Monthly Archives: January 2018

Review – HALion 6 from Steinberg

 

HALion 6 is the latest incarnation of Steinberg’s flagship virtual musical instrument.  It’s broad in scope, deep in functionality, and deserves your considerable attention.

 

by David Baer, Jan. 2018

 


HALion 6 is a hybrid synth/sample player/sampler that is an extremely capable and attractive virtual instrument.  Steinberg bills it as a “VST Sampler and Sound Creation System” (although it comes in more flavors than just VST).  The only real competition it has in terms of overall capabilities is from UVI’s mighty Falcon hybrid synth/sampler.  You could also say that Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere also competes in this space except that Omnisphere is quite limited in terms of importing user-supplied sample content.  Notice that above I used the designation “sampler” not “sample player”.  That’s not sloppy use of words.  HALion 6 brings a true sample-capture capability which probably makes it unique among all virtual instruments claiming to be “hybrid” in some fashion.

If HALion 6 where a car, you might be tempted to call it “a Mercedes-class vehicle”.  It is the product of meticulous engineering, uncompromising attention to detail, and elegant design (spoiler alert: I think rather highly of this software).  Before getting into it, however, let us dispense with the necessary details.

The software is 64-bit only.  Registration is via an eLicenser account, but for the first time, the eLicenser dongle is not a requirement.  One side-effect of this change is that users will be unable to retain HALion 5 on the same system upon which they install HALion 6.  It is PC and Mac-compatible.  Formats are VST 2, VST 3, AU and (another first) AAX.  A 1920 x 1080 screen or larger is recommended.  The factory content requires 30 GB of disk.  A full-content demo download is available (URL at bottom of this article).  However, owners of HALion 5 will see the demo overwrite it when installing.  If you decide not to upgrade, you will need to reinstall the earlier version.  This inconvenience should go away in future releases.

We’ll defer pricing information momentarily.  First, you should understand the makeup of the HALion family of which there are three members:

HALion 6 – this is the Big Kahuna on which we are focusing here.  I reviewed HALion 5 some time ago.  That can be found here, (and, please, there’s no need to point out that I got the capitalization wrong the first time out).

HALion Sonic 3 – this one has nearly all of its big brother’s playback capability, but lacks a number of editors for content creation.  For ordinary users, most of the editors will not be missed.  However, the two important functions that might be are the ability to import samples and the ability to edit wave tables.  HALion Sonic 3 is a subset of HALion 6 – when you install HALion 6 you end up with desktop shortcuts to both (at least on Windows that’s what happened).  We reviewed HALion Sonic 3 in our last issue; read that review here

HALion Sonic SE 3 – is a free download from Steinberg.  Basically it’s useful for running commercial libraries (of which Steinberg offers a few) but its editing capabilities are quite restricted.  You may, however, use a library-supplied instrument UI to create instrument presets and save them for later recall.

 

New Horizons

I think Steinberg has done something very wise with this new release.  It would appear that Steinberg may have adopted the viewpoint that widespread access to the free version of HALion will ultimately promote wider market penetration of the commercial versions, and that new third-party content is needed to achieve that goal.  So, in HALion 6 we see much in the way of new developer capability (of which, more later) that was not present in previous HALion versions. This may indeed prove to be just what’s needed to get HALion more firmly established as a top-tier virtual instrument.  Here’s why:

It’s common knowledge that Kontakt is the de-facto sample player of our time.  However, boutique developers of low-priced sample libraries must pay Native Instruments a sizeable fee to allow their customers to run their offerings on the free Kontakt Player, which is often prohibitive.  So, those developers can only sell to those who own the full version of Kontakt.

There’s much in this new HALion release to suggest that this could change.  Sound developers of Kontakt content can now create that content in HALion 6 to sell to users for use on the free HALion Sonic SE 3.  This is because they can now create control panels (UIs) that accompany the sounds.  This was never possible prior to HALion 6.  And of course, this same motivation might apply to developers of non-sample-based content.  Imagine if you are a developer trying to decide which instrument to choose for which you will create sounds.  You want to pick something that lots of people own in order to have a market base into which you may sell.  Well, if that instrument is both free and high-quality, one solution is staring you in the face.

To sum this up: developers have, for the first time actually, a compelling motivation to produce content for HALion.  They can sell it to users who do not have any additional ownership (purchase) requirements.  If I were a provider of Kontakt-based libraries, I would be taking a serious look a porting some of my material to the HALion world.  A whole new set of potential customers, those musicians who do not own the full version of Kontakt, potentially await.  And of course, Kontakt only does sample playback – there’s no synth capability to be found at all.  So on that front, there’s not currently even any competition from Kontakt.

I found only one third-party HALion offering currently for sale (available for all three of the HALion versions).  This is Celestial Spheres from Touch the Universe.  It is a huge collection of very innovative presets that deliver the spacey, evolving sounds you’d expect, given the name of the collection.  Touch the Universe developer Timothy Ivory had this to say about HALion 6: I really love Halion. Creating Celestial spheres was one of the most fun times I’ve had in my endeavors in sound design.

The scarcity of third-party content is a clue as to how little market penetration that HALion probably enjoys.  Removing the dongle requirement should help Steinberg getting more copies on more DAWs.  But if I were in Steinberg’s marketing department, I would energetically lobby for a free demo library of HALion sounds that would run on the free HALion Sonic SE.  Just put it out there for all to access as an easy-to-install download.  And it would need to be good to entice people to give it a try.  IKM’s Syntronik is a great model here.  The free Syntronik sampler has 50 presets that are musically useful and compelling advertisements of the quality to be found in the commercial products.  Steinberg might be well-served to embrace this model for raising awareness about HALion.  If the HALion family of instruments just had more visibility, many more musicians might eagerly join the party. 

 

So, Which Version for You?

Back to pricing: HALion 6 currently lists for a street price of $350 USD (with an educational discount of about 40% available to qualified buyers).  Steinberg has occasional sales (not frequent – maybe once per year) in which significant savings are available for a short time period.  HALion Sonic 3 lists for a street price of $150.  So, do you need all the extra editing capability for that extra $200?  Only you can decide, but as pointed out above, be mindful that there are two activities that may be of interest to the run-of-the-mill user: loading sample custom content (or outright creating it), and creating/editing wave table data.  For doing either of those things, the $200 premium may be justified.  However, for the musician who primarily works with presets and does no more than light tweaking, the $150 price of Sonic 3 looks mighty attractive.  There is a great deal there for the money.

Now, let’s start to explore what’s in HALion 6.  The instrument is so broad and deep that we could devote an entire issue of SoundBytes to the subject and still not be able to cover everything.  So, this examination will hardly be exhaustive.  I will cover some of the same ground covered in the HALion 5 and the HALion Sonic 3 reviews cited above.  But our main focus will be on two things: what’s new to HALion 6 and what’s only found in HALion 6 but not the HALion Sonic versions.

 

Getting Started

In general, the architecture of HALion 6 (hereafter, just “HALion” for brevity) is complex and may seem intimidating at first.  But nowhere is it illogical.  A bit of patience will be required upon first encounter, but that patience will be rewarded.  Just don’t expect to gain mastery of this instrument in an afternoon.  The user who just plays presets could easily do that, but to do even modest preset tweaking may require a bit of study first.  To actually create sounds from the ground up, whether with samples or synth capabilities, will require more than just casual familiarization.

As for the documentation, in typical Steinberg fashion, it is detailed, accurate and comprehensive.  The HALion 6 manual, at over 550 pages in length, is nearly twice the size of the HALion 5 manual (and there’s even more content about the scripting technology available online).  But the documentation suffers from the usual shortcomings of Steinberg manuals.  The index is so brief as to be essentially useless.  The other problem is that there is no good place for the beginner to start, no 30,000 foot view to bring a newcomer up to speed.

Steinberg does have some decent introductory videos on youtube (search for “Getting Started with HALion”).  Also, if you have a Groove 3 all access pass, be sure and check out the HALion offerings there.  The HALion 5 tutorials are still relevant – HALion 6 has had much new functionality added, but very little of what was in the previous version has changed.

 

Architecture

HALion is a multi-input, multi-output instrument.  There are 64 slots that can hold programs, with each of those slots/programs responding to a different MIDI channel (four MIDI ports, 16 channels on each).  Multiple slots can be programmed to accept input from the same MIDI port/channel as well.

Audio output can utilize up to 32 stereo channels.  Internally, there are local buses into which FX processes can be inserted and four send-buses for send FX as well.

The basic unit of sound creation is the “program”.  A program is a hierarchical structure consisting of between one and four layers at the top level.  Layers may contain other layers.  Signal flow is always top down.  A layer may contain MIDI modifiers (this is how the arpeggiator capability is delivered, among other things), buses (into which FX can be inserted) and zones which are the things responsible for actual sound production.  An example layer configuration using one of the factory presets is shown to the right.

Layer nesting is provided primarily as a means of sharing resources.  Two sibling layers might call for some of the same FX modules.  Making those two layers subordinate to a common parent layer means the FX can be put in the parent, avoiding multiple copies of the processing in the siblings. 

There are five types of zones: synth zone (oscillators with typical subtractive synth wave capabilities), sample-player zone, organ zone (drawbar organ capability), wavetable zone and granular synthesis zone.  The synth zone oscillators are capable of some FM-like sound production, but there is no multi-operator DX7-like FM capability in HALion (score one for UVI Falcon, which is a little ironic given that Yamaha owns Steinberg).

We don’t have space for an exhaustive look at these zone types here.  Suffice it to say that they are quite powerful.  The sample playback capabilities rival those in Kontakt and provide most of the essential capabilities in a full-featured sample-player, but they are delivered in a somewhat different fashion.  Kontakt-savvy users will require some reorientation to function in HALion.  HALion imports a lengthy list of sample format types (see that list here).  Unfortunately, SFZ-file-compatibility is  still absent  – I had hoped this shortcoming would have been corrected in version 6.

One great thing about the HALion architecture is how well it lends itself to composite sounds.  A program can incorporate not only multiple zones of the same kind for a thicker sound, it can mix samples, synth oscillator sounds, granular sounds, and so on to the sound designer’s heart’s content.  The sample layer shown above provides such a combination using a sample zone and a synth zone.

Modulation is accomplished the old-fashioned way: via a modulation matrix.  That said, this is as elegant a mod matrix as you are likely to find.  The only significant shortcoming to my mind is that FX parameters cannot be modulation targets.

Speaking of FX, there is a full complement of very fine modules (if you’re Steinberg and you’ve got the Cubase code base in house, there’s much with which to work, after all).  Below is the list of current modules.  Not shown is the collection of legacy modules which is nearly as long a list.

 

Modulators include all the usual varieties.  The LFOs are particularly elegant, supplying not only such niceties as both delay and fade in but fade out as well.  There may be more powerful modulators to be found here and there, but few sound designers are likely to feel like they are lacking all the tools needed to get the job done.

 

Window and Editors

HALion has a very sophisticated windowing system, which is a good thing given the number of unique windows that implement all the various forms of functionality.  The full UI image at the start of this article shows the default full window layout.  Any window can be undocked and float.  The user may define personal layout preferences that can be saved.  The various different windows can be seen in the selection menu just below.


Most of these are editor windows.  The neophyte really is best served by viewing some video tutorials about finding one’s way about in HALion.  For editing sounds, there are myriad sub-editor windows involved for zones, modulation, FX and more.  Jumping around in these is often most effectively accomplished using the program tree (example seen above).  But this is a very complex landscape, so don’t feel despair if at you feel lost during initial encounters.  I cannot imagine anyone who would not feel at least a little bewildered.  But as stated earlier, there is little that could be called illogical here.  Once accustomed to the organization of HALion, you may find you will work with admirable efficiency.

Let’s look at one example of a portion of the Sound Editor function.  Below is a section of a longer scrollable area that contains an envelope editor and an LFO editor.


A little further down the page you can see the sample editor.  It offers a pretty solid capability, but let us focus on the role of HALion as a sampler for content creation.  There are two relevant functions: sample capture and sample editing.  You might say “Who needs a sample capture capability?  I can just use my DAW for that.”  The advantage that HALion supplies is that it automates some of the repetitive things you might need to do manually when recording a full sample set.  Recording of successive samples can be triggered with level thresholds or MIDI note on/off events.  The base-frequencies can be successively assigned automatically with instructions like: use chromatic spacing, use white keys only, etc.  Missing is the ability to say “use steps of minor thirds” or “use steps of a whole-tone scale”, which would be extremely useful in some circumstances.

Once the sounds are captured, they need to be edited: trimmed, level-normalized … whatever.  And much of the time samples need to be looped.  Good looping can be the key to great sample quality, and it’s often quite challenging, particularly when dealing with stereo samples.  Finding optimal loop start and end points is difficult enough, but when you’ve got to do that for two concurrent signals, it can get a whole lot harder.  The loop optimization tools in HALion are not bad.  But I cannot fathom why Steinberg left out a technology they have in-house and presumably own.  In the Wavelab sound editor (even the entry-level Elements version), there is a feature called the Loop Tone Uniformizer, and the manual even has a section entitled “Looping Audio Which Is Not Very Well  Suited for Looping”.  Hopefully we’ll see capability this brought into HALion in the next version.

In any case, here’s what the Sample Editor looks like.


HALion also provides a wavetable editor, and a very capable one at that (and where is your wavetable editor, UVI Falcon?!).  It is quite powerful – far too deep to discuss here.  A picture of the editor will have to suffice.

 

Content

HALion ships with a huge collection of presets – something like 3200 for HALion Sonic 3 and another 200 on top of that in HALion 6.  Fortunately, the Media Bay browser makes finding suitable content a fairly efficient process.

