Review – Darklight IIx by UVI
The legendary sound of the Fairlight CMI is recaptured for the 21st century. Many of the trademark sounds of the 1980s are here. Check out the vintage powerhouse Darklight IIx here.
by Rob Mitchell, May 2015
UVI is the producer of high-quality music software products. They have built up quite a catalog over the years. The UVI company is based in France, and they have been on the music software scene for about 20 years. With over 40 releases to their credit, they have a portfolio that is seemingly ever-expanding.
Their lineup of products includes many sampled pianos, drums, orchestra/strings, and a large number of classic synthesizers. They go to great lengths when sampling the many types of instruments they offer, and it pays off with a high quality sound. The end result is a very useful set of sampled instruments that you’re able to use in your own productions.
For this review, I will be taking a look at one of their newer products called Darklight IIx. If you have ever heard of the Fairlight, you will definitely want to check this out. The Fairlight CMI (Computer Music Instrument) was released in 1979, and was really the start of digital sampling as we know it today. There were earlier instruments which used tapes with recorded material on them, such as the Mellotron, but the Fairlight was a huge leap forward at that time.
It made it possible to draw your own waveforms, use 8-bit sampling (16-bit in the later models), additive synthesis, and sequence music all in one package. Unfortunately, its price put it out of reach for most of the general public. It was however used by many big name artists such as Jean Michel Jarre, Herbie Hancock, David Bowie, and Peter Gabriel.
Darklight IIx is made up of a large amount of samples taken from the Fairlight, and has a very similar interface which compliments the original. There are over 10,000 samples (totaling over two gigabytes in file size), and nearly 300 presets are included. There are three sections of the Fairlight emulated, and they include the synthesizer, digital drum machine, and a multi-phraser.
System Requirements and Installation
You will have to make accounts on UVI’s site and the iLok site before you can install Darklight IIx. 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, allows unlimited parts, includes a mixer section, and many effects.
UVI lets you authorize Darklight IIx on up to three computers at once. If you need it on your regular home PC, but would also like it on your laptop, it’s 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. This saves you from using up another one of those three activations.
For the PC, the system requirements are as follows: Windows 7 operating system (or higher), four gigabytes of RAM (eight is recommended).
For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.7 operating system (or higher), and four gigabytes of RAM (eight is recommended).
It does take a while to get everything all set up correctly, as you must install the iLok License Manager, UVI Workstation, download the actual Darklight IIx file itself, and activate the license. Once it’s all set, it is easy to use. You just have to run the standalone UVI Workstation, or load it into your DAW. Once that’s running, you just load Darklight IIx from within the Workstation.
Up and Running
After you get the UVI Workstation running, you will see a browser screen. This is where you actually load in Darklight IIx, and will normally find it in the Soundbanks folder on the left side. After you click on it, you’re then presented with the three different sections that you can load in: Page P, Page B, and Page U.
Page P is the synthesizer part of Darklight IIx, and it has many categories of presets from which to choose. Page B contains the drum machine, which has its own drum/percussion sounds and patterns you can load. Page U is the multi-phraser, which is a 3-part sequencer. It lets you load different presets for each of the parts, and create/edit up to a sixteen-step pattern. I’ll get into more detail on these separate sections later in the review.
Page P – Synthesizer
For now, I just want to go over how you load the presets on Page P. It’s very easy to use, as you can just click on a category in the browser, and then you’ll see the presets within it. Double-clicking on a preset opens it up, and brings you to the Page P screen. This is where are able to hear the preset, and make edits to it. At the top of the screen, you can skip through the other presets using the left/right arrows on either side of the preset name.
In the upper-left is the Amplitude section. This is where you can map velocity to the attack, so keys that are hitter harder have a quicker attack. There’s a velocity sensitivity control, and standard ADSR slider controls for the Amplitude Envelope.
It also includes a multimode filter with high-pass, band-pass, and low-pass settings. They’ve also added a bipolar envelope amount control, as well as standard cutoff and resonance controls. The Filter Envelope has its own velocity sensitivity control, and ADSR slider controls.
The section dedicated to the modulation wheel lets you enable vibrato, tremolo, and filter cutoff. The vibrato and tremolo have rate controls, while the cutoff has a depth control. To the right of the controls for the modulation wheel is the Pitch Envelope section. This is really a portamento control, and using the Depth knob, you can have it glide up or down to the note you hit. The Time knob is for adjusting how long it takes to glide up or down to the note. The Drive section sets an amount of an overdrive that is added to the tone of the original sound, which gives it a more distorted sound.
Along the bottom section, there are controls to adjust the panoramic settings of the sounds. The three modes work like this: “Off” is a mono mode, “ALT” will alternate each note played from left to right, and “UNI” is a stereo setting. The amount of left/right panning for “ALT” and “UNI” settings can be adjusted with the “Spread” control. The “Color” control uses additional samples to add more of what I perceived to be almost a chorus type of effect, but it was very slight. I will get to the effects seen on Page P presently.
Page B – Drum Machine
When you load Page B, you’ll see another vintage looking screen that contains the eight-part digital drum machine of Darklight IIx. At the top left, there is a menu to load some preset/patterns. Each of the presets has its own rhythmic pattern, and various sounds that load into each of the parts.
