Review – Titan 2 from Best Service
Best Service has introduced an instrument that claims to be 266 synths in one, boasting a library of 12,800 presets. Too good to be true, you say? Decide for yourself after reading this review.
by David Baer, July 2015
A little over four years ago, Best Service released a sample-playback instrument claiming to incorporate the sounds of 200 synths and offering 5500 presets. That was the original Titan. Just recently, they have considerably raised the bar with Titan 2. Now we have a promise of 266 synths and 12,800 presets, all for a list price of $199 USD. How could this be anything but one of the greatest bargains of all time?
Well, there’s a catch. What we’re talking about here is a rompler playback engine (with effects) that reproduces a lot of sampled content – all from synths, but more than a few of those are soft synths. For some prospective buyers, that fact alone will be enough to shut out any further consideration of acquiring such an instrument. But if you can make it past this initial consideration, there’s a great deal here to suggest that you might not only like Titan 2 but could substantially benefit from having it available on your DAW machine.
So, I’m not going to make further comment on what kind of synths are represented. There are a lot of them, many are digital and many are software. It’s all synth-type sounds on offer here, and a tremendous diversity of synth sounds at that. Combine that with a very competent effects capability and one special feature, a convolution engine with a to-die-for collection of impulses, and you’re looking at real value proposition, assuming synth sounds are “your thing” to begin with.
The Big Picture
Titan 2 is based on the Best Service Engine, a sophisticated and powerful sample playback engine which rarely gets much mention in reviews of Best Service products. Engine is at the heart of a number of Best Service offerings, but all of these have a more user-friendly, instrument-specific custom front end (that of Titan 2, the Quick Edit tab, can be seen in the screen shot at the top of this article). Covering all the features of Engine would take a lengthy review even without covering a hosted instrument. We don’t have time here; the detailed, 175-page manual is available here for those truly interested:
Although most users will be able to accomplish everything they want on the Quick Edit tab, deep divers can easily get to the full Pro Edit tab seen below.
One thing to point out is that this image is actually a bit larger than real life. You will need good eyesight when working with Titan 2, whether on the Quick-Edit or Pro-Edit tabs.
I will be pointing out one superb feature of Engine later called Origami. For now suffice it to say that Engine is a powerhouse, with a full complement of effects, support for surround sound, a sophisticated MIDI playback engine called Arranger, and much more. From here on out, we’re going to stick to the higher levels of interaction with Titan 2.
A Titan 2 preset can consist of multiple layers, with layers each responding to their own MIDI channel. A layer can have one or two sounds (sample-sets) with individual basic envelope, filter and effects settings. In other words, a layer has a two sibling sublayers. The image of this control UI area follows (once again, larger that the real-life UI).
The controls will be easily understood by anyone who has done a modicum of synth sound design. The manual will rarely be needed. By the way, the Titan 2 manual (as opposed to the dense Engine manual) is a breezy 11 pages, but again, the UI offers little mystery about sound programming choices. The two sections of the layer are nearly identical. There is a filter with the typical LP, HP and BP options, envelopes and effects. The first three of four effect slots offer delay, phaser and flanger sound manipulation. For reasons I can’t quit fathom, the fourth slot is bit reduction on the left section and distortion on the right.
The only thing that’s not immediately obvious from the dual layer UI is LFO modulation. For starters, there are no LFOs in the first place but rather step modulators – same thing but a bit more flexible when it comes to wave forms. We have four modulation targets: volume (tremolo), pitch (vibrato), pan and filter cutoff. The limitation is that you will need to use modulation presets unless you want to bravely dive into the Pro Edit tab to come up with a custom setting. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are plenty of appropriate presets on hand that you will have many options from which to choose – although breaking the code on what the cryptic preset names mean is something I wasn’t able to accomplish so far. The multi-filter in the global area (see below) does have an actual LFO with programmable controls, but that’s the only actual LFO available on the Quick Edit tab.
But, of course, it all starts with the sound samples, and what a selection we have! For Titan 2 presets (as opposed to the legacy Titan  presets included for backward compatibility), we can make a sound selection via a Category or a Synth. The image below should give you some idea of what’s in store.
The synths from which the samples came are carefully obscured with code names. You will never, I’m sure, be able to guess which synth was used for Brass 01 m (Silence 1), for example. 😀 By the way, the “m” in a preset name indicates an underlying mono sample set.
Next/prev arrows in the sound selection field allow you to sequentially traverse the sound offerings. Conveniently, the next/prev selection behaves as you would want it to depending on whether you started with Category or Synth. That is, you will stay either in the same Category or Synth as you next/prev navigate.
