Well that didn't take very long! Right on the tail of unleashing U-NO-LX, the first commercial project from freeware faves Togu Audio Line, they've released version 2.0. Upgraded features include a warmer, more accurate filter model, an improved and calibrated chorus, and more. The update is free to existing U-NO-LX license holders. As if that's not enough reason to check it out, TAL has reduced the price to only $40!
So, I've been fortunate enough to have a borrowed Arturia Minibrute in my studio for the past week. I had hoped to do a full-fledged review, but as my band's US tour starts in a few days, I've been pretty busy and didn't get to put some of the features, such as USB integration, through their paces. So I'm going to offer a less-structured than usual look at the synth here and address what I did get to try.
I've seen a couple reviews that characterized the build quality of the Minibrute as "cheap". I'm at a bit of a loss to understand why, as I actually found it to be remarkably solid (It's quite a bit heavier than I expected it to be). There are some synths that just feel sturdy when you handle them, and I'd put the Minibrute in that category. All the knobs and sliders move easily and smoothly, the pitch and mod wheels travel naturally, and the keyboard feels sturdy and playable. I should note that the unit I was testing had just been out on the road with the band Covenant for several weeks, which can be a punishing test for gear. It seems to have held together very well, and had I not taken it from the band directly, I never would've known it had been out on the road.
The architecture of the Minibrute is not dissimilar to Roland's famous SH-101 with some interesting additions. The Minibrute features a single oscillator, but with multiple waveforms available at the same time. This way you can mix differing amounts of saw, square, triangle, and noise to alter the basic timbre. The square wave is capable of PWM, opening the door to some thicker sounds, and the saw wave features an "Ultrasaw" mode, which is a sort of unison type effect. The triangle wave features a Metallizer mode that opens the door to harsh, metallic, FM-type sounds. Additionally, there is a suboscillator with selectable waveforms and a choice of sounding -1 or -2 octaves below the main oscillator. Portamento/glide settings are also available.
The oscillators are fed through a multi-mode filter in lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and notch varieties. Standard cutoff and resonance controls are found here, along with controls for envelope modulation amount and keyboard tracking amount. There is also a switch to select a "slow" or "fast" envelope speed, allowing you to try out different filter slopes.
For modulation sources there is a single LFO with multiple waveform flavors, a dedicated filter modulation envelope, and a dedicated amplitude envelope. There's also a "Brutalizer" knob to introduce an overdrive effect to your sound.
Rounding things out is classic-style, syncable arpeggiator.
If there is one facet of the Minibrute that lets it down, I'd say it was the oscillators. I'm not sure I can figure out why, but the raw tone of the Minibrute sounds rather weak and thin to me. Play a single sawtooth on a real Minimoog and even in that raw state it has undeniable balls and substance. That's not really the case here. The other thing I noticed was a bit of a lack of low-end power. You can get some warm sounds out of it, but this won't be something you'll likely seek out for bass sounds. Even with the sub-oscillator engaged I had trouble getting floor-rumbling frequencies one usually associates with real analog synths.
The Ultrasaw function can help add some thickness, but its range of usefulness is relatively small to my ears. After a certain point, it just makes the sound muddy and indistinct. At lower settings, however, it can give the illusion of a second, detuned oscillator. The Metallizer can produce some very cool sounds if you're into harsh, nasty, metallic sounds. It can be modulated via envelope or LFO as well to further expand the sonic possibilities.
The filter section, conversely, is the area where the Minibrute really shines. In fact, it was the filter section of this synth that caught my interest the first time I read about it. The Minibrute's synth is the same type of filter as found on the rare Steiner-Parker Synthacon. If you've never heard one of these beasts, you've missed out on one of the most interesting-sounding synth filters since the Korg MS-20. In fact, like the MS-20, this filter can absolutely scream in a way few others can. Of course, you can also get more standard classic filter sounds and even acidic sounds at more subtle settings. The selection of multiple types of filter is a huge advantage, and each type sounds fantastic in its own way. The selectable filter envelope slope is a great addition, too. Even at the "slow" setting you can get some very punchy, percussive sounds, just with an overall "rounder" feel to them than the very spikey "fast" mode.
The modulation options are simple, but about what you would expect from a mono synth. The only thing I wasn't really crazy about was using the LFO to modulate PWM. Again, I found the really useable range of modulation here was relatively small. As you modulate at higher frequencies, it comes across more as vibrato, whereas on other synths you'd just get a fatter, more detuned sound.
