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ACE (Any Cable Everywhere) [read all reviews]
Reviewed By sramsay [read all by] on 9th July 2019
Version reviewed: 1.4 on Mac.
Last edited by sramsay on 9th July 2019.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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You probably can't name a softsynth that I don't own. And this is -- by far -- my favorite.

tl;dr: Reviewer gushes for several paragraphs.. .

Ultimately, this is a synth with two oscillators, two filters, two LFOs, two envelope generators, and two VCAs. Yes, you can patch anything anywhere. But before we even talk about that, let's talk about those five elements (or four of them).

Because really, ACE is a study in what happens when you try to make those five things as good as they can possibly be. The oscillators are among the best I've ever heard in any synth of any kind. Just absolutely luscious. Filters? Taken by themselves, they're probably not as jaw dropping as the ones in Diva (by the same developer) or Cytomic's The Drop (the only filter I've ever used that can actually bring your CPU to its knees if you push it hard enough). But they are gorgeous, and more importantly, it's very hard to put everything underwater with them. They just gel perfectly with the rest of the synth. LFOs and envelopes? What's the big deal? The former is just some kind of extra wave, and the latter is a fancy volume knob. Think again. The LFOs have as much character as the main oscillators, and the EGs are incredibly flexible (with a "snap" function that will tighten them up when you need it, and a "fall/rise" rate knob that basically gives you another stage). They can do lazy, and the can stand at attention. In other words, we're dealing with fantastic components.

My advice? Don't patch anything anywhere for a week. Or a month. Or a year. Because honestly, that sync knob will keep you occupied. Or the ring mod on the second oscillator. Or the mixer panel. To really appreciate ACE, you have to commit to exploring it normalized. It is just astonishing how good it sounds.

And after that? Well, what can I say. Everyone knows the drill. You can patch those EGs to anything. Those glorious oscillators can modulate each other or anything else (and you can stack each one eight voices high, with separate tunings). Or use the LFOs -- which, again, are as fantastic as the mains -- as oscillators in various kinds of FM configurations. Or run the filters in series. Or crossfade things through the mults (or do AM). Or glitch the thing out with crosstalk and simulated capacitor failure. Or use the mapping generator as. .. anything you'd like it to be. It is seriously endless.

And none of this really exhausts all of the little details that conspire to make this an incredibly flexible synth. Some days it sounds like a mini. Some days I can get it to sound like some kind of Buchla fantasia. Some days it's doing squeaky clean synthpop. Some days it wants to growl like an MS-20. Some days it's doing outtakes from a Tomita record. And really, all of that makes perfect sense, because as the dev put it:

"If you really want to compare ACE to a classic modular synth (or three), think of it as a pimped-up ARP 2600 using modules from a Roland SH-7 with (almost) the patching flexibility of an EMS VCS3 / Synthi A – but polyphonic."

As said, I own a lot of softsynths (including emulations of ARPs and EMS rigs). Like many, I have spent a lot of time and money chasing down "features." Eight oscillators! Four types of comb filter! ACE taught me how absurd all of this is, because at the end of the day, it's all about the Big Four. Essentially, ACE is a modular rig for the non-insane. Other reviews have echoed this sentiment, but it's really true. The fact that it's really "just four and four" is entirely liberating; it forces you to think about what you're doing and why, and yet I've never had more happy accidents with any other piece of music software. You will die at your keyboard before you run out of sounds to make with this thing.

A few other quick things:

1. ACE is not loaded up with FX, but the chorus is the most gorgeous I've heard in software. Its default setting (and the same goes for the delay) are beautifully subtle. And there's a phaser that manages to not take you instantly to Itchycoo Park (unless you want to).

2. The press was very insistent that this is an advanced synth that is emphatically not for beginners. I get it, but having spent a lot of time with this thing, I'm not sure I really agree with that. It would certainly require some patience, but plenty of people learned synthesis on rigs like this, and I have a feeling they were better for it. One of the consequences of being able to override the normalization is that you can isolate the components very easily. I can imagine a fantastic guided tutorial where we start by patching the oscillator directly to the VCA in gate mode and go from there -- adding one component after another and dealing with things in small segments. It would be really educational. It's certainly taught me a few things, and I considered myself pretty knowledgeable before I got it.

3. ACE is not "Bazille Lite." Seriously. The interface is similar, and Bazille has more of everything, but they are very different instruments. Bazille's oscillators, in particular, sound completely different, because it's trying to emulate and facilitate various kinds of FM/PM sounds. It's more accurate to say that Bazille is the "digital" complement to ACE's insistently analogue setup (though that's not fair in a way, because the one can imitate the other to a degree).