HALion includes fourteen virtual instruments.  While programs can be built from the ground up using the various editors, the virtual instruments provide UIs that are much easier to use.  One note to sound developers: the virtual instruments are not present in HALion Sonic SE 3.  If you want to create content that ports to the free player, you will need to use the lower-level capabilities and forgo use of the virtual instruments.

So, what are these virtual instruments?  There are fourteen of them included.  There is not one but two virtual subtractive synths, for example, that presents oscillators, filters, envelopes, and so on in a UI that will be immediately useable by anyone who understands subtractive synth programming.  There’s a Hammond-like organ, a Mellotron-type device, world instruments and percussion, a beat box, a variety of synths of several types and more.

Prior to HALion 6, creating virtual HALion instruments was off limits to those outside of Steinberg.  Now the capability is there for any developer.  Creating simple UIs to accompany a set of samples, for example, is not all that difficult.  But creating highly sophisticated UIs is a possibility.  Not only is there an editor in HALion for setting up the UIs, a powerful scripting capability is on board for the serious developer to leverage.  We’ll see a couple of the included UIs in a moment.

New to HALion 6 are four sample-based instruments that are quite impressive.  We have two pianos.  Raven is based on an Italian grand.  It is the more pop-oriented of the pair and boasts six velocity layers.  Eagle is based upon a German grand.  It is a nicely expressive instrument with twelve velocity layers.

Then there is the string collection, Studio Strings.  While it is not the equal of a high-end (read way-expensive) dedicated orchestral string-section library, it offers a number of useful articulations and should be entirely adequate for adding strings that sit down in a mix or for many non-classical applications.  Then there’s the brass collection, Hot Brass.  This is decidedly pop-oriented, as its name might suggest.  It’s aimed at everything from easy-rock to reggae applications.  It contains horns and saxophones – yes, the saxophone is a woodwind, not brass, but the saxes really do make sense here.  To the right you can see the list of the various possibilities offered in both the brass and the string collections.

There are some new synth-based virtual instruments as well.  Granular synthesis is not a new capability in HALion 6, and Steinberg provided a virtual instrument, Auron, in HALion 5.  Now we have another virtual instrument, Skylab, seen below.  Skylab combines granular and conventional sample playback capabilities for truly fascinating results.  This one is well-suited to all manner of cinematic or soundscape applications and comes with an impressive collection of sounds.


Wavetable synthesis is a capability new to HALion, and Steinberg has included a dedicated virtual wavetable synth instrument, Anima, to allow good leverage.  Given the excellent wavetable editor also included in HALion 6, this makes for thoroughly desirable wave-table synth capability.  HALion Sonic users will be limited to use of whatever wavetables are in the factory content (or additional purchased libraries).  Fortunately, there’s a lot of potential in that factory content.  But only HALion 6 owners will be able to roll their own wavetable content.  The Anima UI is seen below.  Note that it sits atop eight easy controls, which have not been mentioned.  Suffice it to say, easy controls are can easily be provided in any preset and can be used as a lazy-man’s solution for providing programmability without resorting to a full UI.


 

Is HALion for You?

Steinberg has made a bold statement with this new release.  All three versions, even the free HALion Sonic SE 3, merit attention.  For the gig musician, HALion Sonic 3 has a whopping load of content – great pianos, a drawbar organ, brass (and sax), strings, drums/percussion, more synth sounds than you would ever practically need and much, much more.  It’s a huge value (and a really huge value if a sale comes along).  There’s so much in HALion Sonic 3 that a potential customer will have to strongly weigh the worth of parting with additional money to acquire HALion 6 (it’s more than twice the price of HALion Sonic 3).  But for the serious producer, that should be an easy decision.  There’s so much there in the high-end product that it can hardly be regarded as anything other than fairly-priced.

With the new capabilities Steinberg has introduced in this incarnation of the HALion family and the shackles and restrictions it has removed, Steinberg will hopefully see a blossoming of interest in the HALion line.  This software certainly deserves wider attention than it seems to have enjoyed so far.  Attracting a group of A-list independent sound developers to create new content will certainly help.  I hope that happens – nothing but good will come of it if it does.

 

For more information, go here:

https://www.steinberg.net/en/products/vst/halion_and_halion_sonic

Steinberg products are also sold by innumerable retail outlets as well.

 

 

 

Review – Orchestral Swarm from Spitfire

 

Spitfire introduces the third installment in the “things you didn’t think you could do with a string library” series.  This time it’s Orchestral Swarm.

 

by Dave Townsend, Jan. 2018

 

Spitfire Audio made a name for itself with sweet and grand orchestral libraries such as their runaway hit Albion One. But now that they’ve gotten “sweet” and “grand” well-covered, they’ve been turning their attention to the outer envelope of what we thought was possible with string libraries. There was the genre-bending London Contemporary Orchestra, and then Symphonic Strings Evolutions that blurred the line between orchestral and synth pads. Now we’ve got the next installment, the unusual – and yet strangely familiar and beautiful – Orchestral Swarm.

This collection isn’t what I’d first imagined it would be. The term “swarm” is often used to describe an amorphous, atonal effect (like a swarm of insects) in which each string player modulates pitch and/or volume independently. The result is a chaotic buzz that’s usually associated with tension or mystery in film. My initial thought was “that’s a neat effect, but what are they going to fill up the other 29 gigabytes with?” The answer is that a) “swarm” means more than that, and b) Orchestral Swarm is far from a one-trick pony.

To start with, it’s not just a string library. It also includes brass and woodwind instruments. Check out these sweet-sounding “Woods” (alto and bass flutes, clarinets, bass clarinets and bassoons).

   Woodwinds

But we can easily wander from the beaten track when we start throwing in some of Swarm’s unique articulations.

   Brass

No, there is no digeridoo in the library. That first shaky drone is a couple of tubas doing something called a “Tongued Swarm”. All of Swarm’s modulations are organic, accomplished entirely by the players’ own mouths. (I can’t shake this silly mental image of a trombone player trying to practice after returning from the dentist, lips and tongue numb from anesthetic.) 

 

Swarm’s Backstory

If it sounds as though these effects might fit nicely into a nature documentary, you’d be right on the money. In fact, Swarm began life as a custom library for use in the BBC documentary Blue Planet 2, in collaboration with the delightfully-named Bleeding Fingers Music.

Bleeding Fingers is a collective of adventurous composers who have not only done music for classy documentaries but also Top Gear and The Simpsons. It’s a joint venture of Hans Zimmer and Sony subsidiary Extreme Music, headquartered in Hans Zimmer’s Santa Monica studio complex. You have to respect an outfit whose logo is a piano keyboard with a drop of blood on Middle C, and which modestly promises “sonically brave” productions.

Spitfire and Bleeding Fingers collaborated to create something called the Tidal Orchestra, specifically for use with Han Zimmer’s Blue Planet 2 score. It was also used on the Radiohead/Zimmer collaboration Ocean Bloom. Spitfire then added more material to create what then became Spitfire Orchestral Swarm.

For a taste of Orchestral Swarm in action, listen to the music behind this YouTube video, the opening episode of Blue Planet 2.

 

The User Interface

As with other Spitfire orchestral libraries, there are multiple microphone layers that can be mixed as desired. These are labeled “C” (close, with stereo width adjustment), “T” (3-mic Decca tree), “O” (outriggers), “St” (stereo microphone, more direct than the Tree option), “R” (AEA R88 ribbon mic) and “M” (mid room, a wide stereo that applies to brass only).

 

Note that the above screenshot displays the Advanced Options window. Click on the wrench icon to open this window.

There are some icons at the top of the mixer that bring up additional options, such as selecting a velocity curve, width adjustment for the stereo microphones, and saving/loading mixer presets.

One of the less-obvious of these semi-hidden features is something called “Mic Mix to Articulation”. This is an on/off switch (its icon is the musical note symbol). When enabled, this very useful feature lets you have separate mixer settings for each articulation, enabling you to balance levels between them or use different microphones for different articulations.

Note that, as with most Spitfire libraries, volume is controlled via CC11 (Expression). In the advanced settings the slider labeled “Expression” lets you decide how much CC11 affects volume. There is also a slider labeled “Dynamics” that controls the relationship between velocity and volume.

 

What You Get

There are a mere seven main instruments in this library (but nearly 30 GB of samples):

  • Bones and Tubas
  • Brass
  • Horns
  • Strings High
  • Strings Low
  • Woods High
  • Woods Low

 

Each of these instruments has between eight and thirteen articulations, with names such as Tongued Swarm, Tenuto Swarm (“tenuto” just means a long-held note) and Mordent Semitone, indicating the manner in which they were played. The greatest variety of articulations, as you’d expect, is with the high strings.

Articulations may be switched no less than five different ways:

  1. Key-switches, which by default are C0 through C1.
  2. A single Continuous Controller. Compared with key-switches, this method is a little clumsier and prone to mistakes, but it can be handy if you’re using an external controller to program articulations.
  3. Velocity range. This is a fun option when you’re playing in real time, but it can also lead to unexpected results – which can be a good thing, of course.
  4. By MIDI channel. This is pretty clever. You can assign each articulation to a specific MIDI channel, essentially turning a single instance into a multi-timbral instrument.
  5. Playing speed. This one’s pretty unusual. It switches articulations based on your playing speed. This is actually quite useful, because most instruments feature a short articulation that could be triggered by fast notes. Makes sense.

Method #4 implies that, unlike with most libraries, articulations can be layered. I serendipitously discovered this after accidentally inserting two keyswitches, and then noticing that two articulations lit up. Sure enough, you can play two articulations at once.

And that’s not all. Each articulation can have its own trigger mechanism. That means any of the five methods can be applied independently to each articulation. For example, you could trigger the short articulation only on high-velocity notes, while selecting all other articulations via keyswitches.

In addition to the seven main multi-articulation .nki’s, there are also separate instruments for each of the individual articulations, for a total of 72 instruments. If you’re using Komplete Kontrol, you can preview most of them without having to actually load them up. If you’re not using Komplete Kontrol, those preview files can still be easily auditioned, as they are separate .ogg files. Look for them in the .preview folders within the Instruments folder tree.

 

The Ostinatum

You also get a basic but capable ostinato sequencer, called The Ostinatum. Simply drop some notes into the sequencer and tell it which note will trigger its playback. You can create up to eight patterns, each with its own trigger. There do not appear to be any factory presets, however, which would have been a nice addition for lazy people like me.

 

Note: the sequencer only works with the short articulation, which will be automatically selected when you open the Ostinatum. If you click the sequencer button and it just flashes without showing the sequencer, check to make sure the instrument you’re using supports the short articulation. Most do, but not all.

 

Conclusion

Who is this library for? Obviously, film and television composers, but it definitely doesn’t stop there. Any musical production that calls for somewhat out-of-the-ordinary but still pleasantly musical orchestration could benefit from this library. The close-mic samples are quite dry, making them easy to blend with other orchestral libraries for complex textures. (And not just orchestral libraries – for grins I borrowed an old Motown trick and doubled a rock ‘n roll bass guitar with Swarm’s staccato tuba.)

Orchestral Swarm is only available direct from Spitfire and only as a download. You’ll need 29.7 GB of disk space, double that if you’ll be downloading and then installing on the same drive.

Swarm is compatible with both full Kontakt and the (included) free Kontakt player (version 5.6.8+). As with all Spitfire products, the license allows you to install it on two computers. You will have to run Native Access to activate after installing the product.

The user manual can be downloaded here.

Price is $249 USD.

 

 

 

IK Multimedia Cinematic and Orchestral Percussion

 

 

Here are two percussion instruments covering orchestral and cinematic ranges of application that also include a generous number of loops, hits and MIDI patterns.

 

by Alex Arsov, Jan. 2018

 

Every individual that composes any sort of cinematic music owns at least few different modern cinematic percussion libraries and instruments. Most of them are heavily processed, bringing big hits and rumbling Taikos, epic crashes and similar huge, epic-sounding kits. All these serve their purpose fantastically, but when you want to use slightly more traditional percussion, or even combine with some ethnic instruments, you are more or less in no-man’s land. There are plenty of normal percussion instruments for pop and rock production that can partly serve the cinematic purpose, but all those are far from being a perfect solution for that specific genre. Another option is that you take the time to find out if any are hidden by mistake somewhere in a deep corner of your ultra modern percussive instrument / library.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore those processed hits and bits, but it would be fine to combine them with all that ethno/traditional percussion that you hear in certain action movies, where composers still rely on traditional cinematic sounds. I simply adore it when various djembe, darbuka or any sort of bell percussion goes totally mad whenever a chase begins. Even if you have a library containing those specific percussive instruments, it’s quite tricky to recreate all those mad rhythms that can be heard in those movies. I suspect that all those heavily processed hybrid hits and bits are used in most modern production because it is quite easy to achieve impressive results – definitely easier than programming all those complex rhythms with more traditional or even ethnic drums.

Regarding the Orchestral Percussion library, there is not much to say. I’ve reviewed many cinematic libraries but this is the first one that offers classical orchestral sounds. As you know, cinematic does not mean orchestral, no matter that mostly the same instruments are used. So, I found this one ideal whenever you want to go by the more traditional route mimicking classical music approaches in your cinematic mock ups.

At this point, I’m really thankful to IK Multimedia for offering such instruments that perfectly fit into this empty niche. Cinematic Percussion for Sample Tank 3 collection brings a large number of all sorts of multi-sampled traditional ethnic percussive instruments from all around the globe along with a nice number of audio loops and a huge number of preprogrammed MIDI loops for some of the most prominent instruments in the library.

We have a similar story for Orchestral Percussion for Sample Track 3, which brings all classical percussion used in classical music. Loops and patterns take a different approach than in the Cinematic Percussion library, but we will talk about that a bit later.

