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Review of RapidComposer music prototyping software by MusicDevelopments — February 9, 2018

Review of RapidComposer music prototyping software by MusicDevelopments

RapidComposer is a unique, non-destructive, phrase-based music prototyping software designed for composers, song-writers and musicians of all musical styles for both Windows and macOS.

It is available in two versions

  1. Light edition typically priced at $79 +VAT has Core functionality, VSTi and soundfont support, standalone and VST versions (Windows and macOS), all updates until v3.99, more than 200 reusable phrases and product support.
  2. Full version typically priced at $199 +VAT includes all of the light edition features plus 2 Melody Generators, Idea Tool, articulations, phrase morphing, unlimited tempo and signature changes.

Both versions are available direct from the MusicDevelopment website: http://www.musicdevelopments.com/shop.html

This review is for the full license of RapidComposer, version 3.4, the update was released in January 2018.

Overview

The basic idea is that you create your composition style and length, add chords, add basses, add melodies and harmonies on as many tracks as you need. You can load soundfonts or VSTs to hear your composition and then export as audio or drag and drop as midi files to a DAW for further processing. The VST that runs inside a DAW is a smaller version that communicates with the standalone version. You can use RapidComposer to control separate VSTs or a multichannel VST such as Kontakt.

In practice, it has so much more depth and is a very powerful composing tool for any style of music. It’s very flexible because it allows you to create your composition to any length and any format. Although it comes with a number of chord progressions built-in, you are not limited to these and can add your own chords and furthermore there are many phrasing options too as well as options for piano and guitar chords.

There are a large number of scales and modes and a number of generators to create musical phrases which can be used as is or you can edit them to suit your needs.

I found there was a learning curve to get to grips with the workflow but once I mastered this, the process of scoping out a song was pretty quick. I’ve been happy using the standalone version and exporting to midi to import into MuLab 7 DAW to use with a number of VSTs to create audio and then mix and master to create the composition. Although I’ve got to grips with basic use, I feel there’s so much more functionality to learn and experiment with that will really enhance RapidComposer’s usability, for example using the VST version to control virtual instruments would speed up the creative process.

In Use

It took me a while to get the hang of the interface and functionality, it’s worth spending a little time to do this because actually, it’s very straightforward once you get the hang of the terminology and icons.

Starting a new composition creates a 4 bar song with a default I IV V I progression. At this point, you have the basics of your song which you need to customise to your requirements.

The important points to note are the terminology. RapidComposer has a hierarchical structure as shown below.

You can set scale, chord, tempo and signature at the global level and lower levels inherit these by default but you can override them on any level. This is presented as a collapsible list accessed by the structure icon where you can set global properties as well as settings for each separate section, name the composition and composer. You can also choose whether to use absolute chords or chords with scale degrees.

In practice, this terminology is actually quite helpful because you can arrange your song as simple or complex as you like from a simple single section with alternating chords to something more elaborate such as introduction, verse, bridge, chorus, verse, chorus structure.

You can also add new parts or lines or delete them using the icons that appear when you click on a part or a line. This brings up a x2 which duplicates the part / line, a plus above which adds a part or line above and the lower plus adds a line below whilst the ‘no entry’ deletes it. It appears when you add a line or a part it replicates that particular line or part so you may need to edit this to your requirements. The default length also seems to be 4 bars and you cannot change this within this section.

Once created you can return to the main screen and zoom in / out to change the view settings and this is where you can change the length of each line to a different number of bars if required.

You now need to start adding notes to the composition and you do this using phrases which are basically a group of notes. This covers chords, basslines, melodies and many more which you add to your track. A lot of the power of RapidComposer comes in its ability to generate phrases which you can then edit, resize and add variations to.

You start with a chord progression, there are a large number of inbuilt progressions which you can drag and drop to the master track. However, you are certainly not limited by these and I tend to use my own progressions – standard ones may be useful for creating backing tracks for example but sometimes they can sound formulaic or contrived in some circumstances.

There are a couple of ways to do this, I added the IIIm chord and then used the circle of fifths to change it to a minor 11th chord. I then used the phrases icon and chord generator to add the chord to the line. You can drop this on whichever starting note you want. At this point I remembered I wanted this line to be 8 bars long and it’s a simple case of dragging the line length to 8 bars and extending the chord by dragging to also increase this to 8 bars length. I then edited the chord so that it’s 8 bars long. This is a simple case of right click to display the menu, select all notes, join all notes and then click ‘apply changes to phrase in composition’ which helpfully changes all chords. You can also click and drag to select notes which is useful to extend or decrease the length of the chord to allow a reverb tail to finish, for instance.

Returning to the structure inspector, when you click on a line, pressing x2 duplicates the line with any chords and phrases you’ve created. This means that you can very quickly start to create your composition by copying, editing and pasting lines and sections.

I’ve kept the lines deliberately short, they seem easier to manage as shorter separate lines rather than longer sections.

At this point I’d also say that RapidComposer saves your composition on exit but I’d recommend clicking the file menu and ‘save composition as’ to ensure you save the most up to date version. You can then use the keyboard shortcut of ctrl+s to save the composition as you go along. It’s also useful to name the different parts and lines into parts of your composition for easy reference.

Duplicating a section creates an exact copy so a very useful aspect of using relative chords is that if you change a chord type, the phrase automatically updates. This is an excellent way to very quickly scope out your composition. If you create sections of your song with different chord phrasings, you can copy these to give variety.

Once you’ve entered the chords, you add other tracks by right clicking on a track, clicking on settings and then add midi track. You can then change colour, instrument and preset as required. You can then add phrases as required and edit them to suit your requirements. For example, clicking on the phrases icon you can change the length at the top of the menu to the desired number of bars and then drag say bass generator to your bass track. The rules mean that the bass will snap to the appropriate root note of your chord.

It would probably be quicker to create one section and duplicate rather than drag and drop for each section but it’s quite a quick process anyway. I’ve then added extra tracks with piccato strings and a melody generator. You can drag and drop into a DAW but I found the best way is to export to midi, you can export as a file which includes all of the tracks or separate tracks. If you find the composition is too long or too short, it’s easy enough to edit the composition and re-export it. I wasn’t keen on the bass that was generated and you’d definitely benefit from playing around with the generators to add variety and variations to the phrases.

The icon for the file menu is which brings up a list of options for saving, exporting etc.

From the composition I made, I kept all of the original parts and used Xpand!2 for sounds, adding a drum loop and extra background sounds using Polygon. As I didn’t like the bassline I processed this with Cryogen (Glitchmachines) to produce a bit crushed / glitchy sound. I also added a quote from William S Burroughs about the cut-up method. I mixed with H3000 Factory, H949 Dual Harmoniser, Octavox, MangledVerb, Blackhole, Ultratap and Ultrachannel all by Eventide. I’ve also a drum loop and also Polygon (Glitchmachines) and Incipit (Inear Display) for percussive elements. The spoken part is taken from ‘William S Burroughs Lecture on Public Discourse’ which was recorded on 11th August 1980 by the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and is contained within the Naropa Poetics Audio Archive

I also created a second song from scratch rather than editing the first one. The process was much quicker second time around, I followed a similar process and exported the midi to MuLab. I used Olafur Arnalds Chamber Evolutions (Spitfire Audio) and then mixed with Blackhole, Tverb, 2016 Stereo Room, H3000 Factory and Ultrachannel by Eventide.

Both tracks were mastered in MuLab using EQ45 (Eventide), Type A (AudioThing), Elevate (Newfangled Audio) and Stage (Fiedler Audio).

The bandcamp link is embedded at the start of this section, the songs appear in reverse order to how they were created.