There are sixteen steps to add notes and build up a pattern. Clicking once in a slot adds a note, and when you click on that same note again, it will look faded and have a lower velocity. Clicking a third time deletes the note. On the right side of the display are filters for each of the eight parts. These let you use a low-pass or a high-pass filter using a slider. Like nearly all the other controls in Darklight IIx, these can easily be assigned to MIDI controls with a simple right-click.
There is a wealth of sampled sounds from which to choose, but you only get the two velocity levels just mentioned. I don’t have an actual Fairlight to check, but I am betting this is the way the original was. UVI is most likely just trying to keep it as close as possible to the original. Any of the eight parts can be turned on or off, and each of the parts has Gain, Pan, and Tune controls as well.
Page U – Multi-Phraser
Loading Page U brings you to the Multi-Phraser. It is an easy to use sequencer section with three layers, and each can have up to sixteen steps. Each of the layers can have a different preset loaded into it. The velocity and note value for every step can easily be changed, and there are basic volume and panning controls available here, too.
To record notes into a layer, you just click the “R” on the right side of whichever layer you want to use. You then either click on keys of the onscreen keyboard, or play them with your MIDI keyboard. It’s fun and easy to use, and I was able make some interesting combinations of phrasing. For instance, you can set the first layer to five steps, while the second is set to use nine steps, and the third layer is set to eleven.
On the right side of the Multi-Phraser screen are its effects. Each layer has its own filter, which really has a low-pass and high-pass filter, plus there’s a delay and reverb. With the synthesizer page (Page P) you were able to click on “FX” at the top right, and you could edit the effects in more detail. On this Multi-Phraser page however, this isn’t possible. I’d like to see it have the same functionality as the synthesizer page. When you click on FX, it just shows the UVI Destructor effect, and there’s an Exciter effect, too. You can add more effects if you want, it’s just that the effects on the main screen can’t be edited in the same way as with Page P.
Effects and Arpeggiator
Along the right side of Page P are the effects. These include a phaser, delay, reverb, and a bit crusher. The first three effects have an on/off switch, and an amount knob. The type of delay and its timing can’t be changed from the main display. However, you are able to change other parameters for the delay, as well as the other effects by clicking on “FX” near the top right of the Workstation.
This brings you to the main FX screen, where you’re also able to load in additional effects for each part. Actually, the number of effects available for each part is unlimited, so you can include as many of them as you want. To switch back to the main display, you just have to click on the gear icon in the upper-right.
There are a huge number of effects to choose from, including IR reverbs, flanger, chorus, delay, a talk-box filter, and tremolo. There are just way too many to list here. The bit crusher (which is the UVI Destructor on the effects screen) sounds great, and can definitely be useful when used in the right way on some of the presets. The Guitar Boxes and Sparkverb are two of my favorite effects, and they have a goodly variety of controls to manipulate a preset’s sound.
The effects and arpeggiator are built into the UVI Workstation, so you can use them with any of their products that load into it. To get to the arpeggiator, click on the notation symbol in the upper-right, and click the “Enable” button at the top left to switch it on. Some of its features include 26 different play modes, a Hold function, controls for Step length and Velocity amount, a six octave (+/-) control, Groove amount (swing), and it can use up to 128 steps.
The arpeggiator has many presets that are built-in, and are grouped by type: Arp, Chord, and Mono. If you adjust settings, or set up your own preset from scratch, you are able to save it as a User preset. After it has been saved, and you click on the arpeggiator preset menu, you will then see a new section called “User”. Any presets you’ve designed and saved for the arpeggiator will be found there.
The original Fairlight had a pen you could use to interact with the displays to make selections and to draw and edit waveforms. It would be nice if there was a similar function to edit waveforms using the mouse instead. The included filter controls, envelopes, and effects can help shape the sound, but the basic sounds are set in stone from the sampled material. In other words, you can’t go directly in to the waveforms to edit them. It can’t sample new sounds like the Fairlight CMI; it is more of a software rompler type of instrument.
A feature I’d like added is to have the ability to switch the effects that are on Page P with any of the others that are available on the FX page. For instance, I might not want a phaser, delay, or reverb. I may just want a compressor, ring modulator, and a flanger for the preset. The knobs could be basically the same, with an on/off switch and mix amount, and the detailed editing for those could still be on the FX page itself.
With that said, I still love using Darklight IIx, and UVI has a done fantastic job bringing a legendary musical instrument back to life. For me, many of the sounds are easily recognizable because I basically grew up on 70s and 80s music. Now I am able to access a large number of the sounds I remember from back then with great clarity, and I can now use them in my own productions. Speaking of clarity, the Fairlight had a dose of lo-fi aliasing that really was just part of its sound. Darklight IIx doesn’t try to cover that up. The displays are also very close to the original look it had, and they made me feel as if I had been transported back in time.
Darklight IIx retails for $199 USD, and is also part of the Vintage Vault collection which retails for $499 USD. UVI’s Vintage Vault has an enormous amount of sounds available, as there are 36 instruments included. You can read more about Darklight IIx and hear some audio demos here: