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Helix [read all reviews]
Reviewed By MaliceX [read all by] on 4th November 2008
Version reviewed: 1.00 on Windows
9.00
7 of 10 people found this review helpful.
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As a user that has used Helix since the early days, to its closed beta stage, I'll have to say up till its official release, this one-of-a-kind synth has most certainly grown to a mature state, and is most certainly worth using in any serious music production. The author, Jonas, really created a breakthrough in virtual synthesis. His commitment to completion and the amount of positive feedback during its beta days, it wouldn't have been possible without amount of user input during development.

Given the design of Helix, it used to have a pretty ugly GUI but thanks to the excellent hand of northernBeat, we've got a slick, easy to read interface that's well-thought out without confusing the synth enthusiast. As it is, Helix is a 4-OSC wavetable morphing/analog/string model/FM/PM synthesizer with an equally deep modulation architecture behind it. The most central feature would be its ability to create sounds with extreme modulation in a programmed sound, and not beat your processor in the groin in return. I've always been a fan of flexibility and using everything as much as possible, and I believe Helix has delivered that for me with its massive modulation matrix, 8 Envelope generaators, 3 polyphonic and 2 global LFO's, 2 sequencers, not to mention the large amount of different filter effects AND distortion types given, global FX, and the ability to route each OSC to a different stage in the signal flow. (Few hybrid synths I've seen so far have this ability.) The most spoken feature would be the waveshaping and its CPU-friendly unison feature. (4x16 voices of adjustable fatness.)

The sound quality on Helix is crispy clean. In fact, when I started making sounds with this thing, I thought "hey, why not try recreate some sounds?" Somehow, with a bit of work you could get Helix to replicate almost any existing synth sound you could hear, from the old Roland Juno, to even the Yamaha DX line of synth sounds. The added string model component is merely the tip of the icing, and even comes with its own filter variant. I haven't heard of a time where Helix just doesn't sound excellent, given Helix is put in the right hands of a good sound designer.

Stability so far has been excellent. It hasn't crashed on me, aside from beta testing the arpeggio script features. I'm a bit underwhelmed the arpeggio system is still limited to assembly-level programming, though I'm confident the author will address this in future versions. Having Helix run on my 6-year old desktop PC is such a joy, I could make any sound of any level of complexity and timbre, and not fear of my PC to hang from excessive processing overload. (ie: A lot of synths with comparably smaller feature-sets I have to be careful.) I could get a sufficient amount of voices out of Helix (theoretically 64 voices x 4 notes) on a 1.7GHz machine; that's 256 total voices on an old machine. :P
Polyphony is not a problem in this case as well, as Helix has a very intelligent method of killing old voices that aren't being used, without sounding like it's struggling with keeping notes.

As a co-writer of the manual, I hope it's good enough content-wise. To me, it should be enough for the user to identify the features and give a brief clue on how to use each feature in Helix. (Any improvements other than formatting, feedback this direction!)

The developer is a great guy to communicate with, whenever there's an issue with Helix, and will happily help out anyone in need of assistance. Top-notch customer service.

Finally, the supplied factory presets. Coming with roughly 1000+ presets (1,173 at this time of writing), you're given high quality professional sounds from BigTone Studio, Alonso Sound, as well as a number of user submissions from great sound designers from many talented users of Helix. Brilliant pads, screaming leads, tearing basses, outworldly (if not outright strange) effects, to more familiar sounds heard in 80's hits as well as a handful of one-note song sequences, it should be clear that there's so much ground to cover in the sonic palette of Helix. Best of all, none of these have aliasing on the high register! (Unless it's deliberate, of course.)

There's so many sounds you could make with Helix, it's easily one of the best of its kind out there in the market. It's a competitive market out there, but I believe Helix is capable to stand among the crowd of NI synths, or the legendary status of synths like z3ta+ or possibly any hardware synth in existence. It's excellent for all types of music incorporating synths, I can't really think of anything else that can deliver the well-thought out design of Helix, and perhaps yet we'll be hearing more of it very soon in big name studio setups.

I wish Jonas the best of luck with the marketing of Helix. It deserves the exposure given the amount of work put into it. US$149 is most certainly worth the money for a product of high-quality.
Oatmeal [read all reviews]
Reviewed By MaliceX [read all by] on 18th March 2008
Version reviewed: 38-1 on Windows
8.00
11 of 11 people found this review helpful.
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Oatmeal is by far one of the most versatile 2+1-OSC synthesizers out there in the FREEWARE market. (And it recently had an addition of unison!)

Tone-wise, it's quite simple to create simple sounds such as sinus basslines, but once you begin to investigate its options, it's a fully fledged VA under the hood. Various filters to choose from, a semi-modular distortion effect unit, onboard EQ, Reverb, Delay, Chorus, as well as an extremely flexible arpeggiator system.

One of the special nuances of Oatmeal is its wavedrawing mechanism. Now while one can draw whatever the hell they want in this screen for either OSC or LFO, right-clicking will reveal there's even morphing options of sorts for it, which expands the possibilities even more! Then there's the two other oscillator modes, hardsync and FM. Very nice touch, though the FM part is a bit limited due to some pitch limitations, if not a noticeable degradation of quality when one goes down pitch too far for OSC-1.

Anyway, the inbuilt modes for the included effects are amazing. There's so much to choose from. I like how it handles certain parameters with its ouwn modulation routings. My only caveat is it's quite confusing to work with at times, being the uniquely-constructed synth it is. I think this is also one of the only synthesizes that have a routable distortion. (Most synths act how GLOBAL mode does. Pre/Post filter? Sweet!) Now with the inclusion of a 15-voice unison, this can now sound very much like those big supersaw synthesizers. The only current limitation to the new unison is, it hasn't been properly implemented for HARDSYNC and FM as it modulates both OSCs or just OSC1 rather than simply the final shape combination. (ie: Post-generator stage) If this can be fixed, sync/fm unison heaven!

The main pinnacle of Oatmeal is its rather interesting randomizer unit. Comes up with some humorous, pre-programmed name combinations with the odd question (How it affects randomizing, probably nada.) Easy textures it can generate although you'd be better off making your own once you understand its limitations to randomizing.

Oatmeal is also skinnable too!! There are already some high quality skins out there for OAtmeal which not only get around the rather hard-to-read default GUI (single colours), to something more fancy, readable and appealing to work with.

Stability has been so far, excellent. While sometimes skins 'freeze' with some hosts, I have yet to experience any crashes using Oatmeal. It's always been relatively nice to my CPU however the more effects going, the more gets used. Now with unison added, long release, reverb plus multi-voices equals potential CPU choke; nothing strange, it's normal. Fares quite well with both a 1.7GHz AMD Sempron 2400+, and a 1.42GHz Pentium Dual Core.

All in all, it's a great synthesizer. Easy to create presets on-the-go, as well as a great creative-block randomizer for a good starting point. Great included effects, and is now capable to sound as good as anything. From vintage retro keys, to fat basses, to growling leads, to sparkling pads akin to a Fairlight, you can't go wrong with Oatmeal!

It's great nutrition for your workstation, at no cost to your savings account!
KarmaFX Synth Modular [read all reviews]
Reviewed By MaliceX [read all by] on 5th December 2007
Version reviewed: v1.00 on Windows
9.00
5 of 5 people found this review helpful.
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KarmaFX Synth Modular is damned excellent (probably one of the lowest-cost modular VSTi's available). While I don't have a powerful machine (therefore have to suffer with high CPU usage), the sound this thing can give out is outstanding.

Highly flexible routing options to obtain the sound you want, and it's easy to understand. The full version comes with a detailed manual with picture examples and clearly shows what this synth can do, in language most can understand.

The oscillator generators are clean, raw, and can be quite deep. With a maximum of 8 generators allowed of any following combination: 1-osc, 2-osc, sampler (not multisamples), additive, stereo pad and audio-input, it makes it quite easy to obtain a sound one wants.

It's got a great selection of filters, effects and modulation effects (a HFO, never seen that before in another synth! Never thought it was possible without breaking things.) The reverb and delay are pretty good quality. Chorus is a bit touchy to work with. I particularly like the chipper effect which switches around parts of a wave cycle to a different period based on its amplitude level. The Unison effect is GREAT. :D And damn those filters are obese! :)

My gripes with KarmaFX synth, other than the high CPU usage, is sometimes adding certain modulation modules to certain things will cause the computer to slow down considerably. Also, things like high polyphony and Unison really eat up CPU, and can cause a hang if you're not careful despite the highest limit hardcoded on the synth. Unison has a couple bugs with different, unconventional routings though that may be my fault. FM module doesn't sound the best and is a bit hard to use to get a reasonable sound out of it. And finally, the Pad generator's delay loading time. (in comparison to the similar-looking Additive generator.)

