UVI Falcon – Review

UVI Falcon – Review

When I see the enormity, proliferation and acceptance of ‘mega’, ‘all-in-one’ software instruments, I see it is a clear indication of how far software synthesizers have come. And I have personally come a long way too, when it comes to software synthesis. My opinion of it has completely changed since the day I won the ‘prestigious’ letter of the month in Future Music magazine, issue 151 (July 2004), bemoaning the demise of traditional hardware in the wake of software based instrumentation.

Letter of the Week, July 2004 Future Music issue 151

Letter of the Week, July 2004 Future Music issue 151

It wasn’t that long ago that I explored the über hardware synths of Yamaha. Vast behemoths of synthesis, rare and virtually unique and genetic parents to many a great, but altogether smaller, synth. These giant rarities spawned smaller, more affordable and manageable offspring and yet software synths seem to have done this in reverse. Smaller, more specific synths have repeatedly been bundled up into larger packages. And then there’s this ever increasing, and somewhat worrying trend of new, pocket sized hardware synths. For the price of any one of the rapidly growing number of ’boutique’ hardware synths (I am not specifically referring to Roland’s latest offering, but also products by the likes of Yamaha and Korg), you can pick up a software instrument that easily combines many of their features and wraps them up in a far more convenient, accessible and powerful way. For example, for around the same price as the new Yamaha reface DX, a cute little 4 operator mini-keyed, unit that revisits the original DX range of FM synths, you can buy UVI’s Falcon hybrid instrument, the subject of this review which, as you will soon learn, comes bundled with its own 4 operator FM synth, on top of all the other sound generators on offer and with a vast array of effects and other sound shaping tools. Ah, but the Falcon can’t import original Yamaha DX patches, you say! Well, neither can Yamaha’s own reface DX (But Propellerhead’s PX7 can, as can NI’s FM8). It just seems that we are moving towards a paradigm of huge, multi-functional synths that can perform a wide range of sonic manipulation functions and could, effectively, be the only instrument you need. Current contenders for the title of undisputed king of synths include Spectrasonics much lauded Omnisphere 2 and U-he’s Zebra. Oh, and one mustn’t forget MOTU’s Mach Five 3. Which, actually, brings me neatly on to something quite important.

Before I dive into this review of UVI’s Falcon, I want to make one thing incredibly clear from the outset. This is important and, in the interest of full disclosure, UVI were very keen to stress this to me in our communications on this particular fact.

UVI’s Falcon IS NOT a Mach Five 3 upgrade or update. Falcon and Mach Five 3 (from here on in, known as MF3) are two completely separate instruments sold by two different companies.

Ok, there it is. The official line. In bold. Right at the start. Just to be clear. And all that… 😉

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on and openly discuss Falcon, its capabilities, features, benefits and output. And we simply have to start with its heritage.

Now, I do not know the full details of UVI’s relationship with MOTU, nor would I ever claim to. But it is common knowledge that Mach Five 3 is based on the UVI Engine XT, developed, as if you hadn’t guessed, by UVI. Just how much of MF3 was down to UVI was a mystery to anyone outside of the inner circle, but given the many similarities between the user interfaces of MF3 and UVI’s own UVI Workstation, their own sample library player, I’d wager it was more than just the synthesis engine under the hood. Why am I mentioning all this? Well, if you have ever used MF3 the VERY FIRST THING you will notice about Falcon is that they look almost identical. Not completely, but as much as a certain British Prince looks like someone who isn’t his father, if you get my drift 😉 In fact, such are the similarities, you can actually forget that you are not working in MF3 in some places. So one is left to speculate as to what has happened here. MF3 has not received an update since the 3.2.1 point release in October of 2014. Attempts to reach out to MOTU have been met with silence or, at best, deflection. For example, last year I noticed that some of the newer UVI libraries, all of which we are huge fans of here, were throwing up some scripting errors in MF3. These errors suggested that the library had been developed in a newer version of the scripting engine. They could easily be dismissed and the libraries seemed to work ok. However, one or two suffered more than that. I reached out to MOTU whose response was that they were aware of the issue. That was it. No solution was offered. And UVI’s response was that all their libraries worked 100% in their UVI Workstation, which indeed they did. So there was this uneasy contretemps, and end users had to just accept it for what it was. I would frequently check MOTU’s site for updates, but nothing appeared. Updates to the UVI libraries didn’t solve anything either. Things seemed decidedly frosty but with no real explanation.

And then Falcon appeared. UVI had been rather quiet for some time in 2015. I didn’t think too much of it, to be honest. They launched things like Relayer, their very interesting delay plug in, but aside from occasional promotions on existing products, nothing big or exciting was forthcoming. Until a few weeks ago. When Falcon dropped, something very strange and yet incredibly welcome happened. All of a sudden, the internet was a buzz of excitement and wonder. For so long, UVI have, much to my dismay, slipped under the radar. My voice has, seemingly, only been one of a few who shout about their work on a regular basis. Everywhere I have looked in recent years, UVI seem to be regarded as that nice little sample library company that produce some nice looking stuff, but nobody seems to lose their shit over what they do, they way they seem to over every little thing Native Instruments or Arturia do. One of the most common complaints I get on places like YouTube, where I have a number of UVI video reviews hosted, is the disappointment of UVI’s libraries only being sample based and not full on virtual analog/digital emulations of the synths they are derived from. It seems UVI have always been the victim of stupid people not reading the box properly. And that is (or was) a big shame. The other thing is, if you really wanted to dig in to UVI libraries, get under the hood and really mess around, you needed to buy a 3rd party product, in MF3. Now, as we’ve already mentioned, I’m pretty certain that MF3 was almost entirely UVI’s work, but the every day musician in the street sees two brands. Two manufacturers. And that can breed distrust. It can come across as cumbersome, having to buy stuff from one place and the tool to really use it from somewhere else. And those errors that kept popping up in MF3? They didn’t help. If MOTU were responsible for MF3, why weren’t they addressing it? If UVI were responsible, why weren’t they fixing their libraries?

This is why I think Falcon exists. Unification. Finally, UVI can call ALL the shots. My guess, and it is nothing more than that, is that UVI started introducing new, more powerful features to their libraries. This, in turn, meant that the playback tools (UVI Workstation and MF3) needed updating. Now, the Workstation was easy. That was UVI’s product. But MF3 would need work, and if UVI were contracted to develop MF3, the update would have incurred costs to MOTU. Costs that they may well have been reluctant to cover. Hence the stagnation of their product. Now, don’t get me wrong. MF3 is still an incredibly powerful tool. Oh my, if you haven’t used it, you have no idea how great it is. But one has to wonder if things had begun to sour between the two companies. Or, as is more likely the case, contracts had begun to expire. Maybe UVI wanted to do more than MOTU were prepared to pay for? Maybe UVI simply wanted complete control of their intellectual property? It has been suggested that the relationship has simply changed and some people are speculating that we might see an embedded version of Falcon in a new release of MOTU’s Digital Performer DAW, either under the UVI brand, or simply as a MOTU branded exclusive. But all of this is speculation. As part of my research for this article, I scoured the internet for other people’s opinions and the posts over at the unofficial MOTUnation.com forum make for interesting reading. Whilst I have friends at UVI, they have always toed the company line and been restrained, evasive, yet diplomatic in their answer to my many questions. And I’d expect nothing more from these people. I can honestly say that the entire UVI team, that I have met and have interacted with, are some of the nicest people in the world. They are generous, helpful, kind, friendly and just bloody well nice! But they also have a vast amount of integrity. That’s a rare and special commodity these days. It counts for an awful lot in my book. I’m not sure if we’ll ever know the full story, such are corporate contracts these days, but so that I can tie this section up neatly, there is no doubt about Falcon’s heritage and that heritage has UVI DNA running through every part of it. Make no mistake. UVI have always been the people behind MF3. And Falcon takes EVERYTHING that MF3 could do to the next level and beyond. Shall we take a look now? Ok… follow me…

Overview of Falcon

So, after what has been a lengthy introduction, and I can’t promise that I won’t return to the MF3 comparisons throughout, let’s take a look at Falcon itself. Falcon is a fairly lightweight download, although I do say that from the perspective of someone who has a 70Mbps download speed. Falcon is a 373MB download, and the Factory library is a mere 606MB. So, in all, less than 1GB which I think is pretty reasonable. We’ll take a look at the Factory library later. Installation is a breeze and Falcon installs whichever versions you request. There is a standalone version, a VSTi, AUi and AAX plug-in version, all of which support Windows 7 and above and OS X 10.7 and above. That should easily cater for everyone. I have tested it primarily in standalone mode and also as an AUi plug-in within Reaper 5. Falcon is 64bit natively so as long as you’re running everything in 64bit, from your OS upwards, you should find it using your available memory in the most efficient way. As with all of UVI’s products in recent years, Falcon is protected by iLok, but if you’re one of these people with an irrational fear or hatred of dongles, fear not. You can also use iLok’s free software based Licence Manager instead, although I have never had an issue with iLok, and actually prefer the concept of a licence on a key because if my Mac should die, I can simply plug the key in my laptop and I’m up and running. Either way, installing Falcon is pretty painless and you will be up and running in no time.

When you fire Falcon up you will be presented with a window with three main areas. On the left, there is a section with three tabs, “Parts”, “Tree” and “List”. Parts shows you the parts that make up the Multi. This gives you an instant view of all the instruments, or Parts, you have loaded in the Multi and allows you to transpose, pan, set the volume and MIDI channel and select Mute or Solo on each part very quickly. Maybe now is a good time to talk about the structural hierarchy within Falcon.

My sampling history goes back to Akai, and it was in that world that I learned the craft. By the time Akai had reached their greatest ever hardware sampler, the mighty S6000, they had virtually perfected the structural methodology so that it was clean, simple and logical. Well, it is to me, anyway!

