The NAMM show brought a cluster of new soft synths from some beloved synth makers. The interfaces are noticeably conventional, but there are some tasty sonic features in store. Most of these are promised as “coming soon,” not available now, but here’s a quick look at what to expect.
By the way, if you’re one the people complaining that you’re sick of everyone talking about Ableton and want something else to be excited about, I have one word for you:
Let me sum it up in one line first:
minimoog V 2.0: Rewired circuitry, automation recording vocal filtering, and weird 3D preset browsing mean if you like minimoog, you’ll like it more.
Brass 2.0: physically-modeled brass stuff you can play more easily with controllers, now with a sax model and fully spatialized and harmonized.
Trilian: Even more of the synth that gives you more bass than you need – and now your Intel Mac can run it in place of Trilogy, for free.
Largo: It’s a Waldorf synthesizer, but it’s software. You can’t afford a Blofeld, but you can afford this, and then use it in a coffee shop.
D.CAM: Synth wishes granted: thick parallel-waveform performance synth plus vintage-style string synth plus big, modern FM plus and environment to put them all together.
(added!) impOSCar 2: Features aren’t confirmed yet, but an early look at the OSCar emulation suggest a very big sequel indeed.
And you can add that to the coming Operator 2 and Collision in Ableton Live (either a la carte or the suite). In fairness, these are exactly the sort of synths that make people wonder why they should pay for Operator – but one look at the clean interface in Operator, and how much it can do in that compact interface, and I think it fits in just perfectly. Collision, meanwhile, gives us physically-modeled percussion, which I really want to see more of.
By the way, in comparison most of the hardware announcements (microKORG XL, new V-Synth OS) at this show were, to my mind, more incremental than the goodness that shows up in the software stuff. True, D.CAM is the one new entry here, but, well, technically it’s four entries on its own, and there’s quite a lot in the upgrades, some of which you get for free.
Certainly, what we have is a ton of sequels to some of the biggest soft synth hits (Arturia minimoog V, Trilogy, and impOSCar in particular).
Arturia minimoog V 2.0
It’s an odd version number – five two? Okay, that’s “two” as in the number, “V” as in virtual, not the Roman Numeral. But for fans of Arturia’s flagship Moog emulation synth, 2.0 brings some interesting new features. Sound MAP is an odd, graphical way of exploring presets, although it strikes me a bit like what would happen if you took a preset browser and dumped all the presets on the floor. (For me, this brings back flashbacks to Apple’s HotSauce, an experimental 3D interface for metadata on the Web. Thanks, Mattbot. Everyone else, don’t ask.)
All of this would be gimmicky and useless, except that you can use this strange, 3D interface to morph between preset ideas. If you could also use it to select interpolate between random parameters, I’d go nuts – I’ll leave that to someone else to implement.
The other features are more likely to please everyone:
- A vocal filter feature with an X/Y morphing interface with different formants (not new to synths, but certainly new to Minimoogs, real or emulated)
- Circuitry and modulation destination improvements
- Automation with real-time recording
Together, it looks like a worthy upgrade for fans, some of whom I know just live inside this synth.
Arturia minimoog V 2.0 [Product Page]
Elsewhere: The folks at Future Music were especially excited about the new features, particularly that browser and the way the Vocal Filter sounds. (I didn’t follow, though, was the uberfeature the Sound Map or the Vocal Filter? We really have seen these sorts of things before, which is not to take away from Arturia’s cool implementation here.)
And it’ll cost $299/EUR229 to upgrade from the current – wait? What’s that?
No, it’ll be completely free for existing users. Now there’s a reason for some customer loyalty.
Arturia Brass 2.0
Arturia also refreshed their physically-modeled brass synth, which now has a saxophone model – the tenor Buffet-Crampon. (Nice choice! And I’m partial to tenors, as I grew up with my father playing tenor in his college pep band.)
Also new: harmonization features, spatialization, MIDI integration features (ideal for, say, the newly-shipping Akai EWI USB wind controller). There are also pre-composed riffs by genre, if you’re feeling lazy, though I heartily recommend doing things the hard way.
The minimoog is slick, but I actually think Brass may be a bigger upgrade – and while you’ll find other moog-y sounds, Brass is a really unique sound source. IRCAM, Paris’ legendary sound research center, is responsible for the sounds inside, meaning you can imagine slightly unshaven, French students in white lab coats every time you use it, which has to be worth something. (I actually wear a lab coat when I’m designing sounds, I know that.)
Elsewhere: Sonic State grabbed a video demo of Brass 2.
And it’s also free to upgrade.
Spectrasonics’ All-Bass Trilian
How is it that some readers are more excited about Trilian than any other soft synths when all it does is bass sounds?
Well, perhaps because this is successor to Spectrasonics’ Trilogy is the uber-bass plug-in. Upright ? Check. 5-string? Yep. Roland 303? Why not?
Now, normally instruments based on lots of sampling leave me pretty cold, but the STEAM engine – used in Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere – gives you synth-like controls. And I think Trilian’s narrower focus on just basses might earn it more attention than Omnisphere got. (The latter was hyped like crazy on announcement, only to be oddly forgotten, relatively speaking, by the time it came out – maybe because it’s so huge, none of us can fit it on our hard drives.)
