and trust me, it is better to have good fake guitar than a bad live guitar player). Riffs and even lead lines sound very authentic. Of course, my dear keyboard playing friends, it would not hurt if you know at least the basics about how harmonies are played on guitar, or at least know how to recreate a few basic heavy guitar riffs. Even if you are somewhat barefoot in this field, there are those aforementioned 200 preprogrammed MIDI patterns that should serve as a good starting point.
Let’s go through some details. Top left is the main menu, with five buttons. First two are reserved for load or save options where you can store specific settings for the whole instrument. Last button is reserved for Settings, where I have set Zoom to 125% as the main window was a bit small for my taste. Of course, this is not the only thing that you can set there.
The most interesting parts of the menu, at least for me, are Patterns and Effects buttons, opening new windows with this two parts. For a better understanding, we should explain that the main structure or base for the whole instrument is clean sounding electric guitar samples that are processed later through a quite impressive and detailed effects rack. So, in the effects section you can drag various effects into the rack directly from the left side menu. Also, you can simply load some ready made effects rack combinations from the right menu with the browser, where you can select one of many effects combinations, choosing between Ambients, Clean, Epic Riffs, Metal Riffs, Overdriven, Rock Riffs, Solo or Strumming group. There is also a set of options here to save, delete, create a new group or separate presets within a group.
The next one is the Pattern window, offering quite similar groups as can be found in the Effects section, offering three additional groups along with all the aforementioned ones. These are Demo Songs, Noises and Ultra Low. Every group comes with quite a nice number of patterns, offering a star rating system for every pattern. You can also preview a pattern being perfectly in sync with your host. All patterns come with predefined settings for the Effects section, along with settings that are preselected for that pattern in the main window. The one you like can easily be dragged into the arrangement window. Of course, there is a problem that every new added pattern changes the whole settings, so it would be nice to have some option to drag a MIDI clip only once when you first load MIDI in your arrangement, preventing that all further clips will change your settings. The good thing is that you can make your own Groups and add new patterns simply by dragging your MIDI clips inside the Pattern main window, having them for further usage in some other projects. This works in Cubase, but at the moment unfortunately doesn’t work inside Studio One. Hope this would be fixed in a future update.
All controllers are set around a big black guitar picture. In the upper part we find level sliders for all six strings along with modulation and sustain buttons. Of course there are still a zillion other controllers, so you can totally go into detail regarding your sound, but I will only go through those that change the sound quite generally. So, at the bottom you can find a nice number of buttons for various functions. One Key Fifth button, for adding a fifth interval to the note you currently playing. Play Octaves adds an octave to a lower key when you press two notes. Simple Chord makes a proper guitar chord out of your three notes. All these changes are visible on a guitar neck as small dots with names of all played and added notes visible on a guitar neck. There is also Legato Mode, Unison Bend and Auto Slide buttons for exactly those things they are named for. As mentioned before, a few other are also there, but for me the most sweet and useful one is Vel Muting, which plays palm mute notes on lower velocities and open, normal notes on higher velocities. The whole system is set that at the highest velocities we get pitch harmonics that are very specific for any metal music. Hammer-on/Pull-Off is triggered on velocities under 28.
There are a few ways to control your playing. One is with velocity. Also, almost everything is controllable through CC controllers. The modulation wheel switches between palm mute and normal legato notes. There is also a nice number of key-switches for all sorts of functions – again my favorite is the Repeat function where some keys repeat muted notes that you hold higher on the keyboard range, while other Repeat keys repeat open notes. It allows you to go wild, changing chords with the right hand and banging rhythms with right hand just by changing between Mute-Repeat and Open-Repeat keys. In the upper keyboard range we also find an octave with harmonic control. It is very nice addition, being able to reach some functions and articulations in different ways, leaving the final choice to the user, not being so determined by the developer’s choice. Specifically regarding those palm mutes: open note combinations are on some occasions not so easy to control just by velocity, and it is far easier to achieve this through the mod wheel or simply by drawing some controllers in the CC controller editor.
Once I had gotten a grip on it, Heavier7Strings has been one of the most joyful instruments that I’ve used lately. It is not just a tool for creating angry metal riffs, but also for playing mad metal solo lines, sounding absolutely realistic with all the elements that you hear in most metal songs. I didn’t elaborate on this part, but according to some third party demo clips, with some keyboard playing skills and a few CC/key-switch changes, it can be done perfectly. Playing chords and melodies with clean sounds is also quite enjoyable and surprisingly realistic. Some clean presets sound a bit 80’s, but otherwise very impressive.
It’s one of the best heavy guitar recreations that I’ve heard and tried in the last decade – and I’ve heard and tried quite a few of them. Even if you are a guitar player, sometimes it is quite a bit easier to use such an instrument. And if you are not, and you are looking for such an addition to your sound arsenal, then this is a must.
More info and some additional video and audio clips at:
It comes as a VST instrument – AAX native, AU, Mac, Win, also can be used Standalone.
It comes with more than 10,000 samples used as a base, containing 19 guitar effects, 16 amps and 66 cabinet IRs.
Price: $249 USD
UVI’s Vintage Vault sequel is a vast and sprawling collection of legendary electronic instrument recreations – it’s full of treasures that await the classic synth enthusiast.
by David Baer, Nov. 2017
UVI has an extensive catalog of software instruments based upon classic synthesizer and sample-playback devices. Actually, some of these “classics” are not all that old, but others go back to the dawn of the synthesizer age. The UVI recreations are available in packages of various sizes and prices. Some packages feature just one synth (or synth line) and others are bundles of as many as seven unrelated original instruments.
UVI has long had a super bundle called the Vintage Vault. A new version of Vintage Vault was released in August that brings that collection up to date with respect to instruments that are new (or recent) now being included. If Vintage Vault was large, Vintage Vault 2 (hereafter VV2) is utterly mammoth.
Let’s first get the essentials out of the way. All instruments in VV2 run in the free UVI Workstation but they can also run in UVI’s Falcon hybrid synth. In the latter case, the wealth of programming possibilities of Falcon can be brought into play that can considerably increase the value of this instrument assuming you know Falcon well (my own testing was exclusively using Falcon). PC and Mac are both supported as is both 32-bit and 64-bit operation (64-bit only when using Falcon). VV2 instruments work with all major DAWs and there is a standalone option as well. Authorization is via iLok account (either software or dongle) and you get a generous three concurrent activations per license.
Let me make a few comments about the free UVI Workstation. In the past, I may have seemed a bit dismissive about it because compared to Falcon, which is one of the most impressive hybrid synth/sample-playback instruments known to man, Workstation is less than impressive. However, it really is a very capable framework for hosting UVI instruments, especially if you are running outside a DAW. It can stack multiple instruments, it has a suite of internal effects, it has a bus architecture with FX sends, and more. And did I mention that it’s free? If you are contemplating purchasing VV2 and don’t own Falcon, the capabilities of Workstation may be of importance. They are nicely demonstrated in this 12-minute UVI video:
List price for VV2 is $599 USD, but sales of 25% off have been routinely encountered in the past. Now, $599 may seem like a lot of money for software instruments, but, as I think you’ll see, VV2 is so massive the price is quite reasonable for anyone who finds the content to their liking. There are eighteen components in VV2. Some of these components are themselves bundles, if purchased separately. The components are individually priced in the $79 to $199 USD list-price range. The VV2 bundle price gets you each individual instrument for about $33 (and more like $25 if purchased on sale). From that perspective, VV2 is actually quite a bargain.
We will look at the individual components in a bit. But we can generalize about the instruments because they typically share much in common. We are talking about the tonal instruments in this section – there are several drum/percussion components for which some of this discussion does not apply.
VV2 instruments use sample playback but also offer limited conventional synth programming options like filters and LFOs. The sample quality is uniformly excellent and the quantity is generous.
There is little in the way of modulation routing and other programming niceties one might expect in a software synth. The modulation sources and destinations are pretty much hard-wired. As I have observed before, this is either a deficiency or a feature depending upon your perspective. For sound-design novices the simplicity will be beneficial. And even veterans will appreciate how wonderfully simple building/modifying a preset is. For the most part, one need not read the manual before plunging into sound design. Almost everything is obvious across the board.
As for the UIs, a few instruments have everything on one screen. But most have things spread out over several tabs. In addition to the main Edit tab, there will often be a Mod tab (modulation), and Arp tab (when there’s an arpeggiator or two) and sometimes a separate FX tab.
The FX options are usually limited in number and are fairly basic in control parameters available. But they are of high-quality, especially the reverb which is very nice indeed.
A single filter is supplied which can be LP, HP or BP and which has adjustable resonance. Cutoff can be further influenced by note velocity. Key tracking cutoff is not an option on most instruments.
Each individual instrument typically has two dedicated envelopes of the basic ADSR variety, one for amp and one for filter cutoff.
A single, simple LFO is normally present, and it can modulate pitch, loudness and/or filter cutoff. Drive (a pleasant distortion) is available on many instruments and LFO can often target Drive amount as well. The LFO waveforms are sine, triangle, square and sample-and-hold. Sync-to-host-tempo is an option, as one would expect. A step sequencer, sometimes called a phraser, is often also present that can modulate volume and/or filter cutoff, so it can also fill an LFO-like roll in certain cases.
Although LFO can affect pitch and level, there are separate, dedicated vibrato and tremolo functions that have independent speed settings and have level controlled with the mod wheel. The mod wheel may also be used to influence filter cutoff. However, reassignment to another MIDI CC is not supported – it’s the mod wheel or nothing. Likewise, using aftertouch as a modulation control source is not an option. MIDI learn is supported for continuous controls (knobs, sliders) on the UI.
An arpeggiator is often present, and in some cases there are even two independent ones. A number of the instruments, particularly the more recent offerings, have a two-layer structure in which two sounds can be stacked. Having an independent arp operating on each layer can produce some pretty elaborate, even wild, sound animation.
One final thing to consider is the factory content. There’s normally a whole lot of it and it’s well organized into the usual categories: leads, pads, keys, brass, strings, etc. Upwards of 200 presets for a single instrument is not uncommon. But as pointed out earlier, creating your own sounds is not rocket science and you may easily increase the sound options through a bit of uncomplicated and fun sound design efforts of your own.
The Grand Tour
We will now look at the individual eighteen components. This examination will necessarily be cursory; otherwise this review would become nearly the size of a book. We have done full reviews of a number of these components in the past and will include a link to them where appropriate. More full reviews of individual instruments are forthcoming in future issues of SoundBytes Magazine, you may be sure of that.
There is no particular order to the components in what follows other than those things new to VV2 will be listed first. Screenshots of the primary (or only) UI page for each individual instrument will be included, but you won’t see every panel. To see the full set, visit the UVI page (URL at bottom). Click on any screenshot image below to see it full size.