Let’s start at the bottom…

At the base level, you have a sample, or set of samples. You create keygroups into which you place these samples. A keygroup is the span across a piano keyboard that a sample occupies. It can be anything from one key to all 88. For example, if you had multi-sampled an instrument at every minor third, that’s 5 samples per octave; one at A, the next at C, the next at D#, the next at F# and another at the next A. This means that you only need to stretch that sample a semitone in either direction to fill in the missing notes. This would give you five keygroups. The first keygroup, using the A sample would cover the notes G# to A#, the C sample would cover B to C#, and so on. You build these keygroups up until you have covered your required keyspan. You could, of course, have multiple layers of keygroups. This gives you the ability to have layers of velocity-based samples. One layer for “piano”, then a “mezzoforte” layer and a “forte” layer, with each layer responding to a specific velocity range. This collection of keygroups is then known as your Program. In UVI’s terms, a Part contains a Program with one or more layers and/or keygroups. A collection of Parts forms a Multi. In basic MIDI terms, a Multi would normally consist of 16 Programs, or Parts, with each having their own MIDI channel for discrete triggering. Of course, you could have more (or less) than 16. Anyway, that’s the basic principle. And that is the basis on which Falcon works. For me, as someone whose sampling knowledge is hard-wired into the Akai method, UVI’s approach just makes total sense. Each component, be it a keygroup, layer, program, part or multi, can have effects, modulators and musical events applied to it. That means an almost incomprehensible amount of control and sound-shaping possibilities.

The left hand panel has two more tabs, Tree and List. Tree is a great way of seeing, at a glance, the hierarchical structure of a Part, with collapsible sections, so that you can really see what is going on at every level of the Part. The List tab reveals the nitty-gritty information about the part, such as tuning, MIDI assignments, memory size, polyphony, etc.

FALCON_www-pp-in-depth-interface_tree

For old farts like me, brought up on traditional hardware sampling via instruments such as Fairlights, Emulators and Akais, this construction and hierarchy makes total sense. For the “youngsters”, it might be a bit baffling, but trust me, this is the most logical and intuitive way of understanding how sampling, and indeed synthesis, works. Get your head around this and so much more will make sense. Hats off to UVI for this approach.

On the right of the Falcon window is the Preset Browser section. This has six tabs. The first of these is like a regular tree-like structure. It is where any UVI libraries (with the .UFS extension) will appear under the Soundbanks section (you need to point Falcon to your Soundbanks location in Preferences first). UVI Soundbanks show up as large, clear sections, many of which feature the branding and logo of the package for easy visual reference. You can also view content under this tab by Devices (attached drives) and Places (locations within your computer). The next tab shows Falcon’s numerous oscillators. Simply choose one and drag it onto the mapping area. I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention the 15 types of oscillator that Falcon comes supplied with:

  • IRCAM Granular
  • IRCAM Multi Granular
  • IRCAM Scrub
  • IRCAM Stretch
  • Sample
  • Slice
  • Stretch
  • Analog
  • Analog Stack
  • Drum
  • FM
  • Noise
  • Organ
  • Pluck
  • Wavetable
  • FALCON_www-pp-in-depth-interface_browser

    That’s a whole lotta oscillators! Three more, in fact, than Mach Five 3, namely the IRCAM Multi Granular, IRCAM Scrub and Pluck. The IRCAM Multi Granular is a multi-voice variant of the IRCAM Granular oscillator. Each voice can be varied in multiple ways to achieve a range of unison effects. IRCAM Scrub is similar in usage to IRCAM Granular, with random-access scrubbing and speed/direction control, but uses the same top-quality algorithm as the IRCAM Stretch oscillator. Pluck is a physically inspired string synthesis module, aimed toward synthetic sounds with a natural decay. A short excitation waveform is triggered and fed through a filtered delay line; the characteristics of the decay are determined by the waveform, filter style, and other adjustments. IRCAM Granular, Sample, Slice, Stretch & IRCAM Stretch pretty much do what they say on the tin, with the IRCAM Stretch being better quality than the non-IRCAM variant, but at the price of some extra processing cycles. Analog is a simple Analog VA, Stack is much the same but loads up eight analog oscillators and gives an easier work flow when using multiple analog VA oscillators. Drum is a VA oscillator designed specifically for creating drum-type sounds, FM is a four operator FM oscillator, Organ provides an 8 drawbar electric organ oscillator and Wavetable allows for preset or user waveforms to be loaded and then modulated between, creating some pretty unique sounds. Users can import their own waveforms, or even image files to create utterly unique sounds. Every oscillator comes with a good number of presets too, just to get you started.

    Each of these oscillators has a wealth of controls specific to them, and the ones that seem to have been carried over from MF3 have been, in many cases, greatly improved upon, both from a performance and visual perspective. At the very simplest level, you can very quickly begin creating new analog synth patches, or sample based programs but it is when you start messing around with granularisation in samples, or loading up unique image files to create highly individual wavetables that you begin to see the sonic possibilities on offer. And then, you can start combining them. And the effects!! The rabbit hole goes deep…

    The next two tabs contain all the effects, separated into two sections; Effects and Multi-Effects, the latter being groups of effects that can be recalled with a single click for convenience. Effects are categorised by type, and then under each are an insane amount of presets. Naturally, you can create your own settings and then save those for recall later. I am not going to go into detail here, because doing so would mean we’d be here for years. Suffice to say, the depth and quality of the effects provided are fantastic. Included in there are such luminaries as UVI’s exquisite Sparkverb as well as IR convolution reverbs, delays, choruses, flangers, phasers, filters, EQs, Amps. drives, distortion, dynamics, analysis tools and pretty much, if not all legacy FX from previous versions of Mach Five and the UVI Workstation. Why include these? Backwards compatibility, more than anything, but it’s just more choice for you to have!

    The next tab is for Event Processing. Here you’ll find a large number of arpeggiator presets, in varying styles. There’s a MIDI file player which is incredibly welcome. There’s also a micro tuner with numerous presets for things like Byzantine, Werckmeister and Gnawa-pelog, amongst others! Finally, you can access the Script Processor tools here, along with a tasty selection of presets for you to build into your creation. Of course, those of you who are of the scripting persuasion, you can dive into the LUA based scripting on offer in Falcon to create detailed, powerful instrument actions and interfaces. Or, for those of us who can’t get their head around that, Falcon makes it very easy for you to create your own, scripted panels with some simple tools and methods that might not look as cool as those you see on many of UVI’s own libraries, but they’ll be just as functional. And of course, every function can be mapped via MIDI to your controller of choice. The MIDI Learn function simply requires you to right click on the parameter you want to control and then wiggle the controller for Falcon to pick up the relevant CC number. That’s it, your knob is mapped!

    The last tab in the Preset Browser pane is where you will find all your modulators, eight main types in all and again, with copious amounts of presets to get you started.

    So now we’re left with the central pane of the Falcon window, and this is where the magic really happens. This is where you concoct your sounds and interact with all the settings. Again, this pane is broken down into sections, MAIN, MIXER and PERF. MAIN is, well, the main area where you can see all the layers that make up your sound or instrument. Five tabs allow you to easily switch between information, editing, effects, events and modulations. For the more complex constructions, elements such as layers, oscillators, FX, etc. can be hidden and then recalled. This is very useful as you build more congested and intricate programs.

    FALCON_www-pp-in-depth-interface_edit

    The MIXER section is, as you’d expect, a mixer where you can apply bus effects and set levels, pans and more. Particularly useful if you’re using Falcon as a multi-instrumental tool. It is so easy to do, that you can create entire compositions in just Falcon alone. I honestly see many people, including myself, simply using Falcon and a DAW of choice to create everything. There is almost nothing you can’t do with it.

    FALCON_www-pp-in-depth-interface_mixer

    Last up, the PERF section, as its name suggests allows you to tweak performance type settings, such as basic volume, pan, keyboard and velocity range, as well as setting up key-switching triggers for things like program changes. Again, I can see live keyboard players having this as their sole sound generator on stage, setting up Multi’s for each song, or maybe simply setting up one Multi with a Program for each song, and then key-swtiching between them without once having to touch your computer or mouse. Falcon seems to be sold mainly as a sound creation and design tool, but it is just as powerful as a performance tool and should be talked about alongside the likes of MainStage as it is just as capable. If you already have MainStage (and if you’re a keyboard playing Mac owner, why the heck wouldn’t you, at £30!?), then the two combined would be scarily powerful, capable and flexible.

    FALCON_www-pp-in-depth-interface_performance

    That’s the whistle-stop tour of the interface. Trust me, there is much more beneath the surface and I could go into every panel, every UI for every oscillator, FX or modulator, but this isn’t the manual, nor do you or I have that much spare time. Talking of manuals, Falcon comes with a near 200 page PDF manual that provides a good, basic foundation on which to get started with. Better still, UVI have hired Dan Worrell to provide a series of tutorial videos, three of which are live at the time of writing this article, with more to come. Dan spends up to 20 minutes on each, exploring specific functions and features. These are already providing a great way to start digging into Falcon and exploring its capabilities. They’re highly recommended…

    You could, if you wanted, search for MOTU’s Mach Five 3 Tutorial videos as well. Much of what they covered is still accurate and relevant for Falcon. But my advice would be to start with Dan’s excellent tutorials and to just experiment yourself.

    And now, I guess I should really tell you what I think of Falcon.

    How Does Falcon Fly?

    falcon_box_gui
    It takes a lot to impress me, and UVI already have plenty of good marks in my book. So when it came to Falcon, I was already fairly sure I wouldn’t be disappointed. Add to that the fact that I had already been long won over by MF3, and that Falcon seemed to be the long awaited next generation of that tool, I was pretty much sold on it before I’d even installed it. Of course, this can be a recipe for disaster as my illusions could have well been shattered by them delivering an absolute steaming turd.

