Review – impOSCar 2 by GForce Software
With this latest incarnation of an exalted emulation, GForce has dished out some great enhancements. Find out all about them in this review of impOSCar 2.
by Rob Mitchell, Sept. 2013
When the original impOSCar was released, the synth received many awards for its superb sound and features. It won the Future Music Platinum Award, Electronic Musician’s Best Software Emulation & Editor’s Choice Award, and the Computer Music Editor’s Choice & Performance Award.
It was modelled after the OSCar, a British-made hardware synth, of which only about 2000 were ever made. GForce added some useful features when they designed their emulation of that rare and classic synth, including polyphony and effects. Now in its latest incarnation, they’ve dished out some great enhancements to what is already an exalted emulation. I will go over some of these fine additions in more detail later on. For now, I’ll mention a few they’ve added: Ring modulation, Polyphonic Unison, an Effects version and multiple interface sizes.
For the Mac, impOSCar2 is a 32/64-bit instrument, available in a standalone version, AudioUnits, RTAS (Pro Tools 9 and 10) and as a VST plug-in. For the PC, it is available as a 32/64-bit instrument in standalone and VST plugin formats. There is no RTAS version for PC users.
Oscillators and Filters
While impOSCar2 is mainly a subtractive synth, it has an additive side to it as well. There are 2 oscillators with 13 waveform choices, and each oscillator has its own pulse-width control. You can’t load in your own waveforms, but there is an Additive User Wave section you can use (use W1 and W2 on the Edit mode selection control), enabling you to build your own. You can use the 24 harmonic controls to sculpt a wave. Then save and reload it for later use in your other presets. You can design the rest of your preset in the subtractive way with impOSCar2’s filters, envelopes, and effects.
In the filters section, you get two 12db filters, in either series or parallel modes. There are nine different modes available, and some of those included are a Low-Pass 24db, Band-Pass 24db, Low-Pass 2-Pole, and a Band Pass/High-Pass. Just like with the original impOSCar, the “Q” knob is for the resonance control, and the “Frequency” knob is your cutoff control. The “Separation” knob lets you control the two 12db filter’s cut-off individually.
LFOs and Aux Mod
When the first impOSCar was released, it had 1 LFO. The new version now has 2, and each has 12 different settings in their waveform controls. Also included are settings to balance between how much of LFO 1 is used and/or LFO 2. You can have one or the other, or a little of both. You get a total of 11 sync modes, including the MIDI Sync which has 5 different settings to choose from.
The Aux Mod is a bit like a Mod Matrix, where you pick different destinations that will be affected by the LFOs. Maybe I don’t want LFO1 to control pitch, and want it to change the filter separation, or the Q amount. You can do this, and much more. It took me a little while to get the hang of how it works, as I usually do that type of thing with a Mod Matrix. It does a great job though, and there are many variations possible with the myriad of controls.
Poly, Unison, and Ring Mod
You can select from six different polyphony settings, including Monophonic, Duophonic, 4, 8, 12, and 16-note modes. With the Pan and Spread controls, you can get an Oberheim type of panning on the notes played. They include five different modes to choose from. For instance, you can have it set so that with each note played, it randomly will be either left or right in the stereo spectrum. Another one of the modes makes it so the lowest notes played are on the far left of the stereo spectrum, middle C is right in the middle, and the notes will continue on towards to the right as you play higher notes. The Spread control adjusts how much the overall pan amount is from left to right.
With the new Unison modes, you can create some huge sounds in impOSCar2. It can be set to use up to an eight voice stack, and you can use the spread and detune control to really fatten the sound up even more. It can also be set to have different glide times for the different stacked unison voices. This can make some already excellent pads and leads soar to new heights. I loved the original impOSCar’s sound when I first got it two years ago, but the unison really adds a new dimension to the sound.
GForce has also added a Ring Modulator, which for me is a welcome addition. It can give the audio a sort of harmonic/bell type, almost “clangy” type of sound. It works with the Osc Mix control, and can set to either Off, Half or Full Ring Mod. When set to Full Ring Mod, and using the transpose control of Osc 2, you can get all kinds of alternate sounds to experiment with. It works really well, especially when combining it with the Aux Mod/LFOs, and other parts of ImpOSCar2.
Preset Browser and Documentation
The Preset browser has been vastly improved. It still lets you click on the name of the preset on the right side of the main screen, and it will show the other presets in the bank, like in the original impOSCar. If you click on the Browser button however, you will see a large screen containing the Banks, its Presets, and Program Change sections. You can just add the presets you want to a folder, give the folder a name, and then that bank shows up in the left hand column. It also includes a Program Change section where you can add up to 128 separate presets, or you can add a whole folder/bank in to it. You can then have your host sequencer send program change info, and it will automatically switch to the presets you want in that list.
