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Monument Bass [read all reviews]
Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 14th August 2019
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 16th August 2019.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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Monoment Bass, while limited in many ways, is a beast! The presets it ships with really dont' do it justice. It's only when you start to play around with it yourself that it reveals its real strengths.

Start with the first preset and you'll see straight away some of the very clever things they have done here. e.g. Every synth I have ever owned or used has had a simple osc mixer to blend the outputs of the oscillators. Monoment has that but it also has the option to use a cross-over so that one oscillator can be your sub with the second oscillator providing all the character above it. It's such an obvious thing but still kinda brilliant. So turn that off and move the mixer all the way to Source A (Osc 1). Now go to the drop-down and start previewing those 2 gigs of sampled content to see just what's actually in there for you to exploit. It's very impressive. To make the point that it is definitely a bass synth, the samples don't go past about half-way up the 4th octave. I assume this is to save disk-space and download bandwidth.

The simplified filter envelope is an interesting thing and I think it's probably the biggest limitation of the synth. It's certainly quick and easy but it limits some of your choices. The filter itself is OK. I really like how big the difference is between the 6 dB/oct and 24 dB/oct modes. It's ostensibly a bass synth so it's low-pass only. The cutoff knob and modulation works a bit strangely. Cutoff sets the maximum amount the filter can be open and all the modulation you add uses that value as a ceiling, where every other synth I have ever used adds all the (positive) modulation to the cutoff frequency.

Elsewhere, the Punch control adds real "punch" (unsurprisingly) to the envelope attack for some hard-hitting basslines. The included effects - distortion, reverb, EQ, multiband compression and spatialisation - all contribute nicely to the polish of the final sound. There is also a kind of third osc that adds analog garbage to the patch and an Age knob that determines how much of it you hear in the output. It's not my thing so I won't say anything about it beyond the fact that it's very subtle. Overall, the sound is very good, thick and huge where it counts - in the bottom end - yet remains easy to control.

The preset browser has come in for some (largely unwarranted) criticism but what people don't seem to notice is that it doesn't just open in a new window inside your host, it opens in a new window all of its own. That means you can drag it outside your host and place it anywhere you like, like on a second monitor. That means you can scroll through presets and make tweaks as you go without having to constantly switch between preset view and your main GUI. If they got rid of the large thumbnails in the window, I reckon this browser would be awesome. As it is, it's still very usable.

There are a couple of other downsides. It doesn't respond to anything other than velocity, so you will need to program any movement or expression into it via your sequencer. 5D expression would be awesome but just a bit of mod wheel response would do. Pitch-bend does work but it's utility is minimal, at best. CPU usage is also rather high for a sample-based instrument.

Monoment Bass makes some wonderful noises and it is stupidly quick and simple to use, once you get used to it's slightly weird ways. The sound is very classy and I have a feeling it is going to feature strongly in my work from now on.

Trueno [read all reviews]
Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 3rd August 2019
Version reviewed: 1.1 Beta on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 6th August 2019.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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Trueno is a unique beast in several ways. Obviously the concept of putting analogue circuitry into a USB dongle and controlling it all from a VSTi is unique but so is the character of the sounds you get from it. It has a gritty character that you just don't hear in modern synths any more. Listening to the presets takes me back to the early 80s and the sounds I was getting from my Arp Axxe or Korg Mono/Poly. When you start to work on your own sounds, that character shines through even more. Even in paraphonic mode, where you only get one oscillator per note, the sound has a width and depth that surprises.

Another unique thing about Trueno is that it isn't just an analogue synth, it also has a range of digital (additive) oscillators available and you can edit them to create a virtually limitless range of oscillator sounds to work with. The way it works is definitely unique - the USB dongle generates the raw analogue oscillator tones and contains the analogue filter but everything else is done on your computer, via the standalone app or the VSTi plugin. So it's a hardware synth that can also be a bit of a CPU hog at times. Strange but true.

You get 3 oscillators and you can select from the three analogue waveforms - saw, pulse or triangle (plus noise on Osc 3 only) - or multiple digital waveforms on each one. Each osc has it's own gain control and once you get the gain above about half-way, it starts to overdrive the filter, which is where the fun really starts for me. It can get amazingly thick and nasty with little or no effort. The filter itself offers low-pass and band-pass modes and is flexible enough with resonance that is very controllable. Osc 3 can be used as an analogue modulation source, with limited destinations.