    Suffice to say, this is most definitely NOT the case. Falcon is, without a shadow of a doubt, a monumental triumph. It has succeeded in all it set out to achieve and delivers one of the most compelling arguments I have ever seen for abandoning every other instrument in your tool kit. That’s a pretty bold statement, I know. But is it really that bold in an era where many musicians simply use instruments like Omnisphere or Kontakt to deliver their sounds? Let me be clear, however, that I am not comparing Falcon with Kontakt. I made that mistake, as did many others, with MF3. In doing so, you criminally overlooked the other capabilities of MF3 that made it vastly more flexible, powerful and, in my humble opinion, superior to Kontakt. Whilst I cannot deny Kontakt’s popularity, something I believe is more down to the fact that for many years, one could download a cracked copy so easily that it simply became that popular because so many people had it, legally or otherwise, I am still unconvinced about its ability as an inspiring instrument. For me, it’s just an elaborate sample playback tool. Sure, there are some great libraries out there, but to truly create something unique in Kontakt takes way more than knowledge of synthesis or sound design as a whole. I can hear the grumbling incredulity of Kontakt users the world over as they read this, but my personal opinion of Kontakt, forged from using it myself and from hearing about using it from others, including library developers, is one of frustration and disappointment. I’m not trying to be contentious, but I’d take Falcon over NI’s Komplete package any day of the week. And I will explain why.

    Falcon is a true hybrid instrument. A look down the list of oscillators and FX will convince even the hardest of detractors. There are few, if any, software instruments that can rival Falcon’s breadth and depth of possibilities. In fact, there are few hardware instruments that can lay claim to what Falcon can. One that immediately springs to mind is Alesis’ ill-fated Fusion HD workstation, an instrument I know very well. Under the rather odd looking exterior lay a powerful sampling engine, a hugely capable virtual analog engine, a 6 operator FM engine and a limited, but nice to have physical modelling engine. Each of these could be used on their own or layered with others and they were connected by a workstation that also offered 8 tracks of digital audio recording and an onboard sequencer to boot. Sadly, although these ingredients looked great on paper, the way they were cooked up and presented to the end user was deeply flawed. If you persevered with it, you would find a very powerful instrument lay at your fingertips, but it just asked far too much for it to be properly considered as a transparent creative tool. Nowadays, most hardware synths focus on getting one thing right. Workstations seem to have been stuck in a rut for ages and software has really taken over. And let’s face it. That’s where the real growth in power lies. Increasingly powerful computers running increasingly efficient operating systems that facilitate the development of increasingly clever and complex applications. You can only fit so much in a keyboard and attempts at marrying the keyboard with a computer have never amounted to a commercially viable product, affordable and practical enough for the masses. People are more than happy with a laptop and lightweight controller. Some are even resorting to tablets. So Falcon is ideally placed to take on the world, and judging by what I have read across numerous forums and websites, it has made a stunning start in life.

    Using Falcon is a breeze. A lot of attention has gone into the user interface and the logic and hierarchy. On a personal level, it suits my modus operandi perfectly. The method of building instruments in a structured and layered way just makes sense in my head. Also, the visual simplicity that this offers works great for me too. I always used to struggle with how traditional synthesis worked. I could understand what each feature or function could do but it was if all the stuff going on behind the panel was messy and confusing. Building sounds in Falcon is a far more logical type of construction than many other tools I’ve used. Of course, this is a purely personal view, and don’t let it put you off trying Falcon if you’re the kind of synthesis traditionalist that I am not, because believe me, Falcon caters for you too.

    The immediacy and intuitive nature of the UI also helps yield great results in a very short space of time. If a tool or instrument makes it difficult to actually get anything half way decent out of it in a short space of time, I quickly lose interest. I want my synths to be powerful yet simple to use. I want them to deliver inspiring results without requiring a degree in advanced mathematics or quantum physics. Yes, I actually do want the best of both worlds. I want my cake and eat it. I want amazing sounds and I want deep, powerful tools with which to create them but I do not want to waste valuable creative energy and effort in achieving them. My reward is not figuring out how to make something go “beep”. My reward is in creating a piece of music that faithfully represents what is in my head. Falcon really does deliver that. It has a good amount of presets, although nothing like the overkill delivered with things like Omnisphere, and these presets are both functional and inspirational. If nothing else, they provide excellent starting places for you to reverse engineer them and learn more about how Falcon works. Start adding in some UVI libraries and you can begin to form a library of sounds that cover almost every need. But start creating your own stuff, be it from your own samples, or simply be creating a new VA or FM synth patch, and you will realise very soon that my earlier claim of Falcon possibly being the only tool you need wasn’t that far-fetched after all.

    This leads me on to another point, about the availability of content for Falcon. First of all, ALL of UVI’s existing libraries work flawlessly in Falcon. So, if you already have some, your investment is not only protected but you will get increased return on it due to the new things you can apply to them within Falcon’s environment. As far as I can tell, most, if not all, of the 3rd party content from the likes of AcousticSamples, GospelMusicians, Virharmonic and others work straight away with Falcon. If not, they probably will do soon. But what about new content? Content that takes advantage of all the extra stuff here? As far as I am aware, UVI, much like Native Instruments, have a licensing structure for branded libraries. That is, if you want to make a sound library for Falcon and have it packaged and delivered as a .UFS file with the UVI badge, you need to pay some kind of licensing fee. At least, that’s how it used to be. So, if you’re a library developer with a set of great samples and a set of scripting skills, you can create your cool, new instrument and then pay a fee somehow to have it packaged up as an approved UVI add on. You can easily create and save multis and programs but that exclusive .UFS packaging will probably cost you. Such is the way of the world, and such is the way companies monetise their product, both for profit and protection. I don’t have a problem with this, but I truly hope UVI have made this process not only affordable, but simple for Falcon. Falcon will live and die based on the support it receives, not only from UVI, but the wider community. Strip away the red tape when it comes to creating content and the instrument will most definitely flourish. Also, I really hope UVI have made it as simple as possible for existing developers to import their existing libraries into the format. This will also be key in establishing a foothold in the market.

