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Reviewed By moonchunk [read all by] on 17th October 2020
Version reviewed: 2.9.2 on Windows.
Last edited by moonchunk on 17th October 2020.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful.
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I just picked this up a week or so ago, and i agree with the sentiment here that this at the top of the list of synths I've researched (dozens - but for music tech research more so [unfortunately] than spending time to master them creatively), and I couldn't be happier. It has a certain quality about it that transcends the divide between the more digital and more analog synths, with a pleasing warmth but at the same time potentially having a cutting edge precision.

Kudos to the people who came up with its signal flows and interfacing and filters and algos. (There should be a documentary about its development really. I'm not clear on whether They really knew what they were doing.

Really the only thing I can find about the history of its development comes from this article:

https://www.attackmagazine.com/features/long-read/u-hes-urs-heckmann-on-synths-celebrity-endorsements-hardware/

I personally own over 20 softsynths, and have been toying with some lesser-known ones because innovation always fascinates me.

But nothing in the Zebra package would be particularly obvious to me as a programmer. I'm sure there synths with bits of brilliance that could be mentioned as excelling in one element or area or another, but Zebra is particularly unique in that it never loses the high standard of musicality from the beginning of its signal flow to the end. I know recently musicians have begun to be impressed by more organic and analog processes, while being also spoiled by some very good well-crafted digital softsynths. Exploring the confluence of these two evolutions in taste and creativity seems to be at the heart of our current electronic music scene. At the time I made my purchase of Zebra I was considering purchasing Diva first. This was because I had watched some of the few Zebra tutorials out there, and the synth didn't really look "familiar" or directly compare with the common and basic synth flows I had worked with. I've experimented with ANA 2 (very good), Serum and Massive (and a few of the other Komplete synths) and the Image Line product line, Dune 3, Phase Plant (as a demo for 14 days - really loved it), Omnisphere (somewhat of a hybrid rompler synth but some well-worth-it features IMHO despite its price tag), Spire, Adam Szabo's Viper (a phenomena and over-looked synth really), Cycle (Amaranth - an orphaned synth unfortunately), Quik Quak's Glass Viper, Auddict's Hexeract (a disappointment since it seems to have been abandoned, along with Fxpansion's Geist 2, lol), AIR and KV331's synths, the Madrona Labs stuff (very good for "unexpected and artsy"), IK Multimedia's Syntronik (nice), etc. So much variety, and a lot of interesting specific features in here for most of these, that I can't go into for lack of time.

But frankly I wish I had tried and learned Zebra long ago.

Zebra actually seems worthy to focus on more so than any of these, because I literally can not make it sound bad or uninviting. I can make it sound dangerous, ugly, menacing, and so on, but it creates such a steady illusion that I'm playing with organic electric juice, that it, more than any other synth, reminds me of playing with high end electric guitar gear. Expressive. Musical. Often stunning.

So I was just going to write a short review to go along with what's already here. This is not a new product - but I had to add my two cents and I hope the developer knows how much I appreciate the fine thought process and heroic standards, and I most definitely look forward to Zebra 3. Good work U-he.

As an aside, Plugmon Neumann (as more than a skin really) looks incredible and I'm checking it out - to make understanding and working with Zebra easier. $35 at the moment. Interesting.

https://plugmon.jp/product/neumann/

Reviewed By moonchunk [read all by] on 16th October 2020
Version reviewed: 1.1 on Windows.
Last edited by moonchunk on 16th October 2020.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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"A Sonic Kaleidoscope of Found Sound Cinematics"

Bioscape, from my testing, is a rich collection of unique loops (in terms of quality and variety) and an astonishingly creative piece of gear. With full access to add in one's own samples, and do various manipulations to blends of these, with the help of DAW automation, there are wide and enjoyable creative possibilities. I had to crack open the manual a bit to help me fully realize what was happening, and having some experience with a few mediocre products by other less famous companies caused me to be initially skeptical.

It is NKS-compatible and works great on the free Kontakt 6.2 Player or Kontakt 6.2.

Like with Lunaris (a Kontakt Pad library instrument from the same developer that I'd previously reviewed), it is a pro-level instrument with an artistic personal flair. Based on the website, these are only the first two Kontakt libraries Liftrum has released but this is not apparent in the quality. The control options are relatively up on the level of releases by the larger Kontakt developers, for the most part, and I love the fact that it allows user sample import.

Prior to working Lunaris I had worked with I had purchased a few libraries from Luftrum for Omnisphere and Iris 2, and I was aware that Luftrum is capable of equisite sound design. Luftrum products include sounds and presets from Luftrum himself, and sometimes from other well-known sound designers like Simon Stockhausen, Arksun, Triple Spiral Audio, and Sonic Underworld to name a few.