Both instruments / libraries share the same price of €121 EUR and can work nicely in combination too, as there aren’t many duplicated instruments between them.

 

Details

Both libraries are built around three different sections: Instrument, Loops and Patterns. The basic one is instrument section, where we can find lots of multi-sampled percussion.

Cinematic Percussion contains 40 different instruments compiled from more than 2,000 samples. Those instruments are:

32″ China Gong, 38″ Java Gong, Ashiko, Big Hits, Chan Chans, Cinematic Shakers, Cinematic Tambourines, Cinematic Toms, Darbuka 1, Darbuka 2, Darbuka 3, Djembe , Djembes and Darbukas, Frame Drums, Gankoguis, Gongs 1, Gongs 2, Harvested Hits, Kendang Drums, Kharkharbas, Madal Drums, Metal Percussion, Nagara Drums, Scuba Tank Bells, Suspended Cymbals, Taiko Drums, Taiko Large, Taiko Medium, Waterphone, Cinematic Perc 84bpm_LP, Cinematic Perc 86bpm_LP, Cinematic Perc 90bpm_LP, Cinematic Perc 104bpm_LP , Cinematic Perc 110bpm_LP, Cinematic Perc 120bpm_LP, Cinematic Perc 128bpm_LP , Cinematic Perc 140bpm_LP, Cinematic Perc 144bpm_LP, Cinematic Perc 160bpm_LP.

If you are not familiar with all those names, we can just say that the whole Iron Man, Godzilla and Matrix section is here. This doesn’t comes as surprise as the main man behind this library is Greg Ellis, the well-known Hollywood composer and percussionist that stands behind percussion parts for all the above named movies and many others. All instruments are from his private collection and also all loops and patterns (which, btw, sound fantastic) that can be exported as MIDI clips are his work.

Orchestral Percussion instrument comes with 23 playable instruments, compiled from more than 1,800 samples. Instruments that we can also find in Cinematic Percussion are not exactly the same, having a different sound and totally different patterns and loops. Also, there are numerous other classical orchestra instruments, that cannot be found on Cinematic Percussion. Maybe not so many different instruments as some appear in plenty of variations, like Timpani, but still quite a complete compilation of all sorts of classical orchestra instruments.

Included instruments are:

Timpani Med Mallet, Timpani Soft Mallet , Timpani Hard Mallet, Timpani Soft Stack, Timpani Hard Stack, Timpani Deep Stack , Timpani Rolls mp, Timpani Rolls f, Timpani Crescendos, Timpani Crescendos Release, Gran Cassa, Orchestral Snare Drums, Symphonic Gongs, Piatti 20-inch, Piatti 14-inch, Bell Tree Glisses, Orchestral Sleighbells, Orchestral Tambourines, Orchestral Castanets, Orchestral Ratchet , Triangles Keyed Release and Triangles Release+Mute

All instruments in both libraries are well programmed and superbly recorded, so quality is totally in line with today’s standards.

 

Loops

In this section we’ll focus upon loops. These are actually audio loops combined from many layers. In Cinematic Percussion every layer is recorded with a different instrument and a combination of layers, creating the whole loop. Every layer is triggered until you press the same key again. I found this solution to be ideal for building tension over the arrangement, starting with just some shakers and ending with the whole percussive orchestra. Orchestral Percussion layers bring variations inside the same instruments, like different tambourine rhythms or rolls in place of a snare and some timpani. Therefore, here the loop is played only as long as the key is pressed.

We can find ten different multi loops (compiled from 166 audio loops) in the Cinematic Percussion instrument, built from a many layers, creating very complex, impressive loops that have a powerful impact. Orchestra Percussion comes with 25 multi loops (compiled from 411 audio loops), not as intensive as those in Cinematic Percussion, but still they totally serve their purpose, being in style of classical music.

   A loop from Cinematic Percussion

 

MIDI Patterns

Cinematic Percussion comes with 400 MIDI patterns while Orchestral Percussion comes with 102. While of course those Orchestral ones are mainly for symphonic music, containing various snare and timpani rolls and some triangle and cymbal loops, Cinematic is of course in Cinematic style and cover many of those rhythmical patterns that would be almost impossible to recreate if you are not a skilled percussionist. In this area Greg’s skills totally shine and these MIDI loops really make the difference between this instrument and all the others on the market for the same purpose.

Due to the specific approach that Sample Tank 3 has, you need to load the instrument first and then load the appropriate MIDI loop for that instrument. As a great bonus all MIDI loops can be dragged directly to any MIDI track inside your DAW, making them ready for further manipulation. These patterns could help you build your arrangement in no time, especially if you combine some of them with some other, more processed, hybrid percussion libraries.

 

The Rest

Of course every element of any percussion could be further tweaked through controllers that are available inside Sample Tank 3.  After all, this is a full-featured sample player. So, adding additional effects or setting envelopes, filters and all other standard sampling trumpery is just a click away. Of course, I didn’t find any reason to try any of these additional options, as everything sounded as it should in the first place.

Every library / instrument takes up around 3 GB of your disk space, not so much compared to some other libraries. Secondly, all those MIDI patterns, loops and included instruments make both these instruments well worth the money. I found them to be a nice addition to my cinematic arsenal, bringing some fresh air between all those highly processed percussion instruments and libraries. It could be your one and only solution, but for me, they shine in combination with some other percussion instruments, offering a slightly different sound and approach.

More info about Cinematic Percussion at:

http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/st3cinematic/

and Orchestral Percussion at:

http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/st3orchestralpercussion/

Both are Sample Track 3 powered instruments (they work with Sample Tank 3 Lite, so you don’t need to own the full version of Sample Track 3).

 

 

 

 

Review – Shimmer Shake Strike with Expansion from In Session Audio

 

For your consideration: a Kontakt Player percussion pattern library that will put some “Shimmer” in your life and on your tracks!

 

by David Keenum, Jan. 2018

 

Do you remember when you “discovered” loops?  My discovery was Acid by Sonic Foundry (now carried by Magix) and Acidized loops.  It was so cool!  And it was easy!  And it sounded great!  And I could get creative!  Then I began to see the limitations, and the work-arounds you need to do.  Tempo and pitch were issues.  Plus you were left with the part the loop maker gave you.  Yes, you could edit the loop, sometimes creatively, and there were people who made music careers by doing that.   But if you needed something quick it could be hit or miss.  You had to audition loops until you found something that fit.  Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but you get my point.  It was great, but it had its limitations.

Well, like everything else in music technology, looping developed, and In Session Audio’s Shimmer Shake Strike is a prime example.  As far as I can tell, all of In Session Audio’s products use an advanced development in looping technology. Much of it, but not exclusively, is devoted to guitars.  Now let’s take a look at Shimmer Shake Strike.

 

Overview


Shimmer Shake Strike is exactly what its title suggests: A Kontakt Player library of percussion grooves, rolls, and one-shots of instruments that you shake or strike, specifically shakers, cowbells, tambourines, and other small hand percussion.  And it’s mainly patterns, although you can play the individual slices yourself if you should choose to do so. Relatively simple idea, right?  Yes, it is simple, but the “magic” is in the execution of this idea.

 

Installation and Getting Started

On the Mac (4 GHz Intel Core i7 16 GB), installation was straight forward using the Native Access Application.  There is a .pdf included that gives step by step instructions on how to do this.  You can get started immediately, but the videos are a tremendous help.  The link is provided in your purchase, but the videos are on In Session Audio’s YouTube page, so you can watch them anytime you like. I, of course, got started playing right away, but afterward I watched the videos and it was worth the time.  Each video is only a couple of minutes long.

 

 

 

Instruments and Patterns and Presets

There are ten different shaken Tambourine instruments, the “Shimmer,” 24 Shakers, the “Shake,” and 33 struck percussion, the “Strike.”  The instruments range from basic to somewhat exotic, and they do provide a lot of variety.   Each patch has eight different patterns with each pattern having between two and 64 steps.  In addition, there are one-shots available for each instrument and rolls for the tambourines and shakers.  Finally, there are 184 presets, arranged in 3/4, 4/4, 4/4 triplet, 5/4, and 6/8 time signatures, as well as a folder of presets called “High End Grooves.”  These range from Latin-sounding to funky.  Definitely inspiration starters!


The interface has three main pages: Main, Pattern, and Mixer.  The main page is a picture of the instruments currently playing.  The Pattern page allows you to edit or change the pattern and edit the tambourine and shaker rolls.  The Mixer page allows for editing Pitch, Tone, EQ, Delay and Reverb.  You can adjust volume and pan on any of the three pages.


Now that I read the previous two paragraphs, I think it makes Shimmer Shake Strike sound complicated.  It is not.  Once you understand the three main pages, how to change instruments, and how to select a preset, you’re ready to make music.  The videos get you there in a few minutes, and if you are adventuresome, just go for it!

 

In Use

Easy – that’s the word that comes to mind.  I can’t really think of anything easier.  Just load it and go.  But let me be clear, these are not loops, at least not the way we’ve known loops.  I went as slow as 60 bpm and as fast as 180 bpm.  It still sounded fine.  And that brings up another feature: when the tempo gets fast, the pattern may sound better at half speed.  In the upper right-hand corner of the GUI is a “1/2” button that does that.  Again easy.

The quality is natural.  The instruments sound like they should sound: well-played and well-recorded.  I didn’t hear anything odd, even at fairly extreme tempos.  This in itself is an impressive feat!  The general patterns were pretty standard for the instruments.  Again, they were appropriate to the instrument.  And, of course, they can be easily customized as much as you desire.

I feel I should point out that you can use Shimmer Shake Strike for a single percussion instrument.  Simply mute the other two instruments.  So you can use it for a simple handclap backbeat or a complex part.  Dare I say it again?  Why not?  Easy!  And cool!  And creative!  Wait, wasn’t that what I thought when I first discovered looping?  Well, yes it was.  We’ve come full circle.


Details for Shimmer Shake Strike

In Session Audio

https://insessionaudio.com/products/shimmer-shake-strike/

Price – $99 USD for the standard version; $139 USD for the expanded version.

Requirements:

Software: Shimmer Shake Strike runs in Kontakt or the free Kontakt Player 5.6.8 or higher (requires a minimum of Windows 7 or Mac OS 10.10).

Access: A stable internet connection for library download and activation is required.

Copy Protection: Custom Watermarked.

 

 

 

Review – Pro-L 2 from FabFilter

 

Fab Filter has a well-earned reputation as a maker of top-end virtual mixing and mastering tools.  That reputation expands with an upgrade on their already excellent limiter.

 

by Vincenzo Bellanova, Jan. 2018

 

In this review we will take a look at the new version of the limiter plugin from the Amsterdam-based FabFilter, Pro-L 2. FabFilter has established its name during the last decade with top-shelf mixing/mastering tools and effects. The process of “renewal” began some years ago with the upgrade to the surgical Pro-Q 2 and, then, with Pro-C 2. It’s now time for some new features on their limiter. Let’s see what’s new and then test it on some audio material.


What’s New: Algorythms

Pro-L was already an excellent limiter with its neat interface, clear controls and transparent behavior, which did not mean it couldn’t push your signal to the limits. The new features and improvements touch different areas, from metering to new limiting algorithms, and more. First, Pro-L 2 added four new limiting algorithms, bringing the number to eight:

  • Modern, a new go-to algorithm
  • Aggressive, best suited for heavy music and EDM
  • Bus, better on drum groups or individual channels
  • Safe, which is a smoother one that guarantees you won’t hear any distortion.

 

CPU and Oversampling

Fabfilter promises Low CPU usage, and they have added some new linear-phase oversampling options, up to 32x, that will result in a more accurate result, but an intensive CPU usage. Just to give you an idea, we tested it on Ableton Live 9.7, 16GB of Ram DDR4 and a Intel a X-SERIES i7-7800X n.12, without any track in the sequencer, 32x oversampling took 23% of the CPU, while 16x about the 10%. Not a terrifying result, especially since we could always stem our project or bounce a final mixdown and operate in a separate project. Fine and flexible improvement, the higher oversampling options now can offer even more accurate results.

Pro-L 2 now supports surround audio, including Dolby Atmos 7.0.2 and 7.1.2 formats with a handy channel link, an optional DC offset filter for the removal of super low frequencies, adjustable Look-ahead, and Attack and Release to carefully tune the algorithms.


True Peak Limiting

Pro-L 2 now features True Peak Limiting.  We are probably familiar with the Nyquist theorem, sampling rate and the digitization of audio. While an analog signal has infinite amplitude variations, the digital reconstruction of the analog signal occurs with some approximations. In a few words, when we record at a sample rate of, let’s say, 44100 KHz, this means that we are measuring the amplitude of the analog signal 44100 times in a second. Imagine having a “dot” for every point of amplitude measured.  Connecting them, we will draw a curve similar to the original analog signal (if the maximum frequency of the recorded signal does not exceed the half of the sampling frequency, called the “Nyquist Frequency”).

In addition, every dot needs to be “vertically” quantized to the nearest value. In the digital domain, the number of these values is not infinite as it effectively is in the analog signal. The number of values (between -1 and +1, which are the normalized amplitude’s limits of the digital domain) depends on the bit depth. 16 bits, as we find on CDs, means 2 raised to the power of 16.

Now, True Peak Limiting does not only consider the amplitude value represented by position of the dot, but also the amplitude of the reconstruction of the waveform, which can easily go over those values, and, obviously prevent those Inter Sample Peaks. In Pro-L 2 enabling this function is a matter of a click, right below the Attack and Release knobs or on the TP icon, in the lower right corner.

