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Review: Cableguys Curve 2 synthesizer plugin

Related: , , , , , Posted in reviews on Sep 04, 2013 - comment 0 comments

I reviewed the first version of Curve about two and half years ago, and most of what I wrote there goes for Curve 2, but recently I have been designing some more sounds with this synthesizer so I thought it was a good time for an additional version 2 review.

For those who haven’t heard of Curve before, it is basically a subtractive synth with some tricks up its sleeve.

Curve is a software synthesizer with an irresistible waveform editor, huge sound library and slick interface. Ideal for both experimentation and detailed tweaking at an excellent sound quality.

Feed Curve’s oscillators, LFOs and envelopes with custom waveforms. For anything rhythmic from wobbles to FX loops and evolving pads. For broad oscillator timbres from deep basses to shrill, aggressive snarls.

Cableguys Curve 2
Curve 2 comes with a new layout, improved workflow, and a black skin.

I would say the main attraction of Curve lies in the drawable waveforms that can be used for the oscillators and LFOs. This allows for great control over partials/harmonics of the sounds and it welcomes experimentation which I reckon most sound designers will enjoy lots.

With version 2, you now can also use the same functionality with all three envelope (velocity + 2 custom) modules. This makes Curve an even more flexible synthesizer to work with, since you can now create/draw your own multi-stage envelopes right there in the main display.

Also new is the fact that you can combine two waveforms in a single oscillator, which likewise really opens up the way for new sonic exploration.

Curve 2 Marco settings
Macro knobs in Curve

A workflow improvement comes in the shape of macro knobs, to which you can assign a number of parameters for modulation.

Of course you could automate this kind of thing without macros just fine, but it where’s the fun in doing that when you can create sonic mayhem with the turn of a single knob instead?

The 2 filter units are still there, and with version 2 you can now also route them individually to each oscillator, either single or both in series or parallel.

Curve 2 has a more refined, and more user friendly interface. I have to admit I wouldn’t mind seeing a white/grey edition though. The new dark skin looks great but it can be a bit straining on the eyes, to me anyway. That said, it is still a lovely GUI and the workflow is great.

Add to that the ever growing online presets database (well over 2,200 last I checked) which includes tons of high quality sounds, and you will find Curve 2 to be a versatile synthesizer that can easily stand its own ground.

Check out Myagi’s video on how to create a supersaw synth bass with Curve 2 for a good overview of how to design sounds on this plug-in.

So what do I think?

Product: Curve 2 by Cableguys
Format: VST/AU/RTAS
Price: 119 EUR / $159 USD inc. VAT
Like: waveform drawing, very flexible, sound designer’s dream, presets database
Don’t like: –
Verdict: 9/10

Cableguys offered something new and exciting with Curve’s flexible drawable waveform based instrument, and they confidently lift the powerful synthesizer to a higher level with Curve 2.

The improved envelopes, extended oscillators, macro knobs and workflow adjustments all contribute to creating an instrument that motivate the sound designer in me.

The only thing missing is the effects section, and to be honest, I don’t really miss it at all. It is still refreshing to hear what you can achieve without reverb, delay, and whatnot, and if need be there are plenty of other tools to get that job done anyway. If nothing else, the lack of effect units makes me design my sounds more carefully. Browsing the many beautiful sounds in the presets database, I realize I still have a lot to learn.

So, whether you want to create your own unique sounds, or simply enjoy the thousands of presets provided by the community, Curve 2 is definitely a synth that deserves your attention.

More information: Cableguys / Curve 2

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Review: Cableguys MidiShaper

Related: , , , , , , , , , Posted in reviews on Nov 16, 2011 - comment 1 comment

One of my favorite things about Curve is the combination of its flexible modulation engine and the waveform drawing tools.

Cableguys MidiShaper

Now wouldn’t it be nice to have the same powerful tools to draw custom waveforms for LFOs and envelopes to drive other audio sources? Welcome to MidiShaper!

Four LFOs and four envelope generators work together in a sophisticated modulations matrix that can be set up to output modulated pitch, modwheel, channel aftertouch or any MIDI control messages.

MidiShaper’s LFOs can run infinitely or be retriggered, synced to your host sequencer from a buzzy 1/128 to an expansive 32 bars, set to the played note, or run from 0.02 Hz up to the audible range and brain frequency. Like Curve, MidiShaper features completely editable waveforms for its LFOs.

