Review – LuSH-101 by D16 Group
LuSH-101 is D16 Group’s new multi-timbral polyphonic synth plugin, and it is actually eight synths in one … eight really, really good synths. Find out more in this close-up look.
by Rob Mitchell, Mar. 2014
D16 Group are the makers of many quality software plugins for music production, such as the Sigmund delay, Drumazon, and Decimort bit crusher.
LuSH-101 is their multitimbral polyphonic synth plugin, and it is actually eight synths in one. With the latest version (v1.1.2) it now boasts multicore support, as well as small and large sized interfaces. It has already won the Music Radar’s award for Software Instrument of the Year, Future Music’s Platinum Award, plus Computer Music’s Performance and Editor’s Choice awards.
Its basic design was taken from the monophonic SH-101, but D16 has taken it way beyond what that hardware synth could do. The look is similar, and its basic sound can be a lot like an SH-101. But if you are comparing the features of the two, that’s just about where the similarity ends.
D16 Group has added another LFO, an additional envelope, polyphony, and many other features and effects to bring it more up to date. Once you check out some of the presets, you’ll see that this new version has taken the SH-101 to new heights.
Installation was easy, and just takes a minute or two to get everything prepared once you start the install. Copy protection is simple; just load the key file it asks for, and you’re ready to go.
LuSH-101 is a subtractive synthesizer with four oscillators. There is one waveform for each of the first two oscillators; a Square wave on one, and a Sawtooth on the other. You can modulate the pulse width of the Square wave, and both of the oscillators have hard sync. It is not possible to load any other waveforms with these two oscillators.
The third oscillator is a Sub-oscillator, and has more waveform options. Three of them are variations of a Square wave with different pulse widths, and they are either one or two octaves below the base frequency. The other two are Sawtooth waveforms, with the choice of one or two octaves below the frequency.
The fourth oscillator is a Noise generator that has three different settings: White, Pink, or Brown noise. It can be used in combination with the other oscillators to add more depth to the sound. You could also use them on their own for percussion sounds, or to design various atmospheric presets; such as wind or ocean shore types of sounds for example.
Each of the four oscillators has a slider for its volume level in the “Source Mixer” section. In this same area, you can pick the different settings for the Sub-Osc, and choose a Noise type for the Noise generator. On top of all this, there is a Supersaw option you can enable, which can give the impression of many saw waveforms all playing at once.
After you have turned up the Saw oscillator to the level you want, you then just click on the Supersaw LED to enable it. Using the Amount slider, you can control the level of gain on the Supersaw sound. The Detune slider lets you control the amount of the tune spread for the Supersaw, which fattens up the overall sound.
Anytime you change a setting with a knob or slider in the synth, you can see a readout for it at the bottom left. This is especially useful for when you need to get an exact amount for a certain setting, such as the Pitch bend semitone amount, or the LFO rate for example.
Filters, LFOs, and Envelopes
The first of the two filters we’ll go over here is a Multimode self-resonating filter (Low-pass, Band-pass, or High-pass) with cutoff and resonance controls. The other is a passive Hi-pass filter which has just one control; the cutoff slider.
In that same filter section are sliders ENV1, ENV2, LFO1, LFO2, and KYBD (Keyboard Tracking). These control how much of the filter is sent to each Envelope or LFO, and is thereby shaped by the Envelope or LFO slider that is used. The KYBD slider works a bit differently: It controls the amount that the cutoff is affected by the pitch.
The two Envelopes each have identical controls. They include slider controls for attack, decay, sustain, and release. The sliders let you shape the audio the way you’d like. One common way to use an envelope is for a pad preset, where you would usually have a slow attack and slow release for the amplitude settings.
The Polarity control is a nice feature they’ve added, as it basically flips the envelope upside down. You can just click the LED to the left of the ADSR slider to change its setting. There are also controls to change the retriggering that the envelopes use. “Trig mode” triggers it for each note, while “Gate mode” doesn’t re-trigger if the notes overlap each other.
For each of the two LFOs, there are six different waveforms to pick from. You can change the speed the LFO runs at by using the Rate slider. Sync to Tempo will let you match it with the host’s tempo.
Effects and the Modulation Matrix
For each Layer, there is an Insert effect you can use to modify the sound to your liking. There are a good number of effects included, and you can pick one effect for each Layer’s Insert. The choices of effects are: Chorus, Flanger, String Ensemble, Phaser, Vowel Filter, Distortion, Decimator, and Tremolo.
The Modulation Matrix can be used to assign a source that will then modulate something else. The sources you can assign include Note velocity, Pitch bend, Mod wheel, Expression pedal, Sustain pedal, the keyboard’s Aftertouch, Note pitch and the Arpeggiator output.
At present, there is no way to use an LFO to control the pan of a layer. It does work with the Master Pan, just not on a per-layer basis. However, you can use the Insert effect with Tremolo loaded in to it. After it’s loaded, you adjust the controls till you get it the way you’d like, and can have it panning left to right. The only problem is that you use up the Insert effect for that layer, instead of using it for a chorus, or some other effect you may want.
One improvement I’d love to have is more sources and destinations for the modulation matrix. There are a decent number here, but most synth plugins these days have many choices available. Maybe we’ll see that in a future update.
On the plus side, it does have all the insert effects available in the matrix as destinations, which I’d really like in every synth plugin. It also has many of the main modulation destinations most users like to have access to: Pulsewidth amount, LFO and ENV amounts, Filter cutoff, Resonance amount, and others.
