I don't understand it - a good synth is a good synth, now and in five years time. And Vanguard is most definitely a good synth, maybe even an excellent one. With a sound somewhere between a vintage analogue and the C64's SID chip, and a character of presence all of it's own, Vanguard is an instrument capable not only of the much advertised big trance sounds, but also experimental, abstract pads and tones, chippy blips and bloops, oldschool sequences via it's arpeggiator... and the trance gate is useful well beyond the realm of trance music, combining with the arpeggiator in interesting and fun ways.
Vanguard features a highly fixed architecture, which is in many ways very limiting. You have three oscillators - each has it's own triangle wave LFO which can alter PWM, detune and the master filter's cutoff. You then have two envelopes, which have preset knobs to affect the patch's parameters in a hardwired way, such as cutoff, resonance, volume, PWM, detune, etc.
Throw on some classy effects which augment the sound rather than glossing over it - such as variable unison/spread, a very nice overdrive, reverb and delay... and then make the filters AND oscillators multimode, and you have quite a variety of sound, which will both require and inspire creativity.
To make up for this very fixed routing, the oscillators can make a variety of different shapes, and many of them respond in their own unique ways to the PWM parameter - we have Amplitude Modulated sine sweeps, synced noise, a strange digital burbling waveform which seems to work by turning on and off the digital bits in a logical way, as well as the old classics such as variable pulses, pitched noise, and Phase Distortion style morphing sines. Similarly the filter has a whole bunch of modes, including rare choices such as a resonant 6db lowpass, bandpasses feeding a waveshaper, and dual filters.
Layering these, and making careful use of the envelopes and LFO's, you can get some very cool abstract sounds, covering bass, lead, pads, effects, and videogame effects. The sound quality of Vanguard has been described as 'plasticky', and it can do that sound very well, although the sound has undergone a number of revisions, and going into the setup panel allows you to choose between a few different setups regarding antialiasing and oscillator versions. A lot of people liked the way Vanguard aliased, but it's nice to have the option for a more silky sound, if you so desire.
Typically I use Vanguard for abstract leads, SID inspired leads and pads, digital sounding effects, and arpeggios. At times I wish for more flexibility, for example, the modwheel is hard routed to raise the filter cutoff, and aftertouch will always bring in vibrato, but I've made a staggering range of sounds, and the sexy interface really pulls you in and makes you want to tweak.
All in all a very rewarding, and unique sounding synth, which looks and sounds like a solid object, rather than code. If you're looking for pure analogue emulations, look elsewhere, but lovers of SIDs and digital/analogue hybrid sounds should find the sound of Vanguard very enticing.Read Review
Can a GUI get any better than this? I think not! This thing oozes quality all the way. An absolute gem.
Sounds: Big'n'fat are the order of the day here. With a simple twist of a knob, you can turn a mono sound into a big fat stereo sweep. Crank up the filter and get THAT 303 squelchy lead. IT has discreet control for overdrive and numerous (and quite odd) use of envelopes. There are quite a lot of base waveforms to use on the 3 oscs, but I find them too similar. However, it makes up for this in filter types, fx, arpeggiator, etc. The big filter sweeps reminds me a lot of the Korg Prophecy; it had that same huge sound.
GUI: Everything is laid out logically and for quick access, which is always a plus. Just click on an osc window to display a drop-down selection list. Quickly switch FX on and off for auditioning. As I've said earlier, the GUI is sexyness all the way.
Presets: There is quite a bit of diversity here, and there appears to be a bit of crossover to reFX's other synths, which is great in my opinion. This synth is very versatile.
This really is one of a handful of top-notch synths out there, free or otherwise. I place it in the same quality league as Novation's V-Station. Excellent stuff.Read Review
It was love at first sight with the Vanguard. I've had it since it was released, and have used it quite a lot. It's easy to program and has revealed itself to be an extremely versitile instrument.
The factory patches it comes with are very good, but I have to say so dance-focused that you may get the false impression that's all Vanguard is (very) good at.
In fact, I was recently looking at fancy new synths because some of their sound samples blew me away. I figured I'd play with my trusty big V a little before shelling out another $200+ and I was impressed. If you pull yourself off the beaten path, you can make really modern sounds that rival some of Albino's more interesting patches.
If you want to get a better idea of the limits you can take this amazingly well-designed synth, check out the "SOUNDSHOP" link at the reFX site. The samples of the patches are really eye-opening, particularly "Xenox Signature 2" (although you shouldgive a listen to all the bank samples). By the way, these sound banks are high quality, pretty inexpensive and at times simply wonderful.
reFX have added a few tricks since version 1.0.x which should be noted:
- A "VCS" knob. One simple little dial that controls how rich the sound is. My patches went from "cool" to "holy crap" with a quarter turn. This was almost like getting a whole new synthesizer in itself.
