This is my rating and review for the whole of Dcam SynthSquad as you can't buy them separately anyway.
I will have to keep this review short, as to write an exhausting review of DCAM would be, well.. exhausting.
Synth Squad can be looked at a collection of 3 relevantly simple analogue modeled synths which can be integrated into a shell called Fusor giving you modular connectivity between all synths loaded and then some extras too.
Fusor provides complex arpeggiation and step sequencing as well as effects processing. It allows for the combination of any of the three synths (Strobe, Cypher & Amber) and provides an interconnection of modulation sources and destinations.
The synths themselves are a pleasure to use. Strobe in particular is irresistible for it's simplicity and phatness factor. Sporting 4 sub osc's + Osc Stacking plus Stereo & Polyphonic Unison It has produced some of the biggest and most lush pads and supersaws this writer has heard come out of his DAW. Furthermore unison mode gives you a lot of options and this is true for all of the synths as they all share the same transmod system (never could get used to the name transmod though, makes me shudder a little).
You can use variations of Unison as modulation sources. One obvious use is the have the destination be fine tune and pan, each unison voice will be detuned and panned in the stereo field. But there are many other possibilities. The transmod system itself is brilliant and allows for fast routing and it's fairly easy to keep track of what is modulating what. A very good system and much nicer than Modulation Matrices. It has has some similarity to NI Massive in this respect.
If you want to get into more complex synthesis you're not at a loss because there is Cypher. Green & cluttered with a thousand buttons; its the ugly duckling, but it sings beautifully.
Here you have 3 oscs and 2 filters instead of Strobe's single Osc and filter and it also has a Moog filter model. The differences between Cypher and Strobe are in their architecture and in Cyphers Moog model filter. Otherwise they both share the same sound.
It also has some rare features, control over osc beating etc which makes it a very intriguing synth, but you probably know about those already. If not it's on their website.
As for Amber, well I've had a look at it numerous times but it's nothing that interests me at the moment. The interesting resonator is available in Fusor for any of the synths to use anyway.
All of these have a great amp section where you can really drive them. It makes for very interesting shaping.
Now Fusor is both great and at times a little frustrating. I had to refer to the manual a good few times to figure out some things, which is fine for something so complex, but there were some things I still couldn't get working. No big problem as most everything I wanted to do was self explanatory.
Things I liked about Fusor:
Plenty of effect slots.
Modulation of effects.
Loads of good effects.
Easy to use Arp/Sequencer with clear visibility.
Some more in-depth features lengthy to explain but very practical in use.
Things I did not like about Fusor:
Lots of tabs & buttons in the Animator which are not immediately understandable. Not sure how they could help it but I am sure it could be helped some.
Gets a little complex with Fusor presets vs individual synth presets. You just have to keep track of what you're doing though.
Cannot use Synth Envelopes as mod source.
No metering between FX to help gain staging.
Not the best phaser/flanger/chorus.
Final thoughts: These synths are able to bring something more organic to the table than many others while at the same time offering enough of a tight controlled sound to allow them to work well in modern highly processed and precise music. Fat but not obese.
I've got bucket loads of VSTi's but Strobe often gets pulled up when I want a reliably big but more earthy sound, not something that turns to noise easily through processing, but retains is liveliness. Hard to explain. But it's robust.
This is an important part of my synthesizer selection.
In my opinion, this is one of the best EQ's around. Not only does it sound great and have a great GUI, it's also very versatile and provides a number of EQ styles.
One should really have a look at the manual, it's very easy reading with nice clear graphs and straightforward plain-English writing.
On the left side of the GUI, there are 2 style knobs, one for the bells, the other for the shelves, with 3 settings each.
With setting no.1 this EQ does the very broad bells of classic EQs,.
Setting no.2 gives you a gain-Q coupled design, like that of the API 560 and SPL ranger series.
Style setting 3 gives you the uncoupled design which is more modern.
In other words the the gain-q coupled bell decreases the Q as you boost while the other gives you a true-Q response. One is more "musical" and the other surgical.
You cannot however choose these responses per-band, only per-instance. Does it break workflow? I think not, for me I do different stages of EQ, surgical to remove unwanted frequencies, musical to get a sound I'm interested in and broad to give presence. So this would require 3 instances of this EQ, not good for Cubase users perhaps, but thankfully It's light on CPU.
Cutting is also flexible, there are switches below the aforementioned knobs that deal with symmetry. You can have either a symmetrical response or an asymmetrical response. With a symmetrical response your boosting and attenuating (cutting) will be equal.
The normal response of most EQ's is asymmetrical, that is that cuts are narrower than boosts by default, and the Q's narrows the more you attenuate. Often engineers advise that for a more natural or transparent sound boost broad and cut narrow.
You can have the opposite if you wish, with a symmetrical response your boosts and cuts can have equal bandwidths.
What is interesting to me, the manual here states that the symmetry of each bell type differs, based on their extensive research on what sounds the most pleasing.
The Shelves are very interesting to me. One of the great features of this EQ is the adjustable slope on the shelves, allowing you to change their response dramatically.
Again we have 3 types:
Type one being the most common employed in the classic Eqs which creates an increasing dip at the shelf transition frequency.
Type two reminds me of my Portico Eq, it creates a dip like type one, but it also has a resonant peak around the corner frequency. This allows you to make a general boost to a shelve while at the same time emphasizing a specific frequency. So lets say we are boosting a bass group with kick and bassline, we can boost the entire bass range as we pleased while placing a special emphasis on the kick put putting the resonant peak at the right spot.
