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VirtualCZ [read all reviews]
Reviewed By grymmjack [read all by] on 26th September 2014
Version reviewed: 1.0 on Windows.
Last edited by grymmjack on 26th September 2014.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful.
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I don't own any CZ hardware, but I really like this plug-in. The sound is very unique and interesting, and perhaps because I was a young kid in the 80s the kinds of sounds it makes resonate with me. I like the character of the sounds and how simple it is to adjust the sound. The UI is excellent and really intuitive. Not having owned any Casio CZ hardware I was a little confused by the concept of "lines" but I understand it now. It also threw me for a curve looking for a filter, but I understand DCW is how we adjust the brightness as the DCW knobs travel from Sine to Saw for example (so on sine traversing the envelope towards saw works out like opening a filter).

I really like how MSEG and ADSR are both supported this was a great choice. I love how the MSEGs are implemented. Took a little getting used to for me to understand on the MSEGs that clockwise far right actually makes things shorter (in my mind turning a knob to the right fully = wide open / max volume / value) but once I got used to that was no problem. I love how the envelopes show in the LCD read out display area - that's very helpful.

The MSEGs can each loop, have variable length and can have any stage except the last stage as the sustain stage or no sustain at all. It's very well done and the simple way they have knobs that affect their parameters makes it really easy to understand the signal flow. For example there is no modulation matrix needed, I simply turn the depth knob on the DCW MSEG ENV and it adjusts the sounds by a certain amount. Really intuitive and simple.

That's really I think what I like here is that the amount of thought and care put in to all the little pieces and decisions made about it have created a very immediate instrument where I am encouraged to explore and experiment because the controls are so few yet the impacts are quite audible for even subtle adjustments.

On the surface the synth appears pretty simple, but what's interesting here but it's not. The controls are really well made and the interface keeps things out of the way but they are there and the sound sculpting capability I guess would be similar to an original CZ but I really like the way the MOD and OSC combinations work to greatly influence the sound. I'm still learning about PD, but I quite like this plugin.

SOUND: 9 / 10.

While I've not owned any PD synths, Casio or otherwise, I simply adore this sound. It's like a refined FM kind of sound if you want it, or a little subtractive sound if you want that. It's really hard to make the synth sound bad, and noise modulation is about the best I can do to make it sound really bad. With FM I find myself overstepping some esoteric boundaries and causing harsh really high treble noise, but with this PD approach I haven't been doing that as often mistakenly or otherwise. I think the sound of the chorus inside of this is wonderful and the single knob really makes a huge difference but it's programmed in such a way that the one knob somehow just works to adjust a little bit to a deep rich sound. The unison is a little strange to me, but I'm still learning. What's thrown me on the unison is that the width knob isn't directly connected or something like in other synths; it seems width does a sort of back and forth based on key presses and not spreading the stereo around in a unison pan way. It's very good sounding when I hit the sweet spot though. I've made a really fantastic sounding 1986 break dancing kind of bass that I hadn't previously been able to make as successfully - perhaps the original songs that inspired me to understand this sound were using a CZ? The Master section is really well done, and dead simple. The poly, legato, and mono are super useful and easy to audition to hear different sounds. The portamento on this thing is tuned somehow to sound musical, it's difficult to explain. One thing I wish is that volume could go a little higher. Sometime I tweak the MSEGs just a certain way and the sustain needs to be lower which causes the sound overall to be quieter and the volume only adjusts a certain amount. I can of course adjust in DAW though.

The waveforms and the combination of them are really interesting. Especially the ring modulator. It took me a little while to figure out how the lines worked but now that I understand it's easy to get busy with the programming side of things. The sounds are what I expect, and some interesting resonant waveforms that exist for what I presume to be a part of the original CZ as a way to compensate for a digital non-resonant filter in the DCW side of things? Not sure but it's approximate to a resonant filter sound in use. I can create sounds that are very soft and dark and sounds that are subtractive sounding as well as very bright bells and noisey sounds. This thing can do a lot of good sounds and I'm just getting started.

The presets are OK, they served me well to learn how things are setup and play around with them. There are plenty of them, and Oli provided me in PM a copy of the CZ presets already setup in the formats the synth takes so it is simple to load up factory Casio patches that he already converted. Really really cool some of those sounds are just beautiful and again, probably because i'm a child of the 80s I recognize a few that really give me chills and goose bumps :)

UI: 10 / 10.

