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Review: Boxed Ear Mighty M5 for Kontakt

Professional musician and sound designer Rory Dow recently launched his new company Boxed Ear with the release of Mighty M5, a sample library for Native Instruments Kontakt.

Boxed Ear Mighty M5

Mighty M5 was made with samples from the Macbeth M5, a monophonic semi-modular analog synthesizer by Ken Macbeth.

The M5′s sound is characterised by its full, rich bass, crystal high end and distinctly analog tone. Even the raw waveforms sound gorgeous with no filtering or modulation.

Huge basses and leads, luscious pads, electric pianos, drums, one-shot effects, and crazy modular bleep and bloops are all included in this pack.

The library includes no less than 4,346 samples in 24-bit/44.1kHz audio quality, good for 1.5 GB content.

Well over 100 multi-sampled Kontakt instruments were made with these samples, nicely categorized in Raw (34 mono and 20 poly), Processed (13 mono and 19 poly), Drums (1) and FX (2), and Waveforms (18) categories.

Boxed Ear Mighty M5
Processed, polyphonic “Club Chords” patch, with a good amount of velocity levels.

The instruments are deep sampled, with many having well over 100 samples. With up to 16 velocity layers there’s a lot of detail in the sounds.

You can listen to some of the sounds in this library in the demo clips below.

Better yet, check out Rory’s recent “Nostalgia for Infinity”, in which the Mighty M5 takes center stage, providing the main melody for the performance.

So what do I think?

Product: Mighty M5 by Boxed Ear
Format: Kontakt 4/5 library (24-bit/44kHz .wav)
Price: $49 USD/39 EUR/£30 GBP
Like: vintage sound, fantastic percussion sounds
Don’t like: –
Verdict: 9/10

“Full, rich bass, crystal high end and distinctly analog tone.” What more can I add?

Though I am not so familiar with the original M5, this sample library looks like a proper tribute to Macbeth’s synthesizer. I am well impressed with the quality of the samples and instruments, and it does not come as a surprise to me that Ken himself endorses this pack.

The collection is full of well-crafted instruments bursting with that vintage character, yet it has some sort of a modern/up-to-date feel about it as well. For many of the patches pressing a single note is all it takes for my inspiration to run wild. While I think every section of the library is exceptional, I would like to highlight the drum/percussion/fx hits in particular. So unique and versatile. Lovely!

With Mighty M5, Rory sets the bar pretty high for Boxed Ear. The library shows his passion for sound and music and I reckon it’s a true labor of love. Two thumbs up!

More information: Boxed Ear / Mighty M5

Review: u-he More Feedback Machine 2

Related: , , , , , , , Posted in reviews on Jul 10, 2012 - comment 0 comments

Dan Worall’s recent introduction video for More Feedback Machine 2 reminded me I never posted a review for this most excellent effect plug-in from u-he.

As the name hints, this plug-in is all about delay effects.

More Feedback Machine has always been a synonym for ultra-flexible delay effects ranging from bread & butter to weird rhythmic deconstruction. In the early days of native plugins, MFM1 was well ahead of its time. MFM2 carries on the tradition and extends it into the future.

The idea behind MFM was to give the musician as much control over 4 individual delay lines as possible, have them interact, and offer easy ways to modulate delay parameters in realtime.

At first you might feel a tad overwhelmed by MFM’s interface, which looks more like some kind of complex synth than a delay effect.

u-he More Feedback Machine 2
More Feedback Machine 2 sports a futuristic look with tons of controls.

The larger part of the interface is taken up by the delay units, which are laid out in a circular design with a feedback matrix in the middle. In this matrix the delay lines are connected in various ways, either by using preset types like multi-tap or ping-pong, or by routing the delay lines in order to fashion the kind of delay network you want in the user matrix mode. Really flexible.

All four delays are identical, with options for setting the input signal, signal flow with regards to the filter, and the timebase for the delay, set in time (0 to 2,000 millisecond) or synced (1/64th to 1/2 dot). When in note mode, you can create a tuned comb filter effect and play the delay with MIDI notes, or set the tune control. Below the pan and output controls is the multi-mode filter section.

You might have noticed there’s a number of empty controls as well. These are user-definable modulation controls. You can assign standard modulation sources like modwheel, velocity, keyfollow, etc. as well as 4 full featured LFOs and 2 MSEGs (multi stage envelope generators). An additional modulation matrix is also available for assigning modulation sources to all targets within MFM 2.

