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Rapture [read all reviews]
Reviewed By x_bruce [read all by] on 12th March 2007
Version reviewed: 1.x on Windows
7 of 8 people found this review helpful.
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User Interface:
Rene and company have done a good job at Cakewalk. Rapture's interface is quite functional although it may take some time getting used to it.
Having done so, you will be pleasantly surprised at the amount of data squashed into this multitimbral or single channel instrument; you decide as you work with it.

I was somewhat concerned when I saw the word wavetable synthesis as part of Rapture's features. The synthesis is wavetable based, but the wavetables are frequently single and relatively tiny.
The good news is the wavetables are well designed and enable a large number of sounds, mostly of the synthetic type, and frequently used as a performance based synth.
Many of the presets use two or more of the six channels available. They are similar to Korg's Combination patches and fairly similar to the Korg Radias' implementation of its various synth engine's techniques. The major difference being the Radias has 128 waveforms, one per sound, and a huge synth engine beyond, but both use extensive splits, layers, Mod Matrix expressions that some synths just don't feature.

Lastly, the synth engine, besides being compact but brutally capable, features many forward-looking ideas such as large, changeable controls of envelopes and functions such as pitch, filter cutoff and resonance ala Absynth.
Unlike the prior reviewer, I don't feel Absynth and Rapture are all that similar. Their approach is not at all similar. Also, comparing Rapture to M42 isn't exactly fair.
Keep in mind I'm a big fan of M42 and it's cousin M41, but they too work differently and can't get the same ammount of sounds per patch, nor can they work multitimbrally. They have two oscillators whilst Rapture has up to six, and they are heavily editable in comparison.
They are different synths and that is the only reason I point these things out.

Though it took me a couple of weeks to really get the idea behind Rapture I'd have to say it is a massive synth!
The presets sometimes didn't serve it well, nor did the somewhat skimpy manual - though it should be pointed out that while skimpy, the manual is exceptionally good and if read, will teach you the synth's 'way' of making sound.
When I say the sounds are sometimes a disservice, I don't mean the quality. In fact, there are some star sound designers and Cakewalk has released two new sets.
Also, you can import your own samples. They are meant to be small, but I experimented with wavetables as I know them and got PPG/Wavetable type sounds. That said, you can get those sounds once you understand the way Rapture works.

One of the most pleasant things about Rapture, and this is where the synth programs can confuse, is that it can make perfectly simple, deep synth sounds as well as sizzling leads and patches that range from tepid to non-stop undulating and changing.
And to me, that's the beauty of Rapture. As a lot of people go for the incredible and flashy things it can do, I like synths of this type to be able to do everything, particularly since they have the capability to.

The arpeggiator is excellent, consider using it over several channels. The LFOs have over 100 waveforms. There is an X/Y controller and waveshaper ala' Z3ta.
There isn't a sound you can't make in here, but that speaks for digalog sounds, not rompler stuff.

Great manual in many languages but short. Though short it is fact filled and that is better than most any hard or soft synths out there.

As mentioned, the sound developers and patch designers are like a who's who of great quality work. There's about 400 patches in a nicely designed database that helps you find what you are looking for.

Customer Support
Cakewalk and RGC audio have always offered great service to me. I'd expect nothing to have changed.
Value For Money
The first week I got it I questioned Rapture's value. There are a lot of killer synths at the $200 /$300 range. But once I learned to use it, the value is very, very reasonable.

I have yet to have a crash with Rapture and I'm using it on a Athlon XP2400 with 1 gig of ram. It does use considerable ram so don't bother if you don't have a gig minimum.

Slick design, smart interface with many options and excellent quality sound.
Pros: can take the place of a few synths
Cons: you probably have those synths
Realization: You may have a lot of the sounds Rapture can do all over your synth library, but there is a nice syncronicity to Rapture's sound.
It is in the Native Instruments, VirSyn range of sound quality and should be a serious contender as your next synth.
Colossus [read all reviews]
Reviewed By x_bruce [read all by] on 31st July 2005
Version reviewed: 1.x on Windows
5 of 6 people found this review helpful.
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First, let me state, I'm doing a full review that will be available at musicFAQ, http://www.musicfaq.net in conjunction with TraxMusic where I also review, http://www.traxmusic.org
Having gotten that out of the way, here's a little bit about Colossus you might want to know.

If you want a General Midi library that is the last word on real, this is it. At first I thought, "great, just what the world needs, another GM synth." But that opinion changed the second I heard what East West was trying to do, which is, create a complete selection of sounds that are way beyond what we've come to expect from other libraries. These sounds are an order of magnitude above anything I've heard in a good sample based synth and at times is shocking how detailed and damn musical it is.

There's 16 gigs of GM based sample data. Ok, pianos...There are two gigabytes of acoustic piano. I don't care how it's marketed, that's a lot of piano and I'm happy to say it's the finest sounding piano I've heard. No matter the controller used, the pianos played and sounded great with percussive high end notes and thundering lower notes.

I suppose part of Colossus is a GM synth as long as you take all you've thought of previous General Midi and had a new look with the blinders off.

