Review – Transfuser 2 from AIR Music Technology
AIR Music Technology claims that Transfuser 2 can allow you to reinvent music, jumpstart creativity and compose intelligently. Our reviewer doesn’t dispute these bold claims.
by Suleiman Ali, Mar. 2017
At its core, Transfuser 2 is a loop manipulation tool. But it provides a deep and many-faceted environment for the producer, arranger, composer and/or performer that can be used in the studio as well as in live situations.
This is one I have been interested in for a while. At this stage, the question for me was “does it stand up to the competition in 2017?” given the wealth of slicers, glitchers, drums machines and step sequencers floating around these days. The answer is this review, but a short answer would be resounding “Yes!”.
The AIR Music Technology webpage is here:
The price for Transfuser 2, which includes 4.5 GB of content (percussive and melodic loops as well as single shots and synth presets), is USD $150.
The download and installation was straight forward. Authorization requires iLok/PACE but a hardware dongle is optional (your mileage may vary with PACE). I was testing on an i5 HP laptop, 8 GB RAM, Reaper 64 Bit on Windows 10, which seemed to be more than sufficient for even the heavier, more-involved work on this amazing software. Yes, I said it right at the beginning: “Amazing Software.”
The architecture/signal-flow is shown at the top of the instrument.
It says: Track à Sequencer à Synth à FX à Mix, and yes, essentially that’s all there is to it (OK, not really, since there are way too many options to cover in one review). There is general feel of some of the older Arturia all-in-one units along with splashes of Geist and Fruity Loops.
To put it succinctly, this software lets you slice and dice loops and program basslines, drums, synthesizers (on-board synths and samplers) while creating complete songs around randomizable patterns. Then it lets you pass individual tracks or everything through four possible FX units out of a selection of ten, not the least of which is a fully equipped automatic step-based glitcher (which alone is full-featured enough to be worth the price of admission).
The tracks view shows all of these in order and you can fill the “rack” up with modules of this nature to build up your song. Each of these tracks can be routed to a different MIDI Channel. Similarly, all of the outputs can be routed their own independent stereo output. Do you see where I’m going with this?
- Browser Pane – lets you access Factory / User Tracks, as well as Factory / User audio. The Browser pane allows you to find the Transfuser Tracks or audio files (your own included) you want, preview them, and drag them into the Tracks pane.
- Info Pane – provides context-sensitive help for the different sections and controls in Transfuser. It also provides information on audio files selected in the browser, such as bit depth, number of channels, sample rate, duration, and BPM (if available).
- Tracks Pane – is where the tracks are created, edited, managed, and mixed. Tracks consist of modules that let you automate, sequence, play back, process, and mix imported audio and audio input signals. When you first open Transfuser, the Transfuser Tracks pane is empty (“Drag Track or Audio Files Here” is displayed in the area). Transfuser track files or audio files can be dragged from the Transfuser browser or from your computer’s desktop, Explorer (Windows) to add or create Transfuser tracks. In fact, this is exactly how I started my own adventure.
- Editor Pane – provides access to all of the controls for the selected module or effect, and also the Transfuser Preferences. For example, if a Drum Sequencer module is selected, its sequencer pattern editor and controls are displayed in the Editor pane. If a Phrase Synth module is selected, its waveform display and controls are displayed in the Editor pane.
- Controller Section – the Controller section provides performance controls for Transfuser. You can easily map any MIDI controller to any number of Transfuser controls. The Controller section provides six host-automatable knobs, eight trigger pads, a four-octave keyboard for selecting patterns, triggering and transposing sounds, and a fader for crossfading between Transfuser Output Buses 1 and 2. The Controller section also displays the MIDI Input channel for any selected Transfuser track.
- Master Section – The Master section provides access to the Master Groove, Effects Sends 1 and 2, Main Effects Inserts, and Recorder (which records the output, so yes it can sample itself, just like Geist 2). It also provides controls for the Master Transport and Click, as well as Pitch and Volume of the main output.
To be honest, I was up and running in no time at all, what with the detailed through well written PDF manual and some videos floating around. The thing is, once you get the basic feel of it, you can end up playing for hours, especially given the great included loop content.
As for what kind of modules are included in the “Sequencer à Synth à FX” section of the chain , its better if I run through them one by one , given the plethora of options on offer here :
Types of Sequencer Modules
Transfuser 2 provides the following six kinds of sequencer modules, each suited to one of the synthesizer modules listed in the next section.
- Chord Sequencer: Provides a polyphonic sequencer that intelligently creates polyphonic “chordal” accompaniment that gets played by a polyphonic Transfuser Synthesizer.
- Drum Sequencer: Provides a 12-note step sequencer for playing the Drums Synth module.
- Phrase Sequencer: Provides a monophonic MIDI sequencer for playing the Phrase Synth module.
- Poly Sequencer: Provides a polyphonic sequencer that can be programmed to send MIDI data to a Transfuser Synthesizer module.
- Slice Sequencer: Provides a slice sequencer for playing the Slicer Synth module.
- Thru Module: Provides no sequencing controls whatsoever and any MIDI input plays the Track Synth module directly.
The three kinds of sequencers for audio content in Transfuser 2 are the Drum Sequencer, Phrase Sequencer and Slice Sequencer. While all three perform the same basic function of essentially triggering the subsequent synth/sampler modules, they behave quite differently with respect to their three “Note Range” options (trigger, transport or play).
In the above screenshot for the Drum Sequencer module you can see the patterns stored in octave’s worth of notes (total of twelve patterns) per track. These are essential to organic live manipulation. Also, all sequencers have most MIDI-style editing functionality, including multi tools, cut and paste, etc. built in. My one complaint for this was the screen size, as it does get a bit fiddly when each step of the sequencer is a couple of millimeters in size!
