This plug-in is a secret weapon for sound design and drums

It’s full of gun sounds. But because of a combination of a unique sample architecture and engine and a whole lot of unique assets, the Weaponiser plug-in becomes a weapon of a different kind. It helps you make drum sounds.

Call me a devoted pacifist, call me a wimp – really, either way. Guns actually make me uncomfortable, at least in real life. Of course, we have an entirely separate industry of violent fantasy. And to a sound designer for games or soundtracks, Weaponiser’s benefits should be obvious and dazzling.

But I wanted to take a different angle, and imagine this plug-in as a sort of swords into plowshares project. And it’s not a stretch of the imagination. What better way to create impacts and transients than … well, fire off a whole bunch of artillery at stuff and record the result? With that in mind, I delved deep into Weaponiser. And as a sound instrument, it’s something special.

Like all advanced sound libraries these days, Weaponiser is both an enormous library of sounds, and a powerful bespoke sound engine in which those sounds reside. The Edinburgh-based developers undertook an enormous engineering effort here both to capture field recordings and to build their own engine.

It’s not even all about weapons here, despite the name. There are sound elements unrelated to weapons – there’s even an electronic drum kit. And the underlying architecture combines synthesis components and a multi-effects engine, so it’s not limited to playing back the weapon sounds.

What pulls Weaponiser together, then, is an approach to weapon sounds as a modularized set of components. The top set of tabs is divided into ONSET, BODY, THUMP, and TAIL – which turns out to be a compelling way to conceptualize hard-hitting percussion, generally. We often use vaguely gunshot-related metaphors when talking about percussive sounds, but here, literally, that opens up some possibilities. You “fire” a drum sound, or choose “burst” mode (think automatic and semi-automatic weapons) with an adjustable rate.

This sample-based section is then routed into a mixer with multi-effects capabilities.

In music production, we’ve grown accustomed to repetitive samples – a Roland TR clap or rimshot that sounds the same every single time. In foley or game sound design, of course, that’s generally a no-no; our ears quickly detect that something is amiss, since real-world sound never repeats that way. So the Krotos engine is replete with variability, multi-sampling, and synthesis. Applied to musical applications, those same characteristics produce a more organic, natural sound, even if the subject has become entirely artificial.

Weaponiser architecture

Let’s have a look at those components in turn.

Gun sounds. This is still, of course, the main attraction. Krotos have field recordings of a range of weapons:

AK 47
Berretta 92
Dragunov
GPMG
SPAS 12
CZ75
GPMG
H&K 416
M 16
M4 (supressed)
MAC 10
FN MINIMI
H&K MP5
Winchester 1887

For those of you who don’t know gun details, that amounts to pistol, rifle, automatic, semiautomatic, and submachine gun (SMG). These are divided up into samples by the onset/body/thump/tail architecture I’ve already described, plus there are lots of details based on shooting scenario. There are bursts and single fires, sniper shots from a distance, and the like. But maybe most interesting actually are all the sounds around guns – cocking and reloading vintage mechanical weapons, or the sound of bullets impacting bricks or concrete. (Bricks sound different than concrete, in fact.) There are bullets whizzing by.

And that’s just the real weapons. There’s an entire bank devoted to science fiction weapons, and these are entirely speculative. (Try shooting someone with a laser; it … doesn’t really work the way it does in the movies and TV.) Those presets get interesting, too, because they’re rooted in reality. There’s a Berretta fired interdimensionally, for example, and the laser shotguns, while they defy present physics and engineering, still have reloading variants.

In short, these Scottish sound designers spent a lot of time at the shooting range, and then a whole lot more time chained to their desk working with the sampler.

Things that aren’t gun sounds. I didn’t expect to find so many sounds in the non-gun variety, however. There are twenty dedicated kits, which tend in a sort of IDM / electro crossover, just building drum sounds on this engine. There are a couple of gems in there, too – enough so that I could imagine Krotos following up this package with a selection of drum production tools built on the Weaponiser engine but having nothing to do with bullets or artillery.

Until that happens, you can think of that as a teaser for what the engine can do if you spend time building your own presets. And to that end, you have some other tools:

Variations for each parameter randomize settings to avoid repetition.

Four engines, each polyphonic with their own sets of samples, combine. But the same things that allow you different triggering/burst modes for guns prove useful for percussion. And yes, there’s a “drunk” mode.

A deep multi-effects section with mixing and routing serves up still more options.

Four engines, synthesis. Onset, Body, Thump, and Tail each have associated synthesis engines. Onset and Body are specialized FM synthesizers. Thump is essentially a bass synth. Tail is a convolution reverb – but even that is a bit deeper than it may sound. Tail provides both audio playback and spatialization controls. It might use a recorded tail, or it might trigger an impulse response.

Also, the way samples are played here is polyphonic. Add more samples to a particular engine, and you will trigger different variants, not simply keep re-triggering the same sounds over and over again. That’s the norm for more advanced percussion samplers, but lately electronic drum engines have tended to dumb that down. And – there’s a built-in timeline with adjustable micro-timings, which is something I’ve never seen in a percussion synth/sampler.

The synth bits have their own parameters, as well, and FM and Amplitude Modulation modes. You can customize carriers and modulators. And you can dive into sample settings, including making radical changes to start and end points, envelope, and speed.

Effects and mixing. Those four polyphonic engines are mixed together in a four-part mix engine, with multi-effects that can be routed in various ways. Then you can apply EQ, Compression, Limiting, Saturation, Ring Modulation, Flanging, Transient Shaping, and Noise Gating.

Oh, you can also use this entire effects engine to process sounds from your DAW, making this a multi-effects engine as well as an instrument.

Is your head spinning yet?

About the sounds

Depending on which edition you grab, from the limited selection of the free 10-day demo up to the “fully loaded” edition, you’ll get as many as 2228 assets, with 1596 edited weapon recordings. There are also 692 “sweeteners” – a grab bag of still more sounds, from synths to a black leopard (the furry feilne, really), and the sound recordists messing around with their recording rig, keys, Earth, a bicycle belt… you get the idea. There are also various impulse responses for the convolution reverb engine, allowing you to place your sound in different rooms, stairwells, and synthetic reverbs.