And by the way, talk about earning good will: if you own Trilogy and have an Intel Mac, Spectrasonics will give you Trilian for free (shipping only, in place of the usual US$99 upgrade price). So, sure, Apple burned you by switching CPUs, and Spectrasonics could profit – but they’re not.
This means even as I chide Novation, Spectrasonics
earns the “Good Sense Wins Over Accounting” award.
- Big, new library of acoustic, electric, and synth basses
- All the original patches, refreshed
- Gobs of articulations in the design, for live performance or scoring
- Modulation with FM, timbre shifting, and some unique modulation deliciousness
- 64-bit support
- A name that subtly references the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Too many other things to list, so just check out:
Spectrasonics does some really incredible stuff. It’s mind-boggling overkill in some ways (ridiculous sampling plus ridiculous synth design), but there’s nothing wrong with that – especially when it serves nothing but bass. And there’s just so much control in there, it really is a sound design dream, not just a big pack of sample files.
US$299, due in May.
It’s a Waldorf synthesizer, but it’s software.
I don’t really have to say much else, but suffice to say, it runs on Windows, it runs on Mac (VST and AU), and it’s all that lovely Waldorf-ness in a virtual rack. The software interface gives me deja vu relative to a number of Logic synths, among others, but then I think there’s just one guy who designs all UIs for all software. (Okay, maybe there are … two guys.)
- Voice architecture from the Q / Blofeld
- Three oscillators, two with sub-oscillators, modeling analog waveforms plus PPG, Waldorf Wave
- Ring mod
- Multi-mode Waldorf filter (“Taste the difference” seems to be Waldorf’s message, if you believe them)
- Modulation matrix, fast, syncable LFOs
- One arpeggiator per layer
If you’re in synth overload, I’d say move along, but I know there are some folks who have been coveting Waldorf in software, and now you’ve got it.
Largo [Product Page]
I just wish they hadn’t given it a name that makes it sound like a notation product, but I guess that’s forgiveable. Pricing? Availability? No word yet.
Fxpansion D.CAM Synth Squad
D.CAM is a bunch of modeled-analog goodness. Now, the FXpansion boys want you to believe this is all about emulating the goodness of analog, but to me the real story is that you get loads of digital synthesis power that bring together some of the best old stuff with the best new stuff. The products read a bit like a wish list for synths, and then the Fusor product lets you put them all together in semi-modular fashion.
The marketing is a little muddled, and seems to feature evil dystopian overlords with giant red eyes. But who cares? The synths look fantastic. I, for one, welcome our new dystopian overlords.
Strobe is a “super-oscillator” performance synth with parallel waveforms, sub-oscillators, a filter with drive, voice stack/detune – think thick.
Amber is a vintage string synth, which takes classic divide-down string synths and adds new absurd modulation. Delicious!
Cypher has lots of knobs and lots of arrows! Okay, basically the idea here is audio-rate FM with lots of shaping and filtering and still more modulation. FM is back, for sure.
Fusor is an environment in which you can layer your D-CAM synths and modulate them. There’s an arpeggiator and step sequencer. This might seem like overkill given the number of environments out there that do this stuff, but in this case you get a consistent interface and semi-modular capabilities. It’s no Reaktor, but it’s a bit like what I’d imagine a set of one really brilliant person’s Reaktor ensembles might look like.
Elsewhere: Gearwire has a nice write-up that sums this up with one line: “This trio combines the most sought after features in classic synthesizers with the synthesizers of tomorrow . . . today!”
In other news…
Zebra is now up to 2.3, which I believe is also NAMM news (or announced at the same time). “Point 3” in the crazy, synthtastic world of Urs Heckmann means things like a skinnable UI, sideband modules, MIDI program changes, Mac RTAS, a resizable editor, compressor modes, comb filter, and … okay, I can’t actually list it all. The sideband alone sounds fantastic. Whoever out there has time to program Zebra and reskin it, I salute you.
Other soft synth news I’ve missed? Let us know.
And what has you most psyched?
I missed this important preview, as it wasn’t really an official release at NAMM – the features shown aren’t even fully confirmed. But one of the best vintage emulations out there, impOSCar 2, is up for getting some improvements. Interestingly, some of the directions GForce’s Dave Spiers is taking (like more modulation routing, ring modulation, and more particular synth controls) parallels some of the other stuff we’re seeing added to modern soft synths. I do like the sound of chord mode, polyphonic aftertouch, and portamento spread – this could be a very playable synth.
My usual caveat on this sort of thing is, I tend to personally shy away from synths that focus primarily on emulation of a previous model, just because that sort of thing doesn’t hold as much appeal for me. But GForce – not unlike Way Out Ware’s emulations, also distributed by M-Audio – certainly manage to be the better in this category.
If you are interested in impOSCar 2, this is the one case in which the folks on the NAMM floor have the definite advantage. Check out SonicState’s video below, and further details from the gang at Computer Music (via MusicRadar):
Computer Music: GForce impOSCar 2! See it, hear it, pull funny faces!
SonicState with the instrument’s creator:
Thanks, michel / bliss! (I had wanted to cover this and … yep, forgot.)