I think it would be fair to say that Slayer has a definate target audience and in that respect it meets some of my needs; but not all.
I am going to keep this short as the previous reviews have touched on much of what Slayer has to offer.
Generally I find ReFx products to be quite polished and Slayer is graphically slick, it has a responsive interface and is stable in a variety of hosts.
Where it comes up short for me is when you want a clean electric guitar sound, in particular for chord work - I find for Reggae rythem work Slayer is way off target and equally if you want a clean 'studio' guitar sound for slow lead work or similar you are unlikely to be pleased with the sound, which to my ears lacks dynamics, sustain and harmonics.
If you want a more up-front effected, driven and distorted sound then you will more than likely be happy as a sand boy, in this respect I am happy to have and use Slayer, the only alternative is an (Expensive) mult-sampled library - I prefer both options.
I would love to see Slayer develop a better 'studio' electric guitar sound but otherwise it is still fun to use.
Some say this synthesizer has become a legend in its own lifetime; well what I would say is that it is starting to SOUND like that!
I have had zeta (the nickname those in the 'know' have gifted z3ta with) for about a year now and have gone through several phases of usage with it, I have to be honest and say I have never felt the need to get into any serious editing or patchmaking with it - the amount of patches that come with zeta allied to those that are avalible for free or purchase make me somewhat lazy in this regard.
The recent appearance of some top flight pre-set banks have taken this synth to the very top of the pile and zeta can only be matched IMO by a small handfull of equally essential synths like cameleon, rhino, symptaohm, vaz and tassman.
One of my early dissapointments with zeta was the relentless (and still quite prevelant) usage of ARP's used in many patches, these may sound nice for a quick play with but when any given bank has like 50% of the bloody things and then multiply that by almost every bank that comes out this does hinder your creative juices, and before you think; "can't you turn the ARP off" - yes you can - but have you ever heard a standard synth patch that is good for Arping, they tend to sound very similar and lifeless!
As stated though this has taken a turn for the better of late with a variety of banks coming out that ease up on the arp's and get creative without it.
Not everyone is a sound designer or an edit freak; this is sacrilege talk for some but I am sure many will agree even the best synth served up without the necessary ammo is likely to be recieved with dissapointment.
The interface for zeta is a nice size; its not too big yet gives up enough on screen parametres to not have to be switching around too much - well, at least not for my undemanding needs, should you be a tweaker though you will have to get used to using a constant flip section to many of the parametres, no interface could show all that is avalible - but I think it is a good compromise.
The feature set is massive and more so should you want to fully take advantage of its hidden mysteries - I would be misleading you if I was to try to explain them in any depth because I have only scratched the surface of zeta; what is instantly obvious and intuitive though is the ease with which you can manipulate filters, envelopes anbd oscillators without much ado, the modulation matrix is equally easy to get some mayhem going and of cours a click on the fx button brings up a full (new) page dedicated to a wide variety of quality fx treatments that include comprehensive eq, reverb, distortion, flanging, phasing, delay and more.
I can't really say much about documentation; I have never used it, but I did have a quick look at it for this review and it is comprehensive although I think a tutorial or quick guide might be a welcome addition - I know a lot of smaller developers have probably got better things to do but an illustrated guide to the feature set would be nice as would the option of buying a printed manual, which I hazzard to guess would be a very welcome bit of real estate for those of us who need a kick up the rear to go deeper (with 'in hand' instruction).
Oh did I mention sound quality?
Well it is top notch, with a sparkling top end full middle and a rounded bottom; sound like a girl I used to know - I say rounded bottom because I have never thought of zeta as a bass synth and although it does basses they always sound controlled and refined - that isn't to say you can't program rough gut wrentching ones, but I haven't heard any and have found (without a great deal of effort I must say) quite elusive coming up with one.
Any one who frequents KVR will know that RGC are always around and respond to problems quickly - TBH I can't say I have experienced any major problems with any of the RGC range and think that they are extremely well coded and beta tested before releasing their products.