For such a small, clean interface, Trueno packs a lot of features. You get dedicated filter and amp envelopes but there are also 4 x modulation envelopes and 4 x LFOs, all with drag-n-drop assignment and straightforward control. It's very intuitive once you take 10 minutes to read the printed manual that comes with the synth.

It's not all roses, I've had a few problems where the sound starts to get distorted and the only way to fix it is to shut down Cubase and restart it. (Unplugging the synth didn't fix it.) It has only happened twice but it was a bit of a buzz-killer both times. That said, it's a small price to pay for a synth with such a great, unique character that is so much fun to work with, it's not even worth knocking a star off for.

Sektor [read all reviews]
Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 23rd July 2019
Version reviewed: 1.2.2 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 24th July 2019.
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Sektor is a good little synth with a real edge to it's sound that elevates it beyond it's seemingly humble feature set. It has great workflow and is so intuitive you shouldn't need a manual to get into it. That said, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials to get you started if you need them.

The synth has two wavetable oscillators, as well as a sample oscillator taken from the developer's Heat Up 3 VSTi. It ships with several gigs of content so there are no shortage of either wavetables or sampled content> I'd say there something like 250 wavetables, a similar number of single samples and more than 100 multi-sampled instruments to choose from, which is enough to cover most people's needs several times over, I suspect. It also comes with a ridiculous number of presets. A good browser makes them relatively easy to find. The wavetable oscillators can have up to 16 unison voices with detune and spread. There is a phase parameter, which means phase modulation is possible, and FM is also offered. There is also an OSC+ page in the central screen that allows you to mess with the unison voices in each wavetable oscillator for some slightly DUNE-style complexity.

The two filters are probably the weakest part of the signal path. They aren't terrible but they are nothing special, either. They do the job you need them to and that's about all. They only run in parallel and you can control how much of each wavetable oscillator is fed into each. One good feature is the Drive parameter, which does add character to the sound without being too over the top.

Modulation sources are plentiful - 3 x ADSR envelopes, 3 x multi-segment envelopes and 4 x LFO. Modulation can be assigned using drag 'n' drop and there is a mod matrix for fine control. Modulation also shows up in the controls so you can see how it is affecting parameter values. It's pretty comprehensive.

Elsewhere you get two racks of effects, each with 9 simultaneous effects. I have found them to be quite usable. There is also a fully programmable sequencer/arpeggiator. The UI is very customisable, with several different skins, choice of colours within each and it is also resizable. Sektor also supports MPE, although I've never put that to the test.

The best part of Sektor, though, is the sound. It has it's own, gritty character. It is very in your face and more than a little bit digital sounding most of the time. Normally that would put me off but Sektor manages to do it in a way that's not as harsh as some other synths. With unison and the OSC+ page it can sound absolutely massive, yet CPU use is very low. On my modest Core i5 dual-core CPU, I can play a three note chord with 16 voice unison on both oscillators and the CPU stays under 10%.

Overall, I think it is a very useful synth that anyone would find plenty of work for. I don't think it would be anyone's go-to synth but it has something a bit different to offer that makes it easy enough to justify owning. At full price it is OK value but it is often on sale and at sale prices it's a no-brainer. The developer is also quite responsive to user's needs and it gets updated fairly regularly with the most requested fixes/features.

Thorn [read all reviews]
Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 26th November 2018
Version reviewed: 1.0.8 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 26th November 2018.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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I got Thorn cheap as a side-grade from the excellent Tantra effect but even at full price it is an absolute bargain. It would be easy for some to talk for pages about the synthesis method but I'm more interested in the sound that comes out at the end, not what gets put in at the start, so I'll try to make it more of a brief overview of what it's like to actually use.

The two oscillators use spectral (additive) synthesis to create both basic and complex waveforms. You get loads of presets and you can open an editor to muck around with the partials and change the sound, although to my ears you don't get much value from doing that. There is also a Harmonic Filter which removes certain partials, which I assume it is doing digitally, not like a normal filter (because there is also a Comb Filter in the other Filter section). Suffice to say that you have a lot of control over the way the raw oscillator sounds. You get a few options, like detune, pan, volume and unison per oscillator, and each of the three oscillators can be routed to either filter. You can copy/paste settings between oscillators. There is also a separate noise oscillator.