MidiShaper is set up by routing the MIDI output to your host software, or anything else that handles MIDI automation, both software and hardware.

Although many hosts and plugins already have LFOs and envelopes, the ones in MidiShaper are more advanced than most. Each of the 4 LFOs takes its source from a selection of 10 custom drawable waveforms + noise. They can run free or beat synced – including retrigger and one-shot modes for both. The LFO rate goes from a blazing fast 1/128 to a slow as molasses 32 bar speed. Dedicated envelope generators are available for each individual LFO. These envelopes can be used on the LFO to fade it in/out, or simply to modulate a parameter in the matrix when no LFO is running on that particular source.

The modulation matrix features pitch, modwheel and aftertouch, as well as 6 assignable MIDI CC slots. The handy “Teach MIDI CC” effortlessly links the desired control/parameter to the MIDI CC number of your choice. Center parameters set the value from where the modulation takes place.

MidiShaper’s waveform screen comes with buttons for speeding up the creation of your waveforms. You get some basic waveform shapes, a randomizer, zoom, grid and note display, and various tools to move the waveform and its points.

Cableguys did some nice videos showcasing MidiShaper’s features and explaining how to use it in Ableton, Cubase, and Logic. I did not find any details on how to set it up in my host of choice – FL Studio, so I made a little video where I use MidiShaper to modulate the filter cutoff on u-he’s most excellent Diva software synthesizer.

So what do I think?

Product: MidiShaper by Cableguys
Format: effect plug-in for PC and Mac (VST/AU)
Price: 20 EUR / $30 USD incl. VAT
Like: Flexible, feature-full, fun
Don’t like: –
Verdict: 9/10

To be honest, MidiShaper is probably not an essential plug-in for many of you. Generally, synth and effect parameters can be automated within your host software, and LFOs and envelopes are included in many plugins already.

In fact, automation clips in FL Studio are so flexible and easy to set up I really don’t need MidiShaper for basic things. But, I know not all hosts have this down. And for creating more advanced effects, the waveform drawing features in MidiShaper are hard to beat. Much like all other Cableguys plugins I have used MidiShaper is easy to use, intuitive, and extremely flexible.

If you ever find yourself in need of modulating synths or effects that lack an LFO and you don’t want to spend a lot of time automating things in your host, then MidiShaper is for you. Likewise, adventurous musicians and sound designers who require more than a simple sine/triangle/square/saw LFO waveform should also consider this plugin. A free fully functional demo version is available from Cableguys, so check it out.

More information: Cableguys / MidiShaper

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Review: Cableguys Curve, software synthesizer plugin

Cableguys

Although Curve 1.0 was only released last December it is not exactly a new plug-in.

This software synthesizer developed by Jakob Rang and Steffen Rose of Berlin-based Cableguys has been around in various stages of public beta since as early as August 2006. Interestingly enough the final release looks more or less the same as the initial design, albeit much more refined.

Let’s take a look at the general specifications of Curve.

Curve features

  • 3 oscillators (aliasing-free) with custom waveform + noise generator.
  • 10 editable waveforms can be assigned as sources for the oscillators and LFOs.
  • 3 AHDSR envelope generators.
  • 2 multi-mode filters in serial.
  • 4 host-syncable LFOs.
  • Mod matrix, including pitch and FM modulations.
  • Info box displays hints for controls/parameters.
  • Presets management with presets sharing, tagging and rating options.

Curve doesn’t really include that many groundbreaking features, but one thing that definitely sets it apart from similar synths is the waveform editor, which takes up a large part of Curve’s interface.

Cableguys Curve, waveform editor
Cableguys Curve includes a flexible editor for up to 10 custom waveforms

Pick one of the available classic shapes or start from scratch by mouse clicking in some break points (soft & hard) and modifying the curves to your liking. The existing break points and curves in a waveform can also be randomized with the push of a button.

Several buttons are available to speed up the job. Things like inverting and shifting the waveform in various directions, and in- or decreasing the amplitude. The grid can be scaled/zoomed, and there is a note grid option which when active snaps the waveform break points to the grid. The idea here is to use the waveform as an LFO source and modulate pitch with it to create melodies.