There is a small trade off with using zeta and that is one of fuel - some patches can be very gready on the old processing power and this has been something that has concerned users in the past - I have to say that I think the continued development along with ever faster computers has to a large extent dealt with this issue and unless your running a very underpowered (by plug-in standards) computer this should not be an issue or at least it shouldn't pose problems that can't be worked around.
Alternatives; its a matter of choice and preference, if I was starting over again I would want the synths I mentioned earlier rather than a folder chock full of cheaper synths - my reason being a few well learned synths will take you further than a large pool of even the best stuff.
I have found zeta to be very stable which certainly gives you confidence in the product, in short this is an essential tool for anyone that intends or uses softsynths, full stop.
Being a Reggae/Drum & Bass head my first port of call at mixdown tends to be chucking the piano/brass/rythem guitar or whatever through a phaser/flanger and it came as a pleasant surprise when I (finally) discovered this little freebie; I say that because there is very little on the market that offers up a thick slice of phased modulation mayhem, MHC's Space effect comes to mind but beyond that I can't think of anything much else, certainly nothing with a FREEBIE logo on it - not in this class, anyway.
What we have here is a very pro looking gui that is styled in a similar manner to the Smart Electronix 'Ambience' reverb, I like the added ORANGE colouring that is applied to the distortion and balance controls - if Smart Electronix were trying to highlight two particularly tweakable parametres with the bold colour scheme then they hit the nail on the head; because these two certainly impact on what is being put through the plug.
So the gui is pleasant and the controls have a nice feel to them - they are responsive and quite smooth, getting on to the sound now and what strikes me is that SupaPhaser has been coded with an extra bit of mileage in many of its operations, what I mean by that is, if you turn a control to its most extreme setting you tend to get like turbo treatment!
So with the feedback control at max in unison with how other parametres are set you start to get some pretty freeky treatments going that go way beyond phasing and chorus, this can be heard again with the distortion and even the LFO max has a button by its side that extends the rate to extreme cycles for some funky mod madness!
A hidden feature is that the face above the distortion control is actually a 4 way switch (click on the face for 4 different gestures that represent the 4 states of inversion - WHAT!)that inverts either the wet signal or the feedback and in Bram's own words gives you a choice of "invert feedback, invert wet,invert feedback-invert wet or invert nothing", don't ask me what 'face' = what inversion but its another subtle yet usefull addittion to the flexability of the plug.
There are over 40 pre-sets that give you a good idea of what is on offer but it shouldn't be hard to programme something new.
There is no documentation with the program but I don't think this is an issue really.
Customer support appears fine, this is the first program that I have ever made a donation to and I got an instant thank you, I sent an e-mail for some info and got another instant response, I don't think on freely downloadable software you can or should expect support to any major degree, can/should you?
Even at 10 euros or whatever this is a marvelous 'Steal' if it does something that is usefull to you, the programme appears to use a pretty minimal amount of cpu in my use of it (a maximum 7% hit on a 450mhz PC running 1 instance) and I have never had any stability issues that can be attributed to it.
As you can probably tell I really like this VST, for me it has all the essential ingredients that make a Plug-in a pleasure to use - Nice looking, responsive gui and engine, easy on the proccessor, FREE, and with a bunch of pre-sets thrown in to boot!
So this is not the only effect you would want but it can offer up a staple range of phasing and chorus type effects along with spatial, distortion and some weird modulation types as well, for me though this is one of a few effects that have allowed me to get a very specific slow deep metallic phasing that is remeniscent of the type of effect so often used in DUB reggae of the seventies, quite simply I like it!
It is not that oftern that I get into programming sounds - but I must say that like Maxx's other vsti (the 3 osc Bazzoid bass synth) this vst is very approachable and being a hybrid waveshape/FM synth it can range from easy tweaking to pretty complex depending on how far you want to go.
I have found the developer (Maxx) to be very approachable and he listerns to feedback - as with the Bazzoid vst - I made a few suggestions and they became implemented - bearing in mind that he considered them worthwhile enhancements.
eJ comes with a pretty large library of sounds (almost 500) which give you a good idea of what the synth is capable of.
Documentation is a weak point although I don't see too much problems in working out most aspects of how the synth works.
