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04 December 2012

GROOVE 3 REASON EFFECTS EXPLAINED 1&2 | $14.99* each

REVIEW
Back in June, Propellerhead Software's Reason 6.5 brought Rack Extensions (RE) to the table, mobilizing a sizeable army of users gagging to get their hands on the new toys.

Now at version 6.5.2, Reason plays host to more third-party effects than instruments, as you'll discover from a quick shimmy around the online Prop Shop. So the timing of Groove 3’s release of this pair of tutorials on the software's bundled effects might seem a little unfortunate.

Well, there’s still much to plunder before throwing Extensions at the rack. The two volumes, accounting for around eight years of Reason's development, cover the M-class and newer goodies. REs, however, do not feature.

06 November 2012

TOONTRACK RANDY STAUB ROCK SOLID EZX | £54.95 / €69

REVIEW
November is brought to you by the letter M. No, not for 'moustache' (although a fuzzy top-lip indicates cancer awareness), but for 'metal'. Yes, it's Movember, hence time to grow a 'tache, contribute to Cancer Research UK and take in Toontrack's Metal Month, which heralds seven HM-related product announcements. The first arrived early here at MuzoBlog, giving time to cop a feel for what's erupted from the Swedish developer's HQ and summon a considered review on this very day of launch.

What we have is Randy Staub Rock Solid EZX, an expansion for percussion plug-in EZdrummer (£89.95 / €119) and which can also be accessed by the rather more trick Superior Drummer 2.0 (£207 / €259). It presents the engineering expertise of famed rock producer/engineer Randy Staub, alongside sampling from ex-Nickelback sticksman Ryan Vikedan.

The pair have assembled ~800MB of content comprising three complete drumkits, plus extras, aimed at muzos putting together classic-rock and heavy metal performances. Before we leap, like a deranged frontman, into the kits themselves, here's a typically tasty Toontrack vid for an overview of how the rock solidified…

17 October 2012

TOONTRACK EZKEYS UPRIGHT PIANO | £111 (€139)

REVIEW
It seems like only 114 years ago that Anders Nilsson Östlind founded the Östlind & Almquist piano and orgelharmoniumtillverkare firm in Arvika, Sweden. And since then, we’ve seen youngsters' interest in mastering acoustic instruments gradually totaled by TV and computers.

The more things change, the more they get different, except some things that didn’t and which are now pickled in binary by the boffins at Toontrack.

No, not feckless youth, unfortunately, but the strains of an original Ö&A upright piano, painstakingly captured in Studio 9 of Sveriges Radio and presented as EZkeys Upright Piano. Now cast your mind back all of seven months to recall the origins of this sample-based instrument...

01 October 2012

ARTURIA OBERHEIM SEM V 1.1 | €99

REVIEW
Floccinaucinihilipilification is rife in cork-sniffing audio circles. Those afflicted with pathological gear acquisition syndrome typically deride digital models of vintage music-making gear (sometimes before listening, it seems), citing lack of 'warmth', 'character' and /or lack of whopping price tag.

Arturia's SEM V, among numerous other software synths, has also fallen victim to connoisseurs' shock at the nouveau, the developer's True Analogue Emulation (TAE) technology unable to satisfy the auditory palates of hardwareholics. A YouTube video of this OS X/Windows, 32/64-bit, VST/AU/RTAS & standalone synth has stirred considerable online debate among the cognoscenti, so let's take a look at Arturia's 2011 introductory imagery, then consider how this year's v1.1 vintage addresses the anti-emulators' whine list...

15 September 2012

IZOTOPE ALLOY 2 | £139

REVIEW
It’s 5 October 2009 and Boston-based developer iZotope unleashes Alloy on an unsuspecting world. A six-module channel strip on performance-enhancing supplements, the product totes a host of presets aimed at home-production newbies, plus flexible configuration facilities for pro users seeking excitement, equalization, transient shaping, de-essing, double-barrelled dynamics control and limiting. All that and analog emulation, too. Now to August just gone and, bearing in mind that sister product Ozone had now reached v5, the world was no longer unsuspecting when news broke of Alloy 2.

This OS X/Windows, 32/64-bit, VST/AU/RTAS/ AAX/DXi plug is, as you'd expect, aimed at producers, engineers and broadcasting/podcasting types seeking to perfect their mixes with judicious tone and dynamics shaping. Before leaping in, let us absorb some handy gen, such as a PDF of the help manual, iZotope’s product page, Euro-distributor Time+Space’s product page and a video tour...