Type three has no dip and has a resonant peak.
The symmetry control is great here. Remember that little dip introduced by type one and two? Well at this point when cutting a shelf those dips will become peaks, this is what steinberg's console EQ does, here though we are able to flip a switch and have those dips become further cuts in the shelf instead of becoming peaks.
It's easier if you just look at the graphs in the manual to explain this.
Aside from all this, there are hi-pass and low-pass filters with a steepness up to 24dB. I sometimes prefer more drastic slopes, but 24dB is fine for most purposes.
You cannot have any band used for any frequency as each band is limited to a certain area. Can be annoying sometimes, but on the other hand it helps guide you.
The GUI is beautiful in my opinion, Sonalksis have the nicest GUI's around. Very professional and a lovely colour. However time has gone on since the release of this EQ and I believe it's time it was made larger (if possible) to take advantage of larger screens with high pixel count, as I do find it a little small, that said some larger GUI's are not nice to work with as they take up so much screen space.
The menu is very helpful and allows for a lot of customization. You can deactivate the graph but you cannot switch the GUI to a knobs only view like you could with Equilibrium for example. Shame, as it's nice to have nothing but the knobs to look at sometimes so you're forced to use your ears more. Sometimes a graph is just too distracting. Fortunately you can turn off the response curves on the graph (which I believe also has 3 settings) in which can you will just be left with a blank graph under the controls.
The Analyser is great and can be switch off if needed. The scale can be toggled between two settings for mix or mastering uses, and there are many more little changes that can be made in the menu. Often it's all these little things that make a difference.
The product page on KVR still shows the old price of this EQ, $259 or so, it's actually $110 now which means it's a great price. Is it really a relevant option now that we have Mr Gamble making new EQ's which much larger GUI's and many options? To me yes. I have Equality, and I still prefer Sonalksis, even with the smaller GUI. Partly because I am used to it, I know everything I am doing on it and know a lot of what I can do (although amazingly even after having it for well over a year now I am still discovering all the subtleties of the bell and shelf types) but partly because I just find it nicer to use than Equality.
Of course I cannot offer anything like the amazing options of Equilibrium, but that's costs almost $200 more.
It might sound strange, but in my mind this is the best EQ plug-in I've ever used, even when put up against Equality, Pro-Q, Digital V_2, Portico & others. It's not that it beats all these in every area, but it beats them all for me because it's so well rounded, it has the perfect balance of features and ease of use, wrapped in a very pleasant GUI with easy CPU usage and no stability problems.
My next general go to EQ is in-fact Brainworx V2 as it offers the M/S modes that Sonalksis-517Mk2 does not.
Then again I don't know if I'd like to be without Equality for the mastering stage, where it's perfect for the little changes in the M/S domain.
I think Equilibrium is perhaps the ultimate all rounder, but what takes second place for me is Sonalksis. If they made an option for the GUI to be larger then I think I'd give this a 10.
However If you find more complex EQ's with large GUI's to be a bit overwhelming and at the same time don't find the simpler EQ's such as PSP console EQ's, DDMF 6614 and Kaussa's new offerings to be versatile enough I think could be the one for you.
Be aware however of Sonalksis second hand NFR policy. If you buy this from someone you cannot sell it on, which on the other hand means if you do find this for sale (I don't often see it come up) it's likely going to be silly cheap.
Objectively I give it a 9. But it is my go to EQ and it's also my favourite overall.
Edit: a couple weeks later and I am going to give my review this title: Slate VCC. I want to believe.
Before we get to my original review, I have to add that I've done a little more testing with the SSL model and I do think there is a something there that improves my mixes. A small something though. And I feel 6 is a bit too low, as most "average" plug-ins would be about 5, and I would consider many of them a bit useless. So it's a 7 now.
Slate VCC is a divisive plug-in! The concept itself brought into question by many. I will try to avoid making too many strong statements myself as I am not even 100% sure how important of a place it holds in my set up.
Just in case you didn't know Slate VCC is an emulation of 4 famous consoles plus a certain tube console.
The desks modeled were SSL, API, Trident & Neve. You are meant to load up a console plug-in on each track and gradually simulate running your mix through one of these desks. This is achieved by modelling their saturation, distortion, frequency response and cross-talk.
So much for the theory. In practice?
If you slap VCC on near the end of your mixing process you may or may not prefer the result. If however you begin your mix and mix into these plug-ins I think you will be reluctant to remove them after a few A/B with the un-processed. Since each channel can be grouped you can switch them all in and out to hear their total effect.
What does it sound like? Well to me I think I hear the saturation with some models, but I think the biggest difference is the frequency response. It's like a preset EQ. There are graphs on Rhythminmind and on Sound & Sound. that show these responses.
If you look at them you will be able to see what I mean. Now to me frequency boosts must make your content louder or at least appear louder. It can also make it appear clearer.
The Trident channel is said to be a nice open & wide sound, while the Neve is beefy with deep bass. Looking at the graphs you can easily see why that is the case. The Neve has about a 2dB bump below 100hz. The Trident has a high end boost. The API is a like a softer version of the Trident and the SSL is almost neutral. And the SSL by the way is one of peoples favourites from what I read around. It could be because it does not EQ very much but still gives saturation. As Fabrice coded these plug-ins I expect the EQ is of the same quality as his respected AirEq. A good digital EQ with nice curves is basically a nice enhancement.
When you push the consoles a bit (which I usually don't) you get an effect similar to compression. When used gently you end up with well, something different from your original but hard to say exactly what.
One thing to consider is this, when you use saturation or distortion you are also bringing in aliasing also if I am not mistaken. Much like distortion is actually degrading the signal but it can sound more pleasing.
Could I live without it? Well here is the problem for me and perhaps others. I do frequently mix without it. If you have good source sounds and good mixing technique you will end up with a good sounding mix. So if you are getting good mixes already why buy VCC?
Well for some they find they get to where they are trying to go quicker. I can see that as VCC gives you a certain amount of compression and EQ that can really help gel things together. The saturation can excite the sound a little and make it feel weightier. I found that it offers me ways of quickly finding solutions. Are the drums a little weak? Slam the drum group a little. Is the bass too soft? Switch the bass group to Neve. Do the synths need to stick out some more and be sharper? Switch the group to Trident. And so on.
Is this the only way such a sound can be achieved? Maybe this exact sound yes, but a similar sound could likely be achieved by other means. The question is are other saturation plug-ins out there quite as good for as good a price as VCC sometimes goes for? Also do they offer the same workflow enhancements?
In the end I am a little uncertain one way or the other. I have heard Slate VCC take a weak mix and make it punchy and respectable. But part of me refuses to believe that is the best way to solve the problem. Surely a weak mix that lacks excitement can be fixed with some good compression technique and more careful EQ.
Then again when we think about how mixes have always been done, engineers have always had higher levels of distortion in their processing chains than what you will get in your DAW with neutral digital processing.
People crave compressors and EQ that "model the distortion of the hardware" and so on. I personally have never used a dedicated distortion plug-in that I felt was good and subtle enough to be used on near every channel. Possibly Soundtoys Decapitator. But I do find a good few plug-in compressors and even EQ's have some sort of distortion modelling and generally sound as good or better than VCC. So I decided to do a simple test.
I too some track stems and ran them through different processors. IK 76 with compression dis-engaged, IK 670 & API 2500 + an API EQ, NI Varicomp and also the VCC on it's most neutral mode the SSL.
I then did some listening to the original vs these other versions. The most obvious versions were the NI Vari-comp and the Waves API. The Varicomp version was distorted (obviously as it's a tube emulation and I really drove the input hard) and the waves API version was more pleasant than the original though maybe a bit too bright. Not a good mix with harsh digital sources. So I did another test running the API at 96kHz and the result was much smoother. Another reminder of the importance of over sampling.
As for the VCC I really could hardly hear a thing. I do think VCC does what it says on the tin when it comes to giving you the sound of these consoles. What I don't think though is that having the sound of these consoles gives you something you can't get through other means. I believe the difference mainly comes down to what a simple but good EQ can replicate and if you want a bit of saturation and you already have some good plug-ins that can do that for you you are most of the way there. And as far as distortion goes I got more interesting results from some of my other plug-ins.
What VCC does give you in a nutshell is a simple solution to enhance both your workflow and your sound.
Too much hype surrounds this plug-in. However strip away the hype are you are still left with a decent digital tool to help with your mixing. I want to knock points for for Slate Digital's contribution to the hype, but in the end I can't blame them. They said they are giving us the sound of these consoles and I believe they are, as much as digital can do so. They said you can mix and get faster results and you can. I think perhaps the problem was people in the home studio ascribed too much "magic" to consoles in the first place.
Again, I think Slate delivered. Not knowing any better myself. However the usefulness ratio vs the full price of this plug-in makes it for me an above average but certainly non-essential buy.
EDIT : I'm going to have to eat my words a little. Even on the SSL setting this plug-in IS doing something, To me it sounds a little bit like a good compressor, it sort of makes more room in the track for the louder and more dominant parts.
I think it comes down to material, on some material it's going to make a bigger difference than others.
Waves make a lot of great stuff. So do others, but waves typically produce products that become standards because they are so well done and well thoughtout.
What is it? Maxxbass is a way to get more bass out of your productions. The problem is presented thus: small speakers cannot reproduce low frequencies. Maxxbass aims to remedy this by in a sense shifting the bass information up to where smaller speakers can reproduce them.
What I think is the wrong assumption to make though is that if you aren't concerned about playback on small speakers this plug-in is of no use to you. Actually this enhancer is very useful even on full sized speakers.
Maxxbass splits the incoming signal into bass frequencies and high frequencies. The high frequencies pass through untouched while the bass frequencies are analysed then also passed through untouched to the mixer stage. The analysed bass content is used to generate harmonics. This is the maxxbass product. These harmonics are then mixed with the original signal to give you your original signal + harmonics.
Since these harmonics are generated from the analysis of you original content it always sounds right (at least to my ears). You also have a few options which give you some control over this process. You can choose to hi-pass a certain amount of the bass frequencies and move them up and down the frequency spectrum. So if you are interested in capturing that deep sub information and bringing it up a little you can or you can capture a wider more general bass area and bring this up. The harmonics are also controlled dynamically. They can be upward expanded, giving them less dynamic range, they can be made to respond with fast attack and release settings or slower ones. This is a lot of control, the right kind of control I should add, over the end result. In my mind this allows you to it perfect.
It's a little hard to describe what it sounds like, but if you've ever had a bass enhance button on a stereo or walkman it's somewhat like that only more professional. The bass is just suddenly there, all of it. Maxxbass allows you to dial this in very subtle. You may not hear it as you add in the maxxbass but when you bypass it you hear the absence.
I use it in place of an EQ on the master bus. That way it generally adds more bass that you can hear rather than feel. It just gives everything more weight. I would think it could be roughly approximated with good EQ technique however I doubt it could be matched exactly. EQ tends to be either too much or too little whenever I try to get some nice bass extension. In other words I can dial in the right amount but it's never quite as weighty as I'd like but dialing in any more sounds very bad.
I haven't explored all the uses of this really. It could be a good idea to have an instance on the drum buss and an instance on the bass bus with different settings. And maybe again on a synth bus to give them some weight. It might sound like overkill but remember each on can have very tailored and very subtle settings. They just add up to a deeper more audible bass. I noticed on a video that Ken Lewis used this on 50 Cent's vocal to get it to come across as larger and bassier. I never would have thought of doing that but it worked perfectly.
The GUI is a little old looking but it's definitely a good usable GUI. It's very obvious what you are doing all the time.
To me this is a near essential plug-in. It's not that it's a quick and easier alternative to EQ, it's an entirely different effect to my ears. And very useful tool. The only complaint I can throw against it is the internal bit resolution. It's 24-bit which means it clips if you overload it so you do have to be careful about gain staging. This is where I knock 1 point off. Again going back to the good GUI it has a nice big clip light (that is actually labelled as clip) which lets you know when it's gone over.
For $40 I bought it for it's more than a steal. I can't believe I went so long without someone telling me how important it is to have around. I'd probably pay up to $100 for it.
When I got the beta I had no idea that they were working on an SH-101 type synth. I remember being impressed with the GUI and ease of use. I was mostly relieved that it was not full of bugs to be honest; nothing breaks down my workflow more. I made some presets for the factory bank as I was finding my way around the synth, I made a demo track also and went back to my normal duties.
A little while passed and in need of inspiration I thought I would open Lush. Whenever I get stuck for ideas I often will open up the most easy to use, basic and analog sounding synth I have at the time. As much as I love electronic music, without good raw synth sounds it doesn't quite hold my interest. I love electronic sounds and synths like Lush get me right back to the basics. They make you appreciate again exactly what is the square wave and the saw wave in their raw simplicity. Too many soft-synths sound dull, flat, lifeless, sterile, until you engage at least the filters. Not so with the best, Largo, Diva and Lush have some of the best raw oscillators around. Not the only ones mind you. This is when you fire up the init patch, hit some low keys and wonder if you really want to modify it anymore.
This brings me to my next point, In my review of DIVA I stated that some synths don't seem to respond very much to parameter changes. Sure the sound changes, but you don't get much feeling that the sound has transformed. In fact we seem to have problems in other digital algorithms too, reverbs sitting on top of a vocal and not enveloping it, Eq'd sounding just sounding the same except with some extra frequency sitting on top of it, "character" compressors not really taking on the sound, spitting out the sound compressed but somehow not really changed. I'd add to that list filters that don't seem to transform the sound of the synthesizer. I feel with some synths changing the filter actually changes the character of the sound, while on others it merely changes the timbre. Lush is a synthesizer which yields real changes with every tweak. There are so many great sounds to be found just by moving the controls a little at a time. This is the quality you want in a synth, unless you have some really good tweaks available.
Speaking of the filter, there are two models here, with LP HP and BP modes, Normal and SH-101. The SH-101 of course being the model of the Roland filter which they say is rougher and less even. There are some important hidden features in options which you should know about, although they are among the few hidden options on the synth at all, including sound quality and envelope behavior, which by default is not set up with the SH-101 mimics (!) so make sure to change that if you are looking for absolute faithfulness.
Speaking of faithfulness, I don't have and have never used an SH-101, so I don't know honestly how it compares. I've heard audio demos where they sound fairly different and audio demos where they sound identical. So not sure what's going on there, but it does sound good, and honestly that is what counts. If you are thinking of dumping your SH-101 on eBay make sure you give Lush a good run around first as peoples opinion on this varies.
Where this differs from the sh-101 is of course in its extra layers, effects, mixer, polyphony, unison and so on. The effects are top notch by the way, ranks above most other synths out there which is great for patch design and sketching ideas. The 8 layers can hold any preset timbre you make and combine them in the mixer, which by the well is fully featured with Eq, FX sends and a compressor with adjustable ratio. There are all well implemented and really do add value to this synth.
I won't run through every feature, most of it is on the front panel and one glance at the GUI will inform you of most of it, but I will mention it has a supersaw emulation for the sawtooth waveform which is very good, a hidden sync oscillator so you can still make sync sounds on this one osc synth and a great unison mode. This will give your CPU long term psychological disorders, but it sounds in a word: Lush. As I've said before, just because a synth has features it doesn't mean it has those features in a well implemented form. Some synths are really not up to standard in every area and we can forgive them, but polyphonic unison is not all that often implemented at all, and where it is it is not always very good, again Lush really delivers here.
You get the feeling D16 really took their time with this synth (three years I think) because the whole thing feels solid with clever features throughout.
As you can tell I really like Lush 101. There are some drawbacks however. There is no mod matrix, (which for me is actually a nice change as it forces me to be more creative with the basics), it can get very heavy on CPU with effects and unison enabled and it's also a little expensive. Although when you put it in context it's not far off the price of DIVA, Largo (which is actually more), and Sylenth1. I suppose though as Lush has not been around as long as these time will tell how people feel about its price. I am pretty sure it's going to be a widely used synth however, and I am pretty sure D16 intend to back this synth all the way. Not long after releasing this synth they put out 1.1, which included among other things the ability to hide the keyboard. Many users were complaining that the GUI was just too large and the keyboard took up much needed space on their screens, this also have a road map listed on their website which also includes a more extensive mod matrix. I would like them to make the GUI a little larger though (excluding the keys) as the text is a little small, although by now I know where everything is anyway so it's not a big deal.
Though a great all-rounder I wouldn't go so far as to call it the only synth you need, it's much harder to create an entire track from one synth than it is form a mix of synths, and even if you did it's still not versatile enough to be the only synth you'll ever need for any production. I think Lush is a great all-rounder though and really excels at pads, plucks, keys and interesting analog style sounds.
One point is knocked off because the sync sound isn't the nicest to my ears, I don't like the sound with resonance very high, it doesn't sound sweet to me. The price is not going to affect my rating, since it is priced around the same as DIVA and is cheaper than Largo and I think for the overall quality and originality it is suitably priced.
Sylenth1 is probably the best known vsti. It is so famous and popular that you'd have thought it would have been on version 4 by now. While I won't open that can of worms here, I will say this, that fact will not affect my review. As far as I am concerned, it is what it is now and that is what you buy it for.
User interface: I love it. Didn't like it much at first, but I appreciate it now. You can get familiar with this synth very quickly, most everything you need is available without changing any tabs. It is not too ugly. It kind of has a classic look.
Sound: This is why it is so famous. The Sound of Sylenth1 one is brilliant. I go off this synth sometimes in favour of something more complex, or an emulation or something, but in the end whenever I do come back to it I am hit by the sound quality. It may not be able to do as much as many synths out there but what it does it does better than most synths out there.
It's sound is really snappy, more so than just about any synth I've tried. Lennar is a genious that's for sure. It's partly this sharp immediate sound that has made it such a mainstay of dance music, then of course it is also the unison. While it is not actually a "unison" mode like you get on some synths, (the oscillators are stacked) it does the job. Fat leads, lush pads, complex timbres, you got it.
Filters: The filters are great. I will not say sublime, but they are very good. They don't sound quite analog to me, in that their character is somewhat digital and predictable, but they are excellent and you can't make them sound bad. The drive is very good, it screams more than most VA's and adding just a small amount is genuinly useful.
Effects: They are good if you ask me, partly because they are so flexible. This part of the synth really reminds me of hardware. With some of the old hardware synths they used to give you a lot of options. Many new ones dumb these down in favour of simplicity. Perhaps reflecting the shift in the userbase. Anyway, the reverb has a stereo width control, which I use alot to create mono-reverbs which give the sound more "body". I will still apply my stereo external reverb later.
The delays, sometimes I use the internal sometimes the external, but this is also very flexible.
The phaser is very good as far as they go. It's not the best out there, but it is far from the worst.
The distortion: Great! It offers bit reduction which I love to use a lot. The foldback and overdrive sound very good. Not quite as convincing as the real thing but it's a very usable sound in a modern context.
Features: I like the features of Sylenth1. I like that it is simple. In fact what is given is just enough complexity that you can really do a lot with it. The sheer amount of soundbanks available for this thing prove it. I love the two layer design, the fact that Lennar gives you copy and paste functions for envelopes and oscillators makes it a breeze. The mod slots give you lots of room for sound design and the destinations are good. Phase modulation works excellently.
This is where I knock one point off though, we could have had PWM, that would have made it so much more versatile, however there are ways around this, it just would have been nice to have it plain and simple. Sync & FM would have been great too. But some how it feels like it wouldn't be Sylenth1 if it had these features.
Documentation: The manual is a great read. In it LennarDigital shows a lot of confidence in his synth. He explains how well coded it is and how good it sounds, and he is right. It's nice to see such confidence, he was clearly aiming for the professional world of musicians and studios.
Value: This synth is what, $180 or something? It is not the cheapest synth around but so what, if you wanted something of this quality in hardware form you'd be paying much more. In fact if you buy soft synths of lesser quality you will only spend more in the long run trying to find a good sound.
Stability: Very stable. I've never had any problems with it.
Conclusion: While it is not for everyone, it should certainly be considered. It is not at all just a trance synth, (there really is no such thing anyway) it is versatile.
I really recommend this synth to anyone who wants a synth hardware or software, analog or digital. If you love electronic music you will probably find something to like in this synth. It is a work-horse and a go to for real solutions.
It is interesting that such a well known and loved synth only has three reviews here. Mine being the third. So many people have discussed it in the forums.
Well, it is fair to say that DIVA really changed the way we looked at soft synths. For me in fact this was significant. I was about to completely pack up my music making on the computer.
I was going to try to get hardware or nothing. DIVA came along as a beta so I tried it out. I didn't see what all the fuss was about at first. It sounded different but not very interesting to me.
It took me a while to realize just how detailed the sound is. Along came the OSC and I entered. I found DIVA to be dark and very difficult to mix. I still didn't think much of it by the time I'd submitted my track. I thought it was good, but still didn't see what the hype was about.
Finally, I don't know when, I began to get used to its sound and it soon became my favourate virtual synth, for the following reasons:
In a word, simple. Which I now realise is the most important aspect of a UI for me. Cluttered & confusing I don't want to know about it. Many synths are just not inviting. The knobs are small or scattered around, there are labels everywhere. It's too much. DIVA is plain and clear, and it is a nice size too, and if it was not you can resize it!
I found it to be very logical.
Exceptional. It is not just the Zero-Delay filters because even in draft mode this synth has character. The oscillators are fat. They are musical. When you add vibrato it sings, not just modulates. It has so many facets.
These are excellent, hi pass and band-pass are offered. I think MS-20, Juno and Moog types are there. I am hoping for SEM types too. They change character depending on the input gain. Very cool!
These are among the best I have heard in software, let alone on a synth. The flanger is one of the most usable around. The phaser is beautiful and makes any sound you put through it lively.
Here is where I wish there was more. No Arp, no extensive mod matrix. But having said that the features you do have are just enough to keep me happy. They are in-fact really cool. I love the modifier area. Being able to combine LFO's in different ways, quantize etc it is really fun.
The stacking feature made all the difference for me, when it was added I could finally make huge saw pads, fat basses and trance leads the way I liked them, because not only can you stack the voices but you can spread them in the stereo field.
Good! Lots of detail now. Its complete.
At $179 it is not cheap. It's intro price was great. Even so it is highly worth it. If you are like me you could happily use this one synth. Not that it does everything, like wavetables, but someone like me can get by just fine without them. For me it is the realism that matters, that musical sound we mostly associate with analog synths.
Very stable. I've never had any problems with it.
I think one of the reasons DIVA appeals to so many people is it has so much to offer, a little here a little there, JUNO sounds for one guy, moog for another, ms-20 for another, stacking for another. It is really rewarding. When you make a sound or a song on DIVA and then listen to it later you completely forget that it is your composition you are listening to, you just focus on the synth sounds.
Since DIVA came out there have been some good other synths released. Infact there have always been synths around, but you know not even all analog synths are loved the same. Some don't sound very appealing at all. So I won't say DIVA is the best VA synth, but it is the one I like the most. If I could only have one, it would be DIVA.
It reminds me of why I love electronic music. I am in love!
I will try to keep this review nice and simple, neatly stealing the layout from the one of the previous reviews :)
10/10. This is for me, by far, the most attractive and well thought out user interface. It is gorgeous to look at. Everything is right where you'd expect it to be and there are handy preset-routings everywhere so there is no need to dive into the mod-matrix for vibrato and filter mods for example. The graphic envelopes are a nice addition, as is the graphical display of the filter. A really classy look that compliments the sound and fits with Waldorf's shiny new persona.
However.. the Arp and step LFO are ridiculous'y fiddly. There are no sensible readouts to let you know what you are doing. This happens on other synths too. I would like some kind of semi-tone system so if I am using the step LFO to modulate pitch I can plan what I am doing.
The most essential feature. I believe it to be absolutely true that many VSTi's simply sound the same.. and very boring at that. This synth's oscillators have got a lot of character. Don't read that as character like analog synths have though, Largo's character is a little different from that. It has not got the "unstable" feel of analog emulations, it has a sharp, crisp clear sound. Very cutting. Really modern and clean. It gets dirty with the drive and distortion but it's a clean digital dirty. Though it will shear your ears off if you are not careful.
It has a stereo polyphonic unison (hurrah!) so any lovely sound you make can be multiplied by six and spread in the stereo field, either by setting each voice in the stereo field individual (turning the stereo spread dial up to half way) or having the voices pan left and right alternately (turning the dial beyond half way)
The envelopes are exponential (logarithmic) as far as I can tell. This is good for some sounds of course but not as usual for others. It contributes to the overall snappy character of the synth. But why linear envelopes are not included I don't know. It is an advanced synth and would have been helped by this addition.
One final comment on the oscillators though, they are a pain to set up right because of phasing. It might be a bug with my set up, I don't know, but often mixing the oscillators in such a way that would sound fine on another synth sounded messy on Largo. I spent a lot of time avoiding this messy sound.
I will also add that unlike some other synths I've tried the EQ is really useful here and really adds to the character of a sound.
As others have said Largo is a little quiet.
As has been said before, the filters are beautiful. They really are stunning. They are not the warm analog sort which squelch, they are digital, cool and calm but with a really lively "real" feel to them. If this is the Waldorf sound, I love it.
The drive is good, I am not crazy about it because I rarely like digital distortion, however when used in small subtle amounts it really adds a nice sound. Most of the time I use it in a subtle way, but then I began to find that actually if you design a patch for a little distortion the drive actually imparts a very cool character to it. In the end, it is very useful but don't expect it to give you something like an analog distortion from a stomp box for example.
They are interesting but, uh well, lets just say Waldorf would probably not do well in the effects field if they ever released these as a separate plug-in!
Except the delay, which is fantastic! I've not heard a delay like this before. I prefer this to most of my external delays. It has a really great stereo widening feature which makes presets sound very polished professional. When you turn the spread knob though you have to re-adjust the delay time in order for it to remain the same.
It is well featured, but there are some limitations. It does not allow you to modulate the FX parameters for example, but it does at least allow you to modulate the FX mix amount. This is important and I am glad it's there.
It has signal modifiers which are a really useful addition allowing you to apply math functions to your LFO signals and what not. Good stuff. Not a lot of synths I've used have these.
It has comb filters, which are better than others I've tried, Waldorf are well known for these. It has a decent preset explorer which is well featured with conveniences like renaming and moving.
It has three OSCS, the first two load wavetables and have a Sqaure Sub OSC. The later one has VA wave forms only.
The manual is excellent, best I've read. Lots of nice tips about programming various sounds. They tell you how to make melodic patches that play in tune using the comb filters, where to set the filters for which octaves.
It is good enough that if you'd never used a synth before and have no idea about synthesis you should get a pretty decent grip on it by the time you're done.
Very good. When I had issues they got back to me very quickly and solved my problem. I haven't emailed them much about the bugs yet though.
Value for money
At $250 it is expensive. But imo there isn't anything else I could substitute it with and for the quality of sound you get and the capability of the synth it is worth the money to me. I found a good deal where I got it a little cheaper in the UK.
For the most part excellent. Really the bugs have been few. I had a couple of problems with the presets. One time the system crashed (this is rare for my system) and ever preset assignment was lost in the track. That means when I opened the song again each and every track had the first preset Largo loads with so I had to reassign all my presets. Good job they were saved else I would have lost them.
Another thing is it is still sluggish. I have a very up to date computer. HD 2000 or 3000 intel graphics, i5 2500k.
I read once that there is a certain way UI was coded and it would work fine if it were not for some windows specific issue. It was implied that their coding is not responsible for this sluggishness. This was on their forum once.
My last gripe is to do with the programming itself. It honestly feels like the sliders don't actually do anything until you move them about 60% or so of the way. Then most of the modulation they create is in the remaining 40% of space. Irritating.
The drive control is similar. It is light until about 20% of the way when it suddenly jumps up the volume. This makes transitioning from a non-distorted sound to a distorted sound problematic as it makes a sudden jump in volume.
In that desert Island scenario, this would be one of the three synths I kept. I don't know about it being first place but that is not out of the question. I have considered selling it a few times because I don't like the sluggish feel and little niggles, but I never do because it overall is just a really powerful useful tool.
I planned to review D.U.N.E months ago, but only after spending many many hours with this synth do I really feel confident I can offer any useful insight.
At first glance it may seem that D.U.N.E is a fairly standard three osc, one filter, three envelope and three LFO per voice affair with unison. However this is not at all the case.
D.U.N.E stands for Differential Unison Engine, and what this does is significant for a few reasons to "get" what D.U.N.E is really about. What is so useful about this feature is that it is both not unison and unison at the same time. Unison on most synths is just a multiplication of voices, D.U.N.E can do that too.
You can think of it as an eight layer synth controlled from a single a single matrix, the brain of the synth if you will. So if you have three envelopes per voice for example then with all voices active you have twenty four in total. But that's the beauty of this design. If you activate all eight voices you still only have three envelopes, you actually have twenty one more potential envelopes. Unless you specify otherwise in the mod matrix, all voices will respond to all envelope and LFO routing the same. Then you can simply adjust one for a specific voice.
Its a good middle road between complexity and ease of use. There are some draw backs though. For example, you may change the speed of any LFO for any voice, but you must use more mod slots to do this and you cannot select the LFO waveform from the mod matrix, so you only ever have a choice of three LFO wave forms. You also cannot specify from the matrix whether the LFO for voice four for example resets or syncs. This can only be done from the front page. What this means in effect is once you get past using three LFO's you can then choose to modulate any voice with anyone one of those three and alter the the speed and phase of the LFO for that voice but nothing else.
It can be limiting, but at the same time it really helps to keep things moving. Too much complexity can just overwhelm people.
Now as for the OSCs themselves they are very good. D.U.N.E has a nice strong sound. Its smooth at the same time as it is sharp. Its difficult to describe, but I have been thinking for a while about its sound. Some have described it as flat and lifeless. Interestingly I can see why people would use those descriptions and at the same time disagree with what is meant. While I would say that the synth sounds flat and still I would not use the term lifeless. Its got a precise sound, but its not clinical, I would say its got a tight and focused sound but its not thin. Its not overly aggressive and its not overly soft either.
This is just my opinion, but after a lot of listening and experimenting I think D.U.N.E sounds just right for a lot modern electronic music. If you listen to some of the latest tunes people are favouring a lot of less agressive sounds. Not so much analog sounding, but not harsh digital sounding either. I am thinking for example of Yahel's pop star remix on Oakenfold's Four Seasons. Again this is just my opinion, but D.U.N.E to me is a new and interesting flavour and I think it sounds perfect for a lot of the new sounds being used. It can't do everything though. If I wanted an analog synth I would either buy one or buy an emulation. When making dance music you don't always want a largo overwhelming analog style sound.
However, while I don't always want the drift, dirt and instability of analog sound I do like to have decent analog styled filters for some things, what is nice is that D.U.N.E gives you a choice of lower CPU-consuming filters and Analog modeled filters, which sound lovely in my opinion and really match the rest of the synth in terms of sound character well.
The wave-tables give a huge expansion to the sound. They are all good, they are not always this good with every synth. You should read the manual about the wave-tables, you can do wave sequencing but there can be clicks, you have to work with it. If you want to scan through the waveforms though you can to a degree and its quite smooth depending on which waveforms you scan through. At about the centre of the table there are around 10 waveforms that are perfectly sequential in their harmonic content and are perfect for scanning.
I think Synapse-Audio have done a really good job with the effects, Especially the phaser which operates in three modes. The delay has a diffuse mode which is on of the better sounding delays out there. I expect it inverts the phase of one channel as it gives an wide stereo sound to the delay. It works just beautifully on a trance pluck for example. The reverb is good and here they give you a good choice. I think there are 5 algorithms, the first two are CPU savers, and they sound pretty good.
Most of the time unless I am looking for something specific, if I put the effects on I decide to keep them on, and apart from the reverb I might not really opt to add a third party effect, which says a lot. I also want to praise Synapse-Audio for their distortion algorithms. This might sound strange, but they sound excellent without sounding analog. Some people may think that analog distortion is the warm kind whereas digital distortion is harsh. So it either sounds analog or harsh. This is not true. In my opinion D.U.N.E.'s distortion fits the rest of its sound qualities perfectly, it doesn't try to sound analog but it does sound good.
Its obvious by now that I like D.U.N.E. I've always thought it had something special to offer in terms of sound and the feature set is great. I love how easy it is to set up complex moving patches. One thing I really appreciate is you don't have to delve into its complexity to get good sound. It sounds great with just a typical subtractive set up, meaning you really could just program simple patches and get years of good use out of it, and yet at the same time when you put the work into DUNE you really get great results, and that is a rare quality.
Finally, I want to add that giving it a 10 does not at all mean I think it is the greatest be-all and end-all synth or that it is perfect. My rating of 10 reflects how much of a place DUNE has in my set-up. It means I find it to be an integral part of my set-up, one which I wouldn't now want to be without.
adjusting the score to 8. Although I like the lowpass filters a lot I do not find the hp/bp/comb to be as good.
I bought Ultra Analog a while ago, and for whatever reason It just sat in my folder not used for a long time. I kept thinking however that there was something special about it, this thought had been the reason I'd bought it in the first place. I had planned to give it a thorough check out but never did, until finally I thought it would be a good idea to make a trance sound-bank for it.
Now, at least when it comes to trance, Ultra Analog is not one of the big name synths. This comes down to its simplicity of features and marketing. However despite its simplicity it does have enough features to make it quite versatile. As has been said, the features have been chosen carefully. A choice of both exponential and linear envelopes, multiple filter types, 6 distortion algorithms, dedicated pitch modulation and vibrato, up to 4-voice polyphonic unison, legato, an arpeggiator and the ability to route filters in series or parallel add up to a lot of flexibility.
Two filters with 8 types each to choose from give this synth a lot of character, they include notch and formant, and they are very good. If you were to class sound as warm dark or clear and bright these are warm and it is easy to make this synth sound fuzzy, characterful, soft, harsh but never sterile. It is very easy to get all kinds of colourful tones out of these filters, especially at high resonance.
A few complaints I did have though is that it is easy to make the sound distort (I mean in the bad way), this is partly because the knobs and level displays are all quite small making it a little more difficult to judge the gain levels. I remember it took me quite a while to get used to properly setting up patches to avoid huge gain jumps at certain filter intervals. The Envelopes are loop-able but not sync-able. Finally I wish the LFO had a sawtooth waveform, but this could be overcome in other ways sometimes.
On the one hand the GUI is a little annoying because it is small, but on the other hand this compact view helps the work flow. It is really nice having every control immediately visible and it really helps you visualize the signal flow.
Once you get used to the its parameters it is very quick to use. I initially intended to make 128 patches for it, but in no time I had made 180 and although I've called it a day for my first set I could easily see myself going back to it to create more. The filters can morph the sound of this synth so much that you really feel that you have a whole world of sound to discover, especially when routed in serial. They change the character more so than many others I have used. It is easy to make beautiful sounding patches on this synth, especially once you learn to avoid overloading it, and in the end that is what you want a synth for.
One final thing, I have had problems with some analogue emulations before when trying to get them to work in a modern style. Sometimes their sound is just not flexible enough to get away from a "vintage" sort of sound and sometimes they have such an unstable sound that I simply could not make them work in trance music. I think it might be due to the phase of the oscillators. I am happy to say that VA-1 really does well here. It does have the warmth of analogue and yet it worked really well for trance music.
Finally, as AAS are well known for their acoustic emulations, I did not think it was strange to describe the sound character of this synth as "at times acoustic". If you listen to the first piece on my audio demo you may agree with me. I've made patches like this before on other synths, but they do not sound like this.
This is a really useful sound to have in a synth and It is one of the things that makes me want to come back to it later as I feel it could do with a lot more exploration. I really do think it has a unique sound.
About the score, for me 10 does not represent perfection because I believe there is no such thing when it comes to something like this. 10 is where I really feel that a synth meets all expectations for what is actually has. What I mean is, I wouldn't dock a point because there are no wavetables when its clearly designed to be an analog-style synth. I gave it 9 because there were some minor annoyances with the levels and couple of other things I mentioned already.
Still sounds very good to me. I am more impressed now than I was then. I have lowered the score to reflect
1. It has some glitches occasionally.
2. As useful as its features are it is also very expensive. For this price you can get more features synths and more realistic analogue emulations.