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ACE (Any Cable Everywhere)

Reviewed By Sendy [all]
August 25th, 2015
Version reviewed: 1.3.1 on Windows

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 :)

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Piano One

Reviewed By Sendy [all]
January 20th, 2013
Version reviewed: 1.3 on Windows

This plugin is the "Zebralette" of the piano market. When companies produce these cut down freebie versions of their products we all win. The company gets goodwill and familiarity with it's products, and we get free stuff!

I've been using Piano One for all my practicing, improv and composition needs for the best part of a year, and the sound is on the whole very satisfying. Now, you can practice and do bare-bones composition on polysynth sounds, but for some reason, you just can't beat the experience of sitting at a piano when it comes to teasing ideas out of your subconscious.

This piano is even good enough to be used on professional tracks semi-naked, with one caveat - the release - as has been pointed out in the other review, is pretty unrealistic. You can fix it a bit by dragging up the release slider, giving a more realistic release length, but the *shape* is still wrong. Mostly you can fix this with reverb (using the reverb that comes in the plugin or an external one), but still, it's the fly in the ointment of an otherwise near-perfect freebie, and the reason I'm giving 9 instead of 10.

The look of the plugin is pretty janky, but the interface has some good controls (velocity curves for example, very useful for extracting different piano styles from your playing). Their paid plugins have much nicer atmospheres to them and it seems fair that they'd cut back on this a bit in the free version.

I'll definitely be checking out their other piano products with the hopes of buying them if they can build on the quality of this one.

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Cromina String Machine

Reviewed By Sendy [all]
January 14th, 2013
Version reviewed: 1 on Windows

Cromina String Machine is one of the best budget string synth I've come across. The competing product, which is by a developer I respect greatly for his FX plugins, had considerable aliasing on the high notes - something that can get in the way of a soaring string section, no matter how nice the oscillators sound in the mid and low registers. Cromina does not noticably alias and sounds just as good if not better, despite being cheaper! Don't let the synthedit logo fool you!

Whilst I already own the excellent Synth Squad Amber, what drew me to this emulation was it's choice of three waveforms, and more mixable stops. The demo was super-annoying, not letting you tweak the important parameters (stops and footages), but I was sold on the strength of the presets. Take for example the patch "Warm Poly Strings", it's just flippin' gorgeous. The phaser, tremolo, and all the other details really come together to deliver the lush.

Speaking of effects, there's a switch to disable the bass registers from passing through the phaser and delay, very useful because that phaser can really blast some holes in the spectrum. Further tweakability comes from the back panel which is accessed by clicking the Wok logo. This lets you set LFO speeds, volume keytracking and advanced EQ settings, amongst others.

The three waveforms you can choose for the oscillator bank each have a distinctive character, two sawtooth types - one raspy and the other soft and fuller, plus a pulse-based waveform, which is naturally more nasal with a slightly hollow body. These waves filter down through the mixable stops giving each voice a distinct flavour, and when mixed they gel together beautifully creating a palette of sound that's interesting yet always constantly familiar (and after all, that's what we want from an emulation like this).

All in all, a really good purchase, and very playable!

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Reviewed By Sendy [all]
August 15th, 2012
Version reviewed: 3.1.5 on Windows

Fabfilter One and Saturn are the only Fabfilter products I own. I gladly parted with the asking price for Saturn and am forever grateful for this transation, as it's the gift that keeps giving! Fabfilter One was I think Fab's first attempt at a commercial synthesizer, and they started out with the KISS methodology (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)

The sound quality of both the oscillator and the filter is exceptional, and I believe it was one of the first VST synths to really deliver a convincing emulation of an analog filter. I picked it up second hand because I saw it in the market place and can't resist a bargain. Would I have paid the full price for it? In my current situation, probably not, as I have the "analog" side of things pretty much covered, but now that I have it, I enjoy it for simple sounds, that filter, and it's overall character.

Around the 50 pound mark is quite steep for a one oscillator synth in all honesty. Had there been two oscillators, or some more sound shaping options, this wouldn't be an issue, but the reality is that while this was on the cutting edge of sound quality many years ago and well worth the asking price, it hasn't aged well in terms of bang for buck. Luckily, the sound quality it-self is still sounding pretty flawless, so this whole point is a matter of opinion entirely. YMMV.