Types of Synth Modules
Transfuser provides seven different types of Synth modules (each corresponding to a particular kind of sequencer module from above):
- Analog: a polyphonic analog modelling-based synthesizer.
- Bass: Provides a monophonic bass-line synthesizer.
- Drums: Provides a sophisticated 12-pad drum sampler.
- Electric: Provides the sound of electric pianos to Transfuser.
- Phrase: Converts imported audio to beat-matched, time-compressed/expanded audio. Using the Phrase Sequencer or MIDI input, you can play back the Phrase Synth module at different transpositions, times, and durations.
- Slicer: Converts imported audio into individual “slices” based on a sophisticated, automatic transient-detection algorithm. That is to say, it automatically chops up your audio into individual events that can be played back at any tempo, in any order, and with all kinds of processing, by the Slice Sequencer module or MIDI input.
- Audio Input: Passes audio from disk or the audio input of the track on which Transfuser is inserted. This lets you directly process your music software’s audio tracks in Transfuser without having to import it.
Each of these has their detailed interface and parameters, often including LFO’s and randomization options.
Every time you import an audio file or audio region (REX, ACID, AIFF, or WAV), an “Import As” dialog asks to select the type of Track you want. There are three basic types of audio tracks in Transfuser:
- Sliced Audio and Slice Sequence – Converts the dropped audio to a slice sequencer that plays back the sliced audio (and does a good job of it too).
- Time-stretched Audio and Trigger Sequence – Converts the dropped audio to triggered (by mapped MIDI notes), beat-matched audio.
- Drum Kit and Drum Sequence – Converts the dropped audio to a drum pattern (sequence) and plays back a sampled drum kit. Transfuser extracts the drum samples from the dropped audio (and it is quite accurate too).
There is one more for non-audio/synth/bass tracks which is the “Bass Synth and Phrase Sequencer”. Each one of these will automatically place a corresponding matched sequencer and synthesizer pair for that track.
Each of these tracks can be run through of a chain of up to four simultaneous effects (in series or in parallel). These include conventional effects as well as some pretty special transformations as well. There are FX modules for chorus, filter, delay, reverb, compressor, limiter, flanger, gater, EQ, tape drive, phaser, pumper and more. Each has a substantial number of controls to sculpt the sound the way you want.
The one that took the cake for me was BeatCutter, which is worth the price of purchase by itself, and it takes this from a loop-manipulation behemoth into territory ruled by trendsetters such as Glitch 2, Effectrix, Turnado, Replicant and Sequent (leaving others like Break Tweaker in the dust). I must also make mention of the filter, which provides some wonderfully fat and resonating tones with ease.
All parameters may be modulated and may be controlled by external MIDI. So you have a complete performance with on-board sequencers, synthesizers, loops as well as external mic or audio signals (“Thru Module” + “Audio Input” track), all of which you can control by your MIDI sequencer.
M.A.R.I.O. (Musical Advanced Random Intelligent Operations) is comprised of musical randomization algorithms (one for each module) that let you create variations of your sequencer patterns simply by clicking a single button. You can select the depth of randomization with a control knob. Some of the possible targets can be (depending on the sequencer module in question): rhythm, level, timing, pitch, filter, decay and pan. Pressing the apply button transforms the present pattern to reflect these changes. Each press of the “Apply” button applies a new variation of the same theme. These can be browsed through with the forward or backward scroll arrows (the history is saved).
And if that was not enough, a number of the synthesizer modules carry their own nifty little randomization parameters. Again, you can select the multiple targets (specific to that synthesiser module) for your randomization, and browse through previous ones.
Assigning your own MIDI Controller to Transfuser 2 can be done with a few clicks. Some MIDI assignments are set up as default so we are good to go from the beginning. A little fiddling will have your trigger pads, smart control knobs (all six of them) and controller ready to go.
What’s It Good for Then?
In case you were still left wondering what all of this means, here is an example scenario:
- You get a nice funky drum groove going. Make variations and also add some M.A.R.I.O. magic.
- You add a funky baseline and a couple of variations. Again, M.A.R.I.O. magic for the win.
- You add some slice loops for additional percussive oomph .
- Then add a live guitar track with effects chained up like filter, delay and BeatCutter for super manipulation.
- Program an ethereal synth sound that you can play from your MIDI Controller.
- Now you can perform a song using your guitar and a simple MIDI controller/pedal.
And the best bit is that it all happens this is in one place, Transfuser 2. But remember, this is from the perspective of sound generation and composition. The mixing would still need a DAW, unless you are satisfied with using a limited toolset and living with other restraints in terms of mixing in Transfuser 2.
One thing that bugged me a little was the sheer size of the GUI, especially the size of the sequencers. In a live context, this is too tiny and leaves too much room for inaccuracy to be comfortable. A resizable interface next time please!
The only other complaint is the necessity of the PACE software (thankfully no dongle though), which I do use for this product and others, but am no big fan of this form of software authorization.
As I said initially, my main purpose was to see if Transfuser 2 is still in the running as a relevant and modern slicing instrument. I can definitely vouch for this being the case, and in some cases (ease of use being one) it is ahead of most of the competition.
At this point, I would be hard pressed to name anything else as comparison/competition other than Geist 2, Maschine or Fruity Loops. Which of these would you prefer for your workflow? I am equally happy with Geist2 and Transfuser 2, but for specific situations demanding fast results I have been going with Transfuser 2 increasingly often.