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Category: Syndicated

FabFilter Saturn

[ 0 ] 2012/05/14

In the decade since the release of its first plug-in, One, FabFilter has made an indelible mark on the music production landscape.

Saturn is a multiband saturation and distortion unit with the Fab’s famously flexible modulation routing system onboard, and the sort of well-designed, visually assistive interface that we’ve come to expect from the designers of Pro-Q, Volcano and Timeless.

“The amps, tubes and tape types feel suitably ‘real’ but more sonically interesting than most”

Saturn presents itself as a single-band plug-in-and a simple looking one at that, with a handful of main controls that look a bit lonely at the bottom of that large, empty display. Looks can be deceptive, though, as becomes apparent the second you actually push a signal through the thing…

The main display serves two purposes, the first of which is as a big, real-time frequency analyser that’s always active in the background. As well as looking cool, this gives excellent visual feedback on the effect your tweaking is having on the signal.

Its second purpose is part of the reason for the seemingly modest control set: the display is interactive, and basic multiband operation is handled entirely within it, rather than via conventional knobs and sliders.

To add a multiband crossover (with a fixed 24dB/octave slope), click the ‘+’ button that appears when the mouse pointer approaches the top of the display. The crossover appears as a vertical line, which can be dragged left and right to the desired frequency.

The frequency range on either side of the line becomes a separately controlled band, the volume of which is set by raising or lowering the handle that appears in the middle (or via the Level knob).

Click a band to select it for editing with the main controls, all of which operate on a per-band basis, including distortion Style; drag to select contiguous bands; hold Ctrl/Cmd to select non-contiguous bands etc. Up to six bands can be activated, and for extra editing wiggle room, the GUI has a Wide setting, about 30 per cent wider than the Normal one.

Just drive

So, what can you actually do to each of those bands? Saturn offers 16 saturation, distortion and clipping Styles, taking in tube, tape and amp algorithms, as well as a trio of extreme ‘creative’ distortions.

Each band can be set to its own Style, and everything from gentle tape-like warming to total decimation is catered for with the regular options, while the three mad ones push things over the limit (pun half intended). Destroy mode, for example, wantonly combines bitcrushing, sample rate reduction and soft clipping; and Smudge does all manner of weird temporal stuff.

The Drive knob sets the level of the input signal into the algorithm (and changes the colour of the display background) and can be panned, for stereo effects.

There’s also a mid/side conversion mode, in which, rather than L/R panning, the Drive and Level pan controls set the balance between the mid and side signals for each of those two stages. The Mix knob, meanwhile, enables parallel processing.

Further sound shaping is on hand in the shape of the Dynamics knob, a feedback loop with a ringing frequency range of 10-1000Hz (for emulating mic/speaker feedback), and a four-band amp-style ‘tone’ EQ.

About that modulation

Oh, and then there’s FabFilter’s superb modulation system, of course, which is as awesome here as it is in the company’s other plug-ins and enables you to design set-ups of staggering complexity. Hit the Modulation tab to reveal the slide-down interface, then click in as many envelope generators (six max), envelope followers (four max), XLFOs (six), XY controllers (four) and MIDI CC sources (10) as you need.

To assign targets simply drag the ‘source drag button’ from the modulator to the desired parameter in the selected band and set the mod depth using the slider. You can assign a modulator to as many controls as you like, and as many modulators as you like to one control, up to a maximum of 50; and clicking the M button on a control highlights all of the slots modulating it.

Chief among the modulators is the amazing XLFO, a highly configurable modulation step sequencer (up to 16 steps) with its own graphical editing interface.

In additional to all this, the usual FF niceties are in place: MIDI learn, section presets, the help system, oversampling, undo/redo, A/B switching, HQ oversampling mode, and a large library of excellent categorised presets.

Saturn finish

Even as a single-band unit, Saturn does a stunning job of saturating and distorting any source thrown at it, but add multiband functionality and all that per-band modulation and you have a saturation/distortion design tool with governance over every domain – frequency, volume, dynamic range, time and panorama.

