Review – Matrix-12 V by Arturia
The Matrix 12 was a mammoth synthesizer with powerful features, sporting many filter types and modulation possibilities. Arturia’s latest software offering magnificently recreates it.
by Rob Mitchell, Sept 2016
The original hardware Matrix-12 was Oberheim’s 12-voice synthesizer which had two oscillators, a flexible modulation matrix, MIDI in/out, and 61 keys with velocity sensitivity and aftertouch. One of the main features of this synthesizer was that it could play up to twelve patches all at once or be used in a multitimbral mode, and it could produce a huge, warm sound. Oscillator sync, FM, tracking and ramp generators were included, and a good number of filter types as well. In some ways, it was similar to having two Oberheim Xpanders rolled in to one unit.
A few years ago, Arturia decided to emulate this classic, giving it an easy to use interface while adding some new features along the way. Fast forward to the present day, and we now have a new version of the Matrix-12 V with a resizable display, and an improved browser. I would guess that improving the displays may be the most requested feature for the Arturia V Collection of software synths, the reason being is that many of them were designed back in the day, and people just didn’t have the type of HD (or the new 4K) resolution monitors that we have today. It was tough to read parts of the screen as the font would seem too small, and some controls would appear tiny on the modern monitors we enjoy these days. I am happy to say that it is now a thing of the past, as Arturia have revamped their entire V Collection in this manner.
To install Matrix-12 V on a PC, you’ll need Windows 7 (or higher), four gigabytes of RAM, 2 GHz CPU, and an OpenGL 2.0 compatible GPU. To install on a Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.8 (or higher), four gigabytes of RAM, 2 GHz CPU, and an OpenGL 2.0 compatible GPU. It works in standalone, VST 2.4 (32-bit/64-bit), VST 3 (32-bit/64-bit), AAX (32-bit with PT 10.3.8, 64-bit with PT 11), Audio Unit (32-bit/64-bit), and NKS.
After you’ve installed it, you have to register the Matrix-12 V with a serial number and unlock code. You’ll also need the Arturia Software Center, which is simple to install and easy to use. The Software Center is what allows you to activate the Arturia plugins you have purchased. It also enables you to download demo versions of other Arturia products, and update any plugins you have already installed.
After that’s taken care of and Matrix-12 V is up and running, you’ll see the main display. At the top of the display is the toolbar. This is where you go to save or import/export presets and banks, resize the display (60% – 200%), use the new browser, and get to many more of the detailed settings. When you save your own preset, you can give it a name, put it in a certain category, give it attributes (such as Aggressive, Bright, Short, Complex), and give it a description to let the user know more detail about the preset and how it works. This might be used to tell them that (for instance) the modulation wheel is mapped to a certain part of the sound. They could also use it to describe the sound of the preset they’ve designed.
When you use the browser to load up a preset, you can filter the results by type (bass, keys, lead, etc.), bank, and/or characteristic. In the middle section of the browser window, you can switch the “Type” column so it will show the sound designer’s name. Other choices for that column are “Favorite” or “Bank Name”. “Playlists” can be used to create sets of presets you want to use for various reasons. You might want to use this feature for combining all the presets you may end up using for a set of songs in a live performance. A playlist could be for a certain song (and another playlist for another song, etc.) with all the presets needed for the different changes in the song, and in the order that you’d like.
In the upper-left section of the display are the two VCOs and their related controls. Each of them have controls for tuning (semitones), fine tuning, pulse width, waveform (pulse, saw, and triangle), and the second VCO also has noise as a selection. That might not seem like very many waveforms, but you can also use more than one at any one time, giving it more sound possibilities. Last but not least there is the VCO volume. VCO 2 can be synced to VCO1, and Matrix 12 V also includes a simple form of FM, using VCO 2 to modulate VCO1, or you can switch it so VCO 2 modulates the filter. In a nutshell, Filter FM in Matrix-12 V uses the VCO 2 Triangle waveform to turn the filter into an oscillator. This effect is best heard with a high Filter Resonance value, and you may want to try different filter types and filter frequencies to get a feel for what is happening.