This is the most incredible collection of meat and potato sounds you will likely hear. That's because everything is played in real instrument ranges using techniques from actual players, all instruments are in the correct key and in range, so you will be changing sequences more than you might think. Your arrangement may change a little, but if you want reality, you'll find it here. It's GM but at it's absolute truest presentation, and unlike anything you've come to expect of GM libraries.

The electric pianos are nothing short of spectacular. Wurlitzer, Fender Rhoads and a to die for Yamaha CP electronic grand piano.

Orchestral instruments are courtesy of EWQLSO. The massed and solo strings have a wonderful quality which is closer miked than the Silver or Gold libraries, but this is sensible within the sound of this set and can be easily manipulated in the Kompakt front-end.

Choral sounds are also familiar, from the "Voices of the Apocylypse" collection and Guitars from the fairly recent guitar library release.

Especially nice are the percussion and ethnic instruments. I play many of these instruments and it's good to hear their actual playing technique. Will it change your GM sequence, hell yeah! And you'll find yourself thinking of changing things because these instruments are in their natural keys and note ranges. It is a shocking to hear this 24 bit, no compromise library of music that isn't insultingly lacking in depth of performance. And best of all, there's not one bad sound to be found! Every patch has a natural quality and many articulations as well as those you decide to create with the Kompakt GUI.

A bit about Kompakt now. I've written about the Kompakt specialty interfaces for several synths at this point along with the Intakt interface.

Within Kompakt you get amplitude, filter, 2 LFO and modulation envelopes. It is possible to create thick, beautifully expressive timbres with minimal programming. Best of all, Kompakt is laid out like a synth and makes sense to anyone familiar with synths. It's easy to learn if not.

So, if you like your marimbas a bit hotter and with more emphasis on the initial impulse hit, no problem, there's a 4 band eq or filters available that can be assigned AHDSR envelopes. The extra hold function is especially useful on drums and percussive sounds. If you program, you'll want to give this interface a spin. It is simple, yet highly capable.

As Kompakt has a total of eight multitimbral channels and each channel can easily handle 32 notes polyphony, your arrangements can be huge. Your old general midi files will recieve recessitation through the first dead serious treatment of General Midi instruments. To get the most out of Colossus, you'll end up rearranging your GM files, but it is worth that extra time and effort.

There are many old school organs, from hammond to farfisa.
The acoustic and electric guitars range good to outstanding, and there are the truly ingenius programs such as the Stormdrones; multiple synths at the touch of a mod wheel, and incredibly creative in the programming department. There's even a 'Lost' Stormdrum library that is of exceptional quality.

That is the wonderful thing about Colossus. 32 gigs of sample data that, I dare say, has no filler material. While some of the set has been part of other libraries, a great deal hasn't and the mix isn't noticible in the least.

There are many categories of sounds, some with duplications, but in a senible way. Why trudge through GM setups to find traditional pads as the library has many extra timbres to their catagory, and it's consistant in Colossus.

Colossus isn't inexpensive, but if you want the absolute best at what it does, here it is.
SampleTank [read all reviews]
Reviewed By x_bruce [read all by] on 31st July 2005
Version reviewed: 2.x on Windows
6 of 9 people found this review helpful.
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I am amazed there are so few reviews for what is the best example of a company paying attention to their users.

IK Multimedia had a good product with SampleTank XL and XXL 1.0. The samples were of excellent quality and blended in well with other developers who worked within the SampleTank engine.

It did have two downfalls. First, the interface which for some, myself included was impossible to view and second, although the sample data was downright beautiful to useful at worst, ST1 wasn't very programmable.

Well, things have changed, and the changes have been nothing short of fantastic; WAV, AIFF, SDII, AKAI S-1000/3000 and SAMPLECELL are all supported. Name a feature, like the multiple filters, incredible effects, envelopes or all major functions, great filters, and you decide how to use them, although I suspect, many users will be pleased with the sample/patch set right out of the box.

I wanted a synthesis section worthy of the massive number of additional libraries and got my wish. Look at the features and seriously consider what can be done in ST2. How much more do you need? If it's complete control get a modular.

As I view it, SampleTank 2 is a niche product, a rather large niche product, but one, none the less. But as we'll see in this review, there is use for ST2 on virtually any synthesist's setup.

The way you look at ST2 will depend on how you work. Are you a tweaky type? Do you need to design, mangle, get the perfect quality to the sound you are working with and it's just not quite where you want it?

If so, SampleTank 2 has gone to exceptional lengths to help you out. No longer is ST2 a sample playback engine with a few user controls and excellent effects section, which in itself was capable of major changes for any given sound. But all that has changed with ST2.

Besides being a world class instrument, the sample import features are a major boon. SampleTank 2 is the real thing now. It's a sampler with a impressive 8 gig library of smartly thought out samples that are easily categorized with it's database functions. Beyond that, the sample quality is excellent which would be a necessity for a sample playback device, but have a look at the new, wonderfully customizable interface. Can't stand that red motif? Change it to anything you like and take in the clean lines and smashing synthesizer that SampleTank 2 has become.

Yes, it is a sample playback, subtractive synthesizer, but compare it to hardware of the same quality. Actually, strike that; compare ST2 to hardware with similar features. Hmm, scratch that too, there aren't any 8 gig sample synths that offer hundreds of exemplary multi-sampled sounds. Actually, make that closer to 128 mb or so, maybe expandable to 512 mb, assuming you'd even want the expansion libraries that'd cost you about $200 a shot for something between 16 to 64 mb of data and a few patches.

In a comparason like this, well, there isn't a fair one. SampleTank 2 and it's huge library of additional sounds, for example, the mellotron set which, while far from the G-Media virtual mellotron, M-Tron and it's 2 gig library at around $150, or slightly more than the AMG library for ST2, is still miles ahead of traditional libraries although the samples have been cleaned up and looped unlike M-Tron, which keeps to the mellotron tradition, but you get the point.

SampleTank 2 is loaded with wonderfully useful samples of "so-called" real instruments along with wonderful synth and effects sounds. And if 8 gigs of a well balanced, all you could want library doesn't do it for you, and considering that ST2 is now a serious synth with all the power of many other synthesizers and front ends for other libraries, it's hard to figure out why anyone would not like what ST2 has to offer, nor it's efficient 8 gig library. Efficient? An 8 gig library called efficient is like calling Jabba the Hut slim. These sounds which occupy a good deal of space are large, there is no doubt, but they are also filled with expression and to my delight, in areas that might have gotten in the way with other excellent libraries such as Sonik Synth 2 which share some similar "real" sounds, they are like variations on a theme, like comparing a Steinway to a Bosendorfer. Yeah, they're both pianos, but that's as appropriate as saying a Porche and PT Cruiser are automobiles. They are, and while the price/quality function isn't germain here, the idea of any two visions of sample/patch developers ideas of a great piano patch being identical are silly.

I'm a guitarist by trade. If you tell me a Gibson Les Paul is same sounding to a Fender Telecaster, I'll say check your hearing, 'cause the only things in common are they use pickups and are called guitars. Beyond that the sound, and SampleTank 2 has it's own sound as does any fine quality sample library, is one you will find useful again and again. Speaking of again, ST2 is a great companion to Sonik Synth 2, also in ST2 format, plus it's own wonderful GUI.

A must buy!
Sytrus [read all reviews]
Reviewed By x_bruce [read all by] on 20th December 2004
Version reviewed: 1.2 on Windows.
Last edited by x_bruce on 21st December 2004.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful.
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Sytrus is Fruityloops most complex and best quality synth to date. Combining equal parts Native Instruments FM-7 and Big Tick Rhino 2 for inspiration it finds an equal balance between the two and brings a very strong analog sound, particularly in it's basic programming mode.

* excellent sound and equally excellent synth programming that shows off the capabilities of Sytrus
* well designed interface that makes programming FM easier than the prior champ, FM-7
* DX-7 sysex import that is very faithful
* easy interface that is sufficient for many users to program without getting involved in FM synthesis programming.

* non-resizeable interface which is on the small side on screen resolutions 1024x768 or higher.
* too many knobs on the easy interface makes programming a bit difficult at times
* try as I have, and by looking at my ratings I think highly of Sytrus, but feel it is a bit too inspired by Rhino 2's feature set

The last I'll mention is *I* feel Sytrus is so fundementally good it didn't need to seemingly "borrow" so much for Rhino 2. I felt this way when I first tried it and still do having learned the Sytrus way. It is obvious the programming is exemplary and makes me wonder what we could have looked forward to without this influence.

Now, for the great news; Sytrus sounds fantastic and if you at all were waiting to purchase Fruityloops XXL this is reason enough. Sytrus has an amazing capability of sounding nothing like what you'd expect of a FM synth. All of it's digital nature can be tweaked out of it making for a great sounding analog in digital clothing. And yet Sytrus is currently the best implementation of FM synthesis. Imported DX-7 sounds are excellent in translation which means you have thousands of patches ready to get for free and able to be supercharged by Sytrus' enhanced sound engine.

My favorite use for Sytrus is to use some tired old FM sounds, I'm not enamored of the DX-7 sound until you can do more modern signal processing, and Sytrus has the goods. There are multiple onboard effects including distortion, delay and modulation effects. Beyond this there are some wickedly good filters that are quite suitable towards the digital nature of sound that FM exudes.

Besides giving FM a pair of balls, there is a lush sound due to the flexible delays and simple programming of FM that makes it so much easier to get sounds that FM was always known for as well as those it wasn't, like sweeped filters, airy blown sounds or flat out analog-styled saws.

You can go from etherial and delicate to harsh and squelchy via FM synthesis, effects or filters. There are many ways of getting to what you want in Sytrus, a feature I expect of any synth that I take seriously. And at it's $179 asking price you better be in a serious mood as this is a lot of scratch for a synth; putting it into z3ta, Rob Papen's Albino (1400 patches and some 3rd party extras to make you wonder what synth was being used); you get the idea. That's why it's a no-brainer to consider Fruityloops Studio XXL. It's the most effective means of purchasing and has come a long way. Now at 5.0 and sporting all kinds of new, included synths, not to mention a studio to work Sytrus through, you have a pretty damn good setup.

I can't help think this was part of Sytrus' pricing. Spend a bit more and you have a lot of kit besides Sytrus to work with. And since FL is both host and client ReWire as well as a VST host and synth, you can use Sytrus anywhere you might not have considered as well as Fruity and whatever features excite you, or perhaps Fruity will become your favorite host.

So is Sytrus a pawn in the Image Line desire to take over your musical chores? In some sense yes, and if you like cutting your nose to spite your face just by Sytrus. Otherwise spend a bit more and get lots of fun things to work with. The bottom line is Sytrus is a serious synth that can justify it's cost. It is $179 good and for FM programming you will get no better unless you prefer FM-7's interface. If you do you'll get less synth for your dollar but an amazingly small CPU footprint compared to Sytrus which is good in its own right.

The X/Y controller is helpful in getting sounds moving and waveshaping is excellent at creating warmer sounds than traditional FM. Waveshaping can also be used to go beyond anything you've thought you heard in digital for you FX and noise freaks.

My prior exception noted and suggestion you try the other synths, FM-7 and Rhino 2 which Sytrus owe lineage to you'll find one of those three to be what you're looking for.

A good synth that misses greatness - barely. I need glasses to work with Sytrus and that's enough to slow me down when working. Workflow is good on Sytrus beyond that and could easily be your main synth.

I use Sytrus for evolving pads, soundscapes and leads mostly. It has a great bass sound and does excellent percussion sounds; it is a FM synth after all!
Slayer [read all reviews]
Reviewed By x_bruce [read all by] on 9th December 2004
Version reviewed: 2.x on Windows
7 of 9 people found this review helpful.
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Let's keep this simple; if you like heavy electric guitars, crushing riffs, big powerchords and wailing leads you need reFX Slayer 2.

What is it?
Slayer is a guitar, amplifier, cabinet and stomp box effects module in one. Lets go with what it can't do as that is much easier to cover.

Slayer is not the last word on clean electric or acoustic model guitars. It is however, very convincing as a electric guitar, from crunchy riffs to massive chords and lead lines that can utilize a lower octave effect, a fuzz box going into a fully distored amp and still have room for tonal manipulation.

Guitar models have a sliding pickup for either single or humbucking pickups and a plethora of tones thanks to placement of effects pre or post amp, or both. It is possible to get clean tones and even aggressive acoustic sounds. It has to do with where your distortion is and what you do with the various combinations.

Pros: many sounds real guitars make, lots of choices in how to create sounds, from infinately sustaining acoustic to mutes that Rock Godz play a mile a minute.

Cons: no matter how good the sound you have to learn to play and think like a guitarist/bassist

I was set to dislike Slayer. Just the name brought me back to big hair and spandex. Sure, there's lots of closet metal fetishists who play keys and wanted to have the fun their guitarists had and those people will love Slayer. However, if you walk into it with the ability to be fair if you are like me, you will be dumbfounded at how good a guitar synth can sound.

Let's discuss what's under the hood, so to speak.

Let's start with the guitar body first. You'll notice a pick across the strings. Move the pick to the neck and bridge positions and listen to the changes. They range from massive to subtle.

There are controls like slap and dynamics along with delay and release you'd never find on a real guitar, but these are crucial to creating the guitar model's nuisance. There are controls for type of material and size of the guitar's body. These alone give great flexibility but there are even bigger ways of making the right sound. The menu with strumming and arpeggiating styles has a lot to do with the final sound as does the guitar hue slide.

You'll also notice many styles of picking and coils. A rule of thumb; no coils means acoustic or clean sound, one coil means a more single pickup or single coil sound and two pickups means fat guitars ready for getting loud with. Still, if you look back at the picking styles you'll notice some are designed for bass and like guitar, while a bit unweildy you can get some terrific bass sounds out of Slayer.

Then there is the amp; there is a collection of amp types and speaker cabinets. When mixing and matching pay lots of attention to the feedback and distortion controls. They can create some very exotic sounding instruments but they are heavily connected to each model and a feeding back acoustic with a bit of fuzz just sounds odd, probably cool, but not always what you want. The modes are self evident, pay attention to the bass, mid and treble controls as they too can easily change the amp from mild to wild.

Last and far from least, there are sixteen effects, all looking like and for the most part acting like a stomp box pedal. The rotary and chorus pedals are lovely as are the delay and harmonizer.

Many of the presets were same sounding, going for that metal sound that is bigger than life and twice as loud. They guitar sound was still good but generic, and like a good player if you understand which pedals go in the right order and pre versus post amp you wil need time to learn.

I'm a guitarist and play frequently. I play synths out necessity. When I learned keyboard there were no midi guitars. They were 10 years away. I'm very impressed as a guitarist and wouldn't mind the rig that the Slayer 2 guitar has.

Your best bet towards true character from guitar is learning it while paying attention to how a guitar is mixed, the kind of solo equipment and the note selection. If you can come close to this you'll find Slayer 2 invaluable unless you use real guitarists or loops (hiss, boo!)

Well worth the ~$90 price tag. Not only is it accurate within it's musical styles, it is capable of more styles than people may be aware. From a personal level, guitar is an important instrument, one that is usually terribly sampled or so pristine you wonder if the player or sample developer had a clue as to how difficult they were making it for skilled players to actually sound remotely close to real guitar. Every brass player I know feels similarly about their instrument.