    There is already considerable support for Falcon. It’s not as if it is coming to market with just a handful of libraries to get you started. Granted, most of these are sample-based and none of them, except the Falcon Factory library, utilise Falcon’s new features as yet. I am sure this will change soon. But to go back to my claim that this might be the only instrument you need, I honestly believe that a great number of Falcon users will, over time, begin to migrate more and more to the instrument. People like consistency. And if they can access a vast palette of sounds in a pleasing and consistent manner in Falcon, why would they want to use other tools? There are already some small libraries appearing here and there, from small, indie developers that have already begun to stretch Falcon’s legs. Patchpool have already begun repurposing their Mach Five content and labelling it as Falcon compatible. They’ve also got a Falcon specific library in the works. But I truly think you would struggle not to reside exclusively within Falcon for all your instrument needs. It covers so many bases and has the ability to cover so many more, simply through samples. No, it doesn’t cover absolutely everything, but what it can’t do is probably very specialist and capable of close approximation.

    Falcon’s Factory library is a great place to get started, and a wonderful showcase for what it is capable of. There are some instantly inspiring keyboard split patches that will have you making impromptu tunes instantly and so many other sounds, that showcase all of Falcon’s features, for you to not only get a grasp for what Falcon can do, but to reverse engineer and use as a basis for your own, unique sounds.

    Another thing worth considering is Falcon’s resource efficiency. It is incredibly CPU friendly. I tested it on a reasonably well specified iMac (3.4GHz i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB SATA HDD) and it never broke a sweat. When you have half a dozen or more independent instrument and/or FX plug-ins running at the same time, all independently using your resources, things can get stodgy. A single tool will reduce that stodge considerably. It can also handle samples up to 192kHz and has multiple settings for hard drive sample streaming.

    Nothing is perfect and there is one thing about Falcon that I don’t like. It can’t import the wide variety of legacy sample formats that MF3 can. MF3 easily recognises old Akai S1000/S3000 CDs, old Emulator III & IV discs, EXS, Ensoniq, Gigasampler, SF2, Kontakt 1-4, Roland S700, Kurzweil K2xxx and many more, including Apple loops & Garageband. But Falcon has virtually none of these, offering only a very limited choice, including Soundbanks (.ufs), AIFF, FLAC, MP3, MP4 (with QuickTime installed on Windows for MP3/MP4), REX1, REX2, SDII (on Mac), WAV, WAV64, SFZ, SND and CAF. One of the great things I loved about MF3 was that so many of my old legacy sample libraries would simply work in it. No 3rd party conversion tool was required. For example, you could place an old Akai S1000 format CD in the drive of your computer, and even if the computer failed to recognise the CD, MF3 would see it and allow you to simply open up the program in it. On the odd, rare occasion, you might have needed to tweak a setting here or there, but invariably that stuff just worked right off the bat. So I am disappointed that Falcon doesn’t have this level of support. Some might argue that the demand for that kind of feature is minimal today, and of course, I am lucky enough to still have MF3, so I can import and re-save my programs to use in Falcon, but not everyone has MF3. And by not featuring this support, a good number of MF3 users will more than likely pass on Falcon. It’s not a massive deal breaker, but I’d love to see it included in a future update.

    But honestly, that’s pretty much all I don’t like. I love how the standalone version of the app goes full screen, something I always loved about MF3. I think many people will spend a lot of time in this mode, crafting their instruments and multis and then simply recalling them in their DAW with the Falcon plug-in. I love its immediacy, the intuitive nature of the UI and its excellent use of resources. I also love that it can be used in multi-channel mode, offering stereo, mono, quad, 5.1, 6.1, 7.1 and 10.2 channel configurations. If you’re job is sound design or soundtracking for film or TV, this could be your “go-to” tool for everything. What I also love is the cost. Right now, the RRP is $349 US/€328 which works out at around £230 GBP. Compare that to Omnisphere, Falcon is $150 USD less! Is it even fair comparing the two? Well, given their “Swiss Army Knife” approach to sound, I’d say the comparison is inevitable. They do a lot differently, but they do a lot the same. Omnisphere comes with a huge number of presets so some might see that as worth the extra. But Falcon isn’t an Omnisphere killer. I think both can happily co-exist and even complement each other. But that said, Falcon is incredible value for money and will become a major component in anyone’s sonic arsenal, if not the dominant one.