Let’s begin with what is not only UVI’s most recent instrument but one that may be worthy of the designation “jewel in the crown”. There are actually six instruments in this bundle:
- XP-12 (original synth) – Xpander (UVI instrument name)
- Matrix-6 and Matrix-1000 – M-6K
- OB-X, OB-Xa, OB-SX – UV-XXX
- Two unnamed synths (one from 2000, another from 2016) – Six-12
- OB-1 – UV-1
- MSR-2 – UVSR-2
The individual instruments vary in size – some have one-page UIs while others are more elaborate. We plan to offer a full, in-depth review of OB Legacy in our next issue of SoundBytes Magazine.
This is a recent addition to the UVI catalog. It’s based upon an early Moog polysynth known as the Polymoog keyboard. The UVI implementation does not attempt to be a faithful recreation of the architecture but offers a most useful dual layer take on the original. You may find a full SoundBytes review here .
The UVS-3200 is another recent addition to the catalog, this one based upon the Korg-3200. Like the PX-Apollo, UVI avoids attempting a faithful recreation and once again offers a dual layer “tribute” to the original that presents wonderful sound possibilities. The full SoundBytes review is here .
The UVX80 completes what I think of as a trio of instruments from UVI (the other two are those listed immediately above). They appeared within a year of each other and took a simpler original instrument to new places with a dual-layer rendering. They are also highly complementary. If you like one, you will almost certainly like the other two and will be glad you have them all. Full SoundBytes review here .
Digital Synsations 2
This is an embedded bundle consisting of three separate instruments. We have:
- DS-890 – based on Roland JD-800 (which was itself based on the Roland D-50)
- Dzmo – based upon the Ensoniq Fizmo (implements transwave synthesis)
- DK5S – based on the Kawai K5000S additive synth
And, yes, there was an earlier Digital Synsations bundle, but since we are listing what’s new to VV2 first, we mention the sequel before the original. Read the full SoundBytes review here .
Cameo is a three-instrument collection based upon a number of Casio synths: the CZ1, CZ101, CZ1000, CZ2300S, CZ3000 and CZ5000. The UVI instruments consist of the Cameo CZ, the Cameo CX and the Cameo CM. The CZ and CX are reasonably conventional UVI implementations; the CZ is uses programmed patches from the original instruments. CX offers less programmed sounds, sounds closer to the raw waveforms, but those sounds are made available on a two-layer platform. Finally, there’s the CM, which is off the beaten VV2 track. In UVI’s own words: CM reflects our own perspective on the phase distortion sound. Another dual-layer instrument, but this time utilizing the wavetable oscillator and DSP shaping tools from Falcon. Cameo CM isn’t sample-based in the sense of the CZ and CX, rather it utilizes a hybrid approach designed to create wholly new and unique sounds with the capable architecture of the UVI Engine.
Beatbox Anthology 2
Beatbox Anthology 2 is a replacement for the only instrument in the original Vintage Vault to be removed from the collection. Obviously that would have been the original Beatbox. Beatbox 2 is an expanded version of the original, which was, of course, no longer needed.
Beatbox is said to include samples from fully 111 hardware drum machines too numerous to individually mention. It incorporates a 64-step sequencer grid appropriate to a drum machine and includes 160 pattern presets in addition to the drum sounds.
We now are back in original Vintage Vault territory. From here on, the listed VV2 components were in the original VV collection.
We start with Darklight IIx, which offers the sounds of the Fairlight CMI (Computer Music Instrument). With the exception of the instrument we cover next in this survey, the Fairlight was probably the most expensive and elaborate digital instrument ever created and available only to the elite (i.e., well-healed) musicians of the late 1970s.
The UVI recreation consists of three components: Page P – a digital synth, Page B – a drum machine, and Page U – a three layer sequencer device for presenting loops, phrases, etc.
The only machine that eclipsed the Fairlight CMI in high-ended-ness and cost was the Synclavier which offered several sound-production technologies plus full workstation capabilities. Depending upon configuration options chosen, the Synclavier was priced far beyond the means of all but the most financially successful performers/composers.
Of course, you wouldn’t think for a moment of trading your computer and DAW software for a fully-loaded model. Everything about the Synclavier was primitive by today’s home-studio standards – everything but the gorgeous sound of the FM and additive synth technology, which is the principal attraction of UVI’s recreation. That recreation consists of three components: The Beast FM II and The Beast Terminal, both offering synth sounds, and The Beast Box, a drum/percussion unit.
This one is a Mellotron – what more is there to say? Well, maybe just that this instrument was sampled from three different original machines and presents 28 classic Mellotron sounds. Mello was a freebie on at least one occasion (it lists for $99 outside of VV2).
- DS90s – based upon the Roland D-50
- DS77 – based upon the Yamaha SY77
- DS1 – based upon the Korg M1
- DSX – based upon the Ensoniz VFX
Like Mello, this one was a freebie on at least one occasion, so it is probably familiar to a great many soft-synth enthusiasts.
Like Emulation One (if a bit inconsistently named), this is sampled from an E-MU original, this time the Emulator II, which advanced the state of the art to 12-bit samples. Also, like Emulation One, there is an accompanying drum machine instrument (not pictured), Drumulation (keeping the inconsistent numbering tradition intact). Read the SoundBytes full review here .
Want some sounds from a classic string machine synth? You’ve found the motherlode in this one. Sampled sources are comprised of eleven machines from the likes of Korg, Roland, Siel, Eko, Solina, Yamaha and more.
WaveRunner is all about wave table synthesis sound recreation. The promotional material and documentation is a bit light on what hardware was used other than it seems likely two original instruments were a Waldorf Microwave XT and a PPG Wave 2.3. Seven component instruments make up this sub-bundle: WaveRunner 360 (pictured right), WaveRunner Terminal D, WaveRunner Terminal U, WaveRunner Orange, WaveRunner X, WaveRunner 2.0, WaveRunner 2.3.
The UltraMini is two nearly identical instruments. One was sampled from a 1971 model D Minimoog, and the other from a 2011 Minimoog Voyager XL. The sampled sounds share the same programming but the inherent differences between the two pieces of hardware make for sufficient variety that the two sibling versions were warranted. Read the full SoundBytes review here .
Three Roland synths were the sample source for this instrument. These are the JX-10, the JX-8P and the MKS-70. Each sound was sampled twice, once naked and once sent through the on-board Roland chorus which garnered much praise in its day.
We find two instruments as the sources for Vector Pro and three component instruments. The star of the original show is a Prophet VS, which was first seen in the mid-1980s and provided a significant advancement of sound creation techniques via waveform crossfading controlled with a joystick. Two renditions of the Prophet VS are offered: Vector Pro VS (a basic recreation) and Vector Pro VX (a dual layer extension of the Prophet VS concept). Rounding out this package is the Vector Pro 22, based upon the sounds of the Yamaha SY22.
Finally we are at the end of the list. We wrap things up with Vintage Legends: six instruments based upon eleven original pieces of gear. In no particular order there are:
- Synthox – based upon the Elka Synthex and EK-44
- Energy – based upon the DK Synergy
- CS-M – based upon the Yamaha CS-70M, CS-40-M, CS-20M and CS-01
- U1250 – based upon the Kurzweil K250 and D1000
- Kroma – based upon the Rhodes Chroma
- FMX1 – based upon the Yamaha DX1
Is Vintage Vault 2 for You?
Let’s start this section by acknowledging the elephant in the room. Until recently, UVI had little mainstream competition for a sizeable collection of the types of instruments offered in VV2. There was competition, to be sure, but that was primarily in the form of small, economically priced sample libraries from boutique operations, and a full Kontakt license to run most of these libraries was required.
All that changed a very short time before VV2 was released. IK Multimedia came out with Syntronik, a package solidly in competition with VV2. Syntronik, like the VV2 instrument collection, was sample-based and offered limited but easy-to-understand sound design possibilities. Syntronik recreates the sounds of many classic analog and early digital synths, just as does VV2. While there are differences, there are many, many similarities between these competing products.
Syntronik lists for $299 USD while VV2 lists for $300 more than that. Both will almost certainly go on sale from time to time, but it remains to be seen what sale-price comparisons will look like.
Now, VV2 is the larger of the two by a huge margin. Syntronik boasts a bit more than 2000 presets. VV2 has over 7000! Furthermore, Syntronik lends itself to preset modification, but creating sounds from scratch is something far more readily done in the VV2 world. But a competition definitely exists between these two offerings, and given the price difference, UVI has its work cut out for it in conveying why the potential VV2 owner should shell out that extra money. Both Syntronik and VV2 are excellent products, so quite a few potential buyers are probably going to go with the costs-less option.
If I were in a position of influence at UVI, I would lobby for a VV2 lite option, or perhaps a small selection of scaled-down configurations at lower price points to directly compete with Syntronik’s pricing. It might be time, perhaps, for UVI to assemble some focus groups to discover what the VV2 greatest hits collection would be (I certainly have some definite opinions on this one).
Syntronik aside, though, the size VV2 is both a strength and a weakness. On the con side, VV2 requires one hell of a lot of disk space for all those samples (120 GB to be exact), and the auditioning 7000+ presets to find some favorites would be an almost Herculean effort. But, oh, what delights are to be found within this vast collection.
The component instruments of VV2 can be purchased separately and individual sale prices can be very compelling. But this is not the way to go for someone who will end up owning a good number of the instruments. You’ll spend a lot to acquire them all up front by just buying the whole VV2 collection, but you’ll save a whole lot more in the long run.
Fortunately for the perspective buyer, UVI has much in the way of demo tracks and tutorials on their site. Hopefully the perspective customer would have picked up Mello and Digital Synsations when they were out there for free, and will therefore have a good idea of the quality to be expected from similar VV2 instruments. In fact, another thing I would do if I had influence at UVI would be to create and release a freebie VV2 sampler package as an enticement to the prospective buyer (IK Multimedia has a free lite version of Syntronik, as I’m sure UVI has noticed).
In the final analysis, I believe that anyone who intones names like Carlos, Vangelis, Jarre and Tomita with almost hushed reverence is probably going to have a magnificent experience while exploring the sound riches to be found in the vault. Vintage Vault 2 is a wealth of treasures just waiting to be plundered.
Find out more and purchase VV2 here:
UVI products are also available from retail outlets that specialize in computer music technology.
Softube does it again with four amazing new modules for their Modular system. These are far more than just another oscillator, filter, VCA and reverb module.
by Warren Burt, Nov. 2017
Swedish “Rock’n’Roll Scientists” Softube released an amazing, and inexpensive, modular synthesis system last year. Called Softube Modular, it contained excellent software emulations of a number of Doepfer modules, as well as their own slew of utility modules, and along with this, they released a trio of “Expansions,” emulations of modules by Intellijel, which brought some of the advanced features of the Eurorack format to the on-screen synthesis world. I reviewed this very favorably back in July 2016 (http://soundbytesmag.net/review-softube-modular-software-synthesizer/) and noted that Softube said that new modules – emulations of interesting synthesis modules – were on the way, and that I was looking forward to them.
Fast forward to the present, a little over a year later, and boy, have they ever made good on their promise. All of the new modules for the Modular system are excellent and have wonderful capabilities. There’s the Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator, an update on an old classic; the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator, which will have you rewriting your definitions of what a filter can be; the Doepfer A-101-2 Vactrol Low Pass Gate, another updating of an old favorite; and Softube has adapted their TSAR1 algorithmic reverb so that it works not only in the Modular environment, but also works as a VST or AAX plugin as well.
