Review – Emulation II by UVI
UVI’s Emulation II takes you back to the early 1980s with many of the signature sounds from that colorful time period. Revisit the past with us in this review.
by Rob Mitchell, Sept. 2016
Back in the early 1980s there was a sampler/synthesizer keyboard that didn’t cost as much as some other high-end products. With just 512K of sample memory, it still had a great lo-fi type of sound (8-bit), and included analog filters. It also had an 8-track sequencer on board, and individual outputs for each voice. Thanks to UVI, their software emulation of this keyboard won’t be needing any 5-inch floppies to store your sounds on, and using many instances at once is as simple as using your DAW of choice. On top of the synth/sampler emulation, UVI has also included Drumulation, which is an emulation of a drum machine produced in that same time period. Altogether, there are nearly 5 GB of samples at 48 kHz resolution (7,641 individual samples), and over 280 presets. Both of these UVI products have many authentic samples from those two classics, and we’ll take a look at each of them in this review.
To start using Emulation II, you’ll need to make accounts on UVI’s site and the iLok site before you can install it. You’ll also need to download and install the free UVI Workstation from UVI’s site. The Workstation software works with nearly all of the UVI products, allows unlimited parts, includes its own mixer section, and many effects. UVI lets you authorize Emulation II on up to three computers at once, and it doesn’t require an iLok dongle.
For the PC, the system requirements are as follows: Windows 7 operating system (or higher) 32/64 bit compatible, four gigabytes of RAM (eight is recommended). It is compatible with VST, AAX, RTAS, and there is a standalone version. For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 operating system (or higher) 32/64 bit compatible, and four gigabytes of RAM (eight is recommended). It is compatible with Audio Units, VST, MAS, AAX, RTAS and has a standalone version.
If you haven’t used the UVI Workstation before, it takes a while to get everything set up. You must install the iLok License Manager and UVI Workstation, download the actual Emulation II/Drumulation file, and then activate the license. After you have that out of the way, it is very simple to use. You can use it with the standalone UVI Workstation, or load it in a DAW host. You’re also able to use Emulation II with UVI’s Falcon; a fantastic product that was covered at great length in some of our past issues.
To load a sound into Emulation II, you just double-click in the preset field towards the top of the display, click on the soundbank (VV_Emulation 2), and then select a category and a preset. The categories are Bass, Bells, Choirs/Voices, Drums, Fretted, FXs, Keyboards, Mallets, Misc-World, Orchestral Hits, Percussion, Strings, Synths, and Winds/Brass. Once you have selected a preset, you will return to the main display and its various controls. You can then skim through the presets by using the arrows on either side of the preset name. To switch back to the browser view, click the icon towards the top that looks like an eye, or double-click in the preset name field again. The browser doesn’t have any way to organize presets in any other manner, or to mark certain presets as favorites. There is a button towards the bottom of the browser which displays info about the sound bank you’ve selected. Switching this off will give you more room on the browser’s display so you can view more categories and presets at once.
I checked out many of the presets immediately, as I just wanted to hear how it sounded right off the bat. There are a good number of warm, vintage sounds packed in there. I especially liked the choirs/voices and bell categories. The orchestral hits are “totally 80s”, and are just plain-old-fun to hear again. There are many familiar sounds that are basically the same as what I’ve heard on my older records and CDs.
The overall layout is very simple, with Amplitude and Filter sections on the left side, while the stereo and modulation wheel settings are on the right. Below the modulation section is the effect section. The Amplitude section has standard ADSR envelope sliders, and a couple of extra buttons that give you some options for using velocity within a preset. “NO VEL” sets it up so the velocity is always at the maximum amount (127). “VEL>ATK” will change it so when you play the keys harder, the amount of attack will increase.
The Filter section has ADSR envelope sliders, filter cutoff, Q (resonance amount), VEL>ATK, and an envelope depth control. In the “Stereo” section, there are controls to adjust the panoramic settings of the audio. There are three modes: “Off” is a mono mode, “ALT” will alternate each note played from left to right, and “UNI” is a stereo setting. The amount of left/right panning for “ALT” and “UNI” settings can be adjusted with the “Spread” control. The “Color” control uses additional samples to give it a denser, chorus type of effect. In the Modwheel section, there are controls to enable vibrato and/or tremolo, and each of them has its own rate control. The filter cutoff can also be mapped to the modulation wheel from here, and there is a depth control to adjust the amount. In the lower-right section of the display is the Effects area, which includes a phaser, delay, and reverb. Below those three is the Bit Crusher. I consider this as an effect as well, but I guess they just didn’t have room to add it in the section with the other three. Actually, there are many more effects available.
