UVI seems to have decided to bring back to life the myths of synthesis in the form of sample libraries for its own UVI platform and compatible programs. Let's have a detailed look at one of them: Vintage Legends.
For many musicians, owning a hardware synthesizer, a device that generates sounds without the need of having to turn on a computer, is still essential, for very diverse reasons. However, for many musicians, owning a synth that is among the legends of synthesis history is nothing but a dream — for some of you lucky ones, a dream come true. For very few of you. For many musicians, buying such equipment is within the realm of the impossible. First, because they are mostly out of financial reach. Second, because their availability is very limited and their owners keep them very safe (we’ll leave aside those who made a profession of doing business with these instruments, considering them as a commercial product like any other …).
What options are left for those who want to profit from the sound and capabilities of such mythical devices? Well, there are plenty, even if not always totally faithful, insofar as not all the functionalities are available in the products that software publishers offer, nor in those of manufacturers — we sometimes forget that the solutions aren’t only virtual: copies and (disguised) reproductions of diverse synths have also come out.
It has been certainly on the side of the developers that we have seen emulations of all kinds flourish. We won’t name all the more or less recent releases, but let us simply mention, as a way of example, one made by an actual creator of hardware units: Korg’s Legacy Collection (including the MS20, M1, Polysix, Mono/Poly, and Wavestation), as well as two others recently reviewed at AF, the Monark by Native Instruments and the Oberheim SEM V. We must obviously note that this are purely emulations, that is to say, software that uses mathematical formulas and calculations to generate sounds and functions of the reference models, This might include both synthesis and modeling.
But there is another solution: sampling. The principle of recording samples of a synth or a drum machine is almost as old as commercial sampling itself. We often hear about the release, in the form of sample libraries, of a unit that everyone wants to own “for real” (and we are not talking about orchestras and other acoustic instruments here). UVI, creator of the sound engine of the same name (formerly used by Spectrasonics and, many versions later, still in use in the UVI Workstation or the MachFive 3), has recently launched a vast collection of sounds and samples of mythical devices, grouped in several collections. One of which we will review here: Vintage Legends (339 euros). Decryption.
Introducing UVI Vintage Legends
Following a formula that is likely to extend, namely the provision of copious sound banks (several GB) for download, in addition to physical media (HDD or DVD, when still available) — although many publishers have already given up this form of distribution —, UVI gives the buyer two ways to make himself with its products. Vintage Legends comes in six 830.5MB .rar files that amount to 2.15GB, which makes them relatively manageable (not everybody has a fast Internet connection). How come the publisher (still?) doesn’t use management tools like the ones used by Native or the companies that use Continuata products (Spitfire Audio, 8DIO, SoundIron, etc.)?
The libraries are conceived for the UVI Workstation (currently in version 2.0.11), which is free but nevertheless offers certain synthesis and processing options (effects, arpeggiator, etc.), and compatible software, like MachFive 3, which we used for this test. The specifications and system compatibilities are those of the software, whose test you can find here. Authorization is, as usual with the publisher, via iLok.
Before starting to talk about the sound in detail, a brief explanation of the principle implemented here. UVI appointed its specialists to turn to other specialists, in other words, it has recorded and sampled several units directly at the places of their owners/users (I know who they are…). However, there’s something about the protocol applied that surprises me: why sample at 96kHz when the frequency will end up being 44.1kHz? 88,2 kHz would be the logical way to go. Unless there are non-commercial versions at 48 kHz that are offered to audiovisual professionals (this is only a speculation, and in no way an affirmation).
Once all the sampling has taken place, which can prove to be very generous (more than 30,000 samples for Vintage Legends), everything is programmed and placed within an arrangement that is the same — except for certain features — for all synth emulations. This arrangement is the one offered by the UVI Engine, present in the UVI Workstation and MachFive3, and not a software reproduction that allows us to program critical elements of a synth like filters, envelopes and modulators. The sound engine created by the publisher obviously offers other functions inaccessible on the sampled units. But keep in mind the principle adopted here: waveforms have been sampled using the possibilities that the original synths provide, but all the sound design on these waveforms will be made according to the functions and processing options of the UVI software.
Then again, we should acknowledge the tremendous work done on the GUIs. They look and have the same layout as the original synths, incorporating or substituting the functions specific to the UVI Engine.
Vintage Legends brings together six software versions of great classics designed and sold over a long period, spanning from 1979 to 1990: the Yamaha CS-70M (1981–84), CS-40M (1979–1986) and CS-20M (1979), the Elka Synthex (1981–1984), the Rhodes Chroma (1982–1984), the Yamaha DX1 (1983–1986), the Digital Keyboards Synergy (1982–85), and the Kurzweil K250 (1984–1990). The logic behind the collection lies not in the way sound is produced, since we can find subtractive, additive, digital, analog, and FM synthesis, as well as resampling. This results in a different approach by the publisher. Thus, the CS-M, containing all the Yamaha synths mentioned above and the Synthox, is available as single Programs in which we can load either sounds pre-programmed by the UVI team or (more or less) pure waveforms, which we will be able to retweak with the possibilities provided by the UVI engine. Pretty logical for the analog synths, you will say. True… but what about the Kroma? Well, you also have original waveforms at your disposal, but classified within a folder, at the same level as the presets. Why not apply the same principle as with the other two? Good question… The other synths only offer presets when it comes to synthesis modes. What’s the point in providing the basic sinus wave of the DX1? It’s easy to understand the rights’ issues with respect to the ROM of the Kurzweil, though.
The architectures of these software versions, even if radically different from a graphic point of view, is the same from a functional one (except for a couple of things previously mentioned). Thus, we can find three pages on the Vintage Legends: EDIT (settings), MOD(ulations) and ARP(eggiators, dual). The first includes an ADSR volume envelope with velocity-controlled attack; a resonant multimode filter (LP, BP and HP) with dedicated envelope, including action rate and sensitivity to velocity; a tune control; a Mono mode (in Portamento mode, without re-triggering of the envelope); a Stereo effect (basically a pan, with spread, detuning, etc.); four effects (see box); and the modwheel assignations (vibrato, tremolo and filter, with independent rate).
Then there are the particularities of each synth: the Kroma has a noise oscillator (white or pink, with volume), the CS-M and Synthox offer two complete and independent layers (with the possibility to link the changes of the settings), Energy has an Energizer module, the FMX1 features the UVI Destructor (bitcrusher and downsampler) and a FMizer control. These additional functions are often located in another layer (called Sub, FMizer, Noise, etc.), including dedicated samples or special effects, most often a mix of the two. And the access from the interface is very limited, most of the times only to the volume or rate settings. With MachFive3 you have complete access, plus many opportunities to do resynthesis — which the UVI Workstation does not offer — and therefore create new sounds from the samples provided.
Animate the world
The Mod page gives access to an LFO (only one, unfortunately) and a Step Sequencer. The first can be synchronized to the tempo (internal or that of the host DAW) and has speed, attack time and decay time controls. It provides four waveforms (sine, triangle, square and Sample and Hold) and can be independently connected to the pitch, the drive, the volume, and the filter. The Step Sequencer has 16 steps and works with a resolution that goes from a half note to a thirty-second note. Three controls affect the delay, rise time and the smoothing action of the sequencer. Finally we can route it independently to volume and filter (doubled and independent functions for synths with two Layers, via switches A and B or I and II).
The Arp page is only available on the synths with two Layers: the CS-M and the Synthox. For the rest, we can only access it by searching the corresponding script in the Tree inspector of MF3, which is impossible in the UVI Workstation. For those of you who use the latter, the only available controls (for Kroma, Energy and FMX1) are On or Off. On this page we can find two independent 16-step arpeggiators (thanks to the Dual mode), with the above-mentioned resolutions for the Step Sequencer, three directions for the arpeggio (Up, Down, Up and Down), its range (plus or minus three octaves), a gate, and a mute for each step. Both tools are really easy to use, well-conceived and effective. Still, we regret the absence of the Swing parameter (to be able to switch from binary to triplets without changing the rhythmic division) and the inaction of some parameters in real time if we hold the notes of a chord: for example, it is impossible to change the range. Here is an example of the dual arpeggiator in action with real-time modification of the gate and the filter (LP) on the CS-M.
Obviously, almost all the interest in this type of library is to find the sounds that marked an era, those that are immediately identified as coming from a particular device.
Another interest is to recover the waveforms as faithfully as possible, even if the sampling and, even more, the looping, in order to limit the duration or reproduce the hold parameter of the original, make the sound colder and do not actually reproduce the behavior of an analog synth (this is less true for a digital one, especially as some of them use both techniques). The two libraries respond very well in both cases. You can certainly detect audible loops here and there (no clicks, but oscillation repetitions or light timbre changes, for example), but with a fairly substantial multisampling (more than 12,700 samples for the FMX1…) and mapping mostly done on one or two semitones. The sounds behave well throughout the whole keyboard range, while the presets available are of good quality and especially faithful to the spirit of the original (some have very similar names to the originals to be able to spot them quickly enough).
For starters, here you have some sounds of the Synthox:
What it lacks most is obviously the superb chorus of the original synth, even if the publisher includes two waveform families to make the best out of it (see below). Concerning the virtual version of the Synthex, you should pay some serious attention to Synthix (Synthax, is already taken, which leaves only Synthux…) by Xils Lab. Let’s continue with the CS-M.
Very interesting sounds and waveforms here as well (nine families, each with four to twelve waveforms for the CS-M and nine families with six to ten waveforms for the Synthox). Remember that these two synths provide for very interesting sound associations due to their double layer concept (a pad with an arpeggiator on top of another sound, for example).
Let’s try now Energy, a true rarity — sampled for the first time if I’m not mistaken. This is the synth that offers less presets (very hard to program) and samples (32 oscillators including sines and triangles with some FM possibilities). It is also the only one to provide a Sub-Oscillator, which is directly accessible.
And now the Kroma, inspired by the Chroma, originally developed by ARP before being overtaken by Rhodes, who would later release the Chroma Polaris. The sound richness and the timbre of the synth ─ used by the likes of Hancock or Zawinul ─ are definitely there…
Let’s proceed with the FMX1, whose inspiration is a dream for all fans of FM, even if the SY series was able to renew the genre a few years later. Nonetheless a superb object that featured many unheard-of possibilities at the time.
The FM is there, with all its advantages and drawbacks (the strings, the pads…).
And we’ll finish with the U1250, derived fro the K250 — a small wonder from Kurzweil ─, the first unit to use samples in ROM, and whose sounds remain easily identifiable, like the strings, the acoustic pianos, the double bass, etc.
Generally speaking, very good for a product of this type. We have several waveforms from the originals at our disposal, the presets are quite varied and well-conceived (even if too loud at times; pay special attention when playing chords in standalone). All in all, it offers very good material to do some resynhtesis with MachFive3. Nevertheless, we regret some bugs, like the impossibility to reopen, sometimes, a project in Logic 64-bit (long live the Ctrl key at startup…), the fact that some functions do not have a real-time effect when holding notes (arpeggiator range, stereo effect) or are simply not implemented (no aftertouch, to the detriment of leads and pads).
Of course, these virtual instruments will not replace the originals (try to find a 140-DX1 or an affordable CS-70M…), but that’s not the purpose here. Rather, it is a sort of recount of the synthesizers from the 1980's and 1990's (completed by the Digital Synsations series, the DarkLight IIx and certainly more to come), an audio picture of a past age (and therefore necessarily less rich and complete than the real thing). Plus, the means implemented here are vastly superior in terms of sound quality and programming compared to other soundbanks of the same type. Very specialized, this product is mainly aimed at fans of this particular period. Vintage Legends (even if Xils Labs’ Synthix can do many more things) is probably the most convincing sample-based product on the subject.