Marty Cutler looks at the new additions to Arturia’s behemoth software “anthology” of famous instruments
Arturia adds more classic synths and keyboards to their bundle of 27 – twenty-seven! – plug-in vintage synthesizer emulations every year. This time around they’ve added Jun-6 V and Jup-8 V 4 (Roland synths), the Emulator II V sampler, Vocoder V, OB-Xa V (that Oberheim synth), and Stage 73 E (a Rhodes electric piano).
Arturia sweetens the deal with new patches. They’ve also added new features to all of the instruments and revamped Analog Lab, their hosting software. It’s a novel host program in which you can control, split, layer, combine, and recombine the synths in a number of ways – practically an instrument in itself.
The company’s stock-in-trade is faithful emulations of vintage synths, both analog and digital, while adding modern modulation features, polyphony, and more. Here are just some highlights of what the new version 8 brings to the table.
The new Macros feature provides quick access to the most likely controls you’ll use. These vary somewhat with each instrument, but for example the B3V organ’s four macros are Brightness, Time, Drive, and Vibrato. Similarly, the Emulator II V offers Brightness, Timbre, Time, and Movement.
Version 4 of the Jupiter 8 adds Unison Detune and Dispersion controls that, depending on the mode you choose, produce subtle to drastic drifts in pitch or variations in timbre, pulse width, and resonance. The modulation section has been expanded, with an intriguing and extremely flexible Modulation Mixer that lets LFOs interact and combine in various ways.
Galaxy was a wacky but fun modulation feature that livened up version 3 patches, but it’s replaced by an additional LFO, more LFO waveform choices, and a more easily comprehended modulation mixer. Step sequencers for notes and a modulation sequencer with three possible destinations and individual polarity controls add to the animation festival.
Stage-73 V2, Arturia’s virtual Fender Rhodes model boasts a completely new sound engine, among other improvements. To my ear the instrument’s envelopes sound crisper and more responsive to velocity variations.
Two new amps grace the Stage-73: a Leslie cabinet, a modeled Fender Twin, including Tremolo as well as two microphone placement positions. You also get a new set of impulse-model reverbs, including Plate, Abandoned Warehouse, Modern Hardware, and the ever-popular Spring. These are situated in a more orderly-looking virtual pedal board, offering twice the number of pedals compared with its earlier incarnation.
You can easily shift between suitcase and stage models. I like this electric piano a lot, although I lament the absence of more hardcore synth features: envelope generators, resonant filters, and the like. If there’s one thing Arturia VIs are noted for, it’s their tendency to supercharge faithful emulations – with sound-design tools otherwise unavailable in hardware. This would be welcome in their virtual piano and Wurlitzer instruments.
Oberheim’s OB-X was nearly as pervasive in the recording scene as Yamaha’s DX7 in the ‘80s. OB-Xa V is Arturia’s take on Oberheim’s classic OBX and OBX-A. Along with Arturia’s SEM-V and the Matrix 12 V, OB-Xa V shares Oberheim’s characteristically fat, punchy sound, which can range from raw and piercing to thick, complex, and creamy.
OB-Xa V falls closer to the simpler SEM V2 than the Matrix-12 V in its programming complexity. Nonetheless, you’ll find buckets of sound-shaping power, between the instrument’s cross-modulation and Arturia’s hot-rodded modulation capabilities and effects.
The Function section’s ability to build long multi-segmented envelopes is a piece of work. Simply click to add an envelope point, then drag it to the position you’d like, and you can smooth points out by adding curves.
Slick modulation tools, along with a stereo spread feature, are welcome enhancements to an instrument already renowned for its all-enveloping pads and fat basses. Additionally, you can choose between four different waveform types that were available on the OB-X but not the OB-Xa.
Jun-6V: Roland’s Juno 60 was an effort at a more affordable follow-up to its release of the powerful Jupiter-8. They are widely sought after these days.
Unlike the Jupiter 8, however, the Juno-6 offered a single, digitally-controlled analog oscillator (or DCO), along with a sub-oscillator and noise generator. The digital circuitry offered more stable pitch.
To compensate for the single oscillator, Roland added an onboard chorus for extra girth and depth, offering three preset (read: no controls for rate or depth) operating modes. The first is a very subtle stereo chorusing; with Chorus 2 the modulation depth increases. Clicking on both chorus buttons produces chorusing and a bit of a tremolo effect.
The sub-oscillator can also add a bit of thickness to the tone. Once again, Arturia adds a number of enhancements not found on the original unit, including a second LFO and envelope generator, as well as reverb and delay.
The Jup-8V is considerably more heavily endowed with add-on effects, the modulation mixer, and the sequencer. Still, many of the sounds are quite good, albeit not as animated or complex as its 2-oscillator predecessor. You’ll find Arturia’s Jun-6V an easy-to-program synth with some classic sounds.
It’s a widely sought-after synth for good reasons.
