The old saying goes, “There you are, waiting for a bus, nothing for ages then two come along at once”.
From what I can tell, these have been brewing for some time. Then, as reported at the tail end of last week, some rather tasty hardware mockups started to surface that got our dander up and tongues wagging. Some even thought UVI were going into hardware! But knowing their Web Marketing Manager as I do, she’s an awful tease and has certainly excelled herself this time by more than whetting our appetites.
So, what do we have? Well, we have six new libraries, each dedicated to some classic hardware. Here’s a simple chart…
Instrument libraries that are labelled with the words ‘Vintage‘ or ‘Legends‘ usually strike fear into my heart, much like 80s compilation CDs. The same old fare, repackaged, nothing new or original and lacking the real unearthed jewels. Now, I’m sure that samples from all of these instruments have appeared in one format or another and in one library or another over the last decade or so, but not, to the best of my knowledge, to this extent or in a modern format that allows so much flexibility. If we simply take into account the UVI Workstation, then we have some extensive samples from each of these classic instruments which can then be shaped, moulded and triggered in a myriad ways, quickly, easily and inspirationally. As ever, these are NOT modelled recreations of the original hardware, like, for example, GForce’s impOSCar2 is of the original OSCar synth. These are sample libraries that use the extensive tweaking abilities of the host, be it UVI’s own Workstation multi platform plugin or MOTU‘s UVI Engine powered and rather splendid MachFive3 sampler.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog and familiar with my UVI reviews, I will spare you the basic orientation around the UVI Workstation and jump straight into the content we have here, instrument by instrument, and see if UVI have managed to buck the trend when it comes to classic synths recreated in software. First off, let’s look at CS-M.
During the 70s and early 80s, Yamaha produced a range of superb analog synths, based on what they had learned from the mind blowing uber synth, the GX-1 ‘Dream Machine’, prefixed with ‘CS’. They included the legendary CS-80 as well as its smaller siblings, the CS-60 and the CS-50. There were also models that followed different design and functionality cues, such as the CS-5, 10, 15 & 30. There were mini key versions in the form of the CS-01 (I & II) that also supported the cute BC-1 breath controller for extra expressiveness. And then there were the ‘M’ suffixed models, the 20m, 40m and 70m. Strangely, this clutch of synths was joined by the 15D. Not sure why the suffix was different, but it was clearly part of the ‘-M’ family in at least its looks. Finally, in the nineties, Yamaha resurrected the prefix in the shape of the CS1x, CS2x and CS6x S+S based synths.
But it is the M suffixed models we need to focus on here. I suppose that they were, in essence, visually updated versions of the 50/60/80, although only the 70m really got close to the magnificence of the 80 internally. But these are often overlooked models in the CS range. Until now.
The first thing you will notice about the CS-M is that unlike most UVI instruments, there is only one program (.m5p) as opposed to a bunch of program categories. UVI have taken this approach before with their Electro Suite instrument and what this means is that UVI have sampled raw waveforms and then given us the opportunity to shape and layer them as we see fit. That isn’t to say that they haven’t provided with us with some presets because they have. 127 by my reckoning, in categories such as Arps, Bells, Brassy, Bass, Drones, Leads, Pads and so on. But there are also 77 raw waveforms spread across 9 categories that encompass polyphonic, unison, waves and solo types. Essentially, you pick up to two waveforms, each of which can be processed using the scripted shaping tools (filter, fx, LFO, etc) and then layered to produce some full and rich (I hate the term ‘fat’!) sounds that evolve over time. The shaping tools are typical UVI fare, i.e. amplitude, filter, pitch and overdrive as well as stereo, phaser, reverb and delay. It also employs a step sequencer to automate modulation.
The result of this is some of the finest CS sounds I have heard outside of a hardware CS itself. Be assured of plenty of Vangelis type sounds in here but also expect to find sounds that range from screeching wails to rich, evolving textures in equal measure. Going through the presets was an utter joy. Each preset begged to be played and each was really inspirational. But playing around with the raw waveforms from scratch and layering them up and tweaking, produced some brilliantly satisfying results. This is WAY more than just a preset machine. This is definitely one for creatives.