As I stated in my review last year, you need a mouse with a scroll wheel to navigate through the list of modules. I didn’t have a scroll-wheel mouse connected when I first accessed the new modules and was puzzled how to navigate through more than a screen-full of modules that are at first displayed by the program. When I plugged a scroll-wheel mouse into my computer, all was revealed. This happened in both Reaper and Plogue Bidule, my two hosts for this test.
There’s so much on offer here, it’s hard to know where to start, but just arbitrarily, let’s start with the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator.
The 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator is a faithful emulation of the Eurorack module of the same name. It consists of six parallel bandpass filters, each of which can act as standard bandpass filters, or with high enough Q settings, resonate at any desired frequency. So it can be used as a set of tuned resonators as well as a set of bandpass filters. But here’s where things get very interesting. There are a number of preset “tunings” for the filters, each consisting of twenty pitches. Some of these are microtonal, and others are in normal equal-temperament. They are selected with the Bank knob at the upper right. The assigning of the pitches to the particular filters, however, is controlled by the Rotate knob in the center, as well as the Scale knob at the upper right, the Morph knob in the lower right; and the Spread knob to the right of that. The interaction between these controls can produce an amazing variety of “pitch-colored” filterings and ringings. As well, each of the filters has an envelope follower on it, which can be used for controlling things with the envelope of the individual channel, either gliding, or quantized to the pitches of the chosen scale (depending on the setting of the 1V/Oct switch). If you “ping” the inputs with a burst of noise with the Q set high, you can get various kinds of ringing notes and chords happening. An input such as a speaking voice will produce wonderful timbre-colors to mix with your voice. If you make two instances of the filter, and patch them together in the right way, you can get vocoder effects happening. And all these effects, of course, can be voltage controlled, so that continuous changing of the kinds of effects being obtained are possible. I’ve been in love with the sounds produced by tunable filter-banks for many years, but this module is one of the most versatile and beautiful sounding filter-bank modules I’ve seen. I’ve barely begun playing with it, and I can already see enormous potential in what it can do. And the fact that it has a number of microtonal scales and resources built in to it certainly makes it even more attractive to me. If this was the only Extension that Softube had brought out this year, I would be ecstatic. But, as they say, wait, there’s more!
The Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator was one of the most attractive and unusual modules in the Buchla 200-series synthesizer. Softube has now gotten permission to emulate it in software, and the emulation is a thing of joy to behold. One immediate point of interest is the slight changes that were made to adopt this module to the Softube environment. You’ll notice the graphic of the faceplate has both normal “mini” jacks (the Eurorack standard), and the characteristic Buchla “banana” jacks for control functions. In the interest of historical continuity, Softube has kept the graphics of this distinction, but in fact, any jack in the system will accept a signal from any other jack. So the distinction, which Buchla maintains in hardware, between signal and CV, is maintained in the graphics, but not, in fact, in the actual functioning. (And surely, back in the 70s, our Buchla studio at the University of California, San Diego, couldn’t have been the only Buchla studio with a good supply of home-brew banana-to-mini-jack patchcords!)
The Twisted Waveform Generator is actually two oscillators in one module, and these oscillators can be set up into a standard frequency modulation (FM) patch. But each oscillator can use two versions of eight different waveforms each, three of which are not standard waveforms, but bits of the actual programming code for the oscillator itself. These can be scanned through at various rates, producing all sorts of glorious noises. And these two versions of the eight basic waveforms can be morphed between, either manually or under voltage-control, as well. There are a number of different kinds of morphing, and wave-table scanning (called warping here), and pitch modulation available, meaning that the waveform generator can go well beyond basic FM type sounds. In fact, in terms of timbral flexibility, this “oscillator” is one of the most versatile sound generating modules you can own. And, of course, since the module is virtual, and not physical, you can load up as many copies of the module as your CPU can stand. (The system is moderately CPU heavy, but on my i5 dual-core machine, I haven’t noticed any problems with overload yet.) I set up a patch with five of the Twisted Waveform Generators in an “A modulates B modulates C modulates A” kind of feedback patch, and then sat back and adjusted a few knobs and listened to a gloriously complex noisescape of a kind that I hadn’t heard since I’d last worked with a Buchla system (and that was only a System 100!) back in the mid-70s.
A Vactrol is a device which consists of two parts – one is the input, where a changing voltage changes the brightness of an LED – and the other is the output, where the brightness of the LED is read by a photocell and turned back into a voltage. This produces a kind of voltage change that is dependent on the characteristics of the photocell and the LED, introducing a kind of slight physical irregularity into the world of voltage-control. Both the Buchla and Serge systems used Vactrols to control various aspects of their modules. (I remember soldering Vactrols into Serge modules, but I can’t remember which ones – the New Timbral Oscillator? the Phaser? the Filter?) In the case of the Buchla 200 series Low Pass Gate, the Vactrol was used to open the Amplifier and Low Pass Filter components of the module simultaneously. This produced the kind of “more high harmonics with louder amplitude” behaviour that most acoustic instruments have, and this module can do just that – have a kind of linking of amplitude and filter control that emulates physical objects, most notably percussive sounds. But not to be outdone, the module features emulations of three different Vactrols, selected with a switch in the lower right. So you can have three slightly different characteristics to your Filter/Gate combination. Additionally, you can select to have just the Low Pass function, or just the VCA function, or both. And you can change these functions with two external signals. The manual warns you that two “high” signals into inputs G1 and G2 is a “forbidden condition” and that “unpredictable behaviors” can result. I haven’t tried that yet, but you can be sure that I’ll be doing that at an early opportunity. The sound of the module is very clean, clear and precise. It’s very reasonably priced, and everyone who has a Softube Modular system should have one.
Softube already had a superb algorithmic reverb with their TSAR reverb (the acronym stands for True Stereo Algorithmic Reverb), but now they’ve adapted it for use in Softube Modular. Both the larger TSAR-1, with more controls over the parameters of the reverb algorithm, and the smaller TSAR-1R, with fewer controls, can now be used within the Modular environment. Seeing as how Modular had no reverb modules in its early editions, the addition of a reverb to it is indeed welcome. And what a good reverb it is. The main word I would use to describe this reverb is SMOOOOTH. Using the TSAR-1R, I changed the controls in real time, while processing sound through it, and never heard so much as a crackle or a sputter. (Doing this with the TSAR-1 will produce some dropouts – because you’re changing aspects of the reverb signal, like density, which will result in silencing the sound with a decreasing number of reflections, for example.) The 15 second setting in the TSAR-1R produces a lovely long lasting cloud of reflections. I set up a monophonic patch controlling a triangle wave tuned in eleven-tone-per-octave equal temperament, played through the TSAR-1R with maximum 15 second reverb. I then had a low frequency sine wave controlling the volume of the reverb output. The result was lovely – a cloud of chords of overlapping 11 tone ET triangle waves, fading in and out. This reverb unit can be used for far more than just setting up an ambience around your electronically generated tones. I could go on praising its quality (and it’s well worth the price, since you can also use it as a VST or AAX plugin as well), but I’ll simply say that it’s a lovely piece of work, and if you do have Modular, I would say that having TSAR is a no-brainer, despite the price. Reverb quality is like wine – everyone’s tastes are different. But if you’re looking for a good algorithmic reverb, you should definitely include TSAR on your list of “trial-downloads” to compare with other reverbs. You’ll probably like what you hear.
In short, Softube has amply fulfilled the promises of the first version of Modular. These new modules expand what you can do with the program exponentially, and they offer lots of possibilities for control and sound exploration. If you already have Modular, getting these modules should be essential. If you don’t have Modular, you now have four more reasons to want to have it. I eagerly look forward to seeing what other Eurorack (and other) modules the good folks at Softube will make available. I’ll probably be one of the first to get them. And while we’re talking about the future, in my last review, I asked if it would be possible for Softube to develop a microtonal utility quantizer module, where any incoming MIDI or CV signal could be mapped to any user supplied microtonal scale (in .scl, .tun, or MTS format). I’m asking once again about this – a module which I think would introduce a lot of pitch flexibility into the Modular environment.
Here now the details:
Mac OSX 10.9 or newer; Windows 64 bit only, Versions 7, 8 or 10. Screen resolution larger than 1280×800; Softube/Gobbler account required; iLok account required. Scroll-wheel mouse required on PC.
Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator: $79 USD ($99 USD)
Doepfer A-101-2 Vactrol LPG: $29 USD ($39 USD)
TSAR-1 and TSAR1R Reverb: $149 USD ($249 USD)
4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator (SMR): $39 ($49 USD)
First prices are current sale prices, full retail is listed in parentheses after those.
A new best friend for every music producer – actually, for every musician. Ozone 8 and Neutron 2 can make a lot of productions work for you, making your life much easier.
by Alex Arsov, Nov. 2017
I have already written about previous versions of Neutron and Ozone, mixing and mastering tools that can make your life as a musician somewhat easier. Actually, while covering the first version of Neutron, I knew that it was only a matter of time before a similar function would be implemented in Ozone. At the same time, Neutron seemed so complete that I was sure there would be no new version anytime soon. I was positively surprised with the new Neutron 2, as they have added some really cool new features while tweaking all the things users complained about in the first one. Izotope have made this “mixing engineer in a box” tool even better than it was, no matter that it seemed almost perfect in the first version.
As I pointed out in my Neutron review last year, I have never been much of a mixing engineer, struggling with my mixes for a long, long time. Neutron really helped me improve my mixing skills, not just by doing most of the job for me, but also showing me how some instruments should be improved and by comparing my previous mixing attempts with automated ones, and finally showing me where my weak points are. According to some other reviews, it is a great tool even for skilled mixing engineers, giving them an instant stating point, saving them some time that they would have otherwise needed to tweak all those compressor, equalizer and exciter parameters manually. So it proves to be a win-win situation for all of us, for pro and con musicians (at least sometimes I get that impression by doing the exact opposite of what I should do during the mixing process).
While most of us might have some mixing skills, not to mention that surprisingly impressive number of musicians who even seem to be experts in the field, we should agree in any case that this is absolutely not the case with mastering.
I have invested quite a large amount of my time obtaining a few mastering skills, becoming better and better at it, being quite satisfied with the end results – that was until I tried Ozone 8 and got better results in just ten seconds, just by pressing the Master Assistant button, than I’ve had before with years of perfecting my masters skills with eight different plug-ins. It also proved to be a relief for my processor, having just one plug-in instead of all the others.
Ozone instantly tamed some problematic areas that I had problems fixing myself, making for a more balanced master with a nice balance between low and high ends. It also offers a new tool that could be applied later, proving to be a lifesaver for situations when there is an issue with some harsh peaks that can appear in certain frequency ranges. It is a Spectral Shaper, that in solo mode allows you to spot that problematic area by playing just the selected frequency range. It offers a nice set of tools for fine tuning just that frequency range by applying spectral reducing. All you need to do is to set the threshold, telling the Spectral Shaper the level where this spectral reducing should appear, choosing between Low, Mid and High processing options. That usually does the trick, but for all “I go deep” enthusiasts there are additional controllers.