Happily, Bioscape includes Time Stop, which can creatively but effectively granularize things compositionally. In terms of the choice of sounds included, and for its features and especially the fact that it allows the import of one's own samples, it is an excellent product. While there are other "morph" tools that allow one to import samples, this one has more features. It allows one to modulate and morph and manipulate one's samples in ways that other similar products do not. (I have a large collection of personally created samples as well as contortions of other interesting things. It handles those I've created with Loop Points using FL Studio Edison (I suppose there are many other tools to create loop points with - including Sound Forge, which I own). It also has a very well-chosen set of included snapshots and samples, not bland material. My CPU did okay, although it is not the lightest plugin to run by any means.

Bioscape in essence is mostly Cinematic, but I would probably want to use it for sound design for some other genres including Trap and Ambient Electronica, etc It comes with 324 snapshots in categories including ASMR, Dronescapes, Effects, Pads, Playables, Pulses, and Textures. The presets consist of 4 layers (A-D) that work in pairs of A-B and C-D. The layers can be set to loop forward, reversed, or ping pong'd, or to play as one shots. Apparently each layer can be used for a user slot, but I wasn't entirely clear on this.

As an example, there is a snapshot in the Pulses category called Electro Static ES, which comprises the waves called "Before The Rain" and "Gran Sabana" in layers A & B. Layers C and D have the text "User Slot (Empty). This snapshot is very useable for analog modular styles, and can be synced to DAW tempo, but I found it more intriguing to use polyrhythmically, by manipulating the tempo in my DAW (FL Studio) and recording the result (in my case into Edison so I could further edit it). Clicking on the layers reveals a menu for loading a different wave file, and one may also drag in a user sample, which will show up in the User folder (it is preferable to put these wave files in a safe consistent place because the wave file itself will not be re-saved automatically when you save your snapshot creations.).

There are a great deal of electrosatic samples (in the category 'electric') which I find highly useful for what I like to create and manipulate, along with the individual wave categories of bowed, cityscapes, creatures, deserts, drones, forests, harps, ice, industrial, metal, misc, mountains, water, and wind. Obviously a great deal of care was made in field recording and choosing these samples.

Found on the Main screen, the wave file pairs (AB and CD) each have their own ASDR envelope filter to be used in combination with a choice of 24 different filter types per layer to choose from, including from "Lowpass (LP) filters to Highpass (HP) and Bandpass (BP) filters, plus formant and notch filters. The filters types range from 2-pole to 4-pole filters with State Variable (SV), Ladder and Adaptive Resonance (AR) filters, per filter category (LP, HP and BP)."

Also in the MAIN tab, in addition to the ADSR envelope, one finds the panning and the tuning of the layer, velocity control, and the keyfollow of the amplitude, and with the FILTER tab, one can set the filter envelope, the cutoff frequency, the resonance as well as the filter envelope amount for the cutoff and the keyfollow for the filter.

Additionally one can turn KEYTRK on or off, and control how the loop behaves.

Next there are two mutate types performing a function called "Mutate DNA" that be applied (one or both at the same time) to apply certain changes to the existing snapshots, towards creating variations (based on names of these variation types, such as droned, dark, dynamic, eternal, noisy, frozen, bowed, harmonic, modulated, organic, etc.) Some very beautiful or usefully-dramatic results can be made to occur.

Following that, in a window in the center of the screen, is a tool for "Motion Recording", in which the x/y positions essentially determines the mixture of the four layers. (This begins to compare to the Orb in Omnisphere, although a user doesn't have direct access to inspect the parameters and control of Omnisphere's Orb - and has to reverse engineer it in one's mind - although more fx and parameters are no doubt in play in Orb). With Motion Recording one can use motion that has been recorded using Kontakt Script Array preset files. One can also record one's own motion preset files, then activate the Play button, and It sort of acts like a tape machine, where recording and playback is triggered by your key press. The X-Y pad acts as a crossfade between layers. There is also a speed mode to multiply or divide the speed of your recorded motion, and you can ping-pong or run it in reverse, etc.

On either side of the Motion Recording window are Quick Mod and Quick FX areas, for assigning and directly controlling parameters and assigning modulators (basically a quick mod matrix and quick fx-mix matrix.).

In addition to the Main screen, the two other screens available by tab are the (Main) Modulation screen and (Main) Fx screen. The Modulation screen is a place to edit the data on Four Sequencers - and to set controls on a few LFOs, with the modulation targets for these sequencers and LFOs being set from the Quick Mod area. While I did not see a macro control system, one has a place to assign Mod Wheel and Aftertouch, and that wraps up the Modulation Page.