The documentation for impOSCar2 may be the best I have ever seen. It’s very well laid-out, easy to read, and has great screenshots. I have the tendency to just jump in and check out a synth without reading the manual right away. If you do this with impoOSCar2, you may easily miss out on many of the handy tips provided. Plus, there are a good number of hidden functions you won’t find by just stumbling in to them.
One nice addition to the new version of impOSCar is the set of M1-M4 buttons, which are shortcuts to presets you may use more often than others. At some point during writing this review, I found myself looking for an initialize function, and couldn’t find it anywhere. So what I did was to basically just make my own sort of Initialized preset, save it, then assign it to M1. You can have up to 8 of these saved for later use. You could have a good basic square wave preset on one, PWM on another, etc. and use those for the basis of starting your new presets. It could be a bit like what I did with the Init preset, but using a few different types of sounds to start with.
That’s Not All…
There are tons of new improvements in impOSCar2, some of which I’ve already mentioned. I will briefly cover a few more here.
Normally I don’t judge a book by its cover, but one thing I really love about impOSCar2 is the resizable GUI. The original impOSCar had a decent size interface, but it was a bit small for my aging eyes, especially when used with a larger sized monitor. That is now a thing of the past. There are 3 sizes available, with widths of 840, 1024 and 1600 pixels. People with huge monitors will definitely appreciate that one.
For designing my own presets, I used the largest setting. Then I’d switch it back to the medium-sized one for much of the other time, which is usually when I am writing music. The smallest size would be great for smaller screens with a bit of a lower resolution, like a laptop for instance.
The new .sup file lets you change some of the synth’s default settings. There are some different ways you can set that up, so you can have it loaded up the way you like each time. As an example, you could set it to the large GUI, have the effects panel open, and set the way the knobs are controlled by the mouse. It is editable using a text editor.
The arpeggiator has been improved, and the chorus now has a total of 4 modes you can choose from.
A Chord memory function has been added. You just play any chord, hit the chord button, and it’s saved for you in memory. So when you play a single note, it will play that same chord, and it transposes the chord up or down wherever you are on the keyboard.
You can now use external audio with the impOSCar2FX version. It’s possible to have your audio run through its filters, change it up with the Aux Mod and LFOs, Ring Mod, envelopes and effects. GForce mentioned this was at the top of the list for improvements/requests in a new version.
Have some old presets or even whole banks that you made with the original impOSCar? No problem, the latest version has a Patch Conversion utility built-in.
There is a very useful controller section on the right side of the synth. This lets you map Mod Wheel, Aftertouch, Expression or Velocity to 7 different destinations: Drive, Filter Frequency, Filter Separation, Filter Q, Pitch Amount, Filter Amount, and Aux Amount. Using MIDI CCs, you can also fine tune how much of whatever is being affected.
impOSCar2’s price is a bit on the higher side at about $218. There is an upgrade path for those who have the original impOSCar, so you can get all the new features for about $93. Not a bad deal, especially when you think of all they’ve managed to pack into this powerhouse synth.
It ships with 1,000+ presets, a generous amount by any standard. 36 of those are some of the OSCar presets. They also include some of those in another bank, (called OSCar Bank Redux), and those are tweaked/beefed up a bit using some of imp2’s capabilities.
The CPU usage is not bad. I was a little surprised that it wasn’t pegging out the CPU meter on my older PC, especially on some huge sounding unison pads. Some of the presets did get a bit on the heavy side. Then again, I was testing it out on a 6 year old PC, and anything slightly more modern than my aging dinosaur should handle it well. Even though it’s not as taxing as some other synths, it sounds very good. Actually, I take that back…personally I think it sounds amazing.
A few things I’d like added would be a reverb, presets for the effects section (especially for the delay), and maybe a few more destinations for the Aux-Mod, such as frequency/cutoff. Then again, if too much was added to the original impOSCar, it might lose a bit of its charm…becoming a different synth altogether. I think they have succeeded in getting a balance between the original and the expectations of most modern synths.
Besides my few quibbles, GForce have really done an impeccable job. It’s very well rounded, and can forge nearly any type of sound. They have set a high standard with their latest version of this already highly praised synth. All in all, I am impressed. I wasn’t sure how it would measure up to the original impOSCar, being a tough act to follow. With its expanded sound, great new additions, plus the newly added 64-bit compatibility, GForce has done it again.