 

Loudness Metering

Another important feature is the new Loudness Metering, meeting the EBU R128, ITU-R BS.1770-4, and ATSC A/85 standards, and new metering scales such as K-System. These names can be a bit obscure, but they are really important when it comes to audio broadcast or interactive music for video games. Let’s try to figure out in simple words, what they are, although it is a fairly huge topic the explanation of which is not our primary goal.  EBU R128 is a collection of recommendations and rules regarding loudness and permitted maximum level of audio signals during broadcast (for example, it suggests a maximum true peak level of -1 dBFS) that were introduced to avoid loudness inconsistencies between programs and broadcast channels, a formal regulation in the Loudness Wars. A new absolute scale was introduced: LU, LUFS or LKFS (Loudness Units, Loudness Units Full Scale or Loudness K-Weighted Full Scale, where LKFS and LUFS are terms that describe the same thing). A jump of 1LU is 1dB.

Loudness cannot be easily measured, because perceived loudness depends on frequencies (you might be familiar with equal contour curves) and can be highly subjective. Peak Normalization and Hard Limiting led to make the audio louder, without having a firm reference. The sophisticated ITU-R BS.1770 algorithm, through psychoacoustic models, introduced a new standard for measurements: the aforementioned Loudness Units, which refers to the perceived loudness. The EBU R128 suggests a -23LU loudness target, although this target may vary on different countries and applications. While this application can sound a bit far from the musician’s target, it may be useful to know that some middleware like Audiokinetic’s Wwise uses this metering scale, so this is not so uncommon after all.

For further readings:

Wwise 201 Course, page 309:

https://www.audiokinetic.com/download/lessons/wwise201_en.pdf

Tc Electronics:

http://www.tcelectronic.com/loudness/loudness-explained/

Auphonic:

https://auphonic.com/blog/2012/08/02/loudness-measurement-and-normalization-ebu-r128-calm-act/

 

Other Features

Some new functions include Audition Limiting, which let us listen to the difference between the input signal and the process signal, advanced Dithering with three different noise shaping options,  and Undo and Redo and A/B comparison

The real-time level display has new display modes, such as an Infinite mode that shows all the audio flow for an entire session, or a Slow mode that writes the incoming audio at the half of the speed of the Fast Mode (Pro-L 1 had this one).

Side chain Mastering  routes the external side chain to feed the path of the limiting process instead of the normal input of the plug-in. This can be very useful for stem mastering, when you need to deliver individual stems that have been processed with the exact same limiting as the original master. Use Pro-L 2 on the stem, while feeding the original (unmastered, unlimited) master to its side chain input.

 

In Action

The accessible and simple UI makes very easy to move around while setting the parameters.  After choosing the algorithm, the advanced tab shows a few knobs with which we can govern the sound of Pro-L 2. Improving quality with the DC filter and True Peak Limiting is as easy as a single click. In addition, the clear, large display, with the full screen option gives us a perfect vision of how we are changing the incoming audio. The inline help window can clarify some of the functions of the small buttons in the lowest row and in the lower right corner: TP, DC Filter, Display Mode and metering scale.

The new algorithms sound very different from each other, and act exactly in the way their names suggest. We tried it on a drum loop, and the differences are noticeable.  Bus has a strong but very clean and precise character, while we found the Modern algorithm being the more aggressive. The Safe one runs very smoothly and super-transparently on the incoming audio, perfectly suitable for raising volume and give consistency without affecting the original audio – no risks of distortion here, it works exactly as described.

The differences are noticeable also with an RMS meter inserted after Pro-L 2.  We tried switching the algorithm, with the same settings, and the different character are, as expected, noticeable even in a visual way.

The same behavior is confirmed on more complex loops.  Safe and Bus both work magnificently, respecting more the feel of the original audio without being aggressive (Bus especially, which is definitely my favorite algorithm), while Modern and Aggressive, again, are pushing way more than the previously two.


 

   Loop – Original

   Loop – Bus

   Loop – Safe

   Loop – Modern

   Loop – Aggressive

 

   Drums – Original

   Drums – Bus

   Drums – Safe

   Drums – Allround

   Drums – Aggressive

 

Conclusions

An already great tool, this version boasts some really useful updates that improve a variety of areas.

There is more flexibility with the new algorithms, so more choices and a wider range of tweaks, with the added look-ahead, attack and release settings, can really improve results.

True Peak Limiting and the new Loudness Meter enlarge the range of applications of the limiter. Despite that you can find some LU meters available for free (e.g., DP Meter II from Professional Audio Tools), I personally find it very useful to have everything in the same window.

Side chain mastering, new display modes and the DC filter are great new features that make Pro-L 2 even more useable, more precise and reliable.

Pro-L 2 is compatible with all major DAWs on both Windows and Mac platform, 32 and 64 bits, and, as all the FabFilter plugins, is available in VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native, AudioSuite and RTAS (32-bit only) formats. List price is €169 EUR, and Pro-L 2 is also available in several FabFilter bundles.

New Features at a glance:

  • Great transparent sound combined with maximum loudness.
  • Eight sophisticated, carefully-tuned limiting algorithms, all with their own character and purpose.
  • True peak limiting.
  • Up to 32x linear-phase oversampling to minimize aliasing and inter-sample peaks.
  • Low CPU usage.
  • Highly accurate output and gain reduction metering, including true peak metering.
  • Extensive loudness metering with support for the EBU R128, ITU-R BS.1770-4, and ATSC A/85 standards.
  • Various meter scale settings, including K-System support.
  • Surround support, including Dolby Atmos 7.0.2 and 7.1.2 formats with flexible surround channel linking.
  • Unique, highly-informative real-time level display, showing input, output, gain change, and loudness levels over time with key gain reduction readings and four different display modes.
  • Optional DC offset filter.
  • External sidechain triggering for stem mastering.
  • Unity Gain option to easily listen to the effect of the current limiting at unity gain level.
  • Audition Limiting option to listen to the difference between the input and output signal.
  • Adjustable Look-ahead, Attack, and Release settings to fine-tune the sound of the algorithms.
  • Separate, freely-adjustable channel linking for both the transient and release stages.
  • Professional dithering with three different noise shaping algorithms.
  • Easy setup for common limiting situations with the included factory presets.
  • Automatic adaption to stereo, mono, and surround channel layouts.
  • Full Screen mode for precise adjustments and insightful metering.
  • Multiple interface sizes: Small, Medium, and Large, as well as a separate Compact mode.
  • Retina support on OS X and High DPI support on Windows.
  • GPU-powered graphics acceleration.
  • Supports common Pro Tools hardware control surfaces.

 

 

 

Review – Cubase Pro 9.5 by Steinberg


 

Cubase is a legend in the DAW world, and it keeps getting better with age. In this latest incarnation there are many useful improvements, as you will see in this review.

 

by Rob Mitchell, Jan. 2018

 

Cubase Pro 9.5 is Steinberg’s flagship DAW product which has been improved upon over many years. In the world of computer music production, it is one of the most highly regarded DAWs you can buy.  It’s really a complete suite of products aimed at maximizing the potential of your pro or home studio. The two other Cubase products available, Cubase Artist 9 and Cubase Elements, are stripped down versions. They still have the same high quality sound, but they offer fewer tracks and there are fewer features/plugins included depending on the version.

Here are just some of the things Cubase Pro 9.5 offers: unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, up to 192kHz and 5.1 surround audio, automatic delay compensation, 90+ audio and MIDI plugins, improved zones, VariAudio audio editing/pitch correction, VST Connect SE, and much more.

 

Installation and Requirements

For the PC, Cubase Pro 9.5 will work with 64-bit Windows 7, 8 and 10.  For the Mac, it will work with OS X 10.11.  You’ll need a 64-bit Intel or AMD multicore CPU (i5 or better), a minimum of 4 GB of RAM (8 or more is recommended). Cubase requires a USB e-Licenser, and another important requirement to note is that Cubase can only use 64-bit plugins. Also, you will need an internet connection for account setup and activation.

I won’t cover all the basics of how Cubase really functions. To do that, it would require an extensive article that could very long and there is a manual for that in any case.  In general (and I am simplifying it here), audio recording and MIDI input from a keyboard or other MIDI device is nearly same across the many DAWs that are out there. Of course, they each have slightly different ways of getting things started, but all in all it is nearly the same across the board: add a track for audio or MIDI, set a track to record, hit the transport control to start a recording, etc. Rather than going down those familiar paths, I thought it would be better to cover some of the more useful functions and plugins that Cubase Pro 9.5 offers. My hope is that this review will present what makes it stand out in a crowded world of digital audio workstation software. If you’d like to read one of our previous reviews of an earlier version of Cubase, you can check that out here: http://soundbytesmag.net/cubase-8-5-steinberg/

When you launch Cubase, it starts you out with what they call the “Steinberg Hub”. On the Hub display you will get news and updates related to Cubase. The Hub also provides you with many videos showing how to use several features that it has (under “Quick Start” and “New Features”). In addition, the Hub is where you can get to some pre-made layouts to start new projects, or you can load a project you’ve been working on previously.

There are a few steps you’ll want to take in order for Cubase to function correctly. Before you start a new project, you should make sure you have it set up correctly with the drivers, inputs/outputs, etc. To do this, you’ll want to go to the “Studio” menu at the top of the screen and select “Studio Setup”. From there you can click on VST Audio System. This is where you can select different drivers, change the Processing Precision setting from 32-bit to 64-bit, Disk Preload (amount of audio loaded before playback), the interface’s sample rate, and the ASIO-Guard settings. ASIO-Guard (when enabled) provides an increased amount of stability and audio processing performance. There are many other settings here, but again, you can refer to the manual to get more of the details.

 

On Track

There are several different types of tracks in Cubase. These include Audio, Instrument, MIDI and Sampler tracks. The Audio type is usually for recording and/or importing audio (i.e. vocals or other live instruments). Adding a new audio track has some nice functionality built-in which makes the process that much easier. After you click Project/Add Track/Audio, you get a menu bar in which you can configure the type of track you’d like. How many tracks would you like? 1, 2, 10, or maybe 50 new tracks all at once? That is easily done by adjusting the number before clicking Add Track. Other options include the configuration (mono, stereo, surround, etc.) track names, and the output routing. Another feature you might not use as much (but is handy nonetheless) is available by clicking the Browse button. A new display opens letting you look through many selections that can help you set up the new track. Depending on what you choose, Cubase will automatically add certain effect plugins that are suited to the type of track you selected.   

The Instrument type has its own MIDI track built-in, and can be used with plugins such as sampled instrument or synth plugins. The MIDI type can be used for additional MIDI functions, such as controlling an external hardware synth, or separating the voicings from a multi-timbral plugin (each track can be for a particular sound from that plugin you’re using). One example of a synth/sample player with that capability (and included with Cubase Pro) is HALion Sonic SE.

On the left side is the Visibility tab in which you can select/unselect whichever tracks you want to have visible. If you aren’t concerned with seeing everything at once and just want to concentrate on a certain aspect of the music (such as the bass and drums), leaving those on the screen and hiding all else is a simple task. The Track fold/unfold feature lets you quickly open or close any folders so you can view (or hide) all of the tracks within them.


One of the best new features Steinberg has added is the Sampler Track. This was actually added in version 9, but I wanted to make sure it was mentioned here. Once you have it loaded in your project, there are a few different ways to get it working. You can drag and drop a sample from an audio track, import the sound file from your computer, or load it from the Media Bay. In Cubase Pro 9.5, you can now drag and drop a MIDI clip from another track right onto the Sampler track. It will render the audio for you, and that’s it – off you go. You could then play that sample from your keyboard, and you can easily transfer it to Groove Agent, Groove Agent SE, or HALion. To get the sample over to those other plugins, a simple click on the Transfer to Instrument button will give you the choices that are available. If any of those three plugins are not installed, then they will be greyed out.

Once you have a sample you’ve loaded into the Sampler Track, you can make some changes to it. Some of the features let you change the start and end for a section to playback, use fade in/fade out for the selection, set the pitch (coarse/fine tuning), use a filter (select from 24 different types), and adjust the resonance and drive. Some other settings in the Sampler Track to play with are the amplitude, filter and pitch envelopes. Several loop modes are also included for changing the playback in various ways. One thing you can’t do within the Sampler Track is slicing up a sample.

There are several other track types which you might not use quite as much as those first four, but they can be important and very useful depending on how complex your project is. Some of those types are the FX Channel, Control, Group, VCA Fader (more on that one later), Time Signature, Video, Arranger and Chord. Some of those (such as Video, Transpose and a few others) can only be added once per project. Folders can also be added for better organization so you keep it all tidy and easier to work with.

 

MixConsole, Insert Slots and Workspaces


MixConsole is where you can put together a winning mix for your next production. Some of the many features that make this a powerful DAW include drag-and-drop support, a MixConsole History function, and channel strips that include a 4-band EQ, plus high and low filtering, spectrum analyzer, multiple compressors and a noise gate.  The mixing engine can handle 128 physical inputs and outputs, 64 effect sends, 16 inserts per channel and 256 groups/busses. On top of all that, there is no limit to the routing between the groups, effects, audio channels and busses. On the left side of MixConsole you can switch the display between the faders, inserts and send views. This is a nice time saver as it allows you to see all the inserts at once, instead of clicking on each separate channel and then viewing them on the left hand side. Speaking of inserts, in the new version of Cubase these have been increased to sixteen insert slots for each track. Each of these can be pre or post-fader. You can divide them up so (for instance) the top twelve slots can be all pre-fader, and the bottom four, post-fader. To do this, you just drag a green divider line up or down to set where the pre-fader insert slots stop.  Any slots above that line are pre-fader and the post-fader insert slots start below the line.

The MixConsole History that I touched on briefly is a very nice feature. As you make changes to your mix settings, they are recorded to the MixConsole History. It is presented as a list of the changes that were made over time in the settings of your mix. You might think: Wait, what did I do about 40 minutes ago that was working so well? The answer is simple, as you can click on that point in the history to bring it back to the way it was.