The Filter Section has two multi-mode filters with a great sounding Drive circuit that can add as much meat to the sound as you like. There are around 20 different filter types, that include everything except a notch filter (which you could make by using one filter low-pass and the other high-pass). You can definitely tell the difference between the different filters and you are bound to find one that works for whatever it is you are trying to do. The two filters can be locked together and you have the option of running them in series or parallel.

You get three ADSR envelopes, which include parameters for Key Track and Velocity, plus two MSEGs and two LFO. There is a Mod Matrix for making complex modulation assignments, as well as knobs where it's handy, e.g. envelope modulation of Cutoff. There are 9 high quality effects built in. Of special note is the Distortion effect, which is just about the best distortion I have ever used. It can be very subtle or completely bonkers, depending on the settings. There is also a limiter built into the output section.

There are two separate sequencers in Thorn. The Arpeggio is actually a fairly standard, easy to use step sequencer that works as an offset to the input note. The Glitch Sequencer is something else that really sets Thorn apart. Using both together can give some amazing results. I can't imagine how much more crazy it could get if you also threw the MSEGs into the mix. What's great about using these features in Thorn is that you can make things sound really harsh, like Massive's glitchy sound, or you can keep it smooth and interesting to add a bit of flavour or texture to an arrangement or a sound. It's extremely versatile.

Thorn comes with lots of presets and what I like is that rather than try to dazzle the user with all the capabilities of the synth, many of them seem to have been crafted to allow the user to take them and build on them to make your own sounds. Better still, you get lots of presets for different parts of the synth - there are preset waveforms, presets for the Harmonic Filter, presets for the Arpeggio and Glitch Seq and presets for the MSEGs. This means you don't have to do everything yourself or just use preset sounds. You can very quickly make something that is uniquely yours by combining a few of the existing presets into something new and brilliant (because all your work is brilliant, right?). It's all part of the attention to detail that includes nifty things like being able to shift each sequencer's events left or right to line up with the rhythm you are trying to get. It even has it's own undo/redo.

What I really love about Thorn is that it can have such a great character. The harsher, more digital stuff is good but when it gets all warm and analogue-like it really starts to stand out from the pack. It is great for big, beefy basslines, it has some absolutely sublime pads and the SEQ presets are simply incredible. Best of all, the way it's put together means that you can start creating your own sounds, which will be just as good, almost straight away. It is all so well thought out that everything makes sense from the first time you load it up. Download the trial and listen to some of the presets and you'll see just what I mean. It's so good I have run out of superlatives to describe it so I'll shut up.

Equator [read all reviews]
Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 16th October 2018
Version reviewed: 1.11.2 on Windows
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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I bought a Roli Seaboard Rise about a year ago and it comes with Equator. Obviously it is designed to work with Roli's "5 Dimensions of Touch", which is achieved via MPE, which more hosts are supporting all the time. But don't think that means you have to have an MPE controller to use it because the VSTi works great with or without MPE.

What you get is a six oscillator synth with two multi-mode filters and more modulation options than you'll know what to do with. There are two sample-based oscillators, a noise oscillator and three V/A oscillators with around 50 different waveforms to choose from. The way it works reminds me a bit of Junglist/Hydra for those who can remember those instruments - you get a big, long list of drawn waveforms. The V/A oscillators can be used for FM, with four different algorithms on offer. Overall, it offers an incredibly broad range of options. You get a few samples when you install the instrument and there are more to download. The minimum size of the download is about 760MB and expansion pack adds another 1.2GB or so, which means you are getting a good range of high quality samples to work with.

Both filters are the same, with 13 different types available, covering all the usuals plus a comb filter and a few variations. The filters are OK, they get the job done, without really standing out.

Modulation is a stand-out feature. There are two LFO and five envelopes. The envelopes have four different modes - ADSR, ADR, ADADR and ADA-PR and, along with the LFO, can be synced to host tempo. The LFO have seven different waveforms to choose from. Beyond these features are the five dimensions of touch - STRIKE, PRESS, GLIDE, SLIDE and LIFT. You can set a response curve for each to match your playing style, giving you very fine control over how the instrument responds.

