Review: – Substance by Output
The low end can be something more than just that which follows the main harmonies of the song. Output Substance offers a great collection of bass sounds that are everything except being just another collection of bass sounds.
by Alex Arsov, Nov. 2016
Output: it’s everything but normal. It is supposed to be a bass instrument, but actually it is much more than that. No matter that the basis for every preset is a layered combination of some normal sounding, even real bass instruments, the end result doesn’t sound like any known bass instrument. All effects, filters and modulators, along with the arpeggiator make this instrument quite unique, offering you a bass instrument that can serve more for playing the main role in your track than playing a background role that just fills the low end.
Thankfully, it also doesn’t sound like a synthesizer, combining all those real instruments with some old analog synthesizers. Instead it brings the best from both worlds, adding an extra dimension to the bass. Is that good or bad? Well, it is different, and at least in my case, very inspirational. Fresh and unique.
Substance is based on sampled electric and acoustic basses, some huge polysynths and old analog synthsizers along with full live brass sections. As Output clearly announced, the goal is not to emulate real instruments but to add some unique element by combining all those sources and spicing them up with plenty of different effects. Actually, it makes for a classic Output crazy hodgepodge. Odd and tasty.
Substance is a Kontakt player based instrument with one single patch that loads the main engine. The whole graphical interface is very intuitive and no matter that there is a really large number of details, choices and controllers, it is actually quite simple to manage the whole instrument. At the top is a menu where we can switch between different windows. Everything is structured, divided into three parts. We have three different layers, bass engines that we mix into one sound, and every engine has the same or at least a similar set of controllers that are represented in thirds throughout the windows inside the menu. In the default Main window we get a big circle divided into equal thirds with three different engines containing three different sounds sources. Here we can disable any engine, changing volume or even changing the sound source for the engine. At the edges we get Macro sliders where we can change different parameters just with a slider.
Substance brings around 300 different presets, all of which are really well programmed, great sounding. Truth be told, I didn’t mess too much with all the editing menus, as all essential things could be managed mainly through this basic main window. I went through the manual and through the other menus just for the purpose of this review, to see how easy or hard is to change anything or even build the whole preset from scratch. As is the case with all other Output instruments, it proves that it is quite easy to do that. I’m a preset lover, having a hard time with programming some synths, but Output instruments are quite straightforward. As soon as you choose the source everything else is just another layer up, and up, and up… without coming to the end. It’s a funny thing that the instruments that are easiest to program are usually those that you usually don’t need to, as they are already good as they are.
The edit menu comes with another level of controllers, where you can go a bit deeper, setting legato or monophonic modes, taming ADSR, tuning, pan, amplifier, volume and sample start. The whole Edit page is graphically designed in a such way that playing with these parameters is pure joy. Everything is obvious and well-arranged. At the bottom of the Edit page we can find an Advanced button that takes us to another sub window where we can set velocity for every layer, glide time and glide behavior, along with a key-range for every level.
EQ and Filter Page
On the EQ page you can set a three-band equalizer with the controllers you need globally or even for every layer individually. On the Filter page you can also set a few general things globally and quite a bit more for every band. There you can set different filter types per band along with setting Cutoff and Resonance per bend, ADSR and even Cutoff velocity where a higher velocity will increase the Cutoff frequency. We can choose between ten different filter types where the last two are Formant, the one that mimics human voices, and Phaser.
This is one of the most graphically interesting pages with six squares per band, one square for one effect, ranked in three rows for every band. Pressing the square will open a new window with more settings for that effect. Those effects are: Distortion, Motion, Compressor, Delay, Pitch and Reverb. All are familiar ones except the so-called Motion, but in fact it combines three different well-known effects: Phaser, Flanger and Chorus. Compressor, Delay, Reverb and Distortion can also be set globally through the squares in the bottom row. Of course, the distortion is actually a pedal modeled guitar distortion spiced up with a guitar amplifier, and the reverb is a convolution based one, so everything still preserves this real instrument feeling that gives Substance such a special character, being weird sounding, but still having this recognizable real instrument origin.
A field where Output feels at home. They have an arpeggiator in all of their products, so you can imagine that they like to elaborate on this topic. I like their arp section as, at least for me, it is so easy to find the right pattern, with their simple to use but still very complex arpeggiators. Parameters that can be modulated are volume, filter cutoff, filter resonance and distortion. Setting any level, positive or negative, for all those controllers is dead simple. We have a number of colored boxes and by clicking in any block, dragging up or down we change the amount for that controller. I felt like I was in kindergarten doing this. It is fun, simple and clear. You always know what are you doing and the end results can be quite amusing.
At the bottom is a modulation editor where we can fine tune modulation parameters, like setting the LFO shape or even drawing it. Then we can set the rate and swing in the Rhythm section and in the so-called Flux editor, the one we get by pressing the Flux switch on right. We can go totally bonkers with steps for the second step sequencer which control the global modulation rate, choosing patterns or even drawing our own, selecting how many steps we should use.
At the top right we see a small symbol for arpeggiator, that leads us to arpeggiator pattern heaven. This is not much different from other Output instruments, being very flexible with plenty of graphically presented pre-made patterns and with one big pattern editor at the bottom if you are not happy with those that are already present. There are various additional parameters that you can tweak, like setting the octaves, gate values, swing percentage and a few other things.
Sum Of Parts
Actually, all those menus and controllers would be nothing if the basic sound didn’t satisfy. I like the sound of Substance, found that it has a very versatile set of presets and only here and there I might change some parameter, like decreasing the delay or amount of reverb if there are many instruments in the arrangement. Otherwise, I’m perfectly happy with what I’ve got in my pocket. No, it is not a collection of various basic basses – for that purpose you should look elsewhere – but it is definitely a collection of basses that are totally unique, mean and wild, but still highly usable. The main problem with some other mean and odd bass sources is that they can sound big and dangerous but in many cases are not playable. The best thing about Substance is that most of those strange sounding basses are very playable, allowing you to play various bass lines, adding a totally new character with a previously unheard color, and not just banging a note here and there as is the case with some other odd bass collections. Some presets remind me of a sound that my bass player friend presented me with when he got his new bass multi-effect. He was so proud that his bass guitar could squeal like a pig, preserving this metal string addition at the same time. The same goes for Substance. It squeals like a bass guitar.
I picked one preset, connected my YouRock MIDI controller and five minutes later I had a solid base for a new Trap song. Here is the end result. Substance bass with additional drums and one other virtual synth playing chords. What else do you need?
You can find more info on Output’s page: http://output.com/products/substance/
$199 USD, quite a fair price for such an unusual beast. All you need is 4 GB of free space and the free Kontakt Player. The rest is up to you and your imagination.