Speaking of the filter, it has standard cutoff and resonance controls, and there are fifteen different filter types to choose from. The filter settings include choices of 1,2,3, or 4-pole Low pass, 1,2, or 3-pole High pass, 2 or 4-pole Band pass, and other combination filter types as well. They sound great, and I definitely like to have a nice variety of filter types to choose from in any synth. For myself, it is a “the more the merrier” situation, as they let you contour your sound in so many ways. After the filter section, the signal goes into two separate VCAs (VCA 1 and VCA 2). You’re probably wondering to yourself: why are there two of those? Just for an example, one can be used with an envelope generator, while the other can control the overall volume level in different ways. You can modulate VCA 1 (or VCA 2) using an LFO, velocity, pressure, or one of the other modulation sources.
Matrix 12 V has many sources for modulation with its five envelopes, three tracking generators, five LFOs, a Lag processor, and four Ramps available. Each of the five envelopes has four stages: delay, attack, decay, sustain, and then there’s amp, the envelope depth. A few extra controls for the envelope operations are accessed by clicking the “Page 2” button in the lower right of the display. The Tracking Generator will allow you to add evenly spaced amounts of variation to the signal over time. It will change (for instance) oscillator pitch in small or large pitch intervals over time, depending on how you adjust each of the six “Point” controls.
The LFOs have a good number of waveforms: triangle, square, up saw, down saw, random, noise, and sample-and-hold. If you set an LFO to S&H, an input control will appear, letting you select what the sample input source will be. To get that classic type of S&H sound heard on old prog-rock records, you should probably just use Random instead, as it has that sound you’re probably looking for. “Retrigger” lets you adjust where the LFO starts within the waveform cycle (they could have named this “Phase”), and “Amp” adjusts the amount that it will affect a modulation target. The LFOs work well, but I thought it was a little strange/confusing to have to click the “Page 2” button (just like with the envelopes) at the lower right just to be able to see the last two controls; “Lag” which rounds off the edges of whichever waveform that’s selected, and “Retrigger Mode”, letting you switch between Off (free running), Single, or Multiple modes.
The Lag processors can be used for various functions. One of the most common ways to use them is to set up portamento. The Lag’s basic role is to create a delay or “lag” between two different states. If it is used for pitch, then it can take a while to get from one pitch to the other, giving you that portamento/gliding sound. You could also use it to delay the LFO from starting its modulation.
The Ramp generators can be used in many ways with modulation targets. These give you a simple way to add a rise in value from zero to the maximum level for whichever target you choose. A lower level results in a faster attack for the signal, and a higher level will give you a slow attack for whatever the target modulation might be.
All of these types of modulation can be assigned in the “Modulation Page” section of the display. Basically, anything with a button right below it (for instance: VCO frequency, Pulse width, Filter frequency, etc,) can be set up with as many as six sources of modulation. After you click on one of those buttons, it will show up as a destination in the Modulation Page section. From there, you can assign your modulation source, and use a bipolar control to make any adjustments to it that you’d like. Another way to get to those settings is by clicking on the “MOD” button in the lower-right. Up to 40 mod slots are available there, and 20 of those are visible at any one time. One nice feature is the Quantize function, which will add a coarser/stepping quality to whichever modulation you have it enabled on. Instead of a smooth filter sweep for instance, it will have stepped/chunkier type of sound to it, giving it a different type of personality. You could use it with basically anything in the Modulation section (oscillator tuning for instance) and it is enabled by clicking the “Q” button.