I like reFX's virtual guitar because it sounds like real guitars within the style it is modeled after as well as the crazy weird sounds that even guitarists would be thrilled to be able to make. I wish there was a reFX guitar effects processer. It would be on my wish list in fact.

If you like the kind of sound Slayer, still don't like the name, is a gem.
Zero Vector [read all reviews]
Reviewed By x_bruce [read all by] on 9th December 2004
Version reviewed: 1.x on Windows.
Last edited by x_bruce on 13th December 2004.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful.
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WhiteNoise Audio has complteted a hatrick by unleashing ZeroVector, their third high quality synth since they started.

Great sound quality, wonderful filters and a good deal of twittering, chirping, massive sweeps, evolution of sound and of course, great traditional sounds like basses and leads. Even traditional patches have a sound that slices through a mix. ZeroVector has that intangible quality that is appealing. It's interface is a thing of workflow bliss.

If you think a analog wavestation that isn't tied completely to vector synthesis would be a good instrument to have, ZeroVector is it.

Pros: x/y pad assigned by mod matrix, vector pad with recording and variable speed playback of movements, modulation matrix, clean design, a unique sound that manages to feel familiar.

Cons: perhaps cost, but you pay for quality which is something that should be abudnantly clear to those who shop for new commercial and shareware synths.

The balance of this review discusses the GUI, controls and to a degree how to program ZeroVector.

ZeroVector is a killer synth. You won't be starving for sound in this exceptionaly well designed synth. Each of the three oscillators has a total of 35 waveforms to chose from including none (or off). Oscillator one has semitone, detune, clone and volume controls. This is the "small" oscillator set. The 2nd one has an invert, sync and key off button with additional frequency modulation controls and oscillator three has invert, ringmod, sync and key off.

Of interest is the vector section, a triangle facing towards the right side of the compact interface. There are controls for recording and rate. When recording you can do so freehand in which case every movement and nuiance is captured. You can also draw straight lines but after a bit of practice you'll get to love the freehand mode. Once you finish recording you have developed a relationship with whatever has been assigned to the vector controller. At it's minimal the oscillators are noted at each junction. The speed of the traveling controller is modified by the control with the same name.

There are also envelopes for amplitude and filter. The envelopes are five part ADSRV types. In terms of filters there are two located on the interface's top right with several filter types including three formant styles. Cutoff and Resonance are available as well as Envelope, Key Scale and Drive. Filter two has Cutoff and Filter with an A:B switch that allows either or both oscillators to work as well as a link button. You design the two filters and based on their arrangement use the Mix button to fine tune.

There are also global conrols such as skin change, global volume, bend, pan, amount of polyphony and choice of polyphonic or three different mono modes; fingered, retriggered and plain old normal mono.

The Arpeggiator mode has the standard up, down, random, etc. controls but is spiced up with 16 patterns and up to 4 octaves. There are length and swing controls as well.

What we've got here is a fairly powerful synth that has a cool feature in it's vector pad. However, this is the first of two pages. The fun stuff starts on page two.

There is an eight part modular matrix that features sixteen modulation destinations including page 2's X/Y pad, a stock feature so far on WhiteNoise synths, and a welcomed one. There's also destinations for the multi-envelopes, pad and volume along with controllers that can be assigned to the vector pad. Now things are getting interesting, and indeed there's the 14 routings in the modulation matrix including filters, amp envelopes, filters and so on. Wisely the envelope 1 set is next to the mod matrix. It too is ADSRV.

There are two free envelopes that are graphical and multi-point, or in their case, multi-bar. It is possible to save presets besides the ones supplied and create complex types of envelopes that can be applied as desired in the mod matrix. Another great feature is the scalability of each envelope. The solid bar below the envelope can be set to any combination from a small segment to the complete envelope, besides that, each envelope has a horizontal length slider. This changes how long the envelope takes to complete one cycle. There are also buttons that set how the envelope will behave! It is so deceptively simple that newbies will approach this synth and simply try things out. And what a surprise they are in for! Little things can cause major changes. There's also a series of effects either on or off based on buttons. They include a brilliant distortion, chorus, phaser, delay (with sync), reverb and EQ. Several of these effects can be controlled through the mod matrix making for subtle complexity. Finally, there's the x/y control which sends midi.

In all, Zero Vector is a major synth with tons of capabiliies and tons of personality.

Strongly recommended
Vanguard [read all reviews]
Reviewed By x_bruce [read all by] on 8th December 2004
Version reviewed: 1.03 on Windows
3 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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With a simple synth interface, familiar to anyone who's programmed a synthesizer and not terribly hard to figure out for those new to synthesis, Vanguard is an excellent synth for virtual analog sounds that remain being popular.

If assigned a score for smooth and suave vs. hard and nasty Vanguard leans a bit towards the hard sound, say a 6 or 7 with 10 being a 303 in full squelch mode. The instrument has the character of an 80s synth with 70s mono-synth sensibility. The sounds are fat and big. In a war with Pentagon which is my standard bearer for high output, big sounding synths it was a tie with Vanguard.