The UI is really well made. It's beautiful to look at, extremely well organized, and simple. The color coding is functional and not superfluous. The buttons look like buttons, the sliders like sliders, the knobs like knobs, and there is this beautiful texture work that makes it feel old and tactile. The attention to detail exhibited in the way the parameters interact is fantastic. Thought was really put into making this thing immediate and easy. One example: there are separate buttons for setting each waveform for each line, and so 4 total, buttons to change the sound of the oscillators, but each line has a A/B button that you can use to set both waveforms in a line at once. It makes it really fast to work with and get something safe and easy to understand. Also you can use your mouse wheel to move values, double click resets the values, shift+click lets you type with your keyboard. Simple things like this really pay out big time, but they didn't stop there. There are little locks you can engage to keep the parameters of interest locked when switching presets such as Chorus/Pan, Velocity, Tuning, and Aftertouch. The Scaling edit button reveals gorgeous editor areas where simple things we'd want to do are easily accomplished. Want to change the velocity response? Drag on the curve up and down and it makes a nice simple rounded range exponential, linear, or so on easy to just get right without dealing with little nodes and bezier nonsense like in other synths. Beautiful! I don't have aftertouch on my controller, but now I want to get one that has such because the amount of aftertouch stuff in here is nice, channel or poly aftertouch and routing to LFO, AMP, or DCW. The MSEGs are presented really well, I am not intimidated like I am with other MSEGs such as Rapture, or Spire or the like (which are also very well made mind they just aren't as simply abstracted). You get a slider and a knob per stage. You set sustain off or from stage 1 to 7 and you can loop or one shot and define how long each MSEG is. Great, simple, easy to understand. The only catch is that the travel of the knobs works in reverse from what I expected; larger values are to the left, shorter to the right. But aside from this it's wonderful to work with. The association of the modulation targets for the MSEGs like depth and velocity are ubiquitous and simple and add to the feeling of safe play area in this normally complex setup. Patch management and tools menus are here and they are really well done. Super easy to understand and work with in the file system away from the plugin as well. There is an initialize on offer, which is a big deal to me! Also the ability to randomize each section (OSC, MASTER, ENVS, etc) is wonderful. Truly a spectacular UI. The MSEGs are optional, there are also 4 stage ADSRs.

CPU: 9 / 10.

So far CPU has been pretty damned good. I'm on an i7 quad and I've peaked around 10-15% in Live with some very long release times. I'm not sure what the polyphony is here, but even 4x unison is pretty decent for me so far. Definitely factored into my decision to buy when I demoed it too.

TIP:

Anywhere there are colors used for a title bar section you can left click for a pop-up menu that lets you copy/paste and randomize and reset the settings :)

OVERALL: 9 / 10.

I think this plugin is one of the most unique, simple, and fun to use instruments I've had to date. I would highly recommend this plugin to anyone. I've not done deep programming yet but the few sounds I've built so far are unique and difficult or impossible to make with other instruments. Even if you own an FM synth, this one is unique. It's well worth the money I paid and I have no regrets.

Thanks Oli / Plugin Boutique.

I hope that this leads to more Plugin Boutique partnerships for other well deserving smaller developers like Oli Larken.

FireBird [read all reviews]
Reviewed By grymmjack [read all by] on 15th November 2007
Version reviewed: 1.9 on Windows.
Last edited by grymmjack on 15th November 2007.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful.
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[UI]
the interface for firebird is awesome. there are several skins to choose from and they are all very well done. a LOT of attention to detail and TLC went into the UI. the simplicity of layout and the beautiful tactile feel of the controls is really great. the setup screen is dead simple and it's very easy to use this synth to achieve great sounds quickly. everything important is on one screen and all of the complexity is hidden away from you leaving you only to worry about your sound (the way it should be IMO). the only slightly confusing thing is how the modulation wheel mapping is in the setup screen. it's odd only because setup is usually a global thing, but in firebird there are patch based settings in the setup screen. not a deal breaker for me though at all :)

[SOUND]
firebird sounds incredible. it's got some huge sounding filters and the distortion / drive is particularly awesome. the sheer number of filter types on offer is quite insane - but coming from tone2 we expect nothing less than greatness. the various waveforms available are versatile and cover a very wide variety of sound creation possibility and it's simple to quickly change and sculpt the sound by combining them in different ways. my *favorite* part of this synth is the FAT and ANALOG knobs in the sound source section, simply twisting these two at various degrees (which are obviously tuned with TLC to really be useful) is so much fun. you can alter the brightness, tone, and thickness of the sounds to be much more intense as needed, or back it off (which i find myself doing more of because firebird has so much balls) to make things fit more into a given mix.