One thing I did notice was that when flicking through the presets, there was a noticeable delay as the application selected the waveforms and adjusted the settings, sometimes between 5 and 10 seconds. I have raised this with UVI’s senior developer and am doing some more tests here to see whether it is my hardware, MachFive or the library itself that is causing it. At the time of ‘going to press’, my tests had been inconclusive. Certainly not a show stopper and I will, of course, report back subsequent findings. In my experience, UVI are very quick off the mark if there is a problem, and it could well be down to my ageing iMac 😉 Further tests will be carried out on my i5 Windows 7 x64 box.
Next up, we have Synthox…
The reason I have chosen this as the second instrument to review is that it closely follows the same paradigm as the CS-M, in that it only has one program but has a large selection of waveforms from which to choose to faithfully recreate the magic of this Italian beauty.
Elka were a highly respected Italian organ manufacturer and in the late 70s, started to manufacture string synths to complement their organ range, much like many organ manufacturers of the day. I, myself, used to own an Elka X-605 Combo Organ. But in 1981 they released the Synthex, a fully analog synth that had been designed by Mario Maggi who received financial backing from Elka, keen to cash in on the burgeoning analog synth market. It featured digitally controlled oscillators (2 per note and fairly advanced for the day) as well as a wealth of hands on controls, including a pretty unique joystick. It also featured an onboard sequencer with plenty of real time controls that could also output over MIDI. This really was one of those unique gems that came squarely from the left field and left an indelible mark on the synth landscape. Sadly, Elka folded some years later, and the brand was snapped up by another Italian keyboard manufacturer, GEM (now known as GeneralMusic and based in the USA), who themselves filed for bankruptcy in 2011. Most of you will probably know the Synthex for one sound, and one sound alone. The sound behind Jean Michel Jarre‘s Laser Harp.
But to simply think that this was all the Synthex was good for is a serious underestimation of what this baby could do. And by using the same methodology used in the CS-M described above, UVI have brought us a closer essence of what the Synthex could do than ever before.
As I mentioned above, Synthox uses the same method of sampled waveforms and the ability to shape and layer them that the CS-M instrument employs. And, similarly, it has a good complement of presets for you to start using or as useful starting points for your own creations, which of course can be saved and recalled with consummate ease. The UI, in typical UVI fashion, is a faithful imitation of the original of which it apes and certainly looks the part. Using the same sound shaping tools as ever, the layout is clean and simple and another example of exactly how to make an engaging yet thoroughly useful interface.
Digging through the presets, you will find some incredibly evocative and useful sounds, as you’d expect, and yes, the Laser Harp sound is in there, albeit under the name of ‘PL-B46 Ring Mod Harp’! Interestingly, all the Synthex presets have been recreated and their patch names, as shown with this sound, have been replicated too and prefixed with the letter B, followed by the original preset number. This synth soon reveals that there was a lot more to it than one iconic sound and you will end up using this in whatever style of music you make.
There are 9 categories of waveform to choose from, with plenty of variation and, just like the CS-M, it becomes incredibly addictive messing around with the myriad combinations on offer. There are two arpeggiators to use, which means you can arpeggiate both layers independently or both together. There is also a step modulation sequencer as well as the regular smattering of FX, filter and amplitude controls.
Just like the CS-M, this really is a synth pleading to be tweaked, so if that is your bag, you won’t be disappointed with this.
Here is a Yamaha DX1, currently selling on eBay with a starting price of $10,500 (£6,461 approx.)…
I’ve spoken about this synth (and Yamaha’s other ‘uber synths’, including the CDSX, the DX1’s conceptual forebear) before on this blog, and also it’s daddy, the conceptual Yamaha GS-1…(pictured here with one of only four programmers ever made)
The DX1 was indeed the godfather of Yamaha’s FM synths, trimmed down for the DX5, even further for the most popular variant, the legendary DX7. And DX7 samples and imitators have been around for ages. Native Instruments brought out their FM7 synth years ago, and then followed it up with the FM8. Only the other week, Propellerhead released their PX7 Rack Extension that faithfully models the DX7 in all but name. But the DX1 has largely gone untouched. Whilst it still only has the 6 Operators found in the DX5 and DX7, it is essentially two DX7’s in a box, with lush wood panelling, a fully weighted keyboard and, best of all, a slightly clearer and more useable editing interface. Here’s one in action back in 1986, ably played by Chris Lowe (programmed by Blue Weaver) of the Pet Shop Boys…
Only 100 were made, so to get a library that focuses on DX1 sounds is a great thing to have. I have to admit, when I saw the name, I thought it might be something based on the ultra rare Yamaha FX-1, a 3 manual beast of which only one ever got shipped to the UK and installed in a ballroom in Blackpool!