11 July 2012

U-HE DIVA 1.1 | £138.04

REVIEW - OVERVIEW
Modelling the function of a light switch in code is simple enough. It has an On state, which we could call 1 (or a very small cup with an electron in it). And there’s an Off state, or 0, or an empty cup. So, that’s not a lot of binary data. But what if it’s a dimmer switch? One’s cup may be neither full nor half empty. We’ve a theoretically limitless amount of On-ness (or Off-ness) to deal with, which requires an infinite amount of code. And that’s where coders start making compromises, balancing the accuracy of the model against the resources required to render it. With soft synths, there’s the added complication of ensuring the model works in real time, producing audio on the fly.

Now look at all the dimmer switches (aka knobs and sliders) of an analog synth, each offering infinite opportunity to arrive at software models that’d send even Deep Thought into a sulk. In devising a workable virtualisation, developers compromise detail to ensure that an average computer, running a DAW and other plugins simultaneously, can cope and that one's cup runneth not over. In other words, so that clicks and pops do not start popping up as the system voices complaint. It’s precisely this compromise that developer U-He hasn’t elected to take with 32/64-bit, VST/AU, Windows/OS X synth plugin Diva.

16 May 2012

SEM Ltd WAVEFORMS ANALOGUE WORKSHOP VOLUME 1:
DISTORTION & FEEDBACK | £29.95*

REVIEW
Some folk prefer their coffee black. No sweetener or milk, just a hot, strong, black brew with the promise of a quick, sharp buzz. And that's what synthmeister extraordinaire Ian Boddy serves up, audio-wise, with the first installment of his Analogue Workshop sample series.

Moog Minimoog
Analogue Workshop Vol 1: Distortion & Feedback (AW1DF) is perhaps not as bitter-sounding as the preamble to this piece might suggest, but that’s thanks to some ingenious scripting for the Native Instruments Kontakt 4 host in which this 300-strong sample collection (44.1kHz, 24-bit WAV) is designed to reside.

23 April 2012

IZOTOPE IRIS | £99/$149 (until May 4*)

REVIEW
It’s said there are 10 types of people: Those who understand binary and those who’d prefer to interface with it in a more human way. Even über nerds need assembly language by which to address the machine when programming, while the rest of us fare better with graphical user interfaces.

Hardware analog synths have GUIs, y’know - the knobs, sliders, buttons and switches that shield our delicate muzos’ minds from the complexity of circuitry within. As for the machine code of digital synthesis, well, that’s just mad stuff for robots. But developer iZotope has taken a chuck from the drill of graphic design to put an interesting spin on how to access the very guts of digital audio and mess it up. You can’t get much more GUI that the environment offered by photographers’ and designers’ favourite, Adobe Photoshop. So how about taking some of this pixel-crunching package’s drawing functions and applying them to a graphic of a waveform, its character to mutate?

15 April 2012

GROOVE 3 REVERB EXPLAINED | $39.99

REVIEW
Ah! The golden days of CB radio. We (five spotty teenagers) would huddle in our mate’s car and shout “breaker breaker” into the mic and get told to b***er off by old hands. We never figured out why. But we thought we'd stand much more of a chance of ruling the ether if we got one of those funny echoey units that make it sound like you’re Satan standing at the bottom of a well in a large, wet cave. Yep, reverb was Citizens' Band king.

Roll on 25 years (and the rest) and reverb plugins abound, but none, I repeat none, have a single knob that says 'sound more like Satan gazing upward with a wet bum'. Nah, these days you need a good reverb or four and they all have dials tagged with such arcane functions as ‘pre delay’, ‘diffusion’ and ‘make it sloshy’.

I suspect the reason I have more than a couple of reverbs, with good reviews to back them up, is because I was following the theory that I didn’t know enough about the subject. So if I get the latest wizzoo-bang reverb, it'll have the magic preset that means I just have to select it and won't have to bother with knowledge because it ain’t rock and roll. It's a fine theory if you like theories that don’t work and - who’s that ding-a-linging my bell? Why it's none other than Eli Krantzberg who is holding me by the throat against the wall for my own good and hitting me over the head with his Groove 3 video series Reverb Explained. I think he wants to tell me something...