    In Conclusion

    UVI, for some strange reason, have always seemed to fall under the radar. I’ve been a fan for many years, extolling their virtues here, there and everywhere. I’ve often been accused of bias, such is the nature of my reviews of their products. But the thing is, if something is good, and pleases you, it’s kind of difficult not to seem biased. But despite my best efforts to preach the gospel according to UVI, many see them as a producer of good quality, cute libraries and little more. Some of the comments I read under my video reviews often decry the fact that their libraries aren’t actual software emulations of vintage hardware and that they’re just average sample libraries with a pretty front end. I couldn’t disagree more. But you never hear UVI talked about in the same way as you do Native Instruments or Spectrasonics. And that is a travesty. Ignore the libraries for a while. The UVI Engine XT, the very platform that MF3, the UVI Workstation, and now Falcon, is built upon, is a stellar piece of software engineering. But it sits there, quietly in the background, going about its business without the need to scream and shout about the damn cool stuff it is doing. Falcon should, and actually seems to, be changing all of that. There are threads in forums that previously dismissed UVI’s work, or MF3, as second rate, that are positively gushing over Falcon. Falcon is frequently blowing people’s minds and suddenly, the internet is buzzing about UVI. They’re even now sponsoring the marvellous SonicState podcast, and getting recognition there. Whilst I cannot be more proud of that fact, I also feel a little bit like my secret has been discovered. You know that feeling when something you really enjoyed, something you felt was yours, is now being lauded by the whole world. You’re happy that they’ve “seen the light” but you also feel aggrieved because you knew about it first, loved it first and took to heart all the rejection that came before. But honestly, I couldn’t be happier for UVI right now. Falcon really is their “Windows 3” moment. That moment when all the potential is fully realised. And I hope they reap the rewards for a very long time.

    Falcon is available now from UVI priced at $349.99/€328 exc. tax. I am reliably informed that UVI are offering a cross grade price for existing Mach Five 3 owners of $179. As an added bonus, UVI are currently giving everyone that purchases Falcon a $100 voucher to use against any one of their sound libraries. Which is nice! Falcon uses iLok License Manager for authorization and includes 3 activations per license. Authorizations can be stored on computer hard drive or iLok dongle. Initial activation requires an iLok account (free) and an active internet connection.

    • Posted on November 25, 2015 - 11:02 pm
    • By Rob Puricelli
    • Posted in
    12
    comments so far
    • Keopsis says:

      Excellent review. Thank you.
      I’m also amazed by this virtual instrument that could be the only one on my system.
      This can do almost everything.
      It’s indeed a shame to see Kontakt having all the glory everytime while there is Falcon (and the previous Machfive 3) that is, to me, better in the way it’s more complete (synthesis), sparkverb and loads of effects integrated, and with the ircam algorithms the quality of the sampler is juste huge!
      I also really like the workflow of it, which is clear.
      To me, best VI of 2015 (and probably the years around too)

    • Steve Steele says:

      Great article! As a long time DP user who has pestered MOTU to bundle MF3 with DP (never once heard a single word in response), now it makes so much sense. They probably couldn’t or wouldn’t due to some licensing issue or cost.

      It was obvious that MOTU “built” MF3 with UVI code and modules, except that MOTU didn’t build it at all more than likely. They probably didn’t want to start over after MF2, and having received the old UVI player that MOTU used to ship with DP, I think now that was a teaser.

      Regardless, I so hope you’re right about MOTU bundling Falcon with DP10 (or whatever). That’s the kind of bold move MOTU needs to capture the hearts and minds of the new generation who flip out over Logic, Abelton and Cubase when DP is like UVI – so very capable yet misunderstood and somewhat ignored except by pros in Hollywood who’ve been at in for awhile. DP is seen as your father’s DAW. Bundling it with DP10 would go a long way in changing that perception. I mean after all these years MOTU bundles MX4 and calls it a revolutionary synth. Ha! Is that lazy, desperate or broke?

      Anyway, again great review. Falcon is amazing! Let’s hope it continues to gain traction.

    • JW Lehman says:

      Great review! Just the level of detail I look for when looking for a product review.

    • Thank you! 🙂

    • Thanks for your kind words 🙂

      Still no news on MF3 from MOTU, which is very disappointing. But honestly, Falcon is getting more and more powerful with each update (now at 1.1.1) and is throwing serious shade on everything else in my sonic toolkit 😉

    • Thanks for your kind words 🙂

      Yup, Falcon is indeed a one-stop shop and an essential instrument.

    • tmpc says:

      I too have a long history with samplers. I’m an ex Ensoniq employee.

      I actually find Falcons interface to be quite confusing. I am not a big fan of Kontakt’s either, but at least NI has the excuse of adding bubblegum and bailing wire to an old program.

      I am currently fighting my way through a problem where I save a Multi containing nothing but UVI’s IRCAM Prepared Piano. When I load it back in, it makes no sound and the front panel is outlined in red. What does that mean? I don’t know, because the manual doesn’t mention it.

      You should be able to just save the whole damn thing and have it reliably come back. I am not modifying wave data, so that isn’t the problem here.

      The manual may be 200 pages long, but there are a lot of giant graphics that could have held a lot of useful information.

