Universal Audio are here with their winter lineup – the latest processing tools for their hardware platform – now including a sought-after compressor.
I know we’ve got some pretty hard-core UAD fans in our readership. For those of you just joining us, the idea is, you buy plug-ins that operate on dedicated hardware – DSP chips in various rack-mount and portable gear. Most popular among producers I know are the Apollo line, particularly the Twin models small enough to fit in a rucksack, which connect via USB or Thunderbolt.
The value proposition is, you get real-time tracking and monitoring on the hardware, plus a selection of the highest-end models out there. UA have made their name in specializing in classics and sought-after studio sounds, especially with collaborations and authorized recreations.
Making that investment isn’t cheap, and because they’re tied to the DSP hardware, you do need the interface connected. So that definitely creates two “camps” – watch our comments selection for a taste.
I haven’t tried these particular recreations yet, though I do know and love the original Distressor hardware. Word is, this is the most-requested device UA have added yet. But let’s run down the whole lot, as a number are interesting. Then I’ll leave it to commenters to decide whether this is good news or not.
Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor
The original: 1993, Empirical Labs. This is one of the compressors by which others are measured, and there’s a good chance there’s one in a recording studio near you. It’s based on a gain reduction circuit that uses transistor circuitry (FET, or field effect transistor) to control an analog amplifier (VCA).
The recreation: UA says they’ve built an “end-to-end” emulation of the circuitry. They have the exclusive endorsement of Dave Derr, the Empirical Labs founder who made the original circuit.
Cost: €/US$299 / £228
Softube Dytronics Tri-Stereo Chorus
The original: 1980s. Dytronics CS-5 “Tri-Stereo” Chorus. You know how chorus was … kinda overused in the 80s? This was what they were overusing on a lot of those recordings. The hint it in the name – you get three channels, so it’s thick. Clapton had one, plus… actually, Clapton’s enough, right?
Under the hood, it’s bucket-brigade delay lines that make the difference. That’s a distinctive sound – left, center, right, each independent and with its own delay response and feedback parameters. It wouldn’t be much of a chorus without some modulation, so the delays are swept by an LFO, with separate or parallel operation. The two modes are oddly named “preset” and “manual” – preset gives you a cool, “shimmery” sound.
The recreation: Here, UA are turning to Swedish DSP mavens Softube for the modeling, to recreate the sound of those three independent delay lines. It’s also an exclusive.
New in this version: stereo input, feedback (found only on rare MkII hardware), and a Rate knob for Preset mode modulation.
Cost: €/US$199 / £152
Gallien-Krueger 800RB Bass Amp
The original: 1982, 800RB. It’s legendary. Okay, I’d never heard of it – but I definitely have heard it, and so have you. Think Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, No Doubt, Guns n’ Roses, and more. Also, look at that nice panel.
Now, just because they don’t have their own line of consumer Bluetooth headphones (cough, Marshall), don’t overlook them. Who’s Gallien-Krueger? It may sound German, but it’s not – it’s a late 60s American company founded by an HP engineer (so it oddly shares that lineage with Apple Computer).
The sound is described as a “dry growl.” Like the chorus, there’s a distinctive 80s sound here, made possible by improved amplifier tech.
The original 800RB.
The recreation: Also a UAD exclusive, this time with Brainworx, another of the world’s top DSP developers (they’re in Germany). And this is also officially licensed, as Gallien-Krueger are still around.
New on the plug-in version, not on the original hardware: dedicated Recording Chains for each power amp, physical input impedance, and hands-on control of Gain staging (which in turn integrates with UA’s hardware via their Unison technology). There’s actually a lot in there: you get a bunch of included cabinet and mic options, and some 64 chains were recording with multiple speaker cabinets, so you have a little virtual studio in there.
Cost: €/$149 / £114.
Ocean Way Microphone Collection
The originals: There are different mics here – Neumann, Sony, RCA, AKG, and so on. (You probably guessed that from the pics.) They’re all from the collection of Allen Sides, the engineer/producer behind the Ocean Way Studios after which this series is named. Allen Sides produced… uh, kind of more stuff than there’s space to list.
Ocean Way Hollywood says their mics are so sensitive they’ll “pick up the sound of your soul.” That means you should let me absolutely nowhere near your recording session.
The recreations: This is actually really the bargain buy of the collection, as the idea is, you get a whole closet full of vintage microphones – albeit virtual ones. The Townsend Labs Sphere L22 microphone system is a set of models of those classic mics. In order to use these, you will need a specialized spherical mic from Townsend. What makes it work is that that mic picks up everything, allowing you to emulate the behavior of different mics, in software.
Townsend have developed this new software for the UAD platform in order to extend that mic’s capabilities. So this is the first-ever microphone to be powered by the UAD. Because it’s a spherical mic, you get off-axis response. You can actually change polar patterns after you record – like turning a directional mic into an omni or visa versa. And you can even adjust proximity effect, for some easy vocals. (I like sounding like God, don’t you?)
