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Reviewed By BONES [all]
March 28th, 2024
Version reviewed: 1.5 on Windows

This is a terrific little synth. It's not really an emulation, although Baby Audio obviously started out with the Yamaha CS01 as inspiration. They have taken it much further, though, adding extra features that take it way beyond the CS01, whilst keeping the original's simplicity of operation (and some of the limitations that go with that). Sound quality is excellent, very much in the spirit of the good ol' days but right up there with the best emulations and V/A plugins.

You get two oscillators with the usual V/A waveforms and tuning options. FM modulates Osc 1 with a sine wave for a gnarlier sound. The low-pass resonant filter does its job, without standing out in any way. There is just one ADSR envelope and a single LFO (sine wave only). At the end of the signal path is a decent suite effects - sidechain (ducks the signal to a 4/4 beat if there is no input), Tone (EQ), Drive (two kinds), Delay, Reverb and Chorus.

The instrument is velocity sensitive (on/off) but doesn't respond to aftertouch or a mod wheel (even though the CS01 had pitch and mod wheels). It all sounds a bit basic and mundane but the reality is that all the elements work together really well, to create something that is much greater than the sum of it's fairly simplistic parts. BA-1 ships with several hundred presets to prove this point. Hitting the "re-gen" button also shows that it's pretty hard not to make a useful patch, even when assigning random values to everything.

The Version 1.5 update added a basic arpeggiator and a few "hidden" controls to extend the synth's functionality (look for little dots in the cracks in the UI). While we are talking about dots, there are a couple of labels on the bottom row with dots next to them - press the dots to change the functionality, as per the screen. V1.5 also gives you an effect VST with the BA-1's effect chain, which is a nice addition. The updated preset browser is also pretty good, allowing you to tag presets with three different colours.

There are a couple of weird, unique features I feel are perhaps unnecessary and take up a lot of space on the GUI. The speaker sim is kinda cute, I suppose, but it's pretty limited and doesn't need to take up so much space. The Battery emulation is supposed to mimic the effect of running out of juice but it feels either too subtle or too full-on, there's no real sweet spot where it feels useful. The sidechain can be used like a second LFO on the VCA so it has its uses.

There are also a few things I'd like to see added to this synth, limitations that feel unnecessary to me. Being able to modulate the FM amount with the envelope or LFO would extend the usefulness of the feature. In fact more destinations for the LFO would be welcomed, as would a few more LFO waveforms. I also feel the LFO's modulation depth isn't always enough. HP, BP and Notch filter modes would be nice, too. Being able to assign the Mod Wheel to various parameters would make the synth a lot more playable. Maybe the speaker box could be halved to make room for the chunky wheels of the CS01, which I always thought looked really cool. They'd be particularly good for the standalone, if not so much for the VSTi (where you can more easily assign controllers). The biggest improvement I'd like to see, though, is the addition of a unison mode so I can stack all the oscillators into even bigger sounds.

To be clear, none of those things stop this from being a really good little synth, just as it is. The sounds I can get out of it are incredible, from soft and subtle to monstrous and scary, and all the while it delivers a high quality sound that always seems to work in a mix. You can use the re-gen feature to build your own bank of unique, usable sounds in no time and tweaking those sounds to get them working in an arrangement/mix is about as easy as it gets. As I said, BA-1 is a lot more than the sum of its parts and it has become my "go to" synth for most things.

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Reviewed By BONES [all]
December 12th, 2022
Version reviewed: 2.0 on Windows

Puncher 2 is a great tool for putting real thump into your drums, especially kicks. I used to use it on kick channels and it never failed to improve the impact and cut-through. These days, because I don't separate my drum channels any more, I put it on the drum mix and it works just as well. I would never even think of doing a mix without it.

It definitely works best on kicks but when used on a drum mix it can also add a bit of an edge to the other percussion sounds, too. I mostly just use the presets it comes with, one of the first 5 or 6 will always give me what I want. Trying to dial it in manually feels a lot more hit and miss, probably because I've never bothered to try and understand how it works. There is no need to. The CPU hit is minimal, the interface is simple and clean and it has never failed to give me what I want.

I try not to give 5 stars too often but this is definitely one effect I would never want to be without. Give it a go, put it on your kick channel and try a few presets and you'll understand why.

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Reviewed By BONES [all]
August 24th, 2022
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows

For the second time, my review has been removed so let's hope it's third time lucky. It took a lot of back and forth between the developer and I to get the demo license functioning but eventually I got the plugin working. You need to authorise it on their website first, and then again on the plugin itself before it will do anything.

In terms of funcitonality, it does what you'd expect of an exciter. It adds a bit of sparkle to your top end to give your mixes that last little bit of polish. I'm giving it 3 stars because it doesn't do anything a dozen other plugins can't do equally well and many of those plugins can do other things, too. Overall, there is no reason not to use this but, by the same token, there is nothing here that is going to make me switch from my go-to exciter effects like BBE Sonic Maximiser or STA Enhancer. But if those things are bit too overwhelming for your sound, T-Exciter might be a better option. You should try the demo and decide for yourself.

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Eight Voice Synthesizer

Reviewed By BONES [all]
January 31st, 2022
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows

I am a huge fan of the SEM sound, so I really wanted to like this, but I find this instrument is way too hard to work with and it doesn't sound as good as some of the other SEM-like emulations around. My advice would be to wait until bx_oberhausen is on sale and buy that instead.

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Reviewed By BONES [all]
November 8th, 2021
Version reviewed: 1.1.0 on Windows

I was enamoured with Olga when it was first released, a long time ago now, but at the time it cost more than I was willing to pay. I loved the GUI and the sound was brutal, just what I like. Someone recently mentioned it in a forum thread, which made me go and check it out again, and I am really glad I did.

There are still only a handful of presets but it's not such a complex beast that hundreds would be of any benefit. This time around, I started from the last preset in the list and worked my way forward, tweaking presets I liked the sound of and saving them off as new patches. What I ended up with was a dozen or so patches that make great starting points for getting Olga into a song.

Whilst it is obviously designed for big, brutal sounds, I have found it surprisingly versatile. The multiple voice modes mean you can dial in exactly the amount of fatness you need and if you don't pump the big, scary dial up too much, it can sound quite nice, easily cutting through even a dense mix without dominating. e.g. I used it instead of a piano in Ultravox's I Remember (Death in the Afternoon) and it does a great job. I've been using multiple instances of it in some projects and it always seems to deliver when I need it to. Olga is almost starting to feel like my new "go to" synth, which I would never have imagined possible. So, needless to say, after a few weeks with the demo I bought it and I'm really happy I did.

As it's been around for a while now, and was designed to run on far less powerful machines, Olga uses very few system resources on a modern computer. It's a very straightforward instrument and I found that after a week or so I no longer need to turn on the English language labels. I imagine, though, that some people will find the GUI too small, even in it's larger size, which is a shame.

Overall, Olga looks amazing and it is so easy to work with that you won't care that it doesn't come with many presets. It also has a big, aggressive sound that can easily overwhelm a mix but, equally, it is capable of some real subtlety when that's what is needed. However you patch it, though, it always gives you want you want with a minimum of fuss. If you download the demo, start from the last preset and work your way forwards, I think you'll be impressed.

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Pigments 5

Reviewed By BONES [all]
October 18th, 2021
Version reviewed: 3.0 on Windows

I'm done with Pigments. I so want to like it but I just can't. It's a really well thought out instrument that is a joy to work with but, at the end of the day, it simply doesn't sound good enough compared to the other synths I work with every day. I've had it for a couple of years now and I've only ever used it for generic sounds/parts to fill out a mix, never for anything where you might actually notice that it doesn't really sound all that good.

I love the layout and the visual representation of all the modulation - that whole system is top shelf. I like the way the "Engines" are implemented and the filter section is pretty good, too, without setting the world on fire. The GUI/UX is intuitive, well laid out, lends itself to a good workflow and there are more modulation options than I'd ever need or want. The on-board sequencer, too, is second to none, although it doesn't do anything I can't do in my host, so I've never used it.

In the end, my rating comes down to the sound. It just doesn't sound good enough in our mixes. It can do the little filler type things well enough but then so can dozens of freebies I use regularly. Where it can't seem to hold its own is when I am looking for a prominent part - a lead or a big pad kind of thing. It just doesn't sound big enough for those things, no matter what I try. It seems to have all the requisite parts - the V/A engine is very well featured, the Wavetable engine has loads of modulatable options, the Granular engine is quite capable, the newer Additive engine does what you expect and beyond that the filter is OK and there are plenty of other features to get the job done - but somehow it all falls a bit flat in the end. It's so frustrating because I really like working with Pigments, I just can't get it to sound as big as I need it to.

As with Hive, I have come to the conclusion that maybe I am just not the target audience for this synth. To me it feels like a Swiss Army knife. It does a lot of things well enough to get by in a pinch but when it comes to the big, important projects, there is no substitute for a good set of specialised tools.

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Hive 2

Reviewed By BONES [all]
October 14th, 2021
Version reviewed: 2.1 on Windows

I wanted to like this synth, I really did, and it's got a lot going for it. It's just that, ultimately, I've never found any actual use for it. That's because whenever I put it into a mix, it doesn't quite live up to my expectations. I can't put my finger on what it is but, like a few other synths in the same price bracket, it feels like it's missing that last little bit of "oomph". It's not terrible by any stretch of the imagination but neither does it reach the dizzying heights you might expect from everything you read about it.

It comes with a gajillion presets, which are well handled by the best preset browser I have ever used. The browser is amazing. I spent a week or more going through everything and colour-coding any preset I heard that I thought we might be able to use. Then I started looking for opportunities to use it in some of our songs.

This is where I started to get a bit disappointed because even some of the best presets I'd found sounded kind of flat in our mixes. So I tried to see if I could give them a bit of a boost. At this point I discovered that despite mostly having everything on one page, Hive is not actually very quick or easy to work with. It feels too much like two separate synths slammed together, so you are forever flicking from one side of it's gigantic interface to the other, looking to see if the output from the right side oscillator is being fed into the right and/or left side filters and generally trying to work out how the patch has been set up, so you can tweak it. It wasn't too bad in v1.2 but the update to v2.0 somehow seemed to make it harder to work with (for me at least).

Hive comes loaded with a million features, most of which don't interest me in the slightest, and when you look at the list of features on the product page here at KVR, you'll notice that the most important things about any synth - it's oscillators and filter(s) - barely rate a mention. In fact, there is no mention at all of the filters. All of which got me thinking that maybe I'm just not the target market for this instrument.

If you want a synth with a really long list of features that comes with 2,000 factory presets, maybe Hive is for you. OTOH, if you just want a great sounding, versatile synth that isn't too difficult to work with, there are better options around and some of them are a fair bit cheaper.

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Virtual Guitarist IRON 2

Reviewed By BONES [all]
October 7th, 2021
Version reviewed: 2.0 on Windows

TL;DR - Iron 2 is a massive update to what was already my favourite of the Virtual Guitar (VG) plugins. (It is one of four different plugins, covering different styles/genres.) It seems to sound better, it is capable of a lot more variety than the original and, used subtly, it can sound just like a real guitarist.

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For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Iron 2 is a sample-based guitar instrument with two modes. In Instrument mode you can play guitar from a keyboard, just like a synth, albeit with a very narrow range (just two-and-a-half octaves). In Player mode, notes/keys trigger prerecorded riffs and phrases, selected using the lower octaves, with the pitch/chord being selected with the upper octaves. To create the tone you hear, there are multiple "Characters", to simulate different guitars/pick-ups, different amp/cab options with Drive and various effects you can dial in. Each preset stores those settings and matches it to a set of riffs/phrases to suit. To create your own preset, you select a set of riffs/phrases, choose the guitar character you want, dial in your own Amp/Cab/Drive settings and add effects to suit what you're trying to do. It's all pretty simple, really, but the results are mostly brilliant, in either mode.

Iron is the VG instrument for harsher guitar tones - Punk, Grunge, Alternative and Hard Rock - and it delivers on those genres nicely. Iron 2 extends that versatility further than the original in a few ways. The individual Amp/Cab modes are more different from each other than they used to be, so they cover more territory now. There is also an extra mode - Direct - that bypasses the Amp/Cab section altogether, giving you a raw electric guitar sound. A new Damp slider adds even more variety to the sound, as does a Force control, although it's a bit subtle most of the time.

The keyboard layout is consistent and easy to work with. The bottom two octaves always contain the same riffs, the next octave triggers a set of riffs you can change, that suit a particular style/genre, and the upper two-and-a-half octaves are the ones you play in either Player or Instrument mode. There's a Latch button so you can set off a note and play around with the settings, without having to run your host's sequencer, and timing options to play the riffs at half or double speed, as well as a subtle setting to add a bit more human feel to proceedings (Player mode only, of course). Playing a new note legato doesn't retrigger the pattern, which is how you add melody to the single tone/chord riffs. e.g. I select a riff that goes chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga over a bar. I trigger it in A and it plays an A power chord. If I change to a G half-way through, it keeps playing the riff but pitches it down to a G power chord, so I get the first two chuggas in A and the second two in G.

The biggest change is to the effects section. The original Iron had Chorus and Reverb knobs and that was it. Iron 2 has a stomp-box with 16 different effects to choose between, as well as Ujam's great Finisher multi-effects algorithms that can add anything from really full-on Industrial Metal distortion to trippy psychedelic excursions. If you choose the direct out option, you can add a stomp-box overdrive and a chorus plus reverb or something from Finisher to get some very different guitar tones than what you'd get through any of the Amp/Cab simulations.

Are there any downsides? Nah. It does just what you'd expect it to and it does it really, really well. The only reason I haven't given it 5 stars is that the 2.5 octave limit in Instrument mode is just a bit too restrictive, especially when VG Carbon and VB Rowdy offer more. Still, the sample content has tripled in size, so that should give you some idea of how much they have added to this very worthy update.

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Reviewed By BONES [all]
August 12th, 2021
Version reviewed: 1.8.17 on Windows

kHs One is a bit of a sleeper. It doesn't seem like anything special and the factory presets don't really set the world on fire but when you spend a bit of time with it, you realise that it is a great sounding synth and that it is a lot more capable than you might think.

It's not as simple as it looks, either. The oscillators have their own built in sync function and the waveforms can be morphed so you can do a bit with them. The GUI is laid out so that all the modulation ends up in what looks like a mod matrix but is actually 3 destination slots for each of the 2 envelopes, 2 LFO and Mod Wheel. It's clever and makes kHs One very easy to work with. The two multi-mode filters are better than average without being stand-outs and you get a waveshaper style distortion, chorus and delay effects.

No one aspect of the synth stands out, yet the overall result is really quite good. It's not too hard on your CPU, either. At $99 it probably doesn't look like great value but I suggest you have a good long look at it if you are after a competent, easy to use and great sounding V/A synth. Kilohearts seem to ahve fairly regular sales so you might be able to pick it up at a good price.

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Concept 2

Reviewed By BONES [all]
July 27th, 2021
Version reviewed: 2.0.3 on Windows

Concept 2 is a great synth. The first one was decent enough, but quite expensive in a crowded market. Version 2 builds on the inherent strengths of the original Concept with a new granular oscillator, backed up with really good content. It comes with loads of presets and has to be one of the easiest synths you will ever use.

The brilliance of Concept lies in its unique take on modulation. Instead of cramming the GUI with 5 envelopes and 5 LFOs and 5 MSEGs, Concept has 5 modulation sources that can be any of these. Each is colour coded and you can see at a glance where modulation has been applied. Clicking in the coloured window expands it to reveal controls and a modulation list. I think it is just about as close to perfect as it gets and it makes the GUI so much less cluttered, which leads to the best results in the least time.

As well as the new granular osc, the original V/A style osc is still available and it's actually pretty good. Each osc has two waveforms you can mix together and there are FM ratio and depth controls. The Granular osc takes things to another level. As I said, there is lots of good sample content to throw into it and there are three panels of controls to play around with, including more FM. I don't find it as easy to get good results from as Pigments but you can do plenty with it. The content covers a lot of territory, from a range of sampled synths through to cockatoo and parrot sounds.

The filter doesn't try to model any classic analogue sound, it's a very straight interpretation of what a resonant filter should be. But it is definitely quite useful, with LP, HP and BP modes at 12 or 24dB/octave, as well as a formant mode. There is a pre-filter drive to fatten up the sound, too.

There are 3 effects slots and a choice of 10 different effects. They all do a pretty good job and the reverb is a convolution jobbie and you can drag'n'drop any sample file into it for some pretty interesting/weird effects. The filter effect is exactly the same as the synth filter and all the effects parameters can be modulated, so there is a lot of sound shaping power here.

Overall, this is a terrific synth that is really easy to get great results from with a minimum of effort. The presets are great and plentiful and even after a few weeks I haven't gone through them all because I keep getting distracted by great patches. CPU usage isn't too bad and the resizable GUI is mostly great, although some switches are a bit small. If you're looking at Pigments, you should also check this out. It's not as full featured but I reckon it covers a lot of sonic territory and I think it sounds better.

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