[FEATURES]
the features available are very good and easy to use. there are all the staple features you'd expect from a great synth and a few you wouldn't like an advanced IQ micro-tuning system that actually makes a significant difference to the sound output. it's this kind of attention to detail that firebird has all over. there are governors for polyphony and quality for machines that are older or slower as well. i have 0 complaints about the features. Markus (the developer) even added a feature that I requested to allow for my inacurate pitchbend to work better.

[DOCUMENTATION]
the documentation is adequate. i didn't really need it though. it's available in 3 different languages, which is nice.

[PRESETS]
the factory banks (3 of 128 each) are awesome. the 3rd bank is a nice touch as it is the "init" bank so you can roll your own sound bank with ease. bank A and B have some excellent sounds for electronic music. really good ones that illustrate what this synth can do. the sounds range in category from bass to lead to pad to others and are useful and organized by prefix so it's a snap to dial in a sound you are looking for without hunting around too much. i've already mentioned the fat and analog knobs but i need to mention them again because with those 2 knobs every preset gets a new life. the randomizer is quite a cool feature too that is built into firebird and 90% of the time provides something new and interesting and somewhat useful.

[SUPPORT]
customer support from tone2 in my experience has been great. i've not had any issues with the synth besides the one i mentioned with my pitchbender and that was addressed in v1.9 after almost 3 months of no word from the developer it was quite cool to get a personal email announcing the availability of the new version with that support added in. it was an excellent gift and will keep me a customer of tone2 for a long time to come.

[VALUE FOR MONEY]
the cost for this synth is €59, $79 which is a total value in my opinion for what you get. after spending quality time with this synth you can tell that a huge amount of effort and insight went into it's plans. the price is fully justified and then some. well worth the outlay.

[STABILITY]
i've had no issue with firebird in the following hosts: cantabile 1.2, orion platinum 7, tracktion3, energyxt 1.x, ableton live6, flstudio 7, and renoise. i have not used firebird in an extreme scenario yet though, mainly i use it for bass and lead sounds to compliment other synths when doing electronic music.

[SUMMARY]
if you need a good synth with very high quality sounds for a modest price you can do a hell of a lot worse than firebird. if you are new and want to learn about synths and how to program sounds firebird is an excellent choice as it's so damned easy to use and easy to get a good sound out of. it is very encouraging to design sounds when the sound coming out is beautiful to your ears.

this is quite a great synth!
PoiZone [read all reviews]
Reviewed By grymmjack [read all by] on 26th September 2007
Version reviewed: 2.0 on Windows.
Last edited by grymmjack on 26th September 2007.
5 of 7 people found this review helpful.
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[UI]
Very good interface. Clean and simple. Great response and smooth animations. Easy to read high contrast, and has status with readouts. Mousewheel support and built in preset management and MIDI mapping capability make this a real joy to use.

[SOUND]
Sounds good. Big phat basses, seering leads and soft lush pads can be achieved. The filter is very good and tuned well; is musical sounding to my ears. Great effects on board for delay chorus and gate.

[FEATURES]
Everything that matters can be tempo-synced; gate, arp, delay, and LFO included. The built in effects are excellent especially the chorus but the delay aint too shabby either - lots of options. 4 voice unison with 32 voice poly, and excellent glide implementation. The unison is particularly good with separate controls for detune and pan. This synth is definitely geared towards modern music it seems.

[DOCS]
The PDF manual is good and explains everything well. There are bookmarks in the PDF for quick jumping around. Nice big screen shots and usable design in the docs.

[PRESETS]
The presets are excellent. Very diverse groups of sounds represented by some of my favorite sound designers. Categories include ARP(pegiated), ATMO(mosphere), GATE, BASS, KBD(Keyboard), LED(Lead), RYM(Rhythm), SFX(SoundFX), and SYN(Synth). Some huge sounds in here to be sure.

[CUSTOMER SUPPORT]
Image-Line has always given me world-class service and treated me fairly, with respect, and has been very generous providing this 2.0 version free of charge to existing owners of the 1.0 version.