VCA Faders let you control several channels at once in the MixConsole. Once it’s configured, it is a linked group and can adjust the settings for the volume, mute, solo, listen, monitor and record functions. The VCA Faders can be set up in MixConsole or the Project window. It is simple to setup: Select the channels, right-click on one of those that you’ve selected, and then select Add VCA Fader to Selected Channels. The faders can also be nested, meaning if you (for instance) have several faders that are set to a few different groups, you can add another fader which will control all of those faders at the same time.

Workspaces allow you to set up windows in your project the way you’d like, and you can have more than just one of those saved. You can have several of these configured, e.g., with one window opened maximally for editing and most others tucked away, or several of your most used features all visible at once. These layouts can be defined globally for all projects or per-project. In addition, there is a setting you can configure to allow you to use a default workspace when opening a project.

 

Metronome, Offline Processing and Improved Zoning

In every DAW on the market today you will find a metronome. It provides you with a way to (hopefully) keep your timing steady and stay in sync with other tracks as your project rolls along. Most metronomes are rather simple, and they use basic time signature and speed settings. Another feature they will sometimes support is a Tap function for which you can click on a button at a certain tempo, and the speed for which you are striving will be automatically determined. You may think that’s enough for most situations, but the new and improved metronome in Cubase 9.5 is way beyond what I had ever used before.

Several time signature presets are ready for use, but you can also create your own. You can choose the type of sound it will use for the first beat, and the rest of the beats can use something else. For instance, the first beat could be a stick sound and the other beats can use a tambourine. On top of this, you can have it use a different sound on every single beat, and several presets are already included. Using the Accent Editor, it is possible to use one of four different accent levels for every click in a pattern. Instead of just accenting the first beat, maybe you want (for example) to have the first beat be loud, the next beat to be quiet, then use a medium level for the third beat, and a slightly quieter level on the fourth beat. In addition, time signature changes are no longer a problem. In Cubase 9.5, the metronome will automatically follow along with any time signature changes you have set up in your project. 

Enhanced offline processing allows more flexibility and some CPU savings at the same time. Normally you might select a clip and right-click on it to add a plugin to affect the clip, which can take resources away from the CPU if you multiply that many times throughout a project.  After selecting a clip (or many audio events) and selecting an offline process to apply compression, delay or other effect, you aren’t stuck with those changes in a destructive way. You can undo the changes one at a time, or can remove all the changes you’ve made. The order of the effects can be switched into a different order if you’d like. The Audition button will let you hear how it sounds with the settings you just applied using a plugin. You are also able to extend the tail of an effect (useful with reverb) if the clip itself isn’t quite long enough. Offline processing can definitely be convenient if your computer is slightly older, or even if you’re getting close to maxing out your newer/faster system that just happens to include loads of tracks and effects.

In the upper-right you can select between some tabs with handy functions. There is a VSTi tab to access your plugins, but you also get a Media, CR (Control Room) and Meter tabs. From the Media tab you’re now able to get to your computer’s drives for quick access to whichever files you need while you’re still in a project. The VST Sounds directory, User and Factory content are all within reach. Selecting one directory (such as a Sounds directory) will open the contents of that folder in the lower pane. The CR tab lets you access the Control Room features so you can setup the monitoring, room and booth settings. Some controls in the Control Room section include an independent level for monitoring, easy switching between different monitors you may have set up, access to Downmix presets, four separate cue mixes, and much more. The last tab up at the top of this section is for metering. It provides access to the loudness and master meters (click at the bottom to switch between them), and you can click the CR button at the top-right to use Control Room settings. The CR settings will then appear along the bottom of the meter display.  The available Meter settings include numerous broadcast standards, such as Digital, DIN, EBU, British, Nordic, K-20, K-14 and K-12 scales.  Three different alignment settings (18, 20 and 24-dBFS) are provided for the DIN, EBU, British, Nordic scales. The Digital and K-scales do not have those choices available. For the Loudness settings, Cubase can switch between LU or LUFS configurations. “LU” stands for loudness unit, and “LUFS” stands for loudness unit in reference to the full scale.  Several loudness amounts are displayed which provide a good deal of feedback on the levels in your project including Momentary, Short-Term and Integrated. I won’t get into all the details for those as the manual covers them quite thoroughly if you wish to gather more knowledge on the subject.  It’s very handy to have so much at your command, and it’s simple to use. This is much better than switching to a floating Meter or Control Room window just to make some quick changes to some of the settings.

 

Bezier Curves and Snap to Zoom


Automation is part of nearly any DAW on the market these days. Off the top of my head, I can’t even think of one that doesn’t have that feature. It lets you make changes to various parameters over time. Some of the changes you might use in a project are for the panning, effect and track levels, or the cutoff setting in a synth plugin, etc. In the latest version of Cubase, a new feature to enhance the automation has been added. Normally you’d use the pencil mouse tool to draw in changes to a segment in an automation lane, or use straight lines for manipulating values of volume, filter, panning, etc. Now you can use the new Bezier curve function to add smooth transitions however you’d like. Say you have a segment of automation that has been added on a track. With a simple click on the scaling handle at the top of the segment, you can drag it up/down and it will raise/lower that segment’s level.  Clicking and dragging on the center of the segment itself lets you freely move it up/down and left/right to add a smooth curve to the segment.

While you’re working on automation in a project, you may need to zoom in to get better view of the fine details. A new feature they’ve added is called Snap to Zoom. This is found under the Grid Type menu, where the Bar, Beat, and Use Quantize snap settings are located.  It works as follows.  As you zoom in or out, it will adjust the snap target. For instance, if the horizontal bars you see are for every quarter beat of a measure, it will then snap to the closest quarter-note beat. When you zoom in farther, and the vertical lines are for the eighth beats (or zoom in even farther, and they are for sixteenth beats), it will snap to those lines instead. This is very easy to use, and it’s a nice feature to have for sure. Also, even if you don’t have “Read” or “Write” selected on a track, you can choose the tool to draw in some automation on that track and it will start working right away. This saves you the extra step of enabling it before going to the drawing tool to add the automation. Nice!

Another small but useful feature is a new way to make the cursor’s position easier to find. What I mean by that is that normally it’s not very easy to line up where the cursor is in relation to the material that’s on the screen down below it. You can hold the mouse along top border of the tracks, and you’ll get a line that moves along with the mouse (going from top to bottom through the tracks), but when you move it down towards the middle again, that helpful line just disappears. Now when you use a key combination (Alt-Shift) that guideline will always appear on the screen. Very handy!   

 

Plugged In


In most moderns DAWs, you normally get a few plugins added to the package. As I mentioned earlier, Cubase Pro 9.5 has over 90 audio and MIDI plugins of various types. Some of these are synth plugins such as Retrologue 2 (a virtual analog synth plugin), Padshop, and HALion Sonic SE 3 which has more than 1,200 sounds included. It is a reduced version of their full HALion Sonic 3, which was reviewed in a previous issue of SoundBytes Magazine. Make no mistake, the Sonic 3 SE version with the included libraries is still powerful and should be considered as a very capable sample-player/synth plugin. Flux is a new wavetable-based synth that has been recently added to it, and it really shows off the underlying power of the HALion Sonic platform.  Just make sure you have the latest update to Cubase Pro, because there was a fix added recently that corrected a problem with Flux showing up in HALion Sonic SE. There are some manual instructions online that you can find which temporarily corrects the issue, but you should just update Cubase.  I would highly recommend updating your software on a regular basis for both the bug fixes they provide, and any new features that have been issued.

Back to those plugins: There are also several types of EQ, dynamics plugins such as compressors, a brick wall limiter, de-esser, and a multi-band expander.  Others that are included are amp simulators, Quadrafuzz 2, a bitcrusher, several reverbs including REVerence, modulation plugins: flanger, chorus, Transformer. Delays, stereo enhancer, pitch correction, VariAudio 2.0. 


The Frequency EQ plugin (introduced with version 9) is very powerful. Eight separate bands are available and each of those offers four different types of equalization. Frequency (20Hz-20kHz range), Q and Gain controls are here, and each of the eight bands can be switched to an M/S mode. A handy Inv button lets you easily invert the frequency gain for each band. Each of the bands can be enabled/disabled, and band numbers 1 and 8 have five extra cut filters to choose from. These include 6, 12, 24, 48 and 96-pole cutoff settings.

Some of the plugins (Tube, Vintage and Magneto compressors) received a nice visual upgrade to their GUIs, and a couple of the compressors now also feature a dry/wet mix knob.


VariAudio allows you to fix audio that may be out of tune or maybe is in need of some basic timing editing. It is similar to some other “tuning” products you might be familiar with (Melodyne is one such product). After you have some audio in a track, either something you’ve recorded or imported, you double-click on the audio in the track. In the Inspector on the left side you’ll see VariAudio. Clicking on that opens up a few choices to select from, and one of those is Segments. Clicking on it will make Cubase analyze the audio, and gives you a new segmented view that you can work with.

Slight adjustments can be made, or you can get a real robotic effect (like you may have heard in pop songs during the last fifteen years or so) if you’d like. It works well with monophonic tracks, and typically you’d use it on vocals, but it can be used for other types of tracks as well. When you use it on a track, it splits up the audio into segments. This lets you visualize what is going on much easier, and correcting any issues is that much more intuitive. If you load a stereo file, it will still show up as mono in VariAudio. When you see the segments on the screen, there is a piano keyboard along the left side that gives you a quick reference as to which segment is at what pitch. The segments can be played back in a few different ways: Play from the beginning to the end, set the segment to play in a loop, or play one by one. The segments can be deleted, muted, or moved horizontally (left or right) and their length can be adjusted as needed. Dragging one up or down will change the pitch of a segment, and using the Pitch Snap settings will set it to adjust by semitone or cents. There are several other VariAudio functions that can be very useful when editing your audio. Of course, the manual is your friend and I highly recommend checking it out. Have I mentioned the manual enough times yet?

Just don’t forget, you can’t use any of your 32-bit plugins in Cubase. Some other DAWs have a built-in bridge capability to give you access to some of those older 32-bit gems. Not so with Cubase, as from now on 64-bit is the name of the game.

 

Conclusion

I briefly want to mention that another major music softare developer has recently announced they will not be updating their DAW software from now on.  Basically it may be the end of the road for that competing product. For anyone who owns it, you know which company I am talking about. For those looking to jump ship and get started with another DAW, Cubase should be at the top of your list. It has such a huge potential just waiting to be tapped that it could fill up a whole issue of SoundBytes Magazine and it would not even cover half of that potential. Here are just a few other items I wanted to briefly highlight before I close this review: Cubase now has 64-bit floating point processing, giving you double the precision in the VST Audio System. VST Connect SE and VST Transit (located in the VST Cloud menu) let you exchange projects and ideas remotely, enabling you to share your musical projects with others from other parts of the world.  In the Preferences menu there is an improved color menu where you can easily switch the color scheme Cubase is using. Picking one of these automatically picks other colors that work well with the primary color you selected. You could also dive in and change certain colors that are for individual parts of the application. Cubase also offers an improved video engine, and works with external video cards and more of the current video codecs.

Cubase has a long legacy of dependability and improvements that have been added over the years. If you are looking for a professional-level DAW, I suggest you look no further than Cubase Pro 9.5. You can purchase Cubase for $579.99 USD, but you may find it for a bit less on some other websites if you shop around. Upgrading from v9 to v9.5 is only $59 USD, and upgrades from other versions are also available as well. You can get more info and a 30-day demo version from their website here:

https://www.steinberg.net/en/products/cubase/cubase_pro.html

 

 

 

iRig Pre HD by IK Multimedia

 

Handy microphone recording solution for every pocket – quite literally; a small, inexpensive interface with A class preamps.

 

by Alex Arsov, Jan. 2018

 

I record various vocalists and sometimes when they don’t have much time, or they can’t come for any reason, I pack my laptop, my condenser microphone and my old USB audio interface and go to them. The microphone has its own box, same for the laptop, leaving the problem of how to transport my audio USB box without braking the knobs. After all, you only have two hands, so carrying three things at once can be a bit tricky. I’m also quite a bit into video production, so taking all these things out into the field and connecting everything together can be a bit of a demanding task. In both cases I need the best mic preamp I can get to avoid editing madness later during the post production process.

I already have a few IKM hardware products, so I knew what to expect when I ordered this one, being sure that it would make my musical life a bit easier. As soon as I got iRig Pre HD, I tried it with my main laptop to see if it could replace my big, old USB audio interface. No matter that in the specifications it says that the gain range is 40 dB, I found iRig Pre HD to be loud enough for recording vocals normally, as I’ve had issues with some other USB interfaces, where the signal was too low, no matter that some of them went up to 70 dB. Here the signal was loud but very clean with nice definition.

The main advantage of iRig Pre HD is not just the pocket size along with the low price, while still having class A preamps, but the fact that it also works with iPhone, iPod range, as with Mac, PC and even with Android. For that last one you’ll need a special cable that can be purchased directly from the IK Multimedia site.

So taking high quality audio and video out into the field is not a big issue anymore. You need a good field microphone with a stand and your phone along with iRig Pre HD. A friend of mine, a well-known Slovenian vocalist, told me that she has made many recordings for her last album directly on her iPad. With this small preamp that supports phantom power, I assume her travelling life could hardly get much easier than it already is.

You might think that normal USB interfaces are not such big beasts, but it makes a difference if you can just put your USB interface into your pocket and use an iPhone instead of your laptop.