The oscillator is simple but unique. The triangle and square wave have a considerable amount of even harmonics, which means you can't really make "hollow" sounds easily. The triangle's waveform is more of a distorted sine, but it serves it's purpose well, and I'm a fan of this purely because it's different, with a similar bandwidth as a normal triangle. Because the square wave sounds more like a saw and square mixture waveform, the sweeping PWM effect is a little bit less dramatic, with less cancellation at the nulls than is the norm, but it's still a recongizable PWM sound. The plus side is that those extra harmonics, again, make One stand out from the crowd.

One pet hate of mine is when a PWM implimentation doesn't let you specify a modulation *between* two pulsewidths, but instead assumes you want to morph from a square into whatever pulsewidth you've selected. Setting a narrow pulse and then modulating the PW a bit with an LFO or envelope is out of the question, though thankfully the envelope is inverable via a switch, which opens up a few more options.

Now onto that filter. This is really the instrument's saving grace. Despite being a single-mode, single-slope resonant lowpass (often compared sonically with Korg's MS-20 filter), it's very powerful in it's ability to transform sounds. Not only is there a complete lack of digital artifacts such as stepping and roughness, but the filter responds to high resonance levels not with an ear-peircing screach, but instead with a complicated overtone structure, which almost brings it into FM and ring-modulation territory at times.

I even managed to create a detuned effect by setting the filter to resonate close to, but not exactly on a harmonic of the oscillator. All of these effects are given a firm footing by the perfect and variable key tracking you can assign, allowing you to create some complex and interesting waveforms by using the filter to extend the harmonic structure of the triangle wave.

The GUI is spot on and responds to mouse activity perfectly, and the portamento is very musical sounding. However, portamento doesn't seem to affect the filter, which is a slight disappointment given that the filter is such a big part of the musicality of this instrument.

Overall, the limited features of One and the great sound quality combine to create a synth that takes you back to the "good old days", where creativity with knobs and switdhes was the order of the day. It can create a fair amount of tones for a 1-osc synth, but I feel it falls just short of it's current price point in today's market.

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Saturn 2

Reviewed By Sendy [all]
August 5th, 2012
Version reviewed: 1.01 on Windows

A bit expensive, but worth every penny. The only way to improve this, is to add mute and solo options to the bands... wait... they did that! NOOO! ANOTHER 10 out of 10! WHAT A WORLD!

If you're like me you buy lots of plugins. Not stupid amounts, but there's a steady trickle. Many of these are bought for entertainment value, out of curiousity for a new feature or technique... some might inspire you a bit or give you new ideas, others might be a version of something else but just done better, but how much of it actually changes your workflow and the quality of your music or satisfaction with your sound to a noticable degree?

Demo this plugin. Aimlessly fiddle with it on a drum or bass track and know that without even trying, you've made your track sound better. Now learn how to use it a bit... BOOM! You need it! This is not a "want" plugin, it's a "NEED!" plugin! I lasted an hour of demoing before I gave in, can you beat my score?

I'm not hugely into saturation effects, and a lot of my prior experience comprised ending up with something so subtle I couldn't notice the difference, or something that sounded overcooked at best and horribly goofy at worse. Saturation effects are about taking the sound of stuff and giving it "good tone" - whatever that is! It's a bit of a dark art subject to hype, black box products, scams and misinformation. "Good tone" means both improving the impact of a musical part, as well as making it fit with the others, and that's where Saturn becomes a Miracle Machine in my opinion.

If it's gone over your radar, Saturn is a multiband saturation unit, specializing in subtle to mild distortions which generally aim to sweeten what's there rather than create new material and avenues. Each band can choose the type and balance of saturation, from warm tapes to broken tubes to various amp types. You have a lot of options - how dense the saturation in a band is, how much it's mixed in with the dry, the stereo balance (in L/R or the INVALUABLE M/S mode) and the overall output level. On top of that, each band has a simple dynamics control, which with one knob can take your band from "either max volume or quiet" to "short punchy bursts of sounds on the dominant transients" and anything inbetween. Following this, each band ALSO has it's own 4-band post-EQ, so you can, for example, turn up the treble of the distortion happening in the BASS, without turning up the treble of the actual dry signal passing over that band!

What the above comprises is a revolutionary amount of control wrapped up in an easy and intuitive GUI. Sound-wise it is spot on, too, and will deliver all of the attitude, warmth, crispiness and depth you need to make your tracks larger-than-life.

On top of this, some creative effects are thrown in. Each band has an adjustable feedback knob with variable delay. I don't use this much, but it's capable of some wild sounds. There are also 3 creative (or destructive rather!) effects available in each band. These are a rectifier (choking, spluttering octaved effect), a samplerate/bit crusher (for digital dust and sparks) and a spectral blur, which when applied in small amounts creates chorus and reverb illusions, and in large amounts will turn any sound into an ambient void allowing travel to alternate dimensions. (YMMV)

On top of that, on top of that, an easy-peasy modular control system with LFO's, envelope followers, MIDI input, and everything else you might need ties it all together. Even without this extra environment, this is an amazingly powerful tool and sounds alarmingly professional. But when you add this modulation, so you can do stuff like alter a band's spectral position with an envelope follower or alter the M/S balance of a band via an envelope, you really do have enough fuel in this thing to take you to Saturn!

I use this mainly on drums and bass at the moment, but basically it can improve almost anything that needs to be upfront and "present". Given it's creative potential, no doubt it could also do a thing or two with pads and stereo-manipulated soundscapes, but beefing stuff up is where this thing comes into it's own.

You'll find this doing the work of an EQ, compressor, stereo imager AND distortion some days, and in a way that's much more integrated and useful than using several separates would probably afford. I'm never looking back.

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Spectral Autopan

Reviewed By Sendy [all]
July 30th, 2012
Version reviewed: 1 on Windows

Yep, another 10. Ok, so quality of life is going down the pan, and human life seems cheaper than ever in these days of corporate greed and endless repeats on Dave... But at least we have good plugins! ;) So is it that hard to believe that there are a whole slew of great freeware plugins out there worth 10 points? Really, what is the appropriate response to being given a tool that does what it says flawlessly for free? Um and ahh and dock a few points because we don't like the colour scheme, or it didn't come with an application to actually run the FREE program FOR YOU, READ YOUR MIND and then automatically set the program up EXACTLY how you want it without you lifting a FINGER!?

All of Anarchy Software's freeware products are boss, and do everything you'd expect from their titles pretty much flawlessly. Take Spectral Autopan (which, remember, is what I'm *supposed* to be writing about). Spectral Autopan (SA from now on) is a multiband panner with five bands, each with their own choice of waveshape, start and end location in the spectrum, LFO rate and range, LFO start phase, AND a separate LFO with ditto all of the above, to modulate it's crossover point in spectral space!

Asif that wasn't insane enough, each band is interpolated between by a function of your choice - these functions are square, triangle and sine. Sine creates a curve between the two bands, triangle is linear, and square creates hard edges in the transitions, functioning to create distinct bands. You might think the difference between these interpolation options would be subtle, but each is downright trippy in it's own way, and suitable for creating a certain effect.

All of this is visualized the most elegant way, with a vertical line representing your audio. Bass frequencies are at the bottom, treble is at the top, and a part of the line moving left or right indicates panning in that frequency range. Given this exacting visualization there are countless ways to make the line "dance" and hence push the sound around, a few of which are shown in the presets (which are low in number, perhaps my only gripe, but setting up presets is a joy anyway!).

Because of the interpolation options, the five bands can create very complex effects where each frequency is in a slightly different position and moving at a slightly different rate. The end result isn't something you'd want to use in every mix, but when you want this kind of effect (and you know when that is), this is just PERFECT as a tool for getting there very quickly.

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Reviewed By Sendy [all]
April 23rd, 2012
Version reviewed: 1 on Windows

Sometimes you want to shift a stereo image, such that it spans from the left speaker to the center, or something like that. Traditional panning won't achieve that, because it's only balancing between the left and the right - the mid point is the fulcrum. Enter Moneo, it's free and it's in my toolbox because it's the only way I know of how to do this!

Haven't used the inbuilt resonant filter, because I have dedicated payware for that, but this is a godsend for mix balancing and moving spaces around. Just place each channel where you want to reposition it on the pads and you're done! Simples! Sounds good (asin it doesn't tarnish your precious audio signals) and is easy to use and free! I give it an 8 because really, it's nothing mind-blowing. There are much more exciting freebies out there. I'm not a fan of that "mixtape" font and the GUI graphics, particularly... But that doesn't detract from it's usefulness!

Very handy utility! Thanks to the developer!

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Reviewed By Sendy [all]
April 19th, 2012
Version reviewed: 1.0.7 on Windows

SplineEQ is a linear phase EQ with an innovative GUI which combines spline curve editing with visual feedback and just a handfull of the most essential features, plus a few generous extras.

Firstly, I'm no expert on EQs, but it sounded very transparent to me, even in the treble end. I'm ready to believe that when I push the treble up with this EQ, what I'm getting is simply a louder version of those frequencies I've chosen to accentuate with the curve profile. This makes it perfect for corrective EQ or other situations where surgical precision is required. Bands can be as narrow as you like, have any steepness at their transitions, and you can boost, or completely take out an exact band of frequencies to silence.

The plugin will introduce latency (which I believe is a neccecity due to the time-critical nature of linear phase EQing), which was automatically compensated for by my DAW, but could lead to problems in a live situation. But then who EQ's stuff in realtime? The latency can be traded off for less filter accuracy, which doesn't degrade the sound quality, but does degrade the resolution of the filter curve. Where the curve deviates from your programmed profile, a dotted line shows what's really happening. In most cases I've found it's low frequency resolution that is lost with the trade-off, but unless you're doing surgical bass work, this isn't going to be much of an issue and moderate settings give good results.

Creating and modifying curves in the GUI is a breeze, and the visual feedback really makes this EQ stand out. The input material's frequencies are shown under the curve as pulsing beams of colour-coded light, and as they pass through the curve, they get brigher or dimmer, or completely disappear, depending on how much the curve deviates from the neutral setting. Not only is this a really intuitive concept visually (and quite pretty), but the way the frequencies are depicted is somewhat different to the norm, and I found it very natural and a good way to picture the frequencies in my music.

Finally, the extra bonus functionality here is the option to shift the filter response up and down the frequency range - right off of the screen if you want - and alter the magnitude and even polarity of the curve, so that peaks become troughs, etc. This feature allows the creation of some serious creative filter and phasing effects, and the brickwall resonant lowpass filter I constructed sounded very fat and dare I say 'punchy'. Seriously, I couldn't stop squelching my mix with it :)

I can see this getting some serious use as a creative filter as well as surgical EQ.

For the low price, there is quite a bit of functionality and usability packed into SplineEQ. If you've never tried a linear-phase EQ (as I hadn't) I recommend you give the demo a shot.

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Kombinat Dva

Reviewed By Sendy [all]
March 2nd, 2012
Version reviewed: 1 on Windows

If, like me, you like getting into the atomic structure of a beat and detonating catoclysmic explosions within, this is the perfect weapon. Perfect for trashing up classic breaks or making simple loops wheeze and whine! For what I consider a cheap effect, there are *lots* of effects here, and they combine in intriguing ways. The band-splitting and re-adding process seems to be transparent and you can get killswitch effects by turning a band entirely off. Automating the band edges can create weird filtering effects, and "growing" distortions which swallow up more and more of the spectrum.

There are lots of effects you can patch into each of the three bands, and several of them have a unique twist, for example the bit-crush effect has a unique "error" parameter which seems to scatter the bits at random. This is good for breaking up the symmetric formant sound you get with a typical samplerate reduction. I love all of the effects, but when operating on narrow frequency ranges, it can be hard to bring the nuance you want out. At times I wished for more unique effects, because they can sound similar to eachother in some situations.

That said, I love this effect! It has so much crushing power, it'll satisfy your most sadistic streak! Cue evil laughter!!!!! There are also a few extras which I knew about, but effected the complexity of the effect a lot more than I was expecting. The 2-mode resonant LPF, and the feedback.. Simply dialling in some feedback will add the output of the effect to it's imput, creating a thick layer of grunge, a bass boost, a squirrelly whistle, or even add that mystical "wetness" to filter sweeps. Altering the gain stages of the effects is also possible, and will really have an overall effect on the balance of the sound and how it comes across. Pretty powerful stuff!

I don't know why, but changing the filter mode seems to change the sound of the effects section. I think it effects the internal wiring of the modules or something, but it's good for checking out a quick variation of your current effect. Mode B tends to be a lot rougher and peakier, but it's a crap-shoot.

For all it's brutality, this effect has me coming back for the subtleties it can create. I'm using it 99% for breaks and loops, and multiband effects are an amazing way to add a detailed signiture to something and make it special. I don't mean special asin adding effects for the sake of it, either, this thing can really bring out special nuances, and when you sweep the filter, you're getting a complex effect that you wouldn't get by putting a filter after it in the signal chain. As I'm a sucker for filtersweeps on beats and the art of tweaking them to perfection, it almost feels like this was made for me :)

Finally, there's a pre-output single-fader compressor. Small values will level things out and tidy up any mess, large values make it pump and wheeze like an asthmatic in peril. Not bad for a single control effect!

My one gripe with this effect is that you're a bit limited about where you can put the boundaries of the bands. The lower boundary is restricted to the lower half of the spectrum, and the higher one likewise stays in the high half. I don't know if this is an optimization thing, and it's not a huge limit by any means, but it does rule out some of the more experimental things I wanted to try. I was going to mark this down to a 9 for that, but I don't feel it deserves it. If the Audio Damage guys could eventually move this limitation, and maybe add (even more) effects to the band insert list, this effect would be even better; but as it is, it's still pure gold-dust and worth every penny of it's entrance fee.

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AudioRealism Bass Line Pro (ABL Pro)

Reviewed By Sendy [all]
February 8th, 2012
Version reviewed: 1.1.6 on Windows

I'm giving this synth 10 out of 10. I'm doing this because it's perfect for the purpose it was created, and beyond! I try to rate synths in relation to the average review at KVR, for the sake of fairness. I also only tend to review synths I really like. I wish we could rate out of 15 or 20 because the standard of softsynths in general has sky-rocketed in recent times. I'd give this 19 out of 20.

ABL pro is advertised as a "303 on steroids" and is the stuff of dreams if you're looking for classic Roland-style monosynth sequences and mutant acid lines. Two oscillators with all of the analog waveshapes and an LFO which can go audio-rate and be patched in as a 3rd oscillator feed a lowpass filter that can squelch and scream. The main filter design is more in the vein of the MC-202 than the 303 (and really is a dead ringer! No pun intended ;), but a "legacy" filter is provided with a 18db/oct slope which squelches instead of self-resonating.

If you've wanted to make authentic acid-lines with PWM and sync or stacked oscillators, this is your ticket. The synth engine, combined with the built-in sequencer, just has that certain magic to it which gets my head nodding and my face grinning. Like the straight-up 303 emulation ABL 2, the sequencer speaks Acidese fluently, and is as vital a part of the sound as the actual filters and oscillators! Alternatively, you can switch off both the sequencer AND the mono mode, and use ABL Pro just like any other softsynth, though having a fairly modern computer might be a good idea if you want to really exploit that.

Really, it always comes back to the sound. It's evocative of the past, yet expands into new territory. Features such as a waveshaper (which brings in varying amounts of wave folding), filter and oscillator FM, ring modulation, control signal patching and the audio rate LFO and lizard-tongue quick envelopes make this my go-to synth for tricked out acid.

I don't much care for the 303-style sequencer programming, and would welcome with open arms a graphical editor or piano roll interface, but this is made up for by providing extensive controllable randomization which seriously always inspires me after a bit of clicking around. Again this takes the oldschool acid technique of having the 303's batteries die and the pattern memory being filled with random, chromatic weirdness, and pulls it squelching and pulsating into the modern DAW. The ability to choose the density of notes, ties, and accents, choose to leave certain aspects of the pattern alone, automatically create relevent variations, and lock the randomization to different scales and modes really makes this a winner in my opinion.

In the oscillator department, much care seems to have gone into getting that characteristic Roland sound, especially the squarewave with it's complex spectrum and meaty bass. There are no perfect digital waveshapes here, and the result is something organic that changes timbre with pitch like the original hardware did.

All in all, an oldschool techno masterpiece with mileage way into the future. The bottom line for me is that this is a synth which has provided the spark of inspiration which ended up with entire tracks built around it. You can't ask for more than that!

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