All in all, for about 150% the price of a full refill on petrol, this synth is a keeper. :D
Shortcircuit [read all reviews]
Reviewed By MaliceX [read all by] on 6th November 2007
Version reviewed: 1.1.2 on Windows
8.00
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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Well, this is quite a treat. This review is in accordance to v1.1.2 as one cannot use the latest beta, and since that's beta that shouldn't be reviewed anyway.

Anyway, it's a HUGE surprise to the audience here that this monster-of-a-sampler had its price tag from the hundreds to $0, or freeware. One could easily say that this beats the living daylights out of HighLife (another formerly-sold sample player) in the FREEWARE market!

Shortcircuit comes with a simple interface with massive amounts of controls under the hood. At first you're met with the multi screen, which the grid shown is where the samples are placed and conform to Key pitch and velocity. The great thing is, like a soundfont editor, you can drag any samples of your choice and stick it in via drag-n-drop or importation. Additionally, shortcircuit supports importing soundfonts, sfz, AKAI, even Battery (v1) kits! In other words, this can act as your soundfont player as well!

Going through the screens, there's plenty effects/filters to choose from which can turn any real-sounding instrument to an electronic glitchmo, at the same with any other sound. Shortcircuit also makes it fairly easy to decide how a sample is played, whether it be oneshot, looped, reversed, or beatsliced even! Now that's a feature set! From the standard passfilters to some limiters, distortion, to ring and phase modulators, to simple OSCs, to EQ's and morphers, to bitcrushers, the list goes on.

But as far as things go, shortcircuit's support of multi-outs, multisamples, countless combinations of modulation routing per-sample or as a group, 256-polyphony... There is immense amounts of power. One would have to be crazy to say that shortcircuit is LIMITED in any way.

The downsides? Well, if one does not understand the basics of multisamples, general synthesizer knowledge, and soundfonts, this beast is definitely not for you, although it does come with a help manual in .chm format. Nevertheless, shortcircuit might end up short-circuiting your brain if one isn't too careful.

Sound quality is superb. Every sample played through this thing sounds identical to how they're played normally in a soundfont or audio player. Of course depending on your host sample rate, it WILL alias unless you have some sort of oversampler or set the sample rate higher.

Unfortunately shortcircuit does not come with any presets; makes sense since it was originally made for those who don't enjoy sample players with great factory presets but a really limited sampling engine. Not that it matters; you can take any piece of sound or use the simple OSC filters to make a sound out of this.

Value for money, well originally shortcircuit ranged to about $150 however claes of Vember Audio decided to release this free of charge, much to his generosity and a hard decision on his part. There's no doubt that people will appreciate his efforts put on this masterpiece.

Stability, so far it hasn't crashed for me, though version 2 alpha (v0.5.0) has, a lot. Shortcircuit has been fairly stable for the most part, although when there's a lot of polyphony and immense amounts of processing put through a large sample set, the CPU does indeed spike.

Hmm..well face it, there's just not enough to say about shortcircuit, but if you ask me, there is NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE when it comes to a good drum sampler, soundfont player, AKAI sample player, SFZ player, and of course fares well.

Anyway, don't doubt the power of Vember Audio shortcircuit. Highly condensed of sample-mangling power, and great for glitch music, as well as anything else.
Vocov Vocoder [read all reviews]
Reviewed By MaliceX [read all by] on 18th May 2007
Version reviewed: 1.11 on Windows
8.00
3 of 3 people found this review helpful.
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g200kg, Japanese developer, made one heck of a simple yet flexible vocoder.

Most vocoders are only made to use as a VST-effect, however there are cases when some sequencers are unable to use a vocoder, simply because of the following problem:
---VST Effect = No MIDI-in. (I've only seen this issue with Sony ACID Pro so far.)

vOcOv comes with a fairly simple carrier module, and a WAV-player system for modulating the signal. The good thing about this is that you can play any note and it'll still play then loop.

vOcOv also introduced a rather excellent feature, from which you have a channel equipped with the VocovCapture.dll as an effect, and with the correct channel routing settings applied, you can control vocoded signals from an external VSTi or WAV stream to do your vocoding through vOcOv. This also works fairly well (despite soundcard latency) with live MIC input and using vOcOv or vOcOv+ext. carrier, to get that whole function those old hardware vocoders have.

A great piece of software, though there can be some improvement on some things (interface, general quality control), but otherwise it's perfect how it is.

