Ethereal is a very nice and unique synth from Concrete FX. While basically an substractive synth with three oscillators and around 20 waveforms to choose, including sounds like rain and noise beneath the standart ones, the possibilities are much increased through sample import and a additive section which allows drawing your own waveforms. The so made or choosen oscillators can modulate (FM) each other and are send through two serial or paralel filters with 12 different models to choose from, including comb filtering and a formant filter; the outputs of these filters go to an fx section with modulation, delay and reverb fx.
While these specs might sound not so unusual, the addition of very complex syncable envelopes, some syncable LFOs with user-drawable shapes and a hell of a lot of modulation options make it nearly a modular synth, certainly comparable to something like Green Oaks Crystal, if not more complex. Because of a very clever page design for the options ( for example, one page for the fx and one for the LFOs), presets for the envelopes and for the additive section and a generally clear layout, it is quite easy to understand hovewer, and this together with a unique preset evolver which allows to create various changed versions of a preset makes programming it actually confortable and fun.
With these specs, it is clear that Ethereal can do nearly anything soundwise, but its speciality and strength are strange evolving pads of middle complexity, rhythmic loop-like sounds, fx and fx-like melodic sounds.
Its basic sound is digital, clear and warm, reminding me much on the typical EMU sound; it sounds great.
It comes with 160 presets, most of which are really good and usable; however, some of the sample-based ones are out of tune. At least on my system, the present version of ethereal could be a bit more stable; while it never crashed, sometimes it switches the sound on and off.
The manual is o.k. but not really easy to understand for a person not so versed with the concept of DSP-Programming, some more explanations (What is additive synthes, a comb filter...etc) would have been nice.
The customer support of John is amazingly good, i would rate it 12 if possible - he is answering questions always very fast and is very open to recommendations - i have seen him compile a version of his plugs in some hours to test out a specific problem one person had !
All in all, this is a very good, usable and original synth and, above all, it is very fun to play with it or make new sounds; since it is also very low priced, it has to be one of the best synth deals out there.
Now maturing nicely ConcreteFX's Ethereal is taking on a life of it's own. If you didn't read the specifications let's discuss them. The oscillator can be one of 22 well designed waves along with 6 storeable user waves for pad, effects, soundscapes and the one note wonder type of patch that are so much fun to play with. It is also possible to store up to three samples per patch. Fortunately you can use wav files and the ones included in Ethereal.
ConcreteFX have been using multi-form interfaces within the shell of a modest sized master VSTi form. This enables access to the formidable sound engine without making a mess of programming.
One of ConcreteFX's first synths there are familar interface aspects, labeled tabs with specific controls to that tab such as envelopes 11 in all, 8 for the available waveforms and 3 extra for the samples as needed, LFO, modulation matrix, effects, 8 sequences and additive manipulation of sample data. Once again ConcreteFX shows depth of features while maintaining an easy to learn synth engine that yields quick results.
Etherial is best suited for pads, effects and evolving timbres. It is a nifty pad machine and at a bargain price, $40.
The patch library is indicative of the styles of patches you can create with Etherial. One interesting feature is the Evol or evolve area where the original patch sits in the middle of the form with eight different sounds based on the patch. This is a great way to look for new ideas as well as learning the signal flow and engine of Etherial.
Another nice touch are the effects sections where different types of similar effects can be selected. You'll find a number of chorus, modulation and delays, all that can be adjusted in the interface.
Sounds are thin to lush and with the addition of samples they can be just about anything you want. The sophistication of ConcreteFX's work is impressive let alone at a pocketbook friendly price.
If you like pads, need unique sounds or want seemingly endless evolving sounds Ethereal does the job. As the name implies, the sounds have an etherial feel to them so if you want a simple pad synth you may want to go elsewhere....or perhaps not. Ethereal's sound is clear and somewhat digital with a nice amount of warmth thrown together via ample timbral choices such as filters including comb and ring modulation.
Ethereal is a deep synth with a fun interface allowing for exploration. It is hard to imagine anyone not finding use within their music unless they aren't interested in atmospheric sounds and in today's music that is precious few.
Try the demo, it speaks for itself. One of the more mature ConcreteFX synths, one wonders why they aren't spoken of more frequently. Of late that seems to be changing which is good. This is one value packed synth worth your time to try.
Ethereal is advertised as an additive pad synth. While accurate, there's more to it than that - it can also do "general purpose synth" just fine. Some people compare it to Rhino ... that's not really accurate, but there are a few similarities. I find Ethereal easier to program because it's not as sophisticated.
Sound: I have been able to coax sweet flute sounds, Hammond-ish organs, hoovers, harsh jangly sounds, and nice evolving pads out of it. The presets, additive waveforms and filter choices give a lot of variety. It wouldn't be my first choice for dance/trance but it could be done.
Features: Several features make it stand out from the typical two- or three-oscillator synth: the additive waveform generator, the eight drawable envelopes, and the flexible routings. All controls can be tweaked in real time while you or your sequencer plays. Most knobs and sliders have MIDI CC's assigned, or use "MIDI learn" to fit your controller. There are chorus, phaser, reverb and delay effects.
The Patch evolver allows you to breed new patches from where you're currently at. It's more useful (to me) than a random patch generator.
Version 2.5 substantially reduced CPU usage in some cases and patches.
