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

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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

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

February 17, 2011

Extreme Drum Processing: Exploring the Art of Filthy Signal Mutation

Filed under: Drums/Percussion, Mixing reviews, Plugin, Software — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:43 am

I like music with a distinctly electronic edge, but also want a human “feel.” Trying to resolve these seemingly contradictory ideals has led to some fun experimentation, but one of the more recent “happy accidents” was finding out what happens when you apply heavy signal processing to multitracked drums played by a human drummer. I ended up with a sound that slid into electronic tracks as easily as a debit card slides into an ATM machine, yet with a totally human feel.

This came about because Discrete Drums, who make rock-oriented sample libraries of multitracked drums (tracks are kick, snare, stereo toms, stereo room mic tracks, and stereo room ambience), received requests for a more extreme library for hip-hop/dance music. I had already started using their CDs for this purpose, and when I played some examples of loops I had done, they asked whether I’d like to do a remixed sample CD with stereo loops. Thus, the “Turbulent Filth Monsters” project was born, which eventually became a sample library (originally distributed by M-Audio, and now by Sonoma Wire Works).

Although I used the Discrete Drums sample library CDs and computer-based plug-ins, the following techniques also apply to hardware processors used in conjunction with drum machines that have individual outs, or multitracked drums recorded on a multitrack recorder (or sample CD tracks bounced over to a multitrack). Try some of these techniques, and you’ll create drum sounds that are as unique as a fingerprint – even if they came from a sample CD.

Effects Automation and Real Time Control

Editing parameters in real time lets you “play” an effect along with the beat. This is a good thing. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to vary several parameters at once while mixing the track down to a loop, so you’ll want to record these changes as automation.

Hardware signal processors can often accept MIDI controllers for automation. If so, you can sync a sequencer up to whatever is playing the tracks. Then, deploy a MIDI control surface (like the Mackie Control, Novation Nocturn, etc.) to record control data into the sequencer. Once in the sequencer, edit the controller data if needed.

If the processor cannot accept control signals, then you’ll need to make these changes in real time. If you can do this as you mix, fine. Otherwise, bounce the processed signal to another track so it contains the changes you want.

Software plug-ins for DAWs are a whole other matter, as there are several possible automation scenarios:

  • Use a MIDI control surface to alter parameters, while recording the data to a MIDI track (hopefully this will drive the effect on playback)
  • Twiddle the plug-in’s virtual knobs in real time, and record those changes within the host program
  • Use non-real time automation envelopes
  • Record data that takes the form of envelopes, which you can then edit
  • Use no automation at all. In this case, you can send the output through a mixer and bounce it to another track while varying the parameter. This can require a little after-the-fact trimming to compensate for latency (i.e., delay caused by going through the mixer then returning back into the computer) issues.

For example, with VST Automation (Fig. 1), a plug-in will have Read and Write Automation buttons.

Ohm Force Predatohm & VST automation

Fig. 1: Click on the Write Automation button with a VST plug-in, and when you play or record, tweaking controls will write automation into your project.

If you click on the Write Automation button, any changes you make to automatable parameters will be written into your project. This happens regardless of whether the DAW is in record or playback mode.

Now let’s take a closer look at some other plug-ins…

So What’s the Payoff?

Drum loops played by a superb human drummer, with all those wonderful little timing nuances that are the reason drum machines have not taken over the world, will give your tracks a “feel” that you just can’t get with drum machines. But if you add on really creative processing, the sounds will be so electronified that they’ll fit in perfectly with more radical instruments synths, highly processed vocals, and technoid guitar effects.

So, get creative – you’ll have a good time doing it, and your recordings won’t sound like million others. What good are all these great new toys if you don’t exploit them?

To read the full detailed article see:  Extreme Drum Processing

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 20, 2009

Universal Audio – Moog Multimode Filter: The Test

Mojo Filter
Universal Audio – Moog Multimode Filter: The Test

While there is a huge choice of filter effects available on the market today, it could be argued that many of them lack the character and warmth of some of their hardware counterparts and while some claim to capture the sound of vintage hardware, the reality is few have come close. It’s just possible that all this is about to change though, as one of Universal Audio’s latest offerings for the UAD platform is the Moog multimode filter. With a well respected pedigree in emulating prized vintage hardware, Universal Audio are perhaps the best people to attempt the recreation of the classic Moog sound.

MIDI Learn CC

Most of us are accustomed with multi mode filters and have used them in our productions at one time or another. Obviously some genres call for these tools more than others but its safe to say that many of us see them as an integral part of our production arsenal.

For those of you that aren’t so familiar with multimode filters, they are simply filters that allow various modes or models to be set by the user. For example a typical plug-in will present the choice of low pass, high pass and band pass filter models, as opposed to a hard wired low pass filter, seen in some filters and synthesizers.

Some filter plug-ins not only offer this multimode flexibility but additional features such as resonance, overdrive and modulation capabilities are not uncommon and offer the user the ability to create diverse effects.

Gearing Up

Of course one issue some people will have with any Universal audio plug-in from the offset, is the fact that they only run on the UAD1 platform and lack any kind of native support. In the platforms defense, the UAD1 and newer UAD2 are now extremely popular amongst all levels of engineers and musicians alike and the entry level cards are extremely affordable making the plug-ins a realistic option for most budgets

As is the case with all of the UAD plug-ins, the Moog Multimode supports VST, Audio Units and RTAS formats, so most DAW users can join the party. Installation is a breeze as the plug-in will already have been installed with your UAD software. If you don’t see it in your plug-in list fly over to the Universal Audio site and grab the latest UAD driver release.

Once the appropriate UAD software is installed you can enjoy a nice feature supplied by the UAD folks and that’s the full 14 day demos that come as standard. Every plug-in you haven’t yet purchased is available to preview and this is a nice way to try the processors out in your projects before you lay down your hard earned cash.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

This is hands down the best software filter I have ever come across. It sounds truly analog and it has an interface that even a beginner would find accessible. It is slightly CPU hungry but considering Universal Audio has recently released the all powerful UAD2 range of DSP cards and that a light SE version of the plug-in is bundled with the full version, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem for most users. If you are in the market for a filter plug-in and own one of the UAD DSP cards this is certainly a must have. It is so good it is even worth considering buying a card just to run it, as a hardware filter of this quality would cost an arm and a leg.

Stunning emulated analog filter effects
Warm, fat and fuzzy drive input circuit
Easy to understand, well laid out interface
Cost effective

Possibly slightly too CPU hungry for UAD1 owners
Might not contain enough routing for some power users

To read the full detail article see:  Universal Audio – Moog Multimode Filter Test

February 11, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo SM Pro Audio V-Machine

Filed under: namm 2009, Plugin — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:37 am

Exclusive presentation of the SM Pro Audio V-Machine hardware plug-ins host, by Peter Schlossnagel.

To watch all NAMM 2009 video demos visit us on Audiofanzine NAMM 2009.

August 27, 2008

Digidesign Velvet review

Filed under: Computer music reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 1:11 pm

Electric Pianos never seem to go out of style; and because they’ve now gone virtual, Digidesign has decided to come out with their own version of these timeless instruments.

Since its acquisition/creation by Digidesign, the A.I.R team has been very busy, giving the virtual world nothing less than Xpand!, Hybrid, Strike, Structure and Velvet, the latter being the subject of this review. In recent years, Rhodes and Wurlitzer instruments have made their return to the stage and in numerous productions, from pop to hip-hop. By emulating these famous pianos, Velvet aims to be, for Pro Tools users, the direct rival of Scarbee, AAS and Native Instruments.

Seamless integration within Pro Tools
Global quality
Stability
Nice FX section
Versatility and creative power
Total automation
Quality of presets
Unusual features
Well, Pro Tools only…
Velocity setting
MkI quite agressive
Wurlitzer’s lack of “wurlitzerity”
No global volume for FX section

Digidesign Velvet review is fully available here.

Wallander Instruments Visual Instruments Brass 1 review

Filed under: Computer music reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:52 pm

While certain sound libraries have been waging a gigabyte war, others have taken the synthesis route, such as the Wallander WIVI, who with only its few hundred megabytes takes on the sample library titans.

Ouverture

The power of modern computers has made it possible to virtually and realistically emulate complete orchestras, which seemed almost impossible a few years ago. Not so long ago, you needed a full rack of Akai or E-mu samplers or a battalion of networked Pcs and/or Macs to properly simulate orchestral scores, with libraries whose sound quality didn’t always merit the resources used.

Then came along gigantic libraries, such as the Vienna Symphonic Library or East West’s Symphonic Orchestra. Not only did you need powerful computers, but you needed huge storage space as well… However, you could set up a complete virtual orchestra with two or three 8-core Macs or the equivalent PCs.

Concept
Ergonomy
Powerful & Inspiring
Sound quality
Expressiveness
Realism
Stability
Instrument extensions
Optimization
Polyphonic mode

Wind/Breath controller strongly recommended
A few clicks or artifacts on some parameters
You can’t enter values with the numeric pad
No pull-down menus
No .pdf manual

Read the full Brass 1 review on Audiofanzine

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