Ozone 8 actually comes with plenty of additional controllers, but most of the results can really be nailed with all the essential controllers. So, even if you are a mastering bozo, you can go really far with this one just by applying the “Master Assistant” function, telling Ozone what sort of mastering you prefer. Do you need your master for streaming purposes, or you need it for a CD, choosing between Light (which goes from around -14 to -12 dB, streaming up to -14 dB), Mid (that goes up to a maximum of -8 dB) and High (that squashes your master, “louder than loud”, as it use to be in the days of the loudness wars)? My favorite album last year was Blackstar from David Bowie, mastered at a really low level, the same way that used to be the standard in the old vinyl days, preventing the loss of dynamics that we’ve experienced since the new millennium.
Dear Izotope, as you probably noticed, vinyl is back, so I hope you could add also a Vinyl option along with those basic three. Did I say three? Yes, there is also a third one called Reference. It allows you to upload up to ten different songs for analysis and then apply similar results to your song by applying the appropriate frequency curve, compressor and limiter proportions.
The next new tool that comes with both plug-ins is Tonal Balance Control. It comes with a big, general window showing you if your low, low-mid, high-mid and high ends are well balanced relative to some standardized balance that is typical for most different genres. With Tonal Balance Control you can easily see if any part of the frequency spectrum is below the normal range, showing you if your song is too bass heavy, too aggressive on highs, or having too much or not enough mids. It happens that our mixing environment is not balanced (near-field monitors too close to the wall… etc), or we are simply a bit deaf to some frequencies, or not skilled enough to properly balance our mix, overdoing mid frequencies or any from a zillion other stupid mix deviations. Tonal Balance Control allows you to open the equalizer window for every instance of Neutron 2 that is inserted on any separate track directly from the main Tonal Balance Control window. Of course, we can also apply frequency changes generally for the whole song (if Tonal Balance Control is inserted on the master channel). That last function is common for both plug-ins, Neutron 2 and Ozone 8.
There is quite a good number of various improvements and additions in the new version of Ozone. Of course you will also notice some graphical changes, both plug-ins have become more user-friendly, but the most prominent change is one that we have already mentioned, the Master Assistant. After using it for a while, I noticed that it always uses almost the same choice of processors, among others, using two different equalizers. The first one is for more general oriented settings, taming low and high ends correctly, while the second is always a dynamic equalizer, that obviously tries to control frequencies that occasionally jump out. It almost always adds a dynamic processor between equalizers and maximizer at the end. That’s all, but far away from being everything that Ozone 8 can provide. Most processors have a solo mode for every included band, so you can rarely go wrong by tweaking any of them, setting any parameter you desire.
In most cases I manually add Stereo Imager before all other processors. Any additional processor/module can easily be added to the existing mastering chain by simply pressing the “+” sign at the end of the chain. The advanced version also brings all sorts of Vintage processors/modules that all sound great and are worth the additional money. Vintage Tape, Vintage EQ, along with Vintage Limiter and Vintage Compressor. The standard version comes without these modules, the only exception is Vintage Limiter that comes integrated, but not as a separate plug-in. Don’t worry, the standard version still gives you enough toys to keep your masters at a much higher standard than you can achieve just by combining some third party plug-ins.
We already mentioned other processors that come with Ozone 8, they are: Equalizer, Dynamic Eq, Compressor, Maximizer, Master Assistant, Tonal Balance Control, Spectral Shaper and Imager. We didn’t mention Exciter and also we haven’t been through the other very handy tools inside every processor that make your musical life a little easier. In the bottom right corner under the wu-meters is also a Codec Preview window that lets you hear how your master will sound exported as an MP3 using different bit rates, or if you convert it to AAC. Regarding that final stage, we should also point out that Maximizer comes with an impressive number of different maximizing modes. Plenty of IRC modes along with Crisp, Modern, Balanced, Pumping and few others. Instead of trying to figure out what any of those marks means, I suggest you to stick with the chosen one, or try all of them to find which one suits your song best. Of course, Maximizer is not the only one that comes with all sorts of additional options, controllers and tools that can be tweaked in a various ways allowing you to go as deep as you want. I usually don’t change the settings that Master Assistant suggests, but for some experts, this could be treated as a starting point where all additional madness can be added through all the additional or existing modules.
For me, Ozone 8 is a life saver. Even if you buy it just for pressing this Master Assistant knob, it is an absolute winner. If you are even braver, trying some other modules too, then you could go way further and adapt the master to your own preferences. I spent quite some time trying to master my masters, but didn’t come as far as I did just by simply pressing this Master Assistant knob.
So, let’s go back to our “Mixing engineer in a box”. This one already had Track Assistant in the first version, but now, finally, you can suggest to the assistant what sort of instrument is on the track that you want to analyze, as in the first version it happened occasionally that some basses and heavy percussions were not recognized correctly and you had to repeat the operation or even adapt some of the existing presets for that instrument instead of using automation. Now it is also a bit more simple to set style by choosing from Balanced, Warm and Upfront, also determining the intensity of processing by choosing between Low, Mid and High. These categories were also presented in the past, but not being so upfront and within the reach of a mouse click.
As we already mentioned, Neutron 2 also comes with Tonal Balance Control. Regarding the processors, there is a new three band Gate module that is now in good company with the Equalizer (where every band can also function as dynamic equalizer), Multiband Compressor, Exciter and Transient Shaper. Izotope made a few cosmetic changes to these processors, but they were – and still are – just perfect as they are, totally serving all your mixing needs. Most processors/modules provide a Side-chain option that could be applied separately to any other processor, or even band, inside the same instance of Neutron 2. At the same time we can choose any external source that we set through our DAW.
Another big thing that comes with new Neutron 2 is a Visual Mixer. At first I though this was just something to attract new customers, but since I’m reviewing Neutron 2 I decided at least to try it out. After the first shock, as the Visual Mixer set dots for all the instruments in the same place, forcing me to find my way out of that mess, I needed some time to separate and switch most of the instruments around. After making a few moves, finding better positions for some instruments, I actually noticed that this thing could be quite handy. The main advantage is having all instruments visually sorted inside one big window, dragging particular dots for appropriate tracks up and down for setting the gain relationships, and left or right for setting the pan position. There is also an option for setting the stereo width by stretching particular dots.
After five minutes with this Visual Mixer I was actually able to make a better mix than was the case by doing it just with the internal mixing console of my DAW. To tell the truth, it really is a nice solution, but I’m not so sure if I’ll go this route with all my mixes, as there is still one improvement that I’m waiting for. At the moment, Visual Mixer sets gain and pan positions for every track by using relative values as a starting point. It starts always with center pan position and zero gain value no matter the absolute gain and pan position that are actually used for that track. (Also, we should not forget the fact that some sound sources are already pre-panned inside the instrument and are leaning left or right, regardless that the track pan is set to center.)
No matter that all values are set relatively, mixing with Visual Mixer is still a great advantage as it can save various finished mix versions and you can try different mixes on the fly just with one mouse click.
Izotope also provides Mix Tap, a small plug-in that controls the pan, gain and width aspect of your track and can be used instead of Neutron 2 (as Mix Tap is much lighter on CPU) on all channels that you want to be controlled by Visual Mixer.
Of course Neutron 2 brings all the good things that were also present in the first version. There is Masking Meter, which allows you to find all overlapping frequencies between tracks, which can cause problems in your mix. It is a handy tool that will help you to easily solve all your masking problems.
That Is What We Get
Neutron 2 and Ozone 8 don’t just come as a bundle, offering you a lower price than buying both individually, but can also communicate with each other through Tonal Balance Control. Use Visual Mixer before using Ozone 8 as a mastering tool.
I was already a big fan of the first Neutron as it makes my mixes quite a bit better. Neutron 2 brings some really nice new features, some inside the plug-in and others in the shape of additional plug-ins. During this review I didn’t go deep into all the details and some other not so significant improvements and additions that both these new plug-ins bring. There are a zillion new and old small details that can help you tame your mix. We just sped through some new features. The story could go on forever if we could just go into detail with Masking Meter, or actually any other processor/module.
Ozone 8 with this new Master Assistant is, at least for me, an absolute must-have (except if you are a very skilled, old school mastering guru – but even in this case it could be a good tool for setting a starting point).
Neutron 2 is also a very useful tool, highly recommended if the mixing process is not your best friend (same story as with Ozone 8 for experts).
Some tools are simply the ones that you should have. No matter the price. I don’t know how deep you are into music production, but I presume you know that having a good tune is just a good start nowadays. Not only that, everyone expects that this tune will be also perfectly produced and mastered. Neutron 2 and Ozone 8 are more than fairly priced when you consider how many different tools and modules you get. Not to mention that both tools can help you lift your mix and master to a pro level, even if you are not so familiar with both tasks, leaving you enough time to be what you actually are – a musician.
Go to the Izotope site and check out some additional info, download fully functional demo versions and try it for yourself.
At the moment both products are discounted.
Ozone 8 Neutron 2 bundle $499 USD
Neutron 2 Advanced or Ozone 8 Advanced $399 USD each
Neutron 2 Standard or Ozone 8 Standard $199 USD each
Neutron 2 Standard comes without all the included modules in the standalone plug-ins. It also comes without Tonal Balance Control. Also, Visual Mixer works only with inserted instances of Neutron 2, as Mix Tap is not part of the Standard edition. Neutron 2 and Ozone 8 communicate together only if you own Advanced editions. You can’t have it all, but no matter that, for just a bit higher price than you would pay for any other third party plug-in (the magic price for many plug-ins is around $140 USD) you will get a very unique and very powerful mixing tool, even in the Standard version. Same goes for Ozone 8. Of course, the bundle contains Advanced versions.
VPS Avenger is a monster synth plugin from Vengeance-Sound that is a versatile all-in-one solution for producers in many genres.
By Rob Mitchell, Nov. 2017
If you haven’t heard of VPS Avenger, you might be wondering what the “VPS” in the name conveys. The answer is:Vengeance Producer Suite. It really does describe this all-in-one type of synth from Vengeance-Sound. I think of it as a collection of tools within one plugin that has nearly anything I would ever want to synthesize and shape a sound. Avenger is collaboration between Vengeance-Sound and Keilwerth Audio.
It is a challenge to try and sum up what is included in Avenger, but here is my attempt: Nearly 600 wavetables, thousands of waveforms, hundreds of resampler and other special samples, powerful routing, sample import functionality, 47 filter types, drag-and-drop modulation, a vectorized re-sizable GUI, multiple arps and step sequencers, sixteen sub-outs, and over 900 presets. There is much more to it than that, but that should whet your appetite for more. I will try to touch on the more important parts of VPS Avenger in this review.
Installation is simple – it just uses a key-file that must be downloaded from their website. After you’ve purchased Avenger, you receive a serial number that you must register on the site. After that’s all set, you can download the key-file and a large file (4.7 GB) which has the content to use with Avenger. You can install it on up to three computers at once. Avenger is 64-bit only, so it will require a 64-bit DAW.