But having access to DX1 sounds in such a familiar and simple interface is mouth watering, so let’s dig in and see what we have.
I could, and probably will, say this about all the instruments included in this pack, but once again, the UVI scripters have hit the ball way out of the park on the UI design. Completely capturing the style and visual cues of the instruments that inspired them, whilst encompassing the UVI control paradigm and making it easy to find and see exactly what you’re tweaking.
Unlike the CS-M & Synthox, the FMX1 reverts to standard UVI type by delivering a wealth of presets, categorised in a familiar fashion. We have Arps, Bass, Bells, Fretted, FX, Keys, Lead, Mallet, Misc., Orchestral, Pads and a category given over to some of the classic 4 operator FM patches that would’ve been found in synths like the DX9, 27 and 100. This means we get that classic bass sound so often heard in house music in particular, called Solid Bass, or as it’s known here, Analog Bass. I must just reiterate here that whilst I understand the need to exercise caution when using names that might fall under some sort of copyright, I really wish UVI would give us a clue as to what they’ve named those classic, well known patches. It can be done. For example, Steve Howell of Hollow Sun fame used to come up with some brilliant names. He would always prefix any Roland Juno patches as ‘D’You Know’ 🙂 Easy to recognise, and unlikely to raise a lawyers eyebrow 😉
Back to the FMX1 and this instrument sees the return of the FMIZER, originally seen in The Beast library. This feature utilises the built in FM oscillator within the UVI Workstation or MachFive3 to add more metallic grit to the sound, or as UVI call it, ‘Harmonicity’. On top of this there is the usual slew of sculpting tools as described above, all delivered in a beautifully DX1-esque UI that brings back both good and bad memories of the dawn of digital synthesis!
FM synthesis, and in particular the DX range which was the most successful form of the method, has come in for a lot of retrospective stick due to its omnipresence over an 18 month period in the 80s. Pretty much every record of that period featured either the classic FM electric piano, the classic FM bass or the classic FM bell sound, or possibly all of them! They were ubiquitous and after a while, became truly overexposed. This, along with its notoriously difficult programming method means that FM has become a bit of a pariah in the synth world with some people stating that they’d rather rip their own eyeballs out and have you puke in the sockets than hear a DX7! But, in my very humble opinion, FM synthesis just needs some love and attention to bring out the stuff you can really love. The originals did not have the benefit of on board effects, unless you count the DX27S’s built in chorus, and as soon as you feed a DX7 through some reverb, chorus or other enhancing colourisation, you start to hear the beauty of FM. Judicious FX and some patience will reap you considerable reward. Luckily, the FMX1 has this built in, so pretty much everything sounds great out of the box, and if not, you can very easily tweak it. And lovers of the ‘brostep’ (yes, brostep, as glorified by “Shrillex“, not dubstep as personified by Burial) genre will love the deep, growling basses and wails that can be had with this thing.
With this, and the release of Propellerhead’s PX7 synth the other week, my love for FM has been rekindled and I don’t feel so bad about selling my DX27 anymore 😉
The name Kurzweil has been synonymous with premium keyboard samplers since… well, since the birth of the instrument, in 1984, upon which the U1250 is based, that is, the Kurzweil K250. Although, when I saw the mock up, I did ask where the U and the 1 came from in its name. Well, they’ve blended some of the K1000, the K250’s kid brother, in there as well, which is nice!
The K250 was a beast. Wide, deep and very heavy, it’s power supply was built into the sustain pedals that came with it. Unlike other samplers of the day that tried to squeeze as much quality out at as low a bitrate and sample rate as possible, Ray Kurzweil‘s team went for better quality technology from the outset. Sample rate was adjustable up to 50KHz and all at 16bit. Sounds like nothing nowadays, but back in 1984, that was impressive stuff. It was choc full of sampling tools, had MIDI, a fully weighted 88 note keyboard and nearly 400 presets using 36 onboard ROMs. Oh, and a 12 track sequencer to boot. Here’s Ray and his demo guy showing off what it could do…
It also relied on an Apple Mac Classic II to store, score and program at a detailed level. Of course, it wasn’t cheap and yes, as with most groundbreaking instruments, Stevie Wonder was a fan 😉 Stevie was the guy who set Ray Kurzweil off on his quest to produce this beast, putting aside his regular work on reading and writing software for the blind. It’s also worth mentioning that Alan Pearlman and Bob Moog were also involved in its design and creation as consultants. So, how have UVI fared in bringing this ROM based legend to the software world?