I know a lot of people imagine these DSP hardware systems are some kind of big dongle – hardware you have to buy to use the software. But when it comes to real-time performance, there’s objectively a major advantage. You’re able to track in real-time with the lowest latency available – something that’s comparatively far less useful on native systems.
That in combination with the spherical mic is something that promises to be really revolutionary. It’s sort of like microphone VR: one mic can transform into any mic, and then transform again after you’ve recorded. Bad for people who have trouble making decisions, but good for everyone else.
Cost: €/$249 / £190
For more, check out UA’s site. Let us know if you want some reviews of these – or more history of the gear involved.
Soundtoys are on a short list of the best plug-in developers out there. Now through Nov. 22, you get their model of the classic EMT 140 plate, for free.
That seems a little dangerous. The EMT 140 is a versatile enough plate that … it’s tough sometimes to use anything else. There’s an exceptionally good set of models from Universal Audio I use all the time, which have three different plate models included. But the Soundtoys rendition is good enough to use right alongside, thanks to some clever design additions.
There’s delay times up to infinite reverb, for one. (There’s your next ambient project, sorted.)
And doubly useful, since the 140 was never intended to go beyond five seconds, there’s also a crucial mod switch that fattens up and varies those reflections.
This plus an all-important low cut filter.
I’m obligated to tell you that while this is free, it does require an ilok.com account. Don’t panic, though – those have been far more reliable these days. You don’t need a dongle, and very often ilok is more convenient and responsive than third-party plug-in developers rolling their own authentication systems (depending on the case). Of course, it’s up to you.
IK Multimedia’s all-new Syntronik isn’t just one vintage synth – it’s up to 38 of those, plus loads of filters and effects, in one plug-in package.
This isn’t the first time IK has offered this sort of “models of everything” approach. But this time, there’s a ground-up approach to modeling original analog circuits, combined with sampling – new engine, new presets. And since there’s a free version, you don’t have to be afraid of commitment before you test drive.
That technological explanation alone doesn’t say that much, though. Part of what makes any synth playable – whether that instrument is analog or digital, hardware or software – is the humans who worked on it.
Erik Norlander, one of the lead sound designers of Syntronik project, makes a particularly special sound programmer. Norlander was the lead on the legendary, multitimbral Alesis Andromeda. When it was released in 2000, analog had largely been abandoned by the mass market – this is two years before even the Minimoog Voyager. In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say the Andromeda was the instrument that changed the course of the industry (well, changed it back again, that is). Unique analog sounds and hands-on controls (rather than digital sound and menu diving) were finally back in the game, paired with a more modern architecture and pitch correction.
That is, even if the Andromeda doesn’t trigger warm, fuzzy feelings, you can thank it at least in part for a lot of the character of synths today.
I’ll even forgive Erik some bias and sales jargon here, because he’s got some points about the IK offering. To find out what he has to say, we’re going to try something different. Norlander and IK talked first to Japan’s IKON Magazine. Here, we have an edited, English-language edition of that interview.
This is an experiment for us, but hopefully allows us to share more content with our friends in Japan at ICON. (The original is at bottom, if you do speak Japanese.)
Erik Norlander. (Photo: Erik Nielsen.)
Full list of synths:
Modular Moog, Minimoog Model D, Moog Voyager, Moog Taurus I, Moog Taurus II, Moog Taurus 3, Polymoog, Moog Opus 3, Moog Rogue, Realistic Concertmate MG-1, Multimoog, Micromoog, Moog Prodigy, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Sequential Circuits Prophet-10, ARP 2600, Oberheim SEM, Oberheim OB-X, Oberheim OB-Xa, Yamaha CS-80, Yamaha GX-1, Yamaha CS-01II, Yamaha SY99, Roland Juno-60, Roland Jupiter-8, Roland Jupiter-6, Roland Jupiter-4, Roland JX-10, Roland JX-8P, Roland JX-3P, Roland TB-303 Bassline, Alesis Andromeda, PPG Wave 2.3, ARP String Ensemble, Elka Rhapsody 490, Hohner String Performer, Roland RS-505 Paraphonic & Roland RS-09 Organ/Strings
CDM English-language ICON.jp article
ICON: Why did you choose to release a vintage synthesizer and string machine instrument as the first virtual instrument after MODO BASS?
Erik Norlander (EN): We want to be the total solution for virtual instruments. To reach this goal, IK has created major updates to our instrument product line, starting with SampleTank 3 in 2014. We released several SampleTank Custom Shop Instrument Collections after this, including the spectacular Cinematic Percussion and Brandenburg Piano. Then we released Miroslav Philharmonik 2, our orchestral / symphonic virtual instrument recording in Prague, along with the follow-on Orchestral Percussion Instrument Collection, recorded in Hollywood, California. MODO Bass is a brilliant product that had been in the works for many years, while developing this amazing new modeling technology.