For the PC you’ll need at least a 2.5 GHz CPU, 8 GB of RAM, OpenGL 3.2 capable GPU, and Windows 7 or higher. For the Mac (Intel-based only) you’ll need at least a 2.5 GHz CPU, 8 GB of RAM, and OS X 10.8-10.13. The installer includes VST2, VST3, AU and AAX versions.
In Avenger you can use up to eight oscillators at once. Each of them is added one at time, so you don’t have to have more than what you really need for a particular sound you’re designing. This area of the display shares the space with the drums that are built-in to Avenger (more on that subject later). Clicking either the Oscillator or Drums tab will switch between them. If you want to add another osc, you just click the “+” sign on the right side of the tab. As you add more oscs, it may get a little confusing as to which one is which. Since it it’s a tabbed design, you can only see one at time. One good point to make for this type of design is that it packs a lot of power into a smaller space. Also, you can rename the tabs to whatever you want to keep things organized. Near the top of the display is an additional control bar that lets you cut the low or high frequencies for the oscillator by dragging either end of the bar to the left or right. They’ve add handy mute and solo buttons on each of the tabs, so once you have a few oscs loaded up, you can (for instance) solo the one you’re working with at the moment.
When you first add an oscillator, it has its own set of controls along its perimeter. Some of these include Level (also controls panning with its inner ring), Transpose (+/- 48 semitones and Fine tuning). The “Fine” control has an inner ring similar to the Level control. Turning that ring to the left will add a random amount of fine detuning which could (for example) be used for an analog type of preset. Turning it to the right will add an alternating min/max amount of fine detuning. The amount of these two types of detuning depends on far you turn the inner ring to the left or right. The Noise control has three stereo width settings and its inner ring lets you smoothly blend between white, pink or brown noise. It also has a bit rate reducer you can adjust.
Along the bottom of the oscillator section are the FM and AM controls. Each of these has twelve different waveforms that can be chosen for the modulator. The rate can be set normally or it can be set using one of the seven other presets which use certain intervals. Over on the right side, there are a few more controls. X-Side will shape/warp the waveform you have loaded, and the Formant is for adjusting the pulse width and works on any of the waveforms. The Bits/Rate control will reduce the bit depth, sampling rate, or both at once. There’s also a Sync function. Adjusting the sync control will change the pitch of an extra oscillator (it uses a sine wave) that is synced with the oscillator with which you’re working. It has four different sync settings available, and an inner ring on the sync control will let you add an envelope for the sync. It can either ramp up or down depending on if it is turned to the left or right. I thought this was a very useful addition. Also, a slider control beneath the sync knob sets the envelope’s speed. In other words, if you just need a simple envelope for the sync, you won’t have to assign one of Avenger’s envelopes to the task at hand.
Clicking the waveform name above its display brings up a menu from which you can select other waveforms and types of functionality. Some of these waveforms are basic VA types (sine, square, saw, etc), but there are also special types of “attack” samples and wavetables. You can even draw your own waveform with the Freeform setting, or use the Sample Stacker mode which can stack up to four multi-samples per oscillator. FFT editing lets you edit a waveform/wavetable’s frequencies or harmonics using three different modes: Free (boost/cut frequencies), Harmonic (boost/cut the individual harmonic/disharmonic bands), and Bin (boost/cut 256 harmonic/disharmonic bands). There are several controls to make adjustments in the FFT editor. Here are a few of those controls: “Sweep” lets you shift the changes you’ve made up or down through the frequencies. “Flip” inverts the edits you’ve made. “VSpeed” and “VStrength” controls let you modulate the harmonic/disharmonic bands in the FFT display automatically. 42 presets are available to load into the FFT editor, and you can save your own creations.
A new granular mode has been added in a recent update, and resampling/wavetable editing is possible in Avenger as well. The V-Saw and Voicing options are very nice as they let you use up to seven unison voices which can be detuned and spread out across the stereo field. They can also be utilized across a four-octave range. On top of this, it has its own LFO (global or per voice) you can use to affect the pitch of the voices. In the Voicing section there is another feature called “Chorder”. What it does is let you configure chords using four voices. Each of the voices has their own coarse and fine tuning, panning and volume. Over 30 presets for the Chorder are already included, and you can save your own presets. The Chorder settings are in addition to the regular oscillator settings, letting you build a powerful sound with just one oscillator. In addition to all those features, there is a sub-oscillator with four different waveforms to choose from.
If you select one of the provided wavetables, the display will change to reflect more controls for manipulating the wavetable. The keyboard towards the bottom is then replaced by a view of the wavetable itself, and there is an envelope that can work with the Index control. When the envelope is enabled, the Index control will track the envelope’s path. Controls to change characteristics of the wavetable are available, such as Strength (sets the amount of the envelope), Smoothing, Speed and Phase controls. They have also given it a sequencer and 61 patterns you can load which will affect the wavetable playback in various ways. The sequence can use up to sixteen steps, and each step can use one of nine different modes. If the available patterns don’t suit you, you can create your own sequences and save them. This sequencer can also be used to modulate other targets in Avenger. I will get to the modulation features later in the review.
I briefly mentioned that granular functions were recently added to Avenger, but I’d like to cover that in some more detail here. Once you’ve loaded a preset that uses the granular functions, or you are starting with an INIT preset and then select the Granular setting for an oscillator, the controls for the oscillator and the granular/waveform display under the oscillator display will change. The controls include density, grain size and shape, pitch and position randomization for the grains, and stereo spread. The Stereo Pitch control is interesting and fun to use as it raises one side of the stereo spread’s pitch by 12 semitones, and it lowers the pitch for the other side by 12 semitones. It can set be anywhere in-between pitch-wise, so you can just dial in the setting you’d like.
Filters, Envelopes and LFOs
Avenger can use up to four filters in one preset, and has a whopping 47 filter types available. The standard controls are here, such as cutoff, resonance, key tracking, as well as cutoff and resonance velocity (velocity affects the cutoff and/or resonance). “Drive” is an overdrive type of effect. Another selection under the Drive menu is for the “Band” function, which lets you control how far apart the low and high bands are for the bandpass and notch filter settings. The last one in the Drive menu is for Comb filtering. It can add a comb filter effect on top of whichever filter setting you have already selected. Each of the four filters has an AHDSR envelope. Using the routing settings, the filters can be setup in a serial formation. There is a Master filter (same 47 filter types) which can be enabled and it affects the overall signal.
The Amp envelopes are also AHDSR types, and besides the usual functionality, they offer a control called “Spike”. It adds a little accent in volume at the beginning of the notes you play. The inner dial on the control changes the shape of the spike, and changing the Velocity slider setting will affect the spike level. Panning and Key-track panning can also be adjusted from here. The Spread control will move the notes around in the stereo spectrum. Depending on which way you turn the dial, it will cause panning to either alternate from left to and right or to just be random.
LFOs are in no short supply here, as you can add up to four per preset. There are twenty waveform shapes to choose from, and you can customize the last three of those waveforms (C-LFO1 to C-LFO3). Double-clicking on the waveform adds a new point and then you’re able to drag them around however you’d like. Among its other features, the LFOs can be set up in One-Shot mode (i.e. only plays once, versus constantly looping).
Avenger can use up to eight powerful arpeggiators and eight eight-step sequencers. Each of them can be assigned to nearly anything you’d like. Many sources and targets for modulation are available with Avenger’s built-in drag-and-drop modulation system. This makes it very easy to configure. Or you could just use the built-in mod matrix to set things up manually.
You also have access to eight pitch and eight modulation envelopes. The pitch envelopes will of course affect the pitch, but you could also assign them to other targets. Unlike the pitch envelopes, the modulation envelopes must be assigned to something first before they will work, and you can pick almost anything for them to modulate. There are several ways the envelopes can be triggered, and there are many play modes to choose from. As usual in Avenger, there are numerous presets for these envelopes you can use, and you can save your own.
Drums and Routing
The Drums section is quite a capable module all on its own. There are many drum sets ready to load with their own sequences all ready for use. You could also set it so you can load a different sequence than what is normally loaded. The sequencer is easy to use with many built-in functions, such as copy/paste of notes for building sequences the way you want. Some other functions you can control for each note are the panning, velocity, and the playback can be set up with a shuffle setting as well. Clicking on the sample slot will bring up that sample in a display for editing. It has an envelope with which you can modulate panning, hi/low pass filtering controls, and more. Also, your own samples can be loaded in place of what is already within Avenger. All you have to do is go to the File menu in the upper-left, navigate to your sample library, and then drag-and-drop from there to the correct slot in the Drum module.
The Routing section is for arranging the signal flow to your liking. For instance, you might want a shaper/distortion before the filter, or maybe you want to have it appear right after the filter. Another way to use this is for making a send to the effects (more on the effects shortly). This includes the drum section, and each part of the drums (cymbal, hi-hat, snare, etc.) can be separately routed to different effects, or you can set them so they all go to one effect of your choosing, such as reverb or delay. When you add a new oscillator, it will get its own routing section. Any of the modules you have in the routing chain can be switched off if they aren’t needed, or moved with a click/drag (except the Arp and Amp). Using a left-click and selecting “Go To” gives you a handy reference as to where the controls are for the particular module. If you’re in more of a hurry, right-clicking on a module will do the same thing without having to click anything else. Another important note to remember is if there is only one filter in your preset at this point, you won’t see a second filter in the choices on a module to add for filtering. That may seem obvious, but it’s good to remember before getting lost in the middle of designing your preset. You ask yourself: “Why isn’t this working?! Oh, yeah… I haven’t added a second filter yet.” The same goes for an effect you thought you had added earlier, as it won’t show up in the choices unless you have added it first in the effects section. If I haven’t lost you yet, I better switch gears and talk about the effects now.
The effects section is located in the lower-left of the display. There are four effects busses (FX1-FX4), a Send Rack bus, and a Master effects bus. Each bus can include up to eight effects. One of the cool things you can do with the effects busses is to route them to each other. For instance you could have FX1 with a delay and reverb routed to FX2, so whatever is in FX2 (say you have a chorus in that bus) will affect just the delays and reverb tail. Or you could have everything that’s in the Send Rack routed to FX1, it’s up to you of course. Very flexible!
There are many effects available. Some of these are by ArtsAcoustic, and one of my favorites is the AA-Reverb which sounds very good. Other ArtsAcoustic effects include Vintage Chorus, Vintage Flanger, Vintage Phaser, Ensemble Arp, and Ensemble 330. There are many other useful effects from which to choose including gated reverb, distortions, delay, EQ, filter, limiter, trance-gate, and several others. The “Multimod” is quite useful for several different types of effects, as it can modulate the pitch in different ways with its own LFO. It can also add ring modulation, tremolo, and panning. All of Avenger’s effects have their own presets included, and you can save your own as well.
