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I've been following Jeff McClintock's project SynthEdit with a close eye and now it's time to add a (hopefully) good review of it.
SynthEdit is one of the simpliest most efficient ways of achieving a VST plugin. But tho it is simple, don't let it fool you.
Installation is straight forward and gives you a standard installer that puts SynthEdit where it should be and includes 2 demo se1 files to play with; 1 sequencer and 1 live ensemble.
Skins & graphics
The se1 files has some basic sound generators and sequencers tied up together and is euipped with the uglynice default skin that comes with SynthEdit. Skinwise SynthEdit can be enhanced and expanded as much as you wish. Through a simple set of textfiles each graphic object can be customized as it fits your needs. New knobs, buttons and sliders can be downloaded and added to your skin as you need it. If you need a new skin, just create a new folder and copy the needed components into it. Can't be much simplier or can it?
It gets better!
Since 0.95 you can load lose bitmap images into image components and connect them to an animation component to gather the animated knob images from them. This way you can use more than the standard 2 knobs that SynthEdit can handle from starter. This is done with subcontrols, controls that also are used to allow simplified list handling that let's you create oscilators with just 2 waveforms instead of using the standard 7 waveform oscilator you normaly use.
Reusable components make life simpler.
If you've made a component that you like and want to reuse in another synth, then you can save that component to a new file. When you load that file the component is recreated as it was when you saved it.
So you're not pleased with the modules that SynthEdit comes with? Then you can download new modules from various sources and include them in SynthEdit to add new feature such as effects and new oscilators. By doing this you can get an entire new sound out of SynthEdit, expand and get new user areas out of it. One good example is Dave Haupt's sub component packs that opens up a new way to look at text. Want to display a line about a parameter what it does? Use the DH_Textformat to feed a parameter through and connect the out text to a DH_TextDisplay to show it. Then you can alter the colors by using DH_Colorpicker and setting the result display colors with it.
Can't find the component?
So you need "this" component but can't find it, and you have the experience to write it? Then do so with the SDK that is available. This module can then be shared so other can use it.
The documentation is well written and has some good examples included, but the documentation isn't all. There are a very good WIKI available as well as there is some good forums available. Noteworthy is that there is a synthedit IRC channel that you can use to get instant help.
Spread your work!
If you are using Synthedit then why not spread the work so other can see what you've achieved? You can do it with for instance SourceForge (www.sf.net) that can help you out.
So far SynthEdit sounds quite good huh? Is there any disadvantages that I should know about? Yeah there are some actualy: SynthEdit uses alot of CPU in some cases. This is because the VST code ain't that well optimized. SynthEdit creates a hickup in some cases when starting FL Studio, not much to notice tho even it might be irritating sometimes. Also SynthEdit takes some amount of time when generating the VST plugins. Not much but it can freeze up the computer slightly. The extended modules you are using are stored in a folder outside of your plugin, good to keep in mind to distrubute the same folder when distrubuting the VST plugin. SynthEdit under Win98 generates a DAT file that needs to be included as well with the plugin or it will not work at all.
Value for money.
If you are intrested in a cheap solution that can generate good VST plugins then SynthEdit is the thing to get. The quality from the plugins generated are quite worth the money, and if you are intrested in generating more advanced plugins then this is a good start before getting into deeper water. Offcourse you can't create assembler code or sourcecode here, but you are sure to be able to create some powerful stuff with this program. The expandability is small, but with more and more components comming to SynthEdit more and more complex plugins can be created.
If you are intrested in low level programming then this isn't anything for you, if you want that then download the VST SDK and use it. However if you are intrested in learning stuff the simple way and gaining some experience from it then there is no reason why you should let this masterpiece be left alone. Soundwise it is as good as anything. It has some very userfriendly features + the skinability / modular expandability brings it in a class of it's own.