AF’s Weblog

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

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