Review – Spire by Reveal Sound

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Reveal Sound’s Spire is a powerful synth plugin, one that is especially well-known among the EDM crowd, and one that easily stands up to the competition.

 

by Rob Mitchell, Sept. 2017

 

In past issues, I have reviewed some very popular synth plugins including Sylenth1 and Dune 2. Another plugin which made its debut a while back is also highly acclaimed, and is especially well-known among the EDM crowd. That plugin is named Spire. In this review I’ll cover most its features and give you a better idea of how it all operates. Some people feel that these three synths have a sound comparable to the “Virus sound”.  I won’t get into that huge debate, discussions of which are found on many of the software instrument forums. However, even if it did (or didn’t) sound like a Virus, I will just say that this is one of the best synth plugins I’ve heard. Now let’s get started with the review.

Spire is a polyphonic synthesizer that’s available for PC/Mac in 32/64 bit formats, has 800+ presets, and boasts four oscillators with multiple modes (Classic, Noise, FM or Hard FM, AMSync, and SawPWM). It can use up to nine times unison for each oscillator, and there are several modes from which to choose. Two multi-mode filters with several types are on board, as well as several envelopes and LFOs for your sound design. I am just getting started, as there is much more to this powerful synth.

 

Getting Started

Installation of Spire is easy and just uses a license file for authorization. The 64-bit version is recommended, but a 32-bit version is also available. The exact requirements for Spire aren’t published, but a modern/powerful CPU is recommended. For the PC you’ll need Windows 7 or higher operating system, and for the Mac you’ll need OS X 10.8 or higher. VST, AU, and AAX formats are supported.

Once you’ve loaded Spire in your DAW, you will see its main display. The four oscillators are over on the left side, and you can switch between them by using the four buttons at the top. Their levels can easily be adjusted and muted using the controls at the top of the display. The handy Copy/Paste buttons let you duplicate settings from one oscillator to another. Each of the oscillators can be set to one of the included modes: Classic, Noise, FM or Hard FM, AMSync, and SawPWM. To the left and right of the waveform display are the controls labeled CtrlA and CtrlB. What these two controls change depends on what oscillator type is chosen.

 

Oscillator Modes and Filters

The “Classic” mode lets you choose between a saw or square wave with the CtrlA knob, or you can dial in a blend of the two. To adjust the pulse width, you can change that with the CtrlB knob. Standard tuning controls are also here (Octave, Note and Fine). The last oscillator controls are for setting the Phase and for selecting an additional waveform. This secondary waveform (49 of them are available) has a wet/dry control to mix its level with the main waveform. The Phase can be set to start where you’d like by setting the control between 30 and 1000.  If you un-select the ANA button towards the middle of the display, it will randomize the start position.

The Noise mode is a noise generator that has a choice of high or low pass filtering. If you want to adjust the actual cutoff frequency (with CtrlA), you have to turn off the Key tracking feature. When Key is enabled the keyboard controls the cutoff amount (filter open up as you play higher notes). Resonance can also be adjusted by using the CtrlB knob.

The FM mode uses phase modulation. You’re able to select any of the 49 waveforms and then modulate it with a sine wave. The frequency and amount settings can then be adjusted with the CtrlA/CtrlB controls. AMSync is just that, using amplitude modulation along with oscillator sync. For this mode, CtrlA blends between the saw and square waveforms, and CtrlB adjusts the frequency for the modulation.

SawPWM is also pretty easy to understand, as it is just pulse width modulation on a saw waveform. In this mode, CtrlA switches between four different types of saw waveform. What you get is basically a regular saw waveform for the first type, and then the other three types are just the original waveform divided up into two, three or four parts. The pulse width control affects each of those divided parts equally.

The last one we have to consider is the HardFM mode. It is similar the regular FM mode but it can produce more overtones, and CtrlB changes the frequency in stepped increments. In this mode, the wave mix function blends from the current wave into the next one in the list of waveforms.

Each of the four oscillators can use up to a nine-voice unison, and they have their own Detune, Density, and Wide (stereo field width) controls. Another great feature is the unison mode setting. This lets you take those unison voices and automatically use a one, two or three-octave unison, minor 3rd, perfect 5th or maybe you’d like to use the major 9th setting. In total there are eighteen different unison modes such as these to choose from, and that is per oscillator.

