Review: XILS-lab Synthix virtual analog synthesizer plugin

XILS-lab

After taking on the RSF Polykobol II (PolyKB II) and EMS VCS3 modular (XILS-3), XILS-lab continues its quest to produce authentic recreations of vintage analog synthesizers with Synthix, a virtual instrument inspired by the Elka Synthex, a popular Italian polysynth from the early 80’s.

Ring Modulation, Cross Pulse Width Modulation and Hard Synchronization between the oscillator and a special powerful glide circuit allow the recreation of all the well known Arp lasers and chorused strings that made this synthesizer the icon of it’s age.

The Synthex is often praised for its lush analog sounds. It offers 2 oscillators per note, multiple voice layers and splits. It has 4 voice cards with 2 voices each, so you basically have 8 complete mono synth circuits in one synthesizer.

If you are a fan of Jean Michel Jarre’s music you will probably know the Synthex, or at least its sound.

I am personally not so familiar with the Synthex, but I know XILS-labs’ Synthix has the same kind of architecture, adding some interesting additional features.

XILS-lab Synthix
Synthix’s interface is inspired by Synthex’s appearance and layout

Synthix features

  • Two aliasing-free oscillators providing saw, triangle, pulse or square wave forms.
  • One multi-mode self-oscillating filter, providing 12 and 24 low pass, 6 and 12 band pass and a 12 high pass filter.
  • Hard synchronization between the two oscillators.
  • Ring-Modulation, Pulse-Width Cross Modulation between the two oscillators.
  • Advanced Glide/Portamento.
  • Four envelope generators (ADSR) with an advanced delay feature, 2 are freely assignable.
  • Two Multi Waveform MIDI syncable polyphonic LFO.
  • One sine monophonic LFO.
  • One Advanced exclusive Chaotic LFO.
  • One Advanced exclusive rhythm LFO.
  • One 128 steps polyphonic sequencer.
  • Two arpeggiators (monophonic or polyphonic).
  • Chorus, Phaser, Delay and EQ effects.
  • Mono/Unison/Poly playing mode with up to 16 voices of polyphony.
  • Six freely assignable Modulation slots.
  • Advanced Multi Layering (up to 8 layers) feature.
  • Advanced Guitar voice assignation mode.
  • All parameters are MIDI controllable.

Synthix features various polyphonic and monophonic modes, unison, and voice selection & assignment options. At a maximum of 16 voices, the synth features no less than 8 independent layers of 2 voices with a separate set of oscillators, multi-mode filter, envelopes & LFOs for each layer. The parameters within a layer can be modified individually or collectively for a selection of layers. In case this all sounds like gibberish to you, just think complex sounds.

Synthix keyboards
Configuring upper keyboard notes

Synthix has 2 keyboards (upper and lower) with individual arpeggiator and MIDI settings for each keyboard. You can split a keyboard into MIDI ranges, or use the complete keyboard on different MIDI channels.

Besides upper and lower keyboard ranges, there’s also a special Guitar mode which allows you to use your guitar to play up to two voices on Synthix’s 6 MIDI channels, using a guitar to MIDI converter. Obviously you can also use any other MIDI device to trigger the MIDI channels.

Lotuzia – one of the presets designers for Synthix, has created a video demonstrating many of the things I just mentioned.

Taking the emulation beyond an emulation

XILS-lab worked hard to create a virtual Synthex, Synthix is in many ways also intentionally different to bring added value.

Paul Wiffen, the man who designed most of Synthex’s presets and introduced the synthesizer to people like Jean Michelle Jarre, Stevie Wonder, and Keith Emerson, said this about the Synthix:

Although it may take a few moments to locate the familiar parameters of the Synthex on the screen once you begin to manipulate them the sonic results are uncannily close to the original. On several occasions I found myself prefering the extra flexibility in the Synthix especially when it came to sonic control via velocity and aftertouch, control wich were never available on the original machine. the additional polyphony and multiple layering of timbres are particulary welcomed.

Let’s take a closer look at the interface.

The top half of Synthix houses the modules of a layer. From left to right you have the LFOs, modulation matrix, 2 oscillators (with sync and drift for a more analog feel), noise generator, a section with glide & portamento and layer specific output, pan and tune parameters, a multi-mode filter, and 4 envelopes. Pretty straight forward.

