Review – UltraMini 1.5 by UVI

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The virtual analog synthesizer marketplace is a crowded place, filled with many types of subtractive synth plugins. Will UVI’s UltraMini make a dent in the competition?  Let’s see.

 

by Rob Mitchell, July 2015

 

In our last issue I wrote about a product called Darklight IIx, which is made by UVI. The company is based in France, and has been producing music software products for about 20 years now. During that time, their catalog of products has increased over the years. They now have over 40 releases in their expansive portfolio. 

Their lineup of products includes many sampled synthesizers, pianos, orchestra/strings, and several others. They really take their time when sampling the instruments, and this translates to faithful recreations of the originals. 

For this issue, I will continue with another product by UVI called UltraMini. It is UVI’s sampled version of that legendary monophonic subtractive synthesizer made famous in the 1970s. Actually, it is a model from 1971 to be exact. They don’t stop there, however, since UltraMini also includes a sampled version of another incarnation of the synth that was released in 2011. Each of these two synths within UltraMini has their own skin as well.

Over 400 presets are included, and there is an enormous 6,244 samples within UltraMini. Why so many samples you ask? They have sampled every waveform of each oscillator, and across all of the keys. They even did this with many overdriven settings.

 

Installation and Requirements

You will have to make accounts on UVI’s website and the iLok website before you can install UltraMini. You’ll also need to download and install the free UVI Workstation from UVI’s site. The Workstation software works with all of the UVI products, allowing unlimited parts, includes a mixer section, and many effects.

UltraMini uses a serial number that you must register on the UVI site. After that, the license for the product is placed in to your iLok account under the User ID you have designated.

UVI lets you authorize UltraMini on up to three computers at once. For instance, if you need it on your desktop PC, but would also like it on your laptop, that is no problem. It doesn’t require an iLok dongle either, but it is nice to be able to move the dongle to a different PC. That way, another activation is not used up when you want to use it with another computer.

For the PC, the system requirements are as follows: Windows 7 operating system (or higher), four gigabytes of RAM (eight is recommended). 32-bit and 64-bit is supported.

For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 operating system (or higher), and four gigabytes of RAM (eight is recommended). 32-bit and 64-bit is supported.

 

Loading It Up

After you get the UVI Workstation running, you just double-click in the field near the top-middle of the display to open the browser screen. This is where you actually load in UltraMini, and you will normally find it in the Soundbanks folder on the left side. After you click on it, you’re then presented with the two different synths that you can load.

Anything labelled “Classic” in the browser menus is from the original 1971 synth samples and any that are named “XL” use the 2011 synth samples. One nice addition is that they have also thrown in polyphonic presets too, which wasn’t possible with either of the two hardware synthesizers. UltraMini has “LE” presets included as well for both of the synths, which use less CPU than the others. They trimmed down the filter section for these presets to save CPU power, but left the sound almost identical. These are great to use if you have a PC or Mac with less horsepower, and/or if you have many instances in a project.

After you’ve loaded one of them in to the Workstation, you’re able to switch between the individual presets down towards the bottom of the UltraMini display. They also include an “Init” preset, which is a basic starting point for designing your own presets. To save them is a little tricky though, as it just supports that for “Multis” from the UVI Workstation menus. To save a separate preset by itself, you have to do that from inside your DAW.

The main display will look very familiar to those who have used the original synthesizer, or a similar VA plugin. There are three main oscillators, and a noise oscillator. The first oscillator has Range (octave setting) and Waveform controls. The next second and third oscillators have Range, Detune and Waveform controls. There are six waveforms included for each of the main oscillators. With the Noise oscillator, you can switch between white or pink noise.

In the middle of the main display is the Mixer section. Each oscillator has its own volume control, and you’re able to use switches to turn them on or off. This is also where you can adjust the noise settings; switching it on or off, set its volume, and change it from white to pink noise.

On the right side of the display are controls to change the Overload settings and the Drive controls. Between the two of these, you can set it up with a more distorted type of sound, giving it an edgy, gritty character to its overall tone. This was an awesome feature in that classic hardware synth, where you could connect a cable from the output of the synthesizer, and run it into an input on the front. This would create a thicker, overdriven sound.

 

Filters and Envelopes


Along the bottom are buttons to navigate to the different pages of the synth. To get to the next page, you click the “ENV” button. This next page has the filter and amplitude envelopes, and the two filters themselves. These filters run in parallel, and have low pass, band pass and high pass modes.

You can switch between the two filter’s settings by clicking where it is labelled: FILTER – ALL, 1, 2. Clicking “ALL” will make it so anything you adjust will change both filter settings, or you can adjust them separately by clicking on “1” or “2”.  The ADSR filter envelope is located here, as well as standard cutoff and resonance controls. Also included are controls for the Envelope depth, Filter velocity, and Key follow.

The Amplitude envelopes have a similar setup for switching between their controls, except there are three sets of controls; one for each oscillator. These have a standard ADSR configuration. This amplitude section also has a velocity switch, which causes it to respond to the note velocity. The “VEL>ATK” switch is handy, as it can replace the envelope’s attack amount, and then uses the note’s velocity amount instead.