There is no way I can cover everything in a synth review such as this. However, I think I covered the more important parts of Avenger and it will give you a good idea of what to expect. It clearly is a powerful beast of a synth with ample options available. One thing I didn’t even mention was the preset browser, which is quite good actually, althought I thought it could use a “Favorites” function. Besides that, I can’t really think of anything for which I would ask to improve upon in Avenger. Vengeance-Sound is probably currently working on some new additions (features, improvements, etc.), but for me this instrument is a top-notch product right off the shelf. I wish more synth/sampler developers would add the resizing capability that Avenger has, and I appreciate being able to see the oscillator waveforms changing in real-time. I love the way the effects section works, and the new granular synthesis capability expands Avenger’s possibilities even more.
If you want to have an abundance of features all within one plugin, you really can’t go wrong. You could go ahead and buy two or three individual instruments to try and cover what this one product can do, but why bother? The separate prices of all those other plugins can really add up. VPS Avenger sounds great and is overflowing with options for the modern day producer.
VPS Avenger is available for $220 USD. You can get more information here:
Better than the original in just about every way, VSS 2.0 gives you more options for placing your sounds yet is faster and easier to use.
by Per Lichtman, Nov. 2017
VirtualSoundStage 2.0 ($229 USD + VAT for the Pro Version, $129 USD + VAT Lite at parallax-audio.com) is a plug-in that lets users visually place sounds in their mix by seeing them on a “virtual soundstage”, as it were. Don’t you just love it when product names make sense? The Lite and Pro versions are identical, except that Pro offers more choices for microphone setups and rooms. When you buy the plug-in you get both 32-bit and 64-bit, with support for Windows (7 or later) and OS X (10.7 or later) in AU, VST and AAX flavors. The company also currently offers great upgrade paths from Lite to Pro as well as from VirtualSoundStage 1 (which we reviewed in 2013) to 2.0 Lite or 2.0 Pro. I liked the original, but 2.0 is so much better – not just in terms of sonic options, but also in terms of speed, workflow and ease of use!
What’s New? Almost Everything!
VSS 1.0 was already CPU efficient and quick for placing each individual sound, but there were many ways that I hoped it would be improved in the future, something the developer was already alluding to at the time. It’s no exaggeration to say that VSS 2.0 fully realizes that potential – it actually goes far beyond it. Let’s compare and contrast, point by point.
In VSS 1, the interface showed you a single speaker for the sound/track you were currently placing, regardless of how many instances of the plug-in you were running in your mix. In VSS 2.0, every time you add the plug-in to your sound/track, it shows up in the same soundstage – so you can visualize the whole session at once, moving sound in relation to each other. In VSS 2.0 each sound is visualized using three points (the center and two edges) instead of a single speaker.
In VSS 1, most things were fixed: microphone setup (Decca Tree) and microphone placement, the room, sound width, height, etc. In VSS 2.0 you have more options and control over far more parameters. For instance, in VSS 2.0 Lite, you have four microphone setups (Decca Tree, XY 90 Degrees, ABS 90 Degrees and EBS) and one room (Concert Hall A) or the absence of any room at all. In VSS 2.0 Pro adds ten more microphones and eight more rooms, for a total of fourteen microphone setups and nine rooms, or the absence of any room at all. Not only that but almost every parameter is now controllable.
Instead of automatically pointing your sound source at the microphones like in VSS 1 (which you can still do by just double-clicking on your sound source), VSS 2.0 lets you aim in any direction you choose. In VSS 2.0 you can change the width of the sound, from a single point to several meters wide. You can adjust the height of both the sound source and the microphones.
VSS 1 and VSS 2.0 both offer a similar air absorption control for each sound source (damping or boosting high frequencies based on distance, etc.), while VSS 2.0 adds a directivity control. The directivity control changes how much the sound is focused in the pointed direction, versus spread in all directions. So, if you have a recording of a human voice (which changes dramatically depending on the direction the speaker/singer is facing) you could get a realistic result by using high directionality. By contrast certain other sounds (like a bell) would realistically spread in many directions more evenly, so you would want to use a low directionality setting.
VSS1 gave you the ability to manually compensate for sounds that were recorded off-center using a separate gain and delay offset menu, accessible by pushing the input offset button – along with the “mono-maker” option to only use either the left or right channel. VSS 2.0 ditches the mono-maker option, but integrates the manual controls into the main menu and adds the (very useful) auto-detect button, that lets the plug-in analyze the audio playback on the track for a few seconds to estimate the input offset. This makes it easy for people to use libraries recorded off-center without having to manually figure out the offset. There’s also a pre-listen option to hear the sound straight after input-offset processing, making it easier to fine-tune if you want to.
VSS 1 had a set seating chart that you could use as a reference, while VSS 2.0 offers six different ones for band, orchestra and choral applications. In VSS 1 all your controls only affected one sound, while in VSS 2.0 you have sound specific controls (in the center pane) along with global controls on the right. In VSS 2.0 you can actually change the microphone setup used (or the balance between dry signal and early reflections, etc.) for all plug-in instances at once using this pane on the right. You can also globally bypass or enable all instances of the plug-in to A-B the unprocessed sound.
Organization and Workflow
Continuing in this vein, you can label each sound you use (for instance “Violin 1”) and choose a color for it to make it easier to find and place in the main GUI in the center. You can zoom in and out of the soundstage display by holding down the control button using your mouse wheel on Windows computers (with equivalents offered in OS X and with other devices). Individual sounds can be dragged up and down the list on the left as you see fit, and you can access the controls for any sound by selecting it from the list – regardless of which VSS 2.0 instance you are using. It’s great for organization and saves so much time compared to VSS 1 that it’s difficult to measure.
VSS 2.0’s sound is shaped by three primary areas: the microphone setup and settings, the room choice and the individual sound settings. The room choice changes the early reflections that are calculated, much like switching reverb presets. VSS 2.0 does not calculate a reverb tail, so you’ll usually want to add additional reverb using your favorite reverb plug-in or hardware unit. In my testing, I used Liquidsonics Reverberate 2 for this purpose. However, you can also choose “free field” and skip the early reflections entirely and still be able to hear a big difference any time you change the microphone setup (especially between Decca Tree and all others). The additional rooms and microphone setups in Pro are a useful addition compared to Lite. All of my favorite rooms were in Pro and the variety of mic setups was great, with AB 200 degree being a favorite out of the new ones. That said, the four mic setups in Lite are already enough for many users, already covering Decca, EBS, AB 90 degree and XY 90 degree – so there are ample options for the budget conscious user.
Room for Improvement
VSS 2.0 hits the mark in so many respects that there are very few areas where I could offer constructive criticism, but one of them is important if you are using a low screen resolution. In my DAW of choice (Cockos Reaper) VSS 1 works well as long as the interface is given at least roughly 1007×700 pixels to display. By contrast, VSS 2.0 needed at least 1208×748 pixels to display in small mode (which still requires using a scrollbar to access some controls) or at least 1357×850 to display at medium size (the smallest size that doesn’t require scrolling). So users with low resolution or legacy displays (1280×720, 1152×768, 1024×768, etc.) will struggle unless their DAW supports scrolling. Hopefully, most users are running at a higher resolution by now but since it’s literally the only reason I can think of why someone wouldn’t want to upgrade from VSS 1 to VSS 2.0, it’s important to mention.
VSS 2.0 is designed for stereo-mixing. It outputs in stereo, so if you’re looking to place your sound in 5.1, 7.1, Atmos, etc. VSS 2.0 won’t help you. I mostly mix in music in stereo, so that’s not a big issue for me but for some users it might be.
My other critiques are more in the nitpicking realm. It’s great having the flexibility to point sounds in any direction I choose, but given how often I want sounds to point at the microphones it would be great if there were a checkbox to “auto-point at microphones” so that I didn’t have to keep double-clicking on the sound after I moved it each time. As I said, this is a nitpick (double-clicking only takes an extra moment, after all) but I’d still put it on my wish list. Another great addition would be if there was any way to make it possible to resize the panes in the interface (so I could display longer names when needed, etc.). I don’t know how easy or difficult the programming involved in that is, and it’s not essential – it would just be a nice extra if parallax-audio ever does an update.
Finally (and this falls more on the users than the developer) it would be great if people took the developer up on expanding the preset library. Yes, it is really easy to make my own presets but … a guy can want to be lazy, right? 😀 Seriously, though – the developer puts their support e-mail on the website and invites you to suggest any library you’d like to see presets for, so go for it.
As mentioned, VSS 2.0 is designed for mixing in stereo instead of surround sound formats. It’s the most inexpensive and CPU efficient tool I’ve found for that purpose. However, there are two notable competitors at higher price points (in some cases, much, much higher price points) that offer alternative functionality worth discussing.
Vienna MIR Pro (c. $750 USD) and Vienna MIR Pro 24 (c. $345 USD) are alternatives to VSS 2.0 that work especially well with VSL libraries, but are also useful in other contexts where users don’t want to use any other additional reverb. While VSS 2.0 can calculate (or omit) algorithmic early reflections, it doesn’t calculate a reverb tail. MIR, on the other hand, uses convolution impulses from a variety of real world spaces – which uses a lot more CPU but also means you don’t need any additional reverb to place your sounds in the mix. Note that if you like using a Decca Tree microphone setup, MIR won’t cater to you the way that VSS 2.0 (or even VSS 1) does. MIR is not fully designed for surround sound the way that the next competitor is, but it does offer more functionality in this area than VSS 2.0 alone.
Flux offers a product called IRCAM Spat Revolution (c. $1790 USD) that offers more comprehensive surround sound format support than any competitor I’ve encountered, and the price tag reflects that.
All three products offer trials of various sorts, so you can try them out for yourself. My suggestion would be demo them in ascending order of price.
Is It Right for You?
If you have VirtualSoundStage 1 and run at any modern screen resolution, then upgrade to VirtualSoundStage 2.0 now – it’s better in practically every way. If you’ve never used sound placement software, VirtualSoundStage 2.0 is quick, easy-to-use, competitively priced and CPU-efficient. It makes it much easier for people that aren’t experienced mixing engineers to place their sounds in a virtual soundstage and is great for people that prefer to be able to see their sounds instead of look at a collection of pan knobs. If you’re mixing in stereo, VSS 2.0 is much less expensive and uses less CPU than competing products making it the first one I’d audition. It works great with your reverb tail plug-in (or hardware unit of choice) and fits in well into many different workflows. On the other hand, if you don’t want to use any other reverb plug-ins (or you mainly use VSL products), I’d give the Vienna MIR series a look, and if you mainly want to work in surround sound, consider IRCAM Spat Revolution – just be prepared to pay more for their respective functionalities.
Late Replies from Blue Cat Audio is a delay … but before you move on because it’s just yet another delay, be aware it’s probably the most powerful delay you’ve ever seen.
by David Baer, Nov. 2017
Every now and then you encounter a new plug-in FX module that causes you to say to yourself “Holy [expletive-of-choice]” while reading each new page of the manual. Late Replies from Blue Cat Audio is absolutely one of those. If there were a best-FX-of-the-year award, Late Replies would be in serious competition for that prize, it’s that inspired, innovative, flexible, powerful and ground-breaking.
As a delay, it’s got more than enough of the requisite capabilities. But what makes it special is the ability to insert FX modules into key positions in the signal chain. It comes with 25 built-in effects, but you may also use any VST, VST 3 or AU plug-in you happen to have on your system. If that’s not enough, Late Replies can even host copies of itself for unbelievably complex delay patterns.