After toying with my dynamic microphone I put batteries into iRig Pre HD and tried it with my condenser microphone. It is surprising how good this small thing is. Absolutely no hiss or crackles or anything similar. Also the sound was clean and present, on the same level as on some better models of USB or Firewire interfaces. IK iRig Pre HD also offers direct monitoring, so you are able to combine music from your DAW with the direct input of your connected microphone. Of course, for that purpose you should enable low latency monitoring to avoid a double signal. I tried this option and it works quite well, the only difference being that I noticed the background music was not at the same quality on headphones as it is when I listen to it through the direct output on my PC, but I presume you don’t need high quality background while recording your takes, especially as the microphone sound can be heard as it is, without any quality loss. I think this is an absolute bonus and must-have for any field recordings, or even when you are recording vocal takes with your iPhone, iPad or any other travelling recording device using multitrack recording software, being able to control the quality of your recorded takes at the same time.

iRig Pre HD offers up to 96 KHz / 24-bit resolution sound quality with full flat response from 20 Hz up to 20 KHz. At the heart of the box is a Class A microphone preamp.

 

What Do We Get?

A small black interface made of solid plastic (it doesn’t look cheap), and can fit into the palm of your hand – 11 x 4 x 4 cm. It comes with Lighting and USB cables and two AA batteries that you’ll need just when using phantom power.

At the bottom is an XLR microphone input without security switch (I didn’t find this to be problem as the cable fit perfectly, not being loose at all).

On the front of the box are two led indicators, the upper one showing when phantom power is switched on while the lower one changes color – from a blue light to let us know that iRig Pre HD is connected, green for signal too low, orange for balanced input, and red when the signal is too hot.

On the left side are switches for turning phantom power on and off, along with a gain control, while on the right-hand side is a direct monitoring switch and headphone gain control.

At the top is a small headphone output along with Lightning and USB cable connectors.

More or less, that is all regarding the hardware. There is also some Microphone modeling software included for all platforms. I must admit that I haven’t installed it, as years ago I tried some similar software. I believe that this piece of software from IK Multimedia is a quality one, but truth be told, if you have a solid microphone and a good microphone preamp, as iRig Pre HD definitely is, there is no need to change anything. If the microphone or preamp are not up to the task, then no software will help you.

For €99 EUR you get big quality in a small box that gives you professional results, works with all microphones and can be connected to most platforms. I’m already using it in my home studio as the main microphone preamp and will use it in video production. It can also come in handy for recording band rehearsals or recording acoustic guitar and vocal takes when you are on the move. After all, you only need an iPhone, an iPad or a laptop, a solid microphone and iRig Pre HD, and you’re in business.

A very handy solution. Literally.

More info at http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/irigprehd/index.php?pp=irigprehd-info

For iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC.

 

 

 

Review – Silverline Effects by D16 Group

 

We’ve rounded up a quality group of some D16 Group effect plugins, which are members of their Silverline collection, presented here for your consideration.

 

By Rob Mitchell, Jan. 2018

 

D16 Group Audio Software is the creative software developer behind some of the best music plugins you can find. Among their many high quality offerings are Phoscyon, Antresol, Nepheton, Devastator 2, Punchbox and LuSH-101. They have many more, but for this issue of SoundBytes Magazine we’ll take a look at the latest versions of some of their effect plugins: Toraverb 2, Decimort 2, Devastor 2 and Tekturon. These are half (currently) of a collection named Silverline.  Six of the Silverline collection have been around quite a long time, starting life as 32-bit only.  In recent years, two new plug-ins have been added to the collection, and the older effects are one-by-one getting enhanced including a welcome resizing of the rather small user interfaces.

For each of these products, I will quickly cover their system requirements (as they aren’t all the same) and take a look at many of their controls and functionality. 

 

Toraverb 2


Toraverb 2 will work with Windows 7 or higher, 4+ GB of RAM and a 2.5 GHz multicore CPU with SSE (2.8 GHz multicore is recommended). It has VST and AAX versions available (32-bit and 64-bit). On the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 or higher, 2.5 GHz CPU (2.8 GHz is recommended), 4+GB of RAM.  AU, VST and AAX versions are available (32-bit and 64-bit). Installing Toraverb 2 was simple, and you can activate it online by logging into your D16 account or by downloading an activation file to activate it offline.

After you’ve added it to a track or a bus in your DAW, you’ll be presented with the display. One great thing about the display (besides how nice it looks) is that there are two different sizes. Along the top of the display and buttons are menus for various functions. A couple of the items available under the Options menu are processing quality settings and display size choices. To the right is the display for the current preset, and clicking on that will open the browser in which you can choose from the many other presets that are on board. You can also skim through the presets by using the Previous/Next buttons. Other functions include the ability to Initialize the settings (INIT – start a preset from basic settings), Reload a preset (i.e.  – maybe you don’t like how your edits have gone amiss) and Save a preset.

Many of the controls that change the “guts” of the sound are over on the left side of the display. One of the best parts of Toraverb 2 is that it has many controls separated by the early or late reflections. Once you’ve selected either the Early or Late tabs, you can change many of the parameters.

The available controls located here are Pre-Delay (up to 500ms), Size, Bass Cut, Crosstalk between the left/right channel delay lines (only on the Early reflections tab), Feedback (Late reflections tab only), Attenuation – similar to a tone control since it can adjust the sound of the reflective surface, and Diffusion – changes the way the reflected sound is affected by the surface from which it is reflected. Last but not least in this section is the Modulation control. This will dial in an amount of modulation for the reflections, and it sounds like it causes the pitch to slightly waver in a semi-random fashion.

To the right of that section are controls to adjust a single-band parametric EQ. There are two of these actually, one each for the early and late reflections. Three types of filtering are available: high shelf, low shelf and bell. Gain, frequency and bandwidth controls are also present. Up next is the mixer section. From here you can change the panning for the early/late signals, and increase/decrease the gain for each as well. When you enable the MS Mode button, the left/right panning controls will then function as mid/side controls.

The last area on the display is the Master section.  This is where you can change the dry/wet amount (this can be locked for switching between presets) and the FX Curve which adjusts the crossfade from the dry to the wet signal.  The last two controls are for Ducking (uses compression to adjust the wet level in proportion with the dry mix level) and Attack/Release which adjusts the attack/release times of the Ducking effect.

When Toraverb 2 was released, it had an intro price of $49 USD, and then it went to its regular price of $69 USD. There is also an upgrade path for those who bought the original version. I think this is very affordable, especially when you consider some of the other high quality reverbs on the market with similar features can cost you much more.

Toraverb 2 is really a treat, and will easily win you over with its intuitive interface, great sound, and programmability. You can get more info on Toraverb 2 and download a demo version here: http://d16.pl/toraverb2

 

Decimort 2


Decimort 2 is the latest incarnation of D16 Group’s high quality stereo lo-fi effect. It features ADC (analog/digital conversion) emulation, and it lets you reduce both the bit depth and sample rate for your audio.  Depending on your settings, it can give it a distorted and sometimes vintage quality. It’s not your everyday bit-crusher however, as you will soon see. Like Toraverb 2, the display now has a choice of two display sizes. I opted for the larger one as I now have a higher resolution monitor. The smaller size would definitely work well with smaller monitors and laptops.

Decimort 2 will work with Windows 7 or higher, 4+ GB of RAM and a 2.0 GHz CPU with SSE (2.1 multicore CPU is recommended). It has VST and AAX versions available (32-bit and 64-bit). On the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 or higher, you’ll need a 1.8 GHz Intel based CPU (2.4 GHz is recommended), 4+GB of RAM.  AU, VST and AAX versions are available (32-bit and 64-bit). Installation was simple, and you activate it online by logging into your D16 account or by downloading an activation file to activate it offline.

The browser and main buttons at the top are all the same as Toraverb 2, including a display showing the preset that is loaded, an INIT button, Save a preset, etc. In the upper-left is a Preamplifier knob which you can use to increase the signal feeding into Decimort 2. Down below that you’ll find the Quantizer section. It allows you to reduce the bits for the signal’s amplitude. The Dithering control can add a low level of white noise to the signal before the quantization and help smooth out the distortions. I actually liked using it on a bass synth sound with hardly any of the half-bit white noise added to the Init settings. I set it very low, maybe around 1/4 of the way up, and I also changed the Resolution setting to a level of 2. Nice and crunchy! But of course, it’s up to you and what you want to do in your own tracks.

The Resampler section is dominated by the large Frequency knob. This adjusts the resample frequency between 44 Hz and 44,100 Hz. The Jitter control will introduce some varied amounts of “disturbance” to the resampling, breaking it up more and more as you crank up the level. On the left side there is the Approximation Filter which is coupled to the Frequency Deviation control. When the filter is enabled, you can adjust the Frequency Deviation setting. As you make changes to that control, it changes the offset between the filter cutoff and the Resampler’s Nyquist frequency. Negative settings will remove harmonic content, and positive settings will introduce aliasing. 

The Images Filter (when enabled) works with the Frequency Shift control. The image (artifact) filtering occurs after the Resampler, and it can filter out the artifacts that result from the resampling process. It works in a similar way to the Frequency Deviation control because the Frequency Shift amount is the offset between the Image Filter’s cutoff and Resampler’s Nyquist frequency.

The last section I wanted to mention is Decimort’s filter. This can be before or after (pre/post) the bit-crush process. Filter types include low pass, high pass, band pass and band reject.  It also includes cutoff and resonance/bandwidth controls. The resonance knob works as a band width control when you select either the band pass or band reject filter type.

I really like Decimort 2. With its ease of use and high quality sound, it may just be the last bit crusher you will ever need. It retails for $49 USD and you can get more information and a demo version here:

http://d16.pl/decimort2

 

Devastor 2


Devastor 2 is a multiband distortion plugin that uses diode-clipper emulation and analog-modelled filters. The filtering can occur before or after the diode clipper. These filters have cutoff and resonance controls with the classic types: low pass, high pass, band pass and band reject. An improved browser and a larger GUI is also available.

For the PC you’ll need Windows 7 (or higher), 1.5 GHz CPU with SSE (2.0+ GHz multicore recommended), 4+ GB of RAM. VST and AAX versions are available (32-bit and 64-bit). For the Mac you’ll need OS X 10.7 (or higher), 1.5 GHz Intel-based CPU (2.0 GHz recommended), and 4+ GB of RAM.  AU, VST and AAX versions are available (32-bit and 64-bit). Like the others in this article, Devastor 2 is easy to install. You can activate it online by logging into your D16 account, or by downloading an activation file to activate it offline.

After you have it installed and activated, you can load it onto a track in your preferred host. At the top are controls for loading/saving presets and some other options. On the left side is the Shaper section with controls for dynamics, preamp, threshold and shape. This is where the diode-clipping takes place. The Dynamics control will level out any amplitude differences and works somewhat like a compressor. Preamp is the signal amplifier for the diode clipper. Threshold sets the nominal amplitude level, and anything above that setting is where the distortion takes place. Shape will warp the clipping curve you’ve selected, and there are six available curve types to choose from. Those curve types are covered in the manual in more detail if you’d like additional info on them.  +/- LEDs give you feedback when the signal goes past the threshold setting.

There are three identical filters in the filtering section. Each of them have cutoff, resonance/bandwidth, filter type and volume settings. The resonance control will switch to a bandwidth type when using the band pass and band reject filter types.


These can be set up in nine different configurations using the Signal Routing feature. Here are just three such settings you can use: 1) All three filter modules work in parallel and feed into the clipper. 2) Filters one and two in parallel feed into the clipper, and then the signal moves from there to the third filter.  3) One of the filters feeds into the clipper and the output from the clipper goes to the two other filters. See the screenshot above for all the routing possibilities.  Anyway, you get the idea – there are many combinations to choose from to shape/distort your audio. On the right side of the display there is a limiter you can enable, and a dry/wet effects control.

Devastor 2 is an effective and useful plugin which lets you get a warm sound from its diode clipper emulation. The signal routing is simple to use and works very well. It retails for $49 USD. You can get more information on it and a demo version here:  http://d16.pl/devastor2

 

Tekturon


Tekturon is a delay plugin with a large sonic vocabulary. The main reason I say that is that it uses multiple lines (sixteen of them) to process your audio. Each of those delay lines has its own set of effects. These effects can be manipulated how you want, and include volume, delay, feedback, panning, stereo spread, filter type, cutoff and resonance. This sounds like it can be fun to use, right? Well the good news is that the answer is “yes”, but it is also intuitive and powerful as you will soon find out.

For the PC you’ll need Windows 7 or higher, 4+ GB of RAM and a 2.8 GHz CPU with SSE (3.2 GHz with multicore is recommended). It has VST and AAX versions available (32-bit and 64-bit). On the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 or higher, 2.8 GHz Intel based CPU (3.2 GHz CPU is recommended), 4+GB of RAM.  AU, VST and AAX versions are available (32-bit and 64-bit). After a simple installation, you can activate it online by logging into your D16 account, or by downloading an activation file to activate it offline.

There are many useful and interesting presets that are ready to use right away, but you might be wondering how Tekturon works if you want to design your own from scratch. If you are starting with the Initialized settings, you can begin by selecting the Volume setting on the left side. After you select it, you can draw in the amounts for the volume in each delay line. Next, you may want to add some filtering. To do this, you click on Filter Type from the left side of the display and select from one of the types for each of the lines. They include low pass, band pass, high pass, or it can have no filtering at all.  If you don’t select a type, each line will use whatever is in the Master filter section (more on that later). Every delay line can have the same filter type, or you might want a different type for each of them. For my preset, I also added some resonance for each line. It’s the same method as before; select what you want on the left (in this case, Resonance), and use your mouse to draw in the amount you’d like per line. This could be varied for each line of course, or just a straight swipe of the mouse straight across so they are all equal. I also wanted to add some panning, so I added that to the delay lines. Towards the bottom of the display, you can see if a line’s volume level is above zero (without looking at the actual Volume settings), as the Audible light will be on. If needed, each delay line can also be muted by clicking its corresponding red button along the bottom.