Conclusions

RapidComposer is a very impressive and inspirational tool. If you’ve ever struggled producing melodies or harmonised parts for chords then this can really help your creativity – in minutes. From scoping out whole songs to providing melodies or piano lines, it’s an amazing powerful and flexible composition tool. The structure is flexible enough to allow you to create a composition for any style, and any length. There are a huge number of chords and scales and although there are a large number of phrases, I like how you are not limited by these with the phrase generators and the random nature of these generators is a great way to see what happens. Understanding the basics of music theory does help to get more out of it.

I also like how you can grow with its functionality, there’s a learning curve to understanding how it works but I soon got to grips with the basics and created the compositions above. You can add variety with chord phrasings, variations to phrases such as humanising, adding swing and velocity. You can be as minimal or in depth as you like.

The flexibility allows you to create and export a composition within the standalone version, use the VST version directly within a DAW to control a number of virtual instruments or create a composition that you can export to midi files to import into a DAW separately for fine tuning instrument and effect settings.

Chord generation is very quick, using relative rather than absolute allows you to change key and still keep the same chords / progressions. Whilst you could use RapidComposer to solely create master chord tracks, you’d be missing a lot of the benefits to help produce your composition. I especially like the melody, ostinato and strings staccato generators because I normally struggle to produce melodies like these from scratch.

The ideas tool is also a superb addition to the full version of RapidComposer, this allows you to create a master track from scratch, use an existing melody track or generate a melody and harmonise with this. You can add chords to the master track by using a scale and specifying rules, absolute chords,progressions or random chords.

You generate the master track chords and then add tracks as required, it’s a simple case of dragging phrases, rhythm patterns adding any required variation and then generating the tracks as required.

I’ve created a song using the ideas tool with an E Neapolitan minor scale. I’ve edited the chords and deleted some of the piano parts and added variation into the bassline. It’s taken just a few minutes to complete the whole song. I’ve done it whilst finishing off this review so haven’t even listened to it yet, will export it to my DAW and see what it sounds like with further processing and effects added.

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Review of Sub Boom Bass 2 softsynth by Rob Papen — January 24, 2018

Review of Sub Boom Bass 2 softsynth by Rob Papen

Introduction

ECHT, THE NETHERLANDS: virtual instrument and effect plug-in developer Rob Papen Soundware is proud to announce availability of SubBoomBass 2succeeding the award-winning, self- explanatory floor-shaking SubBoomBass soft synth with the original (often) bass-heavy presets all present and accounted for alongside an abundance of new features and new sound colours to take things closer to the (cutting) edge.

SubBoomBass 2 can be purchased in a boxed edition — as an AAX (32-/64-bit), AU (32-/64-bit), VST (32-/64-bit) compatible audio software plug-in for Mac OS X (10.6 or higher) and Windows (Vista, 7, 8, and 10) — from authorised Rob Papen dealers worldwide or as a download directly from Rob Papen typically priced at €99.00 EUR/$99.00 USD from here: https://www.robpapen.com/buy-subboombass-2.html

(Owners of SubBoomBass are eligible to upgrade to SubBoomBass 2 for €39.00 EUR/$39.00 USD, while SubBoomBass 2 is included in eXplorer4, the latest incarnation of Rob Papen’s all-encompassing software bundle, so owners of eXplorer4 can download the SubBoomBass 2 installer for free.)

For more in-depth information, please visit the dedicated SubBoomBass 2 product webpage

Watch Rob Papen’s riveting SubBoomBass 2 introductory video

Overview

It is immediately obvious to the naked eye that SubBoomBass 2’s GUI (Graphical User Interface) is on the receiving end of a musical makeover making for more comfortable control of all its fanciful features. Fortunately for fans of the original soft synth, SubBoomBass 2 retains its much-loved modelled analogue waveform-driven warmth, but brings into being a brave new world of new sound colours courtesy of supplemental spectrum waveforms, with high-quality thinking outside of the box-style samples sitting alongside a welcome inclusion of Karplus-Strong string synthesis — a method of physical modelling synthesis that loops a short waveform through a filtered delay line to simulate the sound of a hammered or plucked string or some types of percussion. Put it this way: with so much musical firepower placed at adventurous users’ fingertips, SubBoomBass 2 surely sets loose some seriously fresh-sounding and hitherto unheard sounds… above and beyond the (arguably) restrictive realms of dance production with which SubBoomBass first found its musical mark so beautifully.

SubBoomBass 2 allows anyone to creatively compliment any style of contemporary music at any time — whether working on video game or film scores, or anything in between and beyond. After all, fellow high-flying Dutchman and original SubBoomBass supporter Tom Holkenberg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) started out on the dance floor, fraternising with worldwide chart positions, and ended up on the big screen as a hotshot Hollywood film scorer. Similarly, SubBoomBass 2 is surely set to become another success story for Rob Papen. Anything is possible… just ask Junkie XL!

Verdict

This description may sound like a fairly standard softsynth but the results are anything but ordinary, in fact to call this a ‘bass synth’ is a huge understatement. At heart it is a bass synth but it offers so much more. It can produce everything from sub-bass, to electronic synth bass to strings to percussive sounds. The modulation options give superb movement in sound and if you dig a little deeper into the on-board sequencer you realise this is no ordinary step sequencer. It is very highly featured, even allowing you to change oscillator waveforms during the sequence to create awesome grooves.

It’s a superb sounding synth and extremely versatile. It will happily produce string sounds, bass arps, rhythmic sequences and traditional synth sounds too. I created the above album using multiple instances of Sub Boom Bass 2 with midi loops, chord progressions, vocal loops and drum loops. I haven’t used many external effects, Octavox (Eventide) on ‘rush hour train home’; Cryogen (Glitchmachines) and H949 Dual (Eventide) on ‘an ominous feeling’. The quality of the sounds from Sub Boom Bass 2 means I didn’t need to. ‘A fleeting glance’ for instance uses 6 instances of Sub Boom Bass 2, a drum loop and vocal loops. On ‘a sudden moment of calm’ I’ve only used one instance and have also used some other Rob Papen favourites, namely 2 instances of Blue 2, Punch, and RP Verb 2 on the vocals.

The album was arranged, produced and mastered in MuLab 7. For mastering I used a number of Eventide plugins (primarily Ultrachannel with occasional use of Tverb, H949 Dual, H3000, 2016 Stereo Room), Elevate (Newfangled Audio) and Stage (Fiedler Audio).

In-Depth Review

As I write this review, there’s an update available which makes Sub Boom Bass 2 compatible with Native Instruments NKS system, adds a big screen option and over a hundred new presets.

The basic signal flow is up to 2 oscillators per voice, two filters with filter envelopes, amp section, play mode and effects. There are extensive modulation options, an XY pad to control parameters dynamically or record automation and a very powerful sequencer.

The GUI is well laid out and easy to navigate. The top section contains presets and banks, including the quick browse feature for easy access and listing the last eight presets used. There’s also a handy ‘easy page’ option which just displays the most essential parameters.

There are hundreds and hundreds of presets and you can get started using Sub Boom Bass 2 straight away with these. There’s something like 20 banks, many of which have a hundred or so presets each. These are arranged by type and there are also some artist banks too. The preset manager lets you easily search for sounds using different criteria.

The main controls are arranged with the XY pad in the top left and Oscillators, Filters and amp section at the top of the display. Play mode is bottom left and effects bottom right, the centre display at the bottom changes to show particular controls for the sequencer, string, env/lfo, mod or XY pad by selecting the appropriate radio button.

Oscillator one has the usual controls for setting the rate (speed) and tuning by cents and/or semi tone, It also has symmetry, Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) settings and a sub-oscillator volume. There are a very impressive 128 waveforms to choose from including analogue wave forms, samples, spectrum waveforms and Karplus string modelling. Oscillator two is the same but also has an FM control and doesn’t have the option to route the signal to filter one.

There are extensive controls for the string option which are displayed at the bottom of the screen by selecting the appropriate radio button.

Oscillator one outputs to filter one by default, this has a huge range of filter types and as well as the usual cutoff and resonance settings there are controls for velocity, key track and envelope amount. The envelope settings are located in the filter section and there’s a filter LFO hardwired to the cutoff frequency.

Filter two is an additional filter that can be used in series, parallel or separately. This has the same filter types but only cutoff and resonance settings.

The amplifier provides an ADSR envelope (plus sustain fade control) for controlling volume contour settings.

If this looks daunting there’s a very handy ‘easy page’ button which only displays key parameters.

There are various play modes including mono, legato, poly, sequencer and unison mode. This section contains all the controls for the different modes.

There are two independent effects connected in series and there are 29 effect types in total including delays, reverb, chorus, flanger, distortion, lo-fi, gator and filters. The display changes to show the controls for each chosen effect. There are two mod matrix slots to set up modulation routings.

The XY Pad will be familiar if you’ve used other Rob Papen synths such as Predator II, Raw, Blade or Blue II. You can control 6 parameters simultaneously and use it in live mode to control parameters dynamically or alternatively record movement across the pad for automation via playback.

Modulation options are provided by a mod matrix with 4 available slots. Advanced mode gives 3 additional parameters per modulation path.

There are also an additional 2 free envelopes and a free LFO that can be used to modulate any parameters. Each envelope has its own modulation destination, independent of the LFO and Mod Matrix slots. The modulation amount (depth) is fixed although it can also be controlled by MIDI controllers or SubBoomBass 2’s internal components. The LFO has Sine, Triangle, Saw Up, Saw Down, Square, S&H and User 1 and 2 waveforms with speed, sync and amount controls.

The sequencer is up to 16 steps with 4 sequences available. Each step has tie, tune, velocity, slide and oscillator settings meaning you can change waveforms for different steps to create interesting and unusual rhythmic grooves with much more flexibility and creativity than you can with a standard step sequencer. It’s a very powerful feature which gives sub boom bass 2 incredible flexibility and enhanced usability.

Analogue Solutions extends synthBlocks series with tiny Treadstone true analogue mono synth — January 22, 2018

Analogue Solutions extends synthBlocks series with tiny Treadstone true analogue mono synth

Treadstone

KINGSWINFORD, UK: hot on the heels of its inaugural Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove so-called synthBlocks (launched late last year to widespread critical acclaim), British boutique electronic instruments innovator Analogue Solutions is proud to widen the self-explanatory series’ scope with Treadstone — taking the same smart, small, and affordable desktop design-driven analogue attributes of its similarly superior-sounding signal-processing siblings and applying them to a true analogue mono synth that packs a lot of (patchable) punch into a perfectly-matched, portable package.

Treadstone takes its intriguing name from a fictional highly-classified, heavily-guarded secret program that features in the series of books based on a fictional spy and associated feature films; it is shut down as the thrilling plot thickens, alas. As the latest addition to Analogue Solutions’ synthBlocks series — squarely aimed at laptop and audio plug-ins-focused digital musicians wishing to apply analogue, hands-on hardware sound-sculpting creativity to their sometimes sterile-sounding computer-based creations, the tiny Treadstone true analogue mono synth is far from fictional, however; hearing is believing, but it would, without question, make for a superior-sounding, space-saving desktop addition to any discerning film composer’s creative studio space — or anyone else’s, for that matter!

More meaningfully, maybe, Treadstone treads far from carefully, but boldly goes where few analogue synthesizers dare to win… with an all-analogue audio path and modulation circuits based on superior-sounding designs dating back to the mid-Seventies, so no CPU (Central Processing Unit) stabilised and quantised circuits, no DCOs (Digitally-Controlled Oscillators), and no digital EGs (Envelope Generators), as are often found on other ‘all-analogue’ affairs. Analogue as in really analogue — aside from the MIDI-to-CV circuit (which, by its very nature, must include a digital element) — in other words.

Winning analogue attributes apart (as attested to by its immediately apparent sonic strengths), this pocket-sized powerhouse packs a lot into its 134 x 125 x 52mm diminutive dimensions — including a serious single VCO (Voltage Controlled Oscillator) with square and sawtooth waveforms plus noise and an associated sub-oscillator, a reissue of the classic SSM2044 4-Pole VCF (Voltage Controlled Filter) chip (as used in many classic synths, such as the Korg Polysix and Monopoly, as well as E-mu’s Emulator and SP1200 sampling trailblazers), an analogue echo (REFLECT), and a unique LOOP SEQUENCER (to input, edit, and play up to 16 MIDI notes) — while weighing in at only 420g! Get this, though: Treadstone is designed, built, tested, and assembled in the UK using only high-quality components as is the Analogue Solutions way, with a full rugged steel/aluminium case combined with real ‘analogue’ wood side pieces perfectly reflecting its polished pedigree.

Put it this way: what’s within certainly counts in large amounts, albeit admittedly appearing at odds with those diminutive dimensions. Digging deeper, putting Treadstone through its musical and experimental paces can be as complex or uncomplicated an experience as deemed necessary; needless to say, Analogue Solutions has treated Treadstone to a diversity of creative controls and accompanying patch sockets, surely satisfying even the most ‘battle-hardened’ subtractive synthesists around — hardly surprising since Treadstone was designed by Analogue Solutions founder Tom Carpenter. As a fervent fan of electronic music and also an active electronic musician himself, he naturally knows a thing or two about programming synthesizers. So his latest creation clearly wasn’t the result of engineering design decisions alone — nor driven by a steering committee of men (or woman) in suits. So what else is ‘inside’ this small but perfectly formed box of subtractive synthesis tricks, then?

Thoughtfully, Treadstone is fully compatible with the ever-popular Eurorack small-format modular system and operates on the 1v/oct standard, so, armed with a fistful of 3.5mm mini-jacks, justifiably serious synthesists can interface it with their modular system or have it act as an exceptional external voice for another analogue synthesizer — after all, Oberheim’s Synthesizer Expander Module® (SEM) started life as an add-on synthesizer module for fattening up Minimoogs before becoming a sought-after sound in its own right (with up to eight embedded in Oberheim’s groundbreaking Seventies-vintage polysynths). Reality shows that Treadstone sounds a lot fatter than it looks!

Looks, of course, can be deceiving. Demonstrating design flare and flexibility, Treadstone can capably turn its hand — well… knobs, switches, and patching — to any number of applications. Any time anyone needs analogue sound effects, fat basses, screaming leads, bleeps, blurps, zaps, and all manner of other crazy sounds associated with subtractive synthesis… try Treadstone! Then consider that Treadstone has an AUDIO IN (input) socket, so users can feed external sounds through the onboard analogue filters for analogue processing. Producing electronic percussion sounds — such as kicks, snares, hi-hats, and cymbals — is perfectly possible in the hands of skilled synthesists. Speaking of which, while Treadstone is partially pre-patched, many of these patches can be cancelled using the switches and controls. Indeed, it has such wide-ranging modulation routing possibilities that it is almost as versatile as a full modular system and can create similar sounds — and all without the mess and confusion of cables! Cables, of course, can be used to re-patch Treadstone, thanks to an abundance of carefully chosen patch sockets, or connect externally elsewhere.

Either way, Treadstone makes for a fine addition to Analogue Solutions’ synthBlocks series, and a superior-sounding, space-saving addition to any studio or stage setup. Synth in pocket, indeed… Treadstone’s no pretender!