03 April 2012

ROB PAPEN BLADE 1.0.0a | £78.95* (€99/$119)


It's one of those 'hold the front page' moments here at MuzoBlog. Rob's just been in touch to mention a new version of Blade, due any day now, which features a spectral display. Above is a brand-spanky new video to explain... (You don't get this sort of cutting-edge, up-t'-minute info-tainment with print media, y'know)

REVIEW
Describing someone as 'legendary' is like a precursor to them appearing on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. Which was typically a precursor to an appearance on the now defunct UK TV show This Is Your Life. Which was rather like witnessing someone attending their own wake. And so it's with caution that we should name the developer of this new, additive soft synth as the 'legendary' Rob Papen.

From the off, however, let's say that with Blade, Rob's abilities appear to be as sharp as ever. His Albino 3 continues to astound; his Predator to punch; his Punch to smash yer face in; and now Blade is poised to cut a splattergore swathe through the yielding flesh of the synth market. Yummy.

With a monicker like Blade, you'd expect this 32/64-bit AU/VST (32-bit only for RTAS - AAX on the way) for Mac and PC soft synth to be subtractive: One starts with a complex waveform and hacks lumps out of it. But Blade is additive at heart, although there's subtractive timbre-shaping control. If stumped, mug up on subtractive and additive, then hop back.

27 March 2012

NUCLEUS SOUNDLAB PANTHEON BUNDLE | CAD$99



Equinox, by Matthew Clary, is one of the many demo songs bundled with Pantheon III

REVIEW
There we go, a nice video to kick off a post, just for a change. And we live in changing times indeed. Despite Propellerhead Software’s long-standing reluctance to entertain the notion of introducing plug-ins to the Reason rack, bear in mind this is a company that also abjured multitrack audio recording. Until the launch of Record, that is. In fact, so enthusiastic were they with such new functionality, Reason 6 was developed with audio tracking built in (goodbye Record, then). And there was even a special ‘pay what you like’ upgrade offer for existing Reason owners. Commercial suicide? Not really. It’s claimed that Reason’s userbase ballooned by some 250,000 new users, which must have been music to the ears of Canada-based music-tech wizard Jeremy Janzen, top banana at cutting-edge ReFill specialist Nucleus SoundLab.

Meantime, on this side of the pond (on the other side of the North Sea, from where I’m sitting), further hatchings have been plotted at Propellerhead HQ. Those contrary Swedes now reckon plug-ins are a good thing after all and have lately announced Re. Yes, flying in the face of reason, it’s religious education for all. Ah... Hang on, that’s ‘Rack extension’, in fact, and at the base of this post there’s an address given at this year’s Frankfurt Musikmesse by Props’ über-banana Ernst Nathorst-Böös on such. In short, software developers are being encouraged to create plug-ins for Reason’s rack in readiness for v6.5, due v soon. Thus far, GForce Software, Softube, u-he, SonicCharge, Korg, Sugar Bytes and (something of a Reason ReFill legend) Peff are on board the development wagon and more are sure to flag it down.

There’s also a new, $1 portable app coming up called Figure (Reason? Figure? See what they did there?), so you can compose while on the go. Sort of ‘go-Figure’, which is a phrase that may end up in the pitch of some marketing type someday soon. Anyway, let’s stick with religion and pose a suitably Scandinavian theological question. How many pantheons does it take to house 779 incarnations of Thor?

16 March 2012

GROOVE 3 MASSIVE EXPLAINED &
MASSIVE SOUNDS VOL 1 | $29.99* & $7.99*

REVIEW
There's a great new soft synth you may not have heard of. It's called Massive, is by Native Instruments and has that many bells and whistles you can make bell and whistle sounds with it... Hang on - this is five years out of date...

Massive is a venerable (five years is booted off the ark in software terms) and extremely capable synth that’s used in many a dance genre. It has a lot of power, a lot of options and a vast amount of presets authored by NI and various third-party preset designers. I've done some programming with it and, by comparison to some more modern synths, it's relatively straightforward. So, with all the presets around for a straighforward synth, do we need a series of videos telling us how to use it?