The Master Filter section has controls for the filter cutoff types (high pass, band pass, low pass or off/disabled) and resonance. This filter controls all of the delay lines in the same manner at the same time, but you could also adjust each line in the way I described earlier. Below the Master Filter section is the Time Grid where you can adjust the time between the delays. It can also be synced to the host. The Tap button can be used to set the beat/speed by tapping the button with mouse. It will use an average of the time between your clicks on the button to determine the speed.  The Shuffle control adds a swing type of delay to all the lines, and Feedback also affects all the lines.

Tekturon is a powerful delay plugin with some easy to use features. I was able to quickly set up nearly any type of delay I wanted and had fun in the process. The layout is very intuitive and I almost didn’t even need the manual. It retails for $69 USD. You can get more information for it and download a demo version here: http://d16.pl/tekturon

 

Conclusion

There are a couple of other useful features in these D16 effect plugins. One of those is the easy-to-use MIDI learn, which is a simple right-click away on whichever control you’d like. In addition, the processing quality setting (as I mentioned earlier) has separate real-time and offline settings from which to choose: Draft, Normal, High and Ultra. All of the plugins I reviewed here are well conceived and reasonably priced. Most importantly, they all have a terrific sound quality. Most DAWs have some “so-so” effects included, but these are way above the norm and they are well worth auditioning. I previously purchased their Antresol flanger (which I love by the way) but didn’t have time to cover it in this review. I mentioned the separate pricing for each product, but they also have a Silverline Collection bundle pricing of $339 USD for the entire collection of eight effects.  You can purchase it here: http://d16.pl/silverlinecollection

 

 

 

 

Review – Berlin Woodwinds Revive by Orchestral Tools

Orchestral Tools: take one of the best woodwind libraries on the market, add a boatload of new recordings and mic positions, and bundle all the old content, too!

 

by Per Lichtman, Jan. 2018

 

Berlin Woodwinds Revive (c. $780 USD for download from OrchestralTools.com or via SSD) is the big new woodwinds collection from Orchestral Tools. Last issue I reviewed the Berlin Woodwinds range (back when the main library was labeled version 2.1) only to find as I was finishing the review that Orchestral Tools had a new release, Berlin Woodwinds Revive. Luckily, the price of the new release includes both Berlin Woodwinds 2.1 (now known as Berlin Woodwinds Legacy) in the form I already reviewed as well as the new approach to the library (known a Berlin Woodwinds Revive.) In the process, the majority of my original criticisms were addressed in one fell swoop and then some! So read on to find out what’s old, what’s new and how it all works.

 

Let’s Get Terms Out of the Way!

First a clarification. When you buy Berlin Woodwinds Revive, what you really get is the “Complete” version of the Main Library. On Orchestral Tools website they refer to 67 GB losslessly compressed original library as BWW Legacy and the new 90 GB losslessly compressed original library as BWW Revive. It is then stated that what you’re buying is BWW Complete, the full 157 GB of losslessly compressed content (67 GB + 90 GB) that you get when you purchase the library. Revive includes a total of twelve woodwinds (eight entirely new and four from the original sessions using different sample material than Legacy). Confused yet? It’s about to get a lot clearer.

 

A New Sound

Legacy included four mic positions (Noise, Close, Room and Mix), where Mix was loaded by default and used in place of manually blending between other mics. It was the first major orchestral section in the Berlin Series and Orchestral Tools went on to provide a very different mic setup in future releases. In subsequent releases recorded in the hall, a minimum of four mic choices (Close, Tree, AB and Surround) were provided, sometimes with specific additional mics (like a “leader” mic) for certain ensemble patches, etc. Legacy was an outlier from the rest of the series, both in terms of having fewer mics and having wildly different dynamics from the other sections. In fact, I normally had to decrease the volume by 6-12 dB to get it in the same ballpark as other sections. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Revive!

 

All the instruments in Berlin Woodwinds Revive feature a full six microphone positions: Close I, Close II, ORTF, AB, Tree and Surround. The dynamics have also been re-analyzed and setup to fully match the other sections. The mic balance loaded by default is much wetter than Legacy, but Revive is actually more versatile – making it possible to get a sound from very wet to rather dry or anywhere in-between. With the additional microphone positions, the library can actually be used effectively without reverb in a concert hall setting in a way that wasn’t possible with the original.

The Revive balances much better with Berlin Strings by default. Here’s an example where all microphones are enabled in both Revive and Berlin Strings. The idea here was to get a very wet sound and avoid using external reverb. The faders have been left at default, no additional FX have been added. The output has been normalized to c. -1 dBFS.

   Revive Original Gain

If you’ll excuse the piece itself (it was rushed together with a single pass per part) you’ll notice how the strings surrounded the Revive woodwinds in the stereo field and the dynamics balanced well between the two libraries. Again, the only adjustment was that the combined mix between the libraries was made louder in the MP3.

Now let’s contrast that with Legacy, using exactly the same MIDI data. Here I couldn’t get a very wet sound, so I went for the wettest (room mic only). I left the faders at their default.  The output has again been normalized to c. -1 dBFS.

   Legacy Original Gain

Notice how the balance was completely off? The woodwinds are so loud relative to the strings that it’s difficult to notice anything else. Here’s what happens when we do the same thing, except we globally bring the Legacy woodwinds down by -7.3 dB.

  Legacy Woodwinds Down -7.3 dB

That’s a little better. Now we can notice other differences instead. Note that even though we chose the wettest microphone position, the woodwinds seem to be very up-front and to span outside the strings in the stereo field at times. The dynamic range is narrower, the legato is less connected to start with (which is even more noticeable given the drier sound) and there are a lot of ways in which Revive fits a lot better with Berlin Strings. On the other hand, Legacy has a more energetic, drier and wider sound that can work well in other contexts – especially when being used on its own or whether libraries outside the Berlin family. The star here is Flute 1, which (while not well balanced with the strings) is vivacious and engaging.

Note that the balancing is quite different between Legacy and Revive, not only globally, but also between the different instrument families in the woodwinds and within each family as well.

 

The Instruments

As mentioned, all twelve of the instruments in Revive include the same microphone positions in Revive, but several of them are created using unused sample material from the original sessions for Legacy. Those four instruments from the original sessions are Flute 1, Clarinet 2, Bassoon 1 and Bassoon 2. The majority of the instruments are from completely new recording sessions: brand new players with their own instruments. These eight new instruments are Piccolo, Flute 2, Flute 3, Alto Flute, Oboe 1, Oboe 2, English Horn and Clarinet 1.

If you’re familiar with the Legacy list, you’ll notice that there are neither clarinet or flute ensemble patches anymore (which is fine as far as I’m concerned because I hardly ever used either).  You’ll also notice that thankfully an alto flute (recorded in its place in the hall instead of a booth like in the earlier expansion) has finally been added for the first time in the library. Personally, this made me very happy.

 

New Legato

One of the big differences between Revive and Legacy is the legato. Legacy featured a legato that varied rather significantly from instrument to instrument. In the best cases, like flute 1, Legacy’s legato came off as an accented note with a certain vibrancy. It wasn’t “smooth” but it had some vitality. In other cases, like the bassoons, the transitions didn’t feel sufficiently connected or flowing and the timing of the vibrato onset (in romantic vibrato patches) wasn’t ideal either. The biggest offenders were the oboe family – everything felt just a little bit “honky” or “nasal” to start with, so the legato being seemingly the least effective of all made things worse.

Enter Revive! Revive places the emphasis on smooth, connected lines in the legato. Every instrument that wasn’t re-recorded (like the bassoons and Clarinet 2) nonetheless handles a little differently with the new scripting. In almost every case, I would say it’s a noticeable improvement, but in the case of Flute 1, I would say it’s mainly a different color. Flute 1 stands out as the instrument that manages to show different but equally appealing sides in both Revive and Legacy. Flute 1 in Revive is smoother and more consistent, while Flute 1 in Legacy has an organic quality that shines through with greater individuality.

The instruments that benefit the most from the new approach in Revive are the re-recorded ones. The oboe family has been completely transformed and is so much more melodic and appealing that changes the whole feel of the library. If the oboe family were the only difference, I would have suggested people look at upgrading because of that alone.

 

Any Compromises?

Orchestral Tools has been very transparent in their goals and thinking for Revive. The idea was to make Berlin Woodwinds more consistent with the other sections, preserve their favorite instruments and do it with a budget that wouldn’t require raising the price too much. So what compromises had to be made to make that happen? In some cases the number of dynamic layers was reduced from three to two (preserving the loudest and quietest dynamic but omitting the middle one). In addition, there are now some differences in articulations between new and old instruments.

 

Are There Still Reasons to Use Legacy?

Since Orchestral Tools includes both Legacy and Revive, you may be wondering whether there’s any reason to use Legacy, other than for compatibility with older projects. The short answer is yes, which is part of the reason why I’m glad that both are included.

While the new recordings are smoother, wetter, more blended and better balanced with the rest of the Berlin Series orchestra, there are times where that’s not what a user is looking for. Those wanting a drier sound or wanting for the instruments to sound closer to listener for a given project can use the Legacy samples instead. And there may be situations where certain articulations have more dynamic layers or a different nuance in legacy (most notably, the more vibrant but less consistent legato for Flute 1 in Legacy).

 

The Competition

Let’s look at one competitor in particular for a moment: EastWest Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds (HOW). The two libraries differ massively in their approaches. From their choices in instrumentation, to their venue and sound, to the approach to articulation selection, these libraries couldn’t be much more different.

The newest part of Berlin Woodwinds Revive offers multiple woodwinds for every core woodwind (three concert flutes, two Bb oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons) and a few auxiliaries (piccolo flute, alto flute, English horn). By contrast mostly one of each core woodwind (two concert flutes, one Bb oboe, one clarinet, one bassoon) but many auxiliaries (piccolo flute, alto flute, bass flute, English horn, Eb clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, contrabassoon). In other words, BWW Revive has nine core woodwinds and three auxiliaries while HOW has five core woodwinds, with eight auxiliaries. Keep in mind, that’s not even counting the additional woodwinds also included with BWW Revive, from Berlin Woodwinds 2.1 – nor the additional three auxiliaries (Eb clarinet, bass clarinet and contrabassoon) that can be purchased separately.

Berlin Woodwinds Revive spans a much greater range in the microphone positions while Legacy offers a quite different sound. HOW has one sound – drier than both BWW versions – but possibly a better fit for those that really don’t want much hall reverb. I give the edge to BWW because it’s more versatile in terms of the different out of the box sounds. To use HOW in a classical context, you’ll typically want to use reverb FX (either in PLAY itself or externally). BWW (at least Revive) can be made sufficiently wet without additional reverb to really give a strong hall sound.

BWW Revive and Legacy both make excellent, easy-to-reconfigure use of articulation switching with extremely flexible multi-articulation patches or single articulation patches. Getting the most of the multi-articulation patches does require a little bit of initial setup, but each patch can be saved once configured to your preferences. HOW has only rudimentary keyswitching for some of the patches (pre-configured and less flexible) and predominantly relies on the user loading different single articulation patches.

The pricing is also quite different, and I would have to say that for those that use woodwinds infrequently (or can’t afford to buy a woodwind library immediately) that EastWest’s Composer Cloud rental option is helpful and offers access to a lot of other libraries at the same time.

Personally, whenever I’m on a project where the instrumentation makes either library an option, I prefer to use Berlin Woodwinds Revive. I like the greater variety in the primary winds and I find the library more fun to work with overall. At times, however, the wider variety of auxiliary winds in HOW makes it possible to write for orchestral forces outside the scope of Berlin Woodwind Revive.

I haven’t reviewed Spitfire Audio’s woodwind offerings, but if you’re looking for alternatives to Berlin Woodwinds, it’s also worth a look.

 

Room for Improvement?

The main niggle in Revive is that it’s somewhat less consistent (due to the combination of old and new instruments) than Legacy in regards to dynamic layers or the articulations offered. Most of the time, this really didn’t get in my head much but the new soft sustain articulations in many of the new instruments are such a treat that it’s a shame that the old instruments can’t have them. Still, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Revive really addressed my most important issues with Legacy – which was already one of the best woodwind libraries on the market. There’s not much else for me to mention here.

 

Is It Right for You?

If you don’t have any version of Berlin Woodwinds yet, I strongly recommend checking out Berlin Woodwinds Revive. It’s flexible, offers a great sound and is my favorite woodwind library that I’ve worked with to date. If you already own a prior version of Berlin Woodwinds (i.e. the Legacy portion) then I would say give it a listen.  The value of upgrading to Revive depends in part on your aesthetic and application. The more you work with other Berlin libraries, the more you’ll notice the difference. Even if you don’t feel limited by the microphone positions in Legacy, the oboe family really sounds much better in Revive. At the same time, the aesthetic in Legacy and Revive is noticeably different and some old users may prefer the aesthetic of Legacy. For anyone other than old users, Revive also includes Legacy, so it’s hard to go wrong.

If you can’t afford Berlin Woodwinds Revive, there are some less expensive competitors that offer good value for the money. There are some similarly priced offerings that have a different aesthetic. Yet for me Berlin Woodwinds Revive improves upon its predecessor to offer something unique, making it the library against which other woodwind samples are judged.

 

 

 

Review – OB Legacy from UVI, Part 1

 

UVI has come up with their biggest and quite possibly best synth collection recreation yet, a veritable history of the Oberheim line of instruments.

 

UVI is probably best-known for its excellent virtual sample-based recreations of vintage (and sometimes not-so-vintage) hardware synthesizers.  In OB Legacy, UVI has produced what is certainly is its largest single product, and arguably the best one yet. This collection captures the sound of an impressive variety of Oberheim synthesizers in a single package.

