Review – UVX80 from UVI

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It’s yet another classic synth recreation.  Hmmm, it must be that UVI is at it again.  This time it’s a rare Japanese 8-voice analog instrument.

 

by David Baer, Sept. 2017

 

UVI seems to be on a tear this last year releasing classic synth recreations.  We’ve reviewed one of them in each of the last three issues of the publication, and here is yet another.  This time it is the AX80 made by AKAI (although UVI does not explicitly name the synth for trademark infringement reasons or some other Japanese legal silliness).  The AX80 is an 8-voice analog instrument introduced in the mid-1980s – more on the original instrument in a moment.

If you are familiar with UVI classic synths, you’ll not be surprised at anything about the implementation details of this virtual recreation.  The sound is sample-based but takes advantage of on-board filters, modulators and FX.  Programming your own sounds is simple and effortless, with little need to even refer to the entirely adequate 12-page manual.

Let’s get the essentials out of the way.  UVX80 runs in the free UVI Workstation but can also run in UVI’s Falcon hybrid synth.  In the latter case, the wealth of programming possibilities of Falcon can be brought into play that can considerably increase the value of this instrument assuming you know Falcon well (my own testing was exclusively using Falcon).  PC and Mac are both supported as is both 32-bit and 64-bit operation (64-bit only when using Falcon).  It works with all major DAWs and has a standalone option as well.  Authorization is via iLok account (either software or dongle) and you get a generous three concurrent activations per license.  List price is $79 USD, but significant sales are not uncommon.

 

The Original Instrument

 

The AX80 was a marvel for its time although it never became a commercial success.  As a result, working units are hard to come by today and UVI is fortunate to have found a unit that could be refurbished to a pristine condition.

The AX80, although billed as an analog synth, is actually a hybrid digital/analog creation.  The filter is analog, as is part of the oscillator.  The oscillator produces two waveforms: sawtooth and variable-width pulse.  The sawtooth is produced with analog circuitry while the pulse with digital.  As can be seen from the instrument image at the top, the front panel has a decidedly digital appearance.

In addition to the sawtooth and pulse waves, oscillator 1 has a sub-oscillator: a square wave one octave down.  Oscillator 2 has just the sawtooth and pulse, but it can be optionally synced to oscillator 1 (the waveform restarts when that oscillator 1 does, irrespective of the pitch of oscillator 2).  Alternately, the two oscillators can cross-modulate each other.  Oscillator 1 pitch can be set between one octave down and one octave up.  Oscillator 2 pitch goes down one and up two octaves.  There is no noise source.

Those curious about the details, the original manual can be obtained here:

http://www.vintagesynth.com/sites/default/files/2017-05/Akai_AX80_Owners_Manual.pdf

Here is a bit of it that documenting oscillator 1, just to give you a flavour of what the original sound designers had to guide them.

 

The LP filter is 24-dB-per-octave, resonant, envelope-modulated and has key-tracking available – the cutoff can be fixed, or move in relation to the key pitch, or anything in between.  There is also a simpler HP filter on board. 

Four LFOs are dedicated to specific targets: pulse-width, pitch osc. 1, pitch osc. 2 and filter cutoff.

There is on-board memory to hold 24 presets.  There is also a primitive (but not by the standards of the time) mechanism for using cassette tapes to store presets.

The AX80 is MIDI-enabled (in, out, thru).  However, presets cannot be transferred via MIDI sys-ex.  For that, it’s cassette tape or nothing.

 

The UVX80 Recreation

 

UVI seems to have settled on a template for classic synth recreations, one that’s been used for the several of the most recent classic synth recreations.  Well, why tamper with a successful design?  This concept served well the UVS-3200 and PX-Apollo instruments.

What we have are two independent layers that have their own sound source, filtering, pitch (etc.) controls and arpeggiator.  A common FX section is shared by the two layers.

The sound source of each layer is not to be confused with the two oscillators on the original instrument.  Each of these plays one of a selection of fully realized AX80 presets.  The upper layer sound is selected with one of the 24 buttons that mimic the user panel of the original.  The lower layer has many more sounds available, selectable via a drop-down list.

The upper panel sounds have adequately descriptive names.  This list is shown below.