I really appreciate having a selection of synths amongst which I like to have stuff that is very much hands on and not likely to blow my mind - I think eJ achieves this - on both counts.
The price is a very reasonable $49; and what you need to bear in mind is that you are buying into a synth that will almost certainly be expanded and refined - not that I think it lacks any major features.
I would also add that the sound quality is very rich and being able to bypass the FM synthesis completely means you really can come up with a mass of different sounds - quickly.
I have run this in Orion, Logic 5.5 and Ableton v3/4 where it is very stable.
I have been told an update to ver 1.1 is immenent, which will include more pre-set banks and tweaks - with a more substantial update a little further on, which will probably include the much talked about velocity to fm operator response-on the 1 Aug 2004 all the above have been implemented in ver 1.1!
Further Edit 18 November 2004 - Ver2 is now out with an enhanced GUI, new on-line help/manual and many tweaks!
PS, this synth was released in early july 2004.
I do like the interface, the graphics are nice and the controls are clearly laid out and responsive, there is perhaps too much open space - but otherwise its a very nice gui.
I found that the documentation covers all the basics and picked up a better idea of the synths structure by reading through it.
The synth comes with a couple of banks of presets, which allied to the mass of free banks available has to be considered good value.
The developer has a support forum at KVR so I imagine any problems would be quickly ironed out.
I suppose the value of this product lies in what you are after - I think Vanguard is well respected for its ability to pump out a plethora of in your face lead and hard hitting pad type sounds as well as the more staple perc, bass and FX sounds, amongst others.
I have found this synth to be rock solid in the stability stakes.
There are a mass of wave forms on offer but to be quite honest I am left wanting at times - the Digital wave form for instance seems to lack the edge that I associate with this type of sound.
Although ARPs and Trancegates are not the type of processes that I would generally use it must be said that along with the onboard FX you can come up with some really interesting twists - and this is what makes Vanguard unique (although other developers are starting to mimic these features, read Discovery!) and on that point it is hard to be overly negative about the 'package' as a whole.
To consider alternatives is not easy given the feature set of Vanguard, but Exciton, Hydra and Anamark all offer similar sonic delivery and editing/sound creation potential, but they all lack the Trancegate and Arp - so you will not get the performance features that Vanguard offers, with them.
To sum up if you simply want a synth for 'standard duties' at this price point there are options - I have named three that can compete with Vanguard on sheer sonic sound sculpturing potential - but if you want the Arps and Trancegates you have less options.
I have edited this review to take in the updating that has taken place - the bass end has improved with 'Fatness voices' (vcs) which determines how many voices are used for the fatness effect and this puts Vanguard into the 'very versatile' synth category.
I would still like a bit more 'oompth' with the LP filter at the extreme of the cut-off point.
I do like Vanguard and think the latest up-date takes it that bit further.
I have not heard much about this almost free ($20) vst on the board so I thought I would bring it to peoples attention; especially as it acquits itself so well.
For a start I would like to say how responsive the developer is to feedback - I made 2 suggestions and they have been implemented in the latest version - a couple of months after I had E-mailed Maxx (the developer) with them.
Basically what we have is a 3 osc synth with a volume envelope, filter with envelope and an lfo - quite basic but with the flexibility to go somewhat further than one might initially expect.
Although it would be fair to say that this is not a modulation freeks day out it does allow enough filter and lfo carnage to produce some quite non bass like timbres and talking about bass this synth has the ability to produce some of the deepest, roughest and gut churning sub basses I have heard - in either hardware or software to date - I don't say this lightly - I have been using ver1 for some months now and my genres are Reggae/Drum and Bass which relies on precisely those types of low frequencies and Bazzoid does not short change you in this department - in fact with tweaking and liberal use of the filter/q and drive control I would say we are in undiscovered sonic territory here!
Now things are starting to get interesting - Oscillators, not your usual sine and sawtooth but a set of controls that allow you to manipulate the waveform into a variety of shapes - I don't know the technical term but what we have are four controls per Osc - Sine, Center, Width and Shift along with a visual graph rendered in real time; which allows you to create a whole variety of different base tones - there is also a level, pitch and on/off control for each Osc.