What we have in this collection is actually six separate software instruments based on a ten original hardware instruments spanning a production period of nearly 40 years.  These are:

  • Xpander (original synth) – XP-12 (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

Given the size of this offering, this will review will be presented in two parts.  In this installment we will look at the UV-1, M-6k and the Six-12.  The remaining trio will be covered in our next issue, available mid-March.

Let’s first dispense with the essentials.  The instruments in OB legacy run inside the free UVI Workstation but they can also run in UVI’s Falcon hybrid synth.  In the former case, a certain amount of low-level customization can be made with additional FX on tap.  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).  UVI Workstation and Falcon work with all major DAWs and there is a standalone option as well for both.  Authorization is via iLok account (either software or dongle) and you get a generous three concurrent activations per license.  The nearly 50,000 sample files will consume 16.7 GB of disk space.

OB Legacy retails for $199 USD.  Initially, UVI initially put it off limits to 2017 seasonal holiday sales.  Right around Christmas, however, we saw it available for 25% off.  UVI’s normal MO is to offer the occasional 30% off sale.  I will venture a prediction that you will see OB Legacy for $140 at some point in 2018.  Note that OB Legacy is part of the UVI Vintage Vault 2 bundle, which lists for $599 USD and which will quite possibly (but no guarantees) be put on sale for 30% off during the coming year.

 

Commonalities

Let us begin with a look at some things all six instruments have in common.  Right at the top of the list must be the gorgeous, rich sound.  Anyone who dislikes the sound of the OB Legacy instruments probably simply doesn’t like synths, period.

There is simplicity here, however, that on the one hand makes the presets easy to tweak and makes it quite simple to build sounds from scratch.  Counterbalancing that is the relative lack of modulation options.  You get no more than one general purpose LFO (albeit vibrato, tremolo and filter cutoff have dedicated simple cyclic modulators).  There are no aftertouch possibilities and mod-wheel is hard-wired.  However, MIDI learn is available of pretty much every control in sight.  The six instruments vary considerably in certain areas like arpeggiation capabilities, those ranging between zero arps and two arps on board.  Each of the six offerings has a fairly generous amount of factory preset content; there are nearly 1,500 in total, with the majority being immediately musically useful.

There are two quirks common to all six.  One is the Velocity toggle that controls velocity-to-loudness.  When off, there is volume response to velocity.  When on, there is not.  I encountered this with another UVI synth and was told by UVI that the behavior was intentional.  So, go figure.  The second quirk also appears to be intentional.  If you select Filter-off, there is still an active 3 dB/octave filter in operation behind the scenes that may exhibit an audible presence in response to velocity differences.  Turn the filter’s Velocity control down to make it go away.

So, let’s look at the first instrument, the biggest of the lot (at least in terms of number of tabs).

 

UV-1


The UV-1 is a bit of a unique offering from UVI.  Most of their synth recreations start with a collection of fully-formed sounds made from original patches on the source instrument.  With UV-1 we have a collection of fundamental waveforms: triangle, a couple of saw-like waves, and three pulse waves of varying pulse width.  There are three oscillators on board, plus noise.  The original instrument is not faithfully recreated, in that it had but two oscillators.

Let me say one thing up front and get it out of the way.  This is a more complex instrument for the non-expert user to use to modify sounds or create them from scratch due to what was explained in the preceding paragraph.  As such, UVI has not normally really needed to devote attention to much low-level detail in the documentation.  That kind of attention is actually needed here, and in several critical cases it is lacking.

Back to the instrument: the three oscillators are independent and have their own ADSR amp envelopes.  The noise capability also has a controlling amp envelope, but more on these later.  On the Osc tab seen above, you can see the wave Shape control (seven options) and the Range control (+/- 24 semitones).  To the right is a distortion unit with a Drive control.  Distortion types (presumably modelling guitar equivalents since they are labelled Pedals) have the four options shown.

Let’s talk about the waveforms.  The triangle looks very like a triangle with a little analog looseness thrown in.  The two saw-like waves can be seen to the right (left column).  To the right of these, you can see the three pulse waves, and it looks like UVI got the UI wrong here.  On the panel, the pulse shapes go in the order: widest, intermediate width, narrowest.  The actual shapes, captured with a virtual oscilloscope happen in the opposite order.  Now, the original instrument did not have wave shape selectors like the UV-1 recreation in the first place. So clearly UVI got creative but got things a tiny bit incorrect – not a big deal, but one they might think about correcting in a future release.   Finally, the wave shape labelled Oct is like the 50% pulse wave but one octave down.

Noise is the final component on the Osc tab.  The meanings of the controls are obvious.  We’ll discuss the envelope considerations shortly.


The Env tab is the other primary location of basic sound controls.  We find Pitch controls, Color, Filter (and filter envelope) and Amplitude envelope.  Pitch control is straightforward.  Color is not specifically documented, but appears to be a per-oscillator tilt-EQ effect.

There are two filters.  These are in series, although the user must verify this via experimentation to be sure because the documentation doesn’t bother to say.  One thing I find interesting here is that we have a Keyfollow control on the panel.  This modulation option is rarely found in other UVI virtual synth instruments, and I wish it were more commonly provided.  The filter selections are of the resonant LP, BP and HP 24 dB/octave variety.

At the bottom we have the amp ADSR envelope controls.  This is another point of mystery.  There is the option to edit All, 1, 2, or 3.  The documentation is totally lacking in an explanation of how these affect things if the noise sound source is turned on.  As best I can tell after a bit of experimentation is this.  If you are using noise in a preset, turn the oscillators off, set the envelope edit selector to All, and set up your envelope for noise.  There is in fact an envelope somewhere that affects the noise source.  Then turn the oscillator(s) back on and use the numbered selections to set ADSR values for each of the oscillators in use.


The FX tab is entirely straightforward.  On the left we have some non-FX controls for the stereo disposition on the three oscillators.  To the right are the FX offerings.  They should require no further explanation.


The Arp tab (above, click on it to see full size) has two sub-tabs: Phraser and Arpeggiator.  The arp is pretty basic and easily understood.  It can be routed to any or all of the three oscillators.  The phraser is a step sequencer, also routable to any combination of oscillators.  The circle icon is a record button (the forward icon next to it skips a step in the recording process).  When recording, the first note is taken to be 0 pitch offset and subsequent notes are relative to it.


A second sequencer is found on the Step tab.  This time, the modulation targets are filter cutoff, oscillator volume, oscillator pan position, oscillator pitch and distortion drive.  If the playback Mode is set to Legato, an additional three controls become active that can be used to introduce a delay, gentle attack and subsequent interpolation between the steps in playback.


Lastly we have the LFO tab.  In the upper right are some hard-wired routings to control LFO depth via mod wheel.  Note we again have a playback Mode control, with additional options available when Legato is selected.  The remainder of this panel should be fairly obvious.

As far as presets go, there are 220 or so, most of them musically useful (as opposed to interesting curios that would rarely be relevant in a mix).  The OB Legacy page (URL at the bottom of this article) has a series of per-instrument demo tracks created by the irrepressible Torley.  If you follow a link to Soundcloud, there are over fourteen additional demo tracks for your consideration.  However, most of these do not have any indication of which of the six UVI OB instruments was used in their creation.

The 220 UV-1 presets are allocation in categories as follows:

  • Arp-based (27 count)
  • Bass (26)
  • FX (21)
  • Keyboard (20)
  • Leads (27)
  • Miscellaneous (17)
  • Pad (22)
  • Phraser-based (31)
  • Pluck (15)
  • Polysynth (14)

 

M-6k


The next instrument in the collection we’ll look at here is the M-6k.  This is based upon samples taken from patches created for the Oberheim Matrix 6 and the Matrix 1000.  Both were introduced during the late 1980s.  The Matrix 6 was a six-voice keyboard instrument.  The Matrix 1000 was a rack-mount version of the 6.

In this recreation, UVI has followed the pattern used in a number of recently introduced instruments (PX-Apollo, UVS-3200 and UVX80) in that there are two layers.  The top layer offers a relatively small set of basic waveforms and sounds (36 choices in this case).  The bottom layer has a much more extensive list (over 130 if I’ve counted correctly).  The bottom sounds include basic sounds and waveforms, but fully-realized, complex sounds predominate here.

You could get a credible sound using either layer alone, but of course the real possibilities open up when sounds are stacked using both layers.  The frosting on the cake is the fact that each layer has an independent arpeggiator.  When both arps are in action, the results can be exuberant fun, as several of the presets (e.g. Joyeux Lutin) immediately demonstrate.


The Edit tab is the other main place for controlling timbre.  The Voicing section is global.  Everything else is per-oscillator.  The only mystery control is Color, which according to the documentation “shifts color based on adjacent samples”, whatever that means – in other words, set by ear.  I found the Modwheel section to be extremely confusing, and the documentation doesn’t help a bit here.  It says only easily route your controllers Modwheel to control common parameters such as Vibrato Rate, Tremolo Rate and Filter Depth.  But as you’ll see on the next tab, we have a single LFO with volume (tremolo) and pitch (vibrato) as two of the three targets, and filter cutoff as the third.

As best I can tell, the vibrato and tremolo control here governs separate, independent LFOs with only a sine (or maybe triangle) wave and a non-syncing adjustable rate (as set in the lower box below the on/off switch box and not influenced by the mod wheel).  The operation is nothing like that described in the documentation.  In fact, you may actually have two sources of modulation for pitch or loudness, one being the official LFO on the next page and the other being the vibrato or tremolo control on this page.


On this tab we have an LFO and a step sequencer.  There are just three modulation targets for the LFO, and volume (tremolo) and pitch (vibrato) are implied on the previous tab.  See the comments just above that address this confusion.

The step sequencer is easy to grasp, with targets being oscillator volume and filter cutoff depth.  A minor cosmetic error labels the Step routing section as “LFO Modulation Routing”, but it doesn’t take a sleuth to get to the bottom of this enigma.


Next is the FX tab, which should require no further commentary.


Finally we get to the arpeggiator control tab.  As you can see, there are two independent units (that may be linked).  The arpeggiation notes are controlled by the mode (Up, Down, Up/Down) and Octave.  The graph area is for control of the loudness of the individual steps.

Factory preset-wise, M-6k is loaded.  We have just under 320 presets in total, distributed as follows:

  • Animated (32 count)
  • Bass (31)
  • Bells (30)
  • Brass (25)        
  • FX (11)
  • Keyboard (27)
  • Lead (24)
  • Miscellaneous (20)
  • Organ (12)
  • Pad (26)
  • Pluck (17)
  • Polysynth (21)
  • Stepped (18)
  • Strings (9)
  • Sweeps (14)

The dual layer architecture seen in other recent UVI offerings has proven to be most effective in delivering rich, intriguing sound.  It once again delivers in this instrument.  I would be hard-pressed to name a favorite instrument in the OB Legacy sextet of instruments, but if I had to, M-6k would probably get the nod.  It has a glorious sound, it’s easy to program and the collection of presets is more than enough to keep one occupied for a very long time, even if programming is something wished to be avoided.

 

Six-12


Lastly (in Part 1 of the OB Legacy coverage, anyway) we get to Six-12.  This one is totally easy to review.  It has one panel, limited programming options, and its strength lies in its collection of presets, many of which sound absolutely marvelous.  The two source instruments sampled to create Six-12 are not specified, other than one of them comes from c. 2000 and the other is a very recently introduced instrument.

You will note that there is no preset selector control.  The presets are organized a little differently here, and come up as sub-selections in the Workstation or Falcon library selector.  Don’t worry, it’s completely obvious on how to work things in Six-12 when you fire it up.

There’s little that needs explanation about the UI panel.  The effects may seem paltry (Thorus, by the way, is a UVI rich, luxurious chorus-like modulation effect), but we have only Depth parameters visible.  For a delay, for example, would it not be great to at least be able to specify the rate and whether or not to use sync-to-host?

The capability actually is there.  In both Workstation and Falcon, there is an Edit button immediately above the instrument’s UI panel.  Click on that and you will see one of the two displays below (click on image for full-size).  For Workstation (left screenshot), the necessary low-level, per-effect controls are pretty easy to find.  With Falcon, it might be a somewhat scarier undertaking, but explaining the Falcon UI is far beyond the scope of this review.


Preset-wise … well I’ve already said they are good.  We have just over 140, allocated in categories as follows:

  • Bass (19 count)
  • Bellish (11)
  • Brass (12)
  • FX (12)
  • Impulse (8)
  • Keyboard (17)
  • Lead (13)
  • Organ (6)
  • Pad (23)
  • Polysynth (15)
  • Vox (5)

 

See You Next Time

That wraps up our coverage of half of the OB Legacy instruments.  We’ll finish our survey in the next issue of SoundBytes Magazine.  However, I’ll give you a heads up about what to expect.  If you’ve formed an opinion based upon what you’ve read so far, there’s nothing in the second part of this review that will change your mind (in other words, if you want it, go for it – you have my permission   😀  ). For now let me just sum things up by offering the opinion that the instruments in OB Legacy sound wonderful and the presets show off each of the abilities of them to great effect.  OB Legacy is not cheap, but the size and scope justifies the price.

For more information or to purchase OB Legacy, go here:

https://www.uvi.net/ob-legacy.html

For Vintage Vault 2, go here:

https://www.uvi.net/vintage-vault-2.html

 

 

 

 

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SoundBytes

Welcome to SoundBytes Magazine, a free online magazine devoted to the subject of computer sound and music production.

 

If you share these interests, you’ve come to the right place for gear reviews, developer interviews, tips and techniques and other music related articles. But first and foremost, SoundBytes is about “gear” in the form of music and audio processing software. .

 

We hope you'll enjoy reading what you find here and visit this site on a regular basis.


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