So, we have covered most acoustic instruments with SampleTank 3, Miroslav Philharmonik and the Custom Shop Instrument Collections, and electric bass with MODO Bass. The next logical step was a synthesizer product to provide our users with the best electronic sounds available. Rather than simply update SampleMoog or Sonik Synth, we took a different approach and made a completely new and far more extensive instrument called Syntronik. Syntronik combines the best of sampling and modeling to recreate our favorite classic synthesizers and take them even farther.
ICON: IK Multimedia has been selling vintage synthesizer instruments like SampleMoog. What are the main differences between Syntronik and those vintage synthesizer instruments released in the past?
EN: First, we should establish that Syntronik is not just a vintage synthesizer instrument. Of course you can get all of the vintage sounds, but Syntronik is a modern instrument intended for creating all kinds of music, including the latest cutting-edge pop and electronica. We have sampled 38 timeless, classic instruments that form the foundation of Syntronik, and then those get processed by our amazing IK modeling technology which includes both classic filter emulations and modern digital filters. Our new DRIFT algorithm adds life to our samples in a truly animated and compelling approach.
We add to this an engineer’s dream collection of effects, including models of the famous Pultec, Urei, Teletronix, Fairchild EQs and limiters, guitar amps and modulation effects including our new Ensemble effect modeled especially for Syntronik. This one recreates the beautiful analog chorus-ensemble effects of the famous ARP String Ensemble, Roland Juno-60 and Roland string machines such as the RS-505 Paraphonic Ensemble. All of this puts Syntronik light years ahead of our past synthesizer products.
IKON: Syntronik is using sampling technology, apart from the modeling of filters and effects. Why didn’t you make it by 100% modeling like MODO BASS?
EN: IK is a leader in both sampling and modeling, and we chose to use the best of both worlds for Syntronik. We have found that the best way to truly capture and recreate the sound of classic analog hardware is to sample it using our finely-tuned recording techniques and editing workflow that has been developed over decades. Modeling can give you more flexibility in some cases, but there is nothing like hearing an audiophile sample of the actual instrument. When you hear our samples of the Oberheim OB-X, it really sounds just like an Oberheim OB-X. Because it is an OB-X. The tone is undeniable. Our DRIFT algorithm removes many of the limitations of sample playback, and the modeled filters and effects add a further dimension.
IKON: How did you choose 38 instruments? Do we have a plan to expand it with more instruments?
EN: We started with the ten most famous classic synthesizers, the Minimoog, the Prophet-5, the CS-80, the SEM, etc. and then we expanded on that base to add related instruments like the Multimoog, Micromoog, Prodigy, Rogue and similar synths that are less known but still sound amazing. In the case of our String Box synth, we started with the most famous string machine, the ARP String Ensemble. Then we expanded that synth with other great string machines, like the Roland RS-505 and RS-09, the Elka Rhapsody, Hohner String Performer, and Univox Multiman, which is a variant of the famous Crumar Orchestrator. We started out with a smaller set, but we just kept adding synths because they sounded so great, and it made sense in the context of the product.
IKON: How did you have those 38 instruments themselves? Were they owned by IK? Or are some of them rented from someone?
EN: I own most of the hardware instruments as you can see in the photo on our Syntronik product page on the IK web site. I sampled a few rarities like the Yamaha GX-1 and then the tiny CS-01 (incidentally, the biggest and smallest synths in the collection!) during other sessions over the years when I could find the opportunity.
IKON: Are all samples included in Syntronik new? Or are you using some samples from previous products like SampleMoog?
EN: 98% of the samples are new. We included some legacy sounds from SampleMoog that I recorded several years ago that we felt were good enough to include in Syntronik. And in some cases, we even went back to the original recording sessions of the SampleMoog material and made larger versions of the keymaps.
IKON: What is the bit depth / sample resolution, — bits/–kHz? Are you using Pro Tools | HDX to record those samples? Could you also tell us which A/D converter are you using?
EN: All of the samples were recorded into MOTU Digital Performer, and the original sessions were done at the highest resolution available. Some downsampling was done in some cases to create more manageable file sizes, where there was no perceivable audio quality loss. In the case of bit depth, in general, the looped, sustaining samples are at 16-bit, since they do not have more amplitude resolution than that and it would be a waste of disk space and memory to keep all 24 bits of data. Our Syntronik internal audio path is 32-bit, so our envelopes have more dynamic range than any DAC can even reproduce! So when our envelopes decay a looped sample to silence, it is with extreme dynamic resolution. Then for the samples that decay to silence, we kept them at 24-bit to preserve the full dynamic range of the sampled analog decays.
IKON: Please explain what is the Drift technology.
EN: DRIFT is a very sophisticated algorithm that the IK team developed after over a year of transcontinental discussions. We debated what it should do, what it should not do, how to do it, and how not to do it. DRIFT modulates multiple aspects of the sound to authentically recreate the behavior of free running oscillators.
