Being quite a fan of Majken’s SubDuer, I was intrigued by the sound creation method he employed in his latest instrument, Chimera. This was an intrigue well worth exploring…
User Interface: Thankfully, Chimera sports quite a large GUI. This is a worthwhile feature as there are a lot of knobs and sliders to display. Such a large array of controls was a little overwhelming at first, but didn’t take long to get used to as everything is grouped together logically. Majken uses colour well in order to assist grouping together of the various sections. Broadly, the three noise generators are located together, the comprehensive modulation parameters occupy most of the lower part of the GUI, filters and fx are all in the top right hand corner (along with a very cool graphic), and the output section is in the lower right hand corner. This is a quality interface – clear, crisp and easy to use.
Sounds and Features: Ok, Chimera’s synthesis method is a fair bit different from your standard analog/subtractive stuff in that it uses noise generators with note controlled filters to produce it’s sounds. And what sounds they are – unearthly is probably the best way to describe them (which is just the way I like em’!) If your typical virtual analogue VST is considered to be ‘vintage’, then Chimera sounds like it was built at the Dawn of Time; it sounds positively ancient, and its this quality that makes it perfect for ambient soundscapes, majestic drones and epic soundtracks for movies yet to be made. Can you tell I like it?
So, how does Chimera achieve such aural-wonders? I’ll admit I’m not the greatest technical wiz, but I think the secret lies not only in the tuneable noise generators themselves (‘elements’), but also the level of control over each of them. Each element has, amongst other things, an HADSRT envelope and I found this flexibility very inspiring for creating real depth and movement in the sound. Even such ‘bread and butter’ controls as panning and volume on each element really made a difference to the overall feeling that the sound suggested.
There is also a very comprehensive modulation section offering three fully assignable envelopes and 3 LFO’s. You can really go to town with such flexibility to give the sound movement and dynamics – great for evolving pads. The filter, dual delay section, distortion and MIDI control all serve to subtly enhance the overall sound as well. Make no mistake – Chimera is a feature-packed piece of work.
Documentation: There is no documentation provided, but that’s ok – this synth is well laid out and logical, so it’s quite easy to get to grips with and get good sounds with minimal effort.
Presets: I think the presets provided show off Chimera’s capabilities very well as they provide a broad range of sounds. They cover, drones, atmospheric pads, more melodic sounds, plenty of special fx and even some synth drums.
Customer Support: Though I’ve never had to request any help as such, Majken, is very friendly and keen, particularly during the development/ of Chimera, so I’d say he’d be very helpful if you had any problems with it.
Value for Money: Did I mention its free? Well, it is! For such a quality synth as this, you can’t get better than that!
Stability: I’ve never experienced any crashes, instability or unusual behaviour at all, so full marks there.
Overall impressions: If you’re looking for hard basses, bouncy leads or the next ‘trance-meister’, then look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you love ethereal, evocative and cerebral sounds, then I’d highly recommend you download Chimera; its something different from the everyday. Like all good synths, Chimera rewards experimentation and you’ll soon discover a myriad of gorgeous and inspirational sounds.
I really enjoyed Oli Larkin’s original Dronebox, so I was keen to see what improvements he’d made to an already unique comb-filtering effect.
User Interface: The original GUI that looks ‘good enough to eat’ courtesy of its chocolate-brown and jaffa orange colour scheme! Tasty. There is a lot packed into this bar of chocolate though. Initially, the GUI looks quite confusing as there are a lot of controls to play with. However, once I’d spent a bit of time with the excellent manual, all of Dronebox’s functionality is actually well-placed on the GUI, rather like a channel-strip, in fact. The controls are all crisp and easy to use. A nice touch is the inclusion of various ‘inputs and outputs’ which make it look like a hardware box.
Sounds and Features: Essentially, Dronebox consists of a bank of 6, tuneable comb filters. Each of these filters can be tuned to a particular resonance. Once an audio source is applied to the comb filter, it will then resonate at the chosen frequency. At its most basic form, this will give pitch to a pitchless sound, such as a snare drum for example. That’s a simplified version of the basic process; there are plenty of ways of achieving that outcome so this a great effect for tweaking and experimenting with. I really enjoyed this process as it brings unpitched sounds to life (try it on a drum loop for instance) and that’s what makes Dronebox so rewarding to use – almost like you’re getting something from nothing.
