Review – String by Loomer

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Loomer’s String is an emulation of the string machines from the 1970s. Our reviewer thinks they did a great job of recreating that classic sound.

 

by Rob Mitchell, Nov. 2014

 

Loomer is a music software company with many great titles to their credit. The plugins they have designed include Sequent, Manifold, Resound, Shift v2, and Aspect.  For this review, I will be going over String, which is their string synthesizer plugin. It can emulate the classic sound of string machines made famous during the 1970s.

The string keyboards from back then usually would use a “divide-down” approach to get their special sound. It worked by using 12 oscillators, one for each note in the upper octave, and then it would “divide-down” the sound of those oscillators to provide the sounds for all the other keys.

A couple examples of those classic keyboards are the ARP Solina, and Logan String Melody. They might not have been as flexible as some other popular synths (i.e. the Minimoog), but they did have a unique sound you couldn’t get from a regular synthesizer. Ok, enough on all the background information, let’s see how well this plugin works.

 

Installation

After you purchase String, the installation is a simple matter. They will email you a license key, you then download the demo version, and install it. When you run it for the first time, at the bottom left it will have a message saying “Unregistered Evaluation”.  To fix that, go to the Options menu, and click “Enter String License“. You have to make sure you enter it with the same punctuation or it won’t work correctly. To make sure it would work right, I just copied and pasted the information into the required fields.

According to the Loomer website, buying String directly from them currently gives you a lifetime of free updates. I thought this was a great idea, and it would be nice if other companies had similar offers.

There are 32-bit and 64-bit versions available for Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux OS as well.  

For the PC, you’ll need the Windows XP (or higher) operating system, 512 megabytes of RAM, and at least a 1 GHz CPU.

For the Mac, you’ll need OSX 10.5 or higher, 512 megabytes of RAM, at least a 1 GHz CPU. They also mention it will even run on a PPC based Mac.

If you’re using the Linux operating system, it requires at least 512 megabytes of RAM, and a 1 GHz CPU.

It ships in the following formats: Audio Unit, VST plugin, RTAS (Pro Tools 7 and higher), there is also a Standalone version, and an FX version (StringFX). I was informed that they are working on a beta of an AAX version, and there are some fixes and performance improvements in the works as well.

 

Browsing Around

 

String has a built-in preset browser, enabling you to quickly skim through the presets. At the top left of the interface is the “New” button. This will create a basic string sound. It is a good starting point to work with, but not really an “initialized” preset like I thought it would be. It has the chorus switched on, and the filter is enabled as well. I switched both of those off (plus a couple of other settings), and saved my own initialized preset.

Next to the “New” button is a field where you can see which preset is loaded. If you click to the left or right of that field, it will step through the other presets available. In the manual, it says to click the arrows on either side of the field, but I didn’t see any arrows after I had it loaded. Another way to skim through the presets is to hold your mouse pointer over the preset name, and then use the mouse wheel.

One handy feature is the multiple Undo/Redo function. For example, if you happen to have made five changes to your preset, you can use Undo to reverse through those changes you made one by one. If you decide to re-apply those changes again, you can use Redo, and add them back the way they were.

The A/B button lets you quickly switch back and forth between an edited preset and the way it was originally. You can then decide if you like it that way, or if the original is more to your liking.

To open the full browser window, you just click the down-arrow to the right of the preset name. The Factory presets have their own folder, and any presets you save yourself will go into the User folder. The Categories section down below those two folders has the same presets, but they are broken out into separate categories, such as Lead, Bass, Pad, etc.

When you save a preset, you can add notes for it on the right side, and you can tag it the way you’d like. For instance, if you tagged it “Bass”, it will then show up under the category of “Bass”. Also, if you use the search field at the top right (using the word “Bass”) it will find any presets that are tagged that way, no matter which folder they’re in.   

 

The Layers

String has two layers, and each of them has a Voicing control to change the amount of voices. The settings include three mono modes, a paraphonic mode, and a polyphonic mode. In paraphonic mode, it will use one amplifier envelope for all the voices, and polyphonic means it will use an envelope for every voice.

The three phase-locked oscillators in each layer are tuned one octave from each other. The second layer is tuned one octave higher than the first layer. The volume of each oscillator can be adjusted separately, and they can be switched off as well. The oscillators in String use waveforms that were modelled after the Solina’s waveforms, which are similar to the classic sawtooth shape.