      This program suffers from the same problem that a lot of software suffers from these days: the developers are too close to it, so they don’t properly document it, nor do they pay enough attention to the feedback from beta testers and /or users who don’t know anything about it.

      Falcon looks like it can do a lot … assuming you have enough lifetimes to wade through it.

    • tmpc says:

      Let me give you another example with the IRCAM Prepared Piano. I simply want to turn off the release sample (found that), and make the note on sample ring out. Now, you’d think that would be as simple as increasing the release time at (preferably) the layer level, or at least at the keygroup level. I’ve had absolutely no luck getting this to work and there is nothing in the manual about it.

      Sorry man, this sucks!

    • Hi tmpc,

      Sorry to hear of the issues you seem to be having. My first recommendations are the obvious ones. Firstly, have you made sure you have the latest version of Falcon installed (1.1.3 at the time of this post)? Also, check you have the latest version of the IRCAM Prep. Piano library (although I don’t think there is an update). Even so, if it isn’t too inconvenient, try downloading it again.

      Finally, I would highly recommend contacting UVI support. They are typically excellent in their response and resolution.

      I did try creating a multi featuring 6 instances of the IRCAM Prep. Piano (I chose some large programs, in excess of 10,000 keygroups), saved it, restarted Falcon, and then loaded it up again and everything worked as expected. Maybe if you could detail a step by step process on how you encounter the issue, I can try and recreate here. Feel free to send the .uvim multi file to my email address (rob@failedmuso.com) or upload it to some place like DropBox or WeTransfer.

      Do you experience the same issue if you use the free UVI Workstation (latest version 2.6.6)? Could it possibly be a system limitation, i.e. Processor/RAM/OS?

      I actually found the manual to be quite informative and I can tell you that Falcon went through a pretty intensive beta process outside of the UVI devs. That said, a manual for something as deep and as complex as Falcon would be huge and as much as I’d love one like that too, it can be a lengthy and expensive process. However, any manual cannot cover every eventuality, but UVI did see fit to commission some superb tutorial videos. I can highly recommend these tutorial videos that Dan did for UVI (check out the embedded YouTube player in the review) as these explain an awful lot and do so in a really simple to understand manner.

      Another thing that can often hinder the use of a new tool is ones own modus operandi based on years of using a particular paradigm. If you get so used to doing things a particular way, it can often be hard to break out into anther method. I see this a lot when people move from Windows to Mac or vice versa. Falcon seems to follow a similar paradigm to that used by Akai, hence why it worked very easily for me.

      I hope you get to the bottom of what your issue is and as I said, do contact UVI Support as they will definitely help you out.

      Good luck! 🙂

    • tmpc says:

      I contacted UVI support and am in the middle of trying to figure this out with them. I went back today and was able to do what I couldn’t do yesterday. So, it’s a bit of a mystery as to what I did to confuse the Multi. I sent them the Multi file so that they can take a look at it.

      The fellow at UVI suspects that I inadvertently changed something that the script needs to operate correctly. I’m not sure what this script does, but I believe it is the GUI. But, this highlights a problem with Falcon. I can (and do) go into Kontakt sample libraries regularly and tweak them in similar ways with no problems. As a matter and a fact, I rarely use sample based libraries without tweaking them.

      As the GUI script limited the range of the sound I wanted to modify, I ended up copying the samples to a whole new program which removed the front panel limitations, but what a PITA.

      In the course of doing this, I found a glaring example of a basic piece of info that isn’t in the manual: How do you select different oscillator types? I looked at the manual and different libraries and eventually noticed that the tab under the oscillator had different names for different oscillator types. On a whim, I right clicked on one of them and voila; a drop down menu appeared. This is a very basic piece of information and should absolutely be in the manual.

      It’s sad that people settle for such crappy documentation these days.

      Thanks for your help, Rob.

    • Ken Page says:

      I too am an older fart who purchased his first Synthesizer in 1972, (an EML Electrocomp 101) and have purchased and owned a plethora of Synths & Samplers since. This review of the FALCON is one of the best reviews I have read. I own a huge collection of the UVI library using them with the UVI Workstation. After viewing the UVI video about the Falcon, I instantly decided to purchase it and after reading your review I have no doubts I will be working with the Falcon very soon. I will admit that reading your thoughts about Native Instruments Kontact thrilled me no end as I thought that I was the only person who had a dislike for it.
      Anyway, I hope that you are correct about the cross grade price for Mach Five 3 owners as this would make the deal sweeter than can be imagined. Once again, thank you so much for this review. I wish more reviews were of this caliber.

    • Hi Ken!

      Many thanks for your kind words! They are greatly appreciated. I am very happy that I have, in some way, aided your decision. Do let UVI know that this review was useful in your choice 😉

      Sadly, I think the crossgrade offer with MachFive3 may have expired, but do ask, just in case! MachFive3 has basically become abandonware and MOTU have yet to respond to my numerous requests for more information.

      However, UVI have pushed forward with Falcon, releasing a great many Falcon-specific tools and patch libraries. It moves forward in leaps and bounds!

      All the best, sir!

      Rob.

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