The recording chain itself is worth a look. There are the expected mid/side and stereo recordings, classic Neumann and Sennheiser mics, and a whole lot of use by the Danish maker DPA – including mics positioned directly on the guns in some recordings. But they’ve also included recordings made with the Sennheiser Ambeo VR Mic for 360-degree, virtual reality sound.

They’ve shared some behind-the-scenes shots with CDM, and there’s a short video explaining the process.

In use, for music

Some of the presets are realistic enough that it did really make me uncomfortable at first working with these sounds in a music project – but that was sort of my aim. What I found compelling is, because of this synth engine, I was quickly able to transform those sounds into new, organic, even unrecognizable variations.

There are a number of strategies here that make this really interesting.

You can mess with samples. Adjusting speed and other parameters, as with any samples, of course gives you organic, complex new sounds.

There’s the synthesis engine. Working with the synth options either to reprocess the sounds or on their own allows you to treat Weaponiser basically as a drum synth.

The variations make this sound like acoustic percussion. With subtle or major variations, you can produce sound that’s less repetitive than electronic drums would be.

Mix and match. And, of course, you have presets to warp and combine, the ability to meld synthetic sounds and gun sounds, to sweeten conventional percussion with those additions (synths and guns and leopard sounds)… the mind reels.

Routing, of course is vital, too; here’s their look at that:

In fact, there’s so much, that I could almost go on a separate tangent just working with this musically. I may yet do that, but here is a teaser at what’s possible – starting with the obvious:

But I’m still getting lost in the potential here, reversing sounds, trying the drum kits, working with the synth and effects engines.

The plug-in can get heavy on CPU with all of that going on, obviously, but it’s also possible to render out layers or whole sounds, useful both in production and foley/sound design. Really, my main complaint is the tiny, complex UI, which can mean it takes some time to get the hang of working with everything. But as a sound tool, it’s pretty extraordinary. And you don’t need to have firing shotguns in all your productions – you can add some subtle sweetening, or additional layers and punch to percussion without anyone knowing they’re hearing the Krotos team messing with bike chains and bullets hitting bricks and an imaginary space laser.

Weaponiser runs on a Mac or PC, 64-bit only VST AU AAX. You’ll need about five and a half gigs of space free. Basic, which is already pretty vast, runs $399 / £259/ €337. Full loaded is over twice that size, and costs $599 / £379 / €494.

https://www.krotosaudio.com/weaponiser/

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Output’s Arcade is a cloud-based loop library you play as an instrument

The future of soundware is clearly on-demand, crafted sounds from the cloud. Output adds a twist: don’t just give you new sounds, but give you a way to play them and make them your own.

So, the latest product from the LA-based sound boutique Output is called “Arcade” – so play, get it?

And it’s an early entry and fresh take on an area that’s set to heat up fast. To get things rolling here, your first 100 days are completely free; then you pay a monthly subscription rate of $10 a month (with cancellation whenever you want, and you don’t even lose access to your sounds).

As the number of producers grows, and the diversity of the music they may want to make seems to grow, too, as genres and niches spill over and transform at Internet speed, the need to deliver music makers sound and inspiration seems a major opportunity. We’re seeing subscription-based models (Native Instruments’ Sounds.com, Splice) and à la carte models (Loopmasters). And we’re seeing different ideas about how to organize releases (around genre, producer, sound house, or more curated selections around a theme), plus how to integrate tools for users.

Here’s where Arcade is interesting. It’s really a single, integrated instrument. And its goal is to find you exactly the sound you need, right away, easily — but also to give you the ability to completely transform that sound and make it your own, even loading your own found samples.

That’s important, because it bridges the divide between loops as a way of employing someone else’s content, and sound sampling as a DIY, personal affair, with a spectrum in between.

I suspect a lot of you reading have been all over that spectrum. Let’s consider even the serious, well-paid producer. You’ve got a tight scoring deadline, and the job needs a really particular sound, and you’re literally counting the minutes and sweating. Or… you’ve got a TV ad spot, and you need to make something sound completely original, and not like any particular preset you’ve heard before.

This also really isn’t about beginners or advanced users. An advanced user may have a very precise sound in mind – even to sit atop some meticulously hand-crafted sounds. And one of the first things a lot of beginners like to do is mess around with samples they record with a mic. (How many kids made noises into a Casio SK-1 in the 80s?)

I got to sit down with Output CEO and founder Gregg Lehrman, and we took a deep look at Arcade and had a long talk about what it’s about and what the future of music making might be. We’ll look more in detail at how you can use this as an instrument, but let’s cover what this is.

Walkthrough:

Choose your DAW – here’s Arcade running inside Ableton.

It’s a plug-in. This is important. You’ll always be interacting with Arcade as a plug-in, inside your host of choice – so no shuttling back and forth to a Website, as some solutions currently make you do. Omni-format – Mac AU / VST / VST3 / AAX, Windows VST / VST3 / AAX 32- and 64-bit. (Native Linux support would be nice, actually, but that’s missing for now.)

Sounds can match your tempo and key. You can hear sounds in their original form, or conform to the tempo and pitch that matches your current project. (Loopmasters does this too, actually, but via a separate app combined with a plug-in, which is a bit clunky.)

Browse through curated collections of sounds, which are paid for by subscription, Spotify/Netflix-style.

It lets you find sounds online. On-demand cloud browsing lets you check out selections of sounds, complete kits, and loops. You can preview all of these right away. Now, Netflix-style, Output promises new stuff every day, so you can browse around for something to inspire you if you’re feeling stuck. And at least in the test, these were organized with a sense of style and character – more like looking at the output of a music label than the usual commodity catalog of samples.

Search, browse, tagging, and the usual organizing tools are there, too – but it’s probably the preview and curation that puts this over the top.

— but it works if you’re offline, too. Prefer to switch the Internet off in your studio to avoid distractions? Work in an underground bunker, or in the hollowed out volcano island you use as an evil lair? Happily, you don’t need an Internet connection to work.

The keyboard (or whatever MIDI controller you’ve mapped) triggers loops, but also manipulates them on the fly. That lets you radically transform samples as you play – including your own sounds.

You can play the loops as an instrument. Okay, so the whole reason we went into music presumably is that we love the process of making music. Output excels here by letting you load loops into a 15-voice synth, then mangle and warp and modify the sound. It works really well from a keyboard or other MIDI controller.

This isn’t a sample playback instrument in the traditional sense, in terms of how it maps to pitch. Instead, white notes trigger samples, and black notes trigger modifiers. That’s actually really crazy to play around with, because it feels a little like you’re doing production work – the usual mouse-based chores of editing and modifying samples – as you play along, live.

There’s also input quantize, in case your keyboard skills aren’t so precise.

There are tons of modifiers and modulation and effects. Like all of Output’s products, the recipe is, build a deep architecture, then encapsulate it in an easy interface. That way, you can mess around with a simple control and make massive changes, which gets you discovering possibilities fast, but also go further into the structure if you want to get more specific about your needs, and if you’re willing to invest more time.

In this case, Arcade is built around four main sliders that control the character of the sound, both subtle and radical, and then another eleven effects and a deep mixing, routing, and modulation engine underneath.

So, let’s get into specifics.

Each Loop Voice – up to 15 of them – has a whole bunch of controls. It really would be fair to call this a synth:

• Multimode Filter with Resonance and Gradual/Steep Curve
• Volume, Pan, Attack/Release and Loop Crossfade
• Speed Control (1/4, 1/2, x1, x2)
• Tune Control (+/- 24)
• Loop Playback (Reverse, Pendulum, Loop On/Off, Hold)
• FX Sends Pre/Post x2
• Modifier Block
• Sync On/Off

Loop editing.

There’s also a time/pitch stretch engine with both “efficient” and resource-intensive “high quality” modes:

• BPM & Time signature Control
• Key Signature control
• Formant Pitch Control

Since the point is playing, you can map to velocity sensitivity, too, so how hard you hit keys impacts filter cutoff and resonance, voulme and formant.

But you have stuff that can do all the above. It’s the modifiers that get interesting – little macros that are accessible as you play:

• ReSequence (16 steps with Volume, Mute, Reverse, Speed, Length and Attack
Decay control per step)
• Playhead (Speed, Reverse, Loop On/Off, Cup Point per Loop)
• Repeater (Note Repeat with Rate, Reverse, Volume Step Sequencer)
Session Key Control

Plus there’s a Resequencer for sequencing sound slices into new combinations.

The Resequencer gives you even more options for manipulating audio content and turning it into something new.

– combined with modulation:

• LFO/Step (x2) Sync/Free mode with Retrigger and Rate.
• Waveshape Control
• Attack, Phase, Chaos and Polarity Control

Deep modulation options either power presets – or your own sound creations, if you’re ready to tinker.

And there’s a complete mixer:

• 15 Channel Mixer with Volume, Pan, Pre/Post Send FX(x2), Solo
• Send Bus (x2) with Volume, Pan and Mute
• 2 insert FX slots per Bus
• Master Bus with Volume, Pan, Mute and 4 Insert FX slots

The Mixer combines up to 16 parts.

Plus a whole mess of effects. Those effects helped define the character of earlier Output instruments, so it’s great to see here:

• Chorus
• Compressor
• MultiTap Delay
• Stereo Delay
• Distortion Box
• Equalizer
• Filter
• Limiter
• LoFi
• Phaser
• Reverb

It wouldn’t be an Output product without some serious multi-effects options.

But if Output likes to pitch itself as the “secret sauce” behind everything from Kendrick Lamar to the soundtracks for Black Panther and Stranger Things, I absolutely adore that you can load your own samples.

Native Instruments has built a great ecosystem around their tools, including Kontakt – and Output have made use of that engine. But it’s great to see this ground-up creation that introduces some different paradigms around want to do with sampled sound. That instant access to playing – to tapping into your muscle memory, your improvisation skills – I think could be really transformative. We’ve seen artists like Tim Exile advocate this approach in how he works, and it’s an element in a lot of great improvisers’ electronic work. What Output have done is allow you to combine sound discovery with instant playability.

The subscription model means you don’t have to reach for your credit card when you find sounds you want. But if you cancel the $10 a month subscription, unlike a Spotify or Netflix, you don’t lose access to your sounds. Output says:

If you open an older session, you will be prompted to log in, and you will not be able to click past the log in screen. You will be able to play back any MIDI or automation data recorded in your saved session. It will sound exactly the same, but you won’t be able to browse or tweak the character of the sound within the plugin. The midi can still be changed as the preset stays loaded in a session as long as you don’t uninstall Arcade which will remove all the audio samples. The best way to see what I mean is to test it yourself. Put ARCADE into a midi track, then log out of the plug-in. With the GUI still open albeit stuck on the log-in screen, play your track and hit some keys.

The fact that it’s all powered by subscription also means you’ll always have something there to use. But I do hope for the sake of sound creators – and because this engine is so cool – that Output also consider à la carte purchasing of some sounds selections. That could support more intensive sound design processes. And the interface looks like it’d work well as a shop, too. I share some of the concerns of sound artists that subscription models could hurt sound design in the way that they have music downloading. And — on the other hand, to use downloading as an example, a lot of us have both a subscription and buy a tone of stuff from Bandcamp, including underground music.

Let us know what you think.

I’ll be back with a guide to how to load your own sounds and play this as an instrument / design and modify sounds in a more sophisticated way.

More:

https://output.com/arcade

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LABS is a free series of sound tools for everyone, and you’ll want it now

Everyone’s talking these days it seems about new users and finding an entry way into production. But Spitfire’s take is pretty irresistible: give you some essential sounds you can use anywhere, then charge you … nothing.

Spitfire Audio are a little bit like the “recording studio, engineers, and world-class rented orchestra” you … never had. These are exceptionally detailed sample libraries, including collaborations with Hans Zimmer and Ólafur Arnalds.

LABS is something different. Spitfire says they’re planning a series of these bite-sized sample library instruments, integrated as plug-ins for Mac and Windows / all DAWs. Since they are more focused, they’re also smaller – so we’re talking a few hundred megs instead of many gigs of content, meaning you also don’t have to think about plugging in an external drive just to install. A new build of their online tool goes and grabs them for you.

VST/AU/AAX/Mac/Windows … free:

https://www.spitfireaudio.com/labs/

Now, just describing it, that sounds not all that exciting – plenty of sample houses offer freebies to get you hooked. But LABS’ debut two entries are something special. There’s an intimate “soft piano” that’s good enough that I temporarily got distracted for half an hour playing even on my QWERTY keyboard in Abeton before I remembered I was supposed to be doing something. It’s beautiful and delicate with loads of sounds of the piano action and … it’s sort of hard not to make some film score with it. (Plugging in a hammer action keyboard was, of course, better.)

Grab those downloads … and more arrive every month. (Here seen alongside their paid libraries.)

There’s also an essentials string ensemble that covers the bread-and-butter articulations you need, exceptionally well recorded on a 40-piece ensemble.

All of this is wrapped into a minimalistic interface, made in collaboration with UsTwo – the folks who did the hit game Monument Valley. Spitfire tells me that something like six to nine months of work between them and UsTwo led to the final design.

Dial in specific settings using the minimal interfaces, designed by the creators of Monument Valley.

LABS has just these settings so far, but they’re already pretty engaging.

This minimalism, from sound selections to interface, almost demands experimentation. You know, there’s a reason so many keyboards have pianos at patch 00 – we’re all often imagining a piano sound or string sound in our heads. It’s just rare you get one you’d want to return to, which is what this is. And I suspect for more adventurous producers and electronic work, the perfectly-recorded, back-to-basics nature of these selections will be perfect for transformation. (So you can weave them into electronic textures, and reverse and chop them up and re-pitch them and so on – all with good source material.)

And, of course, the price is right.

LABS is part of a larger project, with more sounds coming, also for free, monthly. Spitfire promises both more of these basic starting points for new producers or musicians wanting to cover their basic ingredients (like the samples you’ll want on your internal SSD and not just the big external drive), plus a testing bed for experiments in sound design and projects they want feedback on. (It’s not a freemium model, then – it’s more like a free laboratory, rather like what I was discussing yesterday around modules in VCV Rack, but for soundware. I wonder if we’ll see this elsewhere.)

There’s also a content plan around the sounds, a notebook of projects and ideas to go with the LABS sound downloads.

It’s also nice to see soundware companies pushing to increase the value of live musicians and composers/sound designers, rather than engage in a race to the bottom. I’ve heard some real concerns around the industry about the subscription model for sounds, and whether it will do to sound designers and recording artists what Spotify and iTunes Music streaming have done to record labels – but it seems the players in this industry really are committed to finding models that do something different. (Getting into this is obviously a matter for another day.)

Here’s their statement, whether you buy into that or not:

It remains Spitfire’s ethos to use live performances where possible, but when up against time and budget, Spitfire is the next best thing. By paying the players and collaborators royalties, Spitfire Audio helps sustain an incredible part of our musical heritage at the same time as championing innovation within it.

The plug-ins are free forever, not for a limited time. We’ll be watching to see what’s next.

Download:

https://www.spitfireaudio.com/labs/

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Get a powerful spectral delay, free, in MSpectralDelay plug-in

What makes a delay more interesting? A delay that’s combined with spectral controls. What makes that better? Getting it for free. MSpectralDelay is here – and looks like a must-download.

It’s been a while – I’m sure I’m not alone in missing Native Instruments’ Spektral Delay, discontinued some years back. MSpectralDelay is a different animal – NI’s offering had a whopping 160 bands, whereas this has just six – but you do get a powerful, musical interface that lets you treat delays in a different way.

The idea is this: divide up your sound by frequency, with one to six bands, then add the delay effect with tempo sync and apply modulation.

What the developers Melda have done that set their offering apart is to provide really precise parameter controls with clear visual feedback, MIDI control of everything, and clever features like automatic gain compensation and a “safety” limiter to prevent you from overdriving the results.

Also surprising: not only is there mid/side processing, but you can set up to eight channels of surround, offering some spatial applications.

Melda plugins also feature some nice standard features like modulators with time signatures, morphing and preset recall, different channel modes, and more.

Full feature list from the devs:

The most advanced user interface on the market – stylable, resizable, GPU accelerated
Dual user interface, easy screen for beginners, edit screen for professionals
Unique visualisation engine with classic meters and time graphs
1-6 fully configurable independent bands
Modulators
Adjustable oscillator shape technology
Multiparameters
M/S, single channel, up to 8 channels surround processing…
Smart randomization
Automatic gain compensation (AGC)
Safety limiter
Adjustable up-sampling 1x-16x
Synchronization to host tempo
MIDI controllers with MIDI learn
64-bit processing and an unlimited sampling rate
Extremely fast, optimized for newest AVX2 capable processors
Global preset management and online preset exchange
Supports VST, VST3, AU and AAX interfaces on Windows & Mac, both 32-bit and 64-bit
No dongle nor internet access is required for activation
Free-for-life updates

There’s also this kind of funny demo video, which first explains why you want a delay, and then – as is custom in our industry – tell you that, naturally, everyone from complete beginners who barely know how to switch on their computer to advanced professionals will be able to have exactly the same experience because presets parameters blah blah.

That said… well, you do need a delay. And this is awesome. And beginners and pros will probably have fun with it. And there are presets. So… fair points, all.

Go grab it:

http://www.meldaproduction.com/MSpectralDelay

via Sonic State

Free download requires registration; the offer ends June 3.

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iZotope adds modeling features to Vocal Synth, makes a creative bundle

Singing – it’s the simple most important human instrument, but it’s too often overlooked in technology. iZotope has doubled up on innovations there with Vocal Synth 2 – and in case you haven’t been keeping track, they’ve bundled all their production tools together into the new Creative Suite.

Vocal Synth 2 upgrade

Vocal Synth was already a compelling, semi-modular set of tools for processing vocals and applying vocal tech to incoming signal – something you can do creative stuff with whether you’re a singer, or a producer who sings, or a producer working with vocalists, or a producer pretending you can sing. (Yes, it’s useful even on other inputs, even if you lack the vocal chops yourself.)

It’s really, really good, but – the one thing I sort of expected when I first heard about the product was something like physical vocal modeling in the box. Now, sure enough, they’ve added just that.

So, Vocal Synth 2 delivers:

Biovox: A module for physical modeling of the human vocal track (with “science,” say iZotope), from nasality to formants. This isn’t something like Vocaloid – it’s not about voice synthesis or faking vocals – but in a way, it’s something more musically useful, a model of all the good stuff that happens inside your vocal tract and the resonant cavities in your head, delivered as an effect. That’s really important, because our perception is trained to take all this sort of nuance for granted.

There’s more, too…

Chorus and Ring Mod effects. Yep, less futuristic than Biovox, but very essential.

Improved Shred effect.

Advanced sound, advanced controls. So, hiding controls doesn’t always make things more intuitive – sometimes you actually want to dive down and get something that’s missing in the panel. iZotope say they’ve both improved the sound model, and added the ability to get advanced control over parameters, including “access to Vocoder band controls, per module Oscillator presets, and per module panning and filters.”

Integration with other plug-ins. Since iZotope are selling their production stuff as a suite, they’ve also added the ability for Vocal Synth 2 to show up in Neutron 2’s Masking Meter and Visual Mixer, and in Tonal Balance Control. That means a nice chance to apply Vocal Synth where it does – and doesn’t – belong.

I definitely will review this one soon; this stuff is very much up my alley, and a lot of yours’, I’m sure, too.

Creative Suite

Okay, those of us who also do design or video editing work may shudder and think of big monthly subscription fees from Adobe when we read those words but – don’t panic.

Creative Suite is just the new bundle of iZotope production tools. While they may be more well known for mastering and post production offerings, iZotope have applied sonic science to an impressive and unique stable of stuff you’d use when actually making the music and designing sounds. So, what had been “Creative Bundle” is now the more complete “Creative Suite.”

Included: VocalSynth 2, Iris 2, Trash 2 Expanded, BreakTweaker Expanded, Stutter Edit, DDLY, and Mobius Filter. (I’m pretty sure someone caught on that filter, because I’ve heard it cropping up in new releases. Don’t know if that’s CDM’s fault in part or not. But it is great fun.)

You can buy Creative Bundle for US$349 now, a steep discount, and then get the bigger Suite when it ships – including the new VocalSynth 2. See:

https://www.izotope.com/en/store/deals.html#vox

There are of course equivalent suites for the other interest areas – an RX Suite for post production and correction/cleanup, plus the O2N2 Bundle that covers mixing and mastering, including the industry favorite Ozone.

Yeah, Ozone – there are definitely some mastering engineers out there keeping big racks of impressive looking gear, then, like, doing most of the mastering on Ozone. (And why not? Just sayin’. Ducks…)

More:

Coming Soon: VocalSynth 2 and New iZotope Creative Suite

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The story of the Eventide gear that transformed music, coined “plug-ins”

From the extraordinary first digital breakthroughs of the 70s, when lightbulbs stood in for LEDs, to what may have been the first use of the word “plug-in,” we the inventors of Eventide’s classics – who now have a Grammy nod of their own.

Rock and pop have their heroes, their great records. But when you’ve got an engineering hero, their work finds realization behind the scenes in all that music, in hit music and obscure music. And then it can find its way into your work, too.

These inventions have already indirectly won plenty of Grammy Awards, if you care about that sort of thing. But at the beginning of this year, the pioneers at Eventide got a Lifetime Achievement Award, putting their technical achievements alongside the musical contributions of Tina Turner, Emmylou Harris, and Queen, among others.

Why are these engineers smiling? Because they got a Grammy for their inventions. Tony Agnello (left) and Richard Factor (right) at the headquarters.

Electrical engineers and inventors are rarely household names. But you’ve heard the creations of Richard Factor and Tony Agnello, who remain at Eventide today (as do those inventions, in various hardware and software recreations, including for the Universal Audio platform). For instance, David Bowie’s “Low,” Kraftwerk’s “Computer World” and AC/DC’s “Back In Black” all use their H910 harmonizer, the gear called out specifically by the Grammy organization. And that’s before even getting into Eventide’s harmonizers, delays, the Omnipressor, and many others.

1974 radio advertising:

Here’s the thing – whether or not you care about sounding like a classic record or lived through all of the 1970s (that’s, uh, “not so much” for me on both of those, sorry), the story of how this gear was made is totally fascinating. You’d expect an electrical engineering tale to be dry as dust, but – this is frontier adventure stuff, like, if you’re a total nerd.

Here’s the story of the DDL 1745 from 1971, back when engineers had to “rewind the f***ing tape machines” just to hear a delay.

Eventide founder Richard Factor started experimenting with digital delays while working a day job in the defense industry, at the height of the Vietnam War, working with shift registers that work in bits.

Their advice from the 70s still holds. What do you do with a delay? “Put stuff in it!” Do you need to know what the knobs are doing? No! (Sorry, I may have just spoiled potentially thousands of dollars in audio training. My apologies to the sound schools of the world.)

Susan Rogers of Prince fame (who we’ve been talking about lately) also talks about how she “had to have” her Eventide harmonizer and delays. I now have come to feel that way about my plug-in folder, and their software recreations, just because then you have the ability to dial up unexpected possibilities.

Or, there’s the Omnipressor, the classic early 70s gear that introduced the very concept of the dynamics processor. Here, inventor Richard Factor explains how its creation grew out of the Richard Nixon tapes. No – seriously. I’ll let him tell the story:

Tony deals with those philosophical questions of imaginative possibility, perhaps most eloquently – in a way perhaps only an engineer can. Let’s get to it.

The first commercial digital delay looked like… this. DDL1745, 1971.

So you’ve already told this amazing story of the Omnipressor. Maybe you can tell us a bit about how the H910 came about?

When I joined Eventide in early 1973, the first model of the Digital Delay Line, the DDL1745, had just started shipping. At that time, there were no digital audio products of any kind in any studio anywhere.

The DDL was a primitive box. It predated memory (no RAM), LEDs (it had incandescent bulbs), and integrated Analog-to-Digital Converters [ADCs]. It offered 200 msec of delay for the price of a new car — US$4,100 in 1973 which is equivalent to ~$22,000 today! The fact is that DDLs were expensive and rare and only installed in a few world-class studios. They were used to replace tape delay.

At the time, studios were using tape delay for ADT (automatic double tracking) and, in some cases, as a pre-delay to feed plate reverbs. Plate reverbs had replaced ‘echo chambers’ but fell short in that, unlike a real room, a plate reverb’s onset is instantaneous.

I don’t believe that any recording studio had more than one DDL installed because they were so expensive. I was lucky. On the second floor of Eventide’s building was a recording studio – Sound Exchange. I was able to use the studio when it wasn’t booked to record my friends and relatives. And I had access to several DDLs! I remember carrying a few DDLs up to the studio and patching them into the console and having fun (a la Les Paul) with varying delay and using the console’s faders and feedback. By 1974 Richard Factor had designed the 1745M DDL which used RAM and had an option for a simple pitch change module.