The Voices Display
To get to this display, click “Voices” in the upper-left. This is where you can configure each of the twelve separate voices. When you play one note after another over a period of time, it will use one of those voices for each note you play. You can change many types of settings for those individual voices. The overall setting can be set to either “Single” or “Multi”. Each voice can be in one of six “Zones”. These can each be assigned to Omni or a separate MIDI channel. There are different modes you can use for each of the Zones, and they can be used to trigger the voices in various ways. In total there are six modes available, with three being polyphonic and the other three are monophonic. The “Rotate” mode is the normal way that it plays, with one note triggering a voice one after the other. I won’t describe every mode that it has, but here are two more for you: “Reset” will play the voices in order, but only when you play legato, i.e., when you hold down a key and then play another key while the first key is still engaged. Once the keys are released, and you play a new note, it will start from the first voice again. There are also the three monophonic modes I mentioned earlier, and in a nutshell, each of them work with low or high note priorities to determine if a new note will be played or not. Switching on “Voice stealing” will let you get around a voice limitation by “stealing” a note. For example, if a zone is set to use up to four voices, but you hit a fifth note, it will use the voice that the first note had used.
The Multi mode lets you play using splits, so you’re able to use two different presets at the same time. For instance, you might want to have a pad preset in the lower half of the keyboard and a lead preset for the upper. You can also use this for layering many sounds together (triggering four pad presets all with one key press) or to set things up for multitimbral operation.
For each voice, you can use Zones (as I mentioned before), but you can also use the Transpose and Detune controls to set the pitch for each voice. Using some melodic creativity, you could change each of the voice tunings so they will play a sequence of different notes. Rounding out these controls are Volume and Pan settings for the voices. The Pan setting has seven different settings to choose from which span from the far left on over to the far right.
Below the Zone settings on the right side, there are controls to change the Vibrato (VIB). This is basically another LFO, but with fewer options available. It only has a single-trigger setting, so there are no multiple or free running modes. Sample and Hold is not in the list of waveform choices, and the VIB section’s parameters cannot be used as targets for modulation.
I wanted to mention a couple other areas of the synth that didn’t fit into the other sections of this review. Arturia has included a Delay, Phaser, Analog Delay, Flanger, Analog Chorus, and Reverb. To get at their settings, click the “FX” button in the lower right, and it will replace the virtual keyboard with the effects section. You can add up to two effects on each preset. These all sound good and have a fair number of controls available, but I’d like the ability to load and save presets for each of the effects. Also, as far as I can tell, there is no way to modulate the effect parameters.
The other feature I wanted to briefly mention is the assignment of MIDI controls. Setting this up with your MIDI controller is easy, and Matrix-12 V even lets you import and export different configurations. To get started, you just click on the MIDI button in the upper-right, and all the controls are ready to be assigned, even those included with the effects. Each assigned control can have minimum/maximum values assigned, and these can be inverted as well. For example, you could set the minimum setting to its highest level, and the maximum to its lowest level. The manual suggests one ideal use for this functionality is for using the sliders on your controller as drawbars.
The Matrix-12 V really sounds great, and having many filter types really is one of its strong points. I do admit that it took me a while to get used to all of its controls, especially how everything works on the Voices page. On the other hand, once I had it all down pat, it rewarded me with some awesome sounds, including huge pads and blistering leads. One thing I have to mention is the CPU use on some of these presets is a bit on the high end, but if you have a modern PC with a decent CPU, you should be ready to roll. For example, when I tried out the demo version a couple years ago on my old PC that only had a dual core 2 GHz CPU, it didn’t fare at all well. With my new Intel i7 based PC, it works just fine.
I never owned an actual Matrix-12 myself, but I have heard many of them on recordings in the past. As I have mentioned in some other reviews, I am a 70s and 80s music guy, so many of the synth sounds back then were part of my synth-pop and prog-rock musical upbringing. In my opinion, Arturia has attained a very close emulation of the Oberheim synthesizer, which is not an easy task. Hats off to the programmers and preset designers for an impressive job on recreating such a powerful and game-changing synthesizer. I have to mention (yet again) that the new re-sizable display is a more than welcome feature for which many people have been waiting.
Matrix-12 V is available for $199 USD, and it is also part of the Arturia V Collection 5, which retails for $499 and includes sixteen other instruments. Every now and then Arturia is known to have sales, so you may find it for a better price if patient. You can get more information and download a demo version from their website here: