AF’s Weblog

July 4, 2012

iZotope Iris Review

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  iZotope Iris Review

iZotope is famous for its effects, audio processing and restoration tools. Now, the manufacturer enters the world of virtual instruments with the launch of Iris, its first synth. Knowing iZotope, we expect nothing but a very original approach. Are we wrong?

Test system

MacPro Xeon 3.2 GHz
OS 10.6.8
Logic Pro 9.1.7
iZotope iris 1.00.74

Introducing iZotope Iris

iZotope iris

The instrument is available on iZotope’s website, alone or as a bundle including the synth plus two sound libraries: Wood and Glass. The latter include 260 and 150 samples, respectively, plus almost 100 programs each. You can also buy them separately for $29 or $49, while the instrument alone costs $249. Iris is sold with a 4GB sample library and countless programs.

You get a standalone version and several plug-ins (AU, VST, VST 3 and RTAS) for Mac (Intel only) and Windows with 64-bit support. The instrument also includes the latest Radius version, the time compression/expansion and pitch shifting software called Radius RT.

The installation of the synth and libraries, as well as the registration, went smooth and easy. Registration can be done on a hard drive or with an iLok (it’s a good thing to have the choice) using the serial number provided during purchase.

Now let’s take a closer look and a listen…

Conclusion

Some of my friends who make sound synthesis directly in iZotope RX2 will love Iris. This synth definitely has an original approach when it comes to re-synthesis, even if there are some brilliant and famous competitors like Alchemy. The selection of audio content with tools that recall graphic design software is quite a unique experience. It almost makes you feel like a beginner because you can’t anticipate the result of your selection (and every experienced user knows how a sawtooth will sound when processed with a 4th order filter and 50% resonance). In this respect, Iris is a new, exciting sound weapon.

Iris is no all-round synth that provides bass, pads, leads, etc. like a good subtractive synth. On the contrary, if you want to create weird sounds combining authentic and synthetic sounds on a very original way, or if you like to experiment with every possible audio material to create something new every time, Iris will be a dream come true! All the more considering that the algorithms are almost perfect and its design and ease-of-use are pure joy, making this instrument accessible for almost anyone interested in sound synthesis.

So, is it a success for iZotope once again? Yes, definitely…

2012 Innovation Award
Advantages:
  • Concept
  • Three samples players plus Sub
  • Amazing Radius RT
  • Graphical selection tool
  • Surprising but perfect design
  • Ease of use
  • Very simple and comprehensive MIDI Learn
  • Effects
  • Comprehensive sample bank included
  • Many presets
  • iLok or Challenge/Response authorization
  • Leads to a new creative approach
Drawbacks:
  • Could have more complex envelopes
  • A filter is missing in the FX section
  • Sometimes, lack of fatness in the lower frequencies
  • Pay attention to CPU load

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  iZotope Iris Review

March 29, 2012

Arturia Oberheim SEM V Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Arturia Oberheim SEM V Review

Arturia has been launching a myriad of products since early 2012. Among the new products you’ll find an Oberheim SEM emulation with new custom features. Let’s have a look at the beast…

Something is for sure: Arturia’s team never stops working! They are constantly updating their existing products and have launched Analog Experience, Oberheim SEM V and MiniBrute in a very short time. The Oberheim is the latest addition to the series of legendary synth emulation plug-ins that started in 2003 with the Moog Modular V, followed by the Minimoog, CS-80, Prophet 5 and Jupiter-8 simulations. Arturia even attempted to create a virtual version of another legend of Tom Oberheim’s company, but they didn’t succeed…

It’s probably not necessary to present Oberheim, a mythical company that has had its successes and troubles after being bought by Gibson and Viscount. The SEM (Synthesizer Expander Module) was the first synth officially presented by its inventor in 1974. It was brought to life again in 2009 with a Patch Panel providing all 33 internal connections as mini-jacks and a Midi to CV Converter. These new features certainly gave customization ideas to Arturia: their virtual version also has many new features.

Introducing Arturia Oberheim SEM V

Arturia Oberheim SEM V

Arturia Oberheim SEM V

Test System:

  • MacPro Xeon 3.2 GHz
  • OS 10.6.8
  • Logic Pro 9.1.6
  • Arturia Oberheim SEM V 1.0, later 1.1

Out of curiosity, and because I always read that all Arturia synths sound similar, I compared the Minioog V and SEM waveforms (in this order) as well as a filter setting at 3,406Hz with maximum resonance (the release parameter settings are different but they have no effect on the sound in our example). Look at the screenshots and listen to the sound: No similarity…

Conclusion

Let’s be clear: I have no ’74 SEM in my studio. So a one-to-one comparison is impossible. I have only my memories of when I played the instrument and the many records where it is used… Therefor, it would make no sense to say this plug-in is an exact and faithful copy of the original. However, the virtual synth does share many things with the original synth: the features, the spirit, the typical Oberheim sound (soft filter clearly different from Roland and Moog filters). In short, don’t hesitate to add this tool to your synth library if you’re looking for SEM sound.

However, we also found a few problems: the envelopes/effects extend to the next preset, audible steps in some modulations. But considering the huge possibilities, the sound and the wonderful modulation section, we can only praise the quality of this synth. The ease-of-use, that doesn’t limit the sound possibilities, makes it the ideal tool to start in the world of sound synthesis.

Advantages: 
  • Same sound DNA as the original hardware synth
  • Design
  • Ease of use
  • Faithful to the original concept but more comprehensive
  • Modulation section
  • Amazing 8-Voice Programmer
  • Almost fully synced
  • Good product manual
  • Excellent Midi Learn function
Drawbacks:
  • Some bugs
  • Envelopes/effects extend to the next preset
  • Some audible modulation steps
  • Maybe the price, compared to similar products (DIVA for example)

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Arturia Oberheim SEM V Review

January 3, 2012

Native Instruments Komplete 8 & Komplete 8 Ultimate review Unpublish

Native Instruments has been offering a selection of its software products grouped under the brand “Komplete” for several years now. The selection is updated every year with the latest versions of several products plus some additional tools. And it offers a rather unbeatable value for money ($499).

Native Instruments Komplete 8 et Komplete 8 Ultimate

Considering that products like Kontakt or Reaktor are sold for $399 each, it would be a huge mistake to ignore Komplete and the 26 other tools it includes for only $100 bucks more. You would be missing synths like Massive, FM8 and Absynth, effects like Reflektor, The Finger and Transient Master, drums like Studio Drummer and Abbey Road 60’s, as well as Guitar Rig Pro and some acoustic and electric pianos. The full product list is available here. Add to this a $25 voucher and you get an extremely appealing product.

People who already own a previous version of Komplete (v2 or higher) can upgrade for $199, which might be especially attractive for those thinking about buying Studio Drummer ($149). People who own Maschine, Kontakt, Reaktor, Kore or Guitar Rig Kontrol can crossgrade for $369.

The Ultimate Pack

Native Instruments Komplete 8 et Komplete 8 Ultimate

Komplete 8 marks the arrival of a new version sold for $999, which includes nothing more than all 50 Native Instruments software tools available right now. If you’re not sure which version of Komplete 8 is right for you, take a look at the comparison chart on this page. The most interesting products included in the Ultimate version (and missing in the normal version) are Session Strings Pro (it’s a pity that Komplete 8 doesn’t include a “non-pro” version!), the VC 2A, 76 and 160 effects, Abbey Road 70’s and 80’s drums, Modern Drums, Scarbee bass, Funk Guitarist, Alicia Keys piano, and George Duke Soul. That’s a lot, all the more considering that some of these tools are very interesting (look up their reviews on AudioFanzine). It’s up to you to decide if you need them or not…

List of the programs included in Komplete 8 and Komplete 8 Ultimate already reviewed on AudioFanzine:

To read the full detailed review see:  Komplete 8 & Komplete 8 Ultimate Review

December 26, 2011

Native Instruments Kontakt 5 Review

Among the host of new products introduced by Natives Instruments in September, we found a new Kontakt version. Here is a quick overview of its new features.

Over the years, Kontakt became a topper on the software samplers market. But after the launch of MOTU’s MachFive 3 and Steinberg’s HALion 4, Native Instruments had to react by updating its baby. What’s new in version 5? Let’s dive in…

Your Effect On Me

Native Instruments Kontakt 5

The German manufacturer often uses internally (or even externally) developed technologies to enhance some of its products. Thus, we have found some of its brand new effects in NI’s virtual drums Studio Drummer (G-EQ, Solid Bus Comp), or the convolution reverb Reflektor in Guitar Rig Pro 5, etc. Kontakt 5 is no exception and hosts four new already existing effects: Solid G-EQ, Solid Bus CompTransient Master and Tape Saturator. We won’t dedicate more time and space to these effects that we have already described on AudioFanzine. However, we are happy to find them in Kontakt because they extend its audio-processing capabilities. Considering the price of the single effects, it’s a nice gift from Native Instruments!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Kontakt hits the nail on the head by offering features taken from other NI products: effects from NI’s Solid Mix series, filters designed by the creator of Massive, “MPC vintage” modes from Maschine, and a new time-stretching algorithm signed by zPlane. Add to this more comprehensive routing facilities (inserts, Aux sends) plus an integrated MIDI-file player and you get the reference tool among virtual samplers. Given the price, version 4 owners who don’t have the Solid Mix effects should upgrade without hesitation. If you thought about buying Retro Machines mk2, consider buying Kontakt 5… If you don’t have a Kontakt license yet, we recommend you to take a serious look at Komplete 8: for about $100 more, you get a very comprehensive collection of Native Instruments software tools.

Advantages: 
  • Solid effects
  • 37 new filters from the creator of Massive
  • New time-stretching algorithm signed by zPlane
  • More comprehensive routing options
  • Integrated MIDI-file player
  • Retro Machines mk2 for free
Drawbacks:
  • No as many new features as we expected
  • The quality of some instruments is not top
  • Too much for beginners?
  • Kontakt’s single price compared to Komplete’s price

To read the full detailed review see:  Native Instruments Kontakt 5 Review

December 12, 2011

Native Instruments Maschine Mikro Review

Two years ago, Native Instruments introduced Maschine, a kind of hybrid MPC combining software and hardware technologies. The software is now in version 1.7 and the manufacturer has also introduced Maschine Mikro — a simpler but cheaper version.

Besides being a huge success, Maschine marked an evolution on the hardware and software levels. First of all, the reader should refer to the user reviews. You’ll surely notice that some cons that we pointed out in our Maschine 1.0 review (in French) have been already fixed. But let’s start with the hardware of Maschine Mikro and the applications for which it has been conceived.

Mikro But Powerful

There is more than a family resemblance between Maschine and the Mikro version, but their dimensions are slightly different: the smaller brother is 12.6″ x 7.7″ x 2.2″ big (against 12.6″ x 11.6″ x 2.4″). This means that the Mikro version is about 6″ shorter, which is not bad considering a small desktop already fully packed with the computer keyboard, a MIDI keyboard, a mouse, controllers, etc. With a weight of 2.6 lbs (1.3 lb lighter than the “Makro” version), the Maschine Mikro is easily transportable in a backpack.

The first visible change is that the Mikro has only one display (instead of two) with a lower resolution (half as many pixels). Second major change: it has far less encoders! From the 11 encoders available on Maschine you get only one, placed above the display. The backlit switches are also decimated: you get only 28 from the 41 present on the original Maschine. Luckily, the number of pads is still the same (16) and the software is identical.

The transport console is almost the same (Loop is replaced by Restart) but there is no more direct access to the groups. With Maschine Mikro, you’ll have to push a Group button and then one of the pads. Two steps instead of one; slightly less practical. Also note that you can select a group using a keyboard shortcut as well, which is the lesser evil.

Generally speaking, it’s more difficult to browse through effects, sounds, patterns, plug-ins, and projects using only the hardware, due to the smaller display and the single rotary encoder. As we expected, Maschine Mikro makes the user more dependent on his computer mouse, screen and keyboard… This is not necessarily an issue if you use your DAW at home with your sequencer, but it might become a problem for live musicians because they don’t have the possibility of storing parameter automation data directly unto the hardware unit nor adjusting several values simultaneously. They’ll have to use an additional MIDI controller, which is not the case with the original Maschine. The last hardware difference is that Maschine Mikro has no MIDI connections on 5-pin DIN connectors!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Maschine is back — smaller and more affordable ($349 instead of $599). The difference with its bigger brother concern mainly the hardware unit and the fact that it is more difficult to make music without putting your hands on your computer mouse and keyboard. In fact, Maschine Mikro is designed for musicians who work at home with a sequencer and want to use the hardware controller mainly for groove programming. In this case, Maschine Mikro fulfills its role very well because grabbing to your mouse is not an issue. If you want to use Maschine for live performances, real-time sound tweaking and parameter adjustment, and also if you want to control everything from the hardware unit, try the “complete” Maschine version, which thanks to the frequent software updates has become more and more powerful every time.

Advantages:

  • Price!
  • Reliable and comprehensive software (version 1.7)
  • More than 6GB of sounds provided
  • Very affordable additional sound banks
  • Komplete Element for free
  • A real inspiring tool
  • Hardware quality

Drawbacks:

  • Not as powerful as Maschine for live applications
  • Recording automation data directly from the hardware unit is impossible

To read the full detailed article see:  Maschine Mikro Review

 

September 26, 2011

Synthogy Ivory II Upright Pianos Mini-Review

After Grand Pianos, it’s the turn of the Upright Pianos bank to be ported to Synthogy’s new audio engine. Let’s give it a try.

A Snap Shot: Mini-Review

Synthogy Ivory II Upright PianosSynthogy Ivory II Upright Pianos

 

Old Timer…

 

Synthogy Ivory II Upright Pianos

Chronologically, the first instrument is the genuine Tack piano. Synthogy states that this piano was manufactured in the early 1900’s, it is not perfectly tuned and has metal tacks inserted into its hammer felts.

Let’s listen now to some sound samples…

Conclusion

A brief reminder before wrapping up: each of the 88 notes uses its own samples with up to 16 velocity layers. The samples are not looped so you get nice-sounding resonances (you “hear” the wood).

It’s difficult to find more cons than the ones already mentioned. Once again, Synthogy succeeds in offering the most comprehensive upright pianos bank in the market. The price makes it quite affordable, considering the rich and detailed sound of the samples. Needless to say, this product is very specialized and there are other options out there.

But for professional musicians and producers who look for exceptional pianos requiring almost no setup time (the instruments are almost ready to play and you’ll just have to adjust the sensitivity to your master keyboard), that sound great across the whole keyboard, and are easy to add to a mix, there won’t be much to think about.

Advantages:

  • Everything except…

Drawbacks:

  • … mechanical noises sometimes too regular at high velocity levels
  • The loading time of the plugin and the standalone version is too long
  • Still no 64-bit Mac version

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see: Synthogy Ivory II Upright Pianos Review

February 18, 2011

Tonehammer Pianos Review

The launch of the Montclarion Hall Piano gives us the opportunity to present to you the full range of Tonehammer pianos, characterized by the same original approach of all the other instruments by the manufacturer.

Granny, This One’s For You…

Tonehammer Old Granny Piano

Chronologically, this was the first piano presented by Tonehammer. The manufacturer decided to sample an old brandless upright piano (the booklet says the piano was 60 or 70 years old) which had had no maintenance in years and was in a rather poor condition. Granny is really detuned and has no strings for the high notes. In fact, you can clearly hear noises when you hit and release the keys.

 

Tonehammer Old Granny Piano

In spite of being out of tune, the instrument is appealing. The manufacturer provides several presets, available in Untuned and Tuned versions. The piano is available in soft and bright versions. It includes a tone setting controlled by the wheel. You also get several programs with different impulses like tunnel, studio, stairwell, alley, garage, and subway, as well as Kotankt’s convolution reverb. You can change the settings using the edit functions. Since the impulses are provided in a separate folder, you can also use them with other Kontakt instruments — a very nice detail. You’ll also find three (sound design) presets whose aim isn’t authenticity.

Let’s hear some sound samples then…

Conclusion

 

Tonehammer has a reputation for going off the beaten path with its sampling products by offering rare and home-made instruments or using special recording situations for ensembles (see the Epic series). However, it also succeeds in offering more classic choir and piano samples while keeping a special approach to them. Among the special products, the Bowed and Plucked libraries are very original and even though you can find similar libraries out there, none of them reaches this sound quality. Besides their excellent audio quality, both include numerous extra features like an arpeggiator, sound design programs, impulses, etc.

 

Among the more traditional sounds, Emotional is a unique product because no other virtual piano currently provides this particular quality and roundness. This is one of my favorite pianos. Montclarion offers special acoustics with very interesting multimodes if you want to create particular ambiances. As for the cons, we noticed some slight phase problems, especially with Emotional and Montclarion. To solve the problem just narrow the stereo image a little bit (the changes are so slight that they won’t alter the sound). Also notice that you’ll need a powerful computer system with enough RAM and/or fast hard drives.

 

You can consider this series as several single instruments, but also as a comprehensive bundle offering almost everything in terms of piano sound (perhaps missing only a prepared piano) with an impeccable quality (Montclarion at 24 bits, no audible loop points on releases except in FX or Drone programs, no tuning or layer problems, etc.), which can complete (or not) the more “traditional” instruments other manufacturers have to offer. In any case, the full bundle costs only $389 — a very appealing price, considering its quality.

Advantages:

  • Sound quality
  • Programming quality
  • Originality
  • No audible loop points except on special effects
  • Numerous traditional programs
  • Numerous effect and drone programs
  • Bowed Legato
  • Plucked Dulcimer
  • Uberpeggiator
  • High-quality original impulses
  • Originality of the FX impulses
  • Interface and settings of Bowed and Plucked
  • Price

Drawbacks:

  • Locked Kontakt format of some libraries
  • No access to Kontakt editors in Emotional
  • No external access to the Bowed and Plucked impulses
  • Watch out for phase problems with certain programs
  • Powerful computer and enough RAM required

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Tonehammer Pianos Review

June 29, 2009

Spectrasonics Omnisphere: Omnipotent & Omnificent ?

Introduction
After many years of development, Spectrasonics has released their new flagship virtual instrument, Omnisphere, which has been heralded as a completely new ground-breaking hybrid virtual instrument incorporating a myriad of realtime synthesis techniques, an epic library featuring ‘psychoacoustic’ sounds, and many other innovative features. It’s also the first instrument to be built upon their newly developed STEAM Engine. So, when Spectrasonics, who has always been a heavy-weight in the world of VSTIs and Sample libraries, makes a claim like this, many of us stop to listen. What have we heard…..


When I first got wind of Spectrasonics plans to come out with Omnisphere, I , like no doubt many other people, was wondering why they’d go to all the trouble of  trying to improve upon the already impressive Atmosphere when there were so many other things they could do. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Spectrasonics had developed their own Steam engine and was now poised to create a hybrid synth worthy of their new engine and that would dwarf Atmosphere in sheer scope, design, and capabilities. And while Spectrasonics has gone to great lengths to point out that Omnisphere is not merely a successor to Atmosphere but a completely new virtual instrument, many people might erroneously continue to think of it that way. But 5 minutes with this instrument is enough to convince anyone that it goes well beyond being just an Über-Atmosphere and is in its own “sphere”.

Give me some STEAM

One of the most important features of Omnisphere is Spectrasonics’ own STEAM engine, as opposed to the UVI engine found in Atmosphere. The Steam engine was created by their own in-house development team and will, they say, be used as the basis of all of their future performance instruments. As well as providing development possibilities into a variety of hybrid synthesis and control capabilities (high resolution streaming, Sample playback, Integrated FX, Timbre Shifting, etc.), Spectrasonics says that it will also make future technological transitions easier. An additional advantage of having their own engine is that their own software can be more flexible and open, allowing patches to be shared across hosts and computer platforms as well as allowing all instruments based on their engines (S.A.G.E. & STEAM) to better interact, which is already evident in the interaction between Stylus RMX and Omnisphere (more on this later).

Installation

Nowhere is the contrast between Atmosphere and Omnisphere more obvious than with the difference in library sizes. Atmosphere fit on 6 CDs and took around an hour to install. Omnisphere has a core library of  40-plus gigas and comes on 6 DVDS! Installation can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes per DVD (depending on the speed of your drive) which means that it could take up to 4 and a half hours to install! In my case, each DVD took around 35-40 minutes which meant the whole thing took about 4 hours. Fortunately you can interrupt installation and resume where you left off (starting at the beginning of the next DVD), even if you turn off the computer. Once everything’s installed, it’s time to go to Spectrasonic’s site to register and get the latest versions of the driver and the patch & soundsource libraries. Registration and updating are pretty quick and painless and you should take the opportunity to start downloading the truly excellent video tutorials on their site.

Multi-timbral

One of the main differences between Atmosphere and Omnisphere is that the latter is Multi-Timbral while the former was not. This means that while you needed to open multiple instances of Atmosphere when you wanted it to play more than one part or sound, one instance of Omnisphere can play up to eight different parts at the same time (cpu willing) thanks to the new STEAM engine.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion
I’ve been a big Spectrasonics fan ever since I first came across their products. So does that mean I’m not objective and automatically like everything they do? Not really. It’s more like a long time fan who becomes more and more difficult to please and who has high standards for the object of his adulation (I’m a big Sting & Stevie Wonder fan but that doesn’t make me less critical of their latest releases; rather the opposite is true). But somehow Spectrasonics just keeps getting better and better at what they do. Of course one can always find negative things to say about anything, even Omnisphere. So some might say that the sounds are too big and won’t easily fit into a mix, or that Spectrasonics’ sounds are too easily recognizable and ubiquitous. Or that its sounds are too geared at certain styles of music. But these arguments, which I disagree with, would only be valid on the surface (if that!). The complexity and versatility of the instrument and its massive sound library make these points irrelevant.

In light of this test, Audiofanzine gives Omnisphere a Best Product award

At around $480, it’s a very good deal, especially when you think of the sheer number of sounds that come with it. You won’t find a better sounding instrument with such an enormous palette of sounds in the virtual world. Its only competitors are to be found in the hardware world, and when you look at it like that, the price now takes on a new light! Add to that the fact that Spectrasonics has included many sounds from their award winning sample libraries of the past (the wonderful Symphony of Voices alone costs around $500!) and the ‘value for the money’ ratio starts to tilt even further in the buyer’s favor.

Advantages:

  • The Sound, the sound , the sound
  • User friendly
  • Flexibility, and the possibility to go in deeper
  • Arpeggiator
  • Live and Stack Modes
  • The sound library (and the inclusion of a “best of” compilation of Spectrasonics older libraries)
  • Midi learn, Automation, and Modulation (the majority of parameters can be controlled & it’s easy to do!)
  • Interconnectivity of all it’s aspects and features
  • Interface (both simple & complex sections)
  • Excellent Video Tutorials and Presentations
  • STEAM engine: present and future interaction with other instruments built on their engines (like RMX)

Drawbacks:

  • Resource Heavy
  • No Stand alone

To read the full detailed article see:  Spectrasonics Omnisphere Review

April 18, 2009

Video Demo: Steinberg The Grand 3 Virtual Piano

Steinberg presents the 3.0 version of their famous virtual piano featuring five famous pianos: Yamaha C7, Bösendorfer 290, Steinway D., Yamaha CP80 Electric Grand, and a Nordiska upright.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

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