Emulator II V: Just as no two analog synthesizer models sound alike, samplers have their own sonic credentials. Converters, filters, memory constraints, and even factory sample libraries play a part in distinguishing one instrument from another.
E-Mu System’s Emulator is a great case-in-point. One of the very first samplers to arrive on the scene, the original Emulator found its way into the hands of Stevie Wonder, Genesis, New Order, and Tangerine Dream. It was deployed heavily on Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
After only roughly 500 Emulators hit the streets, E-Mu shipped Emulator 2. The update had 8-part multitimbral capabilities, with each part having its own analog 4-pole low-pass resonant filter and VCA, each corresponding ADSR envelopes for filter and amp, and an LFO for both.
That instrument found favor with many artists, partially as a result of its flexible architecture, but also for its ability to import sounds from other sample libraries and plenty of third-party libraries as well.
Of course, in re-creating the instrument Arturia has added a few modern conveniences. The original instrument had no arpeggiator; the VI has a basic but effective one. It has a cool trick up its sleeve: when using forward/backward or backward/forward arpeggiation, you can get neat variations by using the Balance knob, which gives you a real-time percentage of backward to forward motion. It does feel a bit disjointed, however, to separate these parameters from the Arpeggiator panel, which is positioned on the instrument’s controls.
The UI is divided into the keyboard and a computer terminal, whose several pages hold the sample-editing, effects processing, modulation section, and most of the voicing features. As a multitimbral instrument, you can split and layer the 8 voices to taste.
The mapping and modulation assignments are pretty straightforward: no velocity switches or crossfades – strictly one sample per part. Drag-and-Drop makes things easy, and I was able to construct a rudimentary patch from a folder of my own banjo samples in minutes.
Clicking on the Assign page gets you to the sample mapping. Because each voice is independent, it’s child’s play to assign different effects, a handy feature for simple bass-and-keys patches.
Each part can use one of two converters: one that faithfully models the 12-bit Digital-to-analog conversion, and another that in Arturia’s words, replicates “the modern clean DAC sound.” Depending on the samples you use, the distinction sounds surprisingly subtle. Either way, interpolation across the keys – considering the limited sample map – is quite good, and aliasing, though present, is minimal.
I like Arturia’s take on the Emulator II. You’ll find lots of nostalgic and eminently useful favorites among the sounds, and it’s stupid-simple to build your own. In the midst of super-complex, high-resolution samplers, the Emulator II V is a breath of fresh air.
Vocoder V: Remember radio station ID spots, in which a choir of not-quite-human voices sang their station’s call letters in dense harmony, remarkably in-tune?
That’s the vocoder, a hybrid of voice processor and synthesizer has origins reaching back to Bell Labs in the 1920s. The technology was later pressed into military service as a part of a classified communications system. It didn’t really take shape as a musical device until Dr. Robert Moog created a solid-state hardware vocoder in the late ’60s.
Today, hardware vocoders are available as stand-alone processors, used in conjunction with synthesizers or as built-in synthesizer features. You can find loads of vocoders, reimagined in software. What makes Arturia’s Vocoder V special?
Rather than designing Vocoder V after a specific hardware instrument, Arturia cherry-picked its design from multiple vocoders. As a result, Vocoder V can elevate the vocoder beyond the buzzy, talking-robot synth, producing anything from rhythmic, tempo-synchronized pulses to cloudy, evolving pads.
Arturia Vocoder V distinguishes itself from others in multiple ways, allowing direct, real-time audio input, processing of existing audio tracks or instruments within your DAW, or with its built-in sample-playback facilities, a sample editor, and a sophisticated set of modulation tools.
Vocoder V combines a synthesizer and vocoder into a single package. It divides its input sources between Voice: external audio, and Sample. That’s a generous bank of audio clips, categorized by function such as Drones and Ambience, Drums and Percussion, Field Recordings, Foley, and more.
As with the E II, you can drag and drop your own samples. Click on the advanced section to assign samples to up to 12 slots, and you trigger sounds by playing keys within that range of a particular sample.
The Voice section accepts and adjusts external input – vocals or other sound sources, whether guitars, wind instruments, or drums. Using its pitch-tracking feature, monophonic signal sources (like voice) can trigger notes in the synthesizer.
A parametric EQ and compressor, located at the output of this section, processes the input before reaching the main vocoder section. Frequencies divide into 16 bands, and you can adjust the levels of each one. What’s more, the patchbay lets you modulate a frequency band of the synth with a different frequency of the sample or voice input. It’s as simple as dragging a virtual cable from a voice output to synth input.
Vocoder V may be the most fun of the entire collection. As a dedicated synth, you’ve probably heard more sophisticated sounds, but feed it your vocals, throw a syncopated drum loop into the sample section, or track a mono synth with your guitar, and Vocoder V’s coolness is beyond dispute.
All in All
I can’t think of a more bountiful collection of virtual instruments than Arturia’s V-Collection 8 – at least not until V-Collection 9. If you already own version 7, upgrading to 8 is a no-brainer.
Price: $599. Arturia’s site for more info