Review – Falcon by UVI Part 1
Falcon might very well be the most powerful synth/sampler ever made, with a large number of oscillator types, modulators, and effects. Our reviewer goes through many of its features in this two-part review.
by Rob Mitchell, Jan. 2016
If you’ve been reading our last few issues of SoundBytes, you might have noticed I have been reviewing some of UVI’s products that just happen to have caught my attention. The reason I love writing about this brand is that they have a large catalog of great titles to choose from, and they include many useful features and modulation possibilities. Quality audio samples are always present throughout their sampled products. Most of their lineup utilizes the powerful UVI Workstation, which allows you to have many instances across several tracks, a large amount of effects, and it has its own arpeggiator.
UVI has just released a new product called Falcon, and it boasts many powerful features. They call it a “Creative Hybrid Instrument”, which is a fitting title as you’ll soon discover. No less than fifteen oscillator types are available, letting you access basic sampling and some of the oscillator types use granular or wavetable methods. It isn’t just about samples however since the up-to-date synthesis methods will let you put together the sounds you want to hear. Falcon also has scripting, 80 quality effects, eight different modulation generators, and much more. With all that being said, it separates itself from the UVI Workstation, and is a full-fledged instrument on its own. Falcon retails for $349 USD, and you can get additional information and sound examples from their website here:
I will try to cover many of the features in detail, but with a product as dense as this, it is a challenge to say the least. Hopefully I will give you a good overview of how it functions, and clear up some of the mystery behind this new synth/sampler beast. To give this review even more depth, we decided to split it up in to two parts. The second part will be in our next issue.
Installation and Requirements
First of all, it’s important to note that Falcon is 64-bit only; there is no 32-bit version offered at all.. For the PC, you’ll need Windows 7 or a higher operating system, and at least a Core 2 Duo CPU. For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 or a higher operating system, and an Intel CPU.
On either of these two platforms, they recommend at least two gigabytes of RAM, and you’ll need at least one gigabyte of disk space. Up to three authorizations are allowed, and this can be used with either (or both) a computer hard drive or an iLok dongle. UVI products also require that you have the free iLok License Manager installed.
After you download Falcon and start the installation, the installer lets you choose which directory in which to install and it will ask you to choose which components should be installed: AAX, VST, or Standalone. I chose the VST and standalone versions for my 64-bit Windows 8.1 PC. It does require the Pace copy protection, which it will eventually install along with Falcon.
The second part to the installation is just the simple placement of the “Falcon Factory” file in the directory you’d like. I placed it in the UVI Soundbanks folder to make it easier to find, as I already have a few of their products installed. For this review, I used Sonar X3 Producer as the DAW to load it into, but I also tried out the standalone version which, of course, doesn’t need a host. When you try to run it, or load it in to your DAW for the first time, it will ask you to activate it.
Scratching the Surface
Once you have it loaded up and it has been activated, you are presented with its main display. Usually I like to hear how a plugin sounds right from the start, and then tweak some of the preset’s settings. At some point I’ll build my own preset. For now, I will just mention how to check out some of its presets, which are called “Programs” in Falcon.
There are a few ways to get some programs loaded up. You can navigate to the “Parts” menu on the left side, right-click on the name field of a Part (I’ll get to more detail on “Parts” later), and it brings up a menu where you can select the “Falcon Factory” sound bank. After you click on it, you will see a menu of the programs available in the sound bank. Every part you add can have one program loaded into it.
To add another part, click the + sign above the first part that is already loaded by default. This could be another part where you’d like to use another program from the Falcon Factory bank, or you might want to use another UVI product. Maybe you want to load UltraMini or CS-M for instance, if you happen to already have one of those products installed.
Banks can also be loaded up from the sidebar browser on the right-hand side. To do this, you just click the Files tab, and then select the “Soundbanks” directory. From there, you’re able to choose the Falcon Factory bank, or whichever UVI banks you may have installed there. Yet another way to load a bank is by clicking the wrench icon at the top of the Falcon display, and then you just click “Load Program”. That same wrench icon is where you can save your own programs and samples, and get to some other important settings. A few of these settings are for the screen size, changing the sound bank directories, and disk streaming. Those are all accessible from the “Preferences” menu.
After you have a program loaded, you’ll see some tabs going across the top of the screen that are labeled Info, Edit, Effects, and Mods. I won’t go into details about all of them right now, but if you click on the “Info” tab, it shows the name of the program, and it may have some extra controls there as well. These can be defined by the person making the program, and they can make it easy to adjust certain parameters (i.e. cutoff, resonance, delay time, etc.) without diving head-first into the actual controls within Falcon.
Programs, Layers, and Keygroups
To make your own programs from scratch, it does take a bit of know-how. Of course, this is also true with any other synthesizer or sampler plugin. However, Falcon does work in a slightly different way than others I have reviewed in the past. Once you get used to the basic concepts and figure out where most everything is located, you’ll be ready to roll. If you have just fired up Falcon, you will have an empty part that you can use to set up a new program of your own. Another way is to add an additional part (if you already like the one you have loaded or one which you created), then you can begin creating a new program from there.
Falcon uses a hierarchical structure to build a program. It can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like. More complex programs may put a slight drain on the CPU, and the possibility to make some intricately layered creations is easily within the scope of Falcon. A “Multi” will have at least one Program, and every Program has at least one Layer. Each Layer can have one or more Keygroups, and a Keygroup has one or more oscillators.