To round things off we also get various effect units for the paired delays 1 & 2, and 3 & 4: A soft clip distortion, decimator (bit crusher), phaser, frequency shifter, and dual filter. Two compressors are also available to further process the sound (standard + RMS feedback compressor). You can even use one pair of delay channels to compress the other.

More Feedback Machine 2 comes with a good amount of presets, showcasing traditional types of delay effects as well as the more creative side of this plug-in.

I could write lot more, but to be honest Dan Worall’s intro video is a lot more entertaining and informational, so check it out below.

So what do I think?

Product: More Feedback Machine 2 by u-he
Format: effect plugin for PC & Mac (VST/AU)
Price: $79 USD excl. VAT
Like: Versatile, flexible, very creative… Delay heaven!
Don’t like: –
Verdict: 9/10

More Feedback Machine 2 is one amazing tool, a high quality delay unit does everything from the simple and subtle, to the complex and insane.

The amount of control you have over the delays is kind of mind boggling – a sure-fire way to get my creative juices flowing. This is the kind of effect that inspires me to experiment and sculpt something new or find unexpected sounds I did not set out to create.

In short, More Feedback Machine 2 will surely take care of most – if not all – your delay needs. If you just need a simple delay this one is probably a bit excessive, but for the adventurous and those who want in-depth control over their delay effects: you will not be disappointed with MFM 2!

More information: u-he / More Feedback Machine 2

Review: No Dough NDS-4 Underground House

No Dough NDS-4 Underground House

No Dough’s fourth release in the NDS sample pack series is titled Underground House.

Simply put, this is the heart and soul of the underground house scene in a massive collection of over 7000 professionally crafted WAV sounds, designed to give you that authentic House music vibe you hear from your favorite artists but in a format that is useful for any style of music that requires a punchy analogue sound.

The sample pack features:

  • 4,700+ drum and percussion hits.
  • 59 multi-sampled instruments.
  • 161 bass and synth loops.

The drum and percussion hits include various classic sounds of drum machines and sampled sources, with three variations; Original recordings, driven, vinyl and Revox (Studer tape machine) versions. No Dough used some various outboard gear to get an authentic vibe. Everything is nicely categorized in folders by the type of drum hit. No drum kits are included though.

To record the multi-sampled instruments, No Dough used gear by Oberheim, Roland, some old EMU samplers and FM synthesizers. The sampler patches are split up in various sections. There’s bass, strings & pads, leads & synths and organs and misc. A good amount of sounds.

The bass and synth loops sound very authentic as well. Actually, playing them individually they almost sound kind of low quality, lo-fi. But in a good way.

Loops are ready to be chopped, smashed, distorted and resequenced, each loop features a Recycle version and we have also included a selection of Midi files so you can get at the notes themselves to twist, mash and create.

I’d say that is a good thing, because these loops are meant for chopping. You are not going to get much of a good result by simply tossing the loops together as there are some tuning issues and files have no mention of which key they’re in. This set of loops just isn’t a construction kit type set so unless you stick with using just a single loop and create additional melodies around that, you are supposed to do some of the work yourself. The sound is there though.

Check out the demo track to get an idea of what NDS-4 Underground House is about.

So what do I think?

Product: NDS-4 Underground House by No Dough
Format: 24bit WAV, REX + sampler patches (Kontakt/EXS24/HALion/NN-XT)
Price: £39.99 GBP
Like: authentic sounds, good variety
Don’t like: no key info in loops
Verdict: 8/10

Even though No Dough prides itself in recording in high quality 96kHz/24bit, it’s still vintage synths, gritty sampler sounds, tape machines, and analog processing chains we’re talking about. NDS-4 is not about pristine quality, it is about the vibe of classic underground house music.

No Dough’s key description for the Underground House pack is “tone, warmth and musicality”. I hear that, and I would sum those up and call it authentic. Individually the samples and loops sound somewhat raw to me, lo-fi, perhaps slightly dated. And that’s how it is supposed to be, because once you start putting things together you quickly end up with something that sounds like the real deal. Go check it out.

More information: NDS-4 Underground House

Review: Goldbaby’s Urban Cookbook Vol. 1

When you need some solid electronic drum sounds, Goldbaby’s sample packs are always a good place to turn to. With Goldbaby’s Urban Cookbook Vol. 1, Hugo once again provides quality sounds to help you cook up some delicious dishes, urban style.

