Review – Xils 5000 by Xils-lab
Here’s one of the most advanced vocoders on market – one that is very easy to operate, offering not only a wealth of factory presets to being with, but also unlimited additional options for the do-it-yourself user.
by A. Arsov, March 2016
What Is It?
Xils 5000 is a vocoder. Maybe we should be a bit subjective and say that it is one of the most advanced vocoders on the market at this moment. Its main advantage is that it is not hard to use even if you don’t have much experience with vocoders. And at the same time, being an experienced user, Xils 5000 offers you a great number of various controllers which allow you to go quite deep, being as creative as your imagination allows.
Xils 5000 comes with a huge number of presets that you can use as a starting point, or to be honest, at least in my case, as the final destination. Presets are versatile, covering the full range of vocoded settings, from drum friendly vocoded settings through various vocoded effects, to the classical robotic sounds (and collection of quite mad presets from Nori Ubukata). Xils 5000 also comes with an internal synth and virtual keyboard, so all you need to do is to insert it as “Insert” effect on any audio channel, setting a note or two on the virtual keyboard, browsing through presets, and if you are really picky, tweaking some additional settings. I decided to go old school, adding a MIDI channel, banging some chord and melodies, setting “Xils 5000 MIDI in” as the output channel on my MIDI track and, all of a sudden, I was already on a Daft Punk route making melodies out of my speech.
When I saw all those controllers on the Xils 5000 I thought it would be a quite hard to start but it proved that the whole Xils 5000 experience is like being in a cockpit, having million options at your fingertips, still being on safe ground even if you are novice, as autopilot works perfectly.
Have to admit that if I was not forced to go deeper for reviewing purposes it could easily happen that I would be on autopilot till the end of my days. Great presets, good sound – why complicate if everything could be so simple?
On the left side of the graphical interface we find several modules. First in the row is a Speech Gate, allowing you to set threshold level for input signal, preventing some unwanted noise to feed the Vocoder (depending on how noisy your source material is). By clicking on the small round icon at the bottom right of Speech Gate we get an additional set of buttons for fine-tuning all those gate settings a bit further by setting attack, release, closing and opening threshold. Actually, all modules have some additional settings and I’m afraid we can’t go in all the dirty details here as the whole Xils 5000 is a “million options” Vocoder containing a highly impressive number of controllers.
The next module is Pitch Tracking, controlling how pitch follows the signal. In this module we can set the range of the output signal, or define the quality, and set the “Snap” function resulting in filters that are “snapped” more strictly to input notes.
The Voice/Unvoice module allows us to control which part of signal should be synthesized with pitch and which should be synthesized just by noise. In practice you control sibilants (those are determined as Unvoice on Xils 5000) with these settings. Increase the threshold and you will hear more ess-es. If you remove them completely, the voice will become quite unrecognizable, more unnatural.
The next set of controllers are dedicated to Oscillator 1 and 2 which feed filters with pitched sound. It is definitely a section where you can go totally bonkers, setting the pitch lower or increasing it quite drastically. Pulse width modulation and frequency modulation knobs are another two that can really change the sound character. Actually, even if you are novice this is the part where you can go wild and try various things (along with the Matrix patch area and filter section on the righthand side). Inside the additional set of controllers for the Oscillator section we also find a part where we can select between a few different waveforms.
Still on the lefthand side we also find Noise, LFO 1/2 and VCA sections, or “modules” as they are called in the manual. The Noise section contains controllers for fine-tuning the non-pitched sounds (sibilants), while VCA offers ADSR controllers for controlling the sound shape just before they go to the filter section. LFO 1 and 2 are low frequency modulators for modulating the synthesized parts.
The last one on that side is a Keyboard section for selecting how the input note should affect the plug-in, offering Portamento, Legato (which works only when a monophonic MIDI signal is fed into the plug-in), Glissando and Glide control for glissando.
So, at the bottom of that side remains only a virtual keyboard where you can add some notes that will feed an internal synthesizer – quite a nice addition that I like already in Orange vocoder from years ago, and it is nice to have it also in Xils 5000.
The most prominent thing on the right is a mixer section where we can separately adjust levels for audio track (Speech), internal synthesizer or final, vocalized signal. Sometimes increasing the level of original signal gives interesting blended results. Also this is a nice option if you want just to add some spice to your drum loops, adding just a touch of vocoded signal to the dry loop.
The Matrix patch window contains various presets, but you can easily get mad drawing your own lines and dots, getting some really cool or even odd results. Of course, whenever you go too far, you can simply overdraw your mad-work, applying one of the basic effects. With all those lines and dots you are connecting filter bands, represented on one axis, to the synthesis band, represented on the other.
Under the matrix window are Slew Rate and Frequency Shifter modules. The first one controls how the filter bank analyzes input audio while the other one effects the frequency of the whole spectrum, by shifting it for a small amount. Actually this is some sort of chorus effect applied with some additional parameters adopted for vocoding purposes, but the end result is quite similar. Wider and a more pleasant sound.
At the bottom we find a Filter Bands window where we can apply gain for every filter band (all in all 22 filter bands are available).
To a Happy Ending
Of course, as we already stated, most of the modules have an additional set of controllers. We did not cover all controllers that are available in main windows, nor the ones in the additional windows. Actually, at least for me, the real power of Xils 5000 is that you can survive without even knowing all the things resident in the Cockpit section. It is great to have all those options, being able to be creative as much as you want and as much as your knowledge and time let you.
For me, inserting the Xils 5000 as an Insert effect, connecting it with a MIDI track, browsing through presets and just tweaking a detail or two proved to be just perfect. Presets are fantastic, the overall end result is very pleasant and great-sounding, and the editing possibilities are almost endless. After all, you will not use a vocoder every day in your productions, so having such a beast for those special occasions is a pure blessing. I’m not a big fan of my own voice, but after processing it with Xils 5000 it proved to be very useful. There is always a place for for a tool like this. Here’s hoping that it’ll be in your productions as well. It costs about as much as the average virtual synthesizer, €149 EUR, offering much more joy and fun.
For more info visit https://www.xils-lab.com/pages/XILS%205000.html