Review – Oxium 1.5 by XILS-lab
XILS-lab’s performance-oriented synthesizer Oxium is both easy to use and at the same time powerful, boasting zero delay filters and some unique modulation features.
by Rob Mitchell, May 2017
The software plugins produced by XILS-lab are no strangers to SoundBytes Magazine. In the past, we’ve reviewed PolyKB III, Syn’X 2, and XILS 5000. For this issue, I thought we should take a look at their performance-oriented synthesizer named Oxium. It leans towards being a “performance” type of synth as it has a straightforward interface that is very easy to use. Oxium has two analog modeled oscillators, zero delay feedback multi-mode filters, a Unison mode that can deliver up to six voices, Le Masque (a sequencer-modulator), eight play modes, an arpeggiator, and more.
Installation of Oxium is a simple process – it just uses a serial number for its copy protection. It is available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions for PC (XP or higher OS) and Mac (OS X 10.5 or higher). For the PC, you have the choices of VST, RTAS, and AAX formats. For the Mac you can choose from VST, AU, RTAS, and AAX formats. There is no standalone version available.
When I started Oxium for the first time, I wanted to hear some of the included presets. Along the top of the display is the toolbar, which lets you (among other things) load and save presets or banks. If you click on the button at the far left, you can sort the presets by Bank, Author, Type, Project, Style, Feeling, or All. If you select “Author” (for instance), the next column over is where you can select which author you’d like. In the drop-down menus, you can see the presets designed by that author. Once you’ve selected a preset, the next column over to the right shows which style it is, and the preset names will appear in the last column. The A/B buttons allow you to work on a preset and hear how the original is for comparison. The “Options” menu is where you can change the skin of the display, or change the how the display behaves. This can include allowing certain pop-ups to appear when settings are changed, or to display numeric values when you hover over a control. Also, you can get to the MIDI settings from that same menu. There is no way to change the display dimensions, but it is a good middle-of-the road size of approximately 1000 by 700. However, it would be nice if additional size options could be added in a future version.
Oscillators and Filters
Oxium’s two oscillators can be found on the left side of the UI, and they each include four wave forms: Saw, Triangle, Pulse, and Square. You aren’t limited to just one wave form for each oscillator; you can select more than one of them at once. The octave tuning can be changed using the buttons which are positioned in a circular fashion. The middle control is for adjusting the tuning in semitones, and using the shift key will allow you to change the fine tuning with that same control. Ring modulation is available between the two oscillators, as well as Sync.
The pulse width controls below each oscillator will work with any wave form you select. The width is adjusted with the knob in the middle (or click/dragging the inner ring), and the amount of it is controlled by using the external ring. Next to each of the pulse width controls there is a button to select which of the three LFOs you’d like to use for modulation. The Drift control that is found between the two oscillators introduces a level of instability in the tuning, and simulates a characteristic of vintage hardware synthesizers. Beneath the Drift control are the settings for the Glide/Portamento. You can switch this function on for either (or both) of the oscillators, and adjustments can made to the rate and amount. Below those controls are the Stereo pan, Spread (spread the voices from left to right), Detune (detune between voices when using Unison), and Modulation Spread which is a chaotic/quirky effect that added a bit of unpredictable behavior , depending on how the modulation matrix is setup. The manual doesn’t explain how that really works, but using this setting can add some variables to the presets you’re designing. When I tried it, I basically stumbled along with a trial-and-error type of process. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to hear what it can do with the sound that’s being created.
Below all those oscillator controls is the Mixer area. There are three sliders that let you adjust the levels for the first and second oscillator, as well as a Noise Oscillator. The Noise can be switched from white to pink noise. These all feed into the main filter. The secondary mixer (over to the right) is for the adjusting the levels that go to the auxiliary filter. The filters can be set up in parallel or serial mode, and the slider between the mixers changes the amount of one filter feeding into the other (in serial mode). If the slider is set to zero, then it will use parallel mode.
The main filter is a multi-mode zero delay feedback design, and has settings of low pass 12dB and 24dB/octave, band pass 6dB and 12dB/octave, and high pass 12dB/octave. Cutoff and resonance controls are here, as well as keyboard follow and filter envelope amount controls. The Drive control lets you dial in an amount of saturation pre- or post-filter. The secondary filter has settings of 12db/octave low pass, 12db/octave high pass, 6dB/octave band pass, and a Formant filter. All of these controls work well together and give you many options for sound design.
LFOs and Envelopes
Oxium’s three LFOs are along the right side of the display. Their wave forms are selected by clicking on separate buttons. Just like with the oscillators, you can select more than wave form if you’d like. The Rate control is in the middle, and each LFO can be synced to the host using the MIDI Sync button over to the right. Other controls are for Mono or Poly mode, Retrigger to reset the LFO, as well as Fade-In and Delay settings.