The way you add modulation is really simple - select a source, which is highlighted with an amber border, then go to the parameter you want to modlulate and adjust it's controls. The selected range will highlight in amber (normal settings are shown in blue). Once the modulation is set, the control for that parameter will animate so you can see it working. e.g. If you modulate the cutoff for Filter 1 with Envelope 2, every time you play a note, you will see the cutoff knob jump up and slide back, according to the shape of the envelope. It makes it so easy to see what's going, it is one of the most effective modulation schemes I have ever used. There is also a hidden tab with a "modulation list", which is just like the Mod Matric in many other synths.

The effects section is very good - high quality, great sounding and easy to use. There is a tab for routing everything so it's a breeze to set up complex signal paths to take full advantage of the effects. It's also where you can turn the overall volume of a patch up/down. The final tab is for global settings.

It's not perfect, though, The windows where you adjust the envelopes are far too small, making it hard to get precise values. At least you can zoom the 5D response curve windows (another tab). To be honest, I'd have preferred just two or three envelopes with bigger windows. CPU use is more than reasonable for what's on offer - 3% to 6% for a single voice on my Core i5 2-in-1 and 6-11% for a three note chord.

Overall, Roli have put a lot of effort into making Equator extremely powerful, yet easy to use in a way many other developers struggle to deliver. Almost everything is visible on the front panel, which can be resized by grabbing the bottom-right corner and pulling (it only gets bigger) and those things that are hidden behind tabs are all things you hardly ever need to see. The sound quality is stellar and using it as it is meant to be used, with a Seaboard controller, makes for an expressive experience out of the box that's pretty much unbeatable. But if you want to buy it as a standalone product, you won't get the full experience, which makes it's asking price very steep. If you ever see it for $99, grab it, otherwise think carefully before making a decision.

UNO Synth [read all reviews]
Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 25th September 2018
Version reviewed: 1 on Any OS.
Last edited by BONES on 25th September 2018.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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Uno Synth is amazing for the price. Even if it cost twice as much, it would still be a decent buy but for $200 it is ridiculously good. You can read about the features anywhere so I'll talk about the practical experience of using it.

The layout is very easy to work with, even if a few of the choices seem a bit strange. e.g. you get a knob for cutoff but not for resonance. The parameter matrix on the left side of the panel works as well as any, although I don't know why they didn't split the envelope line, like they did with the oscillators, so that you could edit both envelopes fully from the front panel. These are relatively minor things, though, because the fact is that it sounds so good that you'll be happy to put up with a few little issues.

Both oscillators are the same and the way they have set up the tuning parameter is very clever - you get fine tuning, in cents, just off-centre but as you turn the knob further, it starts to jump in semi-tones. You need to keep one oscillator at the root pitch if you want to detune between them but that seems a small price to pay for the convenience of a single tuning knob. The front panel only gives you access to the basic oscillator settings but you can delve deeper using the software editor (more on that in a minute). Once you get a bit of movement into the sound - via PWM or by modulating the wave shapes, which morph smoothly from one shape to the next - you can make some really fat timbres that sound like they've got a few extra unison voices stacked on them. It's very, very impressive.

The filter does it's job well enough without being particularly noteworthy. It's the oscillators that really make this machine shine. With Low-, Band- and High-Pass modes it offers plenty of versatility. There is also a delay built-in, which is handy for beefing up the sound a bit.

Uno has a row of "effects" buttons you can press to get vibrato, tremolo, etc. They only work while you are holding them down and, to be honest, I don't see much value in them. OTOH, both the arpeggiator and the sequencer are very handy. The arpeggiator is just what you'd expect, with a lot of different patterns to choose from. The sequencer is limited to 16 steps and the settings are stored with each patch. You can record in realtime (there is a metronome) or step time and you can add parameter changes to each step, like Elektron's P-locks or Korg's motion sequences. That makes the sequencer pretty powerful and something you might end up using more than you think you will.

The 27 key keyboard is a lot of fun to play with, way moreso than I expected. Sliding your fingers around a flat panel is a hoot. It would be even better if we could make the envelopes retrigger on each new note but the default behaviour is they don't when you play legato. You can also use Uno as a MIDI controller, either via USB or MIDI. I've used it to control both softsynths on my PC and other hardware instruments and it does a decent job. Even though Uno is monophonic, the keyboard isn't so you can play chords on other instruments.

The software editor is available as a standalone for PC, Mac and iOS and as a VSTi for PC and Mac. It gives you full access to all the synths parameters, expanding the synth's palette considerably. You can set the depth/levels of the "effects" buttons, add PWM and waveshape modulation to the oscillators and assign things to the mod wheel. It also lets you put names to the presets, so you can remember which preset does what. If you don't want to use the editor full-time, it's easy enough to set up presets with PWM and/or waveshape modulation already dialed in and work from there. You get 100 presets but 1-20 can't be overwritten, so you only get 80 user slots. So far I've only used half-a-dozen so I think 80 is plenty.

I bought Uno mostly because it was cheap but after six weeks or so with it, I think I'd still want one if it was $500. It's easy to use, it has enough features to keep you interested for a while and, above all, it sounds great. It has, for example, kept me entertained for much longer than MicroMonsta did and I'd probably have it over either a Korg Minilogue or Monologue. I'd definitely have it over any of Roland's vintage Boutique boxes (but not necessarily over the SE-02).

Go2 [read all reviews]
Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 5th July 2018
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows
3 of 3 people found this review helpful.
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Let's get this out of the way first - I want to give this 3.5 stars but I can't do that, so please think of this as a 3.5 star review.

IMPRESSIONS

When I first saw the name "Go2", I didn't do what I was supposed to do and think of "go to synth", I thought of XTC's second album from 1978. Certainly looking at it's gigantic GUI, it doesn't feel anything like a go-to synth, either. That's not to say it isn't a handy addition to my sonic arsenal because it is definitely that. It's the only Rob Papen synth I've used so I can't comment on how it compares but I can tell you that it is very capable and seems particularly good for doing the harder, nastier sounds that I always look for. It is easy to take existing presets and turn them to your will or to start from scratch and make something useful quickly and painlessly. After going through the presets and tweaking them as I went, I ended up with a dozen good patches of my own in an hour or two, plus several dozen presets with favourite icons next to them (a handy feature of the preset browser).

I was really happy with all the patches I'd created and I was excited by the possibilities they presented to evolve our sound. In isolation they sounded rich and full but when I started to try and use them in mixes, I found it really hard to get them to sound as big and aggressive as they sounded on their own. In my first few attempts, I ended up using different synths instead of Go2, which was a little deflating.

I still like what Go2 does, though, so I started trying to find other uses for it. I don't think it's filter is great, it reminds me of the original LinPlug Cronox, so it's probably not going to be a great bassline machine. Eventually I discovered a role for it as a filler instrument, adding lots of grit between the bassline and lead parts. They are the kinds of parts you don't really notice until you mute them and realise how much they were adding to the sound. And for that it's great because it has a very different character to the V/As I normally work with, which complements, rather than competes with, the other parts in the song.

Go2's different way of creating sound is also very inspiring, which makes it good as a synth to play around with when you are looking for ideas for a song. Even if it never ended up in a final mix, I reckon it would still be $49 well spent, just for this. (Who can put a price in inspiration?).

DETAILS

There is a bit on a misnomer that it's a single oscillator synth but that's not strictly true, as there are two distinct waveforms which you morph together to create a richer, more complex waveform. You can also cross-modulate them - ring mod and FM are both possible. In practical terms, that makes it far more like a dual-osc synth and it makes sense to approach it as such. There is also a sub-osc so there is plenty to work with.

The oscillator works hand-in-hand with an X-Y pad, overlaid over the waveform "monitor", which you can record/animate to create big, moving sounds by controlling the morph of the two waveforms. Other parameters can also be assigned to X and Y for even more movement of the sound. This is amply demonstrated in the presets. It's easy to set up and a lot of fun to play with, which is where its inspirational aspect lies.

Beyond the distinctive oscillator, the rest of the synth is familiar and fairly standard. As I mentioned above, I don't think much of the filter but there is a nice distortion you can add at the Amp stage that makes the best of what's there. You get an LFO and three ADSR Envelopes. I like being able to choose between a graphical representation of the envelope and the more traditional knobs (my preference). There is a small mod matrix, a big arp/sequencer and four handy, decent quality effects available to further shape your sounds. Play modes include the usual poly, mono and unison (two or four voices) modes but add a good number of commonly used chords for one finger chord playing. It covers pretty much all the bases, I doubt anyone would feel like they needed more from it, as you can cover for the single LFO with the X-Y pad if you need to.

SUMMARY

Go2 is a good, solid synth with a distinctive character that is well suited to the harder style of music we make but also capable of doing a lot of other things well. It's easy to use, light enough on CPU and cheap for what it has to offer. It will never be my go-to synth, the GUI is way too big to use comfortably, but it's definitely worth having in your arsenal. Remember, it's 3.5 stars.

Vacuum Pro [read all reviews]
Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 21st June 2018
Version reviewed: 1.0.7 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 21st June 2018.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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I can't believe this synth has no reviews, it's been around for ages. OK, so, in a word - amazeballs! I only bought it a few days ago but it's already my favourite V/A synth. I bought the non-pro version of Vacuum a few months ago. It's only $20 most places and it's a great little synth. My bandmate has had VacPro for a while and often sings it praises but it wasn't until we were working on a remix and he sent me some stems that I found out how good it really is. So I've been kind of using it for a while, waiting for another silly sale price, but I finally gave up and just bought it this week. It has not disappointed.

Sound

It's a two oscillator V/A synth with the usual trimmings. It also offers two layers, so you can double up on your sounds, like a Jupiter 8. The developers have used some fancy tube modelling algorithms or something that makes it the fattest, baddest sounding synth you can imagine. It oozes filth, great big wads of it. It's lush, it's phat, it's better than anything else I own at being a big, ol' synthesizer. Demoing the presets instantly took me back to the good old days of the 80s and 90s, when you'd buy a new synth, my ESQ-M came to mind first, and every preset sounded amazing and was full of potential for your songs. Each osc can do 4-part unison and you can "Double" the whole part, for a total of 16 oscillators per part, 32 overall.

At first glance it seems quite conventional but it's sonic range is bigger than I had expected. It does nice metallic sounds and it's hard sync has a richness to it that I really like. There are several points where you can add saturation/distortion in the signal path, which means you can make it as dirty as you like. I like. It has on-board effects that work well enough.

Usability

Everything is right there in front of you, it really couldn't be easier to use. OK, you can only see one part at a time but all the controls are there on the front panel for each part. The only part of the UI you may need to open is if you decide to use separate envelopes for each of the two filters. If you do, you need to toggle between them but if you use the same settings for each, then everything is on a single page.

Taking any of the excellent presets and tweaking them to your liking is as straightforward a process as I have ever come across. Everything is laid out logically and well labelled, it's very easy to find your way around. The GUI itself looks really cool, like a synth from the 70s that hasn't been all that well looked after. You can even add dust to the pots if you want! Even with all those controls, it manages to be slightly smaller than DUNE 2, but it doesn't look or feel crowded, none of the elements are too small and labels are easy to read. The arpeggiator is refreshingly simple - up, down, up-down and random modes with plenty of intervals and an on/off switch. There is a small, pop-up settings panel for global settings like pitch-bend range and MIDI set-up.

CPU use is very low. I can run a patch with all 32 oscillators going and the CPU meter in my host never goes above 9% in monophonic operation, and that's from a 4th Gen Core i5 in a Surface Pro 2. On a proper workstation it would hardly register. Playing overlapping 3 note chords takes it up to around 25%, which is perfectly acceptable for such a big sound. It even has an "Eco" mode which processes at a lower rate to reduce CPU use. I think it sounds fine in Eco mode and I wouldn't hesitate to use it if I needed to save some CPU cycles.

Summary

Vacuum Pro is a truly amazing analogue modelled synth. I hate using the word but it definitely has what people refer to as that "warmth" you get from classic analogue synths. Of course, none of those old things ever allowed you to stack 32 detuned oscillators on top of one another, so Vacuum Pro takes it to a level no classic hardware could hope to match. It's big and fat and fuzzy and mean and nasty and I absolutely love it.

Substance [read all reviews]
Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 17th June 2018
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 25th June 2018.
0 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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I've had this for a couple of months now and it still impresses me every time I load it up and start playing with it. I don't think it's sound will suit everyone but if you like to experiment you might find Substance strangely compelling. Its workflow is also refreshingly different and shows incredible attention to detail. It really is a joy to dive in deeper and deeper to precisely tailor the sound to your needs or liking. It's sound is of the highest quality - putting it into a mix instantly makes it sound slicker and more professional.

Installation
Substance is a Kontakt sample library with a custom front-end. It works in the free Kontakt Player so you don't need to spend extra to get it up and running. Output have their own assistance app but if you have NI's Native Access, I'd recommend that you install and activate through that so that all your content goes to the same place as the NI stuff. Either way, though, it's pretty straightforward. You'll need about 4.5GB of free space to fit it all into. Once it's installed and activated, you load Kontakt (or the free player) into your host software and you can select and load Substance from Kontakt's browser.

Overview
In essence, Substance has three layers of samples that each run through their own filters, modulation and effects. The front panel is deceptively simple, hiding a wealth of features, with an emphasis on rhythm. The simplified front panel hides a full-featured synth engine with filters, ADSR envelopes, LFO and multiple effects for each layer and for the overall patch. Four Macro controls on the front panel can be set to multiple parameters each, which means you can make changes to the timbre without having to dig into the the rest of the GUI, which is accessed via a row of tabs across the top. There is also a very powerful and flexible arpeggiator that really makes things pump.

Unsurprisingly, given the focus on rhythm, most of the sounds that come out of Substance are rhythmical phrases, powered by the LFOs and arp. There is everything from percussive noise loops to groovy bass guitar, with lots of quirkiness built in. Of course, it does quite a few standard synth rhythms, too, so you can use it for bread and butter stuff as well as the fancy bits and pieces. Each of the three parts tend to play different rhythms that overlay one another to create complex, evolving rhythms.

Usability
Using a sample-driven instrument like Substance is a very different experience to your average V/A synth or even to a ROMpler. This can lead to some very different results in a remarkably short time. It's incredibly inspiring and I think it is bound to change your sound, almost certainly for the better. You can spend hours just playing with the presets, which cover a lot of sonic territory. All up there are 81 different samples sets, arranged in nine groups of nine, for you to use as starting points. it's like having 81 oscillator waveforms to choose from in a 3 osc synth.

Although the emphasis is firmly on rhythms and basslines, there are some amazing pads and great orchestral atmospheres that would be perfect for film scores and the like. Sometimes the macros have a big effect, other times they don't but you can always go in and make your own changes quickly and easily. It's all very straightforward, logically laid out and easy to navigate. Once you start playing with the arp and rhythm tabs, you can lose yourself for hours. I find it a joy to use and I manage to find something for it to do in pretty much every new piece I work on.

Because it runs inside Kontakt, CPU use is higher than you might expect from a sample-driven instrument but it's still not too bad. The UI is a handy size for me, which means it might be a little small for some. The preset browser allows you to use multiple tags to finesse your list and get to similar sounds easily. You get 300 presets with the instrument and new presets you make are added to the end of the list (there are no banks).

Summary
Substance takes a different approach and is all the better for it. Every part of it feels beautifully crafted by people with an intimate understanding of the production process. It's absolutely made for musicians and producers who want to do something fresh and different. It's uniqueness means it is not going to replace anything you are currently using, it is going to add something new and amazing to your sonic arsenal. Whilst it's not cheap, it is still an absolute bargain. If you're in a bit of a creative rut, this is just the tool to inspire you to pull yourself out of it and get on with making music.

TubeBaby [read all reviews]
Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 21st October 2008
Version reviewed: 1.0.1 on Windows
4 of 5 people found this review helpful.
Was it helpful to you? Yes No
If you want to turn a synth sound into a guitar, run it through TubeBaby. Its as simple as that.
Pretty much anything you put through this plugin will sound like a guitar in your mix. In the past I used to stuff around with all kinds of distortion, trying to get a synth lead or pad to sound a little like a guitar but these days I go straight for this effect and get just what I was looking for almost immediately.
It is not bogged down with controls, although some of the most important ones are kind of hidden away [which is why I marked it down slightly on "User Interface"]. If you click on the "TubeBaby" text in the top-left of the UI, it gives you access to a drop-down menu which lets you choose from several amp and cabinet models, as well as three different "Trebliness" settings. Using these with the front-panel knobs gives you a good variety of tones.
It only has a few presets but it is such a simple effect that a full bank would not necessarily give you any more value. I have not encountered any stability issues and the provided manual is easy to read and comprehensive enough to cover all the bases. I really have no idea about support as I've not had any issues but the manual does contain an email address if you have any problems.
Overall I think this is a great effect. it does what you expect with a minimum of fuss and has the almost unique ability to turn anything into a guitar. The fact that it is free means that everyone should have it in their VST folder.
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