On an analog synth, the oscillators are running all the time. It is the envelope that gates them on and off. So unlike a digital sample, the waveform does not always start at a zero crossing. The synth envelope will often catch the wave in the middle or somewhere else in its cycle. Simple sample start point modulation doesn’t quite work for this, because you get clicks when a sample starts far away from its zero crossing, so some kind of smoothing is necessary to recreate the rise time of an analog VCA. Then there’s the famous pitch drifting of analog oscillators that cannot be duplicated by a simple LFO. So using everything we know about sampling and modeling, we came up with an algorithm that combines multiple treatments to a sample to give it the organic life and animation of an analog oscillator. It’s proprietary technology, so I can’t go into more detail than that. But suffice it to say, it sounds amazing.
IKON: When did you start developing Syntronik? What are the biggest challenges to finish making it?
EN: It took less than a year from the time we conceived the product to the time it was released. But we’re building on 20 years of IK Multimedia technology, so we had some pretty amazing resources at our disposal. In this sense, it was not like starting from zero. And many of the samples come from a private, unreleased library that I have been crafting over many years. I was looking for the best time and platform to release the the library, and Syntronik is it.
IKON: There are many virtual instruments of vintage synthesizers in the market. What are the main advantage of Syntronik over those products?
EN: There are so many excellent virtual synthesizers. We love the Spectrasonics, Arturia and UVI products, and so many others. But comparing Syntronik to these is like comparing a Ferrari to a Porsche, or comparing a California Cabernet to an Italian Barbera. They are different approaches borne from different visions and different inspirations. We set out to capture the feel, the style, the essence of our favorite classic synthesizers with a specific sonic intention and present them in a powerful, easy-to-use virtual instrument that would put the real sound of 38 amazing instruments at your fingertips. I really think we achieved that.
IKON: Propellerhead announced to stop selling ReBirth-338 due to some intellectual property issues. We see the names of synthesizers in Syntronik pages. Aren’t you worried about the intellectual property issues?
EN: We are tremendously respectful of the original hardware manufacturers. Moog Music has of course been a partner with us in the past, and we have the highest regard for them as well as Roland, Yamaha, Dave Smith and Sequential, Tom Oberheim and his companies, Wolfgang Palm and PPG, and all the rest. I was the original product manager for the Alesis Andromeda hardware synth, so naturally I have tremendous respect for that brand and product. Our GUIs are all homages to these great hardware synths. They provide visual elements that harken back to the originals and give you the feeling of those great hardware instruments, but they are most definitely not copies of the original designs. And you will never see us using the term “Jupiter” or “Juno” in the product. We have also been very thorough with our legal disclaimers to state who owns which trademark and to clarify non-affiliation when appropriate.
IKON: What’s behind the name Syntronik?
EN: It is the logical next step from our “Philharmonik” product. Both of these instruments end in “ik” which of course is a reference to IK Multimedia. So Philharmonik is the orchestral instrument, and Syntronik is the electronic instrument. Who knows, there may be more of this theme to explore. And in the case of the “Syn” part, this very much follows Bob Moog’s excellent definition of synthesis meaning simply “many parts.” In our case, the “many parts” are the samples, the modeling, the effects and the super-user-friendly graphical experience. “Syn” here does NOT imply “synthetic” — the opposite of organic — or “artificial” in any way. Syntronik is very much a living, breathing musical instrument full of expression and animation.
IKON: Syntronik can be used as SampleTank 3 expansion instruments. Do you have a plan to publish an open SDK so that third party developers can make SampleTank 3 instruments, Native Instruments KONTAKT and UVI Engine?
EN: We are discussing this, and there is a good possibility that we will open up the platform at some point.
IKON: Can you tell us a bit of the update roadmap of Syntronik?
EN: You can of course purchase the full version, which I recommend. The 17 synths in the product were all chosen to be complementary, and we don’t expect any one synth to provide every synth sound you would want.
But you can start with Syntronik Free which includes 50 instruments and 1GB of samples. It is truly free, and it is fully functional — there are no limitations in the functionality, it is only the samples and instrument count that is reduced. And the free version is pretty spectacular, I have to say! If anyone has any doubts about the product, please try the free version, which will give you a very good feeling of the full product. With the free version, you can purchase individual synths, any of the 17, and custom-build your own library. So, if you only are interested in Roland® TB-303-style synth bass sounds or Moog Taurus® pedal-like timbres, you can buy just the T-03 or Bully synths.
IKON: Lastly, please give us a message for IK Multimedia fans in Japan.
EN: Syntronik was a lot of work to create, and it required some very heavy lifting on every side, from the recording to the editing to the modeling to GUI developing to the coding. But it was an exciting and rewarding project, truly a labor of love for all involved. We have a really inspired vision for this product, and we can’t wait for our musicians friends in Japan to play our beautiful instrument. We look forward to hearing the wonderful music you will make with our instrument, and we hope that it inspires you as much as it has inspired us.
The right delay is more than a filter. It’s an intoxicant; it’s a powerful hallucinogenic trip. We’re not so much technicians when we use them as we are shamans.
Now, of course, the right way to do this theoretically has been to lug some vintage analog gear, or some specialized digital equipment. But in the recent past, the computer has gotten better at providing rich analog models and digital effects. Not a little better – a lot better.