The quality of the algorithms is palpable: the amps, tubes and tape types feel suitably ‘real’ but more sonically interesting than most, and the movement and ‘funk’ that can be imposed on them is nothing short of dazzling. For guitars, smooth, musical tone enhancement is as easily attainable as screaming overdrive; drums and percussion get beefed up, thickened and rhythmically enhanced; basses and lead synths are pushed in all manner of pseudo-waveshaping directions; and vocals can be subtly redefined in the mix or treated to extreme modulated distortion for special effects.

The Dynamics control does a solid turn as a one-knob compressor and opens up some interesting rhythmic possibilities as an expander (although being program-dependent and fully automatic, it certainly won’t always mark the end of your signal chain), while the Tone section is great for quick post-distortion frequency shaping. And despite all that power, Saturn couldn’t be easier or more fun to use.

There are a few things we’d love to see added. First, a bit more control over the compressor/expander would feel like more than mere luxury, as would the ability to (somehow!) view the controls for multiple bands at once.

It would also be genuinely useful if the real-time movements of modulated parameters were made visible, á la FXpansion’s Transmod system, for example. Also, you can’t mute/solo individual bands (this is already in the pipeline, though, according to FabFilter), and some preferences for the frequency analyser would be good.

Wishlist aside, Saturn has already become our new go-to saturator and distortion plug-in for both conventional single-band roughing up of sounds and – more importantly – radical rhythmic reshaping. It’s out of this world.

Read more about FabFilter Saturn at

Sonokinetic Vivace

[ 0 ] 2012/05/10

Of all musical genres, fully orchestral, Hollywood-style film music is perhaps one of the most difficult to pull off convincingly.

Things have been looking up lately for bedroom-bound Barrys and Zimmers, though, largely thanks to companies like Sonokinetic, that seem hell-bent on providing ammunition for amateur scorists to raise the standard of their productions to that of major commercial movies.

“The expert arrangements on offer here would not sound out of place on the soundtrack of a James Cameron movie”

Last year, Sonokinetic released Tutti, a ROMpler offering recordings of a full symphony orchestra playing together (as opposed to the sort of individual sampled instruments that you’d use to program your own arrangements in a note-by-note manner).

Vivace follows Tutti’s lead with a 9GB orchestral performance sample library containing over 16,000 samples, this time focusing on the uplifting, sweeping side of orchestral music, in contrast to Tutti’s darker, often dissonant and atonal fare.

Strings attached

It hasn’t been out long, but Vivace has already reached v1.2. Chief among the improvements is a basic memory management system made up of tiny on/off buttons for each cue in the currently loaded instrument. Turning off samples frees up system resources – a big plus with potentially memory-hungry ROMplers.

Adaptive Tempo-Syncing allows the sample playback within Vivace’s TMP patches to adapt to tempo changes, to follow any accelerandos or ritardandos that you program within your host sequencer.

The ability to jump between cues and variations on the fly has been included, as has the option to override the ITM (Intelligent Time Machine) function, which automatically syncs samples to half or double time when extreme tempo values are used. A handful of remixed cues
and a new ‘Tutti Sustains’ patch round off the embellishments.

The download of Vivace includes a link to the free Kontakt 5 Player needed to run it, either in standalone mode or as an AU, VST or RTAS plug-in. As alluded to above, Vivace focuses more on the tonal aspects of the symphonic orchestra than Tutti, with a large selection of chords, themes and harmonic structures.

Most of these musical snippets are tempo-synced via an intelligent tempo mapping (ITM) system, meaning that they’ll follow tempo changes in your DAW. Each sample is recorded using eight blendable mic positions in all 12 musical keys, accessed by keyswitching so that they can be integrated into existing arrangements.

Orch-ward moments

When you first fire up Vivace, what makes it stand out is not just the quality of the recordings, which are beautifully captured slices of orchestral loveliness, but that of the composition and orchestration itself – the expert arrangements on offer here would not sound out of place on the soundtrack of a James Cameron movie. Most samples are four bars in length.

Vivace doesn’t offer that many tweakable parameters, but a four-band EQ and control over individual levels for mic positions and instrument groups help to extend the usefulness of each cue.

One of the coolest features is the score sheet display that shows the full score for the current cue so that you can see exactly what the musicians played when recording it, adding an extra layer of fascination for those who want to learn more about scoring and orchestration. PDF versions of the scores for all cues can be purchased from Sonokinetic’s website, which, as far as we can ascertain, is a unique service.

So how does Vivace conduct itself in use? You’ll need a fast computer with at least 4GB RAM for best results, and don’t go expecting to be able to use Vivace as the basis for your own written-from-scratch arrangements, as there’s a relatively small selection of fully playable patches. Vivace is all about providing pre-composed, ultra-realistic musical building blocks for you to use as you wish.

If you’re looking for a wide selection of orchestral effects, textures and phrases to add realism to your own arrangements, Vivace is well worth considering, and composers who need to deliver pro-quality soundtracks to a deadline should pay it particular attention.

Read more about Sonokinetic Vivace at

Sonoris Mastering Compressor

[ 0 ] 2012/05/10

Sonoris’ Mastering Compressor is a VST/AU/RTAS plug-in intended to deliver audiophile-standard compression.

Every aspect of the design suggests that Sonoris has put clarity and transparency at the top of the priority list, and the developer claims it has completely eliminated the odd harmonic distortion that compressors usually exhibit.

“Mastering Compressor represents a technological breakthrough: it’s the cleanest compression we’ve heard to date, and it’s capable of extreme punch when required.”

In testing, the first thing that struck us about Mastering Compressor was its flexibility. Operated via a clean, clear and decidedly old-school interface, it allows ratios from 1.01:1 to 100.0:1, and then Inf:1 (for use as a brickwall limiter).

The threshold goes down to -60dB in 0.1dB increments, and the attack and release knobs can be set to lightning fast or invisibly slow.

The most interesting aspect of the controls isthe fact that both envelope stages have Auto modes. We were initially sceptical at the thought of automatic attack and release settings on a mastering compressor, but they really did seem to adapt well to the majority of material we tried (mostly finished mixes and drum busses).

In those instances where it didn’t work so well, we felt that the attack was perhaps a little too punchy; however, we found ways to bring this into line using some of the more advanced features, such as the Parallel Mix slider and sidechain filter. Incidentally, the sidechain signal can be monitored, and the filter can be switched between high-, band- and low-pass modes.

You can also decide whether you want the sidechain to come from the input signal (feedforward mode) or from the compressor’s output (feedback mode). The latter’s release phase is two-stage, making the compression much smoother and the results less aggressive.

Perfect punch

If you’re working with a well-executed mixdown that’s properly balanced and has good tone, Sonoris’ surgical compressor offers dynamic control at the mastering stage without any unwelcome colouration or distortion.

Obviously there will still be times when that little extra something is required, but Mastering Compressor gives you the option to separate colouration from dynamics (even-harmonic distortion can be added or bypassed with a single switch). While the compressor is clearly designed from the ground up to avoid artifacts, you can enable 2x, 4x or 8x oversampling to minimise them even further.

Arrow to the knee

Mastering Compressor has two knee controls. The first – Knee1 – softens the default hard-knee operation so that the compression amount is applied along a gentle curve as the signal approaches the threshold, just like a regular soft-knee mode. The Knee1 knob works on a percentage scale, with 0% (Off) representing the hardest knee and 100% the softest.

The second knee knob also operates on a percentage scale, but governs a much more interesting aspect of the dynamic response. In effect, Knee2 is a second knee at the top of the compression curve, gradually returning the loudest parts of the input signal from their compressed ratio to a 1:1 ratio (in other words, no compression) as they exceed the threshold. This is useful for letting peak transients through, giving further transparency.

In combination, the two knees enable you to design the perfect compression curve. Both are fully automatable.

For us, Mastering Compressor represents something of a technological breakthrough. It’s the cleanest compression we’ve heard to date, and it’s capable of extreme punch when required.

It also has all the features you should expect in a top-quality mastering compressor in 2012, including A/B comparison, variable stereo linking and sidechain mid/side separation if required. Needless to say, we found it supremely useful as an advanced mixing compressor as well.

On a critical note, switching between filter modes could be smoother-sounding, and it would be nice to have the options presented in menu format so that you don’t have to click through unwanted settings to get to the one you want. There’s also no automatic gain make-up, and the output meter has no numerical readout.

But these niggles are far from deal-breakers. Hats off to Sonoris for what has to be considered a breathtaking triumph of dynamics processing.

Read more about Sonoris Mastering Compressor at

MusicDevelopments RapidComposer

[ 0 ] 2012/05/10

RapidComposer is billed as a ‘music prototyping application’, which means that it’s designed to help you sketch out compositions.

From our experience with it over an extended review period, we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s essentially based around an elaborate MIDI editor. Where this MIDI editor differs from that of a standard DAW is mainly down to its composer-friendly workflow.

“We see RapidComposer as an indispensable tool for anyone who needs to produce a large body of music in a short space of time.”

Each project typically begins with the Master Track, which is where you set up the scales and chord progressions of the piece. This initial step is essential, since all events from here on in will intelligently ‘match’ themselves to the chord at that point.

It works because the MIDI parts – known as ‘phrases’ – are interpreted in a relative mode, as opposed to the absolute mode we’re used to. RapidComposer knows how the notes of a phrase relate to the current chord and will adapt that phrase if and when you change the chord to which it belongs.

So where do the phrases come from? You can simply play them in via MIDI, create a new phrase with the Phrase Editor, or select one from a huge library of ready-made examples. Things get a little wilder when you get into using the Generator, which is actually capable of coming up with new musical phrases based on your specifications.

Once you’re working with phrases, you can do all manner of useful things to them, changing the voicing, inversion or rhythm, perhaps – all the while confined to the boundaries of the Master Track’s scale and chord (unless you specify otherwise).

Learning curve

Initially, we were quite stunned by how differently RapidComposer operates in comparison to a regular DAW – it looks like a DAW, but it’s not a DAW. If you go into it expecting RapidComposer to work like Logic or Cubase, then you’re likely to find yourself confused: it definitely requires a fresh perspective and an open mind.

Once you have the workflow down, though, it’s incredibly freeing; and when you find yourself making complex edits by second nature, then its value becomes obvious. The nuances of RapidComposer have been tweaked to satisfy a composer – from the generating of phrases and variations, to the library of chords and the drag-and-drop interface. It’s jam-packed full of sophisticated tricks and features to help you compose better music.

Plug it in

The playback of your composition is voiced through a selection of SoundFonts by default, but RapidComposer is also a VST host. We tested it with a number of synths and didn’t have any problems, but the developers have warned that some third-party plug-ins might not work.

Notably, keyswitch compatibility has been implemented for a selection of popular ROMplers, so you can easily write articulations into your compositions and hear how they sound immediately.

On the other side of the coin, RapidComposer also comes in a VST plug-in version, so you can use it from within your DAW. This is one of the features we found most exciting, as it puts the power of musically intelligent MIDI editing right inside your production environment of choice.

You’ll still ultimately have to export the generated standard MIDI file from RapidComposer and import it into your DAW’s arrangement, but at least you can have both programs working at once.

Ultimately RapidComposer isn’t for everyone. It probably won’t help you to put together a minimal house track, and it doesn’t have any bearing on such things as the mixdown (that would be missing the point).

We see it being an indispensable tool for anyone who needs to produce a large body of music in a short space of time, perhaps for scoring or sync work. Maybe your band could benefit from trying out your song ideas in exotic key signatures…

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, there seem to be a few stability issues, leading to regular crashes. Because of this, we feel that this great concept hasn’t seen its full potential yet, but Music Developments assure us that a bug-fixing update is imminent.

Read more about MusicDevelopments RapidComposer at

MeldaProduction MAutoDynamicEQ

[ 0 ] 2012/05/09

We’ve reviewed quite a few MeldaProduction plug-ins in the past, and we’ve always come away impressed by their great depth and facility, often combined with multiband functionality.

MAutoDynamicEQ is another multibander, but this one joins together two other Melda processors – Dynamic EQ and AutoEqualizer – in a 7-band EQ plug-in.

“Having the most important parameters readily to hand makes applying dynamic EQ adjustments very easy.”

The Dynamic EQ half applies an EQ curve in response to the incoming signal level, meaning you can cut or boost a specific volume range. The AutoEqualizer half, meanwhile, is Melda’s version of ‘match’ EQ.

With this, you can input both source and target signals, and have the frequency shape of the former imposed on the latter. Cleverly, it also enables you to ‘separate’ the target from the source, removing the dominant frequencies analysed in the source signal from the target, in order to help the two fit together better.