UK purchase price for the Treadstone synthBlock is £499.00 GBP (including VAT), via dealers and Analogue Solutions directly.

North American availability of the Treadstone synthBlock is being handled via Voltage & Company — full-service reps of high-quality manufacturers from around the world — with a retail price of $599.00 USD, while (most) EU distribution is being handled by Sonic Sales — one of the largest full-service MI (Musical Instrument) distribution companies in Europe — priced at €589.00 EUR (including VAT).

For more in-depth info, visit the dedicated Treadstone website.

Watch Analogue Solutions’ ear-tickling Treadstone teaser video

Review of Type A vintage tape encoder VST by AudioThing — January 18, 2018

Review of Type A vintage tape encoder VST by AudioThing

Introduction

AudioThing have introduced Type A, a plugin inspired by a vintage tape encoder in VST / AU / AAX formats in both 32 and 64 bit versions typically priced at 49 Euros. A demo version is also available.

I’ve said in previous reviews that I’m a big fan of AudioThing because they produce a range of different and interesting effects with a great sound quality that are very reasonably priced. This review follows previous reviews of Wave Box (dynamic dual waveshaper); Fog Convolver (Convolution Reverb); Outer Space (Vintage Tape Echo); Space Strip (Multi-Effect plugin); The Orb (Formant filter effect) and Frostbite (Ring mod / feedback / freeze effect).

Type A is a plugin that emulates the encode stage of a famous vintage tape encoder designed to be a noise reduction system for tape recording (encode stage) and playback (decode stage).

This was was often misused as an enhancer, dynamically increasing the top end of a signal without introducing artefacts or altering the harmonic content. The results are similar to a dynamic EQ which adds presence and air to any track in a natural way.

Verdict

Type A has a cool retro look, is very easy to use and most importantly it sounds superb. It’s a versatile effect and can add warmth, presence, depth and air as well as subtle or more extreme compression. There’s also a very handy randomise option which can provide some inspiration for some unusual effects. It can easy handle being used on individual tracks or equally can be used on the master.

For a long time I’ve used Ferric TDS (tape saturation) and Density MkIII (bus compressor) on the master channel as a ‘pre-master’ because they vastly improve dynamics and add great depth. I’ve not found anything that sounds as good, until now. Type A operates in a very similar way and from testing so far I think it sounds better and is far more versatile. Density MkIII does have a mid/side mode which can be useful but this isn’t a feature you’d expect to see on vintage gear.

To highlight the versatility and excellent sound of Type A, I’ve created a 3 track EP recorded live in Usine Sensomusic Hollyhock 3. I’ve used Carbon Electra (PluginBoutique) as the synth, Ephemere (Inear Display) for percussion and sounds from my ‘Kalipheno’ sample pack with various Hollyhock Samplers – Joggle Player, Grain Cloud Player and UDrone. I’ve kept effects to a minimum, only using Blackhole (Eventide) with UDrone and H949 Dual Harmoniser (Eventide) on vocals on almost lost in the twilight.

I’ve deliberately kept effects to a minimum to use Type A as an insert effect on each of these and also on the master. Only uploading the finalised tracks wouldn’t let you hear what Type A is doing so I’ve uploaded an excerpt of out of the darkness with all instances of Type A bypassed and the pre-finalised version with Type A enabled so you can hear the effects that Type A can produce.

The songs were finished in MuLab using bx_console E (Brainworx) and Stage (Fiedler Audio). This also highlights the sound quality of Type A because the finalisation is quite subtle.

How does it work?

To limit the amount of noise generated by tape recording, early noise reduction systems used what’s called a multi-band compander (compressor/expander). The unit dynamically emphasises the high frequencies during the encoding stage (recording to tape), so that during the decoding stage (playback from tape) the signal is attenuated, along with the typical tape noise. Type A emulates the encode stage only.

The input signal is split into 4 bands (with the highest bands overlapping), dynamically compressed and then summed back with the direct signal. The amount of compression on each band is inversely proportional to the volume of the band. Quieter sounds get brighter while louder sounds remain almost unchanged. This adds brightness and air without generating any new harmonic content or distortion, resulting in a more pleasant and natural enhancer compared to a typical exciter.

Bands were chosen for level content and effectiveness in eliminating tape hiss in the record / playback process as follows:

Band 1 – low pass filter around 80Hz

Band 2 – Input signal minus bands 1 and 2, effectively a band pass filter from 80Hz to 3kHz

Band 3 – high pass filter around 3kHz

Band 4 – high pass filter around 9kHz

GUI and controls

As with other AudioThing plugins, the GUI is well designed and clearly laid out. There are two panels which you switch between using the cog in the top right corner next to the bypass button.

There’s a cool retro feel to the look and use of Type A, including the detail of the buttons which emulate the use of bulbs in the days before LEDs and the aged look to the text simulating how it can rub off in places through age and frequent use.

The top section has presets, save, delete and randomise options. The more button opens a menu where you can specify window size, copy/paste presets, enable limiter and enable oversampling.

On the left of the display is the VU meter, the buttons comprise ‘NR in-out’ which enables or disables the plugin and is the same as bypass. The ‘direct’ button enables or disables the direct ‘dry’ signal that is summed with the four bands. As outlined above, a portion of the input is passed direct to the output so the wet signal contains the dry ‘direct’ signal regardless of the mix control. This button enables or disables the direct signal. The difference between the Direct signal and the Dry signal (which you can dial in with the Mix control) is that Direct is also affected by the Input control, while the Dry signal is passed unchanged.

The next four buttons enable or disable each band.

On the right of the display are the input, mix and output controls.

The second panel is displayed by clicking on the cog in the top right corner.

This allows you to switch between displaying the input or output on the VU meter, a noise control, attack and release settings for all band compressors and volume controls for each band.

Review of 4ms PEG add-on for Softube Modular — January 16, 2018

Review of 4ms PEG add-on for Softube Modular

4ms_GUI

Introduction

The 4ms PEG is an add-on for Softube Modular virtual synth. It is not a standalone VST and requires a modular licence to run. Typically priced at $29, the 4ms PEG is available from Softube and a 20 day demo is also available. It is fully licensed and endorsed by 4ms, manufacturers of the original hardware.

I have previously reviewed Modular which you can read here, it’s an excellent software version of a modular system which is very easy to use and has superb sound quality.

Verdict

The 4ms PEG is a brilliant addition to Modular, it is a faithful recreation of the original hardware unit. The potential is huge, you can go far beyond conventional envelopes to create complex patterns, quantised beats, self-oscillation and much more. It’s brilliant fun to play around with, it encourages experimentation to see what happens and that’s when you find some very cool and unexpected sounds.

Overview

The 4ms PEG is a dual envelope generator whose envelope lengths are set by the time between clock pulses or “pings”. The PEG has full CV control of envelope shape, skew, and ping (clock) division/multiplication, as well as a plethora of triggering and cycling options (AD, AR, quantization, cycle, cycle toggle), and a tap tempo button for each channel.