Cableguys Curve - LFO section

The LFO section includes a total of four LFOs. Two of them are retriggered by notes; the other two are global (they keep running). When synced to host tempo the LFOs can run at various speeds from 1/128 to 32 bars. A fixed rate can be set from 0.020 Hz to 5.24 kHz, and the retriggered ones can also play at the frequency of notes played.

Much like the visual design of the interface, the various sections of Curve are quite minimal. The oscillators only have a few controls (pitch, detune, pan, and volume). Same thing for the filters, which run in serial mode. But don’t mistake the lack of controls for lack of quality. Under the hood these filters are identical to the ones in FilterShaper. Curve has three envelopes – one of which for the main volume, the other two for use in the modulation matrix.

Cableguys Curve - Modulation matrix

Cableguys took a traditional/old-school approach with the modulation matrix, hard wiring the whole shebang and displaying the full matrix of options in the interface. While I have grown used to drop down menus for modulation source/target parameters, I don’t mind having it all laid out.

Besides LFOs and envelopes you can modulate with velocity, mod wheel, keytrack and aftertouch. Modulation targets include pitch, FM, volume, and filter cutoff & resonance. To the right is a section devoted to frequency modulation, where you can modulate the oscillators.

Some general settings are also available for polyphony (max 32 notes), preset volume, and pitchbend range. An audio quality selector lets you pick a number of band limited (non-aliasing) and aliasing modes.

This synth is pretty straightforward to program, but if you need help most controls will display some quick hints/tips in the info box in when hovering over them. You can also learn from the collection of presets that comes with Curve.

Cableguys Curve - Preset manager

The preset management is actually something quite special. Search, tagging and rating are nice features, but Curve has more than that. Did you notice the columns for “downloaded on”, and “community tag & rating”?

Curve’s preset library is a shared online database, populated with presets from you and other Curve users. This ever-growing, community-driven sound library provides a constant source of inspirational sound, and gives you the opportunity to share, tag and rate sounds quickly and easily across the web.

I just clicked the “Sync presets” button after a fresh installation and received over 600 brand new sounds. How cool is that?

It is pretty clear to me that Cableguys takes pride in Curve’s community driven nature. They basically allow you to help shape the future development of Curve via a forum on UserVoice, where users can submit (and vote for) feature requests, comments, bugs, etc.

Curve community: UserVoice forum

And right now I see there is an interesting development already. A lot of people are voting for “Save presets without community upload” to be implemented. So it seems not everyone is equally excited about sharing their presets with the community. While I understand you might want to keep sounds to yourself, I sure hope this option won’t kill off the presets sharing completely. Fortunately I see a few familiar names in the browser list (AbstractCats, rsmus7, and MrWobble to name some) so I am reasonably confident that additional presets will be available in the future, but only time will tell.

One last thing I would like to point out is that with the exception of the two filters, Curve does not come with any effects, unlike many other synthesizers that include reverb, chorus, delay, etc… To be honest I am a sucker for big sounding presets, yet the way some developers drown every single sound in tons of fx seems a bit silly. Like they are trying to hide the true quality of the synth.

It could well be that Cableguys left the effects out simply because they did not develop any besides the filter, but regardless I find it quite refreshing to get a more pure synth sound and leave the effects up to me. Anyway, if you are going to put Curve side by side to other synths make sure to turn of the effects or you will be comparing apples and oranges.

I was thinking of posting a short video of Curve but I don’t think I could make it look anywhere near as cool as the intro video by Cableguys, so here you go.

So what do I think?

Product: Curve by Cableguys
Format: instrument plug-in for Windows and Mac (VST/AU)
Price: 119 EUR / $159 USD
Like: flexible waveform editing, community driven, simple design
Don’t like: –
Verdict: 8/10

Curve is a pretty basic, straightforward synthesizer. But not as basic as its interface might suggest.

Curve’s main attraction lies in the flexible, comprehensive, yet easy to use waveform editor. From wobbly dubstep basslines to long evolving soundscapes, the extensive control over oscillator and LFO waveforms opens up a world of unique sounds.

I personally love the preset sharing and it is great to know that your voice is heard when it comes to feature requests. Since the release of version 1.0 Cableguys has actually already implemented some requests like undo/redo for waveform drawing and adding some modulation sources.