There are three DADSR (delay/attack/decay/sustain/release) envelope generators. One is for Amplitude, another is assigned to the Filter, and the Auxiliary envelope can be assigned to a target in the modulation matrix. Actually, the Amp and Filter envelopes can be assigned to other targets in the same way. The Delay stage can be optionally synced to the host timing. A Loop function is also available for the Filter and Auxiliary envelopes.
To get to the modulation section of Oxium, you just click on the Modulation button at the top of the display. Towards the middle of the screen is the Musical Gestures section. The first three controls for modulation are hardwired to Tremolo, Autowah (a filter effect), and Vibrato. The rate and amount can be adjusted from here using the same circular controls, just like in other parts of the synth. The amount is controlled with the outer ring, and the rate is controlled by the inner ring (or turning the knob in the middle). The LFOs are used as sources for these three destinations, and they can each be assigned using the buttons along the top.
Other settings (below the Tremolo, Autowah, and Vibrato) let you assign destinations for modulation to Pitch Bend +, Pitch Bend -, and there are two slots available for the modulation wheel, velocity, and expression.
Oxium’s modulation matrix has six source and six destination slots. The bipolar controls let you dial in the amounts you’d like for the modulation you’ve configured. Some of the sources include the envelopes, LFOs, oscillators, noise, velocity, and pressure. Here are some examples of the destinations for modulation that you can choose from: oscillator frequency/pulse width/osc levels, filter settings (frequency/resonance/drive), mix levels, LFO settings, and one of my favorites: the effects. Also, if you are lucky enough to have a keyboard with polyphonic aftertouch, Oxium is capable of receiving it. These are all welcome features, and make for some powerful combinations for modulation.
One of the best features in Oxium is the “Le Masque”. It lets you add “masks” to a sequence, and modulation will only take place within those masks. The original design for this came from a separate delay plugin that XILS-lab designed called “Le Masque: Delay”. To get started with it, you click the “Grid” button at the top. A mask can added with a left-click, and a right-click will remove it. Clicking and dragging to the right will make a new mask which widens as you drag across with the mouse, or you can lengthen one you added previously. You can also adjust the Attack and Release settings for MsqEnv1 and MsqEnv2 using the controls down below the grid.
Once you add a new mask, there are two different colored lines that appear in it. They can be moved up or down, and depending what you assign them to in the modulation matrix (using the sources of MsqFix1 and MsqFix2) they can affect the sound in different ways. For instance, one could be assigned to oscillator tuning, and the other could be for the filter cutoff. In addition to all this, the Env2 and Env3 buttons let you enable a mode where either (or both) of those two envelopes will re-trigger for each time a mask starts. You can load pre-made Le Masque presets, or create an INIT preset and go from there. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought it would keep the modulation assignments I had made (along with the masks I created), but it just saves the mask part of it. It would be nice to have an additional option to save what is in the modulation matrix also, and not just the mask part of it.
Arpeggiator and Effects
The arpeggiator included in Oxium is very easy to use, and it has modes that include Up, Down, and Poly. “Poly” lets you input a sequence of notes that will play back when you play a note on your keyboard. Clicking the “Info” button at the lower-right gets you to the display which shows information about the current preset, and it has a few extra settings for the Poly mode. From there, you can add up to 32 notes to play back by entering a sequence of numbers. Gate and Swing settings are also included, and the arpeggiator can be synced to the host.
There are four effects in Oxium, and you can get to them by clicking the “FX” button in the lower-right. They include a Chorus, Phaser, Delay, and an Equalizer. Each of them gets the job done, and they can easily be switched on or off individually. Even though four effects seems like a good amount, I’d like to request a reverb (yes, I’m greedy) and the ability to put them in the order I’d like.
Before I finish this review, one feature that I wanted to remember to mention is Oxium’s large number of playing modes. Some of these include Poly Circular 1 (voices are in order 1, 2, 3, etc.) and Poly Circular 2 (voices are in order, but not quite a circular pattern), Poly Random (voices are in random order), Mono (low, high, or last priority), and Mono Legato.
It took me a while to get used to the bright orange skin that Oxium has. However, there are other skins available to change its appearance whenever you’d like. You can choose from the skins named Rust, Orange, and Ice. There is also an alternate set of knobs, giving it yet another look. Though I do like having optional skins/knobs to load, it would be even better if they added other display sizes.
Oxium has just enough packed in so you can easily get lots of alternate sounds out of it, but at the same time, it isn’t too complex. I was able to put together some of my own presets in very little time. If you aren’t into creating your own, there are more than 300 presets included. The overall sound is great, and the filters sound very good indeed.
Oxium retails for €99 EUR which works out to about $105 USD.
You can read up about Oxium and download a demo version from their website here: https://www.xils-lab.com/pages/Oxium.html