‘Allo Laurence Holcombe, one half of UK V-mix duo Rebel Sonix and the man who'll be guiding you through the highways and byways of Massive by means of Groove 3's Massive Explained. This first tutorial series comprises three hours of videos going from an overview covering such basics as how to load a preset, then moving through the guts in a logical order - oscillators, filters, modulation and finishing on the Global page.

13 March 2012

TOONTRACK EZKEYS GRAND PIANO | £115 (€139)

REVIEW
'Twas on a bleak Tuesday (-ish) in 1698 that Padua resident Bartolomeo Cristofori dropped a hammer on his foot. Seeing it bounce, he was struck not only by said hammer, but with the urge to beat the daylights out of his harpsichord’s innards. And so were born the piano and about a billion crap ballads. Cristofori had figured that hitting stuff was a good way of making it vibrate and set about building precursors to the modern balladeer's ludicrously over-engineered accessory that we recognise as the concert grand.

Cavemen hit on the hitting-stuff ruse several thousand years earlier when stretching skins over hollow logs. However, it took until 2006 for another musical pioneer, Swedish software developer Toontrack, to devise a high-tech means of easily creating percussive grooves with EZdrummer, which encouraged numerous muzos to ditch their wetware percussionists. The advantage of this has been to encourage levels of remorse and self loathing sufficient to inspire new, even drippier ballads as piano-equipped songsmiths wallow in separation anxiety concerning absent drummers.

Last year we saw the introduction of EZmix, a means by which audio engineers and producers can also be fired as deployment of sophisticated signal-processing passes to the hands of the songwriter. And now it’s the turn of the keyboard player, and even the songwriting partner, to be dumped with today’s launch of Toontrack EZkeys Grand Piano, another percussion suite featuring not sampled skins, but tensioned strings. However, it’s rather more than just another virtual Steinway.

11 March 2012

EASTWEST QUANTUM LEAP MINISTRY OF ROCK 2 | €355.81 ($399)

REVIEW
Much has been said of rock and/or roll. It ain’t noise pollution, God gave it to you - put it in the soul of everyone, in fact - and it’s deader than dead. That’s presumably why it now has a ministry. I digress. EastWest Quantum Leap’s Ministry of Rock 2 supplements the original MoR, 2008’s 20GB ROMpler release containing rocking sounds for hit-record and filmscore production.

This latest Ministry draws on a super-sized 57GB sample library which is shoved through a host of virtual signal processors using the power of the Play engine (we’ve encountered this technology before in last October’s MuzoBlog post on The Dark Side, although Play is now at a more robust v3.0.32).

EastWest Studio 1 has an 80-channel
8078 Neve console - nice
In essence, then, MoR2 is a virtual rock band targeted at composers bereft of drummer, bassist and guitarist. To help out such loners, Quantum Leap composer/producer Nick Phoenix, in league with EastWest founder/producer Doug Rogers and producer Rhys Moody, teamed up with some top rock musicians and, armed with nifty bits of kit, set about laying down what is a truly immense core library for an affordable ROMpler. But despite the gear and the talent shaking the walls of EastWest Studios, could the assembled feasibly arrive at a software instrument capable of emulating the grunt of a rock band in all its sweat and lather? Let us investigate.

02 March 2012

SE ELECTRONICS REFLEXION FILTER PRO | £229

REVIEW
Unless you’re endowed with a top-sounding acoustic space in which to record, the last thing you need is ambience. And, let’s face it, most common recording spaces aren’t exactly slopping over with attractive vibes. Project studios typically occupy whichever room of the house can be spared and end up filled with all manner of hardware that reflects sound willy nilly. Then there’s the noise from computer fans burbling away, perhaps buzz from a guitar combo and, of course, the hum of the beer fridge.

Pro studios with well-appointed vocal booths, meanwhile, are expensive to hire, booths can sound boxy and they're none too portable if you’re aiming to record on the road. Then you may have the challenge of miking up various instruments for an ensemble performance and the inevitable difficulty of separating them so they don’t spill overmuch into each other’s mics. What’s needed is something to isolate a microphone from extraneous sound sources and absorb the sound emanating from what is miked so it doesn’t go bouncing around the room. It’s at this point in the reasoning that light bulbs must have appeared over boffins’ heads at SE Electronics.

14 February 2012

TOONTRACK EZMIX 2 | £115 (€139)

REVIEW
It seems like only 18 weeks ago that I was banging on about Toontrack’s preset-toting, multiFX plug-in EZmix. I could reiterate, but in keeping with the ‘get results quick’ nature of this OS X 10.5+ PPC/Intel and Windows XP-to-7 friendly, VST/RTAS/AU, 32/64-bit instant-fairydust tool, I’ll point you to last October’s MuzoBlog post on the original EZmix. Welcome back. Now let us concentrate on the new in version 2. Most obviously, it looks rather different.

The sliders are no more and instead we’ve two small and two medium-sized knobs to play with. The small ones are for controlling input and output levels, while the larger knobs’ assignations change depending on the preset loaded via a revamped menu system. And what a groovy system it is, in that it can be interrogated in a number of ways. Menus are arranged by instrument-group, instrument, effect, type and genre, as well as by any of the Toontrack preset packs, including the Producer editions on which MuzoBlog will be reporting soon.

Owners of v1 should note that existing presets, plus self-authored and saved configurations, show up in v2. So you can whittle down the burgeoning collection of presets by category type, or by key-word in the text-entry box above the menus. And so to the right-hand side of EZmix 2’s interface for the most obviously obvious change: Some neat graphics showing which bits of studio kit are active when a preset is loaded. They’re completely unnecessary, but make the plug much more fun. If visual appeal is high on your priority list, let’s get our multimedia mojo engaged and make with a walkthrough video. And excuse MuzoBlog-sponsored artist Doktor Fell's inline advert - he's just exceedingly chuffed to have arrived at #1 in the ReverbNation UK Rock Chart. Ah, the power of MuzoBlog promo. Give him a listen and sign up as a fan, when you've a moment...

13 February 2012

GROOVE 3 REASON 6 EXPLAINED | $39.99*
MUSIC PRODUCTION WITH REASON & RECORD | $24.99

REVIEW
Being a father, I’ve been browbeaten into the harsh reality of multitasking. The art of doing something while doing something else that's a bit different, but no less necessary, does not come easily. However, you do end up getting things achieved in less time. Can you see where this is leading? Look at the title again and see if you can guess (for non-women and non-fathers, I'll spell it out). I'm reviewing two Groove3 video tutorials about Propellerhead Software's Reason; tutorials that come from different angles. I aim to see if they complement each other, thus offering you the potential to get more done, or whether I've just repeated a few hours of my life for no good... Ahem... Reason.

General opinion seems to be that Reason 6 heralds the 10-year-old DAW's coming of age. The 'wot? No plug-ins?' gripe seems like a small grumble in the face of fully integrated audio support. Sure, there are three more effects units, plus some tweaks to the interface, but v6 seems like a solid and consolidated base from which to build future versions. However, back in the day, v1 induced head-scratching, what with all those wires and with trying to figure out what a unison thang was and why you’d use it. The back-in-the-day bit is my way of saying that Reason is not new to me, so Reason 6 Explained by Sedric Pieretti could well wind up telling me a lot of what I already know, but with a few new things along the way. Well, let's see about that...

19 January 2012

IZOTOPE OZONE 5 ADVANCED | £669 (€799/$999)

Ozone 5, also available as Advanced
REVIEW
It’s long been held that iZotope Ozone is a tool of the mastering engineer, a person steeped in arcane audio lore who exercises some kind of voodoo over final mixes in order to take them from passable to ear-gasmic. In doing so, obscure outboard (kit you could never afford) and in-box esoterica is brought to bear, its function beyond the ken of mere mortal project studio pilots. Mastering is, after all, the domain of an elite breed of engineer, scientist and audio wizard who, in another life, was a bat. What use, therefore, is a suite of mastering tools in the creative pursuits of tracking and mixing? The answer, in the way iZotope has engineered things, is: Lots.

Ozone 5 Advanced breaks down into six processing components, each of which is as legitimately employed in the composition, arrangement, recording and mixing stages of music production as in the final meltdown prior to publishing. At launch, announced last October 2011, iZotope’s Nick Dika spoke of Ozone 5 Advanced as offering: “…mixing and mastering engineers an even higher level of flexibility, precision and control.” Nick did not, however, mention we muzos who are never happier than when appropriating whatever comes to hand and slapping it capriciously onto the audio canvas, our muses to indulge. Before a blow-by-blow account of each item in Ozone 5, let’s settle back for video overviews of the standard and Advanced products…