The basic setup is a ping, a trigger source and an output.

ping2

The ping can be provided by tapping the white button next to the red or blue ping inputs at the top of the display or an external source can be fed into the jack.

inputs

You press the cycle button to start to the trigger which subsequently changes colour to yellow and the LED above the ENV jack also starts flashing. You can also run manual triggers into the QNT (Quantised) or ASYNC (Asynchronous) jacks. Feeding a gate into the ‘T’ jack toggles the state of the cycle from off to on or vice versa. This means you can toggle between the two channels or switch them on/off at the same time.

scale

The scale knob provides your output, the bi-polar switch focusses the output around 0v. There are two outputs, ENV is scaled whereas ‘+5V ENV’ is unscaled,

Once the basic setup is completed, you can start to change envelope parameters. That’s when things start to get very interesting.

ping_div_mult

The ping div/mult knob is an integer multiple or division of the original tempo in steps from parity to +/- 8 times. This can be modulated using the DIV CV jack at the bottom.

skewcurve

The curve knob sets the envelope shape. The curve knob has asymmetrical curves at the extremes and symmetrical curves in the middle. These are formed by combinations of exponential, linear and logarithmic waveforms and there are 17 in total. You can modulate these parameters using the Skew and Curve CV jacks located at the bottom of the display.

The skew knob controls the ratio between the rise and fall times. The envelope length is held constant whilst the skew is changed allowing you to change between ramp-up, ramp-down and triangle – and everything in-between – without affecting the timing. Because the change is instantaneous, you can get some interesting outputs.

outputs

Each channel also has two gate outputs, End-of-Rise (EOR) and End-of-Fall (EOF).

EOR outputs a gate that goes high when the fall segment begins, and goes low when the envelope completes. It is low during a sustain segment. It will stay low when the envelope is not running.

EOF outputs a gate that goes high when the fall segment ends and goes low when a rise segment ends. It is low during a sustain segment. It will stay high when the envelope is not running.

The OR output acts like a mix control, outputting the highest value from either of the red or blue channels.

The 4ms PEG in use

There are many ways to use the 4ms PEG, I was very keen to use it with the Buchla 259e add-on (included in the aforementioned Modular review) because it produces a huge range of incredible sounds.

I found a video on YouTube which shows details of modules and patching connections that I’ve used as a basis to get me started and is shown below. I created this basic setup in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 and created a demo track with no external effects which is called ‘meridians – origin’.

I then thought I’d take a minimalist approach using this as the only sound source, add 4 send/return effects and AudioThing’s Type A as a pre-master to see if I could create a full sound and also a variety of sounds. I used an iterative process where I changed effects / effect settings and also changed settings on the Buchla 259e and 4ms PEG and then re-recorded. Recording in Hollyhock 3 is direct to disk so all of the tracks were recorded live and subsequently mastered in MuLab with Elevate and Stage.

The send effects used for the intro track were Amalgame, RP Verb 2, Ultratap and SpecOps. I’ve used combinations of various Eventide effects on other tracks – Ultratap, Blackhole, Fission, H3000, Quadravox, H949 and Octavox. On the last four tracks I also used the UDrone sampler in Hollyhock 3 with combinations of Ultratap, SpecOps and Blackhole.

The album is embedded at the start of the review and as you can see, I got a bit carried away. That’s partly due to how good Modular and the Buchla259e / 4ms PEG add-ons are and also the creativity offered by Eventide effects and some of my other favourite effects. The 4ms PEG just encourages you to tweak settings and see what happens and then you want to adjust the Buchla 259e settings, then tweak the PEG a bit more and what happens if I turn this all the way up or down? – it’s addictive. I’ve produced a whole range of sounds covering drones, ambiences, rhythmic glitches, harsh metallic sounds to more extreme experimentation.

Eventide announces availability of Anthology XI as ‘everything’ bundle – a phenomenal collection of 23 plugins — January 8, 2018

Eventide announces availability of Anthology XI as ‘everything’ bundle – a phenomenal collection of 23 plugins

LITTLE FERRY, NJ, USA: recording technology trailblazer Eventide is proud to announce availability of its ‘everything’ plug-in bundle.

Anthology XI includes all 17 plug-ins from Eventide’s acclaimed Anthology X bundle, but brings six of its latest and greatest hits to the creative collection. With the welcome addition of Blackhole, Fission, Tverb, UltraTap, MangledVerb, and 2016 Stereo Room, that’s 23 timeless tools that inspire, running the gamut from groundbreaking innovations like the TEC Award-nominated Fission — the first product to feature Eventide’s seminal STRUCTURAL EFFECTS method to split sound into its transient and tonal parts — to emulations of the trailblazing company’s legendary rack-mount effects. Everything.

Anthology XI’s 23 plug-ins — available as AAX/AU/VST formats for Mac OS X 10.7+ and Windows 7+ (with no iLok dongle required) — represent a combined value of over $3,500.00 USD if purchased individually. The bundle can be purchased at an introductory price of $899.00 USD. Upgrades from Anthology X and from individual Eventide plug-ins are also available. Sale ends January 11, 2018. MSRP thereafter is $1,799.00 USD. For more in-depth info, upgrade pricing, and a fully-functional 30-day demo version, please visit the Anthology XI webpage

Watch Eventide’s enticing Anthology XI video playlist

Anthology XI comes complete with more than 2,900 presets across the 23 plug-ins, many created by acclaimed artists and engineers like Dave Pensado, George Massenburg, Tony Visconti, Vernon Reid, Richard Devine, Joe Chiccarelli, Roy Hendrickson, Alessandro Cortini, Andrew Scheps, Erin Tonkin, Jonathan Schenke, Robin Finck, Chuck Zwicky, and Suzanne Ciani.

Concludes Eventide Director of Marketing Communications Nalia Sanchez: “For over 45 years, audio pros have turned to Eventide for professional tools that inspire. Now everything — all of our effects — are in one big bundle that includes our latest and greatest hits. For example, there’s an authentic emulation of our H910, pro audio’s first digital effects box whose unique sound inspired all sorts of mischief. We meticulously modeled the analog subtleties, and the plug-in sounds like the original. And, while we’re committed to the authentic recreation of our legendary hardware, we’ll always strive to break new ground. Fission is the latest case in point. It’s nominated for a TEC Award, and, to quote one reviewer, Eventide wants to change how you think about processing audio…’ True enough. Always have, always will.”

Anthology XI accesses all areas of Eventide’s evolution and is a phenomenal collection of effects and studio tools. I have been trying to get the review published in good time whilst the sale is still on but unfortunately there’s only a couple of days left. This is partly because I wanted to do justice to the collection and partly because the further into the review I’ve got, the more I’m realising that this is so much more than an outstanding collection of plugins, it feels like you’re in possession of a slice of history. They range from software versions of the very first ever hardware effects unit to the latest ultra modern effects which retain Eventide’s unique and innovative approach. A good example is the range of reverb effects, there’s a software version of a hardware model from 1981, a highly configurable conventional reverb and three very creative reverb effects. All of which are superb and offer a huge range of creative potential.

There’s such a wealth of effects and accordingly a lot to learn and the presets are definitely a very good way to get an idea of what each effect is capable of. You can explore so much functionality through the thousands of presets and that’s before you start to explore and create your own sounds and patches.

It’s testament to Eventide’s quality and design that the software versions of hardware effects from 40 years ago are still relevant today. When I say this is a slice of history, these are in no way museum pieces, the H910 and H949 still sound awesome and inspire creativity in exactly the same way as more recent effects such as Fission.

FX:

  • Fission

A unique and innovative effect that splits the incoming signal into its transient and tonal parts allowing you to apply individual effects to each. Fission uses an algorithm based on the sound source type to obtain the best split and you can focus (rather than mix) between the two effects. You can apply delay, tap delay, dynamics, phaser, reverb and gate + EQ to the transients and delay, compression, pitch, chorus, reverb, tremelo and EQ to the tonal.

It is incredibly versatile and can do a whole range of tasks from cleaning up drum loops and adding more punch and bite, modulation effects and harmony type effects. It can produce subtle or more extreme effects, for example you can add rhythmic and/or melodic elements, add texture and rhythm or create something glitchy or psychedelic. It will happily process any sound source you feed it – drums, guitar, bass, vocals – and is a very creative and inspiring effect.

  • UltraTap

I’ve previously reviewed Ultratap which you can read here, it is a superb multi-tap delay effect capable of everything from rhythmic delays, glitchy delays and swells. It has a few cool features – ‘slurm’ reduces attack and definition giving a ‘smeared’ sound; ‘chop’ allows you to add a chopping tremelo for swells and gated effects, it also has an auto-volume setting. You can assign multiple parameter settings to the ribbon which is the blue ‘lightning streak’ towards the bottom of the display and as you move this left and right you can adjust them in real time like a hardware controller. The hotswitch function allows you to switch between two different presets. .

  • H3000 Factory

If there is a Holy Grail of effects, this is it. Ever since I heard Joe Satriani use one on ‘Flying in a Blue Dream’ I was in awe and wanted one, although quickly realised I could never afford a hardware unit. The software unit is a faithful replication of the hardware unit containing the same reverb, delay, pitch and modulation effects. It comes loaded with hundreds of presets, including some of the hardware originals.

The presets are definitely a good way to get to hear what this can do. It’s incredible. From lush reverbs and delays, to harmonising to lo-fi and glitchy effects it’s superb. You can create your own programs by patching effects and assigning modulation and there are function and expert tabs that allow you full control over effect settings and ranges. You can also assign parameters to the four soft keys and change the values dynamically using the large control knob.

Considering this unit is about 30 years, the effects still sound brilliant today. Some of the vocal delays and pitch shift effects sound phenomenal. The patching towards the bottom of the display wasn’t part of the original hardware unit but certainly adds great usability.

  • H3000 Band Delays

This is a delay effect that splits the signal into 8 frequency bands and allows you to apply filter settings and delay effects to each individual band. The effect is based on some of the algorithms in the H3000 unit so the GUI has a similar look and feel including the same expert and function tabs for precise control of effect settings.

The 8 bands are shown in the bottom left, when you click on a band the current filter and delay settings are shown. The beat grid visualises delay times allowing you to create interesting and complex rhythms and there’s a 3d display to the right.

The global parameters above allow you to control parameters with modulation although you can also use the softkeys and dial or use midi.

It’s a brilliant, very creative delay effect producing an excellent range of sounds from ambiences, sweeps and modulations from subtle to much more extreme.

  • Octavox

The Octavox is an 8 voice pitch shifter with individual level, pan, delay and pitch controls for each voice. The notation grid is a very useful visual way of setting the pitch value by moving the note up and down and the delay setting by moving the note left and right.

Octavox intelligently harmonises notes according to the chosen key and scale so you need to make sure you set these for your chosen sound or vocals. You can choose up to 8 voices enabling you to harmonise specific chords as required. The delay function enables you to create a natural sounding vocal harmony or create complex, rhythmic patterns from a simple bassline. It also has a loop function so that you can repeat patterns.

What I love about this effect is that it’s capable of producing complex sounds but it is incredibly easy to use. It’s brilliant for vocals, can make interesting rhythmic patterns from a couple of notes and can also make a mono synth note sound orchestrally massive.

  • Quadravox

An identical effect to the Octavox but has four voices for lower CPU usage.

Reverb:

  • Blackhole

This is a superb reverb effect that is quite unusual and produces stunning results. Whilst having the typical mix, size, pre-delay, low, high, tempo sync and modulation parameters, it also has a gravity control which is a different take on decay time. This control produces a range from dense decays to long and smooth decays with an inverse mode to produce reverse delays.

The modulation depth and rate of the reverb tail can be used to produce subtle effects. Feedback is for the entire reverberation sound and can produce massive sounds. You can also control the resonance of the low and high filters.

Blackhole also has the ribbon control for changing parameter values like a hardware controller and also the hotswitch function to switch between two presets. There’s also a handy freeze function to freeze the reverb sound and you can adjust parameters. The kill switch stops the incoming signal.

It’s ideal for live performance and dynamically changing sounds during a recording. I find it especially useful for creating dense ambient drones and huge reverbs for impacts.

  • Tverb

TVerb is a very interesting reverb effect which isn’t trying to emulate a specific hardware model, it’s more about the process than trying to recreate the sound of a certain space. It is based on the method used by Tony Visconti for recording vocals for the David Bowie song ‘Heroes’.

You place three microphones in the virtual room and select the type of microphone and use a high or low cut if required. The first microphone is the main one and microphones 2 and 3 are linked by using noise gates so that they start recording when the volume increases. You can mix levels between the microphones, adjust gate settings, mute and adjust room effects.

It sounds superb with a great range of sounds from subtle ambiences to small spaces, drum rooms to larger halls. Because it is more about the recording process, it also allows you to create gated effects, big, dark spaces and unusual reverb effects such as replicate the effect of sounds recorded in another room.

  • MangledVerb

I’ve previously reviewed Mangledverb which you can read here, it is an excellent reverb effect with a twist, It’s a reverb and distortion effect that can produce a huge range of reverb effects from subtle ambience, huge ambience, large spaces, distortions, metallic sounding, subtle movement to more swirling effects. It has the same ribbon and hotswitch features as Ultratap and is part of the same H9 signature series of effects. .

  • 2016 Stereo Room

Eventide introduced the SP2016 effects processor unit in 1981 and this effect is based on the original effect ROM. It has up to a massive 30 second decay time and a unique position control which adjusts the position of the listener from front to rear. This remodels the complex delay network to simulate movement and is the reason the hardware unit is still revered and used by some producers today.

The software version sounds great and has low CPU usage.

  • UltraReverb

Unlike Tverb, MangledVerb and Blackhole, this is more of a conventional reverb with 4 effects – reverb, EQ (for reverb, pre- and post- EQ and delay), delay (pre- or post-) and compressor (pre- or post-). It is highly configurable and sounds brilliant.

Clockworks Legacy:

  • H910 — original Harmonizer® and first digital effects processor

The H910 was the first ever digital effects processor introduced in 1975. It was so revolutionary because it wasn’t possible to produce these effects before it was released. You can tell how awesome its introduction must have been by the fact that producers such as Tony Visconti and Shelly Yakus used it on records by artists such as John Lennon, Patti Smith Group, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Suzanne Vega, AC/DC and many, many more.

When you start using this effect you see exactly why it was so revered. It can thicken and double any input source such as vocals, synths and guitars as well as adding ambience and a subtle delay. Things get more interesting when you use some of the pitch shifting, you can microshift up and down in cents which is brilliant for fine tuning as well as using note intervals such as 2nds, 3rds, 4ths and fifths both up and down. I have to say that using the ‘min7 down’ preset on a drumloop is a revelation. Throw in some modulation and things can get crazy – wobbles, glitches, risers and drops there are some very psychedelic effects possible when you dynamically alter the pitch, envelope and feedback settings.

  • H910 Dual

Studios would often use two H910s in parallel and the H910 Dual replicates this configuration to give even more creative possibilities.

  • H949

Built on the legacy of the H910, the H949 introduced de-glitching, micropitch, reverse and random delays and reverse pitch shifting. This is an excellent evolution, it does everything the H910 can do plus a lot more, the reverse sweeps, random delay and flange create some very cool and interesting effects. It has a kind of sample and hold function where you can change settings ready for when you release and dynamically changing controls gives some amazing time mangling effects.

  • H949 Dual

As with the H910, these were often used in parallel in studios and the dual version replicates this configuration and similarly offers even more creativity.

  • Omnipressor

This compressor / expander / gate was introduced in the early 1970s. It’s a very versatile effect, capable of subtle compression, expansion and gating. However, it can also be brutal, squeezing the life out of drums, producing glitchy and lo-fi sounds as well as acting as a dynamic reverse gate and also producing very loud sounds.

  • Instant Phaser

This was the world’s first studio phaser and it sounds excellent. It can handle subtle, slow to more intense sounds.

  • Instant Flanger

The first faithful simulation of a tape flanger, this can handle slow, subtle and more intense flange effects and again sounds superb. Using it in conjunction with the H910 ‘min 7 down’ preset on a dub drum loop produces a very cool trippy effect.

  • Utilities:

  • UltraChannel

This is a very capable and excellent sounding channel strip effect comprising a gate, compressor, o-pressor (which is a sort of junior version of the omnipressor), 5 band EQ, micro pitch shift and delay.

It can handle many tasks such as cleaning and tightening up drums, adding body and presence as well as widening effects by using the microshift effect.

It has 8 modules – input, gate, compressor, o-pressor, 5 band EQ, micro pitch shift, delay and output. You can rearrange the order of the gate, compressor, o-pressor and EQ for increased flexibility although the position of the micro pitch shift and delay are fixed in the effect chain.

There are some cool signal routing possibilities, for instance if you don’t use the EQ in the main effects you can send the feedback from the delay to the EQ.

  • EChannel

This is a stripped down version of ultrachannel containing the gate, compressor and 5 band EQ.

  • Precision Time Align

This is a very handy utility for multitracking a single instrument and compensation for phasing issues when using multiple microphones. You can adjust timing to microsecond accuracy.

  • EQ45

This is a 48 bit double precision, 4 band parametric EQ. It’s a great sounding EQ that can easily handle mastering tasks, quickly and easily allowing you to sculpt your sound.

  • EQ65

This is a 48 bit double precision vintage filter set with low filter EQ, a peak / notch filter for low frequencies and one for mid / high frequencies and a high frequency cut-off. It is a brilliant at removing unwanted frequencies with surgical precision.

Touch Innovations wows with stunning see-through, all-glass, multi-touch control display exuding ‘XG’ factor — January 4, 2018

Touch Innovations wows with stunning see-through, all-glass, multi-touch control display exuding ‘XG’ factor

XG_logo

GLASS_2017-Sep-13_11-00-08AM-000_CustomizedView3330232405

MIAMI, FL, USA: physical hardware touch technology and cutting-edge software specialist Touch Innovations is proud to announce availability of XG — a stunning see-through, all-glass design demonstrating its most luxurious touch screen system yet.

Wowing wherever with a seamless bezel-free design, an all-glass body, and a 39-inch see-through PCAP (Projective Capacitive) touch display supporting 10 simultaneous touch points, XG is quite unlike anything anyone has ever seen (or touched), truly exuding that special ’XG’ factor! For this unique combination of function and finesse makes it a perfect fit for impressing clients and audiences alike in almost any fixed location scenario, performance-based or otherwise — on stage, including high-end clubs’ DJ booths, and elsewhere, from hotel lobbies to mall kiosks and museums to showrooms, with much in-between and beyond, such as gaming events and even upmarket restaurants. Realigning performance and infotainment control possibilities are almost endless.

Entertainment-ready, the Windows-compatible XG is available as two distinct versions — XG PRO (with an onboard high-power Intel PC with 500 GB storage for easy installation and preferred software usage) or XG LITE (without an onboard PC). Allowing for the most luxurious display, all components are conveniently sited inside the base unit, avoiding unsightly cable clutter. The projected 39-inch display is brighter than any other touch screen system, increasing both visual attractiveness as well as legibility. Little wonder, then, that it is guaranteed to command attention in almost any environment.

Every XG system ships bundled with Emulator 2, Touch Innovations’ critically-acclaimed customisable multi-touch controller flagship software for any MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) application. As such, Emulator 2 really represents a license to dream, making it perfectly possible for users to create their dream controller by bringing about a multi-touch experience with everything and anything available at their fingertips. For Emulator 2 includes all standard objects like sliders, knobs, modulation pads, encoders, buttons, and much more besides. But best of all, as each and every component is fully customisable, creativity is effectively only limited by the user’s imagination… and, of course, the software being controlled. It’s a killer combination!

Concludes Touch Innovations COO Cody Myer: “XG offers our most elegant setup to date, bridging us into the digital signage world while retaining high-end performance for all user scenarios. As we continue to develop hybrid hardware/software solutions for creative artists, products like our ELITE series — a DJ’s dreamlike mobile marriage of road-ready, cutting-edge multi-touch technology with a massive see-through screen — and, now, our new XG models are becoming a bigger part of our business.”

XG PRO and XG LITE are available for online ordering directly from Touch Innovations at $6,895.00 USD ($180.00 USD/month) and $5,999.00 USD ($165.00 USD/month) respectively.

Review of Carbon Electra – a 4 oscillator subtractive VST synth from PluginBoutique —

Review of Carbon Electra – a 4 oscillator subtractive VST synth from PluginBoutique

Introduction

Carbon Electra is available from PluginBoutique in AU / VST versions (32 & 64 bit) typically priced at £59. It is currently on sale for half price (£28.96) as part of PluginBoutique’s 12 days of Christmas sale until January 15th 2018.

Overview

Carbon Electra was designed by producers, for producers and was developed as an advanced learning tool whilst also being a powerful and easy to use synth.

It’s a 4 oscillator subtractive virtual analog synth with a filter, modulation envelopes, assignable LFO modulators, in-built effects and a step envelope feature which offers lots of creative potential.

Because it has been built as a learning tool, the GUI has been designed so that all features fit onto one page. It is aimed at dance / EDM sounds and features presets from some famous names such as Carl Cox, Freemasons and Mike Huckerby.

Verdict

This synth is one of those that could be overlooked, in fact I bought it some time ago as part of a similar discounted deal with an expansion pack and haven’t used it as much as I should have. Recently I’ve been playing and experimenting with it some more which has prompted me to write this rather overdue review.

To sum up Carbon Electra in a nutshell, I’d say it is fun, easy and intuitive to use and produces amazing sounds from lush, warm chords to edgy, aggressive leads / basses and excellent sequences too.

The fact that it’s another 4 oscillator virtual analog synth may not be appealing, but you need to look deeper because you’ll find a synth that is very capable of producing a much wider range of sounds than those limited to dance / EDM.

Carbon Electra is not trying to copy any particular synth and has its own distinctive sound. Whilst it may not have some of the advanced features of synths like Synthmaster 2, Dune or Spire this works to its advantage, making it easy to get to grips with and achieves the dual aims of being a teaching tool and a powerful synth. Whilst Carbon Electra has limited oscillator waveforms, a single filter and no modulation matrix compared to these synths, that for me is part of the appeal. You can get to grips with Carbon Electra very quickly producing excellent sounds, that’s definitely the role of a teaching synth rather than baffling you with multiple screens and complex signal routing.

It is also very reasonably priced, especially if you purchase during a sale or offer such as the current half-price deal until January 15th.

The biggest problem I’ve found is that if you adjust a preset sound and save your project, when you next open the project your changes won’t have been saved. This happened a couple of times and I thought I was losing the plot but it is a known bug. I have been a bit lazy like that and relied on saving the project to save the latest settings rather than saving presets, I now save everything as I go along which is a much better way of working anyway.

Another option I’d like to see is a randomisation button, I use this a lot for synths and effects where available but it’s a minor point really.

GUI

I really like the look of the GUI, it’s very intuitive to use and helpfully everything is included on the one screen. It mirrors the signal flow starting with the oscillators, envelopes, a mixer / filter section and the 3 modulation LFOs on the right. Underneath this are the effects – which look like a rack unit effect – comprising chorus, delay, phaser, distortion and EQ. At the bottom of the screen you have the step sequencer and master controls.

Presets

When trying a new synth I’ll usually look at the presets to see what it sounds like. There are over 600 arranged into categories such as bass, chords, sequences, keys, pads and effects and include presets by some famous names such as Carl Cox, Freemasons and Mike Huckerby. A number of expansion packs are also available.

This is the first indication that there’s more to this synth than meets the eye. It has a fantastic range of sounds producing deep basses, lush sounding chords and some cool effects amongst many others too.

Oscillators

There are four oscillators, Oscillator one has pitch, FM and width controls and can be sync’d with Oscillator two. Oscillator two, three and four have pitch, width and tune controls and oscillators three and four can also be sync’d. The available waveforms of pulse, square, triangle, sine and noise may seem limited but are capable of producing a huge range of waveforms.

Mixer

This has a volume control for each oscillator, an additional noise generator and a +12dB boost to overload the filter. The visual display is an excellent addition, you can easily see the waveform and how it changes as you adjust the parameters and level of each oscillator,

Filter

Carbon Electra has a single filter. That said, it’s an excellent sounding one. It has 5 settings – low pass, high pass, band pass, band reject and vocal. There’s the usual cutoff and resonance settings, a keytrack control, bipolar filter envelope control and a saturation setting.

The filter also has a very handy display underneath the mixer so you can visualise what the filter is doing.

Envelopes

Carbon Electra has two envelopes, an amplifier envelope and filter modulation envelope. These have the standard controls and I really like how they are also presented visually.

Modulation

There are 3 LFOs provided for modulation. Each of the LFOs have rate, delay, width and phase controls and have the same waveform shapes as the oscillators. They can sync to your DAW tempo or you can manually set the frequency. There are also trigger and mono settings and they can be used with a modwheel assignment control.

These LFO modulate different parameters and have additional controls based on what they are modulating. LFO one can be applied to individual oscillator pitch and amplitude; LFO two can modulate the FM of oscillator one, the pulse-width of oscillators two and three, LFO one amount and filter resonance; LFO three can modulate the mix setting of each individual oscillator and filter cutoff.

Effects

The effects rack contains a good range of effects which sound very good for inbuilt effects. The immediately notable absence is a reverb but I suspect the developers were thinking that most users would be using a separate reverb effect and you can of course use any separate effects if you prefer.

The layout reminds me of guitar effects rack unit and I like the linear look and feel.

Step Envelope

This sets Carbon Electra apart from many other virtual analog synths. It is an excellent addition and although you might think this is complex feature, it is incredibly easy to use.

Essentially it is up to 16 steps, auto syncs to your DAW tempo and you can set the rate from a 2nd to a 32nd T . You can control the amp (volume), filter cut-off and the pitch of oscillators two and four. There is also a note switch that enables you to change the pitch of all oscillators. The wave select box is used to select one of the many wave shapes – ramp, ramp reverse, triangle, cosine, cosine-reverse, sine, level, pulse, pulse-reverse, exp, exp-reverse, exp x2, exp x2-reverse, exp x3, exp x3-reverse, exp x4 and exp x4 reverse,

You can apply a different wave shape to each step and there’s also a very cool edit feature which allows you to change the shape of each selected wave type giving virtually unlimited possibilities, You can produce gated effects, reverse effects, shimmery / tremelo effects and switching the note mode on allows you to use the level wave like a step sequencer.

Master Controls

This section has the expected volume and tune controls but there are also a number of other controls including polyphony and unison controls for voices, tune and stereo. These are very useful controls to further define your sound.

100% Fleisch & Ritual by John Der Kreativreaktor on LowHop Records — December 14, 2017

100% Fleisch & Ritual by John Der Kreativreaktor on LowHop Records

There’s an excellent vibe to this album, it has a lo-fi hip hop feel with looping samples, solid beats and an experimental feel at times which gives a great edge. I really like the use of film quotes and the atmosphere created by bassline and background sounds.

A1 Welcome Digger
An eclectic opening song which is a great intro to the album.

A2 Holy Mountain Dew
A lo-fi hip hop groove with an experimental vibe and great changes in feel.

A3 Promise, Major Label
A quote with a groove. Short and to the point.

A4 Fuck You All
There’s a brooding quality to the song with vinyl crackle, drone, drum groove and guitar riff.

A5 Tribute to Santo_S
Another Lo fi hip hop groove, bit of an old school sampler / rave feel with great use of opening quote.

B1 Circle of Circus
Another solid groove, the bass has a dark quality.

B2 Forcefield
Dirty bassline and swirling background sounds create a great opening, an edgy sound with a great groove.

B3 My Choice
Another atmospheric groove with great use of film quotes.

B4 Church of Blood
Great opening with a film quote, an atmospheric song with a solid groove.

Review of Population album by Crown Larks on Already Dead Tapes and Records (AD249) — December 12, 2017

Review of Population album by Crown Larks on Already Dead Tapes and Records (AD249)

Crown Larks are a four piece band from Chicago comprising Lorraine Bailey – vocals, keys, alto saxophone, flute, synth bass; Jack Bouboushian – vocals, guitar, organ, microphone; Bill Miller – drum kit, percussion and Matt Puhr – bass.

Population is available as a cassette, digital download, and deluxe black vinyl from Already Dead Tapes and Records and also available as a blood red vinyl, deluxe black vinyl, cassette and CD from Crown Lark’s bandcamp page.

There’s a great vibe to this album, it has elements of indie, psych and jazz amongst others and a great jam quality at times. Not being bound by any particular genre gives Crown Larks a great free sound giving each song its own style. The vocals are excellent, ranging from laid back to more intense. The bass and drumming provide a great momentum and there’s excellent use of organ and sax / trumpet at times too.

Howls
A great jam quality to this song which is propelled by solid drumming / bass and keys. The guitar lead and vocals have an improv feel and provide a great contrast.

Circus Luvv
Another opening jam with drumming and bass providing momentum against the more uptempo keys, the song develops a laid back groove with similarly laid back vocals and some excellent feedback / scrape effects. A great improv quality again.

React

I really like the opening bass and drums, vocals enter to add an edge of tension. There’s a brooding quality to the song with a superb psychedelic vibe and a slow building tempo leading into two solo sections with a great release of tension to end.

TFZ Interlude
A slow Latin / bluesy / jazzy feel to the opening with keys, guitar lead, bass and drumming. The drumming changes to a more defined momentum. Vocals are excellent and the song has a laid back groove throughout.

Lithops Life
The opening has an uptempo, urgent feel from guitar riff, bass and drumming. Vocals have a great laid back quality with a kind of call and response feel against the vocals and trumpet. Great change of feel when the keys enter and the processed vocals add a great element.

Swoon (For Fred Hampton)
Keys to open the song have a reflective quality, distorted guitar effects, vocals and trumpet add a great edge. The song has experimental qualities at times.

Burn it Down
Uptempo feel to the opening from drumming, strummed riff leading into organ chords and vocals. Another great jam feel with development and variation in sound, the sax adds a great element.

“Watchful, Spellbound”
Atmospheric opening from delayed guitar and laid back vocals, there’s an ambience which slowly evolves a more uptempo sound with the introduction of percussion and feedback / distortion. The song takes on a more urgent, uptempo feel with a crescendo to a final release.

Goodbye
A drone type sound to open with organ riff and chords, there’s an evolving quality leading into laid back vocals which contrast really well against emerging distorted guitar which builds, releasing to a solid groove building tension to a final release.

Stranger (Unce down to the new store)
Opens with spoken vocals leading into uptempo synth bass riff and drumming and guitar lead. Vocals are excellent again, there’s a brooding quality to the song, an evolving tension to a final release.