For all its sophistication, however, Late Replies has a very clean design that’s quite easy to understand. You can become a master delay designer in no time after just a single read through the clear and concise documentation.
First we have some basics to get out of the way. Late Replies is available in all major formats and is compatible with all modern mainline DAW systems. It sells for $129 USD, with occasional sales the norm for Blue Cat Audio. Authorization is very customer-friendly and the multi-machine license terms are even more so. A demo download is available that imposes only minor inconveniences.
While this review will not be particularly long (it’s really that easy to explain the functioning of Late Replies), for those curious to see it in action, a trio of videos by the respected tutorial author Eli Kranzberg may be found here:
The Basic Delay
We’ll get to the FX insert capabilities shortly, but for now let’s focus on just the delay mechanism itself. Here’s a diagram of the signal flow taken from the manual.
There are four major sections to the delay signal chain: input processing, delay taps, feedback loops and output processing. The image at the top of this page shows the UI in its compact form. The delay taps section and the feedback section can each be expanded, and we’ll see those when we get to that part of the discussion.
The input section is simple. We specify a Base Delay time which serves as the base time to which delay tap times and feedback times are relative. We can specify this as host-sync-based, absolute time or manually-specified tempo. The Inertia control governs how much tape-flutter-type distortion will be heard when tempo changes are encountered.
Next we have the Pattern section, which defines the number of taps, their temporal location and other attributes like individual level, panning, phase and more. The taps are called “replies” in Late Replies terminology. We may have one to eight of them, and the UI adjusts as appropriate to the number specified. A grid is displayed, the divisions for which can be set as desired. Visual positioning, snap-to-grid, and randomization are all supported.
All in all, it’s quite intuitive. You can easily understand its workings by reading the manual, but the video tutorials (link provided earlier) are also a great way to get up to speed rapidly.
Below the UI Pattern area is the Feedback Loops editor.
There are two independent feedback loops either of which may optionally cross-feed the other loop. Both loop predelay and loop delay interval are specified in a grid. Underneath the loop grid is another grid that attempts to graphically depict what the delayed audio will fully sound like. The timeline can be expanded to up to eight times the base delay duration. The dot images (filled circle, empty circle, etc.) and their locations (above or below the line) have specific meanings that are fully explained in the manual.
Below the grids are the actual controls, the ones in black control the general mixing settings of the loop output. The controls in blue are dedicated to what happens inside the feedback loop. Again, the documentation fully describes the various functions and I won’t elaborate further here.
The output section consists of a Width control that can be used to narrow (but not widen) the wet output. A dedicated ducker (a very useful thing to have in a delay) is present. It can be driven with the dry signal or an external side-chain signal. Finally, we have a limiter, which is another very good thing to include when dealing with feedback loops that can all-too-easily overload while experimenting.
FX Inserts and More
Now we come to the thing that makes Late Replies truly unique – the ability to insert various FX processing in various parts of the delay signal chain. Blue Cat has mastered the ability to have a hosted plug-in become the host for others, as is well-demonstrated in the multi-band host Blue Cat MB-7 and the indispensable Blue Cat Patchwork (if you acquire Patchwork, I predict it won’t be long before you start calling it “indispensable” as well).
There are four places into which FX can be inserted:
- Input to the delay signal chain
- Taps (on a per-tap basis)
- Loops (on a per-loop basis)
The composite image below shows each of the above possibilities.
There are 25 built-in effects: EQ, filters, modulation effects (chorus, flanger, etc.), pitch shifter, frequency shifter, dynamics (compressor, gate), distortion (bit crusher, wave shaper, etc.), utility (MS encode/decode), and more. Plus there are three delay inserts: echo, multi-tap and even inserted instances of Late Replies itself. Of course, with the hosted delays, you cannot benefit from the visual depiction of the expected sound that you see in the Loops UI section. Below are three of these 25 possibilities.
But the possibilities don’t end with the onboard FX modules. You can also insert any VST, VST 3 or AU plug-in you happen to have on hand as well. The possibilities are effectively limitless.
I have not yet mentioned the factory preset content. Would you consider 350 (or so) presets to be an adequate number? A number of them use the onboard FX insert capability to good effect, so there is plenty there to inspire you as to what might be done with your own favorite FX plug-ins, which obviously could not have been included in the factory preset content. There are many interesting ideas to be found in the presets, and exploring them may provide ample inspiration to anyone who finds sound design to be a worthwhile pursuit.
Is Late Replies for You?
I think you’ve probably gathered by now that I think Late Replies is a rather special piece of virtual gear. Because it’s so new to the marketplace, I cannot suggest what an expected sale price will be (however, Black Friday is just days away from the publication date of this review). But the list price of $129 USD is entirely reasonable for something as full of possibility as is this plug-in. Grab a demo version to check it out for yourself. Highest possible recommendation here! For more information, to download a demo version or to purchase, go here:
Blue Cat products are also available through third-party music software retailers.
Impact Soundworks’ Momentum is a Kontakt/REX/WAV percussion loop library. Not all that into loops? Don’t be too sure … this one makes them fun.
by Dave Townsend, Nov. 2017
First, an admission: I am not a loop guy. I’ve spent more than half a century learning to plunk my fingers down onto a keyboard at the right time and in the right places, and loops have always seemed to me to be lazy a shortcut to music composition and performance.
But once in a while, I bend my own rules. Percussion is one area where I don’t have too many ethical qualms about using loops in lieu of a real performance, especially when it comes to tedious 3-minute shaker and tambourine parts. But I am still picky. Too often loops are either what-you-hear-is-what-you-get, or editing them to get what you want ends up being way too much work.
Well, Impact Soundworks has sucked me into the looping world with Momentum. Yes, they’re still canned performances. But these folks have made it so easy and fun to manipulate loops into something unique that I actually enjoy programming this instrument.
The loops are all human-played acoustical instruments, so they don’t sound mechanical or artificial. But if you’re looking for garden-variety hand percussion, know that these 100+ instruments lean toward the non-ordinary. Slapped cellos and guitars, spoons, a metal door, a plastic teapot and bicycle spokes are some of the more unusual “instruments”. Oh, there are some conventional pieces in there, too, such as bass drum, shakers, congas and cajon. But even they are often played in unconventional ways (such as striking a bouzouki with a rubber mallet), such that even ordinary instruments can come out sounding unexpectedly un-ordinary.
Shakespeare asked “what’s in a name?” True, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. However, telling your wife you ordered a dozen graboids for your anniversary might lead to some confusion.
Unfortunately, both Impact Soundworks and Cakewalk released products named “Momentum” in the same month.
Cakewalk’s Momentum is a completely different animal, a tool for capturing musical ideas and storing them in the cloud. It runs on both mobile and computer-based operating systems, which means you can jot down a song idea on your iPhone while waiting for the bus, and then bring it into your DAW when you get home. A nifty idea, and we’ll be covering it in a future SoundBytes issue.
Momentum consists of two main .nki’s: Momentum.nki and Momentum Loop Mapper.nki. The former will be your primary interface for editing and playing individual loops, while the latter lets you build a custom collection of loops and assign each one to a different key on the keyboard.
Pre-made loop constructions can be selected by dragging in Kontakt Snapshots. There are 72 snapshots included, not enough to come close to covering every possibility (there are over 2,500 customizable loops!). But they do provide at least a broad overview of the possibilities, so a good place to start is to load Momentum.nki and audition different snapshots to get an idea of the instrument’s potential.
Each of the percussion instruments is also included as pitched one-shot samples, each with their own .nki, for programming in your DAW’s piano roll view or playing by hand on a MIDI controller. The easiest way to approach this mode is via the Momentum Loop Mapper, which we’ll delve into later.
Load momentum.nki and navigate to the snapshot folder in Kontakt’s Files view. There you’ll see snapshots categorized by BPM (80, 86, 110 and 140). Open the 110 BPM folder, as it contains the most snapshots. Drag one of the snapshots into the instrument header.
The main window is dominated by a view of the sliced loop. Here you can modify parameters for each slice independently.
What you’re looking at here is the prerecorded loop, sliced into individual hits. The number of slices depends on how many distinct hits there are in the loop. Each slice can be adjusted independently by pitch, volume, pan, filters or modulators. In this screenshot, we’re modifying pitch values.
Click on the die image to let Kontakt assign random values. It’s gray-colored and hard to see, and looks more like a snowflake than a die, but it’s there in the upper-left, under the label “RANDOM”. This button is a great inspiration-starter.
Next, enable the Kontakt keyboard display if it’s not already there.
Keys are divided into color-coded sections. The blue keys represent starting positions for playing back the loop; the more steps in the loop, the more blue keys there are. To play the entire loop, click on the root note, which is always C4 (or C3, depending on what your DAW considers middle C). To start the loop at some other point, click on one of the other blue keys (the slice number is shown in the information label below the keyboard).
Green keys are for transposition, from 1 to 7 semitones (click the yellow key to reset). Red keys enable various effects. Purple keys play one-shot samples.
And that’s about as difficult as it gets. Just drag in a snapshot and start playing!
Note the tabs at the bottom, labeled Main, FX and Mod Matrix. Click on FX to get to the eight built-in effects (EQ, compressor, transient designer, distortion, bitcrusher, delay, reverb and limiter). Aside from having randomize buttons, these effects are all pretty standard and self-explanatory, so I won’t bore you with the details. They only really get interesting when you modulate them via the modulation matrix, which we’ll discuss separately.
Customizing a Loop
Now that we’ve got a snapshot loaded, we can start playing around with it.
Here’s an initially boring shaker loop, which gets more interesting when it starts bouncing between left and right channels. Then, I randomize the pan settings using a MIDI CC in my sequence, so we get different random pan positions for every measure. Totally un-natural, I agree, but oddly pleasing. It sounds like the shaker player has had too much coffee and couldn’t stop dancing.
In the next example I’ve chosen the “Tubular Adventure G” snapshot. Despite its name, the sequence was actually made from slapping an acoustic guitar body.
The raw loop is first played with no effects or modulations, then with volume, pan, filter and modulation applied to each slice. (The pan effect is especially dramatic if you listen with headphones.)
You probably detected that there was a delay effect involved in that clip. But not a boring old straight-up delay. Instead, I had this one randomly modulate the feedback parameter of the delay effect so that the number of echoes is constantly changing.
Which brings us to the modulation matrix.
The Mod Matrix
Modulation options in Momentum are pretty deep for a Kontakt instrument. You normally only see this level of flexibility in synths. Click on the “Mod Matrix” tab at the bottom of the main screen to bring up the matrix.
The modulation matrix provides eight slots for routing modulations. You can choose from nineteen modulation sources and seven destinations. Any control within the destination effect can be modulated.
In the screenshot to the left, I have routed the LFO to the EQ’s high-pass filter gain, using a free-running sine wave as the LFO.
Back on the main loop screen, you can set the amount of modulation for each slice independently.