I've got to say, I didn't care for the Brutalizer at all. It can indeed add dirt and balls to your sound, but something about it just sounded really unmusical and displeasing (not in a good way). Your mileage may vary.
What you think about the Minibrute is going to be largely based on what your expectations are. It definitely has a distinct sound, but it doesn't do everything equally well. As I mentioned before, basses are possible, but not very remarkable due to a lack of low frequency balls. The envelopes are very fast, but for some reason, I wasn't able to get drum and percussion sounds of the quality I could produce on my SH-101. It may be the unusual quality of the filter, but overall drums, are not its strong suit.
What the Minibrute does well is classic leads, unusual metallic timbres, and unique synth-type sounds. And, as I said before, it is great for screamy, shrieking bits of aggressiveness. In fact, this, combined with the overall mid/high bias of the oscillators might make it especially appealing to people working in electro-house.
At first, the Minibrute doesn't seem especially flexible, but it's one of those synths where small differences in settings can often yield significantly different sounds. Be realistic, though... this is a one-oscillator mono synth. It's architecture is inherently limited, so of course you're not going to get the range of sounds you'd get out of something like a Pro One.
I can't really compare the sound of the Minibrute to any classic synth. While it might be tempting to expect it to sound like an SH-101, it really doesn't - perhaps because a large part of the 101's sound was from the Roland filter. That's obviously a good thing if you're looking for a more unique sound, but bad if you're looking to replace an existing piece of analog gear.
Would I Buy It?
There's no doubt that, at its price of under $500, the Minibrute is tempting - after all, this is a fully-analog synth. The less impressive oscillators have me on the fence, though. I love the filter, and it can indeed add some interest to the oscillators, but I can't help feeling like just the addition of better oscillators would take this synth to a whole different level. Of course, this synth does have a filter input, so you could use it to process your other synths, but it seems a bit extravagant to buy one just for that. Put it this way... when I first heard about the Minibrute my brain instantly said "Buy!", but after spending some time with it, I'm a little less excited. At this point, I am a bit more inclined to see if these start turning up on the used market. Not that the price is unreasonable at all, but a second-hand unit would be a lot easier to justify, as there's not a specific hole this synth would fill in my studio.
I hope this was at least somewhat enlightening. I'm not going to assign it a number score, as I really only put the synthesis functions to the test and not the other features such as USB, CV outputs, etc.
As I know a lot of you out there are frustratedly waiting for your Arturia Minibrute, I thought today I would share a sampled sound of the one I have in my studio for the moment. This sound is an aggressive, noisy bass/sequencer sound. If you happen to have a Minibrute and want to program the sound yourselves, the picture above is of the settings for this sound. 8-multisamples as WAV files.
One of Linplug's earliest products was the CronoX synth, a ROMpler-type synth that mixed samples and synthesis much in the way the popular ROMplers in the 90's did. Three further revisions and many years later, we have Linplug's latest: CrX4, a radical update that brings this type of synthesis into the 21st century.
WHAT IS IT?
You can think of CrX4 as the Swiss Army knife of sample-based synthesis. Although it has built-in virtual analog oscillators you can use, most of CrX4's sounds come from the manipulation of samples via a number of different specialized sample engines. To be clear, though, this is not a sampler. CrX4 generally works using a single sample versus multi-sampled, round robin, multi-velocity layered super samples. While this sounds restrictive, the different sample engines help you get a lot more mileage out of a single sample than you would imagine.
Installation takes place via your run-of-the-mill installer with authorization coming via a simple serial number system.
The manual is a 70-page PDF file downloaded with the synth. It's well-written and quite easy to understand. Although much of the synth will make sense right out of the box if you have a decent grip on subtractive synthesis.
As we've come to expect from Linplug, the layout of CrX4 is clean, easy-to-read, and logically laid out. As I just mentioned, anyone familiar with subtractive synthesis will feel at home rather quickly with the basic architecture of the synth. CrX4's architecture is based around 4 "Generators" (each of which can be either a VA oscillator, a noise source, or one of three sample engines), 2 multi-mode filters with dedicated envelopes, an AMP envelope, a free MOD envelope, 4 LFO's, a mod matrix, dedicated multi-effects, and an arp/step sequencer that can also work as a mod source. So pretty nicely appointed, then.