There is a very basic chorus effect which is preset and can only be turned on or off - but it does give a nice subtle enhancement.
Bazzoid comes with 128 presets which cover a lot of ground - but for me the real joy (not being very up on synthesis I must say) is simply fiddling around with the beast - because the synth is not overly complex it really does have a very approachable interface and I have made a fair amount of presets since purchasing it.
The GUI takes up about a third of the screen which is fair considering that the interface is nicely spread out and the controls are nice and responsive.
So there you have it - there is a demo available and I would recommend people give it a try, I think this product will grow over time given enough support.
I have modified this review slightly due to an updated version which has various enhancements.
Software comes and goes so quickly i thought I would put foward my experience of this vsti as it may help someone currently looking to expand there software arsenal , as software tends to become dated as soon after it is released! I have spent a lot of time recently building up drum and percussion Kits/programs from my sample collection ( although the RM4 does come with a huge collection of usable readymade Kits) and this has been a joy to work with. It is so straightfoward to use (it comes boxed with a Manual) , I particularly like the way all samples are stored within the RM4 Kit folder so there is no chance of losing or getting in a muddle with where the samples are! The sound quality is very good ; the words clean and full bodied spring to mind. I find the program to be very stable using WINxp and Logic 5.5. It has good sonic manipulation possibilities with a nice sounding Filter , envelopes , distortion , bit reduction and a modulation matrix. You can use pitched samples although this is not its Forte - but i have and had good results. What strikes me about the RM4 is how accessable it is you can get experimental if you want but for standard drum and perc sample playback i think this is as good as one could hope for. Oh yes you can have multiple layers of samples per pad (similar idea to the cells in NI's Battery drum module , which i have but dont use anymore as this is more productive , enjoyable and cleaner sounding to my ears) of which there are 18. I also have Halion 2 but This is far more productive for its specialist use. So if your looking for a drum/perc sample playback module give this a try the demo is downloadable from the Linplug site. I would love to see Linplug try something similar for multisample/instrument playback and manipulation as this product hits the spot for me-more so than some of the Hardware samplers I have previously spent much time with in the past peering at a 2" by 4" lcd screen! (note on my marking-I think this product is Brilliant but feel most people overmark so there you have it!)
This plug is as deceptive as my other favourite buzzroom plug 'Octbuz' in its ability to produce a wide range of sounds / treatments that are not apparent without some investigation and time. I have managed to coax a whole range of percussive , analogue , digital and reasonably natural sounds out of this synth. I do have an issue around saved sounds in as much as on going back to them i have found that after several choices the synth refuses to respond , this may hopefully be worked around , but it does not make the instrument unusable - it might be an issue with my set up? Getting back to the BB303i i could imagine along with OctBuz for fx treatment making a whole tune with it , as stated before i have managed to program bass drums , snares , hi-hats , all kinds of bass , drones , even a piano , electric guitar and varios sync fx! What more could you ask for its FREE , sounds great and versatile.
This plug realy surprised me and i ended up spending an evening playing around with it which led to me creating a bank of 64 presets (which i hope to upload soon). The latest incarnation is version 1.1 which is slightly different from version 1 that is currently pictured in the k-v-r database - the latest version has some additional controlability which perhaps makes all the difference. The range of treatments i was able to squeeze out of this plug ranged from mild overdrive , distortion , doubling , thickerning , filtering to pseudo equalisation......you get my drift! I find this plug is more usefull to me than the range of similar treatments that Logic has and it is certainly more flexible as well. I think the secret to using this plug is how you use the gain structure i.e the gain , level , input and output controls that have a subtle (or not!) effect on the overall results that can be achieved. Monophonic sounds need to be treated in a seperate way to layers of sound i.e polyphonic. I found that using a wide variety of sound sources such as guitar , bass , organ , lead , orchestral ect allied to single and polyphonic playing styles resulted in very different but emminently suitable fx patch creation. The real positive that came out of using this plug (for me)is that if you spend time getting to know 'your' plug rather than putting it in the recycle bin because it is initially not doing what you expected or wanted you might end up surprising yourself! So there you have it a FREE , flexible and in my opinion very usable sound processor.