That’s only the basics of course. There are plenty of goodies available to further process your sounds. There is a multimode filter at your disposal, a tempo-synced delay (with ping-pong), a basic reverb, a signal generator to provide more input noise to the comb-filters, and a cool pitch-shifter which alters the pitch of all the comb filter at once (great for making your drums ‘talk’!). On top of that little lot, you have 4 LFO’s and an extensive modulation matrix for really cooking up some warped and sweeping weirdness!
So, what does all this actually sound like then? It all sounds fantastic and very different to your run-of-the-mill effects such as chorus, flanging, phasing etc. I find the effected sound quite difficult to describe because it’s so different. Sweeping, swirling, droning, resonating – it’s all that. However, the most important thing to know is that it’s musical and can be used in many contexts. It’s a generous demo, so download it and hear for yourself!
Documentation: No two ways about it; the manual is excellent. Well written and well illustrated, it provides a simple tutorial on how to utilise each of Dronebox’s many parameters. I found this to be a huge help, so top marks there. Additionally, there is help available on Dronebox itself to remind you what each of the many controls actually does – a very nice touch.
Presets: There are over 30 presets supplied, all of which show off quite a range of sounds and showcase Dronebox’s unique sound. I think this is quite a complex effect, so some more presets wouldn’t go astray to really show potential customers what they can expect.
Customer Support: I’ve never had to contact Oli for any support issues, but I’m quite sure he’d be very keen to provide assistance if required.
Value for Money: Very good value for money – there is a LOT in Dronebox for the money. Incidentally, its actually part of a bundle, so that only increases its vfm even further.
Stability: I use Dronebox on a PC in FLStutudio and it’s never given me the slightest problem.
Overall impressions: This is definitely an effect that you have to work at to produce decent results from – no free rides with Dronebox! However, your efforts will be very well rewarded. It provides a very varied and musically useful palette of sounds, quite unlike standard FX. I think it has broad appeal and would find a home in most styles of electronica, whether to completely alter the sound out of all recognition, or just to give some subtle ‘colour’. Lots of fun!
A few months ago I didn’t even know what a VSTi was, and now I’ve amassed a pretty big collection of em’. Thought it was about time to share some viewpoints on some of my faves, and having taking a liking to EVM Synths offerings, I figured their Isis synth was a good candidate for my first review.
User Interface: Beautiful – all that blue anodised, brushed aluminium, red LEDs and yellow knobs give this synth some real class. If anyone builds a hardware synth that looks like this then I’ll buy it.
Sounds and Features: In the centre you get 2 banks of 64 waves with various mix and depth control. This section also includes the controls for changing the wave used depending on which key you're playing - not sure if this feature is used in many other synths, but I've not seen it before. Certainly useful for adding some tonal-dynamics! I found this worked best when used subtly - too much and the whole sound gets a bit out of control, whereas a little provides for a genuinely interesting change in timbre across the keyboard. This feature worked especially well on sequences.
To the left you get a single envelope generator along with the usual tuning options, and to the right, an FX section. This provides what I think is some kind of chorus/phaser effect. Numerous routing and control options are available to give the overall output some flavour without actually colouring the basic sound.
Like many good synths, its quite a subtle instrument - some time spent tweaking resulted in some very rewarding sounds. Despite my initial impressions of it being a pad synth (the presets reinforce this notion a bit), it was still very capable of a good range of full sounds. Some very nice warm, rounded basses were forthcoming after a little effort. A synth which rewards exploration is always a winner in my book. Of course, Isis also does some great pad sounds - very digital and harsh where required. All sounds were crisp and clear and of high quality.
Documentation: Though there was none provided, I don’t think this is a negative as it’s a fairly straightforward synth to figure out.
Presets: Comes with 16 presets which tend towards pad sounds, but there is a lot more to be extracted from Isis than what these presets may suggest.
Customer Support: Never had to use it, but did make a couple of enquiries with EVM Synths and they always got back to me quickly, so I reckon they’d provide good customer support in case of any problems with their stuff.
Value for Money: Being as this is just one synth out of a bundle of 14 (at the time of writing) for 35euros (even less if you’ve bought stuff from them before), then I’d say its excellent value for money – these are an absolute bargain.
Stability: Never crashed or got out of control, so no worries there.
Overall impressions: I was really impressed with Isis - it produced a surprisingly broad range of sounds and impressed with its subtlety and the ability to trigger different waves depending on the notes played. And what a beautiful GUI….