Having a good analog model also opens up something else. We’re starting to see effects and production that combines analog effects (like tape delays) with digital effects (like diffusion echoes). And that can produce space-y sounds unlike any heard before.
Surreal Machines out of Berlin are a boutique software shop making some of the better models available right now. Dub Machines is simply excellent – a one-two punch of a Roland-style modeled tape delay (Magnetic) with a digital diffusion delay (Diffuse) that can double as a reverb. And uniquely, Magnetic applied an approach of incorporating the characteristics of real machines, including samples. This applies famously to dub music, yes, but — really all sorts of things, from trippy techno to experimental sounds.
Dub Machines is so good that the advice was simple for Ableton Live users – you’ve got to have it. Not only was that the advice from me, but people would literally stop me in the street and tell me to go get it. There’s just one problem: it’s only available for Max for Live, meaning other DAWs are left out of the fun.
Enter the new Dub Machines plug-in version. It now supports VST and Audio Unit on Mac and Windows (I’m testing on Windows at the moment), and it’s a total refresh of what was there before.
And just for CDM, in case you missed the free intro deal on Diffuse, you can get it this week for free with code: CDMDIFFUSE
(No promotional fee paid to CDM here – I just loved this thing but was late writing it up! Ha!)
Meet the two plug-ins
So they took something that was already very good, made it run in more places, and made the sound much better. That has instantly earned this a place among my other two favorite delays of the moment, the hybrid/multi-mode Replika XT from Native Instruments, and the H3000 plug-in from Eventide (not to mention using it alongside an actual Space Echo I’ve been borrowing).
Magnetic gets reworked as Modnetic, with extra features – like a BBD-modeled modulation section, which they say is practically a plug-in on its own (I agree). And Diffuse gets a total refresh, too.
Modnetic is really several effects bundled together: tape delay, spring reverb, chorus/flanger/phaser, and analog tone modeling. So you get:
Echo/tape delay: Three virtual tape heads you can combine in different ways, with two reverse delay effects, hold for looping Reverb:: 35 impulse responses for different spring reverbs Modulation: Chorus, flanger, phaser, including modeled BBD (bucket brigade) models, and various analog and digital and ‘broken’ flavors. Tone: Four selectable “characters” that give you the feeling of different machines.
About those changes:
Compared to the Ableton M4L version (Magnetic), the new VST/AU plugin Modnetic has been completely rewritten from scratch in C++ for better performance and higher quality. We’ve painstaking created brand new ‘character modes’ that affect the whole system, provided a new set of reverbs and colors (keeping the best from before) and made everything completely smooth and click free in realtime performance, not to mention plugin features like AB compare and mix lock… but the biggest change has to be… our new modulation system!
Modnetic has a fully featured and easy to use modulation section with chorus, flangers and phasers. In each type you get many modes that go from analog modeled BBD circuits to clean digital and character modes for each type.
Diffuse by virtue of being a diffusion delay can easily morph into rich delays or reverbs and some fairly crazy special effects.
It’s an analog/digital hybrid, modeled on machines from the 70s and 80s. Now, of course, reverbs other than convolutions are generally speaking just lots of clustered delays. Here, you can use that design to morph between the two easily. It’s also meant to be modulated live – as you change between distinct and smeared delays, adjusting time and feedback controls.
Spread, damping, and compression controls let you control the output.
Get Diffuse for free
For a limited time (through tomorrow the 14th of June), you can get Diffuse for free.
Go to the Surreal Machines website, put the ‘Diffuse’ plug-in in your cart and apply it on checkout to make the price zero. The coupon code is:
Inside the presets menu, you’ll find extensive help – including some of the back story on history. They advise us thusly:
The manual is dense, we know. But there’s lots of tips and tricks and a ‘walk through’, plus details we hope you don’t need to know, but give you expert control, like how our level dials automatically have a secret life as dry/wet knobs when needed, etc.
Making the effects
For those of you interested, there’s also an additional to story to tell behind the scenes.
Diffuse is the first commercial plug-in made using the Cycling ’74 Gen “code export” function. This powerful feature lets you graphically code DSP inside Max, then use it in your own software. Just as Pure Data’s libpd has allowed that tool to become a powerful prototyping environment for things like mobile apps and game engines, Cycling ’74 is set to transform how people work with DSP and plug-in development.
An aside on that for interested developers:
Maurizio Giri (of ‘amazingnoises.com’) actually made an iOS app using Gen code export last year. For that he used some of our Gen code from our Max ‘Package Manager’ Library, ‘smFilterPack’, a set of modern ZDF filters in Max/Gen, available through the File menu of Max 7, released about 18 months ago. Timo Rosendal will be using some of this code library of ours for an upcoming software release through ‘EboStudio’ soon, too.
And as for preparing these updates:
The whole process took about two years of research and development, lots of gear rental, two UI redesigns and a new web page …plus blood, sweat, tears and trans-European travels).