Goldbaby's Urban Cookbook Vol 1

Want to cook up some delicious beats… well then you probably need my cookbook. The ingredients are full of saturated fat, MSG, a heap of sugar and are not suitable for a low cholesterol diet. The recipes are perfect for these dishes: Hip Hop, Dub Step, Drum & Bass, Breaks, Grime, Dance Hall, Electro… Although chefs making other dishes like: IDM, House and Techno will appreciate the varied high quality ingredients.

Punchy Kicks, Solid Snares, Hi Hats, Toms, Percussion, Claps, Cymbals, Layering tools, FX, Vinyl Hits, Chord Hits, Bass tools and Rex Loops… just over 1 GB of the freshest ingredients.

The sample pack includes various formats and comes with patches for most common samplers.

  • 3,398 samples (24-bit quality).
  • 200 REX loops.
  • 142 Maschine kits (plus 7 projects) and 13 instruments.
  • 49 presets + 145 kits for Geist.
  • 135 Battery 3 kits.
  • 136 Kontakt 4 kits.
  • 141 EXS24 patches for Logic (can also be imported in Kontakt, Ableton Live Sampler, Halion, etc.)
  • 50 Kong kits, 140 NN-XT patches and 9 Combinators for Reason 5 and above.

I checked out the Maschine version which also comes with the patches for Kontakt, Battery and EXS24. The Maschine kits are divided in folders – Combos (4), Drum Kits (52), FX (20), Hits & Chords (31), Percussion Kits (20), and Vox (15), and to help you find the right type of sound some of the kits are tagged in categories like analog, digital, sfx, etc.

The Kontakt instruments include bass, drum kits, FX, hits and chords, individual drums, layering tools, and vox. It may look like this is basically the same as the Maschine content but there are a bunch of different instruments in here (same for the EXS24 format which you can also load in Kontakt).

While browsing the different kits and instruments it struck me that Goldbaby’s samples always sound “fresh” and up-to-date. The Cookbook includes a fair share of sounds that are similar to the ones in other Goldbaby sample packs, but Hugo records all content for each sample library specifically for said library, which makes sense since Goldbaby’s studio equipment is regularly updated with new gear.

Besides all the kits and patches there is a lot more sample content than was used for the kits so there is a lot to explore, and swapping out sounds within kits is easy. In Maschine the kits come with some lovely patterns and the included projects are a nice bonus, as are the REX loops which feature various percussion loops, fx loops, grooves and more.

In all, this pack has lots of unique content with that vintage Goldbaby vibe. It’s kind of like crate digging without having to do all the hard work. Instant satisfaction!

Check below for an example of the type of thing you can cook up with Goldbaby’s ingredients. A few more demo mp3s can be found at the Urban Cookbook product page here.

So what do I think?

Product: Goldbaby’s Urban Cookbook Vol.1
Format: 24bit WAV, REX / Maschine, Geist, Kontakt, Battery & EXS24 / Reason ReFill
Price: $49 USD
Like: fantastic sounds, well done kits and patches, phat!
Don’t like: –
Verdict: 9/10

With Urban Cookbook Vol 1, Goldbaby does what Goldbaby does best: deliver quality drum sounds with a vintage feel. I think Hugo did a fantastic job with the kits. The combination of sounds in each kit is inspiring and everything is really well produced to get that typical fat, punchy, deep sound. I know a lot of thought went into creating and processing the samples and making sure the kits work well musically, and it shows.

The additional sounds are fantastic. Beautiful chords, guitar strums, useful sound fx, string type sounds. Just love it. Now don’t think this is construction kit type stuff, but these are just a bunch of lovely sounds to compliment the drum/percussion content. Signature Goldbaby.

After spending some good time with this new pack (and already using it in some projects), I think the Urban Cookbook may well be my favorite Goldbaby library to date. Go check it out!

More information: Goldbaby Productions / Urban Cookbook Vol 1

Review: Applied Acoustics Systems Chromaphone

Applied Acoustics Systems’ latest effort in physical modeled software instruments is Chromaphone, a “creative percussion synthesizer”.

It is based on the combination of acoustic resonators to create drums, percussion, string and hybrid synth-like instruments. Membranes, bars, marimbas, plates, strings, and tubes form pairs that are excited by a mallet and a flexible noise source.