There are “Color” controls to the left and these will let you adjust each oscillator’s timbre/tone. This is also the section to set the play modes, which include Mono, Mono 2, Retrigger, and Poly.

 

Effects


When you click the “EFX” button at bottom of the screen, it brings you to the effects page. From here you can add various effects to the sound, such as a Bit Crusher, Phaser, Delay, Limiter, and UVI’s Sparkverb.

You’re also able to add to those effects if you’d like. Clicking the “FX” button at the top right of the Workstation brings you to its effects page. This way, you can load in other effects not directly available on the UltraMini display. In some cases, there may be a few more controls located here for whichever effect you might be using. Each of the loaded effects has a Bypass button over on the right side.

I noticed one thing with that feature that is a little confusing, but not a game changer. Let’s say that you switch on the Sparkverb from the main UltraMini display. Then, if you go to the FX page and click Bypass, it does what it should and will “bypass” the reverb effect. If you go back and forth for a while between the two pages, using bypass and flipping the main display’s on/off switch, it can get a little quirky. For instance, I had it set so Sparkverb was switched off on the main screen of UltraMini, but when I unchecked the bypass button on the FX screen, it turned it back on. I thought the main display’s on/off switches should always override that FX section.

 

Phraser, Arp and Step Modulator


To get to UltraMini’s Phraser, you just click on the “PSR” button at the bottom of the display. The Phraser is where you can setup a sequence of up to 16 notes for playback. The volume level of the sequence can be drawn in with the mouse, and each of the note values can be entered below each step in the sequence. Whatever you have setup in the Phraser can affect any one (or all) of the three oscillators. There are three bypass switches in the upper-left to let you choose which ones are affected.

Step length, Groove (swing), and Gate controls are also included. The Record function allows you to enter in a sequence of notes on the plugin’s keyboard, or with a MIDI keyboard. This is much easier than adjusting the note values below each of the steps manually.

You can get to the arpeggiator by clicking the “ARP” link at the bottom of the Phraser display. If the arp is enabled, it then switches off the Phraser, and vice versa.

The Arp has a few controls that are similar to the Phraser. These include oscillator bypass switches, Step length, Groove, and Gate. The arpeggiator could use more a few more modes since there are only three included: Up, Down, or Up/Down. The good news here is that the UVI Workstation already has a better arpeggiator built in to it. I won’t go into all the details of that more advanced arpeggiator here, but it is detailed in the Workstation manual.

The Step Modulator has a display similar to the Phraser, but it is used for adjusting the levels of modulation over time. Those levels can be either positive or negative amounts. You can select any of the three oscillators to be affected using switches, and the choices of modulation include volume, panning, oscillator pitch, and drive amount. You’re also able to have the Step Modulator target either (or both) of the filter cutoff amounts.

 

LFO Section


Last, but not least is the LFO page of UltraMini. You can select from among four waveforms for use with the LFO and pick which targets you’d like it to affect by using the various switches. The waveforms include sine, triangle, sample and hold, and square. There is a standard speed control here, and the LFO can be synced to the host if you’d like.

The targets for modulation of the three oscillators include volume, pitch, pan and drive. You’re also able to affect the two filters, and each of those has an amount knob to specify how much you’d like. In addition, from this page you’re able to get to the settings related the modulation wheel such as settings for the filter, vibrato, and tremolo.

 

Conclusion

I liked many of the presets made for UltraMini. They have a large variety to choose from and they sound great. I would like it if UVI could add a simple “Save” function for my own presets so I wouldn’t have to save within my DAW. When you save a preset in the DAW and load it back in, it won’t display the name of your preset anywhere. I was thinking it would show in the preset display at the bottom, but it doesn’t.  It will just show up as “00 – Init”. 

One other feature I’d like added: the ability to show additional information on the display when you change a control and which specific control it happens to be. For example, when you click on the second oscillator’s tuning control, I’d like it to show on the display that it is “OSC Tune 2”. More importantly, it should show the amount of the tuning as you adjust it. As it is, it just shows up as “OSC Tune” for the second or third oscillators, no matter how you adjust the tuning. If you double-click on a control, you can see its value there and type in a different value, but I’d still like it on the display as well.

Besides these small issues I mentioned, I like UltraMini. There is definitely a wealth of features packed in here. It has a great interface, MIDI learn is included, and it is easy to navigate through the different pages. Its large number of controls will keep you busy tinkering away and can easily let you shape the sound to your liking.

The CPU usage is not bad, and the sounds that you are able to get out of this VA synth can be very good. Is it a complete replacement for other classic emulations that are already in the crowded plugin marketplace? I don’t think so, as some of those emulations (I won’t name names) are actually very good. Instead, I think of it as a welcome addition to the world of VA synthesizer plugins. To have the real sounds from those two hardware synthesizers (versus an emulation) is a fresh breath of air. 

UVI’s UltraMini retails for $149 USD. It’s also part of UVI’s Vintage Vault collection that retails for $499 USD. That collection contains 35 additional instruments and has over 5,000 presets.

You can get more information on UltraMini from the UVI website here:

http://www.uvi.net/en/vintage-corner/ultra-mini.html

 

 

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