The FX page includes the very useful Time Stop features that will be familiar to Lunaris users. In summary it includes a highly realistic convolution reverb, and each dual layer part AB and CD has its own effect chain with Chorus, Phaser, Distortion, EQ, Timestop and Replika Delay effects. Bioscape actually compares favorably to some more expensive products, with the flexibility of using one's own samples, and it has probably more interesting and "curated" loops than you will find in other products.

Reviewed By moonchunk [read all by] on 22nd August 2020
Version reviewed: 1.8.5 on Windows.
Last edited by moonchunk on 27th August 2020.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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I tried the demo and really think this is a great new synth; even for a person like myself who (because of tired overworked eyes) isn't always able to find my way around a typical full-to-the-brim synthesizer GUI. Kilohearts' subscription model (giving back to the user a great percentage of invested money) the and bundle options are a little higher than I would like, but its okay, if it were easier to grasp (it would be nice if Kilohearts would put a one-page comparison on the website, like NI and Image Line have.) But this synth is extremely easy to get into, in a good way. And the results are inevitably original. The presets one creates tend to become attention grabbing ear candy pretty quickly - I came up with about 5 or so presets that definitely are useable. The fact that it was relatively easy to learn was great. It was a new world - Using waves and wavetables as modulation sources in an unlimited way, something that my old Bitwig license and my Serum demo haven't done to that extent.The closest thing I've experienced with this kind of bizarre creative potential was a feature in Cycle by Amaranth Audio, in which I was able to modulate an entire synth using another synth's created waveform. (Don't ask me how I did it now, it was a non-advertised feature at the bottom of the interface.) Music genres like dubstep haven't been my thing. I guess NI's Massive had an impact on its development. Serum was apparently another significant move towards helping artists of genres like that, and it has its fair share of features that match and even surpass what's in Phase Plant (filters, distortion, certain things in Serum's warping, number of stock wavetables, ability to lock preset fx chains and load new presets over them). And yet Phase Plant is more customizable in genera. It has staggering flexibility, that goes into areas of sound design that I think Serum isn't very well cut out for. VPS Avenger is another synth with a lot of promise, and Falcon is as well. But while the GUI's of those, and the import and workflow requirements for the visually impaired, were prohibitive, Phase Plant is not that difficult to get started with. I watched about 30-45 minutes of tutorials online and needed to follow up for about 30 minutes more to learn how to mess with the wavetable import and editing, which were less obvious than I would have thought, but still pretty straightforward. And the results were exceptionally "moving". One thing that makes me think twice about giving a 5 star review (but there's no other synth with this specific and very useful feature set to my knowledge, so 5 stars it is) is the confusing price structure.

My demo included the ability to modulate fx parameters, which at times was important to the result, and at times not. There is a subscription plan that allows (until otherwise stated) one to use $100 in coupons after 12 months (consecutive or not) of subscribing, which costs about $119.88. That's pretty fair.

Some of the snap ins are probably not that needed, so I'm estimating that in about 2 1/2 years one should own a working system, IF one could add the individual parts at the price they come to in their respective bundles.

Or, does one purchase the Pro Bundle and be done with it. This comes with pretty much everything except Carve EQ and Slice EQ (and probably this is not essential for my workflow since I could parse my sounds and do EQ'ing and modulating after the synth; but there's always the chance that modulating some EQ parameters within the plugin could get interesting...

From my understanding $349 covers the cost of the synth and all the synth-needed plugins EXCEPT the EQ's Faturator and Disperser (premium ones). I've done a list that I think sums it up (if you work for Kilohearts please let me know to correct any errors. If the Pro Bundle was $270 I would have purchased it tonight. On the other hand some are arguing that it would take more than 5 years at $120 per year to cover the whole package. Other synth purchasing decisions were easier to assess. I bought Falcon for about $300 and got a $100 coupon for their soundbanks. And unfortunately thus far I've not decided on doing Kilohearts subscription thing or the Fabrice and Steven thing (I may do one of these and I don't think I should do both, which bugs me), and I usually purchase things when I feel inspired and want to break off something tangible that adds to my creativity.

Lastly let me say that I did not find the filters in Phase Plant to be exceptional, and the distortion wasn't insanely good, and I recognize all that. I still feel that this is a 5 star synth workstation, certainly that will be getting better. I want to support it. I realize that the guys who create presets for synths like Spire and Sylenth are not going to be capable of doing unbelievable work in Phase Plant right off the bat, but you guys should link to at least several exceptional Phase Plant preset makers, one way or the other. I'm not a pro, but if I can learn it in an hour and 10 minutes, this is a missed opportunity. Look at it this way, the average musician-preset creator does what appeals to them and sometimes this overlaps with what is popular. To me it would seem that what would be good for Kilohearts would be to find some preset makers to capture Phase Plant's capabilities while still satisfying the market with usefulness and a good preset pack price point ($20).