The best thing about it is, it's FREE.
Syncaine TM-200X [read all reviews]
Reviewed By MaliceX [read all by] on 7th April 2007
Version reviewed: 1 on Windows
9.00
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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Despite the extremely cheap price tag, the author has actually allowed free registration through the download page if it is not going to be used for commercial purposes, which I think is more than fair of a deal.

This synth is essentially a supersaw-type of instrument, but it is more than capable of getting different sounds together, and is aimed to the tranceheads that suggestively can't be bothered purchasing expensive synthesizers or the likes of Vanguard (vintage-2000's), Sylenth1 (expensive) or the (now-insolvent) Superwave synths.

The sound quality on this is more than excellent. It's clean, and has it's own DSP inbuilt. It doesn't seem to use much CPU. The factory presets are adequate enough for the user, and the interface is simple enough even for the most novice, to understand how the sounds work. Forget documentation. It's got some but I didn't bother with it.

It's a highly recommended VST instrument because it's just something that's so simple and easy to use, and is readily available. (Much to the disdain of Superwave) One of the best alternatives there is out there.
Super Spook Keys [read all reviews]
Reviewed By MaliceX [read all by] on 19th March 2007
Version reviewed: 1 on Windows
8.00
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For a free plugin, like its predecessor, Spook Keys, this baby simulates the monophonic sound of a waveform being controlled by pitch (Theremin) using MIDI notation. This version expands the ability to control the tone of the theremin-like sound outputted, along with an increased range of LFO's and whatnot, to make the sound more detailed and interesting.

The presets just show the basic functions of what this thing can sound like. Nothing too special, but compared to its predecessor it is definetly superior with the ability to use different sounds other than the sine wave.

The other great yet simple feature is the ability to preview the sound using just your mouse clicking inside the box to move around the dot. Very useful if you intend on doing a pseudo-live theremin sound recording using sound recording software instead of MIDI notes.

Now I'm not entirely sure yet, but if it were possible to go beyond the pitch limit given on this plugin, it would be great. (Make aliased noises) Otherwise there's no bugs here, and sounds like a theremin. Interface is clean and intuitive. Most importantly, it's free!
Hypersonic [read all reviews]
Reviewed By MaliceX [read all by] on 6th March 2007
Version reviewed: 2.0 on Windows
9.00
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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It's no secret Hypersonic 2 was kept on the down low to most people, but for those that have heard of this, because it's a ROMpler it wouldn't appeal to them due to the lack of sounds that would live up to a certain standard.

To me, Hypersonic 2 is actually one of the most versatile synthesizer workstation plugins (now standalone since v2) I've ever used. It was my first VSTi to ever touch and the upgrade has actually made a huge leap forward in terms of usability.

Everything on this synthesizer works out of the box. Comes with over 1800+ presets at your disposal, around 5 different synth engines (Sampler, Analog/US-1, Organ, FM, and Wavetable.) that can layer on top of each other. On TOP of that, it comes with a plethora of user-editable effects and parameters that just make things so much better and versatile, it's pretty much a sound programmer's dream in my opinion.

I will have to agree some of the samples provided for some of the more acoustic instruments (Strings particularly) aren't exactly fantastic, but the majority of them (Piano, Guitar, Woodwinds) do a much better job than any other sampler I've seen out in the market.

That lazy man's auto-mastering-hype thing on the config menu didn't make sense to me. Shove that on the low and use an external EQ as it makes HS2 in general tinny/unbreathable.

Aside from that, version 2 introduced the capability of making your own presets from scratch rather than editing an existing one. The edit interface is a bit touchy, however the workflow and its behaviour on output of sound implies endless sonic possibilities. It actually would be possible to simulate a Roland D-50 or any of the vintage Korg synthesizers with Hypersonic alone, only you have better samples to use than what they originally had. My personal favourite effect is the distortion amps. That's character there.

Too bad this didn't come with an FX VST, it would've been nice to be able to use its inbuilt effects elsewhere, but otherwise it's pretty much THE virtual Korg Triton (poking the hoax last year) availabie in the form of a VST instrument.

Well done Steinberg/Wizoo, though with Wizoo's disappearance it's unlikely there'll be anymore to do with this grand prince. :( Best value for money (shop sells for almost AU$600 bucks, beats buying a professional keyboard synth in my opinion), but not for the sample-enthusiast in mind, more for the synthesizer programmer enthusiast.