Universal Audio has been a name in recreations of classic studio gear for some time. But now, here’s something that will appeal directly to producers. Included in a slew of updates today, you get crunchy, wild 8-bit effects (emulating the now-discontinued boutique OTO BISCUIT hardware), Moog multimode filters paired with powerful modulation and filters, and a subharmonic synth from the disco age you can use to add booty-shaking low end to tracks.
In other words, it’s like Christmas for producers with UAD, with a whole bunch of delicious stuff you might want.
This isn’t a review, yet – will follow back up with that. But here’s a quick look at what’s in store.
And, look, I’m heavily biased in that this is exactly the sort of stuff I love to use, personally.
The OTO BISCUIT is one of the most unique bits of hardware to come out in recent years, a gorgeous boutique 8-bit effect processor packed with options. The problem is, this limited run French hardware is very difficult to find. The developer simply ran out of chips.
While “8-bit” may evoke thoughts of chip music, really this is about creating something sonically rich in the contemporary digital world. And while it may sound strange to think of a digital effect as rare and requiring specific modeling, the particularities of certain chips have actually made instruments and effects built on integrated circuits some of the most endangered among sound tools.
The Biscuit for its part was a digital/analog hybrid, finding unique elements of each technique. On the digital side, it’s an 8-bit bitcrusher with bit-by-bit control. On the analog side, there’s a nice-sounding stereo multimode filter.
In this version recreated by Softube, you get everything – even emulation of the diode clipping on input that gives the original its character. There’s Waveshaper, Delay, Pitch-Shift, and Step-Filter.
Have a listen:
See our original story on this hardware’s unveiling:
The Moog ladder filter is one of the most versatile out there, just in terms of breadth of applications. To be honest, sometimes in a synthesizer I think the ladder filter can feel a little boring – and we hear it a lot. So some synths actually benefit from something more specific and individual. But the point is its smoothness across the frequency range means that you can do a lot with it.
The cleverness of what Universal Audio have done here with the Multimode Filter Collection is to give you a complete set of tools. It’s not just a multimode filter loaded up with options – it’s also a multi-lane step sequencer, which can use to modulate each parameter. So endless Tangerine Dream-style sounds are very, very possible here – and you get a lot of the modular filter benefits without having to do anything. Paired with their hardware, I can even see this getting some live use – like routing outboard instruments and synths into a computer onstage for modulated effects.
And, oh yeah, this with something like Reaktor Blocks and/or Softube Modular mean your computer are an affordable, portable alternative (or complement) to Eurorack modular setups.
Price: US$249 ($99 upgrade from the legacy Moog Multimode version from UA)
Sometimes it’s hard to describe the addictive appeal of Universal Audio’s platform. And, frankly, out of the huge range of tools they offer, for a lot of producers I talk to (and myself) it’s about coming back to a very small handful of tools and applications that you then use over and over.
So, Subsynth – made in collaboration with Brainworx, who have also done some of the nicest processor development lately in software – seems to be another in that category. It’s intended to solve a simple problem: how do you really bang the low end, without producing distortion or screwing up the track and mix?
It’s hard to describe, in that this leads to a lot of different, equally fun applications: saturation, adding bass, beefing up kicks, and so on.
But it does it in a way that’s really clever – by building on the classic dbx 120XP’s waveform modeling approach to synthesize additional subharmonic content. And Brainworx have added some thoughtful additions, in the form of an additional band and M/S processing. This will definitely need a review and … well, I live in the vicinity of the world’s favorite club sound systems where we can check it out definitely.
It’s one of those magical mastering tools that’s just lovely to have. I can’t wait to try this one out … even if I’m afraid I may never leave the studio once I do.
Here’s the original, in case you’re interested (discontinued, but often rented for this very purpose):
Note that this is the one plug-in here that’s non-exclusive. I hope to get my hands on the native version, too, to compare. But I think there is some advantage for live and live tracking use to having DSP hardware integration.
Plus more updates and additions
There are, as usual, other OS/firmware/plug-in updates and offerings bundled into today’s release.
Mac users get fully-qualified macOS Sierra support, plus a new console for multi-unit FireWire. And Windows 10 continues to look better, with support for Thunderbolt chaining (up to 4 audio devices, up to 6 DSP devices) for adding extra horsepower and up to 64×64 I/O.
On the plug-in side:
The SSL 4000 E is arguably the signature channel strip among UA’s offerings, one modeled on a classic original. The key here is it gets a ground-up rewrite and support for Unison, which integrates the channel strip behavior with the hardware. That’s a pretty big deal for hardware owners looking to fully exploit Unison in their recordings:
Softube’s Console 1 was an intriguing offering when it came out, but I suspect some people balked at the price – and simply didn’t know what it was or what it was for. Now, at five hundred bucks, the audience should be bigger. And Softube are working on making the “what is this anyway?” story clearer.
So, what is it? Let’s back up.
First, imagine a big mixing desk – like a big Solid State console.
Now imagine what that console would look like a computer accessory. Obviously, you’d want it to be a whole heck of a lot smaller, and you’d want it to work with software. The need for lots of physical faders is eliminated by making things work in software form, and then having them in software would let you use the console functionality seamlessly in your DAW.
