The Casio CZ is a huge highlight of Arturia’s V Collection 7

Arturia’s V Collection 7 continues to expand as the go-to software library of every vintage synth you would ever want. But let’s focus on one new gem: the brilliant CZ-101 remake.

First off, V Collection 7 is worth a look. Arturia keep making their mega-bundle software instrument bundle better. That means both reworking the modeling inside these tools, and adding new features, as well as – of course – continuing to expand the library of available instruments. As modeling has improved, these instruments have gotten more and more like the originals in sound and not just in function and look. At the same time, Arturia keeps beefing up those originals with new features – so the authentic sound engines get new sound design features atop them.

The EMS Synthi V makes an appearance in the new V Collection, too – if your tastes go more 70s than 80s. And it’s a big deal.

Version 7 continues to balance the desires of the casual keyboardist and the obsessive synth sound designer – and everything in between. So if you just want to add a convincing Mellotron or B-3, you’re covered – with an all-new Mellotron and a total ground-up sound engine overhaul for the B-3 V2. Jimmy Smith Strawberry Fields Forever, check and mate.

If the idea of a whole bunch of unfamiliar keyboards and control layouts is unappealing, V Collection 7 also includes the new Analog Lab 4, which consolidates all these things into easy presets and macro controls, and hundreds of new presets in their “Synthopedia.” That way if you do want to look up the way a familiar sound was produced – then tweak it yourself – you can.

Of course, if you read CDM, your favorite preset may be “default template,” and the idea of getting lost for hours in a vintage synth control layout may be the whole selling point. For that crowd, the V Collection 7 adds the EMI Synthi V and the CZ-101 from Casio, circa 1985.

Photo (CC-BY-SA) Neil Vance, via WikiCommons.

The ability to just dial up a menu and say, “do I want an Oberheim SEM or a CS-80” is already pretty crazy, and the number of choices continues to grow. So my approach to V Collection is actually to ignore all those presets – apologies, dear sound designer friends – and try to focus on one instrument. It’s a bit like what you do in a packed studio – you pull out one piece of gear, and say, hey, tonight is going to be about me and this instrument and very little else.

I want to talk about the CZ-101 because it’s long been one of my favorite instruments, and it’s a fairly unsung one. The CZ is somehow too easy, too friendly, too compact, too inexpensive to have the kind of adoration of some of the other 80s and 70s throwbacks. It’s not a collectors’ item. You can still find them at flea makrets. So yeah, Arturia are quick to drop names who have used it, like Salt-N-Pepa and Vince Clarke. But to me the whole appeal of the CZ-101 is that it’s for people who love synths, not people trying to emulate their heroes.

Of course, you could for these reasons go get an actual CZ-101. That means Arturia has to sweeten the deal a bit so the software can compete. They did just that. Let’s dive in.

CZ V reproduces the simple hardware interface (at bottom) but also expands to this view with lots of additional visual feedback and features, at top.

Phase Distortion lovers, rejoice

The original CZ-101 is about two things: a simple front panel layout, and phase distortion. If you just want to drop the CZ into a session as-is, CZ V does that.

Phase distortion synthesis isn’t so much a different synthesis method as it is a compelling way of mucking about with two digital oscillators. It’s easy enough to dismiss PD as Casio’s cheaper, non-patented answer to Yamaha’s DX7 and frequency modulation (FM). But now as we grow more accustomed to digital, non-harmonic timbres, PD is better appreciated on its own terms – as a way of producing unique digital color.

In short, what phase distortion does for you is to add rich harmonic content to sound. It can be a distortion. It can sound something like a resonant filter – in its own way. And because it’s normally using synced oscillators – here’s the important bit – it’s way easier to control than FM generally is.

On the Casio, this allows some unique filtering and sound shaping and distortion sounds that can easily be controlled by macros. And on the Arturia remake, graphical access to envelopes and expanded power means that you can use that shaping creatively.

The CZ V kind of goes a bit nuts versus what an original CZ-101 would give you. Let’s compare 1985 and 2019.

Arturia’s effects mean you don’t have to listen to the CZ dry.

The modulation matrix makes this feel as much modern soft synth as 1980s hardware.

