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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This synth is pretty much what it says it is - g-r-eat. It is a straightforward 2 osc V/A synth with the usual features - four different waveforms, PWM and the usual cross-modulation functionality. It has six effects - delay, reverb, phaser, chorus, EQ and distortion - that are all very usable and do what you'd expect without setting the world on fire. Global controls, like voice modes and portamento/glide, are easy to find. There is also a basic arp.
The GUI graphics are really good and everything is laid out really well, which makes it very quick and easy to work with. Usability is one of GR-8's real strengths.
There aren't a huge number of presets but they show the capabilities of the synth quite well. There is a patch browser and preset management is good - not overly fancy/fussy, it's straightforward and easy to use.
There is one glaring downside to GR-8 and that is that its CPU use is on the high side but, for the sound quality on offer, I think it's a reasonable compromise. And to be clear, the sound quality is excellent. This is a synth that has a full, thick sound with a modern character all its own. It's not trying to sound like anything else, it just sounds good. This sound quality is up to the standard of synths in the $100-$200 price range. For free.
GR-8 is not just good for the price, it's actually a good synth and well worth checking out. For me it is the pick of this year's Dev Challenge crop.
EDIT: Version 1.0.2 has reduced the CPU usage considerably and seems to indicate the developer is willing to action user requests. The latest update has also added Velocity modulation so I have upped my rating to 5 stars. GR-8 is now one of my go-to synths.
This is my kind of synth - relatively simple, very easy to use and with a great sound. As you can see, the interface is clean, clear and uncluttered. It basically has everything right there on the front panel. The only exception is the filter section, where you have a choice of Filter 1 or Filter 2, each of which has its own controls. So you see the one you're using, not the one you aren't. It's a joy to program because it's all right there, at your fingertips. Patch selection is a breeze and, crucially, saving your own patches is a doddle.
The synth itself is a classic V/A with two oscillators, plus a sub-oscillator, a low pass filter - two types to choose from - and pairs of LFO's and ADSR envelopes. The mixer section allows you to add in noise and ring modulation and this is also where you set the overall volume of the patch. The oscillators have the usual range of V/A waveforms plus a "Sync" oscillator mode which does wonderfully good hard sync without any effort. Next to the mixer are Unison controls that include proper unison modes, that clone the oscillators, as well as "emulated" unison that uses a DSP cheat to save on CPU. The "6*8" unison mode combines 6 voices of real unison with 8 emulated voices for a really big sound. CPU use, generally, is very good for this quality of sound. There is an HQ mode but turning it off doesn't really make anything sound worse, nor does it save you much CPU.
As mentioned, there are two different low-pass filters to choose from. Both sound basically similar but one has a separate high-pass filter with a single control (cutoff) and the other has a drive circuit that adds nice saturation to the sound (which is my favourite).
For modulation, you get two ADSR envelopes, each with a velocity slider, plus two LFOs with delay. Adding modulation is really straightforward - each section has modulation sliders and all you have to do is select a source and set a level. It's great because you can see what modulation has been applied right in the section you are looking at.
The presets are mostly very usable. There are a few slightly weird ones but most of them can go straight into your projects if you want. But with something that is so easy to patch, you'll probably end up making your own sounds from scratch. It is so easy to get great sounding patches from Invader that it's just not funny. It seems to have so many sweet spots that it's easy to fill up a folder with great sounds in a single evening.
Overall this is a very slick package that combines the two major things I look for in a VSTi - great sound quality and ease-of-use. The GUI looks fantastic and works even better (three different UI sizes are available). Everybody needs to download the demo and try this out for themselves. It is well worth the effort. I love it so much I bought it twice.
What an amazing synth! Incredible sound quality and so easy to get great sounds from, this VSTi should be in every Windows users' plugin folder. I have no idea, and even less interest in how good an emulation of the JP8000 it is but I'd be surprised if the Roland hardware had a filter half as good as this one. It's a peach.
You get two SuperSaw oscillators for all that 90s trance goodness, if that's your thing, and the most sublime string pads, which is more my thing, plus a Noise generator. The rich tones of the low-pass resonant filter remind me very much of the excellent Wasp synth that comes built into Synapse Audio's Orion virtual studio, a sound we have struggled to match since moving from Orion a few years ago. Until now. The combination of the Supersaw oscillators and lush resonance allows you to create the fattest basses imaginable.
At first the synth seems a little bare-bones but there is a little button called "MORE", curiously placed in the filter section on the GUI, that opens up a number of extra options, like velocity modulation of filter and amp, as well as an AD envelope for pitch mod, Glide control, oscillator Pan control and an Analog knob, which adds a slight random variation to the pitch of each note to make it sound a bit more like an analogue synth. There are also two effects - a simple EQ and a basic delay, both of which are adequate to the task.
I like the GUI and it is resizable, so you can make it as big or small as you like. The "LED" display shows you parameter values as you move controls and clicking on it displays the preset list. Preset management is very basic, about the same as DUNE, but works well enough. CPU usage is very low for sound quality like this.
I bought this synth last month and it has very quickly become my go-to synth for strings and basslines. It features heavily in the last half-a-dozen projects I've been working on, with multiple instances in several of them, and I can see myself adding it to a lot of older projects, too, wherever I had previously tried to replace a Wasp bassline and probably for a lot of string parts, too. It's quick and easy to patch from scratch and the results are always usable. JP6K is the synth I've been looking for for the last 10 years - great sound with just enough features to make it usable across a number of styles. What's really stupid about it is that for 9 of those 10 years I could have had it, if only I'd known it existed. At 25 Euros, this should be in everyone's synth arsenal.
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.
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.