Quite a bit of preset and the synth engine is spent on arpeggiation and the now famous "trancegate". There is a bit of remembering to consider here. It may seem petty but Vanguard was the first synth to seriously entrench the easy to program step sequencer that became known for it's name "trancegate". Also of historical importance is a unfair backlash on the synth for jumping from a pleasant Alpha Juno clone to a further extended synth. The jump into a "large" synth puts Vanguard into a new class of synths.

No longer a somewhat simple mid-priced synth it was playing with the then new z3ta, Albino and Rhino synths. And to be blunt, it does not beat any of these semi-modular synths in terms of flexibility, but it comes close to competing at a considerably smaller price and with a much simpler interface. In fact, it's the easiest of the "big" sounding synths and also the least expensive.

Money matters as you can only expect so much at certain prices and to ReFX's credit, the price was closer to a more limited synth which has shown over time to be a smart move.

There are three oscillators with 31 wave choices, octave, semitone and minor detuning all routed to a "fat" control. :) There are 11 filter types from LP to Formant which give a good deal of diversity to them. Vanguard enables velocity and keyboard tracking which makes for some beautifully complex leads and pads. There are also two highly controlable analog style envelopes, LFO with retrigger for each oscillator along with filter and PWM fixed controls. The amplitude section works similarly.

There is the combination of arpeggiation and trancegate, something that's quite enjoyable considering you can set up the synth to modulate several different possibilities rather than what may seem the fixed resonance that so many Trance tracks have made this chopped up, highly note gate controlled sound. Going past it's Trance roots this is a very useful and easy to work with 16 step stepsequencer. Also, each assigned part can be chopped at different timing values for great sounding analog sounding evolving timbres, great for almost any sound you decide to use, and although Vanguard is a big sounding synth it isn't as complicated nor expansive as rgc:audio's Pentagon.

The question to ask is, is this necessary for you? If so, you'll probably be happier with Pentagon and that's about that. But Vanguard has it's own character and it's a bit more fatter and harder than the other large scale VA VST instruments.

Basically, Vanguard ends up being a very good sounding, very fat and typically pleasing sounding synth. Take away the trancegate and remove that whole element and you have a modestly powered big sounding synth that makes sense at it's price point, about $100 USD. If you want the gated sequencer you'll want Vanguard over some of it's similarly priced competitors and the unchanged in 4 years Pentagon which is the synth that shares the most sound qualities with.

If you want harder you've got your decision again, Vanguard. Similarly, if you want that smooth sound like a LinPlug you're going to pay for that, about $100 extra.

Presets are techno based but that can easily be changed. If you're learning this is a good synth to learn on. What it comes down to is ReFX's very good customer service vs less expensive synths with unproven track histories. In terms of patch banks you'll need to select if you aren't using Vanguard for techno. Still, it is an elegant design that makes learning easy and most likely fun. Like all great synths there are all kinds of patches available for free and purchase. This is a important feature for seats at a studio or a producer's DAW.

Try the demo if you like VAs, it's not whether you'll like it, whether it fits your needs or not. Pay attention to what works well with your setup and decide that way.

Vanguard is certainly worth the money but is in a price range that is highly competitive and viewed as a serious purchase. Only you can decide what is best for you.
BeatBurner [read all reviews]
Reviewed By x_bruce [read all by] on 8th December 2004
Version reviewed: 1.x on Windows
3 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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This is one incredible idea that is credibly built and features a great, easy to work with interface. This is the kind of ensemble you'd want Reaktor to do but it doesn't have the filters for them nor the excellent user interface.

In terms of sounds, there's not much you can't do with BeatBurner other than going for ambient soundscapes. You can get execptional ambient sounds, but not the kind used as most musicians use it. Still, if you want throbbing bases, massive drum parts, a predictable, self-controlled bass and drum setup or threatening to eerie ambiences.

It all depends on what you use as a sample to get things started. Based on the 300+ mb sample library of drums and bass patterns you'll get some of the nicest changes of pace in what drums sound like or what bass to lead tracks can work. It's a wonderful sound that trancends styles. Ask yourself if you like synths that evolve or do unique things that are different but still useful? If so, you need to consider BeatBurner as part of your music arsenal.

It has crashed a couple times out of 100 but in general is well behaved. The presets are good ideas of what can be done with BeatBurner, a Code Audio product distributed by G-Media. If you like experimenting in any way this is your beat oriented synth....and you don't have to use only use drum samples. Anything with a well defined pulse will do. The results are up to you although Greg from Code Audio suggested working with the balance of the sample vs the synthesized sound. It's great advice as some sounds will sound unexciting until you do some tweaking of the two, and that goes for each part of the synth. The synthesis engine is unique and will be somewhat detailed in discussion.

BeatBurner is essentially a sample playback synth that is optimized for drum loops. You load a sample which shows up in a lane. It runs and you can see the transients available to you. The track itself is set up so you can apply as much or none of the original signal to the synth sample which too can be as quiet or loud as you please.

The synthesis part of BeatBurner is simple but sophisticated. Below the sample display are pitch (broken into many tiny individual segments, similar more to something that can be easily worked from on the pitch to several octaves in either direction off and for short to as long as the sample sequence goes. Below is a multipart envelope that controls the filter and LFO. Visual tools like these make the number of controls more worthwhile of exploring than some programing phobic souls will learn to put up with.