Let's start out by examining the different types of Generators. The first of these is the Oscillator Generator. This is not sample-based and uses waveforms familiar to analog synths that are continuously variable between pulse and saw waves, with in-between settings offering a blend of the two. You'll find your standard fine and coarse tunings (or even select for the oscillator not to track the keyboard at all), the option to have your oscillators free-running, or always retriggered, and, very cooly, an aliasing amount knob that allows you to add digital grit to your sounds if you feel like recreating the rough sounds of early sample-based synths like the Ensoniq ESQ-1.
The next Generator is the Noise Generator. Far from just offering a "level" knob, the Noise Generator here has a lowpass filter and a highpass filter (each with independent resonance controls) which can be mixed between using the Mix knob. As you can imagine, even before you hit the synth's main filters, you already have quite a bit of tone-sculpting options. There is also a "rough" button that provides a more gnarly, digital version of noise when the tuning settings are set to low values.
The first of the sample-based Generators is the Time Sampler Generator. This Generator allows you to load a single WAV or AIFF file and alter its length and pitch independently and in real time. The sample can be mapped to the whole keyboard, or just a range if you want to use each Generator in your patch to create a split zone in the keyboard.
Next up is the Wavetable Generator. As you can imagine, this uses the WAV or AIFF you feed it to build a Wavetable like you might find on a Waldorf synth.
Finally, we have the Loop Sampler Generator. This operates more like your standard sampler, allowing you to loop sustaining sounds adjusting sample start, loop start, and loop end, using loop-smoothing, etc.
The Generators all share the same tuning controls, individual volume controls, and filter-routing knobs that allow you to route a Generator to either filter, or a mixture of both. Many of the generators also offer a "spread" parameter that is essentially a "supersaw" unison type effect that does its thing without eating up extra polyphony. The sample-based Generators also have optional waveform displays you can view to visually set loops and the like. The final bit of note is that each set of two Generators can be cross-modulated via AM or FM for some really out there digital sounds.
CrX4's two filters are identical to one another. They each offer lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and band-reject filters in either 12 or 24db versions. The Standard filter allows you to select one of the four filter types, whereas the Free filter makes the transitions between filter types continuously variable, allowing you to blend the characteristics of multiple filter types. Cool! Each filter includes its own saturation setting for dirtying things up, cutoff, resonance, filter type, keyboard tracking amount, envelope amount, velocity amount, and pan settings. You can set the balance between the two filters and use dedicated Edit Menu to copy and paste settings in between filters. You can also select for the filters to run in parallel or serial.
The filters share a dedicated envelope for modulation. These are Attack Hold Decay Sustain Release envelopes. What makes them especially nice is that you can select a slope type for the A, D, and R segments of the envelope allowing you to go from linear to logarithmic curves to allow you to really sculpt the envelope beyond the standard controls.
You'll find the AMP envelope up in the MAIN section which includes a number of global controls. Here you can select oscillator precision, Glide settings, the number of voices, and velocity settings. There is also a Chord Memory function here if you want to store a chord to play back whenever you hit a key.
The MOD envelope has the same design as the others, but can be assigned to modulate any parameter you assign to it in the mod matrix.
The 4 LFO's are identical to one another and are assignable as mod sources via the Mod Matrix. 9 different waveshapes including random are available, as are settings for frequency (syncable, of course), delay, attack, phase, and symmetry to help you further tweak your LFO modulations. The LFOs can be run in either polyphonic or monophonic modes, as well.
The Mod Matrix offers 10 slots with 30 available sources and 56 destinations, so you can see that the modulation possibilities are pretty extensive. Everything operates here are you would expect it to with the source on the left, the destination on the right, and the positive or negative modulation amount in the center.
Next, we round things up with a programmable arpeggiator that can be used in the standard fashion, or as a step sequencer to modulate the destination(s) of your choice. You have up to 32 steps at your disposal and the level of flexibility puts this close to an analog step sequencer depending on how you assign it to modulate.
Finally, everything is sent through the built-in multi-effects which offers bit-crushers, EQ, stereo enhancement, a gater, flanger, reverb, phaser, chorus, 3 types of delay, and a filter. There are six effects slots in all with each group allowing the selection of a certain number of effects. This is more than enough to add polish and depth to your sounds and is flexible enough that plenty of customization is possible. Of course, each of the individual effects have their own range or parameters that can be individually programmed for further customization.