What you’d want to keep, of course, is the sound of the console, and the feeling of being able to control things with your hands.
Well, that’s the Console 1. It isn’t an audio interface. It isn’t a DSP platform like Universal Audio’s – everything runs on your computer CPU, natively. It’s physically just a big box with knobs and LEDs and such. But the package combines a bunch of software models of console sound with that high-end control surface. Then you use your existing computer hardware and interface to complete the studio.
The control surface itself is high-end, made of steel, literally. It feels terrific in my brief hands-on sessions; I do want to review this thing (now more than before, but more on that below). And it looks nice enough (thank you, Sweden).
You also get a model of the Solid State Logic SL 4000 E console and everything that entails – so the bundled software includes its onboard compressors, EQ, and so on – as produced in combination with SSL themselves. And maybe that’s all you need – SSL model, control surface, done.
The new list price: US$499. This is nowhere near as affordable as something like Harrison MixBus, but that doesn’t include controller hardware.
More likely, though, you’ll mix and match your own plug-ins. Softube provide their own software which you can use with any DAW, and there’s integrated support both for Cakewalk SONAR and and the up-and-coming Presonus Studio One. (Anyone considering the Windows switch, here’s an ecosystem that might make you not look back – with apologies to Apple’s Touch Bar, the Console 1 looks more like what I’d want to mix on.)
Softube also supports their own ecosystem of models, all of them running natively on the CPU – including Chandler Limited, Fairchild, Teletronix, Tube-Tech, and Abbey Road Studios.
I want to see more full DAW integration – Cubase and Logic being obvious options, though Studio 1 and SONAR are a good start. But since it’s the plug-ins your controlling, that’s really key to making the Console 1 worth it.
And apart from the price break, the deal maker I suspect is the addition of UAD powered plug-in support. That’s a perfect combination: what holds the Console 1 back is plug-in support, and what holds the UA solution back is the lack of hands-on control.
Softube doesn’t support everything of UAD’s, but there’s a lot – including crucial channel strips, the Fairchild and Harrison models, the Pultec (you got me there), Teletronix, and 1176 and 610 lines.
So now, pairing an Apollo Twin with a Console 1 makes for a pretty complete home mixing solution, one that sounds and behaves like a high-end studio but has a cost in reach of a lot of individual producers.
In fact, the hands-on Console 1 mapping of the UA 610-B, plus the Unison modeling of the 610-B on the Apollo Twin means you can plug in these two pieces of gear and have a complete experience. The complete list is now in an updated Q&A (ignore that 2013 date — the UAD stuff was announced just last week).
So, I’m eager to test this, absolutely. What I love about this is that it lets you recreate an entire console workflow in a totally different context. And that in turn means you can apply that sound and behavior to music and musical genres that never got into those studios.
Softube has more work to do here. The value of the Console 1 is totally dependent on expanding compatibility and integration. And I also think they’ve more to do to tell the story to a broader audience of producers beyond the usual studio pros and press.
But it looks really promising with these updates. Maybe you think I’m crazy and you’ll stick to your native plug-ins and mouse. But stay tuned for that review.
How much time do producers spend just handling one or two inputs and stereo output (plus monitoring)? My guess is — a lot. Once you’re out of the studio, that amount goes up. But generally speaking, premium interfaces have tended to assume you need more I/O – even though a lot of electronic production now occurs in the box.
So part of the reason the Universal Audio Apollo Twin has been important is that it changes the value equation. It doesn’t do a whole lot of I/O – this is really about recording one thing at a time, listening, and monitoring. But by focusing on that, UA lavished all the expense on that I/O and adding DSP power for its modeled plug-in line. And per jack this is a no-expense-spared proposition.
I thought it was a significant entry when it came out for this reason, and that suspicion has been born out by two things – one, I personally can’t live without it in my own productions and my colleagues, and more importantly, I see a heck of a lot of these things popping up.
Let’s be honest: UA most certainly hope this thing is a gateway drug to get you hooked on their plug-in line. And those plug-ins, while terrific, don’t come cheap – they’re at least in line with a handful of other high-end software makers. But I might even go as far as recommending the model with the low-end DSP, because I think the driver and hardware quality of this box is unparalleled.
Or, that is to say, it was already unparalleled, and UA now promise it’s gotten better. The MkII is a “ground up” hardware redesign that promises greater audio quality, much-needed monitoring additions, and the option of getting QUAD processing if you need the DSP horsepower.
UA already addressed one of my biggest complaints – one that had us occasionally shouting expletives at Universal Audio. There’s now a unified driver model, so that you can swap different UA interfaces. That was essential to me and a colleague of mine, as we wanted to use a multi-port interface in the studio and the Twin on the go. That’s sorted, so now swapping is easy.
Being operating system agnostic is also totally possible – whereas Windows users were initially left out entirely, and then Windows and Mac required different drivers and interfaces, now you can swap hardware and OS as you please. That’s also I think a big deal, as some of us have (cough) decided to take the plunge and add a PC to our arsenal.