There are two filters available in Spire which can be configured in a parallel or serial fashion. Either of the filters can be set to one of five different filter modes: Perfecto, Acido, Infecto, Scorpio, and Combo. Each of those modes has different types to select from. The usual suspects are here, such as low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, notch, etc. The Acido is similar to the TB-303 sound, Infecto is a simulation of the Virus TI, and the Combo filter mode is much like a comb filter, hence the naming conventions. The balance between the filters can be adjusted, and the two filters can be linked. I found myself using the Perfecto and Combo filter much of the time. In my opinion, all of the filters sound great. Turning up the resonance to around the 2 o’clock position with the Combo setting and sweeping the filter can yield some interesting sounds.

 

Envelopes and LFOs


The four envelopes in Spire are identical, and have standard ADSR controls with a couple extra settings thrown in as well. Normally an ADSR envelope has Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release. With Spire’s envelopes you also get Slope Time (the time to go from the Sustain setting to the Slope Level) and Slope Level.

The stages can also be set to different curve settings such as Power, Linear, Exponential, etc.  The first envelope is normally the amplitude control for all of the oscillators, but there is way to assign a different envelope to one of the oscillators if needed. One caveat, even though it shows the curve changes when you click on a stage, the envelope levels themselves don’t change when you move the envelope’s sliders.

The four LFOs are identical as well, and have controls for the rate, syncing to the host, adjusting the phase and amplitude, setting to mono or poly mode, fade-in amount and more. The LFOs are divided into two pairs on the main display, and you’re able to switch between them using buttons along the bottom. 52 shapes are available and you can warp them into new shapes using the slider control.

To the right of each section for the envelopes and LFOs are settings to configure targets for modulation. Two targets can be used for each of the LFOs and envelopes. Each target has an amount and velocity setting that you can adjust as well. The targets for modulation include nearly anything you can imagine.  I am a big fan of modulating the effects, and this is (I am glad to report) entirely possible with Spire.

Tucked away in this section are two step sequencers and an arpeggiator. The sequencers can use customized waveforms for every step, plus the sections of the sequence can be looped and synced to the host. A handy feature available in the sequencer allows you to multiply the waveform within a step, so you can have it play up to four times per step. The arpeggiator has the usual types of modes (up, down, up/down chord, random, etc.), gate length, time, swing, and octave settings. In addition, several velocity modes can be selected. Both the step sequencer and arpeggiator can be assigned to many different types of targets using the Modulation Matrix.

 

Modulation Matrix and Effects


To assign modulation, you click on the Matrix button at the bottom of the display. The modulation matrix is split up over five pages with three slots available on each page. You can use two sources on every slot, and each slot can have up to four targets for modulation. Sliders let you adjust the amount of modulation for each target. The four Mod knobs on the left side can be assigned to what you’d like in the mod matrix, and can also be targets for modulation themselves. To get right down to it, nearly anything can be modulated in Spire. It has a wealth of design possibilities just waiting to be discovered.

The five effects in Spire include a Shaper, Phaser/Vowel, Chorus/Flanger, Delay and Reverb. The Shaper has eleven different modes to choose from giving you a wide range of overdriven/distorted sounds for your presets. When I tried out the Phaser/Vowel effect, the first thing I did was to put an LFO on the Phaser’s frequency control and adjust the rate to give it some movement to the sound. I also used the mod matrix to assign the mod wheel control to the Filter balance. Anyway, back to those effects. I switched off the Shaper and Phaser, and then tried out the Chorus/Vowel effect, which sounds very good. I just added a little of the Delay effect and it sounded just fine with only a bit of tweaking involved. The reverb sounds like it should (or at least, what I like anyway) and includes a fine selection of controls. Its pre-delay setting can be synced to the host tempo. A compressor and an EQ section give the finishing touches to your sounds.

 

 

 

Conclusion

A few other goodies within Spire are the microtuning, multiple display sizes, extra skins, and MIDI learn. You can also check for updates if your computer is connected to the internet. It is easy to create your own presets since you’re not struggling to figure out what’s going on, and almost everything is on one screen. Although the manual is good, I didn’t have to refer back to it very often when I was making my own presets. One of the only things I think that needs improvement in Spire is the browser. You have many great presets, but the banks are just named Factory1, Factory2, etc. When you load a bank, the presets themselves are in a simple display with no categorization except by their name: The first part of each preset denotes the type: BA is a bass preset, LD is a lead, and so on. Anyway, it isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but it could use categories and other ways to organize the presets.

The sounds Spire can create are awesome, the presets are very good, the oscillators and filters give you a wide range of tonal colors with which to work, and (in my opinion) the effects are some of the best I’ve heard within a synth plugin.  Spire is available for $189 USD. It has been on sale in the past, and earlier this year it was available for 30% off. You can get additional information and a demo version here:

http://www.reveal-sound.com

 

 

 

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