As you can see, Linplug didn't hold back on the features with this synth. With so many synthesis types on offer and such well-thought-out programming features, you'd be forgiven for thinking CrX4 is a difficult synth to come to grips with. On the contrary, thanks to a nicely laid out user interface, CrX4 is quite simple to use once you get yourself up to speed on some of the ins and outs of the different types of generators.
The Sample Generators sound very good and can handle WAV or AIF files up to 24-bit/96k. It's a lot of fun loading in your own material and twisting them beyond recognition. The Waveform Generators are fine for what they are, but honestly, if you're looking for virtual analog type sounds, you'd do better to look elsewhere. I found the waveform generators a bit sterile here. The Aliasing knob is a really nice touch I'd like to see on more synths, though. Really helps to add some interesting dirt.
The filters sound nice, although, again, they're not exactly full of character. This is more apparent with the synth waveforms, though. They seem much more effective on sampled material for whatever reason. Speaking of which, CrX4 ships with over a GB of sample material to get you started. While there are some acoustic/"real" instrument sounds, most of the sounds are decidedly synthetic and digital. I like this, personally. Too many sample-based synths try to be all things to all people and you often end up with a boring selection of the same old sounds every other workstation has.
As you might expect for a synth of this type, it really excels at pads, effects, and evolving sounds. It's a lot of fun time-stretching a bunch of sounds beyond recognition and setting them off one another. The built-in effects are also really nice sounding and can do a lot to bring sounds to life. CrX4 is less successful for bass type sounds. There are some nice ones, to be sure, but the overall tone of CrX4 seems to be biased more towards the highs and high mids than the low end. As such, it's a synth that cuts through a mix very well.
If you are looking for a synth that offers some interesting, unique textures and loads of programmability, you should definitely give CrX4 a spin. In an age where so many manufacturers are laser-focused on recreating analog sounds, it's kind of refreshing to play an instrument that wears its digital sheen with pride! [8/10]
Meant to post about this last week, but better late than never. Xfer Records have released another terrific freebie in the form of OTT, a multiband compressor with a very aggressive character. It is available for Windows in VST format and for Mac in VST and AU format.
I had a conversation last week with someone about Delia Derbyshire, the pioneering female electronic musician most famous for her stunning electronic realization of the Dr. Who theme song. But she did a lot more equally groundbreaking work many people haven't heard. Using tape loops, scientific oscillators, feedback, and other audio equipment, Derbyshire and her fellow musicians in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop created works that pre-dated modern techniques such as sampling by decades. Have a listen to some of her amazing work and keep in mind most of these are from the early 1960's. If that doesn't blow your mind, your mind is probably unblowable.
A couple years ago, Poland's D16 Group announced their next product would be a modeled Roland SH-101. Given the quality of their prior products, there was good reason for the initial burst of excitement this announcement generated. But as time went on with little news, some people feared it would be vaporware. Well, those people can relax, as today D16 announced that LuSH-101 will be released soon an offered some details of what the synth can do.
LuSH-101 uses the basic architecture of the 101 and expands on it from there adding an extra envelope and LFO, a Unison mode, built-in FX, and an 8 layer set-up that allows you to build seriously big sounds with 8 layers, or control each layer independently. A specific release date and price have yet to be announced, but it appears that our long wait is about to end.
Today's head-scratcher comes via an article in Prefix Magazine in which Amanda Palmer, who recently rather famously raised $1.2 million dollars on Kickstarter, claims she can't afford to pay her band and is asking fans to play for nothing more than the "privilege" of joining her on stage.
Palmer claims that she is doing this because hiring the types of musicians she needs for the tour would cost her $35,000, which she simply "couldn't afford". Excuse me? Palmer must have quite a pair of brass balls to make that sort of claim.
In a few weeks, my band will be beginning our US tour. My band and crew get paid every single show. Last time I checked, I only had about $1,000 in my bank account. If Palmer can't do the same with $1.2 million in the bank, she's doing something seriously wrong.
Clarification: I was informed by someone who had seen a show on this tour that the musicians in question only played on 3 songs, and that her regular band was compensated. I stand by my point, however, that someone at Palmer's level of success can't convincingly play the "I can't afford it", especially after her fans have handed over $1.2 million dollars.
Sad news in the world of music today as news reaches us that producer/mixing engineer Bill Kennedy, probably most famous for his work with Nine Inch Nails, has passed away in Edmonton. Not much else is known aside from that at the moment, but he will be missed. Check out his extensive legacy here.