More interesting are the Chaox and Rhythm LFO modules, two of XILS-lab’s additions to the original Synthex design. Chaox is basically like a regular LFO, but more chaotic. Instead of using a waveform you get 4 algorithms that create a more or less random modulation effect. I love this kind of modulation; great for creating tune drifting Boards of Canada type sounds. The Rhythm LFO is useful for creating rhythmic patterns by modulating at a specific step in the LFO cycle. Multiple intervals are available for creating more complex rhythms.

XILS-lab Synthix joystick panel
Synthix’ joystick

Synthix also features the lovely joystick found on Elka’s hardware synth.

Six sliders on the right side of the joystick set the modulation amount to the oscillators and filter cutoff parameters. The LFO 3 sliders set the amount of modulation of the LFO’s tuning. A switch lets you modulate only upper or lower keyboard ranges, or both.

Again, this may all sound a bit complex but if you just wiggle the joystick around a bit you’ll get a feel for it right away. Think expressive sounds.

Synthix effects panel
Three effect units are included

While the Synthex only had a chorus unit, with Synthix you have three more effects at your disposal.

  • Delay – a simple delay with individual controls for delay time and feedback for left and right channels + sync to host.
  • Chorus – a dual brigade delay effect with three chorus modes. The manual includes parameters values to emulate the original Synthex chorus modes.
  • Phaser – basic phaser effect unit including sweep and internal audio feedback controls.
  • Equalizer – two high/low shelf filters with freq, res and gain.

Synthix has a seemingly basic arpeggiator with up/down/random modes. A number of additional parameters are available in a popup panel. Here you can set a chord sequence for the polyphonic mode, assign the order of voices, set the arp mode, and the number of octaves to be used.

Moving down to the lower area of Synthix’s interface we find a relatively inconspicuous sequencer and a large virtual keyboard (KBD). Two additional tabs reveal a sequencer display (SEQ) and an information panel (INFO), which can contain some useful details on a preset. I say can because some of the sound designers make good use of this panel while others pretty much ignore it.

XILS-lab Synthix sequencer panel
The sequencer panel

I rarely use a sequencer other than the one that comes with my music production application. It is more advanced than any sequencer type thing found in a plug-in and it makes more sense in terms of workflow. Still, Synthix’s sequencer is pretty interesting.

Being polyphonic, it allows for recording on 4 individual tracks. This is done in step-sequence fashion, with a maximum of 128 steps per sequence. Once recorded you can edit sequences in the display module. You can sync to host tempo and the rate knob sets the speed. It is easy to create evolving sequences, even more since steps are velocity sensitive and you can modulate both tune and note velocity to create variations.

Synthix comes with a superb selection of 250+ presets by some great sound designers, including Paul Wiffen, who actually programmed most of the preset sounds for the Synthex.

The preset management system in the top toolbar allows patch selection and sorting in various ways, e.g. on author, type, bank, etc. Nice and tidy.
A/B comparison, general options, and a help function are also available from the same toolbar.

You can listen to some demo tracks on the XILS-lab website. I recommend checking the separate instruments clips as well, those are really well done. Some Synthex vs Synthix A/B comparison clips are also available on the same page.

XILS-lab offers a full featured demo version (time limited) for eLicenser and iLok, as well as a dongle-less demo version with some limitations. Go check it out.

So what do I think?

Product: Synthix by XILS-lab
Format: Audio Plug-in for Windows/Mac (VST/AU/RTAS), eLicenser/iLok dongle required
Price: 169 EUR incl. VAT
Like: Amazingly fat, deep, and complex sounds. High quality, usable presets
Don’t like: Non-intuitive parts of interface, can be CPU intensive
Verdict: 9/10

Initially some things in Synthix were a bit confusing to me. After reading the manual and getting more familiar with the various panels and controls I still couldn’t get along with the workflow/interface much.

I was having a hard time seeing what exactly was going on, especially when it comes to layers and voices. Eventually I felt more comfortable with Synthix, especially after browsing and breaking down some of the more complex presets. Still, I think there is room for improvement to make the interface more intuitive. If you get discouraged at this stage – for instance when checking the demo version, you might not even want to continue and miss out on something really good.

Synthix is one of the best sounding virtual analog synthesizers I have ever heard. It’s right up there with FXpansion’s Synth Squad and u-he’s ACE. It produces a real fat sound. Huge deep bass, piercing lead sounds, Rhodes-like keys, soft evolving pads, plucks, wild sound fx… Synthix does it all, and what’s more you can create amazingly complex sounds using layers. As long as your CPU can handle it…

I also really like the CEM 3320-based filter on Synthix. You can get it to do some proper nasty stuff, especially when pushing to the extremes in combination with the overdrive.

