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Reviewed By sjm [all]
May 26th, 2022
Version reviewed: 1.1 on Windows

If you're like me, you're probably wondering what Soundpaint is. The product description is nothing but empty buzzwords. Is it a sample player? Is it a Kontakt rival? Is it physical modeling?

I'd love to tell you, but even after downloading and installing Soundpaint, I still have no answer to that question. My experience went much like this:

  • Ignored the months of hot air hype on KVR because there was no info on *what* the product actually is (hint to marketing types: make sure you communicate what your product is).
  • Ignored the release because it still wasn't clear what the product was even when it hit the market.
  • Finally downloaded it after reading the BPB article that suggested the piano might be worth having.
  • Installed the plugin.
  • Loaded the plugin.
  • Clicked on the option to install the sound library that the plugin detects I own but isn't installed yet (i.e. the piano). The download fails repeatedly.
  • Check the website for info on what's going on. The help is as useful as the product descriptions. According to the website, I'm either using an outdated installer (I'm not, I just downloaded it) or I'm entering the product code wrong (there is no product code to enter, this is the default free library).
  • Gave up.

I'm sorry that this isn't more helpful, but if you also read through all the gibberish product marketing and that raised all sorts of red flags, it looks like you were right. I'm sure there's a way to get the library to install, but I really can't be bothered to deal with this level of incompetence. If the plugin can detect that libraries are missing, but is unable to install them and just spits out an obscure error message, it just indicates that the problems run deeper than a marketing department high on mind altering substances. The UX and product design suffers the same issues. So I cannot recommend. I wish you more luck than I had.

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Reviewed By sjm [all]
January 23rd, 2018
Version reviewed: 1.3 on Windows

It's 2018, and I still find myself reaching for this plugin (or its successor, Bionic Supa Delay) whenever I want something a bit more interesting that a bog-standard delay. I think it's safe to say this is my favourite free delay plugin by miles, and one of my favourite delays in general.

I don't use it much for standard delays - it's a bit wasted on that. What I love about Bionic Delay is its sound (it's a flavour delay for sure) and its interface. The interface is really well laid out, and dialling in your delay settings is child's play. There's the usual stereo tape delay settings you'd expect, with different (note-based) delay times to choose from, a ping pong mode, flutter etc. There are also handy low and high cut filters to help shape the sound of your delay.

While the delay settings are note-based, i.e. eighths etc., you can actually set the delay to other times as well using the groove knobs at the top. But really, IMO this thing shines when you want the tempo-synced delay effect. If anything, I use these options to create triplets/dotted delays, or very minor adjustments for the R and L channels so they aren't quite in sync. If I want a time based (rather than tempo-based) delay, I'll probably look elsewhere.

I recently made a dub tune, and Bionic Delay is all over that track. It's absolutely made for this kind of music, and the updated Supa Delay was developed together with dub producer Russ D. In the context of dub, it works great on anything and everything. Drums, sax, sirens etc. The key is obviously to automate the feedback.

And automating the feedback brings me to my other favourite use of Bionic Delay: it's brilliant for transitional effects. Great if you want one word of the vocal to ring out into the next section, for example. Automating the other parameters (e.g. play with the speed) also gives you nice effects that may or may not suit your track. It's worth experimenting. While I generally use this on vocals, it also works very well on impact sounds or anything else you want to sound big and filling up the room and with a lot of movement.

Downsides? Yes, there is at least one bigger issue. I don't know if it's my host (FL Studio), but Bionic Delay doesn't clear its buffers when you stop playing the track. It keeps the delay buffer stored and then plays it the next time you start the track, irrespective of where you are in the song. This is a particular problem when rendering tracks. There's often a burst of delayed sound at the start of every render. I generally leave a few empty bars at the start to deal with this. But if the feedback settings are high, the delay can actually continue to get louder and play over the entire render. Can be a bit of a bummer...

It's also a SynthEdit plugin, which may mean you'll furl your nose and say no thanks. That also means 32-bit only, but bridging seems to work fine for me.

All in all it's a great plugin, albeit best used for particular applications rather than a bread and butter delay. I was very happy to make a donation for Supa Delay.

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Reviewed By sjm [all]
December 22nd, 2017
Version reviewed: 1.3 on Windows

Harmor's biggest strength is also it's greatest weakness, and probably why there are so few reviews for such an amazing synth. You can use Harmor for years, and still feel like a noob only scratching the surface. That makes writing a review difficult. How can you give an in-depth review, when you feel so green behind the ears? You only need to watch a few YT videos (e.g. Seamless) or chat with another user to discover yet another side to this truly versatile beast.

To start off with, Harmor is an amazingly capable subtractive synth. It might be billed as an additive synth, but you can drag in your own waveforms without having to worry about setting any partials. You can completely ignore that side if you want to. You get 4 oscillators split over 2 parts, and you get to choose the mix between the 2 oscillators per part, as well as the mix between the two parts. Where Harmor comes into its own here is in the modulation options. If you've used FL Studio or Sytrus, this part will probably make sense immediately. If you haven't, you'll probably have a bit of a learning curve. Essentially, you can draw any envelope curves you can dream up, including loop points, for pretty much any parameter. Or you can just draw a standard ADSR instead. You also get an LFO for each parameter that is much more versatile than just a simple repeated wave form. Again, you can draw your own and do weird and wacky things. All envelopes and LFOs can be tempo synced or retriggered globally when you play another note.

I find the UI intuitive with drop-down menus to select the parameter you want to modulate (there must be around 70 to choose from) and another drop-down to select the source (envelope, LFO, keymap, velocity etc.). It keeps everything uncluttered while giving you access to a huge number of options.

This makes it extremely easy to create organic and evolving sounds. You also get 2 filters to play with that you can route in series or parallel. And in addition to the standard filter options you'd expect, you can also draw your own filter and resonance curves.

Of course, you can instead create your own waveforms from partials. Under the hood, Harmor works exclusively with partials, which is where it shows its additive nature. If you load a waveform, it will be analysed and broken down into the corresponding partials (which you can view and edit if you want). Everything Harmor is doing is happening at the partial level. Your filter curves are actually being applied directly to the appropriate partials' levels, not to the final audio output resulting from all partials being added together.

Now you can manipulate these partials in various ways, blurring them together or using the prism function to spread the partials across the frequency spectrum so they no longer act as harmonics. This can create all sorts of metallic and weird sounds. Of course, you can modulate the prism and blur settings using envelopes and LFOs. To help you understand what is going on, Harmor has a visual representation of the partials that are playing, and you can see how they drift and blur with your settings. This is immensely helpful. I suggest that you type "can i haz moar view" into the preset description box to make this visual element bigger (hidden Easter egg).

It's very easy to make ugly sounds by manipulating the partials this way. Quite a few of the presets that use these features in more extreme ways fall into the "weird sound fx" category. But they are actually great for creating more metallic tones, where not all the partials are harmonics. The right custom filter curve, and/or partials, and you are good to go! At less extreme setting they can also add bite or grit to the sound.

There's also a unison function, again applied to the partials, as well as a hamonizer that allows you to clone partials and add copies elsewhere in the frequency spectrum, either using addition or multiplication. But there's no way I can list every feature you get. Suffice to say, you can spend hours twiddling knobs just to see/hear what happens.

But that's not all! You can load audio and image files to use as your sound source instead of the oscillators. The audio or image is analysed, and broken down into partials. This means you can play any audio as a pitched instrument, and manipulate the partials. It can be fun to load random images, but I've found that algorithmically generated designs can work really well - things similar to the classic geometric screen savers that just drew coloured lines to make interesting patterns such as spirals. If you load an image, you can actually see the image in the view on the right as your audio plays, which is neat.

There are various ways you can interact with images/audio (which are essentially treated as the same thing). There are various speed settings as well as options for how to map content to partials. Different options here give very different results. You can use envelopes and LFOs to scrub through the image/audio and set an offset/play position. In theory, you can set the speed to 0, and load an audio file consisting of several single cycle waveforms and use the time offset to scan through the waves. I've only done this with images, but I can't think why it won't work for audio too, essentially giving you wavetable scanning as well.

The last section I need to mention are the in-built FX. Harmor has a nice selection of FX, and my god, do they sound luscious. You get distortion, chorus, delay reverb and compression to choose from. And because Harmor can never give you too many options, you get to choose not only the order in which the global FX are applied, but also the order in which the different sections of the synthesizer are applied. So you can first apply EQ, then use the pluck, then apply the prism effect and then filter the result. Or filter first, then phaser, then harmonizer. It's crazy.

As you can probably tell, Harmor is a crazy beast of a synth, and I'm actually trying to keep this relatively brief...

So is Harmor for you? If you are a sound designer, most definitely. If you like experimenting and making your own presets from time to time, it's a wonderful synth to do that on. Harmor is one of those synths I sometimes fire up just to see what sounds will come out. You can easily futz around for an hour without noticing how much time has passed. But if you are a heavy preset user, and the thought of doing more than tweak the odd knob is a turn off, Harmor is not for you.

Because it's so versatile, you could probably use it to replace a large number of synths. On the other hand, nothing can come close to replacing Harmor. That's why it's my desert island synth. It's the one that can do almost everything. I can make beautiful pads, punchy basses, silky leads. I can make ugly metallic clangs, dirty gritty soundscapes. I can sample myself going "ooh" and play it as a choir. Backwards.

I think there are too many 10/10 ratings on KVR, but Harmor is the one synth I have that deserves it. Well done Gol.

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TB ReelBus v3

Reviewed By sjm [all]
May 22nd, 2017
Version reviewed: 3.1.4 on Windows

I picked up Reelbus maybe a month ago - I was working on a 60s style track and wanted something that would impart that "tape feeling" to my recordings. It only took me a short demo period to decide Reelbus does what I want and does it well. I ended up using multiple instances all over the project.

Now my personal experience of working with tape is limited to mucking around on an old Studer (same model as the Beatles used) and using a 4-track tape recorder back in the 90s. But I grew up with cassette tape and walkmans, so I am definitely familiar with the sound of consumer-grade cassettes. Reelbus seems to be a pretty good emulation of this sound: if you drive the signal too hard, you get that "tapey" distortion; you can get a nice warbled effect if you turn up the W&F.

What really struck me about the Studer was that no matter what you recorded to it, if you sent in the signal with a nice level, it would do wonderful things to your audio and make everything just sound "betterer". OK, the tubes obviously played a big part, but tape also has interesting characteristics in how it reacts to different signal levels. Reelbus has similar mojo. If you drive your signal just right, it'll saturate and compress the signal in a really nice way (to my ears). And as said before, if you don't drive it right, you have the potential to mess up your sound just like when recording a signal that is too hot to tape.

But Reelbus goes further than just simulating compression and the frequency response of tape though. You can add all the blemishes associated with tape recordings such as hiss, tape defects, wow and flutter etc. What I really like is that all of these settings can be set independently of each other. On top of that, there are several different models to choose from, all of which have their own sonic characteristics.

The fact that you have various different settings that are all independent also makes Reelbus more than just a tape simulation. The Hiss and Asperity settings include a -30dB switch; if you turn these all the way down, it's basically inaudible in a mix. That means you can selectively use Reelbus just for certain sonic characteristics of tape - meaning you can use Reelbus as a compressor with the right settings. Or turn up the W&F and leave everything else low to get a nice subtle warbly effect. I've actually used Reelbus as a drum compressor on a new track, and really like the results. Having a decent amount of settings and different models also means that Reelbus is great for simulating different scenarios. In my 60s song, I had a few old& dusty tapes that had been lying around in the studio for a while as well as a newer, well-serviced tape deck for the main mix.

One of the coolest things about Reelbus is the auto gain setting, and I have simply kept it engaged whenever I have use it. It's a great way of avoiding the effect of something louder inherently sounding better, as well as meaning you don't have to be contantly setting your mixing levels if you make changes to the settings. Brilliant.

The interface is very clear and well organised, but I would recommend taking a quick look at the manual which goes into a bit of detail into how the Spectrum and Saturation knobs affect the sound depending on the signal your are processing.

The price is very affordable, which was one of the reasons I decided to give the demo a go. I'd definitely recommend Reelbus to anyone looking for this type of plugin - although you really should just try the demo and see for yourself.

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Reviewed By sjm [all]
June 8th, 2015
Version reviewed: v1.13b on Windows

I know this classic doesn't really need another review, but it's easily my favourite free synth and one of my favourite synths overall. I was also one of those people who didn't understand the hype about synth1 a decade ago - the stock presets were terrible attempts at emulating a GM soundset and my knowledge of synthesis was basically "turning the knobs changes the sound".

At some point I then decided that learning the basics of synthesis might be a smart thing to do, and synth1 was the synth I learnt it on. It's a fantastic synth for learning: there's enough meat to get your teeth stuck into, but it's basic enough both in terms of signal flow and layout that it's hard to get lost once you have a basic idea what you're actually doing.

And while there are some obvious limitations, like only 2 LFOs with limited routing options, these are not nearly as limiting as you first think. There's a nice choice of LFO waveforms and the noise/random LFO in particular opens up possibilities that many of the other top free synths don't have. It's great for evolving pads, for example, when set to a very low speed to add an extra layer of movement that isn't constantly repeated. It's not going to ever beat HG Fortune's specialised synths in this regard, but it can do a very passable job.

In fact, you can create most types of sounds in synth1, albeit some will sound better than others. I've made synthetic drum sounds (kicks, snares, hi-hats), gated trancey pads, leads, basses, e-pianos and much more besides. You can even get harsh, gritty distorted leads out of it with a bit of practice. For this reason, it's my go-to synth when I need to quickly dial in a basic sound - there's not much you can't do and it's quick to get the job done. That's not to say there aren't other synths that I'll turn to for certain types of sounds, as synth1 isn't the best synth for everything and it only covers subtractive synthesis (although there is limited FM which is nice for bellish sounds).

There are a few shortcomings, but nothing serious. I sometimes get crackles that aren't reproducible and generally go away of their own accord. Not sure if this is synth1 or my host (FL studio), and it's rare. I'm also not the biggest fan of the flanger, but you can add your own FX in your DAW anyway.

The UI is utilitarian, although that doesn't bother me personally. This is easily offset by the fact that you can change the size - unlike some other plugins from yesteryear, the UI isn't the size of a postage stamp.

So really, there isn't much not to like. It sounds good, it's versatile, and of course it's free. Unless you already have a plethora of killer synths, you really should have synth1 in your VST folder.

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Reviewed By sjm [all]
November 2nd, 2011
Version reviewed: 1.71 on Windows

Note: This is an edited review. Since first writing this review, I've updated Zen to v 1.7.1. The stability issues I was experiencing before when switching between synths/presets seem to have been fixed. I've not had any crashes despite switching between loads of presets and different synths. I haven't tried scanning my VSTs though.

I've left the original review here but have edited it (edits and comments in bold).

[original review starts here]

I very much like the premise of Zen. It provides a nice solution for managing presets, including the ability to download presets from the internet. Be warned that if you have a load of VSTs or particularly popular ones (Synth1), downloading all the presets will take a while. You're reliant on the presets you download already being categorised sensibly, because there's no way you'll be able to categorise the nearly 8,000 Synth 1 presets yourself.

You can rate presets (1-5 stars), search for presets by synth, author, category (e.g. lead/pad etc.) and name and add your own categories as required.

You can click on a preset in Zen, and the VST will be loaded and you can play the preset. You can assign presets to patch slots (for want of a better name), and you can use the patch change command on your controller to switch between the presets you have set up in this way. I can see this being quite useful in live situations - either on stage or if you are jamming with a band.

Sound designers can also upload their presets from within Zen, although I haven't done this myself.

The UI is relatively straightforward and there are tips displayed whenever you move the mouse cursor over a UI element. Once you've got the hang of it, it's pretty intuitive to use. It did take me a while to figure out how to do the most basic stuff though (e.g. import my own presets) - I do think the icons used by the buttons could be improved. I'd also like to be able to resize the interface to fit more presets on each page, but that's no biggie.

Addendum: Not sure if it's just on my system, but using the mouse wheel to scroll lists is painfully slow - it takes about 10 seconds to scroll down 8 entries because it scrolls about a pixel at a time.

Another downside for me is that the UI pretty much requires you to use both hands to categorize presets, because you need to hold down Ctrl while clicking to categorise a preset. It would be nice if you could do this with one hand on your MIDI controller so as to preview the sounds you are categorising.

Zen doesn't make any sound per se. It sounds as good as your presets and VSTs.

It's more than just a preset organiser - as well as being able to load up VSTs to play a preset, you can also map VST parameters to CCs and record the output to a wav file - it's similar to Toby Bear's mini host in terms of being a very basic VST hostt. Zen basically does what it says on the tin and throws in a couple of nice features to boot.

Addendum: One thing that I missed that would be great is the ability to split the keyboard into various zones, with each zone mapped to a different preset and synth.

The documentation isn't particularly long (Zen is relatively simple), but provided answers to all the questions I had. As I said before, I did need to look at the docs to figure out how to do some of the more basic things - but it only took a minute or so to find the information I wanted.

I've given Zen a 10 here because if you go online you'll end up with loads of presets. Obviously they aren't all the bee's knees, but that's not Zen's fault.

Customer Support:
Never actually needed customer support, but Big Tick have a forum here on KVR and seem pretty active. Zen has been updated several times since I first tried it.

It's free. If you need something like this, you can't get better value than free.


Edited: Since updating to v 1.7.1 I have had no stability issues.

[the following text is from the original review, but no longer applies]

Unfortunately I have to agree with the previous review on this point. While I don't feel I'm wasting my time using Zen, stability definitely could be improved. I've had crashes switching between presets on both different plugins and the same plugin. To what extent the plugins themselves are to blame I don't know, but it has crashed on me several times. You might want to think twice before using Zen in a live situation, or at least extensively stress test your system! Hopefully stability will be improved in future.

I've not had problems with Zen crashing while scanning VSTs (mentioned in the previous review), but I haven't got very many VSTs - around 10 show up in Zen at the moment. I've never really understood why hosts do this as one single VST can crash the system and fixing the problem can be a real pain.

Overall I'd say that if you like the idea of being able to search for and preview patches across a whole range of synths in one go, you could do a lot worse than try Zen. It's a lot more efficient to search for a pad in Zen than to load up several VSTs and go through the presets one by one. It's thus a boon both to those whole rely mainly on presets (possibly tweaking them) and for sound designers who can categorise and distribute their patches to users.

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