Epitaph, er I mean Epilogue - My understanding of pricing options:

NOT IN SLATE ALL ACCESS PASS
Phase Plant $ 169
Kilohearts Equalizers $ 99
kHs ONE $ 19
Ensemble $ 29
Flanger $ 29.

NOT INCLUDED IN PROFESSIONAL OR ULTIMATE
disperser
faturator
carve eq
slice eq
snap heap
khs 1.

ULTIMATE TOOLBOX BUNDLE
Formant Filter
Frequency Shifter
Gate
Haas
Ladder Filter
Phase Distortion
Pitch Shifter
Resonator
Reverser
Ring Mod
Tape Stop
Trance Gate
Transient Shaper.

PRO BUNDLE
3-Band EQ
Bitcrush
Chorus
Comb Filter
Ensemble
Flanger
Formant Filter
Frequency Shifter
Gate
Haas
Ladder Filter
Phase Distortion
Pitch Shifter
Resonator
Reverser
Ring Mod
Tape Stop
Trance Gate
Transient Shaper.

STARTER BUNDLE
Compressor
Distortion
Dynamics
Phaser
Reverb.

FREE WITH PHASE PLANT
3-Band EQ
Chorus
Delay
Gain
Limiter
Stereo.

Reviewed By moonchunk [read all by] on 3rd December 2019
Version reviewed: 1.4.1 on Windows.
Last edited by moonchunk on 3rd December 2019.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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This is a marvelous product with enough control, but completely novel. Instead of presenting long term areas of concern, it follows the partials of your musical file in real time, adjusting 100*sec. I highly recommend it.

The controls are either 0-200 (first 2 below) or positive/negative amounts of the parameters as follows:

TAME. (This evidently sets the degree to which the program looks for problem resonances on a moment-to-moment basis.).

RECOVER. (Similarly, this evidently sets the degree to which the program looks for areas which would be masked by other louder.

BIAS (POS-NEG - SETS THE RELATIVE PERCENTAGE BETWEEN TAME AND RECOVER IF THE DECISION IS A GRAY AREA FOR THE PROGRAM).

BRIGHTEN.

BOOST.

There are also drag bars that let you limit what is included in the processing, or let you exclude a range.

I tried it on synths like Omnisphere and Falcon 2, bass, pianoteq and drums, and it has made it possible (not magically) to rapidly adjust the individual tracks so that future composing with them is more easy, and they will sit more transparently in the mix.

Once this is done, you can use it to process the final mix and further clean it up (if it is even necessary).

I experimented with pianoteq, and tried placing a reverb (EW spaces) then gulfoss after it, then Fabfilter Pro Q3. Fabfilter Pro Q3 was helpful to boost any little area of the sound that I was sorry for Gullfoss to have reduced - which was only necessary in very tiny areas of the spectrum (I did this as well on BFD3, getting more clarity but keeping a little character, just a 20-40 hz area that Gullfoss would have reduced in its limited computer wisdom).

Using it on pianoteq like that I was easily able to set it up so that even those rumbling bass piano tones were manageable, and I could literally play more harmonically rich material and still remain inspired. There wasn't the "deadening effect" that would normally happen if playing 10 notes including those low bass tones. In other words it kept it clear. My settings were not really extreme. The parameters offer wide enough control, that you can be subtle or you can overdo it if you want. You could use it as an fx by overdoing it as well.

As a guitarist, you could also run it in real time, it is not terribly CPU heavy, and if you set it to taste, your audience probably will hear what you play more clearly.

I bought it on sale but I'm interested in supporting the developers because they are really putting out some deep stuff here.

I don't think using this program ignorantly is really going to commonly produce trashing sounding stuff. Its practically idiot proof as long as one is a sincere student of mixing.

Reviewed By moonchunk [read all by] on 28th March 2019
Version reviewed: 1 on Windows
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Just saw this company mentioned on the Omnisphere 2.6 thread. This is a synth worth checking out - for the price you can't beat it, mainly because it doesn't sound run of the mill and the presets are interesting, with a few that actually work well combined with other synths, to make beds of various sounds. Thanks guys - along with Eclipses which is another worthwhile free synth - great work.

Reviewed By moonchunk [read all by] on 7th March 2019
Version reviewed: 1 on Windows.
Last edited by moonchunk on 10th March 2019.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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I'm new to Rigid Audio's work and I sensed this was one of the rare and unusual cases when a lone developer (in this case seeming to be focused on Kontakt Script Processing [KSP] turns out to have a great ear for putting together aptly named sonic material representing an unusual variety of moods and genres. Similar to "Plugin Guru", Dennis Lenz out of Berlin has both the ability to place material conveniently together, and program the %^$*) out of the interface. His sound palettes make excellent sense in several styles.