In short, Curve is a solid synthesizer with plenty of character. Whether you like to create your own truly unique sounds with hand drawn waveforms, or benefit from the community effort and play with other people’s presets, Curve is definitely a synth you should not overlook.

A generous demo version (fully-functional, no time limit) of Curve is available to download from the Cableguys website so check it out.

More information: Cableguys / Curve

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Review: Cableguys FilterShaper 2 effect plugin

Cableguys

I often use automation on effect plug-ins to create little interesting variations to sounds, or for doing some completely wild and unconventional effects. This involves recording parameter changes — usually a few times before I get it close enough to what I want, and then manually modifying the recorded automation.

Not exactly a hard job, but it can become a bit tedious to do. Cableguys offers some plug-ins to make life easier, including FilterShaper 2, an advanced effect plug-in that allows you to draw volume, pan, and filter modulations.

FilterShaper allows you to easily draw your own waveforms with impressive precision and unparalleled ease. Using the unique waveform drawing tool, you can construct your own modulation curves in a very intuitive way.

FilterShaper 2 features

  • 2 flexible filters — modulate cutoff and resonance settings, as well as pan and volume. Run in parallel or serial mode; 6/12/24dB ranges with low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, notch and peaking shapes.
  • Waveform drawing capabilities — draw custom waveforms with great ease. Store up to 10 customized waveforms for use in any of the available LFOs. Useful waveform tools include copy/past, reverse, randomize, and more.
  • Modulation options — a modulation matrix allows for connecting the 4 LFOs with cutoff, resonance, volume and pan targets, for both filters (+ volume and pan for master output). LFOs are free-running (0.02 Hz to 5.24 kHz) or synced to host (1/128 note to 32 bars).
  • Automation — Every FilterShaper 2 parameter can be automated, including waveform shapes and breakpoint movements.
Cableguys FilterShaper 2
Cableguys FilterShaper 2

The interface of FilterShaper is pretty straightforward; envelope waveforms in the top of the screen, the filters, LFOs and modulation matrix in the bottom.

To create your envelopes you set breakpoints in the waveform area — right mouse click for hard breakpoints, left mouse click for soft ones. The points can be modified by dragging them around to adjust the waveform curves. The soft point can be converted to a harder one by clicking on it. Another click will turn it into a hard point, and yet another click will delete the particular breakpoint. In total you can assign 20 breakpoints for each of the 10 available envelopes.

A number of handy waveform tools can be found on the right below the waveform area, which includes options to:

  • invert x or y values of breakpoints
  • increase and decrease the waveform amplitude
  • move the waveform around (up/down & left/right)
  • create flat envelopes
  • create and a number of standard waveforms (sine/saw/square/pulse/triangle)
  • generate a random waveform, using the same amount of breakpoints as the current waveform

A handy snapshot function lets you save your waveform, so you can copy it to one of the other waveforms or simply to use it as a backup. Note: FilterShaper doesn’t have an undo/redo function but the undo function of my host works just fine.

However much fun drawing these envelopes is, it would be pretty useless if they didn’t modulate anything. Each one of the envelope waveforms can be used to drive one of the four LFO’s, which individually can be free running or beat synced.

Still, the envelopes and LFO’s won’t do us any good if we don’t use them to actually modulate anything. The modulation matrix allows each LFO to be the source for modulating the master volume and panning, as well as volume, panning, cutoff and frequency of both filters. Just click and drag on the modulation cell to set its value, including negative values which basically inverts the waveform. Simple eh?

Check some of the audio demo below to get an idea of what FilterShaper can do.

So what do I think?

Product: FilterShaper 2 by Cableguys
Format: VST effect plug-in for PC & Mac
Price: 49 EUR / $69 USD

FilterShaper is exactly what it claims to be; an effect that allows you to create complex volume, pan and filter modulations with ease.

It is likely possible to do much of what FilterShaper does with the help of some free effect plug-ins and/or your host’s native effects. However, FilterShaper’s strength lies in bundling the filters, LFO’s and envelopes into one intuitive and user-friendly package.

FilterShaper is the perfect tool for anyone who likes to create advanced modulations, whether subtle or wild, without breaking a sweat.

Cableguys is offering a very generous demo version so go check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

More information: Cableguys / FilterShaper 2

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