PSP Audioware are no strangers to delay plug-ins, having previously released Lexicon PSP 42, PSP 85, and the PSP 608 Multi-delay, but until now they hadn't taken a swing at creating a tape delay. That all changes with the newest member of the PSP family, the simply-named Echo.
WHAT IS IT?
PSP Echo is a feature-laden emulation of a tape echo unit. If you're not familiar with this type of effect, back in the days before digital delays, echo effects were achieved with a unit that basically contained a specially modified tape recorder. A record head would record the incoming signal to tape and an adjustable playhead would then play the signal back slightly later depending on the settings. What made it special was that you could set it up so each successive delay either brightened or darkened in tone, which, with high feedback settings, could create some wonderfully degrading sounds. This very warm, distinctive type of echo eventually became a hallmark of dub music.
Installation is simple as can be and authorization is performed by via use of an automatic authorization program downloaded from the PSP website.
Documentation consists of a 14-page illustrated PDF file. It does a good job of explaining the function of each of the controls in a concise manner. It does assume some degree of familiarity with how a delay works, but that's the sort of thing easily discoverable through some experimentation. It's more fun that way, too.
Like all of PSP's plug-ins, Echo mimics the look of vintage hardware, right down to the wood panels. Controls are laid out in an easy-to-read and logic manner, making tweaking easy and fun.
The top line of controls consists of settings for the virtual "tape" that creates the delays including "wow" frequency and depth to imitate the warping experienced on old machines with inconsistent tape speed. You can even set the IPS (inches per second) that controls the quality of the sound recorded to tape. Slower speeds result in a darker, less hi-fi sound, with high speeds providing the opposite. There is also an input knob that lets you trim the input levels of the signal, and settings that allow you to manually set delay times or have them automatically sync to your hosts tempo. You'll also find the Ping Pong knob which allows you to control the amount of stereo ping-pong in the delays from quite wide to mono.
On the very right side of the top row is the Ducker button. Depressing this switches views from the tape settings to the settings for the built-in ducker. This is useful for preventing the echos from clashing with the original input sound and is a nice luxury not usually found on these types of effects. You'll find settings for the Threshold (the level at which the ducker kicks in), Range (amount of signal attenuation), Open (how long it takes the ducker to open), and Close (bet you can guess what that does).
The center panel consists of all the controls for the timing of your echoes. As mentioned previously, these can automatically sync to note divisions of your DAW's host tempo, or can be set manually in milliseconds like we did in the bad old days. As a third option, there is a Tap Tempo control to allow you to manually tap in the tempo you'd like the delays to occur in. Finally, if your delays get a bit out of control due to high feedback settings, there is a panic button that will stop the effect.
On either side of the center panel are identical sets of controls for both the left and right channels. These include knobs for Drive (adds a tape-like saturation to the delayed sound), highpass, lowpass, and combined filters for altering the tonal content of each successive echo, Feedback (the number of echos), and FB-Pan, which allows you to set the pan for the delayed signal.
Finally, at the bottom is the Output section. Here you'll find settings for Linking channels (so both left and right channels have the same settings), Spread (controls the stereo spread of the dry signal), Dry Balance (balance between the left and right channels), and your standard Wet/Dry controls. THE VERDICT
Echo is one of those plug-ins that clearly had a lot of thought put into it. Sure, it does what you expect it to, but they throw in nice extras like the ducker or the tape speed selector that take it a step beyond. It's easy enough to use for beginners, but there is plenty to be tweaked under the hood for more experienced users, so it's a plug-in that will grow with the user.
Soundwise, the quality is every bit as excellent as you would expect from PSP's rather sterling reputation. The tape effects sound extremely convincing and exhibit all the artifacts of the real deal as you change settings on the fly. In terms of flexibility, you can achieve just about any kind of delay effect you might need from short, rockabilly slapbacks for vocals and guitar, to trippy, evolving dub echoes. The tape wow emulation also sounds great on pads and sustained sounds for making them sound like they're coming from a piece of gear on its last legs.
For many years, my tape echo plug-in of choice was the excellent one built in to Logic. I think that all may change, though, now that Echo is on the scene. [10/10]
Today's sample miniset consists of the famous Roland TR-909 kick fed through a variety of limiters, compressors, fatteners, distortions, and filters perfect for adding some serious oomph to any track. 10 24-bit WAV samples weigh in just under 700k.