For starters, the typically gorgeous interface is fairly minimal, probably because the K250’s own interface wasn’t too fussy itself, what with it being sample based. But everything you need is here, in the familiar UVI fashion, I.E. incredibly pretty! Also, in this instrument, we’re missing some of the pages we saw such as the LFO modulation page. Quite simply, the K250 was a ROMpler and a Sampler as opposed to a deep, complex synth. It did what it did better than most but it certainly wasn’t a deep machine when it came to programming. And so the interface on offer here reflects that. The K250, in essence, was more about what sounds Kurzweil put on its chips than the ability to create new and previously unheard sonic hybrids. That’s not taking anything away from the machine. It was a true benchmark of astounding build quality. It was most definitely a ‘no expense spared’ machine using NASA quality components and pushing the envelope in terms of MIDI implementation.
With all this considered, it’s the sounds we’re most interested in and whilst the K250 was a ROMpler focused on providing great sampled sounds of acoustic instruments, the quality of the Kurzweil legacy is here for all to admire. Being such a premium instrument, it was a stock item in many great studios and therefore appeared on many great records and you can certainly hear this quality and recognise a number of the patches, even if you can’t put your finger on where exactly they came from. The K250 was famed for its pianos and there are a great many here. One of my favourites is the very well known ‘Piano & Strings’ patch. Just the right blend of percussive and melodic and a lovely patch to sit and play. Pretty much every patch is a recreation or a subtle twist on an acoustic instrument. There are a few sampled synth sounds, but for me, the strength in this instrument lies in the acoustic recreations. Much like the AudioFrame WaveFrame library, this library is about the pinnacle of early sampling and its efforts to imitate the real world, rather than its other specialty of creating new and previously unheard sounds.
For the creatives out there, this might be the one you give a miss, but I’d suggest you do so at your peril. There are some great sounds to be had here.
Had history panned out slightly differently, we’d be talking about a classic ARP synth and not a Rhodes. More famed for their legendary electric pianos, Rhodes picked up the Chroma concept after ARP, makers of such legendary synths as the 2500, 2600, Odyssey and many more, went down the proverbial pan. It was a premium analog synth, with a velocity sensitive, fully weighted keyboard, 16 voices (or 8 in dual oscillator mode) and sumptuous wood casing but it suffered from a limited front panel that utilised membrane buttons and it lacked MIDI, although it did have ARP’s DAC system built in. Also in its favour, like the Kurzweil K250, it could connect to an Apple Mac for further possibilities. Only 3000 were made and there was also a keyboardless expander module too. Because it was microprocessor controlled, it was stable and accurate and was probably one of the last hurrah’s of analog synthesis before the impending digital invasion. However, given its rarity, there hasn’t, to my knowledge, been a comprehensive collection of Chroma sounds, until now.
With the Kroma, we get back the modulation sequencer we lost on the U1250 as well as it having all the other shaping credentials we expect to find on a UVI interface. Speaking of the interface, again, this is a very faithful imitation of the original’s membrane button layout.
Sonically, there is a definite analog warmth to these sounds, although it has digital overtones and many of the patches, categorised in the usual fashion, would serve artists working in the Synthwave/Outrun genres very well indeed. There is definitely something more digital about the sounds contained here, not that it detracts from the instrument in any way, but this is not a patch on the CS-M for analog richness. This has a more pristine, clinical feel to it. UVI have also included a section of waves, so whilst you don’t get the control offered by the CS-M and Synthox, you can play around with some of the Chroma’s raw waveforms.
One of the things I found with this instrument was that initially, I wasn’t that impressed, but through perseverance, I started to discover its character and found some eminently useable sounds. It’s a worthy addition to the collection, simply because there hasn’t been a comprehensively available collection from the original before. And who knows, it might just contain those elusive sounds you were after that cut through the mix. Probably my least favourite of the six instruments here, but not a bad one.