Access to different parameters such as the material of the resonators, their tuning and hit position allow for the creation of a vast range of realistic and creative instruments and sonic colors. Whether real, innovative, or with an ethnic touch, Chromaphone will fill your music with rich and organic tones.

Applied Acoustics Systems Chromaphone
Chromaphone has an easy layout with exciter sources and resonator modules in the middle.

Sound is generated with mallet and noise modules which excite the two resonators. The mallet has controls for volume, stiffness, noise and noise color; the noise module uses a white noise generator + multi-mode filter, with dedicated envelope. Both sources can be mixed.

Various resonator types are available: string, open and closed tube, plate, membrane, bar, and a marimba bar. A manual mode lets you adjust the frequency of up to four different partials.

The output of both resonators is mixed proportionally with the balance slider, with the “parallel mode” basically simply mixing the two outputs, and a “coupled mode” which features “bidirectional transfer of energy between the objects”. In simple terms this means that both resonators influence each other, which according to AAS results in tones and timbres that reproduce the richness of sounds from real acoustic instruments.

Chromaphone presets manager

Chromaphone includes a dedicated vibrato effect (pitch modulating LFO), a LFO unit for modulating the Noise module, and a multi-fx section in which you can pick two effects (in series) from a selection of delays, chorus, flanger, phaser, (auto) wah wah, notch filter, 3-band equalizer, distortion, tremolo and reverbs.

The presets library includes over 300 sounds categorized in mallets, percussions, kits, chimes and bells, plucked strings, basses, keys, strings and pads, synths, organs and pipes, soundscapes and textures, and effects sections.

Check the audio demos below to get an impression of what Chromaphone is capable of.

So what do I think?

Product: Chromaphone by Applied Acoustics Systems
Format: VST/AU/RTAS/Standalone
Price: $199 USD
Like: Incredibly versatile, unique sounds, superb quality
Don’t like: –
Verdict: 9/10

If nothing else, Chromaphone is incredibly versatile. So much even, I feel like its tagline “creative percussion synthesizer” is kind of selling it short.

While it does an amazing job with percussion sounds – both the traditional and more creative variety – the types of sound you can get from this instrument are way beyond “creative percussion” to me. The pads, soundscapes, textures, effects etc. in the factory bank show that Chromaphone can do a lot more than percussion, and for even more adventurous sounds I can also highly recommend the expansion libraries by sound designers Martin Walker and Simon Stockhausen.

With its physical modeling, Chromaphone produces wonderfully dynamic, expressive sounds. Experimenting pays off, as just the turn of a knob or two can yield completely different, unique sounds.

Needless to say, Chromaphone is a fantastic synthesizer for cinematic, soundtrack type works. It will likely suit many electronic music producers as well, especially in the area of ambient, minimal, and idm genres.

I am truly excited about this synthesizer and I can’t wait to use it in some of my projects. Go check it out!

More information: Applied Acoustics Systems / Chromaphone

Review: Native Instruments Dark Pressure

Native Instruments Dark Pressure

Native Instruments has teamed up with DJ and music producer Steve Lawler and the sound designers of Loopmasters to bring us Dark Pressure, an expansion sound library for the Maschine platform.

Huge sub-heavy kicks, chunky toms, sharp hi-hats, crisp percussion, warm bass tones and crystallized lead synth sounds – all processed with analog gear and MASCHINE’s internal FX – provide the building blocks for muscular techno, tech-house, and minimal tracks worthy of the world’s most respected clubs.

DARK PRESSURE focuses on percussive one-shot samples and a wealth of exclusive pre-programmed patterns – many created by Steve Lawler himself. Fine-tuned for powerful club sound systems, DARK PRESSURE puts an impressive array of four-on-the-floor rhythms at your fingertips – from full-on energy to hypnotic groove and triplet-driven swing.

The expansion includes five full Maschine projects, 40+ individual kits, some pre-sliced loops, 20+ instruments, and some fx chains.

British music producer and DJ Steve Lawler introduces Dark Pressure for Maschine.

The Maschine projects are basically full tracks with intros/outros/drops/etc. Not something I would consider using in my productions but they do a good job showcasing the type of tunes you can create with Dark Pressure. And perhaps you can learn some new composition/production skills from checking the way these projects are done.

The 42 kits are made up of 671 one shot samples of both drums and other sounds (like chords, sound fx, stabs, hits, vocals, ambiences, etc.) categorized in various types for easy browsing: Analog, digital, percussion, special, vinyl, and multi fx. Each kit also comes with a number of patterns, many of which are apparently done by Steve himself. I would not likely use these out of the box but they provide a good starting point if you need some inspiration. Over 200 patterns are included in total.

Besides the kits you get 64 sliced tribal and percussion loops in rx2 format grouped in 4 Maschine loop sets, plus 11 bass and 10 lead multi-sampled instruments with 4 or 8 samples each. Nothing deep or particularly unique really, but useful and good quality nonetheless. The included multi FX kits provide some interesting effects, including some lo-fi 8bit goodness and a nice space gate type thing.

So what do I think?

Product: Dark Pressure by Native Instruments
Format: Expansion for Maschine/Maschine Mikro
Price: $59 USD / 49 EUR
Like: Good sounds, well done kits
Don’t like: Small amount of instruments
Verdict: 8/10

If you are into minimal, tech or tribal type house sounds, there is a good chance that Dark Pressure is your type of Maschine expansion.

The sounds, kits and patterns are “ready for the club”, as Steve puts it. I agree, and I reckon this pack is especially useful for DJs who are looking to spice up their sets, and producers who don’t want to spend lots of time finding the right sounds and beats.

I am not really into house music production but I enjoyed pretty much all of the kits and sounds in this pack a lot. Steve definitely put a solid amount of personality in this expansion. For me – with the exception of the non-drum/perc single shot sounds used in the kits – there is not all that much content I would consider to be unique or exceptional. That said, there is hardly a dud to be found either.

In short, the Dark Pressure expansion is a well done toolkit for electronic music, with tons of ready to go quality sounds by accomplished producer Steve Lawler and Loopmasters.

Maschine users who would like to go a little deeper will want to check out Steve’s Dark Percussive House & Techno at Loopmasters as well, since this sample pack offers a larger amount of sounds, loops and patches at roughly the same price as the Dark Pressure Maschine expansion.

More information: Native Instruments / Dark Pressure

Review: Dmitry Sches Diversion

Related: , , , , Posted in reviews on May 07, 2012 - comment 1 comment

Early 2010, Dmitry Sches released Ambient Voices, a soundset for the Zebra software synthesizer by u-he.

I was quite taken by Dmitry’s sounds, which I would describe as deep, rich, moving and edgy. Digital sweetness. With such a stunning debut I was kind of expecting there would be more soundsets in the near future, but… almost a year and a half passed without anything new. And then, I find Dmitry announcing something new over at KVR.

Hello! I’m Dmitry Sches and I proud to introduce new software synth – Diversion.

To be honest I didn’t even notice the first line in Dmitry’s announcement, as my eyes were all over the screenshot posted directly below it.

Dmitry Sches Diversion
Diversion screenshot taken from the initial release in August, 2010.

I know a good looking GUI doesn’t mean good sound, but a nice interface definitely helps spark my interest. Turns out the feature set is pretty impressive as well.

Diversion has 4 oscillators with waveforms that are done on the fly, in real-time. The idea here is that these generated waveforms (so not wavetables) allow for output with smooth two-dimensional morphing capabilities and clean high frequencies. Sure enough, Diversion sounds clean and crisp to my ears.

Various waveform shapes are available, grouped in basic, fatty, resonant, synthetic, harmonic and noise categories. The X/Y pad lets you play with the timbre of the sound source, usually with brightness and tone parameters (depending on the selected waveform).

Diversion oscillator fx

Below the waveform selection are another four controls in which a selection from 7 oscillator effects can further modify the sound. Things like boosting high frequencies or creating aliased, inharmonic sounds can be achieved here. The effects go from subtle to rather dramatic.

Oscillators 1 and 3 have frequency and ring modulation controls, where the paired osc 2 and 4 are the modulating sources. A mono multi-mode filter with saturation stage and output section is also available for each oscillator.

Two bus sections take input from the oscillators and offer a stereo version of the filter found in the oscillator sections, distortion and lo-fi (bit crusher and decimator) effects. Each oscillator can route its output to either one or a mix of both bus processors.

Arriving at bottom panel we find a Mod Matrix with 4 sets of 6 modulation slots, and three tabs to switch between the FX Matrix, Modulation panel, and Arpeggiator.

Diversion FX Matrix

Available effects include the usual things like delay, reverb, EQ, chorus, etc. and a special kind of pitch shift effect called GrainShifter. Two instances of each effect unit are available to route to up to 8 effects per fx line, with a separate fx line for each bus output. The point where both buses are mixed into a single signal (from which on effects are applied to the mixed output) can be changed. It’s a bit of an odd system at first but it works quite nicely and is flexible enough to create complex fx chains.

Diversion’s modulation system features 4 LFO’s, 4 envelopes, 4 MSEG’s (multi-segment envelopes), and the “Master Morph” X/Y controller (in the bottom of the middle blue screen). These can be assigned to parameters in the modulation matrix, or directly from the controls to be modulated. Quick and easy.

Finally, the 16-step trance gate and 32-step arpeggiator provide ways to create rhythmic and melodic sequences. Pretty straightforward stuff really. Not something I personally use a whole lot, but I always hear people appreciate these types of features so it’s nice to have a well-rounded set of arp and gate tools at your disposal.

The best way to experience Diversion is to give it a spin yourself. If you are short on time the official audio demos a pretty good job showcasing its sounds and character.

Note that Diversion is currently available as a VST instrument plug-in for Windows only. Dmitry has recently announced that version 2.0 is in development for both Windows and Mac platforms. A release is expected late Fall, 2012.

So what do I think?

Product: Diversion by Dmitry Sches
Format: VST for Windows
Price: $169 USD excl. VAT
Like: Crystal clean sounds, great workflow
Don’t like: Can get CPU intensive, price
Verdict: 9/10

Diversion is pretty amazing. It has a wonderful workflow and even though at first sight this is no ground-breaking synth, Dmitry has implemented a number of unique features that make Diversion stand out from the crowd. Most importantly though, this synthesizer offers a high quality sound, one I would describe as being pristine, clean and freshly edgy.

I think Dmitry’s heart for sound design shows in Diversion. The amount of control over the sound is impressive. A lot of sonic depth is provided with things like the oscillator tone-shaping section, multi-mode filters, and a comprehensive modulation system. The included presets showcase a lovely selection of bread & butter type modern day sounds.

Diversion has a lot to offer, but it comes at a cost: CPU. The manual includes some tips on how to reduce CPU usage – which is helpful, but personally I prefer to keep the CPU intensive sound and bounce it down rather than make changes to the sound in order to reduce CPU. Make sure to check the demo version to see how your system copes, especially since the plugin isn’t exactly cheap either.

In short, Diversion is an incredible feature-rich synthesizer with an outstanding sonic quality.

More information: Dmitry Sches / Diversion

Review: FXpansion Tremor drum synthesizer

As someone who prefers to work “inside the box” I was pleased to see FXpansion introduce its DCAM: Discrete Component Analogue Modelling sound generation technology with the release of Synth Squad. The modelling of individual circuit components enabled FXpansion to put some of that vintage analog flavor in its digital products.

FXpansion Tremor

Much in the same way, Tremor takes drum synthesis to a new level.

Tremor is a software drum machine with powerful synthesis, effects, modulation and step-sequencing. DCAM circuit-modelled sound generation is fused with new ideas to produce original sounds with the punch and extreme sound pressure of old-school analogue.

Tremor’s dance drums, funky beatscapes, abstract machines and undiscovered sonic terrain are suited to all kinds of electronic, urban and experimental music.

Just to make sure we’re on the same page, Tremor is all about drum synthesis. There are NO samples. FXpansion’s drum sampler instrument Geist (the successor to Guru) already covers this base. Who knows, in the future FXpansion might combine the two into something new or provide some add-on type thing, but for now these are totally separate products.

FXpansion Tremor
Tremor’s main screen with the step sequencer in the top part, mixer slots and the synth fx panel for the selected synth module in the bottom. Lovely workflow and ditto looks!

As the above screenshot hints, Tremor is a full-featured drum synthesizer instrument. Its main features include:

  • DCAM-modelled synthesis and FX
  • Specialised oscillator with drumskin vibration partials
  • Filtering and drive with multiple responses
  • Deep, intuitive TransMod modulation system
  • Polyrhythmic pattern step-sequencer

Sporting a total of 8 individual – and identical – synthesizer modules, Tremor allows you to build your drum kits within a single instance. The specialized oscillator in each module has controls for pitch (and fine), shape to morph the osc waveshape from saw to square to triangle, PWM which sets the pulsewidth for the square waveshape, FM for pitch modulation with speeds up to 1024 Hz (allowing audio rate modulation), and a sync control for adding harmonics by increasing the oscillator frequency while syncing it to the sub oscillator.