- The tracegate now supports stereo patterns. You can dial up your own ping-pong gate effects, very nice.
- Also with the trancegate, you can save and load "gate patches" from a right-click menu, which is really convenient.
User Interface: lovely, but a bit big. I like the extra space between thing, but the knobs are small on my big screen.
Sound: Excellent. Two caveats: 1) make sure you have at least 1 more voice than you think you need; 2) don't use 0ms attack or release (in most cases), back it down to 1ms.
Features: There's almost everything you could want in a synth in here. The arpeggiator could use the ability to customize, but this is my only feature gripe.
Documentation: don't need it, but it's good anyway.
Presets: Shipped with very good presets, but "dance-heavy". However, a quick visit to the "SOUNDBANK" (which you can also access using the "ROM Pack" link in the setup) will deeply satisfy.
Customer Support: I had a few questions with 1.0.x and they were answered almost immediately.
This is actually now my favorite software synthesizer, taking the crown from my previous favorites Rhino and Z3ta. The reason for this is because somehow it ends up in all my tracks, where to this day I still haven't used z3ta in a track EVER, and only used Rhino in a couple... My love of those two synths stemmed from the sheer pleasure attained from just playing them, and I wasn't really noticing the fact that they weren't fitting in with my music.
Let's be realistic, Vanguard is primarily a trance/dance/euro style synth. An that's what I write. I also do some ambient style stuff, and for this i find vanguard is capable of some stunning sound fx style patches, which integrate really nicely with ambient music. But yes, mainly I use it for "techno"..
GUI: How CAN it get better than this? it is so well laid out that even a newbie won't feel intimidated. It has a superb "edit" toggle button, which will flip the UI from full functionality to just a preset flipper that looks like a slimline rackmount hardware synth. I love the fcat that there is a master volume control that isn't affected by flicking patches. Also, the gate, arpeggiator and effects section are so logically laid out...Vanguard just doesn't feel intimidating at all.....
SOUND: Punchy is a good word to describe it. crisp..quite "fat"..not what i would particularly call "goose bumps warm" though..we'll leave that for imposcar...the fx section is actually quite good, refx reverb algo is very useful for dance leads...the delay is quite versatile, and the gate and arpeggiators are outstanding. Also worthy of a mention, I was initially unsure of vanguard's pad capablilies, but realised that virus like pads ARE possible...it just takes a good sound designer to make them hehehe.
Features: Alot of this ties in with the gate and arpeggiators. because of the way these interact, the sheer scope of sounds and sequences possible is staggering. I mean you have every tempo subdivision possible for example. Also experimenting with the glide button can provide some very interesting results, particulary in combination with the arp and gate. it is very easy to take a great preset, and retweak it a hundred different ways with just a few buttons. The fat button feature is another example. spin it clockwise and let it do it's magic.
DOCS: straightforward and detailed pdf.
Presets: A highlight. a stunning 128 preset signature set by none other than Manual Schleis of Vengeance Sound. There is also a more unusual bank of fx and the like from Markus Felei, and another more "universal" called DHS singature sound bank. 384 factory presets included. tons of freeware banks, most of them superb, take it to well over 1000. What sort of presets overall? well, bass, leads, lots of rythms, and pads...to top it all off there are inexpensive commercial banks by Xenox, Bigtone and ProSounds. Particularly the Bigtone one is a must have. Also, i must mention the great inbuilt preset/bank load save features, there to be useful for hosts that are deficient int his department, there are convenient up down arrows and a big clear preset display, as well as load/save buttons right on vanguard's gui. One press int he middle of this display brings up the entire 128 presets of the currently selected bank in a single window.
Customer Support: a support forum is right here at KVR where Michael promptly attends to any questions. I have also never had an email go unanswered longer than 24 hours:)
Value for money: 100 bux almost make ME feel like a cheat! considering the huge amount of use it has been getting. a purchase i have NEVER regretted.
Stability: has NEVER crashed, and I can vouch for the AU version here too as I was for a while on mac. I can also vouch for the mac vst version and of course, what I use now, the pc vst version. rock solid, i never get an "uneasy" feeling when inserting an instance into a project, like I do with many other synths and fx.
Overall, if you are a dance maker and don't get this, your really are not working with a full deck. simple as that.Read Review
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.Read Review
I asked today through a reFX support ticket wether it is somehow possible to purchase Vanguard legally. The response:
"Vanguard 2 will be releasing very soon. I don't have an exact ETA on its release though. You'll receive an email once it's released since you're signed up for our newsletter. Shouldn't be much longer."
I even have a screenshot! Just can't attach it here.