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Plugin Boutique present VirtualCZ, inspired by an iconic series of digital synthesizers made in the 1980s.
Many people fondly remember the CZ synths and they have become retro-classics that are highly sought after, having been used on countless techno, house, rave and synth-pop records in the late 80s and early 90s.
Many artists still use the CZ today for its unique sounds, including great pads and synth strings, screaming leads, big basses, weird FX, metallic percussion and above all Rave Organs.
Like many timeless synths, it has a unique sonic quality and it will fill a hole in many people's synth arsenal.
For The First Time User: Faithful Emulation, Great New Sounds
If you are new to the CZ you'll find that VirtualCZ delivers the same sound quality as its hardware predecessor, along with new features that bring its sound up to date.
As with its hardware inspiration, VirtualCZ uses Phase Distortion, which is similar to FM Synthesis but easier to program:
For The Experienced CZ User: Great New Features And A Modern Workflow
If you familiar with the CZ synths, we think you will find VirtualCZ faithfully emulates the sound of the hardware in both sound and feel, also offering some great new features:
Reviewed By Tj Shredder
November 21st, 2017
I most likely got that out of pure nostalgia! Who ever owned the hardware back in those days, will appreciate this emulation. I did love my cz 101, but as I moved early to the digital world and away from sequencers and keyboards, I sold that little beauty long ago. Now I get it back, without eating space in my bedroom studio. The UI makes it way easier to work than with the original. I can't compare the sound of it with the hardware version, but as I recall it feels the same. And I have a much better keyboard with more expression capabilities than that little mini key it came with.
As there is a lack of PD synthesis out there, it deserves a prominent place in the synthesis world. Though I can imagine a very different approach to this kind of synthesis. Maybe it encourages a developer to build a PD synthesizer with a more modern approach. Certainly it is easier to progam than FM, but has a similar potential.
Most modern synths have all kinds of effects added, to make it sound bigger when browsing through the presets. VCZ has only a chorus. I think this is an advantage, I prefer to add my own reverb, that helps to get a more consistant sound in the mix...
If you are about to look for a modern synth with all bells and whistles, this might not be for you, but if you want to explore that rare PD synthesis method, you should give it a go...Read Review
Reviewed By Spitfire31
November 10th, 2017
The VirtualCZ rates high among the software synths I really regret that I bought. I understand that it is a sonically accurate emulation of the original h/w and so, I guess that my disappointment should be equally directed at Casio.
I find the sound more dated and wimpy than virtually any softsynth that I own (a license for). The envelopes appear so soft that it seems virtually (!) impossible to get any 'snap' out of the VCZ and ballsy it's certainly not. I wonder what kind of music people use it for? Chorused pads?
For myself, I find that I need a whole chain of fx after the VCZ in order to mangle the basic sound into anything remotely interesting, although the lack of snap is difficult to compensate for. Comparing it with a roughly contemporary synth, the DX7, is like night and day – the old Yama is certainly snappy where I find the Casio spongy and soft.
Obviously not my sort of machine, but hey! – who am I to discuss taste? No doubt the VCZ serves the musical interests of a number of people – it's just that I can't quite identify myself with those interests.
I never owned a CZ but I remember using it in the studio back in the days and this totally captures the feel of it. But in contrast to the hardware this plug-in is dead easy to operate. This is one hell of a soundsource. I've been using it for about a year now and I keep coming back to it because it's so well laid out and so easy to get good, interesting results out of.
It has tons of character just like the original and also it will not make every sound You can think of. But what it does it does great. You might need some additional plug-ins to make it sit well in a mix, but so does almost every other synth out there. Apart from a great chorus, a unison and a vibrato there aren't any effects but this might even be a good thing. A lot of synths have effects that just aren't good enough especially reverbs that don't work with the rest of the sounds in a mix. So You just might as well add them Yourself to begin with. I guess most of us have some good dedicated effects anyway, and I rather pay a more reasonable price for a really good sound generator instead.
There is room for improvement though, the preset handling desperately needs some kind of sorting or tagging system. The master section could do with more gain control and some metering (like it's sibling Carbon Electra). The stand alone version (which I really appreciate) would be even more useful with note triggering from the computer keyboard. And scaling of the GUI is almost a must these days with 4K and Retina monitors.
Apart from this I am a fan and I would really recommend it.Read Review
I don't own any CZ hardware, but I really like this plug-in. The sound is very unique and interesting, and perhaps because I was a young kid in the 80s the kinds of sounds it makes resonate with me. I like the character of the sounds and how simple it is to adjust the sound. The UI is excellent and really intuitive. Not having owned any Casio CZ hardware I was a little confused by the concept of "lines" but I understand it now. It also threw me for a curve looking for a filter, but I understand DCW is how we adjust the brightness as the DCW knobs travel from Sine to Saw for example (so on sine traversing the envelope towards saw works out like opening a filter).
I really like how MSEG and ADSR are both supported this was a great choice. I love how the MSEGs are implemented. Took a little getting used to for me to understand on the MSEGs that clockwise far right actually makes things shorter (in my mind turning a knob to the right fully = wide open / max volume / value) but once I got used to that was no problem. I love how the envelopes show in the LCD read out display area - that's very helpful.
The MSEGs can each loop, have variable length and can have any stage except the last stage as the sustain stage or no sustain at all. It's very well done and the simple way they have knobs that affect their parameters makes it really easy to understand the signal flow. For example there is no modulation matrix needed, I simply turn the depth knob on the DCW MSEG ENV and it adjusts the sounds by a certain amount. Really intuitive and simple.
That's really I think what I like here is that the amount of thought and care put in to all the little pieces and decisions made about it have created a very immediate instrument where I am encouraged to explore and experiment because the controls are so few yet the impacts are quite audible for even subtle adjustments.
On the surface the synth appears pretty simple, but what's interesting here but it's not. The controls are really well made and the interface keeps things out of the way but they are there and the sound sculpting capability I guess would be similar to an original CZ but I really like the way the MOD and OSC combinations work to greatly influence the sound. I'm still learning about PD, but I quite like this plugin.
SOUND: 9 / 10.
While I've not owned any PD synths, Casio or otherwise, I simply adore this sound. It's like a refined FM kind of sound if you want it, or a little subtractive sound if you want that. It's really hard to make the synth sound bad, and noise modulation is about the best I can do to make it sound really bad. With FM I find myself overstepping some esoteric boundaries and causing harsh really high treble noise, but with this PD approach I haven't been doing that as often mistakenly or otherwise. I think the sound of the chorus inside of this is wonderful and the single knob really makes a huge difference but it's programmed in such a way that the one knob somehow just works to adjust a little bit to a deep rich sound. The unison is a little strange to me, but I'm still learning. What's thrown me on the unison is that the width knob isn't directly connected or something like in other synths; it seems width does a sort of back and forth based on key presses and not spreading the stereo around in a unison pan way. It's very good sounding when I hit the sweet spot though. I've made a really fantastic sounding 1986 break dancing kind of bass that I hadn't previously been able to make as successfully - perhaps the original songs that inspired me to understand this sound were using a CZ? The Master section is really well done, and dead simple. The poly, legato, and mono are super useful and easy to audition to hear different sounds. The portamento on this thing is tuned somehow to sound musical, it's difficult to explain. One thing I wish is that volume could go a little higher. Sometime I tweak the MSEGs just a certain way and the sustain needs to be lower which causes the sound overall to be quieter and the volume only adjusts a certain amount. I can of course adjust in DAW though.
The waveforms and the combination of them are really interesting. Especially the ring modulator. It took me a little while to figure out how the lines worked but now that I understand it's easy to get busy with the programming side of things. The sounds are what I expect, and some interesting resonant waveforms that exist for what I presume to be a part of the original CZ as a way to compensate for a digital non-resonant filter in the DCW side of things? Not sure but it's approximate to a resonant filter sound in use. I can create sounds that are very soft and dark and sounds that are subtractive sounding as well as very bright bells and noisey sounds. This thing can do a lot of good sounds and I'm just getting started.
The presets are OK, they served me well to learn how things are setup and play around with them. There are plenty of them, and Oli provided me in PM a copy of the CZ presets already setup in the formats the synth takes so it is simple to load up factory Casio patches that he already converted. Really really cool some of those sounds are just beautiful and again, probably because i'm a child of the 80s I recognize a few that really give me chills and goose bumps :)
UI: 10 / 10.
The UI is really well made. It's beautiful to look at, extremely well organized, and simple. The color coding is functional and not superfluous. The buttons look like buttons, the sliders like sliders, the knobs like knobs, and there is this beautiful texture work that makes it feel old and tactile. The attention to detail exhibited in the way the parameters interact is fantastic. Thought was really put into making this thing immediate and easy. One example: there are separate buttons for setting each waveform for each line, and so 4 total, buttons to change the sound of the oscillators, but each line has a A/B button that you can use to set both waveforms in a line at once. It makes it really fast to work with and get something safe and easy to understand. Also you can use your mouse wheel to move values, double click resets the values, shift+click lets you type with your keyboard. Simple things like this really pay out big time, but they didn't stop there. There are little locks you can engage to keep the parameters of interest locked when switching presets such as Chorus/Pan, Velocity, Tuning, and Aftertouch. The Scaling edit button reveals gorgeous editor areas where simple things we'd want to do are easily accomplished. Want to change the velocity response? Drag on the curve up and down and it makes a nice simple rounded range exponential, linear, or so on easy to just get right without dealing with little nodes and bezier nonsense like in other synths. Beautiful! I don't have aftertouch on my controller, but now I want to get one that has such because the amount of aftertouch stuff in here is nice, channel or poly aftertouch and routing to LFO, AMP, or DCW. The MSEGs are presented really well, I am not intimidated like I am with other MSEGs such as Rapture, or Spire or the like (which are also very well made mind they just aren't as simply abstracted). You get a slider and a knob per stage. You set sustain off or from stage 1 to 7 and you can loop or one shot and define how long each MSEG is. Great, simple, easy to understand. The only catch is that the travel of the knobs works in reverse from what I expected; larger values are to the left, shorter to the right. But aside from this it's wonderful to work with. The association of the modulation targets for the MSEGs like depth and velocity are ubiquitous and simple and add to the feeling of safe play area in this normally complex setup. Patch management and tools menus are here and they are really well done. Super easy to understand and work with in the file system away from the plugin as well. There is an initialize on offer, which is a big deal to me! Also the ability to randomize each section (OSC, MASTER, ENVS, etc) is wonderful. Truly a spectacular UI. The MSEGs are optional, there are also 4 stage ADSRs.
CPU: 9 / 10.
So far CPU has been pretty damned good. I'm on an i7 quad and I've peaked around 10-15% in Live with some very long release times. I'm not sure what the polyphony is here, but even 4x unison is pretty decent for me so far. Definitely factored into my decision to buy when I demoed it too.
Anywhere there are colors used for a title bar section you can left click for a pop-up menu that lets you copy/paste and randomize and reset the settings :)
OVERALL: 9 / 10.
I think this plugin is one of the most unique, simple, and fun to use instruments I've had to date. I would highly recommend this plugin to anyone. I've not done deep programming yet but the few sounds I've built so far are unique and difficult or impossible to make with other instruments. Even if you own an FM synth, this one is unique. It's well worth the money I paid and I have no regrets.
Thanks Oli / Plugin Boutique.
I hope that this leads to more Plugin Boutique partnerships for other well deserving smaller developers like Oli Larken.Read Review
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