 

Lower panel are 111 in number and organized into ten categories:

  • Bass – 12
  • Bells – 5
  • Brass – 11
  • Keyboards – 8
  • Leads – 9
  • Miscellaneous – 3
  • Organs – 8
  • Pads – 17
  • Polysynth – 13
  • Waveforms – 18
  • Weird – 7

Apart from the available sounds, the two layers are otherwise identical.  They have individual volume, pan, filter, envelope, LFO modulation, and so on.  Envelopes for amp and filter cutoff are of the standard ADSR variety.  The attack of the amp envelope can be modulated by note velocity, and can note volume.  For reasons I cannot fathom, when volume velocity-sensitivity is turned off, the indicator is “lit”, which seems like a bug but according to UVI was an intentional choice.  Well, no big deal.

There is a choice of three filter types: low-pass, high-pass and band-pass, all of which are of the resonant 24 dB/octave variety.  The filter does not model the original but is the UVI XPander LP4 filter in Workstation and Falcon.  The resonance is tasteful and restrained, useful but not overly in-your-face.  Filter cutoff can be influenced by note velocity.

 

The Edit page is the other location for principal layer controls.  Pitch, portamento and poly/mono mode are set on this page.  There is also a stereo selection: mono, alternating L/R playback and unison, for which detune and stereo spread can be set.  For this, the Color control allows the introduction of tonal variations between the unison layers via selection of different samples – the manual doesn’t go into any more detail on this topic, but the feature does enrich the sound in a pleasant way.

 

On the Mod page we have a single (not one per layer) step modulator that can affect the volume and filter cutoff.  We also have a single LFO, fairly basic but serviceable, that can modulate volume (tremolo), pitch (vibrato) and filter cutoff.  There’s only one LFO but the effect on the modulation targets can be set independently per layer.  And of course, the LFO rate can be synced to host tempo.

 

The arpeggiator page is where the two (one per layer) arpeggiators are programmed.  Like other UVI classic synth recreations, the lovely per-layer-arpeggiation opens some delightful possibilities, as several of the factory presets demonstrate.  The step editor is for note velocity, not pitch.  Speed is 1/32 to 1/1 (always synced to host) and Gate denotes the length of each arpeggiated note.

The FX page should be pretty obvious as to function.  The effects are applied in left-to-right order and may be individually enabled/disabled.  This is all pretty basic fare but each effect module is backed by great-sounding processing.  The reverb, for example, is the superb Sparkverb that is available as an autonomous plug-in (for $149 USD), although you naturally have many fewer parameters under your control for the imbedded UVX80 version.

 

The Rest

Backing the sound production are 6,771 samples that would expand to just under 4 GB uncompressed (but require just over 2 GB of disk space). 

There are 250 presets (although programming your own presets is a breeze given the straightforward architecture of the UVX80).  The presets are organized into the following categories (followed by the number in the category):

  • Animated – 29
  • Bass – 19
  • Bells – 24
  • Brass – 15
  • Internal (the upper-layer-only sounds) – 24
  • Keyboards – 22
  • Leads – 20
  • Miscellaneous – 15
  • Organs – 5
  • Pads – 26
  • Polysynth – 22
  • Stepped – 15
  • Sweeps – 10

 

A few things are missing.  Aftertouch modulation is not available.  Note-number modulation is likewise not there, and this is particularly missed in the absence of filter key-tracking.  Filter key tracking would be at the top of my wish list for additional features.

 

Is UVX80 for You?

So how does it sound?  If you already know UVI’s line of classic synth recreations, you won’t even need to ask.  It sounds delightful.  It’s a basic instrument in terms of programming options (which might be considered a feature by many musicians) but it doesn’t skimp in the slightest on rich, analog, vintage goodness.  To hear for yourself, go to the URL at the end of this article and listen to some demo tracks.

UVX80 is priced at $79 USD but sales are common, and at this particular price point, the sale price of $49 is not unusual.  At list price, UVX80 is a reasonable value; at the sale price it’s an extremely good value.

In the last few issues I’ve reviewed two other UVI classic synth recreations.  I’d be hard-pressed to recommend one over the other.  Basically, they are all delights.  If you are just getting started acquiring the UVI vintage instruments, you could grab the UVX80 or the UVS-3200 or the PX Apollo and I think you’d be equally happy.  But be careful.  If you buy one of them, you may very well feel an urge to acquire more.  They are really that much fun.

Once again, nicely done, UVI!

For more information and to buy UVX80, go here:

https://www.uvi.net/uvx80.html

UVI titles are also available from numerous other music software retailers.

 

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