I’m lazy. I distinctly remember Mr Bacon, my primary school headmaster, telling me as much one summer’s day circa 1981. He was a proper, old-school (excuse the pun) headmaster. Tweed jacket, cane, loud and opinionated. And as he remonstrated with me, aged 11, about the shocking state of my school desk, I felt hurt by his words. It certainly gave me a complex about my attitude to hard work, which remains with me to this day. But, I actually think that rather than being lazy, I was merely trying to be efficient. I only ever want to exert energy where I know there will be rewards for it. There’s no point working your nuts off if you’re not going to get anything to show for your effort! So when it comes to music making, I want my tools and processes to be as simple and effortless as possible. I want a DAW that gives me all the tools I need, in an easy-to-use manner, accessible and with no obstruction to my work flow. The same can be said for my instruments of choice. I want tools that are consistently good, powerful, entertaining and inspiring. Cue Arturia’s V Collection, now in its 6th iteration.
You may remember that when I first reviewed version 4, I was impressed by the suite of tools available, but critical of the varying sizes of GUI and the fact that some still used the GUIs that they had been born with, all tiny and awkward on my large 27″ screen. Then, when version 5 came out, I was delighted by the new, large and consistent GUIs employed throughout, as well as the inclusion of Synclavier V. So how, I often wondered in the following months, would they top that? Where could they go from here? What new gems could they conjure up? Well, it turns out I needn’t have worried!
V Collection 6 launched at the back end of 2017 to a fanfare of new toys and arguments about upgrade pricing, the latter of which we will touch on later. But there was far more exciting and constructive news surrounding the V Collection’s new additions, one of which is VERY exciting for me in particular.
At the core of V Collection is Analog Lab. This is a bit like Apple’s MainStage but for all of Arturia’s instruments only. It provides a one-stop-shop to access all of the instruments and your favourite patches and presets. If you own one of Arturia’s controller keyboard’s, like the KeyLab61 that I have here, then the experience gets even better, with deep integration between the application and the keyboard’s display and numerous knobs, faders and pads. You can create and manage playlists of your favourite patches as well as use the intuitive search panel to quickly find appropriate sounds based on types, styles, instruments or banks. You also have direct access to Arturia’s preset bank store, where you can buy collections of custom built presets, many of which are built in homage to some great artists, such as Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre and Pink Floyd, as well as many others from Arturia’s own sound design team or the likes of Richard Devine. In my opinion, Analog Lab is either a great performance tool or a superb starting point for songwriting. But many people will simply want to pick out certain instruments to explore, so let’s take a look at what you get.
Just like version 5, you get the following instruments, most of which have been upgraded, with one or two simply getting minor updates. They are:
As I said back when I reviewed version 5, that’s a really great selection of instruments that ought to cover most, if not all, bases. But Arturia have made some significant and notable additions. These are:
And yes, you read that right. CMI V. Arturia have only gone and made a virtual Fairlight CMI! And yes, that’s a Buchla Easel emulation there too! Those two alone raised many an eyebrow. The Clavinet V didn’t seem to make much of an impact amongst those of us reading through the check list, and you could hear the internet’s eyes roll at the prospect of another DX7 clone. But yeah… a virtual CMI pretty much knocked me for six and I have to say I was excited and hugely skeptical in equal measure!
I guess that you’re expecting to now read about my experience with the CMI V, given my history with the real things, and as I was writing this review, that’s exactly what I did. So much so that it soon became VERY clear that my musings on the CMI V actually deserved a post of their own. If you want to read that, visit this page! For those of you here for a more general review of V Collection 6, I will keep my CMI V comments brief.
Taking on a virtual recreation of such a legendary machine is a brave decision and one has to applaud Arturia for being true to form and going for it. And, after spending some time with CMI V, I am happy to say they have done a sterling job. It’s not a full on recreation, it does take some artistic licence with the visuals, features and functionality, but none of this occurs at the expense of capturing a lot of the essence of the real thing. A Fairlight CMI is a unique beast, and using it requires some patience and for the operator to “unlearn” some of their workflows and practices in order to accommodate the way things were done 35+ years ago. Navigating the UI can be frustrating, especially to anyone more adept at flying around the likes of Logic, Cubase, Reason or Live. So it is nice to see how Arturia have tackled the conflict of old and new with CMI V. The GUI is in no way a recreation of the original Fairlight GUI, except for the green on black nature of the graphics and text. It is nice to see a 3D representation of the waveforms, albeit really only for cosmetic purposes, and their interpretation of Page R is cleaner, more intuitive and expanded from the original. But it retains the limitations of the original which inspired users back then to come up with creative ways of using it. It is not a replacement for the sequencer in your DAW, and nor should it be. It is a creative tool and, as such, works very well indeed. The one thing that really did impress me about CMI V was Arturia’s inclusion of the Fairlight’s additive synthesis functionality. Again, it is not 100% identical, but it is very welcome and maybe now more people will appreciate that the original CMI was a lot more than just the world’s first digital sampler. As I said before, read my separate CMI V review for more details.