Let’s say you want some reverb, but only on the last hit of the loop. Or maybe you want randomly changing ADSR envelopes or a slowly-changing bandpass filter for a wah effect. All are achievable via the mod matrix.
TIP: don’t forget to visit the FX tab and enable the effect you’re modulating. They aren’t automatically enabled just because you added them to the matrix.
Note that, as in a synth, modulations are additive. That means you can set a base value in the effect itself and the modulation source(s) will be added to (or subtracted from) it. It also means you can modulate a single parameter from more than one source, e.g., LFO and key value. Every modulator has a depth control, but be careful because high mod depth values mean extreme modulation that might make some hits in a loop disappear.
Two of the more interesting modulation sources are “Random Uni” and “Random Bi”. This fun option generates random modulation depths for each MIDI note received (uni-directional or bi-directional, meaning positive-only or both plus and minus). So rather than enter one long-duration note in your PRV to kick off and sustain a loop, try instead entering a separate note for each measure. This will alter the modulated effect in a random manner with each measure, as if your percussion section was ignoring the producer’s instructions and having its own party.
The Loop Mapper
The other main instrument, Momentum Loop Mapper.nki, lets you map any loop to any key and thus build up a collection that you can select via MIDI notes.
Choose a loop from the menu at top, then click on a key to assign that sample to that key.
The keyboard display will reflect your assignments as blue keys.
There are a lot of instrument types to choose from, so it’s helpful to narrow the selection by choosing one of the nine timbre categories (e.g. glass, pluck, brush) and/or pitch ranges (low, mid, high or full).
Note the little speaker icon above the list. Click on this to toggle loop auditioning, handy for perusing loops.
Here you can also specify a time signature for each individual loop, as well as enabling pitch transposition (via the green keys). After you’ve made your choice, click the checkmark button to add the loop to the collection.
And yes, there is a Randomize button here, too. (Note: if the checkmark button isn’t enabled after clicking the randomize icon, click on a different loop name and then click back on the random selection. This might be a minor bug.)
As someone who doesn’t often use loops, I am very appreciative of easy-to-use UIs. This one is so easy that even I, a non-looper, was able to figure it all out in a few minutes without referencing the documentation. However, you should at least take a look at the PDF, because it’s concise and clear, and might even tip you off to some non-obvious feature (case in point: I did not figure out the keyboard shortcuts on my own, e.g. Ctl+Alt / Cmd+Opt to reset the entire grid).
Although this review has dealt exclusively with Kontakt, the library actually comes in three flavors: Kontakt, REX and WAV. Running it in Kontakt will give you the most options, but it does require the full version of Kontakt.
If you don’t have Kontakt, don’t despair; the WAV loops can be dropped into an audio track in any DAW. Even better, if your DAW supports REX imports (as many do), or if you have a REX player such as Propellerhead’s ReCycle, Cakewalk’s RXP or Spectrasonics’ Stylus RMX, you can import the REX versions and they’ll be automatically synced to your project tempo, plus you’ll be able to edit them using the player’s features.
Momentum is only available as a download – 12 GB if you get all formats, 5 GB for just the Kontakt files. Get it from the Impact Soundworks website. Price is $149 USD.
IK Multimedia’s Synth-Sample powerhouse comes to the iPad, bells and whistles intact.
by Warren Burt, Nov. 2017
In our last issue, David Baer covered the computer version of IK Multimedia’s synth-sample powerhouse, Syntronik – read that review here. Shortly after that, IK announced that Syntronik was now available for the iPad. Having just gotten an iPad Pro, with lots of spare memory in it, I thought that it would be good to cover the iOS app, seeing how it compared with the computer version.
The short answer is: very well indeed. I don’t know how they compress the 60GB of data the computer version requires into approximately 5GB which all the samples for the full version take up on my iPad, but I don’t see many differences between the samples available on the computer and iPad versions. For example, I’m pretty sure that the same 79 presets for the J-8 synth exist on both the computer and iPad versions. Mind you, I haven’t tried all 1200 of the presets, nor do I have a computer available with Syntronik on it to make a point by point comparison, but my initial gut feeling is that the two instruments seem pretty identical.
David mentioned in his review that this was not a full featured synthesizer, but rather a collection of synthesizer waveforms, performed through a common patch, which emulated many of the functions of the original hardware. Let me agree with him on this. A proper “synthesizer,” in my view, would be patchable with lots and lots of possibilities for modifying sound and changing it in real-time. At a minimum, sounds should be able to be frequency and amplitude modulated at almost any point in the patch, and control signals of changing frequency should be available to modulate just about any aspect of the sound. This implies a quite different definition of a synthesizer than many people have these days, and is, frankly, a quite pleasantly “old-school” definition. But many people don’t share that definition. They’re not looking for the power to make an “original” sound (and let’s remember Milton Babbitt’s old adage “Nothing becomes tiresome more quickly than a “new sound.”), but are in fact, wanting to have available sounds from electronic music hits of the past that they’ve come to know and like. There are dozens of sample libraries which indeed do just that – they take samples of the sounds of older electronic gear and make those available, sometimes with processing circuitry similar to the originals, sometimes not. The catalogs of such sample masters as UVI and Native Instruments are filled with offerings such as this. I have a number of these programs (UVI’s UVX-10P, an emulation of Roland synths from the 1980s is a particular favorite of mine, although, curiously, I’ve never actually used it in a piece), and they do indeed offer the sampled sounds of earlier machines with some amount of real-time processing power.
IK Multimedia’s Syntronik is one of these. It has sampled waveforms from 38 older synthesizers, grouped into seventeen “synths” (graphic design styles for the interface), and all of these waveforms are then processed through the same “patch.” There are a number of interesting aspects to this patch – such as the seven kinds of modelled filters that one can select (only one at a time) in the patch, and the single LFO which can be used to control panning, or pitch or filter cutoff, but, despite the different graphics for each synth type, the patch is indeed the same for all sounds. This is not as much of a problem as it might seem. One might bewail the lack of possibility of frequency or amplitude modulating sounds within the patch, but in the effects page, one does indeed find both frequency and amplitude modulation processors, which can either work at a set frequency, or accept MIDI signals so that the same modulation ratio is preserved for all the played frequencies.
Here’s a shot of the sound selection panel – which is pretty identical to the computer version. One of the interesting things is that one can select multiple aspects of a sound from the menus, and if more than one is selected, these will AND, so that one gets a sounds that have only both the characteristics one is searching for. The warning here is that once you’re done with those, be sure to click all of them off, so that you don’t have those characteristics operating as a filter of further choices of yours.
Syntronik is a free download from the App Store. For that price, free, you get 25 presets, at least one each from the seventeen synth-types included in the full version. If you want individual synths – that is, the sample sets from a particular synth, you can purchase those as an in-app purchase. You can also purchase the full version, which has all the samples from all the synthesizers. This costs less than buying each synth’s samples individually, but for those on a budget, perhaps gradual expansion is the way to go. The US App Store price for the full version, for example, is $79.99 USD, with each synth-sample set being $9.99 USD. (The Australian app store lists $149.99 AUD for the full version, and $14.99 AUD for each synth. This reflects the higher prices that everything has in Australia.)
Syntronik fits in well with the rest of the iOS environment. It works very well in Audiobus 3, and Audiobus 2, is listed as working as in Inter-App Audio application, and works fine in AUM. It accepts MIDI on whatever channel you want, and can accept MIDI CCs for real time control of most available controls.
Above you see three examples of the “synth faceplates” used by Syntronik. You’ll see that there are exactly the same controls on each, just arrayed differently. With Syntronik you can layer up to four different synths, each with their own pitch and velocity range. These all play together – with MIDI input, these all work together. But at the top of each page is a Master control, where for each synth in each layer you can adjust volume and pan independently, as well as a Master volume for the whole instrument, as shown in the next graphic.
If patching possibilities in the Main page of Syntronik are limited, the effects page is where the semi-modular nature of the program shines. You can set up chains of up to five effects for each synth-layer – these can all be independent effects. There are 37 different effects in six different categories. In the Modulation category, for example, are the AM Modulator and FM Modulator effects I mentioned earlier. These both allow quite complex modulations to occur and all of these effects amplify the possibilities of the instrument greatly. These effects can be turned on and off in real-time. For example, having only two effects, the Slicer and the Digital Reverb happening – with the slicer set to, for example, 50 Hz, this produces quite a noisy sound. With the Mix control on the Digital Reverb set to, say, 66%, this makes quite a roaring noise. Turning off the “on” switch on the Digital Reverb or the Slicer radically changes the sound, bringing in whole levels of noise and texture in the sound. As a live performance environment, the Effects Page gives a huge range of sonic options.
David briefly mentioned the Arpeggiation page in his review. It is, indeed, as complex, and loaded with possibilities as he implied. It’s a very powerful performance environment on its own, but the thing that I found most attractive about it was that each of the four synth layers (A, B, C, and D) each can have its own arpeggiation pattern with its own rules, its own tempo, its own logic and its own pattern. The use of the Arpeggiation page actually turns Syntronik into a multi-timbral, polyrhythmic composing system. For me, this was the most attractive part of the whole program, once I slowly read through the eleven pages of the manual and mastered the Arrpeggiator’s possibilities. To those of you who don’t like reading manuals, I would suggest that for this page, you make an exception to that, and learn all the characteristics of this very powerful page.
David had mentioned to me that Syntronik didn’t have any microtonal capabilities, and at first glance, that seemed to be true. However, one of the controls on the Main page is a control for setting bend range. There are a number of sequencer programs which enable a particular pitch bend to be sent out in parallel with a particular pitch number. If you can set the pitch bend range of your synth, you can get, at least, a monophonic microtonal output from Syntronik. I tried this with the new Quantum sequencer (also reviewed in this issue), setting the pitch bend range to +/- 2 semitones, then setting the proper pitch bend level for each pitch required for each step in the sequence. Although this was quite time-consuming to set up, the result was quite satisfying, with my desired microtonal scale churbling away happily with whichever of the hundreds of timbres available with Syntronik that I chose. With a multi-track recording environment such as FL Studio or Cubasis, and a versatile sequencer such as Quantum, one could quite easily make polyphonic microtonal compositions with Syntronik.
I did all these tests with an iPad Pro 12.9 inch screen version. It had more than enough power to handle whatever I threw at it. If you’re on the iPad platform, and you’re looking for a good utility synthesizer program with a very large range of timbres and some very interesting live-performance possibilities, IK Multimedia’s Syntronik is well worth your downloading to have a look and listen. If you like what you see, the total price, even for the full version, is pretty reasonable. I do like the sound of the instrument – it’s very smooth and full sounding, and when a synth sounds this good, I actually don’t care if it’s a “faithful recreation” of an ancient technological sound or not. It sounds good right now – for me, that’s what’s important.
IK Multimedia, on the App Store, or http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/syntronikios/
iOS 9.1 or later, 64 bit, iPad only
free with 25 sounds, in-app
Syntronik Full $79.99 USD
Syntronik Galaxy $9.99
Syntronik OXa $9.99
Syntronik Blau $9.99
Syntronik J-60 $9.99
Syntronik 99 $9.99
Twelve other individual synths, each $9.99