UI: The UI is large - bigger than Rhino, B-4, and the Linplug synths (this is a problem on low-res screens). Ethereal attempts to make all controls available all the time - unlike z3ta+ and Rhino(the envelopes, samples, and LFO's only show one at a time). Good chunks of the UI are dedicated to the envelopes, additive generator and effects. Version 2.4 added a patch browser, increasing the size of the UI by about 15% (it's to the right of what you see in the picture above). Other than the envelopes, it's pretty intuitive.
Presets: 160 presets cover a variety of sounds - pads (strings, bells, organs, rainfall), leads (piano, rez, brass sweep), bass, loops (using envelopes), and samples. This is a tweaker's synth, but there's a lot of variety/examples in the patches Jon provides. Some are very good, some are "good but not my type". You can use the evolver or a couple of mouse-swipes to create new sounds.
Manual: provided in HTML format. It is complete but not overwhelming or heavily detailed. You should RTFM and experiment to get the hang of the envelopes, it's not "four knobs to twiddle" (some examples might be nice). Some minor tweaks needed (ie dial default is now linear not circular).
Customer Support: 110% Jon has responded promptly to every inquiry, bug report or feature request - often within the hour. Jon's also visible in the instrument forum.
VFM: Excellent. I've gotten more use out of this $40 vsti than some I paid a lot more for. When I later bought Industry, he gave me Granite as if I'd bought the synth package, an unexpected kindness.
Stability: Ethereal's never crashed on me. I primarily use it in FLStudio, and also in Sonar with DirectIXer (use alternate screen sizing option).
Buy this synth!
One of the most valuable things about KVR is the contact with developers and being able to see things develop and come to fruition. A brilliant example of this is Ethereal. The first version didn't have a welcoming GUI, the sound was sometimes glitchy and the CPU usage hopped about a bit. It always had potentially to grow and with version 2.0 it has come of age.
This synth does exactly what its name suggest but a lot more besides. Expansive and evolving sounds are its forte, though. With a very good set of initial sound choices (including user-definable), Frequency Modulation, Additive Wave options, two filters (each of 11 types, and assignable to any of 8 envelopes), drawable envelopes and internal effects it's a powerhouse of flexibility. There was no manual at the time of writing, so I will mark on the basis of the previous version's manual.
Some of the presets understandably showcase the more metallic timbres and complicated sounds and sound-effects it's possible to generate. But, it's a very simple task to get more conventional sound from it. What's most impressive though is the ability to generate genuinely useful textural and ambience-style sounds so very easily.
The change of GUI has done a lot for Ethereal. The envelope drawing can be a little fiddly, but certainly easy enough, and there are big improvements there in comparison to previous versions. The right-click pop-up menus are a little dark, however. CPU usage and stability is phenomenal really when it's considered alongside the output. A lot of the sounds don't require much polyphony and on my Athlon 1900+ even when they do, CPU usage is often only slightly above 10% - well worth it.
As for support, Jon at ConcreteFX is excellent. He's present here, extremely responsive to comments and bug reports and keen to improve the products all the time. Ethereal has turned into one of those synths that is worth exploring and rewards learning. If you're looking for something a bit different and need any kind of ambience or effects for your tracks, then this is a good instrument to try. Even if you're not, Ethereal does 'traditional' sounds too, making it extremely good value for money.
Preset "Angels" shows off Ethereal to its fullest - download the demo, switch to this preset, hold down a key... and wait... and wait. Awesome ;)
The interface is tricky, but this is a complex synth. I find the new GUI more appealing than the previous version. The cool part is, aside from the LFOs and Envelopes, all the controls are visible at all times. There a couple of things to watch out for because the default settings for knobs are often zero. For example, as soon as you assign an oscillator to a filter, the sound goes silent. These is because filters have a volume control that defaults to zero. Similarly, envelopes have no effect immediately after they're assigned because the "length" setting defaults to zero.
The sound is vastly improved over the previous version. Each oscillator now has a "Fat" oscillator to go with it that is slightly detuned from its mate. It's quite easy to get thick, monster sounds with these fat oscillators, the improved chorus and phasing effects in combination with the 24db/octave LP filter. Detuning the oscillator pairs from eachother is a little more tricky as pitch envelopes have to be used.
Many of the presets have a distant spacey sound akin to Ethereal's name. My favorites are "Submarine Bells" and "Distant". Despite its name, Ethereal is definately capable of some aggressive, thick analog sounds too. Using the stereo spread control can quickly add some depth to some of the presets.
The killer thing about Ethereral are its numerous 64 point, tempo-synced, looping envelopes for shaping various aspects of the sound. Each of these can operate at seperate tempos. Nicely, the curvature of the slope between the points is adjustable as well.
A very cool addition are the user oscillators. These have an extremely easy to use gui for creating oscillator shapes with drag-n-drop placement of additive synthesis harmonics. Ethereal excels at wierd looping rhythmic noises.
I only have two minor issues with Ethereal. It is a bit heavy on the CPU and I prefer other reverbs.
I haven't seen the new documentation yet. Ethereal is rock-solid stability-wise.
Customer support I would expect to be excellent. The developer has personally discussed the product with me via email and implemented some of my suggestions for improvement.
Check this one out. It's a GREAT value alternative for a complex envelope synth.
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