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This is a review of Madrona Labs' Aalto synthesizer software. I purchased it from the developer a good while ago, but only recently really sat down and learned this thing inside and out. As many of you know, I make commercial preset packs for a bunch of synths, BUT I normally don't write reviews for synths unless something really stands out to me from a synth buyer's perspective. Aalto is one such synth, and I've grown to understand why Aalto owners love it so much.
One of the most logical and straightforward user interfaces I've ever seen. You can really _see_, visually, how each preset was made, just by looking at the color coded "cables" in the middle of the screen. MUCH easier to navigate than the chaotic spaghetti monster you see with complex patches on other modular synth software that tries to be as realistic as possible. IMHO, a more 'scientific', clean and sterile GUI beats old school realism every time.
MAJOR CPU HOG! When I made my MP3 demo for the 'Forbidden Experiments' preset bank, I had to bounce _EVERY_ Aalto track to WAV files. BUT, I'm on an older machine - single core, 3.6 ghz CPU, 2 GB RAM. The sound quality, workflow and interesting feature set make up for this, though.
Oh yeah :). Aalto is a very unique plugin. It doesn't offer a brand new type of synthesis, or totally unheard-of features, but it uses what it has in some unusual ways. The 'complex oscillator' is a blend of FM and VA synthesis, resulting in oldschool modular bleeps and bloops, crossed with a bit of a metallic digital edge. I had a lot of fun with the repeating envelopes and loved the fact that you could, for example, take an LFO, and modulate the attack and decay times of that repeating envelope. The 16 step sequencer is the very heart of Aalto's special character, I think, and why it excels at strange, alien and mechanical sound effects. You have basicly 2 of them running. One where you set values for modulation, and below it, where you see the buttons, is a simple "on-off' pattern sequencer. You can route these as separate sources to affect very different parameters. Take an LFO, or envelope, and have it affect the "offset" parameter on the sequencer for interesting "scanning" effects. Another sweet feature is the ability to modulate the delay times for those comb filter and flanging effects.
There aren't that many, but most of what's there is really good. I loved the 'machine' type sounds and they really turned me on to using step sequencers more often. I typically never liked that kind of feature before.
Value for the Money:
I believe I got this on sale for $99 a while ago. Definitely worth it for its strong points. I get sounds out of Aalto that just aren't possible to make in Arp2600V or Massive, for example (I actually tried it haha). It's also a _very_ good educational tool for learning more advanced sound design techniques, as the routings are so easily and quickly visualized.
I would recommend Aalto to:
- Movie scorers looking to make sci-fi sound effects.
- Minimal Techno musicians looking for rythmic, evolving blips and bloops.
- Ambient or Future Garage producers looking to make mechanical soundscapes.
- Anyone looking for musical sounds that aren't the typical bread 'n' butter.