[VALUE FOR MONEY]
I would say good to great depending on your needs and the type of music you make. If you need a good bass/lead synth with unison and good onboard effects for modern electronic music the VFM is very good.

[STABILITY]
I have not had a problem with 2.0. v1.0 had a few growing pains that seem to be non-existant in this latest and greatest release.
FL Studio [read all reviews]
Reviewed By grymmjack [read all by] on 20th January 2006
Version reviewed: 6.0.8XXL on Windows.
Last edited by grymmjack on 20th January 2006.
9 of 12 people found this review helpful.
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FLStudio is one of the most versatile hosts you will find. Once you get familiar with how it works, you realize how much ingenuity went into it's design and appreciate it's bold step away from the traditional oldschool sequencer/multitracker concept. It truly has a great workflow, which can adapt itself to the skill level of it's user.

There is a step sequencer, a piano roll, an event editor, a waveform editor, a playlist, a mixer, and a browser, all in combination with over 20 great generators (another word for instruments in FL) and tons of effects. You truly get all that you need to make great music out of the box.

All of the generators serve a unique purpose, and the full gamut of electronic instruments; synthesis, samplers, emulators, is represented. Some of the generators sound better and are easier to use than commercial VSTi equivalents. While not 100% of the generators are included by default, the XXL producer edition includes them all. Along with lifetime free updates the price you pay is worth it. Additionally when you purchase an add-on that has a VSTi version, you also get the VSTi version of the generator -- for example DX10, Sytrus, and SimSynth all have VSTi versions. This lets you work with them in any host you like.

I started off with a regular edition long ago, and had bought each of the add-on generators such as Wasp, DX10, the Soundfont player, and SimSynth over a span of years. When ImageLine (the company that makes it) released the new XXL stuff, they automatically took into consideration what I had owned already and gave me discounts on buying new add-ons which I felt was very honorable and courteous. The support for the product is excellent and anytime I have had a problem a day and a forum post at looptalk (the official FL forums) later, and the problem was solved/answered.

FL exceeds all other hosts at simple-automation. The ease of mapping and auto-learn features for it's own internal generators and effects is outstanding and this feature is extended to VST/VSTi plug-ins as well using the "last tweaked parameter". Basically you touch a knob in the plugin and use this feature to map it to any external or internal controller for automation. Thus even older VST/VSTi's can be automated even if they dont support automation internally themselves! Add to this power the internal controllers and modifiers which use mathematics, randomness, and LFO or X/Y grids, and you have true power for automation unlike any other host.

The channels and the mixer are incredibly intuitive, powerful, and easy to use. Everything is right in front of you and nothing hidden away. As you adjust parameters a status display reads out what the values are. Middle clicking returns a control to it's default state, and there are modifiers for adding more sensitivity to the controls, etc.

I come from a background of tracking (screamtracker/impulse tracker) and found the transition to FLstudio especially easy in the way it works. While there is no tracker-like microediting, there are patterns and a playlist (so 2 things that I was already familiar with). The playlist is a powerful and flexible tool that also allows for live experimentation when flstudio is configured in live mode.

The piano roll implementation is excellent and so fast to use compared to other hosts. Keyboard modifiers and 'common-sense' design make the FLstudio piano roll my favorite of all piano rolls. There are lots of little unique features that over time you come to rely on that enhance productivity and creativity.

The mixer is versatile and simple to use. Any input can go to any output and so on, you aren't limited to what the signal path is. There are 64 channels to work with and you can colorize/organize/move things around easily.

The browser is a great feature that adds to the whole package. It contains channel presets, generator presets, automation data, samples and loops, and whatever else you want to organize or use in your productions. The ease of use of the browser is by far one of the best features of the program. Dragging and dropping things from the browser to the step sequencer to the mixer to instruments, to the playlist, really makes for rapid creation tool.

The generators and effects are great all around, with the presets for them all also being pretty good. Sytrus is the star and it sounds incredible, but the other synths like SimSynth, and Wasp are also great. The generators that come with the program are excellent and serve a unique purpose, you have a string simulator, piano simulator, bass guitar simulator, electronic drum simulator, etc, the list goes on. The effects are great as well and with each new version they seem to be getting better.

Version 6 adds DirectWave which is an incredibly useful sampler that can do amazing things.

It's the most productive, versatile, easy to use, fastest, of any host i've tried. It comes as stand-alone, VSTi, and rewire (slave/master).
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