In short, Synthix is a wonderful virtual analog synth with some nifty extras. It is capable of producing both the classic sounds of its role model from the 80’s, as well as sounds for your modern day productions. Plus, did I mention it sounds fat? It sure does!

More information: XILS-lab / Synthix

Note: As part of a launch promotion you can still get 30% off the regular price of Synthix until August 31.

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Faderfox LV3, Ableton Live controller

Related: , , , , , , , Posted in news on Jun 06, 2011 - comment 0 comments

Faderfox has introduced the LV3, a compact controller for Ableton Live.

Faderfox LV3

The device controls track volumes by faders, rack parameters by encoders and joysticks and important global things like tempo, quantization & cue/master-volumes.

Further you get a total track control by 24 programmable buttons, organized in 3 rows. You will find a very convenient way to select and fire scenes & clips by a dedicated encoder as well.

Last but not least the two joysticks give you the special feeling of controlling a model aircraft. Fly away…

LV3 features

  • Special controller for Ableton Live (also suitable for other DAW software).
  • Automap setup files for Live 8 are shipped with the controller (no manual mapping necessary).
  • USB interface – class compliant / no driver necessary.
  • Controls 8 tracks with possibility to shift the 8-track-window to further tracks.
  • 24 programmable buttons for all track functions.
  • About 280 commands – all freely reassignable (each track sends on separate midi channel).
  • Select and start/stop of scenes/clips with dedicated encoder (clip-scroll in session view).
  • 4 mulifunctional push-encoders to control rack parameters in the selected track.
  • 2 non-centered joysticks to control rack parameters in the selected track or in send tracks.
  • Global control of several global parameters like tempo, quantization and master / cue volumes.
  • All controls with double function by holding down the shift button.
  • 33 LED’s in different colors to display various informations like clip states etc. .
  • 2-digit-display to show current scene number and track window.
  • USB bus powering – consumption less than 500mW / 100mA.
  • Very compact design in a black, plastic casing (desktop format 180x105x70 mm, 350 g).
  • High-quality faders and encoders from ALPS.
  • New rubber knobs for best tactile feeling.

The LV3 is available to pre-order for 250 EUR incl. VAT. The controller will be available mid June, 2011.

More information: Faderfox / LV3

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FreePlayer Express, motion effect controller now available

Related: , , , , , , , , Posted in news on Nov 08, 2010 - comment 0 comments
FreePlayer Express

FreePlayer has announced the availability of FreePlayer Express, a universal kit that attaches to most guitars or basses with a simple adhesive pad.

FreePlayer allows you to control effects by the motion of the guitar itself – fluidly and in real time, and it’s available now! The first FreePlayer product – FreePlayer Express – allows you to control any MIDI-capable effect directly, or VSTs via the supplied software. Just attach the FreePlayer to your guitar and connect via USB – it’s as simple as that!

Since FreePlayer Ltd. announced earlier in the year that they would be launching their motion-based guitar effects controller, it’s been a busy time: “We’ve been busy with fielding all the enquiries that have come in, helping and supporting our Beta users – and of course, developing hardware and software!” says a slightly frazzled Stuart Smith, Managing Director of FreePlayer Ltd.

The result is a brilliantly simple idea: one slimline box – the FreePlayer Express – can be attached to pretty much any guitar or bass, and connects to the outside world via USB (a wireless add-on is on the way). The Express contains a highly sensitive motion sensor which – as the demo clips on YouTube show – can be used to control pretty much any kind of effect, from simply merging in a delay or reverb through to ‘3-D – Wah’ filter effects, or even the kind of wild pitch-based effects that are possible with Saltline Audio Solutions’ ‘Son of a Pitch’ (bundled with FreePlayer). As they say on their website – ‘Move it, Shake it – it’s all possible!’. The Express hardware is rounded off with a tactile button array and a set of status LEDs.

Best of all, a planned firmware upgrade means that FreePlayer will be directly MIDI-capable – just plug it in to your audio workstation (PC, Mac or Linux), digital Amp, MIDI effects box or what have you, and you’ve got immediate control of your effects by movement – it’s as simple as that!

To capitalize on current success, the Express is available at a reduced price of EUR149 (GBP120, approx), while FreePlayer also boasts a dedicated LesPaul version built into a custom pickguard, with a Strat version and others planned in future.

More information: FreePlayer

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Arturia Origin Keyboard, synthesizer now shipping

Arturia Origin Keyboard

Arturia has announced it is now shipping the Origin Keyboard, its new flagship hardware synthesizer.

The Origin project started in 2004 and was aimed at creating a new kind of synthesizer. Ambitious from a features stand-point, innovative in design and sounding like no other digital synthesizer on the market- the Origin concept was bold.

As a matter of fact, the project proved tough. But a first step was completed when, in 2008, Arturia debuted Origin Desktop. With the delivery of Origin Keyboard, the cycle is coming to an end.

“Origin Keyboard is based on a vision. The vision of an instrument that would proudly stand among the greatest synths of all time” says Frédéric Brun, President of Arturia. “Difficulties have been numerous, but we are extremely proud to start shipping Origin Keyboard. This is an instrument breaking new boundaries by mixing the latest technologies and the grand tradition of quality and innovation in sound synthesis.”

Origin Keyboard features

  • Premium quality keyboard
    • High quality semi-weighted 61-keys keyboard, with velocity response and channel aftertouch.
    • New exclusive duophonic aftertouch.
  • Ergonomic design
    • Self adjustable front panel, from 0° to 135°, giving you total setup flexibility.
    • 5.2” TFT screen for clear visual feedback.
    • Easily transportable cabinet offering a complete mobile solution.
  • High level of control
    • Ultra sensitive 40cm ribbon controller.
    • Modulation and pitch-bend wheels, 3-mode Joystick, 21 potentiometers, 33 rotary encoders, 81 switches.
  • Complete connectivity
    • Analog Audio Connectivity: 2 audio ins,10 audio outs.
    • Digital Audio: SPDIF out, USB 2.0.
    • Built-in expression pedal and footswitch control inputs.
  • Superb audio quality
    • Analog Devices Tiger Shark ® processors.
    • TAE® engine.
    • Up to 32 voices of polyphony for a typical patch.
    • High quality effects: Phaser, Chorus, Delay, Distortion, Parametric EQ, Rotary…
  • Powerfull analog sounds
    • More than 600 presets created by talented musicians and synthesizer specialists.
    • Create your own patch by connecting independent modules from: Minimoog, ARP 2600, CS-80, Jupiter-8, Moog Modular, Prophet VS.

The Origin Keyboard is now available to purchase for a MSRP of $3499 USD / 2990 EUR.

More information: Arturia / Origin Synthesizer

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FreePlayer Ltd. announces FreePlayer Pre-order

FreePlayer Pro

FreePlayer Ltd. has announced that FreePlayer is now available to pre-order.

FreePlayer, which allows guitarists to control effects by motion and touch, consists of a hardware attachment for the guitar and a software application that hosts VST plug-ins and controls MIDI devices. A Windows version is offered initially, with other operating systems to follow.

The first models to be made available are:

  • FreePlayer Pro for Les Paul guitars – pre-order price €299 (normal price €399) – contains a complete set of FreePlayer sensors in an ‘easy-fit-kit’ pickguard:
    • 38x48mm Touchpad (responds smoothly to a pick or a fingernail)
    • 3-Axis Motion Sensor (Responds to motion up to 3G – Shock-proof to 10,000G!)
    • Flexible Light Sensor (Detects light changes in 1000 smooth increments)
    • Tactile button array (Five buttons individually shaped for recognition by touch.
  • FreePlayer Express – pre-order price €149 (normal price €199) – a universal kit that attaches to most guitars or basses with a simple adhesive pad (included). With a 3-axis Motion Sensor and Tactile Button array, it’s all you need to get up and running!
  • FreePlayer Express Plus – pre-order price €199 (normal price €249) – all the benefits of FreePlayer Express, with an additional Flexible Light Sensor.

Each FreePlayer unit comes with a USB cable, the FreePlayer software, and is bundled with these VST plug-ins:

  • Saltline Audio Solutions: Bachelard, ‘Son of a Pitch’ and Cadence.
  • Voxengo: Voxengo Boogex.
  • MeldaProduction MFreeVSTBundle: includes MCompressor, MEqualiser, MPhaser, MRingModulator, MFlanger, MTremolo, MVibrato, and many others.
  • NDC’s Open source VST plugins: Fragmental, and the wonderfully named Reversinator.
  • FrettedSynthAudio: FreeAmp3.

Users will be able to download more VSTs and sounds from the FreePlayer SoundStore, including Saltline Audio Solution’s previously announced range of plug-ins developed specifically for FreePlayer.

Customers Pre-ordering FreePlayer between now and the product release (expected end of July) receive a discount of up to €100 – with deposit of just €50.

More information: FreePlayer

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