At that point, I became convinced that I could create a product that combined delay, feedback, and pitch change that would open up a world of possible effects. I also thought that a keyboard would make it possible to ‘play’ a harmony while singing. In fact, my prototype had a 2-octave keyboard bolted to the top. Playing the keyboard was unorthodox in that center C was unison, C# would shift the voice up a half step, B down a half step, etc.

The H910 – tagline: F@*ks with the Fabric of Time”. (Cool – kind of like me and deadlines, actually.)

Now you can “f***” (to use the technical term) with the H910 in plug-in form, which turns out to be f***ing fun, actually.

Squint at this outboard gear shot for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and you can see the H910 – essential.

I liked in particular the idea of trying things out from an engineering perspective – as you put it, from what you think might sound interesting, rather than guessing in advance what the musical application would be. So, how do you decide something will sound interesting before it exists? How much is trial and error; how much do you envision how things will sound in advance?

Hmmm. First off, it starts with a technical advance. Integrated circuits made digital audio practical and every advance in technology makes new techniques/things possible, and new capabilities ensue.

At the dawn of digital audio, the mission was clear and simple from my perspective. I had studied DSP in grad school and read about the work being done at places like Bell Labs. At the time, the researchers couldn’t experiment with real-time audio, which was a huge limitation.

It was obvious that if you could digitize audio, you could delay it. It was also somewhat obvious that you should be able to play the audio back at a different rate than it was recorded (sampled). The question was, how can you do that without changing duration? In retrospect, splicing is obvious and that’s what I did in the H910. Splicing resulted in glitches, however (I’m pretty sure that we introduced that word into the audio lexicon). So, my next challenge: I needed to come up with a method for splicing without glitches.

My design of the H949 was the first de-glitched pitch changer. With that project behind me, the next obvious challenge was digitally simulating a room – reverb. At Bell Labs, Manfred Schroeder had done some preliminary work, and I tried implementing his approach, but the results were awful. I came to the conclusion that I needed a programmable array processor to meet this challenge. This was before DSP chips became available. I designed the SP2016 and developed reverb algorithms that are now available as plug-ins and still highly regarded.

The “de-glitched” classic, the H949, also in plug-in form (thanks to Eventide Anthology).

Given that the SP2016 was general purpose, I had some other ideas that seemed obvious. For instance, Band Delays — create a set of band pass filters and delay their outputs differentially. Suzanne Ciani famously used Band Delays on her ground-breaking “Seven Waves” composition.

http://sevwave.com/

I also developed vocoders, timescramble, and gated reverb for the SP2016. The SP2016 had a complete development system that allowed third parties to create their own effects. The effects were stored in EPROMs (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) that plugged into sockets. We called them ‘plug-ins’ back in 1982 long before anyone else in the audio community used that phase.

Did I think that these effects would be musical? Yes! For example, while my goal with reverb was to create a convincing simulation of a real room, I mindfully brought out user controls to allow the algorithm to sound unreal. I was never concerned that an artist would have a ‘failure of imagination.’ I simply strove to create new and flexible tools.

On that same note, I wonder if maybe what made this inventions – and hopefully future inventions – useful to musicians is that they were just some new sound. Do you get the sense that this makes them more useful in different musical applications, more novel? Or maybe you just don’t know in advance?

I think that novel is good in that it broadens the acoustic pallet. Music is a uniquely human phenomenon. It conveys emotion in a rich and powerful way. Broadening the pallet broadens the impact. We don’t create a single static effect; we create a tool that can be manipulated. Our recent breakthrough with Physion is a wonderful example. We’re now able to surgically separate the tonal and transient components of a sound – what the artist does what does pieces of the puzzle is up to them.

It’s funny in that a sound is a sound. It’s tonal and transient components are simply have we perceive the sound. I find it amazing that our team has developed software that perceives these components of sound the way that we humans do and have figured out how to split sounds accordingly.

We’re really fortunate to have all these reissues. Your Grammy nomination referred mainly seminal, big-selling records. Do you think there’s special significance to that – or have you found interest in more experimental applications? What about your users, are they largely looking to recreate those things, or to find new applications – or is it a balance of those two things?

Well the H910 was used not only because it did something new but because it had a particular sound. In the same sense that artists prefer different mics or EQs or amps, a device like the H910 has a certain characteristic. The digital portion of the H910 was simple – most of the audio path was analog and the analog portion was tuned to sound good to me! Recreating the analog subtleties and (not so subtleties) was quite the challenge but I think nailed it. The Omnipressor is another case in point. That product deserves a lot more respect and attention than it gets and the plugin emulation is excellent. On the other hand, our emulation of the Instant Phaser isn’t even close. That’s why we don’t offer it as a standalone plugin. In fact, we’re working on a much improved version of it and are getting pretty darn close. Stay tuned…

On the third hand, our Stereo Room emulation of the original reverb of the SP2016 is very close, but even so, we’re not satisfied so we’re busily measuring it in fine detail with the hope of improving it. In fact, there are a couple of other SP2016 reverbs that were popular and we’ve taken a look at emulating those.

The Stereo Room plug-in recreates the Eventide SP2016 reverb. And while it’s really good, Tony says they’re still thinking how to make it better – ah, obsessive engineers, we love you.

And, yes while there’s a balance between old and new, our goal is always to take the next step. The algorithms in our stompboxes and plugins are mostly new and in a few cases ground-breaking. Crushstation, PitchFuzz and Sculpt represent advances in simulating the non-linearities of analog distortion.

[Ed.: This is a topic I’ve heard repeated many, many times by DSP engineers. If you’re curious why software sounds better, and why it now can pass for outboard gear whereas in the past it very much couldn’t, the ability to recreate analog distortion is a big key. And it turns out our ears seem to like those kind of non-linearities, with or without a historical context.]

What’s the relationship you have with engineers and artists? What kind of feedback do you get from them – and does it change your products at all? (Any specific examples in terms of products we’d know?)

We have a good relationship with artists. They give us ideas for new products and, more often, help us create better UIs by explaining how they would like to work.

One specific example that is our work with Tony Visconti. I am honored that he was open to working with us to create a plug-in, Tverb, that emulated his 3 mic recording technique used on Bowie’s “Heroes.” Tony was generous with his time and brilliant in suggesting enhancements that weren’t possible in the real world. The industry response to Tverb has been incredibly gratifying – there is nothing else like it.

https://www.eventideaudio.com/products/plugins/visconti-reverb/tverb

Eventide’s Tverb plug-in, which allows you, impossibly, to say “I wish I had Tony Visconti’s entire recording studio rig from “Heroes” on this channel in my DAW.” And it does still more from there. Visconti himself was a collaborator.

We are currently exploring new ways to use our structural effects method and having discussions with engineers and artists. We also have a few secret projects.

How would you relate what something like the H9 or the H9000 [Eventide’s new digital effects platforms] is to the early history like the H910 and Omnipressor? What does that heritage mean – and what do you do to move it forward? Where do recreations fit in with the newer ideas?

The consistent thread over all these years is ‘the next step.’ As technology advances, as processing power increases, new techniques and new approaches become possible. The H9000 is capable of thousands of times the sheer processing power of the H910, plus it is our first network-attached processor. Its ability to sit on an audio network and handle 32 channels of audio opens up possibilities for surround processing.

Ed.: I tried out the H9000 in a technical demo at AES in Berlin last year. It’s astonishingly powerful – and also represents the first Eventide gear to make use of the ARM platform instead of DSPs (or native software running on Intel, etc.).

One major difference, obviously, is that you now have so many plug-in users – even so many more hardware users than before. What does it mean for Eventide to have a global culture where there are so many producers? Is that expanding the kind of musical applications?

As I said earlier, there is no fear of failure of imagination of our species. Art and music define us, enrich us. The more the merrier.

What was your experience of the Grammies – obviously, nice to have this recognition; did anything come out of it personally or in terms of how this made people reflect on Eventide’s history and present?

The ‘lifetime achievement’ aspect if the Grammy award is confirmation that I’m old.

Ha, well you just have to achieve more after, and you’re fine! Thanks, Tony – as far as I’m concerned, your stuff always makes me feel like a kid.

Eventide’s Richard Factor and Tony Agnello Join Queen, Tina Turner, Neil Diamond, Bill Graham and Others Named as Grammy Honorees [Eventide Press Release]

Check out Eventide’s stuff at their site:

https://www.eventideaudio.com/

Including the Anthology bundle:

https://www.eventideaudio.com/products/plugins/bundle/anthology-xi

Also, because I know that bundle is out of reach of beginning producers or musicians on a budget, it’s worth checking out Gobbler’s subscription plans. That gives you all the essentials here, including my personal must-haves, the H3000 band delays, Omnipressor, Blackhole reverb, and the H910, plus – well a lot of other great ones, too:

https://www.gobbler.com/subscription-plan/eventide-ensemble-bundle/

This is both cheaper than and way more fun than many of the Adobe subscription bundles. Just sayin’.

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This hidden gem adds a sub bass to anything, because you want that

Serendipitous collaboration can be magical. Combine an eccentric high-tech guitar company from Switzerland with some high-powered nerds from the USA, and you get some spectacular ways of adding sub octaves and picking apart and modulating sounds.

From Memphis to Messe: on a hot tip from one of the engineers, I found myself roaming Hall 8.0 at Musikmesse in Frankfurt Friday. Just this one hall is already cavernous; I passed a portrait of Hillary Hahn in a violin booth, stumbled across two nice women giving away CDs of unsigned Estonian concert music, and strolled past the signature-blue of the G. Henle Urtext (which my piano teacher called the “Voice of God edition.”).

But this is how music instrument design should work. It should be collaborative; it should have unexpected combinations of new and old. I love Berlin’s SuperBooth, but by no means would I ever imagine modular synths to exist at the center of the music world.

And so I found myself in the narrow booth of Paradis Products. They’re a legendary, boutique guitar maker out of a Swiss small town, producing exotic creations that look like what you’d splurge on if you’d just won a Eurovision contest. But they know their stuff, from electrical engineering to woodworking.

The woodworking side of the equation is who I got on Friday afternoon, so apologies to Heinz for I think terrorizing him. (I kept repeating the word “Eurorack” to his utter befuddlement. I unfortunately have less to say about mechanical engineering and wood. Matthias Grob is the engineer who’s more to the electrical side. )

Paradis make wonderful guitars, but they also make leading guitar technology. The Polybass is an instrument that seems enchanted – as bass notes follow every articulation. It’s analog technology which means there’s nothing stopping it from appearing outside guitars.

Side by side comparisons of the original and the new Polybass board – the latter coming soon to a Eurorack near you.

So here’s the plan: take the Polybass, and make, hopefully, a Eurorack modular by the end of the year. That’s where America’s Delta Sound Labs comes in. They explain to CDM: “Polybass by Paradis is a radical rework of the legendary Polysubbass that provides an audibly clear, sub-octave effect below performed notes.”

On the guitar, I could already hear how it sounds – that is to say, incredible. I can’t wait to hear this applied to other things.

And there’s more. The CHOPhilter is a classic attack detection and modulation VST. It’s got a UI that’s ugly as sin, but Paradis, Mathons, and Delta Sound Labs will work together to port it to 64-bit (done) and add a more aesthetically pleasing Delta skin (coming soon).

This is also a very Good Thing: apply amplitude modulation on note attacks, with amplitude and filter modulation effects and envelope controls. It also responds to MIDI input for more live performance options. (A quick play-around revealed some crazy possibilities – look past the UI at those parameters for a sense of what this can do.)

Memphis-based Delta Sound Labs, for their part, have done sound research and technology from gaming to film to music industries. And they do modules. And they’re musicians. Here’s Ricky playing around with their other project – a pitch follower that interfaces both with Ableton Live and via control voltage with other gear:

CTRL Module + Helmholtz Pitch Follower – Initial Tests

Stay tuned. We’ll be watching for these finished products.

http://www.paradis-guitars.com/

https://www.deltasoundlabs.com/

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Control and unlock hidden features on Roland’s TR-08 (the small one)

While everyone is chasing after Roland’s new TR-8S (see our hands-on test), there are lots of the little TR-08s around. This tool will help you get more out of the Boutique 808.