The original oscillators are there – sine, saw, square, pulse, resonance, double-sine, saw-pulse – as are the 8-stage envelope generators and vibrato and LFOs. You can even import SysEx from the original. But being able to program these features on a display makes sound design accessible.

In addition to making hidden CZ features more visible, Arturia have expanded what’s possible:

  • 32-voice polyphony (the original had just 8).
  • A modulation matrix – no, really.
  • More modulation: a Sample and Hold module, 2 LFOs with 6 waveforms, 3 sources combinators and an Arpeggiator
  • New effects – while an authentic approach to the CZ might leave it dry, now you get all the Arturia multi-effects (adding things like chorus and reverb sound especially nice, for instance)

There’s visual feedback for everything, too.

Where the CZ fits in

In some ways, the CZ-101 is weirdly going from dated 80s thrift store find to … ahead of its time? After all, we’re seeing modular makers embrace these kinds of digital oscillator effects, and phase and phase distortion even inspired the upcoming sequel to Native Instruments’ Massive, the new Massive X.

Envelope editing is powerful – and includes animated visual feedback.

The CZ architecture is uniquely suited to making a lot of different sounds – including percussion and modulating timbres and edgy digital business – with a minimum of resources. So there’s a noise source built-in. You can modulate with the noise source. There’s ring modulation.

Using the CZ, DADSR, and multi-segment envelopes, you can them sculpt those percussive and metallic timbres over time – including using the DCW (Digitally Controlled Waveform) envelope that morphs between a sine wave and distorted wave.

The reason I’m using the CZ V to talk about the new V Collection edition, though, is that it’s an instrument where it feels like Arturia’s authentic side matches up with the “vintage on steroids” additions. So, by the time you have something like the new Synthi, you’re already presented with tons of sound design possibilities. Arturia has added some amazing ideas there – a step sequencer, a beat-synced LFO, plus onboard effects, atop all the new graphical options for working with envelopes and modulation.

The thing is, on a Synthi, that starts to feel like too much. I almost was tempted with the Synthi to force myself not to expand the tab full of new stuff. If I want an open-ended sound environment on a computer, I can use Reaktor, not try to recreate a 1970s take on the idea.

On the Arturia edition of the Casio, though, all these additions help the CZ graduate from fun toy to serious sound design tool. The visual envelopes make more sense. Effects are something most CZ owners invested in anyway. And more polyphony means you can run one instance and do a lot with it. Heck, even the matrix is easier to follow than on the original EMS Synthi because the architecture of the CZ-101 is so straightforward. In other words, because the original did less, it’s both a good match for software remake and for some thoughtful additions – which Arturia delivers.

Check these templates for an easy way to get started making your own sounds.

Here’s a little sketch I made with this. This is all one patch – noise and ring modulation and layering the ring source, plus some DCW and pitch envelope use, are what generate all those sounds. I added Arturia’s Trid-A Pre and some reverb from Softube’s TSAR-1 Reverb and … that was it.

More on the products:

V Collection 7

CZ V

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Summer Sale: Get 25% OFF SampleRobot Pro, SampleRobot Multi-X and SampleRobot Korg+Wave

SampleRobot Version 6 2 Screenshot 1

Skylife has announced the launch of a Summer Sale on SampleRobot Pro, SampleRobot Multi-X and SampleRobot Korg+Wave, offering a 25% discount for a limited time. SampleRobot offers a fast sampling process with a fully automated workflow. Sample export supports various formats and the software features an intuitive project assistant. SampleRobot comes with sophisticated autoloop processing, […]

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Sonarworks Reference 4.3 update adds new features

Sonarworks Reference 4.3 Dark Mode

Sonarworks has introduced the latest update to its Reference 4 award-winning calibration software that removes unwanted coloration from studio speakers and headphones. Dedicated to improving the experience for both current and new users, the update includes a reworked filter mode as well as usability, latency and on-boarding improvements to allow greater ease of use with […]

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Reverb Father’s Day Sale: Get 15% OFF software and gear this weekend!