I guess, like most, the next biggest surprise was the inclusion of the Buchla Easel V. I don’t think anyone outside of Arturia saw that one coming and it seems to have happily coincided with Buchla’s own news of new ownership and leadership, which includes my dear friend Marc Doty, of Automatic Gainsay fame. I have never used, let alone seen an Easel and know nothing of its workings or who or where it was used. But it certainly is a very unique synth with a unique interface that Arturia seem to have emulated very closely. As for how it sounds, I can’t say how close it matches the original hardware. I’m hoping that one day soon, I can discuss this with Marc and hopefully post about that here. Flicking through the presets delivers a wide range of tones, from the bizarre squeals and drones to the instantly useable bass or lead patches. The interface is bewildering to anyone who is rooted in the more traditional forms of synthesis and therefore, the Buchla Easel V represents a new challenge and a new musical journey for many who could, and should, endeavour to learn more about what is often called “West Coast Synthesis”.
Clavinet V, for me, is probably the weakest of the new additions, but then I’m not aware of many Clavinet plug ins out there that aren’t purely sample based and so this certainly plugs a gap. Whether that’s a gap that needed plugging is another matter, but it’s another tool in the armoury. Of course, the first thing people will want to hear is how well it replicates Stevie Wonder’s use of it in ‘Superstition’, and it does indeed hit that nail on the head, but this instrument is pretty much a one trick pony, whose presets are mostly FX driven because there’s very little you can do with the source instrument itself.
And finally, the DX7 V. After the shock and surprise of the CMI V and Buchla Easel V, this one gets the eye rolls. So many people took to their keyboards when v6 dropped, asking why the world needed yet another DX7 clone, given that we have so many. For example, Native Instruments have been on this particular bandwagon for many years with FM7 and FM8. Propellerhead delivered an excellent emulation with PX7, even having the nouse to collect up 200,000+ DX7 patches from all corners of the internet and put them into a free ReFill. And then you have DEXED, the brilliant and free plug in that not only emulated the DX7 incredibly well, and comes with a ton of original patches, but also acts as an editor for actual DX7s!! So what does DX7 V bring to the table? Well, given that the original hardware was an absolute dog to program on its own, most modern software interpretations strive to simplify this process and Arturia haven’t broken this tradition. A nice, extendable interface extends from the main keyboard to give you a bunch of simplified, yet capable controls with which to manipulate and explore the FM engine. There are also additional waveforms available, such as those from the TX81Z, so it broadens the scope of this plug in beyond the basic DX7. You can import original DX7 patches, much like most other emulations, and it features a modelled DAC from the original, as well as a more modern version. Similarly, the notorious max 100 velocity of the original can be replicated here, as well as a more conventional 127. There’s also a nice, big modulation matrix which can help fashion some quite unique sounds. Given that FM has had a bit of a resurgence of late, I suppose the DX7 V’s inclusion here isn’t a surprise but I’m not 100% sure if Arturia have done enough to be wildly different from its competitors, particularly DEXED which, for a free plug in, is nothing short of incredible.
As for the rest of the bunch, it is pretty much business as usual. Some have received under-the-hood updates, some have just received small cosmetic changes to keep in line with the overall UI concept. As always, that UI is superb and the uniform implementation across all components is both welcome and useful. The search facilities make navigating patches a breeze and the graphics of the instruments themselves is clean and clear.
The entire V Collection is managed superbly by the Arturia Software Centre (ASC) which takes care of licensing, upgrades and installation in a very quiet and efficient manner.
One further thing I want to mention before wrapping this up is the ever-expanding selection of preset packs that Arturia are putting out there. These small but perfectly formed collections of presets have been designed either by Arturia’s in-house team or by third parties, such as Richard Devine. Some are genre-based, but there is an increasing number of artist-based packs, such as the ones that pay homage to the likes of Pink Floyd, Vangelis, Jarre, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. Priced between €4.99 and €7.99, with some, such as ‘Lyli’s Signature” pack, being free, these are some amazingly accurate and inspirational sounds that work either in Analog Lab 3 or the individual instruments they were designed to use.
Take a listen to the Kraftwerk-inspired bank…
Does V Collection still represent great value for money? At €/$499 I believe that it does. All of the individual versions of the instruments that make up this suite are around €/$199 each, so if you’re after 3 or more of these, then it’s a no brainer. And Analog Lab, coupled with an Arturia KeyLab controller, is a compelling argument for owning this package alone. It’s a superb hybrid that really does achieve what it sets out to do.
Is it a worthwhile upgrade? Well, that has been a bone of contention for many. Upgrade prices can be hugely contentious. Make it to high and you risk alienating existing users. Too low, and you risk devaluing your products which can, and often does, impact your future pricing strategies. At the time of writing this article, the upgrade price to move from v5 to v6 is €/$249. For that money you can buy just one of the new additions, and have €/$50 left over. If you fancy having the two really interesting additions of CMI V and Buchla Easel V, then the upgrade is a no brainer as you will save yourself €/$150. As well as getting the four new instruments, you’re also getting all the new versions of the rest, and Arturia do include all updates to all instruments as part of the package. In fact, they sometimes update individual instruments from previous versions of V Collection for free, even if they’ve been superseded. So in my opinion, as a whole, the upgrade price is probably about right. Of course I’d love to see it as cheap as possible, but I also understand the business model and the fact that a great many people feel, quite wrongly, entitled to everything for as little as possible. We’re all trying to pay the bills, bro’, but so are the guys and gals at Arturia, who are FAR from driving around in gold plated Ferrari’s and living in mansions. I applaud a strong but fair pricing policy.
Overall, as with previous iterations of the V Collection, this is still, pound for pound, probably one of the best soft synth suites out there.