Okay, first, let’s review:

TR-808: the original 1980-1983 drum machine.
TR-8: the first “AIRA”, the big one with the neon green trim (which can be an 808, 909, 606, 727, 707…)
TR-09: the Boutique Series made to resemble the TR-909 – small and (for extra confusion) more 303-sized
TR-08: the second Boutique Series drum machine, also in a small form factor
TR-8S: the second flagship AIRA, now with sample playback

I’m sure I accidentally referred to that last one as “TR-08S” at least once. Mea culpa.

But there’s still a place for the pint-sized TR-08. And I hear it’s been an enormous hit. Why not? The TR-8S may be more powerful, but the TR-08 is cute and compact and also doubles as an audio interface, so you can pack it into a micro-sized setup.

And with that popularity, you can expect some editors. Often times the user community comes up with stuff that bests what Roland provides.

Momo Müller writes us with his editor/librarian/controller, which joins his exhaustive set for the Boutique Series.

Run this as a Mac or Windows plug-in/standalone, and you can do some handy things:
1. Store parameters in files
2. Recall parameters when you open a project (via the plug-in)
3. Control and automate hidden parameters not on the front panel

#1-2 of course are things you can’t do with an actual 808 – so for live performance or studio sessions, you can quickly recall different settings without having to tweak your way back yourself.

Hidden parameters:
Bass Drum and Snare: Tune and Compression
Clap, CB, Tom, CY, RS: Decay
RS, CB, OH, Clap, CH: Tune

Gorgeous UI, too, Momo – I don’t even have a TR-08, but I would hire you to do UI design. (Plus… does this actually look better than the hardware itself?)

Acid. Demo. Video.

Find the whole series – they call cost just a few bucks, and work in VST/AU/standalone:

https://tr-08-editor-controller.jimdo.com/

For instance:

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BSOD simulates the sound your laptop makes when it crashes

Finally! Now you don’t have to wait for your computer to start glitching out – you can make it happen yourself, with this inexpensive Max for Live device.

Okay, so technically what we’re talking about is a “stockastic sample freezing effect.” Since it’s a Max for Live Device, you can drop its audio-munching powers on any track you want, making for glitched out percussion, vocals, or whatever you like. But if you’ve ever watched a computer melt down and listened to the resulting sounds and thought, “hey, actually, I could use that” – this is for you.

The reason it matches a BSOD is, computer stability issues cause the digital audio buffer to “freeze” on particular sounds rather than continue to process buffered audio normally. (Digital audio systems give the illusion of running in real time, without losing a continuous stream of audio, by dividing digital audio into chunks and feeding those chunks in sequence to the audio card… so that if the machine falls behind a few samples, you won’t notice.)

This creation is the second Max for Live invention from Isotonik Studios today – happy Valentine’s Day, y’all – and carries the price of €9.52. For that, you get some control over the effect – especially since it isn’t actually crashing your machine. The developers describe the parameters as follows:

Freeze: control the gate frequency in time signatures
Width: make the gating wider or tighter
Dry/Wet: master dry/wet control

And all of this is MIDI-controllable.

If you want to live more dangerously, the classic Smart Electronix effect Buffer Override actually does screw around with your machine. The work of developer Sophia Poirier, this is the opposite of what would normally constitute a stable plug-in. The idea: it “overcomes your host app’s audio processing buffer size and then (unsuccessfully) overrides that new buffer size to be a smaller buffer size.”

Beware, as that will actually cause some hosts to, you know, crash. But Buffer Override is free. (Well, it’d be a bit strange to charge for that!)

http://destroyfx.smartelectronix.com/

For safer, more playable operation, you should stick to Isotonik Studios’ creation. Have at it:

https://isotonikstudios.com/product/bsod/

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Output’s Analog Brass & Winds is an orchestral library for synth lovers

You’ve got your synth sounds. You’ve got your orchestral sample libraries. And they’ve always been separate – until now.

Output, the California-based sound design shop, have already built a reputation around sound libraries that mix this with that and bank on novel and on-trend sound design concepts. And roughly this time last year, they took this approach to combining string orchestras and synth strings.

But bringing the analog + acoustic blend to wind and brass may be even more vital because, well, brass and winds are a fairly particular thing to have to design… I mean, let’s be honest, how many people really look forward to brass and winds?

So, what you get are sounds that will genuinely get you excited instead of make you cringe. And oddly, combining in tape loops and vintage instruments makes this category sounds more contemporary.

As per usual, the Output experience isn’t just about calling up a preset you like, but being able to easily dial in exactly the blend and flavor you want.

Let’s break down that interface. Even from the overview screen and macro controls, you get a view to the layered sample-based sound engine beneath (plus some pretty abstracted brass wind bodies):

As in past Output products, once you get into Sources, you see the core of the sounds. Output’s products start with a wide arsenal of sounds that feel a bit like getting to steal a top producer’s hard drive. (Please don’t do that. But you get the idea.) Here, this includes one-shots, more continuous textures (“pads”), and crunchy tape loops, which basically involve the acoustic sources, the vintage synth sources, and then “everything else” / more off-the-wall bits (categorized as “creative”). That’s what gives the resulting stew a forward-thinking sound.

“Rhythm” is where invariably you can go from “oh, isn’t this sound cool” to “oh, I can actually finish this entire track with this plug-in.” Note that you have both synchronized and free (“flux”) modes, and the ability to layer modulations atop your modulated sounds.

This is, again, why Output stuff so nicely merges between preset-dialing and creative sound design – just changing an individual element can have an enormous impact, if you like.

There’s also the usual, tasty-sounding effects section.

If there’s any criticism here, it’s that Output have stuck with their existing sample-based architecture, rather than open up the possibility of, say, some physical modeling. (Underneath the hood here, it’s all the Kontakt sampler.) On the other hand, those models can be processor-intensive and unpredictable, whereas you can dump all of Output’s products on a quick external drive (which is inexpensive these days) and be assured of reliable sound results. I am curious what Output may have next, though, whether they’ve got more ideas for this approach or something else altogether.

Oh, one more thing – this all supports Native Instruments’ NKS, which means I’ll give it a try with the likes of Maschine and the new Komplete Kontrol keyboards, as there’s some interesting potential for live performance with the snapshots and such. Stay tuned for that!

Cost: US$199. But betcha earn that back on a good commission with it.

Requisite video walkthrough:

More:

https://output.com/products/analog-brass-and-winds

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