Reverb Fathers Day Sale

Reverb.com has announced the launch of its Father’s Day Sale, offering a 15% discount on software and gear over the weekend. Put Dad on center stage and save 15% on great gear gifts in the Father’s Day Sale. You can get 15% off on over 40,000 listings, including guitars and amps, drums, keyboards and synths, […]

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Logic Pro X 10.4.5 is all about huge projects, with or without a Mac Pro

Logic Pro X 10.4.5, seen onstage at WWDC, is now available. And yes, it supports the new ultra-high-end Mac Pro – but there are fixes and performance optimizations for everyone, with or without new machines.

10.4.5 looks like the most pro-oriented Logic Pro in a long time. Apple has been aggressive with its update cadence for Logic for years running now, even with free upgrades, and this version is no exception.

This release also marks the end of the road for Mac OS X 10.12 Sierra. The new minimum OS requirement is 10.13.16 High Sierra. (Mojave is seeming stable these days, and it’s summertime, so maybe now is a good time to do a full backup and take the plunge.)

First up – yes, the banner feature from Apple’s perspective is that the new Logic runs on the new Mac Pro. Under the hood, that means support for up to 56 cores, the kind of massive multiprocessing the new Mac Pro can do.

The use case for this kind of processing power is slim, but then, that’s what the ‘pro’ concept is all about. Doing artist relations, you may have a film composer with advanced technical needs and a shelf full of Academy Awards. Even one user in your user base can be critical.

That said, I think the real story here is that Apple is shaking the tree across the whole code base – meaning these performance optimizations and fixes could benefit you even if you’re running on a beat-up older MacBook, too.

So, think really big track counts – which could be meaningful since even some mid-range CPUs can theoretically churn through a lot of tracks, to say nothing of that shiny Mac Pro tower.

Increased Number of Tracks and Channels, up to:
1000 stereo audio channel strips
1000 software instrument channel strips
1000 auxiliary channel strips
1000 external MIDI tracks
12 sends per channel strip

Way back around 2006, I heard from a Macworld reader complaining about lifting exactly these limitations and how I didn’t mention them in a review. (See above: that one user thing.)

There’s a bunch of other new features that are serious DAW improvements – and almost no mention mention of any fictional artificial drummers.

An all-new DeEsser 2 plug-in

16 ports of MIDI clock, MTC, and MMC from Logic – yeah, expect to see a Mac Pro in broadcast/film/TV applications running audio

Mixer configuration can be set to your own user-definable defaults (huge time saver there, finally)

A clever automatic duplicate erase when you’re merging MIDI recordings

And some new keyboard shortcuts to save you time when editing:

  • Option + Shift while rubber-band selecting in the Piano Roll: new time Handles selection.
  • Option-click track on/off button: loads/unloads the plug-ins on the channel strip (wow, easy A/B!)
  • Shift-double-click Tracks background: start playback from that position.

And for the “I have an old beat-up MacBook you can pry out of my dead fingers” crowd – finally Freeze works the way it should. (How many of you were desperately freezing tracks while cursing Logic as the CPU meter refused to go down?) From the release notes:

“Freezing a track now unloads its plug-ins to free up resources.”

There are also fixes and performance optimizations and workflow and display improvements throughout. As you’d expect, fixes are concentrated on newer features – Smart Tempo, ARA, Flex, and the like.

So you don’t get any earth-shaking new features unless you’re really into de-essing, but what you do get is some evidence the Apple engineers are working through their log of stuff.

Logic Pro X 10.4 release notes (Apple support, 10.4.5 stuff is right up top)

Full disclosure: I will now this week refresh my MacBook Pro’s OS and then Logic release.

Hey, say what you will about Apple, but Logic Pro these days is pretty accessible from a user experience perspective. There’s some powerful and numerous competitors that either fail that ease of use test or that simply lack features you need to get big jobs done in scoring and the like. Maddeningly, a lot get the ease right but lack features, or have insanely powerful features but demand you contort your brain to use them. (Once upon a time, an earlier version of Logic was also far harder to use.)

I know from CDM’s own site stats and plenty of anecdotal evidence that all this matters to music makers. It’s not just Apple brand loyalty that makes Logic last.

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SoundSwitch 2.0 software supports Micro DMX Interface, Enttec hardware & new subscription service

SoundSwitch

SoundSwitch has announced the introduction of its new SoundSwitch 2.0 software. This release includes support for the new SoundSwitch Micro DMX Interface, Enttec hardware, plus a new subscription service and additional software feature upgrades. These new additions make SoundSwitch truly accessible to all DJs while further expanding the creative possibilities. DMX Hardware Support The SoundSwitch […]

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SubLab is an 808 bass synth and more, from makers of Circle

Hard-hitting sub bass and percussion is the focus of SubLab, a new instrument from Future Audio Workshop. And it puts a ton of sound elements into an uncommonly friendly interface. Let’s get our hands on it.

This begins our Tools of Summer series of selections – stuff you’ll want to use when the nights are long (erm, northern hemisphere) and you need some new inspiration from instruments to actually use.

We hadn’t heard much lately from Future Audio Workshop. Their ground-breaking Circle instrument was uniquely friendly, clean, and easy to use. At a time when nearly all virtual instruments had virtually unreadable, tiny UIs, Circle broke from the norm with displays you could see easily. Beginners could track signal flow and modulation, and experts (erm, many of them, you know, older and with aging eyes) could be more productive and focused.

SubLab takes that same approach – so much so that a couple of quick shots I posted to Instagram got immediate feedback.

And then it’s just chock full of bass – with a whole lot of potential applications.

Sound layers, plus filter, plus distortion, plus compressor – deceptively simple and powerful.

So, sure, FAW talk trap and hip-hop and future bass and sub basslines – you’ll get those, for sure. But I think you’ll start using SubLab all over the place.

If you just want a recipe for 808 bass, this instrument is there for you. You can layer and filter and overdrive and distort sounds into basslines made from punchy drum bits. Then you discover that this produces interesting melodic lines, too. Or that while you have all the elements of various kick drums not only from Roland but sampled from a studio full of drum machines (Vermona to JoMoX), you … might as well make some punchy kicks and toms.

It’s just too fast. And that’s not because the interface is particularly dumbed down – on the contrary, it’s because once all the chrome and tiny controls are out of the way and the designers focused on what this does, you can get at a lot of options more quickly.

The synth has an easy-to-follow structure – sound, distortion, compressor. Sound is divided into a simple multi-oscillator synth, a sample playback engine, and then the trademarked ‘x-sub’ sub-oscillator. You can then mix these separately, and route a percentage of the synth and sampler to a multi-mode filter. (Don’t miss the essential ‘glide’ control lurking just at the bottom, as I did at first.) Pulling it all together, you get a ‘master’ overview that shows you how each element layers in the resulting sound spectrum.

Also in the sound > synth section, you can easily access multiple envelopes with visual feedback. (Arturia, who I’m also writing about this week, have also gone this route, and it makes a big difference being able to see as well as hear.)

The sampler has essential tracking, pitching, and looping features for this application. The x-sub bit is uniquely controllable – you can set individual harmonic levels just by dragging around purple vertical bars. It’s rare to sculpt sub-bass like this so easily, and it’s addictive.

X-sub (trademarked?) means you can sculpt the harmonics inside the sub-oscillator section just by dragging.

The interface is easy enough, but a couple of characteristic additions really complete the package. The sampler section is full of inspiring hardware samples to use as building blocks – great stuff that you might use for your non-melodic kicks, or try out for punchy percussion and melodies even in higher registers. The Distortion also has some compelling modes, like the lovely “darkdrive” and convincing tube and overdrive options.

Tons of hardware samples abound for layering.

There aren’t a lot of presets – it looks like FAW’s plan is to get you hooked, then add more patch packs. But with enough sound design options here, including custom sample loading, you might be fine just making your own.

Really, my only complaint is that I find the filter and compressor a bit vanilla, particularly in this age of so many beautiful modeled options from Native Instruments, Arturia, u-he, and others.

I figured I would be writing this glowing review and telling you, oh yeah, it’s definitely worth $149.

But — damn, this thing is $70, on sale for $40.

Sheesh. Just get it, then. There are lots of deeper and more complex things out there. But this is something else – simple enough that you’ll actually use it to design your own creative sounds. As FAW has shown us before, visual feedback and accessible interfaces combine to make sound design connect with your brain more effectively.

https://futureaudioworkshop.com/sublab

Here’s me messing around with it to prove it can do things other than what it was intended for:

And more hands-on videos from the creators:

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Audiobulb releases Ambient v4.01 granular sampler instrument

Audiobulb Ambient v4

Audiobulb has announced version 4.01 of Ambient, a standalone audio processing software capable of producing radically transformed audio, sound sculpting and design. Version 4 improves and builds upon customer feedback provided by Ambient v1. It is now compatible with the latest OS X and Windows platforms and has an improved GUI. It is designed to […]

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An injury left Olafur Arnalds unable to play, so he turned to machines

Following nerve damage, Icelandic composer/producer/musician was unable to play the piano. With his ‘Ghost Pianos’, he gets that ability back, through intelligent custom software and mechanical pianos.

It’s moving to hear him tell the story (to the CNN viral video series) – with, naturally, the obligatory shots of Icelandic mountains and close-up images of mechanical pianos working. No complaints:

This frames accessibility in terms any of us can understand. Our bodies are fragile, and indeed piano history is replete with musicians who lost the original use of their two hands and had to adapt. Here, an accident caused him to lose left hand dexterity, so he needed a way to connect one hand to more parts.

And in the end, as so often is the case with accessibility stories and music technology, he created something that was more than what he had before.

With all the focus on machine learning, a lot of generative algorithmic music continues to work more traditionally. That appears to be the case here – the software analyzes incoming streams and follows rules and music theory to accompany the work. (As I learn more about machine learning, though, I suspect the combination of these newer techniques with the older ones may slowly yield even sharper algorithms – and challenge us to hone our own compositional focus and thinking.)

I’ll try to reach out to the developers, but meanwhile it’s fun squinting at screenshots as you can tell a lot. There’s a polyphonic step sequencer / pattern sequencer of sorts in there, with some variable chance. You can also tell in the screen shots that the pattern lengths are set to be irregular, so that you get these lovely polymetric echoes of what Olafur is playing.

Of course, what makes this most interesting is that Olafur responds to that machine – human echoes of the ‘ghost.’ I’m struck by how even a simple input can do this for you – like even a basic delay and feedback. We humans are extraordinarily sensitive to context and feedback.

The music itself is quite simple – familiar minimalist elements. If that isn’t your thing, you should definitely keep watching so you get to his trash punk stage. But it won’t surprise you at all that this is a guy who plays Clapping Music backstage – there’s some serious Reich influence.

You can hear the ‘ghost’ elements in the reent release ‘ekki hugsa’, which comes with some lovely joyful dancing in the music video:

re:member debuted the software:

There is a history here of adapting composition to injury. (That’s not even including Robert Schumann, who evidently destroyed his own hands in an attempt to increase dexterity.)

Paul Wittgenstein had his entire right arm amputated following World War I injury, commissioned a number of works for just the left hand. (There’s a surprisingly extensive article on Wikipedia, which definitely retrieves more than I had lying around inside my brain.) Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand is probably the best-known result, and there’s even a 1937 recording by Wittgenstein himself. It’s an ominous, brooding performance, made as Europe was plunging itself into violence a second time. But it’s notable in that it’s made even more virtuosic in the single hand – it’s a new kind of piano idiom, made for this unique scenario.

I love Arnalds’ work, but listening to the Ravel – a composer known as whimsical, crowd pleasing even – I do lament a bit of what’s been lost in the push for cheery, comfortable concert music. It seems to me that some of that dark and edge could come back to the music, and the circumstances of the composition in that piece ought to remind us how necessary those emotions are to our society.

I don’t say that to diss Mr. Arnalds. On the contrary, I would love to hear some of his punk side return. And his quite beautiful music aside, I also hope that these ideas about harnessing machines in concert music may also find new, punk, even discomforting conceptions among some readers here.

Here’s a more intimate performance, including a day without Internet:

And lastly, more detail on the software:

Meanwhile, whatever kind of music you make, you should endeavor to have a promo site that is complete, like this – also, sheet music!

olafurarnalds.com

Previously:

The KellyCaster reveals what accessibility means for instruments

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Solid State Logic goes Live with V4.9 Console Release

SSllive V4.9 software

Following the successful release of the major V4.8 update at the beginning of 2019, SSL has now followed up with the latest Live V4.9 console and SOLSA software. This release includes a host of feature updates and performance enhancements including the addition of new Patch Manager for importing and exporting input patches, Talkback Groups, speed […]

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