There is such a vast number of sounds that auditioning them all might easily require a full day or more. I won’t claim to have listened to every single one – not even close. I did some random spot checks, however, on sample quality. I did not find a single one that was awkwardly looped or poorly tuned. The quality control here seems quite good.
The Tour Continues …
Below the dual section area, we have a global area that acts on both sounds in the layer.
Once again, much here will require little or no explanation. We have a multi-mode filter for starters, although the filter velocity control to the mixed in with all these other global multi-filter controls does not operate on the multi-mode filter but the individual filters in the two sections – confusing, to say the least. Next to that we have a glide (portamento) and legato control section. Further to the right we have some nice randomization controls which can go a long way in overcoming sample-uniformity. You still may have reservations on using sound sampled from a soft synth, but these randomization capabilities can do much to remove the “sameness” of repeated notes. Finally, in the top rank is global volume, pan, etc.
In the lower rank, starting on the left, are some powerful options comprised of a MIDI playback capability, an arpeggiator and a step sequencer. Abundant presets for each of these is part of the package. I could easily spend the rest of this review describing the Arranger (MIDI playback) feature, to which ten full pages are devoted in the Engine manual, but we must move on. Suffice it to say that you’re probably going to be satisfied with what the factory presets offer. If you are not and want to make the effort to learn any of these facilities, you are not likely to feel constrained. It will simply take a bit of study to learn how all this works.
Continuing to the right, we have Attacker, a global pitch envelope. Under that is Sound, which is a basic EQ.
And now we get to a real gem: the Titan 2 Impulser. This is a convolver (like a convolution reverb). As such, that is not a big deal. These days, most home music producers will probably have several effects of this type available on their DAW machine. What makes this one a big deal is the marvelous selection of IR (impulse response) files included in the factory content. Titan 2 being the only Engine-based instrument I’ve ever explored, I can’t tell you whether the convolution content is common to all Engine-based instruments or unique to Titan 2. But no matter – if you’re a Titan 2 owner, you have this content and that’s what’s important. The image below may give you some idea of the type of IR content available.
Most of the IR content is for reverb purposes, as might be expected. But don’t overlook the Titan 2 Effects category. There are well over 100 special effects IRs and many of them do some delightfully wonderful things. Internally (that is, in Engine) the convolution engine is called Origami. It does much more than just stereo IR processing, but the typical Titan 2 user will probably never need the full complement of facilities Origami makes available. However, it is there beneath the covers if needed. Once again, study required if deep dives are being attempted. But just using Origami via the Quick Edit tab is a breeze. Pick the IR, set the wet level, and you’re in business. Nothing to it.
There are some additional Impulser controls in the next row for easy fine-tuning. These include manipulating the EQ of the IR as well as timing changes (IR length, predelay, etc.) and dry signal attenuation.
Is Titan 2 for You?
Upon learning that Titan 2 included a lot of samples taken from soft synths, my first reaction was far from enthusiastic. But once I got it installed and started playing with some of the sounds, my opinion quickly moved into the positive position. Speaking of installation, plan for a lengthy download. There’s about 25G of sample content that ends up on your hard drive. My download/install experience was a bit frustrating, but I’m told by my fellow SoundBytes writers that Best Service is a great company which normally delivers without any hitches, so I’ll give them a pass on this one.
As to the instrument itself, even if the original samples don’t have worthy, analog-origin pedigrees, the ability to easily combine two of them in a single Titan 2 layer already offers the possibilities of rich sounds. Add to this the effects available, and apply the frosting-on-the-cake Origami convolver, and there’s much to capitalize upon. I have a feeling that I will not only be grateful that Titan 2 is an option for me to use in the future, but that it actually may become one of my go-to instruments. Do you regard samples of soft synths as too passé? I may not wish to admit to anyone else that I’m using them. But Titan 2 demonstrates that they can sound appealing, and complex, and sometimes mysterious, and … you get the idea. Go ahead and make your music and don’t worry about the pedigree. As we computer-sound enthusiast always like to say: “if it sounds good, it is good”.
One type of user should especially find Titan 2 of benefit. If you are a composer/producer who likes to work quickly to get rough sketches down and then later go back for clean-up and polishing, Titan 2 could be your secret weapon. Such a quantity and diversity of sounds in one place, all rather nicely, efficiently organized, might allow you to never have an inspiration blocked while you interrupt the creative flow to search for an appropriate synth and sound. Titan 2 is a massive palette of sounds all ready for to dip your composer’s brush into.
Titan 2 is a good value even at list price of $199 USD. If it goes on sale (and Best Service offerings occasionally do), it becomes an even greater value. To find out more or to purchase, go here: