Sampler? Synth? Workstation? Or just big bucket of sound? There are some impressive rabbit holes for sound designers out there, and Steinberg’s offering just got a big refresh.

While looking at the latest flagship from a music hardware giant (Roland’s Jupiter-80), it’s revealing to compare the software side of the fence. Computer software instruments may not be directly equivalent to all-in-one keyboards, but they do each embody the latest thinking in how to build expressive instruments and new sounds. German maker Steinberg is at home at this week’s giant Messe trade show, and they’ve taken the wraps off the upcoming landmark release of their own flagship synthesizer sampler workstation. It does … a lot.

HALion is really two instruments combined, both a virtual analog synthesizer and a sampler and sample playback workstation. The new version has dockable, movable, and resizable windows, function tabs, and screen sets – UI features generally associated with hosts, but necessary here to navigate HALion’s complex interface. There’s even a full-blown mixer desk inside.

The big change, though, is an expected one, bringing HALion in line with Steinberg’s latest ideas on what to do with VST plug-ins and sequencing. I looked at these features in my preview of Cubase 6’s note-by-note expression editing and VST 3.5. New features for adding expression to individual musical notes and sequences require updates to the associated plug-in software and sound content, so that’s where HALion comes in. Put the two together, and you have a better way of coupling stored sequence information with musical-style expression, whether modeling real instruments or storing transformations of sound parameters with synth sounds. The idea is to give sequenced music the same sorts of information about how sounds change across a note that a musical score might.

With or without those features, HALion 4 is full of sound design tools:

  • A mixing engine with unlimited buses per program and layer and free routing – think DAW-like mixing inside each sound patch. Then route those to 32 stereo output channels or 6-channel surround. (Ow! My head!)
  • Some 44 effect processors – this is before you drop HALion inside a DAW and add effects – including convolution reverbs, studio EQs, rotary cabinet emulation, morphing filters.
  • Internal phrase arpeggiator.
  • A new version of MegaTrig, which allows you to create series of conditions for triggers – basically, a graphical interface in place of the textual scripting in tools like rival sampler Kontakt.
  • “Quick Controls” for mapping parameters to macro knobs, as we’ve seen in … well, many places. Your brain can keep track of 8 things more easily than it can 80.
  • 15 GB of sound content.
  • 32-bit and 64-bit versions for both Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.6.

More images (click any of these for larger versions), all courtesy Steinberg:

And all of this costs you EUR349/GBP295, including VAT. US$329.99 retail in the US. (It’s cheaper because we’re less tax-y, folks.)

And that’s, really, kind of ridiculously cheap for a synth, a sampler, a mixer, a sound design toolset, and gigs of sounds, if you think about it. Lots more HALion here:

Updated: Here’s a photo of MegaTrig – think Kontakt’s KSP scripting environment as a GUI. Which is more powerful? We’ll find out when HALion ships.

  • kid versus chemical

    Wow, that's pretty epic.   I think that this will give Kontakt a serious run for it's money (literally and figuratively).  I love how they just added a nice VA synth in there, for me that adds a lot to it's appeal, the less plugins I have to open the better

  • s ford

    it's incredible how far soft sampling instruments have come along in a relatively short time, well 10 years anyway from the first inceptions of kontakt and halion or so.  

    i'd be intrigued if anyone still uses hardware samplers. 

    also does anyone create their own patches/instruments with soft samplers or just preset surf or use a instrument from a library?  even though i own a akai sampler, i never really got around to using it.  heard that a lot of akai samplers were actually pretty good for creating your own sounds and stuff.  

  • Woody

    Looks really good in many ways.
    I definitely still like to use my old Akai S5000 as a parallel recorder of random sounds/snippets.
    I still think Hardware (If it has USB or at least midi or C.V connectivity) has a role to play, and can compete on many levels still with software.

  • The big advantage Kontakt has over all these other samplers is the fact it has a much bigger group of innovative 3rd party dev's working on new instruments and using KSP to create new things. 

    Anybody know how this Megatrig compares to KSP?

  • It looks like Steinberg picked up the orphaned Gigasampler team to make a secret weapon for an imaginary war. Load this up with Thesys in ReNoise and go off the deep enddddd! hehe

  • Peter Kirn

    @durk: Oops, left out that photo. Now added. But yes, I don’t know that there’s a huge incentive to dump KSP and learn MegaTrig; I think it’s more that this is for people already working with HALion. And it lends itself to fiddling in a way that text code may not. (Well – I’m a huge advocate of text code, but at least for some people for whom that’s a turn-off.)

    Beyond that, I don’t think anyone knows how they compare, because we haven’t seen this yet! Just in preview stage…

  • cheers for pic + answer @peter

    the 'virtual' analog sounds interesting tho, and pretty unique. 

  • Andy

    Conceptionally it seems to be similar to Omnisphere.

  • i'm  shocked…. halion wasn't really the first choice or even the second for sound design but now it looks like kontakt is going to have some SERIOUS competition!

  • Saukar

    Does anyone know if they FINALLY put timestretch into Halion??

  • Jason

    I dig the arpegiator addition, which was missing from 3. will miss the Waldorf filters a bit, but these seem to sound really good too..

    all in all, cant wait to get my copy.