Auto additions

It’s worth mentioning that Melda has included some rather interesting extras beyond the standard analyse/match concept. First, you can select a standard audio file as your source, giving you the ability to load an ‘offline’ analysis curve rather than play one in via your DAW in real time. Further to that, Melda has thrown in a bunch of source files of its own making.

The vast majority of these are actually analysis files derived from commercial tracks, across 10 genres, ranging from jazz to metal to pop, hip-hop and funk. This is a valuable inclusion, giving you access to the frequency curves of tracks you may not have to hand or even be aware of.

Finally, there’s a draw mode where you can draw a multipoint curve of your own by hand for the source analysis. This is powerful stuff that, in many respects, goes beyond other matching EQs we’ve tried.

Dynamic deeds

MAutoDynamicEQ’s architecture offers seven flexible bands (11 filter shapes) plus high- and low-pass filters (6-120dB/octave), and the filter shapes include two shelf types, slope, peak, band-pass, notch and band/shelf combos.

The plug-in can, of course, be used as a standard EQ, but each band also features a full set of dynamic controls, including gain limits (Dynamics), Threshold, Attack and Release (both with Auto settings), and three modes of signal analysis (Filtered compensated, Filtered and Entire spectrum). Overall, there’s a lot going on here, which is why each processing section gets an ‘advanced settings’ window too.

The main window includes two foldaway sections (Bands and Automatic equalizer) and a flexible graphical display. This is laden with useful features, including an analyser, a sonogram, a colour-coded frequency ranges display and Auto-listen, which solos the frequencies being processed by the currently selected band, pre-EQ.

Finally, as with many other Melda plug-ins, a series of controls at the bottom of the interface gives access to the Modulators (LFOs, envelopes, etc) and Multiparameters (macros), for further user-definable control.

Automatic for the people

Having the most important parameters readily to hand makes applying dynamic EQ adjustments very easy. What’s more, you can dive in and make adjustments directly in the display, too.

Dynamic EQ is useful for notching out annoying stuff from already blended material (such as loops) in a less obvious way than standard EQ. Melda’s plug-in handles such tasks with ease, and the seven bands combined with standard EQ options make it all feel like a logical extension of a regular EQ.

We found it particularly good at not only processing drum loops, but also regular solo instruments such as bass, piano and guitars, as well as more blended sounds such as live drums.

Other useful features include the global mix blend, which we found particularly handy when using the Automatic EQ in ‘separate’ mode. The only thing we’d like to see added would be a band solo function.

Overall, combining match and dynamic EQ in one plug-in delivers a potent processor, although much of the time you’ll be using one or the other. Even so, it’s another powerful offering from Melda that handles some tricky engineering situations extremely well.

Read more about MeldaProduction MAutoDynamicEQ at

Eventide 2016 Stereo Room

[ 0 ] 2012/05/09

Eventide’s recently launched Omnipressor plug-in is a full-on native recreation (VST/AU/AAX) of its hardware classic.

However, it would seem the company has taken a more focused, less completist route with the 2016 Stereo Reverb plug-in, also a native release. It includes just one algorithm – Stereo Room – from the many reverbs, delays and effects found in Eventide’s ’80s SP2016 hardware unit.

“Boosting the Low EQ can turbocharge the decay and, as long as you keep the levels in check, the tail is wonderfully smooth.”

But rather than recreate the SP’s impenetrable interface (typical of the era), it has opted to match its more recent Reverb 2016 box, pretty much knob for knob.

The controls are split into three main areas: Levels, Reverb and EQ. The Input control (an attenuator), Mix control and LED input meters are all standard fare, but welcome extras include a latching input ‘kill’ switch and a digital clipping (Dig Clip) LED that indicates clipping in the reverb matrix itself.

The Reverb section includes your standard Predelay, Decay and Diffusion controls, plus the Position dial. This last affects, amongst other things, the early and late reflection balance, andenables positioning of the source signal between the ‘front’ and ‘rear’ of the emulated room space.

The 2-band EQ section is very useful for reverb tailoring. The two EQ bands are adjustable from 50-500Hz and 1-8kHz, with the High band offering only attenuation (up to -8dB) and the Low band offering boost and attenuation (up to+4dB and -8dB).

Reverb notion

Stereo Room includes 14 standard presets, plus 23 extras by Dave Pensado, George Massenburg, Joe Chiccarelli and Oliver Momm. Of the 37 factory patches, although some are generic (Large Room, Nice Stereo Room), the vast majority are drum-, vocal-, guitar- or string-focused, of which we wholly approve.

We started our testing with the snare drum options. All offered a very smooth, diffuse sound, with restrained top-end twang, so we weren’t tempted to reach for the High EQ.

It’s a similar story with the kick drum presets, and to make things interesting there are a few ‘long boom’ style patches in there, as well as an orchestral bass drum setting with big predelay.

Moving on to the string, vocal and piano presets, the open and natural sound of the 2016 is very striking once again. There’s certainly nothing invasive here, and whether you’re looking for a short, tight ambience or something bigger, you can’t really go wrong.

It quickly becomes apparent that the Position control has a huge influence on the sound. If you’re used to the decay control being your main reverb tail-shaping tool, you’ll love the way the 2016 encourages you to blend scale and proximity to create space that doesn’t swallow up the sound.

With decay time of up to 30 seconds, massive FX-style sustained ‘verbs are easily achieved, although the selectable increments (10, 15 and 30 seconds) are a little inflexible. Boosting the Low EQ can also turbocharge the decay and, as long as you keep the levels in check, the tail is wonderfully smooth. Our only minor bugbear is that some patches launch at 100% wet and others don’t, for no clear reason.

Stereo Room does a superb job of capturing the feel and sound of 80s-style algorithmic reverb. The only real limitation is the fact that only one algorithm is included.

Read more about Eventide 2016 Stereo Room at

u-he Diva

[ 0 ] 2012/05/09

Two or three oscillators, multimode filters, dual envelope generators, a couple of LFOs and some effects. You’ve seen it all before – or so you might think.

It’s true that we’ve been inundated with virtual analogue synths over the past decade, yet aficionados of vintage synths would have you believe that the beloved classics of yore have never really been matched in software form.

“We compared Diva to a room full of vintage analogue synths, and it held its own.”

Certainly, there is a limit to the processing powers of even the mightiest PCs, and there is agreement that compromises must be made between audio quality and shaving a few CPU cycles from any emulation. Yet we can’t help wondering how much the average user or listener really cares about such details. It’s a debate that continues to rage.

With Diva (short for Dinosaur Impersonating Virtual Analogue), u-he may have found the ideal middle ground. It’s not a clone of any specific synth; instead it provides elements from various famous instruments, all deeply analysed and meticulously recreated with excruciating attention to detail.

Star power

Diva is a VST/AU plug-in for PC and Mac, coming in 32- and 64-bit versions. You’d better have a powerful machine, though, especially if you want to eke the most realistic analogue sound from the instrument. u-he provides multiple playback modes of varying quality, with ‘Divine’ being themost CPU-intensive.

We tested Diva on two machines: a quad-core i7 MacBook Pro and an older Core 2 Duo model. We experienced crackles and dropouts when playing more than two or three notes of certain polyphonic patches in Divine mode on both machines, though the quad obviously fared a little better.

The CPU overhead is justified by the sound, which leaves us breathless. We compared it with
a room full of vintage analogue synths, and it held its own. Wewere particularly impressed by how well Diva stacked up against a restored Model D Minimoog.

A big part of this superior sound is down to Diva’s incredible-sounding filters. These use circuit simulation algorithms similar to those found in software such as PSpice (used by electrical engineers to design and simulate circuits at the component level).

The algorithms u-he uses are tuned for audio, however: they run in real time, and the components have been carefully matched to produce the desired sound (u-he say that software such as PSpice, while giving correct results, is unable to precisely reproduce the sound of specific componentry). u-he says this is the first time such methods have been employed in real-time by a native soft synth.

Mixed, matched

Diva’s structure is pretty standard. The oscillator section can comprise one of four designs. One – Triple VCO – is clearly patterned after the oscillator section of the Minimoog, while DCO is similar to that of the Roland Alpha Juno, offering a sub-oscillator and those fabulously rich waveforms. There are two Dual VCOs, one an economy version and the other with such niceties as sync and cross-modulation.

The filter section is equally familiar. Again, you can choose one of four designs: a Moog-style ladder filter, a cleaner cascade, a multimode design and the aggressive Bite filter.

Envelope generators come in three flavours: Minimoog-style ADS, analogue ADSR and digital ADSR. The latter features quantise ‘stepping’ as heard on the Oberheim Matrix 1000 and others.

As you can see, Diva is a semimodular synth of sorts, enabling the user to mix and match disparate classic designs. It’s a great idea that has its roots in Diva’s origins as one of u-he head honcho Urs Heckmann’s development tools. We’re glad he decided to share!

Inner beauty

The lower half of Diva’s GUI features tabs to access further sections. Main provides tuning and master controls. Modification offers modulation control, and Trimmers hosts detune, cutoff, envelope ‘slop’ and other tweaks that impart some of that old analogue magic. Scope provides a display of the audio signal, and Patches accesses the Patch browser.

Everything about Diva’s preset library is excellent. First there’s the patch browser itself, which opens to occupy almost the whole GUI. Categories include Bass, Lead, Poly Synth, Dream Synth, Rhythmic and Effects. There’s also a third-party collection and a huge directory dubbed Treasure Trove.

Of special note is the MIDI Programs folder, into which you can load 128 patches for calling up via MIDI Program Change messages. Slick. Right-click presets to classify them as ‘Favourite’ or ‘Junk’; Junk patches will disappear until you decide to bring them back.

The patches themselves are nothing short of exemplary. We have to confess to being a bit bored with the same old predictable dance, trance and dubstep patches that seem to make up the majority of synth preset lists these days. While those sounds can indeed be useful, we long for the days when factory patches were, well, musical; patches that beg you to put your fingers to the keys and jam.

Diva is loaded with them.

Basses that rip, rumble and resound, but can easily befitted into a mix. Leads that sear, soar and sing, but are tasteful and inspiring. Pads that are deep, rich andfull of subtlety. These patches are presented as musical instruments that let you, the musician, do the playing.

This tabbed section is flanked by a pair of LFOs. They sync, of course, and provide eight waveforms each. Needless to say, there are built-in effects, too: plate reverb, delay, chorus, rotary speaker simulation and phaser.

In other words, Diva’s got everything you need to carve out any basic analogue sound, and then some. It’s meat and potatoes with added spice, and digging beneath the surface, you’ll find plenty of advanced features such as powerful modulation options and per-voice fine-tuning.

It’s by no means a smörgåsbord of modularity, though- you’ll have to look to one of u-he’s modular machines for that. Diva was initially pitched as a “learning synth”, but the sound quality makes it much more than that. Sometimes you simply don’t want all the bells and whistles – you just want to whip up a quick patch that’ll keep the inspiration flowing.

Is it worth 215 bucks? Absolutely. Diva’s slick, accessible interface and truly mind-blowing sound make it a fine addition to your synth rack.

Mind you, there is that CPU hit, and if you’re trundling along on a years-old CPU, Diva will probably have it begging for mercy from the off, at least in the higher quality modes.

On the plus side, an update is just around the corner that promises multicore support, which u-he say could greatly alleviate the CPU punishment. However, if you have a box with enough grunt, you’d be crazy not to check this one out.

Read more about u-he Diva at

Rob Papen Blade

[ 0 ] 2012/05/09

Has additive synthesis become the hipster darling of the music production world?

You might think so, were you to tick off all of the variations on the technology currently available. Developers seem hell-bent on simplifying the technology, bringing users its uniquely rich sounds without the headaches traditionally associated with additive instruments.

“Blade entirely sidesteps the concept of manually adjusting individual partials”

Rob Papen and Jon Ayres’ newest brainchild, Blade, represents a different approach to additive synthesis. Ayres is certainly qualified forthe job: his killer additive synth, ConcreteFX Adder, championed the now-familiar approach of offering a set of individually adjustable partials that could be grouped together and then modulated en masse via envelopes, LFOs and so on.

That seemed simple compared to ‘true’ additive instruments, which provide pitch, phase and amplitude envelopes for each of dozens or even hundreds of partials. This time around, the concept has been streamlined further.

Similar to other recent additive synths such as NI Razor and Image-Line Harmor, Blade entirely sidesteps the concept of adjusting loads of individual partials (akaharmonics) in isolation. Instead, you get an oscillator section known as the Harmolator.

This provides a dozen controls that access the most important aspects of the additive engine, affecting the harmonics in sweeping swathes of sonic manipulation. It’s aninteresting take on the technique, and one that’s in keeping with Papen’s desire to provide inspirational music software.

Sharp dresser

Blade comes in AU, VST and RTAS formats. 32- and 64-bit versions are offered for both PC and Mac (with the exception of RTAS, which isn’t available in 64-bit for OS X). An AAX version is also in the pipeline.

The GUI is large and tightly packed with loadsof (rather small) knobs. It’s a tight fit, to behonest, and a little crowded with so many parameters to tweak.

A tabbed area in the lower middle section helps with this to some extent, providing access to all the things that didn’t fit on the main display – effects, modulation, pitch controls, an ‘advanced’ page offering control over envelope curves, velocity, and so on. As thisis a Rob Papen synth, the sophisticated arpeggiator is front and (bottom) centre by default, topped by a massive X/Y controller.

The difference (in the) engine

The Harmolator is the source of Blade’s power, and it’s the equivalent of the analogue oscillator section in a traditional subtractive synth. It’s designed to take the hassle out of additive synthesis, though some knowledge of how it works will go a long way towards creating sounds with any sort of intent.

There are controls for Even/Odd harmonic levels, Harmonic Vol, Timbre and Base frequency. There are some new things in here, too: Ripple and Ripple width, Sym and more.

All of these provide easy, global control over the typical additive functions that lurk just beneath the Harmolator’s surface. You can also choose from various Timbre and Ripple Types, and add a sub-oscillator.

The 16 Timbre Types determine which partials will be present. The Base frequency determines the frequency of the fundamental, while Range affects the width of the harmonic spectrum by determining how many partials will be affected relative to Base. Symmetry weighs the spectrum to lower or higher frequencies, and Ripple creates peaks in the harmonic spectrum.

While Blade can’t replicate, say, a complex acoustic sound with the detail possible with traditional additive synthesis, it gives you easy access to the most important aspects. Blade makes quick work of the sorts of shimmering, digital tones that only additive synthesis can create.

Once you’ve gotten past the Harmolator, you’ll find a familiar virtual analogue-style synth engine, including a fully loaded distortion section and a multimode filter with no less than 14 filter modes (expect several low-pass, high-pass and band-pass varieties, along with vocal and comb modes).

The envelope generators are fairly standard five-stage models (ADSR plus Sustain Fade). Amp, pitch and the Harmolator get dedicated EGs, while two others are freely assignable. The Harmolator’s envelope benefits from an extra Pre stage that delays the action.

Pitch and Harmolator both have dedicated LFOs, and there are two free LFOs to work with as well. There are six different waveforms to choose from, and tempo sync is an option.

Here come the mods

Typically for a Rob Papen synth, Blade comes with an arpeggiator that can act as a mod source. It’ll sync to host tempo, and it can be latched and have swing applied. It can also be used as a mini step-sequencer – a welcome option for those of us tired with the same old
up/down arpeggiator patterns.

Another equally effective modulation source is provided in the form of an X/Y controller. This has routing knobs so that it can be sent to all ofthe Harmolator’s functions, as well as filter cutoff and volume. You can program its action or record your own path in real time, and playback can be looped and locked to tempo.

Cutting edge

There’s much more to Blade than we can cover in the space we have here, of course. It will come as no surprise to learn that the synth has two effects processors built in, each loaded with plenty of options. And, as a Papen product, you would rightly bet that it is weighed down with a ton of stellar presets (though there are some real stinkers in there, too, it must be said).

It all adds up to an instrument that excels atevocative, evolving soundscapes. If you like deep, moving pads or wild wobbulating effects, this is the place to find them, and Blade will be ofparticular appeal to those who are growing weary of the same old virtual analogues and sample-playback instruments.

If, however, you’re after the absolute control offered by afull-on additive synth, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Blade is about cutting through the academic minutiae and getting the job done – and that it does very well indeed.

Read more about Rob Papen Blade at

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