In just about every other softsynth plugin I have, automation in the DAW I use is accomplished by clicking the “W” at the top right of the plugin, and then I just move whatever controls I want while it plays the track.
After I am done, and I playback my track, it will play the track with the changes I made. The filter cutoff would change over the course of the track, or the resonance amount would increase, for instance. With LuSH-101, you must set up the parameters you would like to automate ahead of time. It isn’t a big deal, as it is pretty easy to configure, but you must remember to do this, or it just won’t work.
Once I had it setup with five or six different settings the way I wanted, it worked fine. There are 128 slots available to add the parameters you’d like. To add your parameters for automation, click the Options button at the top left, and then click the Parameters tab.
You can save your settings into a Parameter map, which can be set as the default. This is convenient, as each time you load up the synth, it will then have those same parameter settings you configured for automation.
Layers and the Mixer section
In each of the eight Layers there is a separate instance of the synth, each having all the same controls and functions. To get to each Layer, you use the Select buttons at the top of the screen. If you are done setting up the first Layer and want to add another, then you click the Select button at the top of the screen for Layer two. It then switches to that Layer, and you can edit it however you want.
Below the Select button is the Enable button, which is an On/Off switch for the Layer. You also have access to a Mute/Solo button. These all work together to make it very easy to switch between Layers, and hear just what you’d like at any given time.
After you click the Mixer button at the top of the UI, you are brought to the LuSH-101 Mixer section. This is where you can mix the eight layers of the synth. Using the channel strips, you’re able to mix volume levels, panning, change the EQ, add compression, and use effects.
If the PreComp switch is turned on, the signal is affected by compression first before going to the EQ section. If it is turned off, then the EQ is first in line, and then it goes to the compressor.
At the bottom of each channel strip is the FX send section. These control how much signal goes to each FX Channel strip. There are three effects: FX1 is a Reverb, FX2 is a Delay, and FX3 is a Chorus. With the Reverb and Delay, you can load and save presets of the settings, but not with the Chorus. The Reverb has 16 presets of varying types that you can load in, while the Delay section has 14 presets.
Each layer can be set to a different MIDI channel. If all of the layers are all set to the same channel, they will all be triggered simultaneously from a MIDI keyboard or by your DAW when it plays your track.
LuSH-101 can easily set up Splits, where you can have one layer triggered by playing in the bottom half of the MIDI keyboard, and a different preset loaded up for the top half. For instance, a nice bass preset could be in the lower end, while a mono lead or pad preset could be triggered by playing the upper section of the keyboard.
There is an Arpeggiator included for each of the eight Layers. They all work independently, and have modes including Up, Down, Up and Down, Down and Up, Random, and Manual.
There are also controls for Range, Repeat, Rate, and Shuffle. The Gate controls the note length in the arp pattern. This will change how much legato the notes end up having. It affects how much the notes overlap each other, and creates a smoother transition between the notes in the pattern.
Two other features I thought were very handy are the Trigger and Toggle modes. These are especially useful if playing live.
If you are using Trigger mode, and you hold down one or more keys on your MIDI keyboard, they will be added to the notes of the arpeggiator pattern. When you let go of those keys, they still will play in the sequence. If you play some other keys after that, those previous notes are replaced with the new ones.
Toggle mode functions in a similar way, but it works with one note at time. If you play one note after a sequence has started playing, it adds that note to the sequence. When you play that note again, it is removed from the pattern.
If you’re looking for a straight-ahead clone of SH-101, this synth can do the job well. It actually has considerably more features than that older hardware synth, and it really is eight synths in one, as I mentioned earlier.
Some people on various music forums have complained about high CPU usage while using LuSH-101. I did have some trouble on my older dual-core PC trying to use some of the presets that use a multiple layers, but with many other presets it worked fine. Some of the other ways that the CPU usage can go up are if Unison is switched on, many voices are used, or if there is a lot modulation going on. On D16 Group’s website, they do recommend an i7-based PC or Mac in the list of requirements.
The newer version has multicore support, and there are controls to switch from the High quality audio setting down to Normal quality, which isn’t as CPU intensive. It still sounds good, even if you use the “Normal” mode. You could just keep it that way till your song is completed, and then render it with the Higher quality setting.
Even though there are the three effects in the Mixer section, I’d like to have more Inserts for effects on each layer. It would be nice to have a Decimator and a Chorus on one layer for example, but this isn’t possible with the one Insert that’s available. As I mentioned earler, using the Tremolo effect for the panning would take up that one Insert effect.
Having so many additional features than the original SH-101 is great, but you don’t have to use them all at once. I designed a nice, simple lead preset using just one oscillator, no Unison, set as Monophonic, and with a few effects thrown in.
This synth has a very high quality sound, and you may find (as I did) that sometimes there is just no need to use its many layers to get an awesome sound from it. However, it is great to have those extra layers available. It can create some monster presets, as long as you have a modern PC or Mac.
LuSH-101 retails for $189, and includes over 1,600 presets. D16 group sales are not uncommon, so get on their mailing list if you’re interested. You can check out some audio examples and video tutorials over on D16 Group’s website:
D16 Group has done an excellent job combining many useful features into LuSH-101. It has a great sound quality, good modulation options, and its multiple layers can create huge presets. You can download the demo version and take it for a spin on your own system.