Instead of the more complex amplifier envelopes that many synth plugins have, String has a more straight-forward Attack and Release control section. To the right of these controls you have the layer volume, and velocity controls. Changing the velocity amount will change how sensitive the layer is to MIDI note velocity. The Retrig switch will make it so the amplifier envelope starts again from the attack section every time.

In each layer, there is a control to change the filter type. This lets you switch between a Low-pass, Band-pass, High-pass, HP/LP pair, or a 9-band equalizer. The first three types of filters have some additional controls available. These include the standard cutoff and resonance, but they also have an Envelope Modulation control (Env mod). The filters work great, but I’d like the EQ to be separate from the filter section. I could then use a filter, and also use EQ on the layer if I wanted.

The Env Mod will adjust how much the modulation envelope affects the filter cutoff. The last three knobs work in a similar way, but they control how much the LFO, monophonic channel aftertouch, and velocity will affect the filter cutoff.

 

Modulation and Effects

Since I was just mentioning the modulation envelope, the next part of the review will deal with the modulation and effects section of String. They are located on the right side of the synth plugin, and you can switch between them with their corresponding buttons at the top of the screen.

In the modulation section, you’ll find the LFO, with a simple rate knob that ranges from 0.01 Hz to 10 Hz, and a Sync button. It can modulate the oscillator pitch or filter cutoff, and it can be synced to the host tempo. I happen to love using LFOs in synth plugins, and I think it would be great if they could add different waveform shapes for it.

I know they are trying to stay true to the original string synth formula from many years ago, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a square wave for the LFO, or maybe a few others. Then again, if they changed it too much, it wouldn’t sound as much like a regular string synth, and would probably end up morphing into something new altogether.

Below the LFO section, you’ll find the vibrato controls, and the master tuning section. The vibrato has a depth control, and a wheel scale button. The depth control is self-explanatory, but if the wheel scale is enabled, the modulation wheel of your MIDI keyboard will control the amount of vibrato depth.

Remember when I mentioned the modulation envelope? It is located under the vibrato and tuning section. This is where you can change the settings for the ADSR modulation envelope, and it can affect the filter cutoff for the low-pass, band-pass, or high-pass filters. It works as a monophonic modulation source, and has a retrigger button (RETRIG). The Retrig function will force it to start from the beginning of the envelope each time a note is played.  

The effects include a chorus, phaser, and delay. With String’s chorus effect, you can get that 1970’s type of ensemble sound used in some of those hardware string synthesizers. It is modelled from the bucket-brigade device (BBD) which really gave string synths much of their character. It has controls for rate, depth, and width, and there are two algorithms to choose from. I think the chorus sounds great in String, and they did a nice job of emulating that characteristic sound.

The phaser effect has rate, color, and mix controls.  They’ve included a sync button which will synchronize its rate with the host’s tempo. I liked using this effect in small amounts, adding on to the chorus, and with a bit of delay thrown in for good measure.

The delay effects use two mono delay sections, and can be joined to create a stereo delay. It has separate left/right delay controls, as well as left/right feedback controls. Just like with the phaser effect, the delay can optionally be synced to the host tempo. Its “Link” button will let you control both delays at the same time.

 

Conclusion

There are a couple of things I wanted to mention before I wrap this up:  The CPU usage of String was not bad at all, and I was able to easily use multiple instances in my DAW. MIDI Learn is included, making it easy to configure your MIDI controller with String.  I just happen to love that feature in any plugin, so I’m glad it was included.

Even though I really like String, I can envision an updated version with a few features added. I’d like another LFO added (with more waveforms available), and a reverb effect is also on my wish list.  If it had another LFO and/or some other type of added modulation, it would have many more sonic possibilities.

The included presets are great, yet I couldn’t help wishing there were more. During the course of writing this review, I discovered an additional bank of presets on the Loomer website that can be downloaded separately. It’s for registered users only, and boosts the total preset count to nearly 250.  It is located at the bottom of this webpage:  http://www.loomer.co.uk/downloads.htm

The sound of String has an authentic quality about it, and could probably fool many people in an A/B test with the old synth hardware. It rekindles that classic sound, bringing it up to date with digital technology, while retaining the main character of that great string synth sound.

Some sampled string synth plugins have been released over the years, and some of these sound decent, but they don’t really sound “right” to me. String generates its sound from scratch, and you end up with a richer sound that you just can’t get from static samples. Also, when you modulate its audio, it works in more natural manner than when you try to manipulate sampled sounds.

String retails for $80.42 USD, and there is a demo version which can be downloaded from their website here:

 

http://www.loomer.co.uk/string.htm

 

 

 

 

 

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