There's over 9 gigs of zipped sound content (close to 12 on unzip). The site continues to have ridiculous pricing (the sale price the other day was less than $30), and here price has a bit to do with my rating. Even at 3 or 4 times that price I think Hypernode would merits a full 5-out-of-5 stars, both because of the sounds and because of the creative interfacing and feature capability... I did not find a manual or sufficient tutorial videos to be able to understand all the features or uses (even some buttons remain mysterious), and there's been a delay getting a response to some support questions; so I'm settling for 4-out-of-5. That said I haven't fully explored the features of the package (tested the demo and purchased last night). But there is enough here to both jam and record into a DAW in lockstep (or swing, although the swing positions are in 10% increments, would be nice to see a little more resolution in case, say, one is matching to another product like BFD3 for example - but after all this is all within Kontakt).

I'll continue to try & learn the interface and possibly add to this, but I thought it was worth jumping in with a quick review.

Note that the full version of kontakt is required to access full functionality. But a 5 multi demo is available for free download. If you are not impressed with the demos it may not be a fit for you; but ambient & chill lovers should find the included samples useful enough for the discounted price at the very least. (NOTE: The demo blurb indicates that a free version of kontakt is sufficient, but this may mislead a buyer into thinking it applies to the full version and full use of the product - it is not...).

Fantastic programming on this one. Jamming with it harkens, for me, to what is possible with MIDI quantize as incorporated into Vsts like Omnisphere and Stylus by Spectrasonics (and elsewhere of course.) I haven't seen another Kontakt instrument by a single developer with more modularity and control, period.

Reviewed By moonchunk [read all by] on 2nd June 2018
Version reviewed: 1.02 on Windows.
Last edited by moonchunk on 2nd June 2018.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful.
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Its June 2, 2018 and Viper was just released in 64-bit. For someone like me that has dozens of VST synths, I occasionally spend money on something that ends up being little more than a waste of time and added clutter on my machine.

THIS IS NOT THE CASE here.

This synth has unusual sonic characteristics and an unusual response to tweaking that makes this baby stand out as a great addition - even for those who own Spire. The approach is just different enough, and the arp in particular is amazing.

Plus, many of the sounds are really extraordinary and so easily tweaked to get them working in new directions.

You really couldn't ask for a more powerful argument that hardware synths had that special sauce in them - and that's what makes VIPER occupy a unique position - it emulates THAT.

So I was waiting to review VIPER because as a 32-bit plugin it was still common to overwhelm my CPU with it when using a lot of voices and so on.

The 64-bit version comes through - and noticeably overcomes that issue.

Also, this version has a whole new bank of presets.

Thank you ADAM.

One senses this has been a labour of love. Not unlike what the guys at U-he or Reveal Sound would do if they dug back in from scratch with what they'd learned as machines and their processors have become more capable.

Reviewed By moonchunk [read all by] on 29th April 2018
Version reviewed: 1.6.5 on Windows.
Last edited by moonchunk on 29th April 2018.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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I'm very new to the new Tracktion team. I'd heard about them once or twice, but never saw any of their work in any detail. Purchasing Mackie mixers caused me to encounter "Lite" or early versions of one of their Tracktion DAWs, but as I've always felt overwhelmed with the number of DAW products available, with all their various strengths and weaknesses, I was afraid to try to learn its advantages. Until this month I didn't realize that Tracktion, early on, was really instrumental in developing some tendencies (contextual editing workflows built into the GUI, and track/clip freezing to name 2).

In toying with this for an hour or so, I find this to be one of the most well thought out ambient sound design tools out there. Make no mistake, there is a lot of deep function to understand, but right out of the box you can get your sound moods going faster than with anything, and I mean anything else. I've tried much of what's out there, and there are a great number of tools with certain better features, and certain better GUI sections, etc. Where this plugin shines is in having such a sheer volume of creative potential that isn't found elsewhere, allowing constant morphing if you like, note by note fx if you like, mathematical playgrounds if you like, etc., etc.

Well done to the team at Tracktion for getting this accomplished, and I am looking forward to trying out Biotek 2 which is set to drop momentarily, which has apparently added granular oscillators to the possibilities, (just when Propellerheads also have pushed forward in that direction which is nice - its always interesting to see multiple new takes on an old method.).

Biotek 2 also is said to add new filter types and an improved graphical design, but there's so much in here as it is that I can only hope to understand it over a number of months.

If you do sound design, trap, film scoring, ambient or chill type music, I think this baby will be a happy surprise even though it may seem slightly more expensive than certain other tools. Its like instead of buying a package of spice frozen meat, with biotek you're getting a whole fridge full of inspiring foods to create with and sample. And no, they are not toxic or labeled biohazard if you don't want them to be. (Which assumes you're not a zombie).

Reviewed By moonchunk [read all by] on 14th March 2018
Version reviewed: 1.24 on Windows.
Last edited by moonchunk on 15th July 2019.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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I'm still giving Xfer Nerve 5 stars - even at the $200 price point, but technically its probably only a little above 4.8.

Particularly the customer support is not to be beaten. (I own every plugin by Xfer Records except Serum, which hopefully will change soon.).

It has great sounds (Although Chris Cowie's pack on Loopmaster is great as well - really gives the polish in terms of matching sample and pad levels, EQ and dynamics.).

I spent this past week digging back into the drum-machine-related vsts I own, or those that I have demos of. Nerve is near the top of the heap in terms of dance music. I recently picked up Spark 2, and I also compared Nerve to Fxpansion Geist 2, and Izotope Breaktweaker. Regarding Spark 2, I'm waiting to hear back from Arturia on why so many of the sounds seem stuck in 2-state velocity (64 or 127)... Regarding Breaktweaker, I watched the interesting Plugin Guru video on it that shows how one can achieve Swing (strange that a swing knob functionality isn't included in Breaktweaker).

Nerve has not only a late graph (use the SHIFT key along with your left mouse button to drag on it, or you will be forced into a 16 division resolution.).

Nerve has extremely good sounds.

Nerve has quite, quite a bit more in its arsenal of EDM-modding of playback and filter properties than does Spark 2. Its slicer function is better as well.

Nerve sounds fantastic and its sound exports sound great.

While dragging individual pads and full mixes is a breeze and works flawlessly, I would rather have a GUI location where the full mix is dragged from (as programs like Spark 2 allow) - because pressing CTRL ALT SHIFT at the same time one is dragging is tricky.

Nerve has a per pad side chain compression - This is the main reason I decided to give it 5 starts. This is such a cool feature. actually you can take the side chain "detection" signal from multiple pads and apply different amounts of side chaining compression, simultaneously, from that pad or pads to other pads. This means that from right within Nerve you can hear a mix-ready rhythm track (after all you can load any wave file you want into the pads, bass, guitar, whatever). This is a tremendous and brilliant feature and more percussion plugins should implement things this way, because things like perc and hats in electronic music really need to be reduced at critical down beats - its just the way things are now for the modern musician and its so helpful that Steve understood this.

On the negative side, the screen size of NERVE is fixed and relatively small by today's standards (although I like the optional horizontal mode). Its also hard to see the name of your loaded preset and drum kits, at least for me in Reaper and FL studio it is...I need to mouse over the place where these would normally be - where the current folder is listed instead of the preset name... I get why the current folder is important to know. But I would like to also see the name of the preset and the name of the currently loaded drum kit! For me occasionally looking up to see a kit name like that always helps to jog my memory into remembering a source of good sounds in the future... While auditioning, you'll be changing among several kits every few minutes if you're like me, and after hearing some "reasonably good sounds" and moving on, you'll realize maybe those were actually very good. Now what were they called? It just makes it more likely that you'll remember the names if there's a name written on the GUI. Same idea with the preset, it helps to see its name.

Also on the down side, I feel that although the pattern methodology is interesting and useful, relative to Geist 2's Scene and Song modes it leaves a little to be desired (even though it has an interesting plus which I'll get to. Geist 2 lets you organize a complete sequence that can play back for you automatically. It lets you record a complete song as well. So I think Nerve could really use a refined song mode on a separate page. One good thing in Nerve is the global mode off switch. When you turn the global mode off, your chains of patterns play back independently based on the pad row length, which can be independently adjusted. (Playing patterns in Geist 2, Breaktweaker, and Nerve can all be done with independent pad row lengths. However, Nerve pushes the envelope by literally allowing their to be an independent chain of sequences for each pad.. Wow.

One thing I need to recommend, is to be sure to get the latest manual if you purchase Nerve. I had trouble finding it and Steve pointed it out where it was. Some of the hotkeys in the 2010 manual included in my installation were not up to date and this left me wondering about certain of the features. For example, the SHIFT key.

Lastly, (and this is complicated - unless, especially, you are a Geist user and have become familiar with this..) NERVE allows triplets but they are accessible in an unusual way that takes a little getting used to. Basically its Alt right click while dragging horizontally over the "late" graph. This creates triplet timing. If you have 16 hi hats you'll think you've lost your mind, because this will turn them into 12 triplet sixteenths. Steve explained to me that the pads are not polyphonic, so even though the late graph for the last sixteenth of a quarter note position (one in each set of 4) is pushing the beat over onto the next quarter note, because this creates two quarter notes at an identical "tick" only one can play. [I may have made an error here in terms of the hotkeys - in the latest version in 2019 I can't get this method to work any longer.] Geist 2 has a similarly tricky method of handling triplets - well 2 methods actually. You can use engines and set one as the triplets engine, and play patterns from both engines simultaneously. A little strange, but it works. A second method available in Geist 2 allows the triplets to reside in the same pattern. It was difficult to find this:

Convert timing
This function, available by right-clicking on a pattern memory key, allows the 'resolution' of a
pattern to be changed without altering the position of events in the pattern. It can be useful if
triplet steps are required rather than 16ths, for example.

Well, personally I think Nerve's method is basically about as good.

Summary: For techno, EDM, and all its variations, NERVE is way up there with Geist 2 (which I haven't reviewed but which I would give at least 4.5 stars as well). Nerve has a great audio engine, does pre-calculated effects (which Geist 2 does not do to my knowledge - and this is an important advantage for Nerve) and Nerve comes with sounds arguably more suited specifically for the EDM style of music - add Chris Cowie's pack for about $30 and you'll have more EDM styles as well as some exceptional Hip Hop, Drum and Bass, and Dubstep to name a few.

Another advantage of Nerve over Geist 2, is that drawing in the note patterns in Geist 2, if they have changing velocity, is typically a 2 step process for each event. You click the note into place, and then drag up or down to set its velocity. In NERVE you are presented with two options, 1 lane and 16 lanes. Since Nerve defaults to the 1 lane view, when you click on the graph you've created the note at the velocity you want all at the same time. You would think you could do the same in Geist 2, by accessing the velocity graph. But you can't. Geist 2 forces you to click twice, once in the note lane, and once to drag the velocity (whether in the graphs view or in the full lane view you still click to enter the note and then drag to adjust velocity). On the plus for Geist 2, it has scene and Song modes that NERVE, lacks. Spark 2 does have a Song Mode, but its not better than the version in Nerve. Geist 2 has the edge on these modes by far. Another thing that Geist 2 does well is let you record loops on the fly, and even record a whole series of them, moving to the next pad, and the next, and so on, and the sample quality is superb. Lastly, Geist 2 has 64 pads in 8 engines, whereas Nerve loads one kit at the time, but has quite a number of pattern chains, which can be configured to loop from 1 to up to 8 patterns according to your choice.

There really isn't a single "greatest" tool for these kinds of sounds. I'm glad I own Geist, and Nerve is exceptional as well. I don't use breaktweaker as much, but its probably something that needs, ironically, tweaking. (I think the "edge" sound its good for is partly due to the unique glitch modes, and also possibly the added synthesis in the drums - which I could adjust if I spent the time - but these are unique and worthwhile nonetheless).

I also Hope that Spark 2, Geist 2, Breaktweaker, and also Nerve will get more significant updates (Geist 2 needs some bug fixing primarily). Beat Anthology 2 by UVI is another tool, that I have yet to use - which allows mixing synthesis with samples. I haven't yet used Revolution or Evolution. Revolution has samples of 14 old school drum machines (not as many as Spark 2). But the sound of Evolution concerns me, because the synthesis seems a little over-simplified - it could be better than what's in Spark 2, but I don't know and won't know until I spend the $. Fxpansion Tremor is not geared exactly to the kind of ambient music I make, and I haven't gotten around to trying Rob Papen's Punch.

There are some other dance/techno/hip hop tools I have missed. (I'm not including BFD3, Superior Drummer 3, and the other acoustic drum vsts..).

Please add feedback. Thanks.

Reviewed By moonchunk [read all by] on 3rd February 2018
Version reviewed: 3.1 on Windows.
Last edited by moonchunk on 6th February 2018.
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I came at this from the perspective of wanting to know if I, as a BFD3 owner, could benefit from Superior Drummer 3, sufficient to justify paying the additional $400. It is interesting to compare the two, now that I own both.

From having both Superior Drummer 3 and BFD3, BFD3 sounds better for a number of things if it is properly dialed in. Excuse me if there are errors; this is from memory. In BFD3 the realism of cymbal swell for instance is superior, excuse the pun, to the SD3 smoothing algorithm.

It appears from my first few days in SD3, also, that the Groove FX of BFD3 are a little superior to the "apply swing" and dynamics adjusting tools in SD3. Why? Because apparently you can apply to selections, preview and undo in BFD 3.

I believe you can do almost as much in SD3, except it appears you cannot, at the click of a button, "preview" the changes that correspond to those features in BFD3, while editing them. You can do this in BFD3 which is awesome, because it allows you to hear many adjustments without having to go around clicking the undo button all the time. Also BFD3, I believe, has 100 or so undo steps available. SD3, per their manual, appears to support only one. (Or they should be more clear in the manual).

Also, BFD3 does a better job, apparently, of allowing for quick editing of the MIDI map - because once initiated, you can press a series of MIDI keys to map all the articulations in a drum piece - no mousing and menu-digging. BFD3 also features an editable kit with visuals that reflect infinite possibilities (except I think there is a limit of about 32 pieces.)

On the other side of the argument, Superior Drummer was a great purchase for me. I am glad I have both. But Superior Drummer is the result of work with a pro at mastering drums. The levels-matching makes switching out your drums and finding the right balance in your particular preset for your particular need extremely easy. Frankly I will be using both, with SD3 as the core for working in genres that are either mostly rock, or rock and electronic. I will add sounds from BFD3 in this case. If I'm doing something with percussion however, SD3 has nothing whatever in that field, except some of the plunky stuff from SD2, and a couple of claps, and a cowbell. BFD3 has an expansion that is quite a good percussion library with a number of very useful and realistic pieces.

Ultimately, for me, as a core kit, and also especially for working with Rayzoon Jamstix 4, you can't beat the feel of having your own master drum engineer to set up your initial playground of sounds for you. BFD3, while it has equal sounds in many cases, and sometimes better ones (but variety is welcome in professional situations anyway), requires constant attention in terms of levels because not only are the stock presets not the best in representing the most-used sounds (they are better at variety than SD3..)

But IMVHO the individual kit pieces load (stock) with variations in room and ambience and overhead, that should have been more standardized rather than attempting to highlight the character of the piece - because while I understand it, it is simply too difficult a work flow and too tempting to fiddle with improving sounds. Because you have a lot of variables, mixer routings, variations in groove velocity per preset, and so on. So not only should there be refined kit presets, but it also helps to have each piece well-dialed to correspond with the other samples in the library. SD3 did an astoundingly successful job on this.

I still think the sounds are a bit more rich in some cases in BFD3 - but more time spent with SD3 is in order.

I haven't begun to use the song creator feature in SD3, nor have I done much with the groove editor. BFD3 has a few more options for note entry in the grid (it still lacks some basics also) and can paint rudiments which is very cool.

Another distinction between the Superior Drummer 3 and BFD3 is that the sounds in BFD3 are dryer if you want to go in and add ambience more creatively. Not that you can't go entirely dry with the Superior Drummer Kit pieces. But I think the moment you begin to bring in some of the authentic sounding recorded ambience, they are suddenly quite awash in ambience, whereas even when you add overheads, room mics, or ambience mics into the BFD3 sounds, you get the sense that the original sound is recorded with mics that are well isolated, so that you can back off those mics and still get left with a very full and snappy sound. On the other hand, with SD3, backing off reveals that part of the character coming from the ribbon and condenser mics is somewhat critical, versus the directs - I like what BFD3 and SD3 did; each has its place. But in terms of coloration, I find that the direct/close mic sound of SD3 is a little enhanced/washed out already (depending on if this is a good mixing trick, or getting in the way of your creativity) by the mic characteristic and the placement. I'm no expert on how drums are mic'd. It would be interesting for another user of both products to respond.

[Actually I did find a comment on a forum by a more experienced SD2/SD3 user, who expressed this concerning the new Rock Foundry SDX, which has been released after the release of SD3, and perhaps has some similarities].

Song Creator: I tested this out first with my own user MIDI files, and couldn't get it to work. It kept producing the same parts no matter which of my beats, reggae, rock, and funk..., I dragged in. I was befuddled so I did the same thing with one of the included grooves. Presto, it worked as advertised. If this is true, that user MIDI isn't going to work well with Song Creator, then its nicely geared to match the other feature, of SHOW WEB SHOP MIDI. This whole thing is very disconcerting because to me it was totally implied that user MIDI could be used. And creating a bunch of song parts from Toontrack grooves, that follow the genre choices of Toontrack, isn't so supportive of musicianship and creativity that I strive for in my workflow. I'm not a drummer, nor do I have a drummer in my band, and so I have little use for Tracker (which allows converting user drum tracks to SD3 tracks). Albeit if a person purchased the whole Toontrack MIDI library, ultimately there would be some overlap between some desired rhythmic patterns, and the ones Toontrack happens to have created. But I am hoping this is some sort of user ignorance or software problem, and that user MIDI will eventually work great. We'll see. I will update this review if I hear back from Toontrack...

One other comment in passing. SD3 essentially only has 4 hi hats, albeit with some brush and rod artics. You have plenty of kicks and snares. You have cymbals enough to go around. Why not have 7 DISTINCT hi hats. C'mon guys, add some more variety, or this review will not be discredited.

Finally, SD3 looks outstanding, and not only can be sized fully (even in Reaper) but windows can be detached in it.

Hope this helps anyone wishing to have a comparison.

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