The DK Synergy was a rare and strange beast. Loved by Wendy/Walter Carlos, it was an additive synth with 32 oscillators and an ability to do FM synthesis too. It also sported a memory cartridge and some of the contents of cartridges created by Carlos herself are sought after sounds. The last time I covered this rare gem was when I was talking about Matt Black’s Additives ReFill for Reason, by Jiggery Pokery. Matt had been given Carlos’s cartridge Synergy sounds by Steve Howell, who by this time had struck up a strong correspondence with the legendary lady. So, it is nice to see a solid collection of Synergy sounds outside of the Reason rack.
<--- You might be wondering where the little box image is for Energy. Well, Energy is only available as part of the boxed collection, 'Vintage Legends', and not individually as all the others are. So, to get your hands on this, you will have to fork out €299/$299 for the entire set. Of course, you may not be fussed about it, but when you consider that the entire collection is at that price for a limited time and each individual instrument is €99/$99, you're getting a heck of a bargain. Anyway, it's up to you. I kind of feel like I'm repeating myself, but yes, the UI is lovely and mimic's its inspiration perfectly. As for the sounds, they are as unique as the instrument itself. There are some amazingly accurate acoustic emulations here, but the real power in this instrument are the sounds generated by the additive synthesis. They possess the cleanliness of digital sounds but retain the depth of analog sources. It's almost like FM with a bit of soul. Resplendent with the familiar tweaking tools, there is also an 'Energiser' control that is connected to a gain FX unit to give sounds a gritty brightness if required. We also have the step sequenced LFO and arpeggio functions to further enhance this quirky little creature.
There is enough here to warrant its inclusion, purely because there has never been a synth like the Synergy before. Much can be achieved with it and, like the FMX1, lovers of ‘brostep’ will appreciate the gritty, growling, metallic nature of a lot of the sounds.
So there you have it. Six instruments for €299/$299 or €99/$99 each (not including the Energy which is exclusive to the ‘box set’). In anyone’s plug in book, that’s a pretty good deal. Six brilliantly executed instruments with typically stellar interfaces. Rather than do what others have already done, UVI have sought out six rare beasts and done the business with them. They are sonically without reproach, visually without compare and, for once, completely justifying the ‘multipack’ price tag. At €99/$99 each, they still represent great value for money, given that these are far more than just sample libraries. In my opinion, the CS-M and Synthox are the two standout items here. I thought I’d be frothing at the mouth over the FMX1 more than anything, and that in itself is a great instrument, but the flexibility and sheer sonic power of the CS-M and Synthox truly kick the proverbial butt.
The weakest links in the chain are the Kroma and Energy. Whilst really good instruments, they lack a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that the others all have in abundance. That said, I would not like to lose them from my sonic arsenal, but I may not visit them as often as I do the others.
I’ve recently been accused of bias towards UVI and their releases. It was suggested that because I get sent review copies, that fact would bias my opinion of the product and have me gloss over any shortcomings they may have. Having looked back at all my UVI reviews, I do criticise them on such things as pricing. In this review, I talk about my desire for them to highlight those well known patches with clever naming that avoids provoking the wrath of the original manufacturers and issues with loading times in CS-M and Synthox. But the fact of the matter is, in my perfectly honest, unbiased opinion, UVI consistently produce material of the highest quality and it is stuff that I would, and do, definitely use in my music making. Vintage Legends is no exception to this and continues UVI’s reputation as producers of tools of impeccable quality that both sound and look great. Yes, they could be cheaper. I think they are getting there, especially with this collection. No, they’re not deeply tweakable or detailed, but what they DO do, is give you a set of tools that are both intuitive and immediate, that suit a rapid workflow and that give you consistently high quality results.
I think that 2013 will see the UVI format’s star rise considerably. MachFive3 just won MusicRadar’s Sampler of the Year 2012 title, and rightly so. It’s a powerful yet highly useable tool. In the next 12 months I see UVI and MOTU pushing forward with this and with the advent of more 3rd party developers creating content for UVI (Sonokinetic and Gospel Musicians, for example. A review of the latter’s Pure Sine instrument is coming soon!), I think we could see a serious contender to Kontakt‘s crown.
Spending €299 on this collection is truly money well spent. If Santa is generous to you this year, you could spend your gift money on a lot, lot worse 🙂
As ever, here are some audio examples of the library, played by proper musicians. There’s also a promo video and my own video reviews of each instrument will follow soon. Watch this space.
You can download the Vintage Legends manual, which includes complete instructions and patch lists for all instruments here.
An iLok key is required for all of these libraries.