To start out creating a new program, you just click the ”+” sign in the upper-left to add the new part, then click the Edit tab towards the top. Using the sidebar browser I briefly mentioned earlier, you can add various types of elements to your new program. Folders that you usually go to more often (a samples folder, for instance) can be made into favorites, which is done by right-clicking on the folder. It will then be found in the “Places” folder.
The Layer Editor is for changing such settings as the output level and panning for the selected layers. It also takes care of the play mode (mono/poly modes), unison, polyphony, and velocity curve. The Keygroup Editor can adjust the settings for the selected keygroup(s), such as the Gain and Panning, Trigger mode, Trigger Sync, Exclusive Group, and Latch. The Trigger mode lets you select different ways for a keygroup to behave, and includes settings to change the way that MIDI note on/off triggers the keygroup.
To edit an oscillator that may be in your new program, or one that’s included in the Factory content, you’d use the Oscillator Editor. It has the normal types of controls you’d expect, such as Pitch, Coarse Tune, Fine Tune, and Gain. You can set it so that each oscillator is edited separately, or you can switch it so each change you make adjusts all of them at once. Each oscillator will have its own tab right below the editor, and you just click on whichever tab for the one you’d like to change.
Note Tracking is also adjustable from here, and Trigger Mode lets you trigger the oscillators in various ways. They can all be triggered at once, or set to “Cycle” which is a round-robin function. “Random” will play them in a totally random manner, while “Random Cycle” only triggers each oscillator once per cycle.
Adding a new Keygroup to a Layer will automatically add an Analog oscillator by default. You can add a different type of oscillator by clicking the “+” symbol below the Oscillator Editor, and a menu will appear with the different types available. For the sampling category, there are four IRCAM types: Granular, Multi Granular, Scrub, and Stretch. They also include three standard types: Sample, Slice and Stretch modes. For the synthesis category, they include eight types: Analog, Analog Stack, Drum, FM, Noise, Organ, Pluck, and Wavetable.
I won’t go over every oscillator type that is available, as that would end up being a whole article in itself. What I will do is go over a few of the various types, and a quick overview of how much is possible with the oscillators. The Analog oscillator is a good place to start, as it is the default type that’s included when you add a new Keygroup. It has three sections for its controls: Analog, HardSync, and Unison.
The first section is where you can select a waveform to use, and the standard waveforms are all here, including saw, square, triangle, sine, noise, and pulse. To the right, you have the Pulse Width Modulation control, Start Phase, and Polarity controls. Hard Sync is included, and is enabled with an on/off button. “Shift” adjusts the drift amount from the control oscillator when sync is enabled. In the Unison section, you’re able to use up to eight voices, switch from mono to stereo, adjust the stereo spread, and change the detune amount. It also includes different choices for the phase spread type (Uniform, Exponential, or Random), stereo spread (Uniform or Hard), and the detune type (Standard or Large). Switching between these extra settings can yield a fair amount of variation in sounds to use in your own programs. Once you have it set the way you want, the oscillator settings can be saved as a preset. They’ve also included some handy presets for many of the oscillator types.
Another one I’d like to cover is the FM oscillator. It is configured with four operators, and it has a Ratio and Level control for each one of them. The Ratio knob will adjust the frequency in comparison to the base frequency, so an amount of 3.0 would be three times the amount of the base frequency. The Level knob changes the output level of whichever operator you’re using. On the far right are the Feedback control and the Topology menu. The Feedback works with the D operator, and loops an amount of signal back into itself. The Topology menu lets you pick from eleven different arrangements of the operators. In comparison, the Yamaha DX-21 (a four-operator hardware synth) had eight to choose from.
Last but not least, I have to mention the Multi Granular oscillator. Granular synthesis has the ability to break up the audio into separate “grains” and then piece it back together in different ways. What’s different about the “Multi” variant versus Falcon’s regular Granular oscillator is that it can work with multiple voices, and each one of those voices can have its own setting applied to it.
Using the “Voice” setting, you can set it to use up to eight unison voices. The “Position Spread” spaces the individual voices apart over the length of the waveform. It uses lines on the waveform you’ve loaded to represent the voice’s positions, and the space between each line/voice depends upon that same Position Spread control. The line(s) move along the length of the waveform when you hit a note. The “Time Spread” changes the timing for the trigger on each of the voices.
In the Grain section, adjustments can be made for the grain’s size and density. “Size” controls the actual duration of the separate grains, while “Density” will adjust the amount of grains that will be triggered at the same time. Other controls in this section include “Jitter”, which adds a bit of randomization for the timing of the grains. “Duration Variation” differs from the Size control, as it changes the amount of variation for the grain size. “Fade” changes the amount of the grain envelope’s influence on the grains themselves, using a percentage of the grain’s size. “Symmetry” can adjust the attack and decay of the grain’s envelope. You might want a more percussive attack, or maybe a reversed grain sound is what you’re after. Changing the Symmetry amount changes the attack and decay, and will let you get these type of results. The “Reverse” button will reverse the separate grains, but will not change the overall playback direction.
“Pitch Variation” will give a random amount of pitch for every grain. This can be a very small change in pitch, or a crazier jump that can be up to an octave from the original pitch. “Pitch Correction” lets you switch between two ways that the grains will be transposed: “Grain Size” is basically the standard setting, as it keeps the grain size the same, while “Period” will change the actual size of the grain. Using various combinations of the many controls in the Multi Granular oscillator, you’re able to get a huge variety of sounds.
In the second half of my review, I will cover the modulation, filters, and effects that Falcon has to offer. This kind of instrument really deserves a good deal of coverage, and a two-part review is needed to touch upon all that this instrument has on tap.