Review – Aspect by Loomer

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Loomer’s Aspect is a semi-modular virtual analog synthesizer plugin with a rich, warm sound, and a versatile patch section. Our reviewer takes a detailed look at this powerful VA contender.

 

by Rob Mitchell, May 2015

 

Back in our November 2014 issue of SoundBytes, I reviewed Loomer’s string synthesizer plugin called String. This time around, I will be covering their semi-modular VA (virtual analog) synthesizer called Aspect. It is a 32-note polyphonic synthesizer plug-in, has five-voice unison, a flexible patch section, two oscillators, and its two filters can be run in series or parallel modes.

Aspect is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. It ships in 32-bit and 64-bit versions of VST, AAX, Audio Unit, RTAS, and there’s a standalone version as well.

The system requirements are a breath of fresh air, as many new synth plugins these days require much more horsepower. For the PC, Aspect requires the Windows XP or Vista operating system (or higher), at least a 1 GHz processor with SSE, and 512 megabytes of RAM. For the Mac, Aspect requires OS X 10.5 (or higher) at least a 1 GHz processor with SSE, and 512 megabytes of RAM. For Linux, the hardware requirements are the same.

The installation of Aspect is simple, and it uses a license key to unlock the full version. The demo version and full product use the same installer. It just runs in demo mode until you enter the license key.

Once you download and start the installation, it gives you the choices for what versions you’re able to install: Standalone, 32-bit or 64-bit VST plugin, RTAS, or AAX.  After that, it lets you choose where you want it installed. For this review, I used the 32-bit plugin on a PC with Windows 7 Professional (32-bit). Once you open either the standalone version or have it loaded into your DAW, you choose Enter Aspect License from the Options menu.

You enter your name, and this must match the name that was used to purchase Aspect. After that, you just enter your license key in the License Key field.

 

Getting Started

After you get your full version of Aspect running, you’ll see the main screen is loaded and ready to go. Across the top of the display are many controls. The first one at the top left is the New button, which will give you an initialized preset. This is a great starting point to design your presets. It uses a basic sawtooth loaded into the first oscillator, and the low pass filter cutoff is wide open.

Next to the New button is the browser. To switch between the presets, you can click the arrows to the left and right of the preset name. If you’d like to get to the full browser, you just have to click on the preset name.

 

Once the browser has opened, you’ll notice two folders along the left side. One is for the Factory presets, and the other is for any User presets you might design. Below the User folder, the presets are broken out into categories: Bass, Drum, Effect, Keys, Lead, and Pad. Meta data can be attached to presets, and can include the author name, additional info about the preset, and tags may be used as well. The tags can help keep all your presets organized by their type.

To the right of the preset name field are the Undo and Redo arrows. These work just like some paint programs you might use, and functions as a multiple undo/redo. Even if you have made many changes, you can click the Undo arrow many times until you get back to a certain point in the preset creation. Using the Redo arrow works in a similar fashion, but it will let you go forward through the many changes you might have made. The A/B button is useful for comparing a preset’s original sound to your edited version, making it easy to switch between the two versions.

When you click the Save button, the directory will automatically change to the User folder. Besides naming your preset, you can also put in your name as the author, put in notes, and tag the preset. The tags are easy to use, and you could tag a preset as “Lead”, and also as “Bass” if you wish. To add a tag, just type in a word, such as bass, and save your preset. It will then show up in the User folder of presets, but will also be in the Categorized presets under “Bass”. To add more than one tag, just use a comma in-between each of the tags. They’ve included a search field in the upper-right corner of the browser, which checks the name, author, and tag fields of all the presets. It will also search through all the preset folder names.

 

Oscillators and Filters

 

Aspect includes two oscillators with nearly identical controls, the exception being that the second oscillator has a Sync button. Sawtooth, Pulse, Triangle, and Sine waveforms are selected by using the Shape control. To change the pitch of each oscillator, there are Octave, Transpose and Detune controls.

There are three pitch modulation slots for each of the two oscillators. Each one can be set to whatever you’d like from the 26 choices available for each slot. Some of the sources include Note Pitch, LFO, Noise, or you may want use an Envelope for modulating the pitch. Another way to take advantage of these is to have one oscillator modulate another, generating FM sounds. The Depth control will change the amount of modulation.

To the right of the tuning section you’ll find the pulse width controls. As expected, these will only affect the sound if you have selected Pulse as the waveform for the oscillator. The same 26 choices are available here for modulating the pulse width, and you have three slots to use, just like with the main oscillator section.

To get everything balanced the way you’d like, you use the mixer section’s three volume controls. There is one volume control for the each of the two oscillators, and an additional one for the Noise amount. The Noise source doesn’t have any other settings, so you can’t switch it between different types of noise (white, pink, etc.). You can however put it through the filter(s) and get many types of sounds from it.

Speaking of filters, Aspect includes two of them to shape the sound to your liking. It has low pass, band pass, and high pass filter types. They can also be totally bypassed, so they won’t affect the sound at all. The standard Cutoff and Resonance controls are here, and just like with the oscillator section, you have three modulation slots and the same 26 sources available.

Below the filter type and cutoff controls is the Input menu for the filters. This lets you select which source of audio will go to a filter. You might want the three main sound sources to go through it, so then you could just pick “Mixer”. On the other hand, you may want one oscillator to go the first filter, and the other to go through the second filter. You can easily do that as well, using the choices in the Input menu. Using the Input options and Filter Mix controls, you’re also able to use the two filters in Serial or Parallel modes.

 

Envelopes and LFOs


Aspect has three envelopes and three LFOs. The first envelope is used for the amplifier, but it can be used for other modulation tasks as well. Each envelope has identical controls, including standard Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release controls. The Attack for each envelope can get very snappy, as it can be set to as low as 1ms.  At the other extreme, it can go up to 9000ms. The envelopes can be used as modulation sources when added to any modulation slot, which are located in various parts of the synth plugin.

The Trigger setting is used for controlling the way the envelopes act. If you’re playing a note, but then start to play another while the first is still being played, it will behave in various ways.

For example, if it’s set to Retrigger, and you play a second note, it will go back to the attack stage at its current level. Setting it to Reset does nearly the same thing, but the level goes to zero. Finally, the Legato setting makes it so it will not reset to the attack stage.

The three LFOs each have identical controls. There’s the Shape control (with a Sine, Triangle, Square, and Sawtooth), Rate control, and a Sync button to sync to the host. They also have a modulation section with three slots, and an amount control to change the level of modulation.

 

Just Patch It

What if you want one oscillator to go through one filter, but then maybe you’d like the other oscillator and the noise to flow to the second filter? Is there any way to do that? The answer is yes.

Using the “Patch” section, you are able to make combinations for sound creation that otherwise wouldn’t be possible within Aspect. It can also augment features it already has, making it even more powerful. 

The Lag Generator is basically just that, as it generates a “lag” for whatever is made to flow through it. The speed at which anything starts to modulate is slowed down.

There are two Multipliers, and each will let you have two sources and combine them together to make a new, unique output. Another way to use a Multiplier is to have a modulation wheel in one slot, and an LFO in the other. This will let the modulation wheel control how much of the LFO is used to modulate the sound.

Aspect also has two Adders, which are similar to the Multipliers, but will just add the two sources together. Some interesting combinations can be put together, as a Multiplier could have up to two different Adders in it, or you might want to use an Adder and have up to two Multipliers within it instead. Since each of the targets in Aspect has just three slots for modulation, this can help expand its sonic possibilities.

The S&H (sample and hold) section’s input can use the same sources that the other modulation slots do. It works somewhat differently, as it actually has two inputs; a Source and a Clock. When the Clock’s source passes the zero-crossing point, it takes the value of the input’s source, holding it until another zero-crossing takes place.

The Inverters will basically just give you an inverted/upside-down version of nearly anything that’s put into it. For instance, envelopes will have negative values where originally they were positive.

 

Final Thoughts

One thing I thought I might miss in Aspect was an effects section. At first I was thought: How could they not include effects? Nearly every synth plugin has them, and they are an integral part of the preset’s sounds that are bundled with most plugins. After using Aspect for a while, I found I didn’t really miss them as I was having too much fun playing with all its options, and was getting so many great sounds from it. 

Maybe you will feel the way I did, and also appreciate its nice, warm sound, and the generous number of presets to explore. It doesn’t leave you stranded with ideas for your own preset design, as it has many modulation slots and a powerful patch section.

MIDI learn is included, and (for me) this is always a welcome feature. The manual is very good, and I don’t think they overlooked a single thing within its pages. I really like to pour over manuals and get all I can from each plugin. This one is definitely easy to read, and yet very informative at the same time.

Rumor has it that there will be an Aspect 2, but I haven’t heard of any release date. Even though I mentioned it doesn’t “need” effects, it would be nice to maybe just have one or two included for the next version. I’d love it if they added a delay section, and maybe a chorus, too. 

The display has a good size to it, but it would be beneficial if there were different GUI sizes, and as an added bonus, different skins to change its look. The display is adequate the way it is, and easy on the eyes, but maybe it could just use some different color variations.

Aspect’s rich, warm sound and powerful modulation will give your ears a treat. This is one powerful synthesizer plugin with a great price that is really tough to pass up. Aspect retails for $100 USD, and you can check out Loomer’s demo tracks of Aspect and download a trial version here:

http://www.loomer.co.uk/aspect.htm

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