The pitch controller graphical window allows you to create pitch slides, create modulations like moving the pitch wheel on a controller might if you were good at carefully moving it up and down.

There are two pre-filters, meaning the filters are first in the chain rather than down the signal flow which is typically where it would be found. The synth engine is actually a five band waveshaper, similar to a EQ but controlling the signal rather than effecting it. There are also a more traditional 4 control synth engine that controls decay, detune, glide and mix. Fully counter clockwise there's no sound, the further clockwise the more effect on the signal chain. There is also a simple but great sounding delay effect and flanger.

Each pre-filter is available with a linear control for either or degrees of both available. This is similar to many synths that use oscillator faders if that helps you get a handle on things.

Below that and paired to the multi-stage envelope are additional(!) multi-envelope filters. If you are familiar with filters you get an idea how sounds can quickly be changed into something very unique by working with them. If you don't it will take you less than a few minutes to figure out how to use them. Beyond this is a distortion algorithm that is quite good, from subtle to woofer shaking into a multiple envelope LFO that is simply deadly for basses and transmuting drums into secondary, drone like sounds or at other times like having a sub-oscillator. And at the end of the chain, in case we haven't had enough fun with filters there is a post-filter.

This is a simple design, in some ways a precursor to monolithic synths like Symptohm:Melohman and being part of the G-Media family it's not all that surprising the whole system sounds like a fantastic drum mega-filter VST. Yet it is the ability to go the extra few small steps that makes BeatBurner so interesting. It has a lot of use as a drum synth or a rhythmic synth, even a synth line generator.

Pros: read the beginning of this review if you need more pros.
Cons: you need to save your stuff as it sometimes can crash. This may vary with computers.
Verdict: if you make beats and want rhythmic things to work with, this is itn and at an attractive price. Don't think tweaking works? Try hitting the randomize button, not only do you get changes but they're almost always good sounding and on of the best things found in 04!
Wusik EVE - Electronic Vintage Ensemble [read all reviews]
Reviewed By x_bruce [read all by] on 6th December 2004
Version reviewed: 1.4a on Windows
3 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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Nusofting/Dash have created a wonderfully simple yet powerful sample playback synth that acts more like an analog synth in EVE. EVE is short for Electronic Vintage Ensemble. It is priced at $90 which is quite attractive considering it's capabilities and additional libraries, one of which we will discuss in this review. That library is an additional cost but in my case one of my favorite reasons for using EVE.

The included samples are exceptional sounding, my favorite being the Yamaha CP-70 electric grand piano. It is a favorite not only because of the sample quality, which is excellent, but because of the the synth design itself. With all the EQ, filter, LFO and modulation capabilities it's easy to tweak a preset to work with a mix or get serious with EVE and program something vastly different within seconds. This means that after following the synth engine, which is a bit different in design than some synths you may have worked with but quite powerful. It is also a quick read of the excellent manual.

Secondly, I was able to get the incredible HQS1 FS1R sample module which is in essence a greatest hits multisample package of the famed Yamaha FS1R. Briefly, the FS1R introduced a new way of looking at FM synthesis. It was as capable as reveered synths like the Kawai K5000 etc. The HQS1 and EVE bring back a synthesizer I miss even to this day.

Looking at the synth interface, mixing and controlling samples are the abilities of turning on or off, free, sync and invert to the LFO section. whatever controls are used. This makes for a very small CPU footprint and runs well on less powerful computers.

EVE uses up to three samples per patch. And so we are clear, a sample can be anything from a loop to a highly functional multisample. Per oscillator you have all the typical synth capabilities with a few interesting choices for how the interface is designed. Besides an envelope section there are also 3 band EQs with on/off buttons which can be instrumental in developing well designed patches. Besides this is a individual mod-matrix using send/returns to the LFO similar to a mixing console. This may be confusing to some but the manual will explain what you need to know.

Furtheremore, the large readout offers information as to what section of the interface you are at. The way the synth works it doesn't seem to have a modulation matrix. I suspect some people are so turned off or afraid of messing with the mod matrix that they never bother. In EVE it is like fooling a person into manipulation of the sound engine with it's very different modulation matrix explained above. But there are more excellent touches such as drawn or knob controlled sample start and end points. This makes it easy to create traditional layers, or more complex configurations as you'd expect from a digital synth, set up to behave like a analog synth. It's somewhat hard to explain without pictures but have a look at the one at the top of this page, you'll see what I'm talkingabout quickly. I know I appreciate how quick this interface is. When I am working and have the basic sound I'll end up with, I just want to work, not spend time trying to zip around multiple menus or screens. There is only a single screen on the synt which is wonderful but there are a number of helpful right clicked menus.

There are modulation type effects including chorus, flange, phazer and rotary. The detail is admiriable and similar to most studio quality setups. The other effect is echo although it can produce anything for modest reverbs to long delays which are perfect for pianos, that CS-80P or the Rhodes and other EPs. There are several traditional synths and a lot of useful multisampled waveforms that allow the user to create excellent pads, leads and meat and potato sounds like organs and pianos.