The MkII looks basically like the earlier model, apart from a Space Gray-styled darker color. The big change are in the innards:
Better audio quality. Universal Audio says the A/D and D/A converters have been “completely” redesigned for better audio performance and dynamic range.
More monitoring, talkback. These offerings were a little basic on the first generation. Now, you get mute, DIM, mono, and ALT speaker switching. That’s clearly useful for studio and recording applications, but I think it has probably a too-often ignored utility in live situations.
Now there’s a quad option. If you don’t care much about DSP or just need an occasional UA plug-in, there’s still the US$699 SOLO model. If you use DSP, though, you really want the $899 DUO. I’ve found that was more than enough for my needs most of the time, personally, but I have spent some time bouncing out tracks as a result. If you’re really into the UA ecosystem, there’s now also the QUAD model with extra DSP.
Mac, Windows. This is now true of the whole Apollo range (with the exception of the Windows-only Apollo Twin USB), but worth mentioning again – you don’t have to choose different hardware just to use both operating systems. You need Thunderbolt, but that’s becoming standard on serious current-generation Windows machines.
QUAD version of the Apollo Twin – those things labeled SHARC are the chips doing the heavy DSP lifting.
Unless you really want the QUAD, I think this mostly sweetens the pot for would-be new adopters rather than makes a must-have upgrade for existing users. That also means you might keep an eye out for used first-gen units. (That said, though, you can chain units together with Thunderbolt.)
But as before, UA justify their use of DSP hardware with tight software/hardware integration and high performance. The includes their Unison technology, which coordinates the preamps and gain with software models, so that the modeled preamps, guitar amps, stompboxes and whatnot can behave like the original in terms of impedance, gain stage behavior, and sound. The big deal, though, is that you can use these software models with near-zero latency, giving you the feeling of having the actual hardware when you’re recording or playing live. And that for me is what justifies using DSP hardware and not just native plug-ins.
These also still come with a set of entry-level plug-ins in a bundle, including some nice Softube amps and distortion, an excellent tube preamp model, and then some still-pretty-darned-good “legacy” models from their back catalog.
Yeah, there are some other options in this price range, like the RME. But at the moment, I can’t quite top the UA, at least for macOS and Windows, if you want the best possible box with this I/O configuration.
The software bundle.
The other good news this month for fans of the Universal Audio ecosystem is announcement of support from Softube on their Console 1 hardware. The Console 1’s price was also dropped to US$499, which is a lot more in the league of what we think of when we think control surface. And that really fills in a missing piece. It’s great to have this UAD software, but it’s slightly miserable to have to dig into software with the mouse just to turn a knob. It doesn’t matter how good the sound experience of the original hardware is if you can’t get control in your hands.
The Console 1 and Apollo Twin as a combination, though, make a pretty ideal studio and mobile setup. Not all the UAD stuff is covered – and this requires using Softube’s software host, not the UA Console. But most of the stuff you’d likely use is covered, and I suspect not having to go into the UA Console makes more sense for workflow, anyway.
Watch for more on these solutions – and we’ll see if I can defend my enthusiasm for them.
These days, there are models of the Moog ladder filter everywhere (hardware and software), but it wasn’t always so. 13 years ago, Bob Moog himself partnered with developer Arturia to model his creations in software form. Now, that developer is giving away the latest iteration of their software filtering tech in a powerful plug-in – and it’s free for a couple of days.
The MiniFilter V is more than just a drop-in ladder filter. It’s a bit like having a set of Moogerfoogers in your computer, all patched together. So there’s the all-important ladder filter itself, with 24dB/oct curve and (my favorite feature) Drive. But there’s also a dedicated LFO with waveform and mod controls. And there’s a powerful envelope follower.
And the central feature that’s a good reason to go download this is, of course, the step sequencer. With eight steps and analog-style controls, you can route it to cutoff, LFO rate, and emphasis. You can also sync it to your host, too (or not, as you like).
Of course, looking at this screen, it’s hard not to ponder hardware. Oddly enough, Arturia aren’t giving you a model of the Steiner-Parker filter that’s been the hallmark of their Brute line. Alternatively, looking the other direction, it’s not hard to imagine a FilterBrute or other standalone effects unit. We’ll see; 2016 was a busy year for the company with MatrixBrute synth and DrumBrute drum machines leading the way.
Have at it. And merry Chrismukkah … or, erm … happy Synthmas to all.
Let’s be clear: Korg’s ARP Odyssey remake is a thing of beauty. But it’s now also available as an app … one with awkward spelling that’s nonetheless rather awesome looking. Meet ARP ODYSSEi. (Hey, that “i” has been on the beginning of words for eons now. Maybe it wants to flip to the other side.)
ODYSSEi is a modeled version of the ARP Odyssey. And it’s a bit like an “Odyssey+”.
It’s got the three filter types and drive from the new 2015 Odyssey reboot (the hardware).