4. That said, there have been rumors of an ACE XL (or maybe just wistful requests for one). I suspect that's not coming any time soon, but the devs didn't dismiss the idea. I would buy such a thing in a nanosecond, but honestly, I don't find myself wishing ACE were more powerful than it already is.

I'm writing this review ultimately because I think this synth is massively underrated. It wasn't heavily reviewed, there aren't a lot of tutorials, it looks intimidating, and despite having hundreds of presets, it's never going to be anyone's goto rompler. I also think a lot of people bought Bazille without really realizing how different this thing is. It's an absolute classic. And a monster.

TB ReelBus v4 [read all reviews]
Reviewed By sramsay [read all by] on 10th October 2018
Version reviewed: 4.04 on Mac.
Last edited by sramsay on 10th October 2018.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful.
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Here are the tape emulators currently in my plugins folder:

CRTIV Tape Bus (Voxengo)
HoRNetTape
ReelBus 4 (Toneboosters)
Tape (Softube)
ReeLight (Beatskillz)
TCS-68 (Fuse Audio Labs)
Tapedesk (Overloud)
Satin (U-he)
Oxide (UAD)
Ampex ATR-102 (UAD)
Studer A800 (UAD)
J37 Tape (Waves)
Kramer Master Tape (Waves).

Plus:
Dopamine (Overloud)
TypeA (AudioThing).

And that's not including stuff like RC-20 Retro Color (XLN) that can do some tape stuff, and the tape plugin that comes with Ozone. (Noticeably absent, here, is Slate Digital's Virtual Tape Machines. I've tried it; it's great. Just haven't pulled the trigger on it).

So, yes. I am a man obsessed.

These all have different sounds and different levels of tweakability. Some are more-or-less "set it and forget it" (Softube Tape), some are painstaking recreations of particular tape machines (the Studer and Ampex from UAD are the pinnacle of that category), and some are more like "tape toolkits" for getting tape effects more generally (Satin is the probably the deepest tool if you want to go that way).

Reelbus 4 is solidly in that "toolkit" category, and so probably bears the closest relationship to Satin.

But honestly, as awesome as Satin is (and it really is), Reelbus is damn close. And it's noticeably easier to use. There's very little skeuomorphism in the interface; it's basically a set of sliders that let you play around with various elements of the "tape sound" (including such arcana as hysteresis and asperity). And it sounds great. The presets, while not extensive, are really good at hitting the fundamental tape sound categories, so you can just use it straight.

If you already own something more in the "set-it-and-forget-it" category (whether it's a straight emulation or not), and would like to go deeper into the weeds of what tape machines can do, this is absolutely your best bet. It's super cheap, but incredibly deep and sophisticated. And it might be the best way to learn how to tweak the tape sound, because the interface is so clear. You can really go bonkers with it. and that's a good thing to do when you're trying to learn how to play around with tape. Once you get your head around this, you'll have a much easier time popping the lid on, say, the Ampex from UAD or the service panel in Satin.

And even though I own tape plugins that cost nearly six times as much (man, those UAD plugs hurt), Reelbus 4 is perilously close in sound quality to some of those fancier plugs. If you're into tape -- or thing you might like to be -- this is really a must buy.

Blue Cat's MB-7 Mixer [read all reviews]
Reviewed By sramsay [read all by] on 11th February 2018
Version reviewed: 3.0 on Mac.
Last edited by sramsay on 11th February 2018.
2 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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All right, here's the deal. You can buy FabFilter Saturn or Audio Damage Kombinat Tri, and have a multiband distortion unit with their okay distortion algorithms. Or you can buy this bit of magic and put any kind of distortion you want on the various bands. Or, for that matter, anything else. But combining this with Thermionic Culture Vulture, Omega 458a, VSM-3, Klanghelm SDRR 2, or any tape sim is pretty much heavenly.

DC8C [read all reviews]
Reviewed By sramsay [read all by] on 22nd January 2018
Version reviewed: 2.3.0 on Mac.
Last edited by sramsay on 22nd January 2018.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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I own lots of compressor plugins. Vintage emulations, modern "transparent" compressors, you name it. Some of them are extremely expensive. This is my favorite.

It's my favorite because I can almost always get it to do exactly what I want (where "what I want" is everything from smooth, invisible bus compression to transient shaping). You can tweak it to death. You can set the big four and forget it. You can run it clean. You can give it some analog vibe. You can abuse your CPU with it. You can run it efficiently. If you are insisting on the sound of some particular piece of gear, it's probably not the right thing, but on the other hand, if you know what you're doing, you can probably get it to sound like anything. In terms of parameters, expert mode is up in the same stratosphere as other "build your own compressor" plugs like U-he's Presswerk and (almost) DMG Compassion, but for way less money.

It's really a kind of DSP masterpiece, and it's insanely cheap. But don't be fooled. It is not good "for the money." It is an outstanding piece of software, full stop.

HY-SEQ16x3v2 [read all reviews]
Reviewed By sramsay [read all by] on 4th January 2018
Version reviewed: 1.4.2.3 on Mac
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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I've hesitated to write a review of this, because I just can't decide if my unbounded enthusiasm for it is is just too wrapped up in my own way of making music. But here goes. . .

It's a step sequencer. It is heavily inspired by old-school step sequencers of the sort you'd use with a modular rig (in particular, the Doepfer MAQ16/3, but the basic design is found everywhere on old hardware). As with those old units, you turn knobs to set pitch and then it will repeat a sequence for you.

But what this really is, is that old-school workflow re-imagined with lots of modern amenities. So there's actually three sequencers on this unit. And LFOs. And built in scales. And randomization functions. And ways to set gate ratios, and swing, and probabilities, and velocities, and. .. you get the picture. It's not the kind of full-blown music creation environment that you get with Numerology, but as a mono-note step sequencer it might actually be more feature-rich. It's something like Sugar Bytes Thesys, perhaps, but it's easier to get way out into bonkers territory with it, and I think the UI is actually a lot nicer. And certainly, it's cheaper than either of those two. It is not an arpeggiator. It knows nothing of chords. It would be painful to program drums with it. But honestly, if you want to control a synthesizer in the "classical" manner, this is -- I think -- the best piece of software out there. Very niche, but absolutely dead on.

The developer has a real thing for step sequencers, and has coded several. It's very well put together, and rock solid.

Outer Space [read all reviews]
Reviewed By sramsay [read all by] on 30th December 2017
Version reviewed: 1.1.0 on Mac
1 of 3 people found this review helpful.
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AudioThing makes some nice stuff, but this is really in a whole different league. It's a breathtakingly accurate emulation of a piece of classic gear, for which they could easily charge much more.

DUNE 3 [read all reviews]
Reviewed By sramsay [read all by] on 19th February 2015
Version reviewed: 10.10.2 on Mac.
Last edited by sramsay on 19th February 2015.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful.
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Yes to everything that Yorrrrrr says below.

I wanted to say, though, that this synth is nearly ideal for beginners trying to learn to program synthesizers.

Often, beginners are directed toward free synthesizers. Certainly, that's not bad advice, since there are some stupendous ones out there (Synth1, Tyrell N6, TAL Noisemaker, etc.). As good as they can be, however, they very often come with no documentation -- or documentation that's really just a quick overview for people who already know their way around. What's more, some of these synths can have pretty obscure interfaces (sometimes because, in their devotion to vintage hardware emulation, they make UI decisions that favor looking retro over usability).

I want to be careful, here; Dune 2 is, in every way, a pro-grade instrument. But one of the things that makes it a great beginner synth is that it has one of the clearest workflows you'll ever see, and really, really solid docs. I can't speak for the devs, but I think their goal was to create a modern, state-of-the-art subtractive synth designed for right now. They're not trying to slavishly emulate the UI (or the sound) of past instruments, but they also aren't trying to do something forward-looking (read, weird) with the UI. In practice, this means that the controls and the signal flow are extremely clear. If you're still at the stage of trying to figure out how to make a basic sound that uses a sawtooth wave, a low-pass filter, and an amp envelope, then this thing just won't get in your way. And it's rare to see an instrument this powerful that doesn't.

I can imagine this synth being the perfect complement to Syntorial (the way to get started with synthesizers, as far as I'm concerned). Syntorial has "on your own" sections where he asks you to go program your own patch using the things you've learned in the previous tutorials. If "your own synth" is Tyrell N6, you might be totally lost. If your synth is Dune 2, you'll know exactly what to do.

Once again: This is a very powerful tool. It'll be a very long time before you exhaust its immense feature set, and it sounds magnificent. Any pro tweaker will have a field day. But honestly, this is one of the most approachable synths I've ever used. If you're starting out, this one can really grow with with you -- and on you.