You probably can't name a softsynth that I don't own. And this is -- by far -- my favorite.
tl;dr: Reviewer gushes for several paragraphs.. .
Ultimately, this is a synth with two oscillators, two filters, two LFOs, two envelope generators, and two VCAs. Yes, you can patch anything anywhere. But before we even talk about that, let's talk about those five elements (or four of them).
Because really, ACE is a study in what happens when you try to make those five things as good as they can possibly be. The oscillators are among the best I've ever heard in any synth of any kind. Just absolutely luscious. Filters? Taken by themselves, they're probably not as jaw dropping as the ones in Diva (by the same developer) or Cytomic's The Drop (the only filter I've ever used that can actually bring your CPU to its knees if you push it hard enough). But they are gorgeous, and more importantly, it's very hard to put everything underwater with them. They just gel perfectly with the rest of the synth. LFOs and envelopes? What's the big deal? The former is just some kind of extra wave, and the latter is a fancy volume knob. Think again. The LFOs have as much character as the main oscillators, and the EGs are incredibly flexible (with a "snap" function that will tighten them up when you need it, and a "fall/rise" rate knob that basically gives you another stage). They can do lazy, and the can stand at attention. In other words, we're dealing with fantastic components.
My advice? Don't patch anything anywhere for a week. Or a month. Or a year. Because honestly, that sync knob will keep you occupied. Or the ring mod on the second oscillator. Or the mixer panel. To really appreciate ACE, you have to commit to exploring it normalized. It is just astonishing how good it sounds.
And after that? Well, what can I say. Everyone knows the drill. You can patch those EGs to anything. Those glorious oscillators can modulate each other or anything else (and you can stack each one eight voices high, with separate tunings). Or use the LFOs -- which, again, are as fantastic as the mains -- as oscillators in various kinds of FM configurations. Or run the filters in series. Or crossfade things through the mults (or do AM). Or glitch the thing out with crosstalk and simulated capacitor failure. Or use the mapping generator as. .. anything you'd like it to be. It is seriously endless.
And none of this really exhausts all of the little details that conspire to make this an incredibly flexible synth. Some days it sounds like a mini. Some days I can get it to sound like some kind of Buchla fantasia. Some days it's doing squeaky clean synthpop. Some days it wants to growl like an MS-20. Some days it's doing outtakes from a Tomita record. And really, all of that makes perfect sense, because as the dev put it:
"If you really want to compare ACE to a classic modular synth (or three), think of it as a pimped-up ARP 2600 using modules from a Roland SH-7 with (almost) the patching flexibility of an EMS VCS3 / Synthi A – but polyphonic."
As said, I own a lot of softsynths (including emulations of ARPs and EMS rigs). Like many, I have spent a lot of time and money chasing down "features." Eight oscillators! Four types of comb filter! ACE taught me how absurd all of this is, because at the end of the day, it's all about the Big Four. Essentially, ACE is a modular rig for the non-insane. Other reviews have echoed this sentiment, but it's really true. The fact that it's really "just four and four" is entirely liberating; it forces you to think about what you're doing and why, and yet I've never had more happy accidents with any other piece of music software. You will die at your keyboard before you run out of sounds to make with this thing.
A few other quick things:
1. ACE is not loaded up with FX, but the chorus is the most gorgeous I've heard in software. Its default setting (and the same goes for the delay) are beautifully subtle. And there's a phaser that manages to not take you instantly to Itchycoo Park (unless you want to).
2. The press was very insistent that this is an advanced synth that is emphatically not for beginners. I get it, but having spent a lot of time with this thing, I'm not sure I really agree with that. It would certainly require some patience, but plenty of people learned synthesis on rigs like this, and I have a feeling they were better for it. One of the consequences of being able to override the normalization is that you can isolate the components very easily. I can imagine a fantastic guided tutorial where we start by patching the oscillator directly to the VCA in gate mode and go from there -- adding one component after another and dealing with things in small segments. It would be really educational. It's certainly taught me a few things, and I considered myself pretty knowledgeable before I got it.
3. ACE is not "Bazille Lite." Seriously. The interface is similar, and Bazille has more of everything, but they are very different instruments. Bazille's oscillators, in particular, sound completely different, because it's trying to emulate and facilitate various kinds of FM/PM sounds. It's more accurate to say that Bazille is the "digital" complement to ACE's insistently analogue setup (though that's not fair in a way, because the one can imitate the other to a degree).
4. That said, there have been rumors of an ACE XL (or maybe just wistful requests for one). I suspect that's not coming any time soon, but the devs didn't dismiss the idea. I would buy such a thing in a nanosecond, but honestly, I don't find myself wishing ACE were more powerful than it already is.
I'm writing this review ultimately because I think this synth is massively underrated. It wasn't heavily reviewed, there aren't a lot of tutorials, it looks intimidating, and despite having hundreds of presets, it's never going to be anyone's goto rompler. I also think a lot of people bought Bazille without really realizing how different this thing is. It's an absolute classic. And a monster.
Oh no! Another meaningless 10 out of 10 review on KVR. I could have bumped off a mark for it not having a ton of features (I really would love that triangle wave on oscillator 2 ;) and another mark for having a last-gen VA engine, but the truth is that, to me, none of these things diminish ACE in the slightest. Rather than becoming less relevant over time, it has grown with me. The joy of owning ACE is not only that it's a very good (possibly one of the best) virtual analog modular synth, but that as you grow as a synthesist you find yourself pushing the boundaries of what you thought possible.
Because there's something about a clearly delineated system with unchanging hard limits that just makes creativity come out like slugs in an evening rainstorm. It can't resist it and is nourished by it. The fact that the audio components are excellent to the point that LFOs can double as VCOs and vice-versa, that anything can be ran through anything with musical results (filtering control signals with resonance? sending the ramp generator to the output? using the stepper graph as both a waveform readout and a graphic LFO? you got it!) - all this is almost incidental in the beginning, but serves to cement ACE as a strong component and maybe even cornerstone of my virtual studio.
ACE has been around for quite a while now, and I consider it one of the first of the "new wave" of ultra-realistic VA VSTs. Compared to modern plugins it's not quite so realistic in extreme and corner cases, but when it falters, it still manages to sound natural, and when it doesn't falter, we're talking about 95% of the entire sonic landscape, so to me, at least, sound quality is rarely an issue. The filter is particularly flexible and responsive to what you throw at it (and how hard it is thrown), with the 6 db resonant lowpass being a firm favourite of mine.
Let me walk you though one of my latest experiments with ACE. I'm using a square wave LFO at audio rates and with keytracking to switch oscillators 1 and 2 on and off in an alternating sequence, then sending each VCO to it's own filter at it's own pitch and with it's own waveform (maybe a bit of soft sync), and summing the filter outputs.
This isn't something you can 'just' do - it takes some finangling with both multiples (which allow you to combine, multiply and control signals with eachother) to get just right - but that is the beauty of the educational and gamification side of ACE. Despite a bit of a learning cliff at the beginning (compounded by the fact that "normalled" modulation designations are confusing to beginners, yet make absolute sense to the intermediate upwards), the learning curve after the first few days was, for me, steady and constant, and always rewarding.
The output of ACE is still, to this day, musical and enjoyable, and holds it's integrity quite well under extreme modulation. That makes it great for modular sound effects that other synths can't produce - moaning spirits, wounded animals, otherworldly explosions, future liquids and *insert concept here*, but it will also put out a solid squarewave bass or giant pad. There isn't a category of sound ACE isn't at least very good at, and while it may not fool determined analog purists in all circumstances, the sound is endlessly pliable and as pleasing or ugly, as warm or cold as you could want it.
Quite literally a VST classic, and very cheap too. Don't leave home without it :)
Where to start......, best with starting the plug from then on you will have one hell of a time to close it again, this VA-Modular-VST is hell addictive. The ACE concept of plug any cable anywhere enables you to do some really impressive sounds and cabling, which can be a bit daunting at the beginning especially for newbies in creating sounds from scratch. You can use any tutorial about Modular synthesis and learn it in ACE and master it there and thanks to the clear GUI you always know where to put things. The best of ACE: plain simple it is one of the most impressive analogue sounding VST's out there and pretty powerful in what it can do to! The worst of ACE: The only real downside of ACE... it's processing hunger, but sound quality doesn't come from thin air, you will learn to love the freeze/bounce function of your host, you need it a lot... This synth captured me since I got it christmas 2009 and didn't let me go for a long while, hence the late review ;) I am struck with love for this baby, lush pads, booming basses, soaring leads and experimental sounds with ACE you can produce most of the sounds you need. I just can say thanks Urs make the Bazille a bigger monster!
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