If you click the “FX” tab in the upper-right of the UVI Workstation, you can choose from the large number of other effects that are provided. These will work with any other sound bank you load, as they are part of UVI Workstation itself. There are varied types of delays, reverbs, phasers, flangers, chorus, filters, compressor, ring modulation, and more. The reverbs they’ve included sound very good, and I like the delays as well. I am not sure how many times I would use it, but the UVinyl effect is actually quite convincing. The included filter controls, envelopes, and effects can help shape the sound, but the basic sounds are set in stone from the sampled material. To put it another way, you can’t edit the samples directly.
The UVI Workstation also has its own arpeggiator. To get to its controls, you click on the notation symbol in the upper-right, and click the “Enable” button at the top left to switch it on. Some of its features include 26 different play modes, a Hold function, controls for Step length and Velocity amount, a six octave (+/-) control, Groove amount (swing), and it can use up to 128 steps. You can save your own arp presets, and there are a decent number of preprogrammed settings for you to use right out of the box. The Workstation itself also allows unlimited parts, and includes a mixer section. Each part can have its own preset loaded, or even a different UVI soundbank per part. Of course, you could do this within your DAW by loading up multiple instances, but this keeps it all organized, and saves some memory as you’re not loading many instances of the Workstation software.
Now that we’ve checked out Emulation II in some detail, let’s focus on the bonus instrument that UVI has included. Drumulation is an 80s-style drum machine. The original used 12-bit samples, so you get the slighty less-than-perfect sound of yesteryear in all its glory. After you load Drumulation (it is launched in the same manner as Emulation II), you’re presented with the main display. There are twenty drum kit presets included, and to hear them play back with their associated preprogrammed sequences, you just click the “Run/Stop” button or the C3 key. If you want to start making a pattern from scratch, clicking the “Clear Pattern” button will give you a blank slate to work with.
Controls are divided up into eight sections, and those are split up over four separate groups. You can get to the other groups of controls by clicking the buttons along the bottom of the display. The first section is for the Bass drum and Snare/Clap/Rim. In the second section you’ll find the Hihat/Cymbal, the third is for the Toms, and the fourth section is for the Percussion.
Each set of controls is identical, and starts out with Mute, Volume, Panning, and Tune controls along the left side. To the right of those are Low and High pass filter cutoff controls. The 16-step sequencer triggers whichever sample you’ve loaded up, and each step can have one of three states: off, medium velocity, or full velocity. On the right side is the menu where you switch between the various samples that will be triggered by the step sequencer. There are a fair number of classic sampled sounds for each of the sound types, and using the filter controls can yield different variations of the original sounds.
This isn’t much more to it, but that’s the way many drum machines were set up back in the day. If you want, you can always add effects by clicking the UVI Workstation’s FX tab. It would be nice if you could switch between different sets of patterns, as in playing one pattern for four measures, play another pattern for the next four measures, etc. Another way you could use it is to click on additional steps “live” (while it is playing back a sequence) to add extra steps here and there to give it some diversity. The only other workaround I could think of was to have multiple instances running, and then have a different sequence on each. Of course, you can just use the notation in your DAW to program any number of patterns that you want. One of my small complaints is that it doesn’t have a preset-save function built-in, but I tried it with the VST Preset menu at the top of the plugin, and that worked just fine. It didn’t load back in with the preset name I gave it though, so that could be a little confusing. Then again, the changes you’ve made to a preset should save along with the song/project anyway. That method worked for me when I tried it with Sonar X3.
One of the best features in Emulation II is really just its ease of use. It is so straight-forward in its design that you can start making your music in no time at all. There’s no fiddling around with overly complex controls and there is no modulation matrix to get in the way. For me, that is part of its charm. One other important thing to note is that the CPU usage was low, and it doesn’t take up a huge amount of space on the hard drive.
If you really are in need of more control and/or processing such as EQ, filters and/or effects, just go to the effects section of UVI Workstation and you have many options included there. I really like the quality of the sampled sounds from the authentic hardware they’ve gathered together for both of these products. If you’re not into that “vintage sound” don’t let that turn you away, as these two instruments can be used for other types of music and not just for classic/vintage 1980s type of tracks.
UVI has been known to have sales now and then. Also, if you buy UVI’s Vintage Vault collection you’ll be getting these two products as well as a huge number of others (36 instruments all together).
Emulation II (with Drumulation) retails for $149 USD, and the Vintage Vault retails for $499 USD. At the time I am writing this review, the Vintage Vault was on sale for $374 USD. Using some quick math, I calculated that the Vintage Vault’s sale price works out to only $10.39 USD per instrument. Even when the sale is over, it is only $13.86 per instrument. Those are some really tough prices to beat! Another product that UVI offers at about half the price of Emulation II is Emulation One, which is also packaged with a bonus drum machine. And as I mentioned before, the ability to load these into UVI’s Falcon is a great feature in itself, since it brings a whole new world of possibilities to these classic hardware sounds from the 1980s.
You can get more information and hear some demos tracks on their website here: