Review – Digital Synsations Vol. 2 by UVI
In this review we take a look at three hardware synths that UVI has brought into the modern world. Check out what these new instruments offer.
by Rob Mitchell, July 2017
UVI are the producers of a large number of sample-based products and effect plugins. The company has also made a huge splash with Falcon, a powerful mega-synth/sampler. UVI’s sample libraries make use of the UVI Workstation, which is a free and easy-to-use product. The libraries load in the Workstation with slick/intuitive interfaces, and they mainly lean towards mimicking many legendary analog and digital hardware synthesizers. They have also been updated with some modern features that are not found in the original hardware.
This time around, UVI has focused on three digital synthesizers from the 80s and 90s. All three are pictured above.
On the website, UVI doesn’t mention exactly what the original instruments are, but in their promotional video for the product, three synths are plainly visible. After some research, I found the names of the real synths they sampled from: JD800/JD990, Kawai K5000S, and the Ensoniq Fizmo. Here is the promo video you can check out:
Like its predecessor (Digital Synsations V1), this latest version has sampled material from separate hardware synthesizers, three of them to be exact. Actually, there are quite a lot of samples: 42 gigabytes of samples were reduced down to about 18 gigabytes using FLAC lossless encoding. Over 22,000 samples are included, and over 500 presets spanning the three instruments. The first synth is named DZMO, and UVI calls it a “Real-time Transwave” synth. Less than 2,000 hardware units were originally built, and so this is not one you’d see every day. Next up is the DK5S, which is labeled as “Advanced Additive Soundware”. The hardware synth used additive synthesis and combined that with PCM streams. Last but not least is DS-890, and is what they describe as “Digital Soundware”. They used parts from both the module version of this Japanese synthesizer, and the full keyboard synth for this sample set.
The first thing you need to do is download and install the free UVI Workstation. If you have Falcon already installed, you can load it in that instead. The Workstation will work with a 32-bit or 64-bit PC or Mac. For the PC, you’ll need Windows 7 or higher, and for the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 or higher. The supported formats include Audio Units, AAX, VST and Standalone. You’re allowed up to three activations per license, and an iLok account is required. It can be activated on the computer’s drive, or with an iLok dongle. For this review, I will be using the UVI Workstation to host the instruments.
After you’ve started UVI Workstation, you double-click in the field at the top of the display to select Digital Synsations 2. After that, you will see the three separate synths you can load. After you click on one of the synths, it will show the many categories that are available for it. Selecting a category reveals the presets within it. After you have a preset selected, that loads the main display. You can then navigate through them using the left/right arrows to either side of the preset name, or double-click the name to get back to the browser. I started out with the DK5S, checked out its controls in the display and listened to some presets. The categories for the presets for this one include Bass, Bells, Brass, FX-Weird, Keyboards, Leads, Organs, Pads, Pluck, Polysynth, Strings, Sweeps and Vocals.
I won’t go into the history behind the original hardware synthesizer from which this was sampled, but it is easy enough to look up that information online if you wish to do so. The interface is very easy to understand, with the amplitude and filter envelopes on the left side, and the stereo settings and bitcrusher effect settings toward the right. Along the top are some additional controls I will discuss shortly.
The amplitude envelope is a standard ADSR type, and on its left side is a button labeled “VEL>A”. When this is enabled, attach length will be proportional to how hard the key is struck. To the right of the envelope section is a control that lets you specify the amount of velocity sensitivity for the amplitude.
There are three filter types available: low pass, band pass and high pass. They each have an on/off button, and there are controls to adjust the filter’s ADSR envelope. Standard cutoff and resonance controls are also here, and you can change the velocity and envelope amount for the filter section. To the right of the filter settings is the Pitch section. It has controls to adjust the Time and Depth settings for the Glide/Portamento. “Time” is how fast it will glide to the next note that is played. The “Depth” setting only works when the synth is in Poly mode. What the Depth actually changes is whether it rises up to the pitch you play, or glides downward in pitch after you play the notes.
Now we get to the play modes, which include ALT (alternates between left and right channels) and UNI (layers sounds on top of one another). To adjust how far the sounds are spread apart, you use the “Spread” control. This only works in ALT mode. In much the same way, “Detune” only works with the UNI mode, and it detunes the stacked voices. We don’t know how many voices are actually layered together using UNI, but it sounds fine whatever that number is. The documentation states that this “Layers multiple samples and augments them for increased stereo presence”. Below the Stereo play mode controls is the Bitcrusher effect section, which is enabled with a power button. It allows you to add bit reduction, adjust the sample rate, and change the mix level. To the right is a Drive effect, which lets you add an overdriven effect to the sound.
At the top of the display there are some additional controls. These are for the effects, plus the modulation that’s tied to the modulation wheel: Vibrato, Tremolo, and the Filter. All three of the synths use Thorus (a chorus), Delay, and Sparkverb. For their controls, they just have a simple on/off button and slider to determine the amount for each. Since the other two synths are very similar in their controls and with what they have available, once you’ve learned how to use one, it’s basically the same for the other two.
It’s worth mentioning more about the effects. No matter what you load into the UVI Workstation, there are a large number of effects from which to choose. I won’t even get into what Falcon has, as that would require an entire article. Actually we covered Falcon in a few of our past issues. Anyway, let’s get back to those effects. In the upper right of the UVI Workstation is the FX button. Clicking on this will bring you to the effects section, which will give you an abundance of new possible audio variations. From there, you can get to many controls to adjust the effects that are on the main display. For instance, on the main display the reverb controls only include the on/off button and an amount slider. If you click on the FX button, however, you have access to Sparkverb’s Room Size, Shape, Density, Decay, Pre-Delay, Modulation, and many others.
The long list of effects hidden away include various reverbs (including gated and IR types), delays, filters, EQ, phaser, flanger, stereo and amplitude FX, distortions, compressor/expander, limiter, LP vinyl, ring modulator, and more. There is also an arpeggiator, which is under the icon in the upper right (with the notes graphic on it). The arp has many controls of its own, with up to 128 steps, several play modes, a “number of strikes” setting (how many times it plays a step), trigger modes, and several built-in presets. Besides the effects and arp, the UVI Workstation is multitimbral and has an unlimited number of parts available. In addition, you’re able to use an unlimited amount of effects on each of the individual parts.
UVI has done a great job with the presets in each of the three synths, showcasing the better sides of each hardware synth being represented. Digital Synsations 2 is very easy to load and get started with many awesome sounds in no time at all. As I mentioned, even if you don’t have Falcon, the free UVI Workstation has additional effects and an arpeggiator to give you more options for the presets. Having Falcon really kicks it up a notch though, as you can do nearly anything your mind can think of. You’re able to add various effects, LFOs, multistage envelopes, layers, set up key-groups, microtuning, and so much more.
I like the quick and easy access to the many unique sounds that these three hardware synths have. Hardware is awesome of course, but finding some of these rare treasures can sometimes be difficult, not to mention expensive. Having sampled versions of these classics makes it easy to bring them with you to gigs, saving you from lugging that delicate hardware around. I am glad that UVI came out with the second edition of Digital Synsations, and I hope they produce another sound set like this in the near future.
While I was writing this review, UVI had an intro price of $99 USD. That will go up to the full price of $149 USD when that offer has ended. UVI has been known to occasionally have sales and the $99 price tag (or something close to it) will probably be seen again. You might also be interested in the original version of Digital Synsations, which contains four different synths and retails for $149 USD. The original Digital Synsations has been available as a freebie (“buy something from us and we’ll throw in a free Digital Synsations”) on more than one occasion, so it’s no doubt already on a lot of DAWs out there for that reason alone. For more information about Digital Synsations Vol. 2 and to hear audio demos, go here: