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Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 24th June 2020
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 24th June 2020.
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Babylon is a strange mix. It is quite a capable synth with most of the controls on a single page. It sounds pretty good, too, but somehow it fails to inspire. I think a lot of the problem is with the massive load of presets it ships with. Looking at their names and hearing how little variation there seems to be going from one to the next, you get the feeling they were made by some automated process that went through and moved one parameter by a fixed amount and then saved that as the next preset. Even the Demo bank, which tries to show a broader range of sounds, has too many soft sinewave based patches that could be anything. But if you listen to different presets randomly, you start to get a better idea of what Babylon can do.

It's a 3 osc synth with per-osc unison, so it can sound massive. You can cross-modulate Osc 1 and 2 with Osc 3 for FM, Ring and Amplitude mod effects. If Osc 3 isn't being used and you switch on one of the cross-mod modes, it turns green (instead of blue) so you know it's in use but not making any sound. It's a nice touch. Another nice visual touch is the display to show you how the unison voices are being allocated. It's something that's tricky to visualise but the display shows you where/how unison voices are being added. You also get a subtle glow in the highlight areas of the GUI when your levels peak, which is kinda cool (can be turned down or off if you don't like it).

The filter is a mixed bag. You get 5 different filter types - Low Pass, Band Pass, High Pass, Notch and Peak. The Peak filter is something a bit different and much more usable than I expected it to be. For both the Notch and Peak filters, the Resonance knob controls the Q. The filter also includes an effect knob and you can choose from various forms of distortion/saturation/bit reduction to give the filter some extra character/bite. It works very well. Where the filter falls down is that the modulation depth of the dedicated filter ADSR envelope is not enough to completely open the filter. The Env Mod at 100 (maximum) only opens the filter to about the same level as turning the cutoff to 30. Adding one of the Mod Envelopes to Cutoff in the Mod Matrix doesn't help as the combined values seem to be multiplied (in the range -1 to +1), not added. The filter visualisation is static, it would be nice to see it move with the modulation applied to it.

As well as dedicated filter and amp envelopes, there are two LFO and two Mod Envelopes to use in the 8 slot Mod Matrix. The problem is that, like the Filter Env, they all lack modulation depth, which severely hampers the synth overall. It's a real shame because it would be an easy fix and it would make the synth way more useful. If the dev could fix this problem, Babylon would be a really good synth to have for all kinds of situations. As it is, for everything that you might like about it, you are bound to find something that's a bit of a disappointment. For the $9 I paid for it, I am happy enough but I can't see the value in it at full price, I'm afraid.

Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 9th June 2020
Version reviewed: 1.7 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 9th June 2020.
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FireCobra is, quite simply, brilliant. Place it in the Master channel and it opens up your mixes so you can hear every part clearly. It brightens the whole thing and gives a professional "sheen" to a mix in a minute or two that you might otherwise spend hours trying to achieve. Adding it to a single channel is a little hit and miss - sometimes it makes a huge difference, sometimes it doesn't do much at all, depending on the source.

There are basically only 3 control knobs, plus a dry/wet balance, and you get a dozen or so presets. But there is a lot going on under the uber-cool interface. Try a preset or just tweak it from the INIT patch yourself. Either way, you'll get an amazing result almost instantly. There are a couple of selector switches but you only need to use those if you are having problems. I've been using it for a couple of months now and haven't had to bother. You also get input and output gain sliders so you can gain match to the untreated signal, just to make sure it's actually better, not just louder. The three main controls are INTENSIFY, which does most of the magic via some machine intelligence algorithm. The other two are SMACK and ANALOGIZE, which both add extra harmonic content to fatten up the sound. Analogize is a lot more subtle than Smack, so I tend to use it on mixes, where I use Smack a lot more on synths and drum parts.

I find that the better the mix, the less pronounced FireCobra's effect is, which is cool because you can throw it on a problematic mix and it might solve your problems for you. It certainly saves me from spending too long polishing up mixes for our live sets. I just get it close and let FireCobra do it's magic. And sometimes it really does feel like magic.

Yes, it's expensive and, yes, I got it when it was on sale but, honestly, if someone showed it to me and I heard exactly what it's capable of, I think I would be happy to pay full price. It is easily the best plugin I have ever put on my master channel and what it does is absolutely worth what they are charging.

Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 4th June 2020
Version reviewed: 2.2.2 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 4th June 2020.
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Mono/Fury is my kind of synth - straightforward, easy to use and with a great sound. I bought a brand new Mono/Poly in 1982, but I cant remember exactly what it sounded like, so I have no idea how accurate this is as an emulation and, frankly, I don't care. What matters to me is that it sounds fantastic and it is very easy to get the best from it with minimal effort. It also uses practically no CPU at all, as in the CPU meter reads 0% most the time when I am using it and I've never seen it go over 2%.

For those unfamiliar with the Mono/Poly, it has four VCOs that you can use to play separately, giving you four voices of polyphony (although there is still only one filter) or you can stack them for a fat unison sound (monophonic). Hence Mono/Poly. In it's day it was one of the best synths money could buy, easily able to compete with things like ARP's Odyssey or the MiniMoog and better than the instruments being produced by it's Japanese competitors. It had a section devoted to oscillator cross-modulation which, combined with the characterful filter, gave the Mono/Poly a lot of versatility and a very aggressive sound if you wanted it.

Mono/Fury definitely captures the aggression of the original. Dial in a bit of X-MOD and/or FM and use the Filter Envelope to modulate everything and off you go. Turn up the resonance for even more nastiness. It goes further than a lot of synths are capable of without adding distortion somewhere in the signal path. You might think it would sound a bit weak or hollow in Poly mode but you'd be wrong. The oscillators have a big sound and hold their own in a mix.

The sound is brilliant but it's the usability of Mono/Fury that really makes it great. Unlike Korg's own VSTi version, Mono/Fury has a simple layout. There are more controls if you need them, accessed via the little icon in the lower left corner, but they are hidden by default, leaving you with just the controls for the synth engine itself. It's a stroke of genius that makes Mono/Fury so much easier to work with than Korg's emulation. The resizable GUI itself is also nicer than Korg's, even their revamped versions.

Mono/Fury holds it's own against the best emulations out there. If it was $99 it would sell really well, I reckon, and maybe it would be taken more seriously, too. Make no mistake, it is a great synth that just happens to also be donationware. If you don't give the developer some money for such an amazing plug-in, you're basically stealing. (For the record, I donated 30 Euros for this and I intend to make similar donations for any of his other synths I decide to keep.) Mono/Fury is my new go-to synth. Give it a go and you might find it becomes yours, too.

P.S. If you want a good companion synth to go with Mono/Fury, I'd recommend you check out Nabla, FBM's Korg Delta emulation. It's a polysynth with a very different feature set but still with the great Korg sound from that era. They go together really well.

Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 3rd June 2020
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows
1 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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I think this sounds too good to be a close emulation of a Poly800, which never sounded good at all. The problem with it is that they have slavishly copied the original's UI and it really doesn't work here. You can't see the value of anything until you hover your cursor over it and there is simply not enough contrast between the background and the markings to comfortably read any of the parameters. Overall, the GUI is way too large, too, even at it's minimum scaling.

Overall it's an interesting exercise in showing why slavish emulations of old hardware is a bad idea. Some of FBM's other synths are absolute crackers, like Mono/Fury, but this one is way wide of the mark, I'm afraid. Some years ago Synapse made another Poly800 clone and I think they did a better job than FBM have done here. If you can find a copy of that for sale somewhere, it's a better bet, I reckon.

POSITIVES.

- Sounds nice enough, better than I remember a Poly800 ever sounding.

- Can't argue with the price.

NEGATIVES.

- GUI too big at minimum size.

- Slavish copying of original UI hampers usability.

- FBM have much better synths than this one.

Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 7th May 2020
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows
1 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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BM Vice is a drum plugin of considerable talent that would make a capable replacement for the likes of Battery or Groove Agent for those who don't want to spend hours sorting out their drums. Like the other instrument's in Ujam's Beatmaker series, Vice offers instant gratification with enough depth to allow you to tweak everything into something that is uniquely yours.

The basic workflow is that you pick a top level preset, find the right pattern and trigger it from your sequencer. Like all of Ujam's instruments, the pattern buttons are arranged in a keyboard-like fashion so it is obvious which key you need to use to trigger a pattern. It is super-quick and easy to establish a great sounding beat for you to work from.

Patterns are arranged in preset groups. Within each group you get a couple of intros, a few verse patterns, some chorus patterns, a few fills and a couple of outtros, all spread over two octaves of keys. All up, I think there are more than 1000 patterns. Similarly, there are several different kits to choose from. Each kit has two different kick samples, two snares and various other percussion sounds. Lastly there are effects, again organised into a bunch of presets. Each top level preset, then, consists of a kit, a pattern group and an effects preset and there is plenty contained within those top- level presets to get you going. But it doesn't have to stop there...

There are several levels at which you can customise BM Vice to get your own, unique sound. First up, there are four macro sliders. On the left side you can alter the balance between the kick and snare and how much the kick pumps (compression) and on the right side there are sliders for the effects mix and intensity. You can also select a different kit, a different group of patterns and a different effect preset.

At the next level down you have individual control of volume, decay, pitch and a low-pass filter for each individual drum sample. You can also swap sounds between kits to create your own custom kit, but only like for like. e.g. You can swap Kick 1 in one kit for any kick in another kit but you can't swap a kick for a snare. You can also select either a single output or multi-out (a separate mixer channel for each sample). On the opposite side of the GUI you can adjust four parameters in whichever effects preset you are currently using.

The last level of customisation allows you to add extra hits to existing patterns, using your host's sequencer. The two octaves below the pattern octaves allow you to trigger individual drum hits, which means you can change the preset patterns easily, or create your own from scratch, so that every part of the patch is uniquely yours. You can also drag 'n' drop any preset pattern into your sequencer to create MIDI from it.

OK, all of that applies to every Beatmaker plugin, what's different in BM Vice? It's the style - BM Vice is all about the 80s and is full of drum sounds from classic 80s drum machines like the LINN Drum. Of course, it wouldn't be the 80s without those classic Simmons drum sounds and massive reverb, both of which are present and correct in BM Vice, the former via a kit and the latter through one of the effects presets. The patterns are also geared towards 80s synthwave type music, although I have found them to be much more versatile than that. Like its siblings, the bests thump and everything sounds great, right out of the box.

What makes all the Beatmaker plugins so good is that you can put in as much or as little effort as you like, yet you will always get great sounding drums. That means you can start off with a preset and refine your drums as your project progresses, until the finished product is uniquely yours, not just a preset 500 other people are also using. For $69 they are all crazy good value.

Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 7th May 2020
Version reviewed: 2.0 on Windows
1 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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BM Eden v2 has several enhancements over the original that broaden its usefulness and appeal considerably, making it a far more capable replacement for the likes of Battery or Groove Agent for those who don't want to spend hours sorting out their drums. Like the other instrument's in Ujam's Beatmaker series, Eden offers instant gratification with enough depth to allow you to tweak everything into something that is uniquely yours.

The basic workflow is that you pick a top level preset, find the right pattern and trigger it from your sequencer. Like all of Ujam's instruments, the pattern buttons are arranged in a keyboard-like fashion so it is obvious which key you need to use to trigger a pattern. It is super-quick and easy to establish a great sounding beat for you to work from.

Patterns are arranged in preset groups. Within each group you get a couple of intros, a few verse patterns, some chorus patterns, a few fills and a couple of outtros, all spread over two octaves of keys. All up, I think there are more than 1000 patterns. Similarly, there are several different kits to choose from. Each kit has two different kick samples, two snares and various other percussion sounds. Lastly there are effects, again organised into a bunch of presets. Each top level preset, then, consists of a kit, a pattern group and an effects preset and there is plenty contained within those top- level presets to get you going. But it doesn't have to stop there...

There are several levels at which you can customise Eden to get your own, unique sound. First up, there are four macro sliders. On the left side you can alter the balance between the kick and snare and how much the kick pumps (compression) and on the right side there are sliders for the effects mix and intensity. You can also select a different kit, a different group of patterns and a different effect preset.

At the next level down you have individual control of volume, decay, pitch and a low-pass filter for each individual drum sample. You can also swap sounds between kits to create your own custom kit, but only like for like. e.g. You can swap Kick 1 in one kit for any kick in another kit but you can't swap a kick for a snare. You can also select either a single output or multi-out (a separate mixer channel for each sample). On the opposite side of the GUI you can adjust four parameters in whichever effects preset you are currently using.

The last level of customisation allows you to add extra hits to existing patterns, using your host's sequencer. The two octaves below the pattern octaves allow you to trigger individual drum hits, which means you can change the preset patterns easily, or create your own from scratch, so that every part of the patch is uniquely yours. You can also drag 'n' drop any preset pattern into your sequencer to create MIDI from it.

OK, all of that applies to all the Beatmaker plugins, what is different about Eden is that it's drums and patterns are designed for trance and other 4-on-the-floor dance styles so you get huge kicks, tight snares and lots of useful percussion elements. No matter what your musical style, you are bound to find a top level preset that will make the perfect starting point.

What makes all the Beatmaker plugins so good is that you can put in as much or as little effort as you like, yet you will always get great sounding drums. That means you can start off with a preset and refine your drums as your project progresses, until the finished product is uniquely yours, not just a preset 500 other people are also using. For $69 they are all crazy good value. I already have 3 out of 5 of these plugins and I'll probably end up with al of them.

Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 29th April 2020
Version reviewed: 1.8.4 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 30th April 2020.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful.
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Let me start by saying I am a big fan of Kilohearts. They make great, innovative products and they are a fantastic company to deal with, which makes it easy to give Phase Plant a solid recommendation. The method of product delivery and update is terrific and makes normally tedious admin easy. When Phase Plant was released I already had a handful of Snap-Ins and their synth plugin, kHs One, so I was confident it would be a decent synth. At first the price was higher than I was willing to contemplate so I didn't download the demo until they had a half-price sale last year. It took me about two minutes with the trial version to decide to spend the money.

I thought Phase Plant (PP) would be good to use in a more stripped back state, with just the minimum number of modules to deal with. My plan was to make a few different set-ups as presets - e.g. a 2 Osc V/A synth, a simple wavetable synth, etc. - almost like a Reaktor type set-up, and then patch those preset layouts as needed in my production work. You can definitely do that and get good results but what I discovered is that you get even better results from more complex set-ups and that PP's architecture makes it really easy to experiment with lots of different things, like placing distortion before the filter or between the oscillators and stuff like that. It's quick and easy and I find it very inspiring.

I started with just the basic set-up, plus the Snap-ins I already had and that was plenty, especially as you still get access to all the other Snap-Ins via the presets. So, for example, if you want to use a particular effect you don't own, just find a preset that uses it and construct your own layout around that. It sounds like cheating but, trust me, doing that makes you earn the privilege and you'll only do it once or twice before you realise it's just easier to buy the Snap-Ins you like and use. Since buying PP I have also bought another 3 or 4 Snap-Ins at full price and an extra 6-8 when they have been on sale for 50% off. I intend to buy everything that goes on sale for half-price until I have them all.

Sound quality is first-rate, no matter which oscillators you use. PP has a crisp high-end and a nicely balanced bottom end, which makes it very easy to work into a mix. Feature-wise, there are literally a million options but one area where I do find it comparatively lacking is in the filter department. A recent update added more modes but they all lack much character. They do the job well enough and you can coax more out of them with some effects but it would be great to see a few more options, especially some modelled filters with different character.

Modulation is easy with drag'n'drop, colour-coded so you can see what is modulation (blue) and what is an audio path (orange). The three separate effects lanes give you lots of flexibility with your signal routing, allowing you to have three separate synths in one or one synth with three times the power. The preset browser is pretty good and there are some excellent presets to fire your creativity. Saving your own presets is a breeze and they get saved into a separate User folder, making them easy to find again.

Overall, Phase Plant can be quite daunting and getting the most out of it can be a lengthy process. But the shear depth of ability and breadth of options available to you make it well worth the time and effort. If I wasn't such a cheap-skate I'd have known this a year earlier and been on board from the start, because it is definitely worth paying full price for. Now that I have a decent library of my own patches, it is one of the first synths I think of whenever I need a new part or want to replace an existing part that isn't working as well as I'd like. It is so capable it can do pretty much anything.

Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 5th February 2020
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows
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This Kontakt instrument is an absolute cracker! It works in the free Kontakt player so anyone can use it and it offers an incredible feature set. There are three separate instruments in the product. One allows you to play strings like you would on any synth. The second one, String Designer, lets you shape the sampled strings into sounds that are more like a synth. The final instrument, Loop Designer, allows you to choose and play preset pattern loops, as played by the orchestra. They allow you to stack three layers - bass, cello and violin/viola - to create powerful string arrangements for your compositions.

You get 6GB of sample content and the quality is amazing. It includes multiple articulations - sustain, tremolo, pizzicato and staccato - and you can mix between the close and room mics to get the best sound. There are plenty of effects too, including a step sequencer in the String Designer that you can use to modulate certain parameters to create your own synth-like rhythms, It goes way beyond your average string sample set. The Loop Designer also has plenty of loops for you to work with. You can mix and match loops between layers for even greater variety.

The instrument is very deep, you can go crazy creating your own patches and it takes a lot of time and effort to fully explore everything on offer. I was really surprise dhow complex it all is. That said, it's presented in a clear way and I didn't find it daunting at all. Once you have your sounds, playing the instruments is even easier. You use your left hand to set the note you want to play, within a single octave, and then you use the three higher octaves to select your loops. e.g. I might want to play the bass loop that's mapped to the F in bass octave, the cello loop on the B key and the loop on E for the violin. I just have to press those three keys momentarily to select those loops. If I want them to play in the key of G, I press the G key with my left hand. If I go from G to A, it raises the pitch of each of the three loops by two semitones. So you play your melody with your left hand and you use your right hand to change any of the three rhythms (loops). It's dead easy and very addictive.

NOVO Essentials is one of those things that you probably have to experience to appreciate. The demo only includes a tiny proportion of the samples but it will give you a good idea of the potential of the package. If you want orchestral strings in your songs and you can't justify spending several hundred dollars on them, this thing will more than get you up and running. I envisage using it for years without having to worry about repeating myself or sounding like everyone else. Highly recommended.

Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 25th August 2019
Version reviewed: 1.0.4 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 3rd December 2019.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
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Aparillo is a strange and wonderful beast. It's an interesting take on a well established form of synthesis - FM. Like the classic DX-7, it uses sine waves to modulate one-another to create complex, rich timbres. But where the DX-7 had 8 operators, each with it's own multi-stage envelope, Aparillo uses just 4 operators that share a single ADSR envelope. It's relatively easy to wrap your head around so if you have a bit of an understanding of FM synthesis, you won't have any trouble making a few basic patches with that distinctive FM edge to them. But that's just the start of what Aparillo has to offer because it has 16 copies of this set-up ready for you to modulate and sequence in amazing ways.

The UI gives away the main game - the prominence of the LFOs in the centre of the interface tells you straight away that they are central to what Aparillo can do. Crucially, the interaction of the LFOs adds unique qualities to the results you get from this instrument. The LFOs are used to offset the 16 voices to provide anything from a subtly shifting thickness to the sound or complete mayhem. Add in a simple sequencer that plays off what's happening with the LFOs, sequencing each of the 16 voices in turn, and you've got yourself an absolute monster of a synth. But that's still not the end of it.

Lastly we have the Orbit, which is a dynamic, visual tool for provoking even more modulation/mutation of the sound. It consists of 16 widgets for each of the modulatable parameters, including some effects parameters, plus the Orbiter, which is the control element. As you move the Orbiter around it connects with different parameter widgets and as it gets closer to a widget, the amount of modulation on that parameter increases. You can record the movement of the Orbiter to create a patch that morphs over time in a very natural, organic way or you can set it up statically to add an extra layer of modulation to any parameter(s).

As I mentioned, there are also effects - a filter, a delay, a reverb, a panner and a spatialiser effect that can do some pretty cool things. The effects sound great but they lack a lot of control. e.g. You can't control the delay feedback, which is set quite high, so it's not always useful. They have their uses, though, and as their controls can be modulated, they add a bit extra to the sound design process.

Aparillo is a great synth but it is not without it's limitations. There are a few missing modulation sources. It would be nice to see aftertouch included in a future update, as well as maybe a few key MIDI CCs to add more hands-on control. As it stands, though, there is still plenty of scope for making lots of unique, amazing sounds. It's probably not going to be anybody's go-to synth but when you're after something weird and whacky, it could be just the thing. BTW, the blurb reads like it might be a monosynth but it's not, it also has a polyphonic mode where you can play chords and get all 16 voices per note.

EDIT: I changed the rating to 5 stars when I realised that the Orbit section allows you to add a second modulation source to any or all parameters. I also changed the text to highlight this.

Reviewed By BONES [read all by] on 14th August 2019
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows.
Last edited by BONES on 16th August 2019.
2 of 2 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.