Now a bit about the HQS1 FS1R module. While a bit short on voice (something that was incredible about the FS1R) the samples are well designed and near perfect replicas of the FS1R which was doomed from it's 1 unit rack and massive 8 operator, and format filter. The synth was a DX7 cubed and with lots of great features, most covered in this wonderful sample set. I use EVE frequently, besides the HQS1 library there are half a dozen others available by 3rd parties and Nusofting/Dash. Because of the types of useful samples and strong synthesis capabilities EVE is the kind of synth that becomes the artist's secret weapon. In some ways it doesn't get the respect it deserves as EVE is capable of stunning sounds.

I would recommend EVE and a few soundsets to any electronic, rock, blues or pop producer or end user. It has a beefy low end without being tubby and loose with a nicely balanced overall sound that will almost certainly cut through a mix effortlessly and with minimum post production issues. Not only that, but EVE is unique in similar ways to some of the EMU hardware synths. EMU had a great engine and some kick ass sample libraries. EVE is similar at a fifth the price!
Kubik [read all reviews]
Reviewed By x_bruce [read all by] on 6th December 2004
Version reviewed: 1.x on Windows
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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Kubik is the cumulative work by ConcreteFX. It incorporates a new level of sophistication and unique features seldom found anywhere but CoFX products. I was a part-time beta tester and perpetual nag, trying to get my ideas heard. Were they? No, they were developing before I could say to Jon, "hey can we have an individual dialog box for each of the 64 note waveshapers, and so on.

The interface is a lovely, easy on the eyes flat design. It screams functionality and lives up to it's promise. Each oscillator is exceptionally modeled with filters that are warm to pliantly thin. Kubik is about sound possibilities and uses several approaches to it, in particular wavetables, many of them, all as simple as you want it to be and capable of massive complexity that I wouldn't be happy with in a ConcreteFX design.

Patch designers will love the wavetable designer which works like a microWave on steroids yet can make the funky, weird little sounds PPG Wave users have grown fond of. More importantly, Kubik takes on the wavetable design, makes it dead simple (providing you read the included manual) along with a slew of analog beauty in the filter department straight through to near FM by way of implited FM sound matched to a beautiful timbre reminicient of Big Tick Rhino 2 and even parts of VirSyn TERA 2. These are not idle comparisons, for as good as the wavetable theme is addressed, and it beats Waldorf's PPG Wave 2.v VSTi which was quirky and a tad confusing compared to Kubik's clean lines and direct programming capabilities, Kubik ups the ante and throws a "diga-log" style synth at you as well.

Hybrid synths are more the norm than specialty item they were in 2003. Users are expecting more and they are getting a full compliment in this exemplary synth. For those who ever wondered if the Waldorf sound could be improved upon and driven in different directions that have a truly unique synergy, the answer is yes.

Kubik can sound like the virtual (no pun intended) Chaeleon. Big thick leads, pads and basses are available. Even bigger, expansive pads and evocative synth sounds are shown in full ardor. Kubik is one bad ass synth that does a lot of things well with less firepower than some may expect.

While the effects are excellent and of course have gating capabilities that will make a trance head get moist, the thing that keeps impressing is how broad the range and how high the quality Kubik exudes. In a recent discussion I asked Jon at ConcreteFX if he felt Kubik was his masterwork. It is obvious Jon has confidence in his work, and of the existing developers, none have been as neglected as ConcreteFX; most likely because, like Kubik, selling at $90. The line is kept ascessible in price with wonderful package deals and frequent updates.

While Jon may be too polite I'm not; Kubik is one of the best synths of 2004 and on a budget that Mother Theresa could have found the cash for.

Customer support is excellent with potential bugs taken serious as a heart attack. ConcreteFX has run the gammut of virtual synths but in Kubik have found ways to uncrown several FM synths (used with external effects!!), the venerable PPG Wave 2.v and other wavetable synths.

There are many available single cycle waves to work with. Just like a real PPG you add the waves to create a wavetable. In terms of control you have 64 waves per table and those left blank are interpolated, meaning in essence morphed, for that classic sound we've grown to love (and in some sad souls, hate) but even in the wavetable itself there is enough control between the modulation and LFO routings and envelopes to take the typical moving sound and make it more undulating and liquid. It's a neat trick and when employed with the modulation matrix can do some remarkable sounds that are refreshingly unique.

Though often thought of as a "role player" synth, there is plenty of sonic firepower for the average user to experienced developer.

There are many hundreds of presets available in Kubik's library. More will show up as I think this will become an important synthesizer, not just for 2004, but in years to come.

The craft and complexity of Kubik are trademarked ConcreteFX staples, but on Kubik there are many areas that are simpler to use than previous "concept synths" such as Adder, Ensembler, Etherial and Digital. For the first time ConcreteFX extend the audience by creating an exceptionally full and rich synth that can be learned as one goes along and has the presets to make all audiences happy.

At $90 it is a steal. Support shareware developers, they like to eat. Download and hear for yourself how wonderful the overall sound is.

Kubik is my pick of the year. It is amazingly deep while remaining fundementally easy to learn and outright fun. It's only down-side is how easy it is to get lost in the many traditional and expressive sounds capable...and at such a reasonable price!