FXpansion Tremor synthesizer panel

The Harmonics section has only four knobs and a single switch for controlling the oscillator partials, but much of what sound you will end up with is determined here. The details of what exactly goes on in this section gets a bit technical but basically you get the drumskin vibration emulation in “Membrane” mode, while the “Harmonics” mode resembles a regular synth.

A bandpass filtered white noise generator can be mixed with the oscillator to create snare, hihat, and clap type sounds, or sound fx type things like noise sweeps. The sub osc control with three octaves is also available from the mixer panel.

To further shape the sounds you get pre- and post-drive with various modes, a multi-mode filter featuring clean and fat models with various response modes, (G)LFO’s with sync options, S+H, three envelopes, and a comprehensive modulation system named “TransMod”. Tweaker’s paradise!

FXpansion Tremor modulation

The TransMod modulation system allows you to route a single modulation source to multiple synthesis and effect parameters, each with its own definable depth.

Modulation depths are represented visually on the parameter itself, rather than in an abstract list of assignments.

The TransMod system is an impressive piece of work, with lots of advanced features for creating dynamic sounds. A modulation source can be routed to multiple synthesis and effect parameters, so if you are an experimental sound designer you will love this.

FXpansion has also made sure to include a bunch of built-in effect units that can be used in up to 3 FX slots – the FX Chain – available from the synth fx (individual fx/chains for each of the 8 synths) and master fx panels. Dynamics, equalizers, filters, modulation fx, delay, reverb, distortion, and more effect units allow for powerful sound processing, especially since you can use the TransMod system to modulate fx parameters.

Tremor comes with an internal step sequencer with 24 patterns, in which you can create rhythms simply by clicking on the step cells for each one of the 8 sounds available. The sequencer shows note velocity, repeat and probability values and a little arrow indicated the length of a track (which can be different for individual tracks). Creating patterns is quite intuitive and use of mouse, drag and key combinations offers a nice workflow. Each pattern also has up to 4 “graphs” for creating automation sequences.

Tremor graph screen
Step-based automation sequences for modulating Tremor’s synthesis parameters

The editing features of the sequencers are pretty comprehensive and include things like stretching and expanding of values, invert, reverse, global randomize, and more. Patterns are mapped to MIDI notes for easy triggering. All in all the sequencer is both fun and powerful. So much even that I am using it to drive other instruments by sending the patterns to Tremor’s MIDI out.

If you prefer to automate parameters from within your host or with external controllers, Tremor also includes mapping and MIDI learn systems.

This is Tremor in a nutshell, and if you made it this far in this review and you are still interested you should go get the 30-day trial version and dig in. To be honest, Tremor’s factory presets and demo songs left me somewhat unimpressed but when I actually tried the plugin I instantly experienced the potential of this instrument.

If you’re pressed for time and still want to get a good impression of what Tremor is capable of, you should check out the demo tracks for the Tremendous Beatz soundset. Patchpool’s Simon Stockhausen does a fantastic job showcasing the versatility of Tremor with some quality sounds, check it out below.

So what do I think?

Product: Tremor by FXpansion
Format: VST/AU/RTAS/standalone for Mac and Windows
Price: $149 USD / 119 EUR
Like: Great synth engine, rich feature set, intuitive & fun
Don’t like: Can be CPU intensive
Verdict: 9/10

Tremor offers great sound quality and the it is well capable of producing traditional drum machine sounds, as well as some more abstract, experimental type of percussive stuff. Add to that an easy to use sequencer, a great selection of effect units and a comprehensive modulation system, and you have a proper beast at your fingertips. With all that power comes great responsibility. Using up to 8 individual (polyphonic) synths and effect chains can get a bit CPU intensive. On my 3 Ghz Intel Duo core I easily hit 50%, but I take that without complaint. Tremor is not the first plug-in that reminds me that quality comes at a cost.

You would perhaps expect an instrument like this to be rather complicated/hard to use, yet FXpansion managed to give Tremor a clean, intuitive workflow with clever visual feedback on the interface. Creating sounds, building kits, and sequencing rhythms proves to be engaging and fun.

Tremor is a most excellent drum synthesizer workhorse for anyone interested in creating drum and percussion sounds with a computer. Intuitive, flexible, and abundantly inspiring.

Well done, FXpansion. Well done indeed!

More information: FXpansion / Tremor